“I said no. Ain’t no way I’m takin’ a single woman on my train. Sell your wagon. Go back east where it’s safe.”
“Even if I wanted to, the others would raise all kinds o’ Cain. They already voted, remember? The answer is the same now as it was yesterday. No.” Joshua narrowed his eyes, resisting his natural instinct to remove his hat in the presence of a woman. Maybe if he were unfriendly, she’d go away.
Maybe not. She planted her hands on her slender hips and raised a dark, thin brow. She was actually more attractive than he’d first thought. Today she wore an expensive looking traveling dress like the women he’d seen in Boston. The dark indigo blue matched the color of her eyes perfectly. But right now sparks of fire lit those eyes.
“Mr. Reynolds, I’d like to discuss an arrangement with you. I’d appreciate it if you could find the common courtesy to allow me to ask a question before you give an answer.” Crossing her arms beneath her bosom, she stared at him with much the same look he’d gotten from his teacher back in school when he’d put frogs in the girls’ desks.
Her name was Adelaide Jennings—Doctor Jennings if she was to be believed. She stood all of five foot three; maybe an extra inch, if she was lucky. And she may as well have been the Queen of Sheba with her royal attitude. Wealth, education, and arrogance dripped from the soft-looking hands with manicured nails. The woman was as out of place in this dusty, old stable as a nun in a saloon. Clearly she was a spoiled little rich girl, and he wasn’t about to let her think money was going to change his mind. She was alone, unmarried, and she obviously had no idea what she was trying to get herself into. “Miss Jennings—”
“Right. Dr. Jennings. I’m still not sure I believe that claim,” he said. Her nostrils flared, and her lips thinned. Josh bit back a smile. This one was easily riled. “There’s no amount of money that’s gonna buy your way onto my train.”
She took a deep breath and lowered her arms. “You said you couldn’t allow an unmarried woman to travel with your train.”
He nodded and turned back to his horse to finish brushing him down. Josh knew it was rude to turn his back on a lady, but his stomach was rumbling. The sooner he got rid of her, the sooner he could make a quick stop at the bathhouse and get some vittles over at the hotel.
“Well, what if I travel with a husband?”
His brows rose. Had she really found a husband that fast? Any number of men would marry her. Heck, half the unmarried men west of the Rockies were so desperate for wives they had started ordering them by mail. “You got a husband?”
“I want you to marry me.”
His jaw dropped, but he snapped it shut and cleared his throat before answering. Without turning around, Josh kept his voice quiet. “Look Miss—Dr. Jennings, I’m right flattered and all, but….”
“Flattered?” A soft chuckle sounded behind him. He spun around in time to catch the flash of amusement in her eyes. “You misunderstand, Mr. Reynolds. I will pay you to let me borrow your name for the duration of the journey. I will legally be your wife, but in name only. That should satisfy the jealous women who claim that having an unmarried woman with the train is unacceptable.”
“It’s not just the women! The men know it’s invitin’ trouble to have a woman around who ain’t spoken for. There’s fightin’ and arguin’….” The woman’s smile ended his argument.
“Oh, but I would be spoken for, Mr. Reynolds. Are you saying you couldn’t protect your own wife from the lecherous intent of such men?”
“I already had a wife. Taught me a lesson I won’t forget.” Josh shook his head. “No. I will not make that mistake again. ”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake!” Throwing her arms in the air, she paced in front of him, the dust from the livery floor coating her shiny black boots. “I’m not asking for a real marriage. This will be a ceremony to please the others, in name only. And as soon as we arrive in Baker City, my father’s solicitor will file the necessary papers to have the marriage annulled.”
Josh pulled his hand down his face, attempting to wipe away the headache building behind his eyes. The woman was plum loco. “Why?”
“I beg your pardon?” A look of confusion replaced her impatient schoolmarm expression.
Something told him he wasn’t going to like her answer, but he had to know. She’d been so adamant yesterday and here she was back again. “Why is it so important that you travel with this wagon train?”
“I’m sure you know that yours is the last one leaving this year. If I don’t travel with your train, I’ll have to travel on horseback. Alone. I believe it would be safer with your train, Mr. Reynolds.”
“If you just wait another year or two, there will likely be a stage running all the way to Oregon.”
Her jaw tightened, and a new emotion filled her eyes. He’d only met her twice, but he’d already discovered she would never be able to hide her feelings. Emotions played across her face and betrayed her thoughts. “My father doesn’t have a year, Mr. Reynolds.”
His gut clenched, and the pounding in his temples deepened. “What do you mean?”
“Papa is ill. That’s why I became a doctor—so I could help him. If I don’t get to him soon, it will be too late.”
As if she’d timed her statement for the most dramatic moment, brilliant rays of the setting sun filtered in through the open doors. Her sable brown hair shone like warm honey, and wetness glistened in the corners of her midnight blue eyes. She bit her lip and stared at him, silently begging him to help her.
Josh stifled a groan. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
“Fine.” She moved passed him, calling over her shoulder, “Have you seen the livery attendant? I need to purchase a horse. ”
He let his head fall back, mumbling a curse and a prayer in the same breath. “Wait.”