Read The Bridal Veil Online

Authors: Alexis Harrington

Tags: #historical romance, #mailorder bride

The Bridal Veil (9 page)


Sort of. But Grammy doesn’t
like Daddy much.”

Emily had already gotten that
impression. “Really? Why not?”


She says Daddy was a
hell—hellion when he was younger. I don’t know what that is
exactly, but it sounds bad. Him and his friends were always in
trouble for something. Grammy says Daddy was from the wrong side of
the tracks, but I don’t know what she’s talking about. The train
doesn’t even come to Fairdale. Besides, he told me he grew up by
the river. Grammy says she didn’t want him to marry Mama because
she had a
nice
man
courting her, but Daddy chased him away.”

Emily lifted her brows. She countered,
“Well, your father seems like a nice man, too.”


Yeah, I guess. He used to
be more fun. He’s a lot different now since Mama died. For a long
time afterwards he didn’t talk much, and sometimes he’d sit at the
kitchen table at night for hours and drink whiskey. Grammy would
get mad at him about it, so he’d go upstairs to his bedroom and
slam the door. Or he’d go out to the barn.”

Suddenly, Emily felt that she was
learning more than she should know. “Does he still do those
things?”


Once in a while.” Rose
shrugged and repeated, “He’s not the same anymore. He used to make
jokes and laugh more.”

Emily heard a thread of wistfulness in
Rose’s usual sullenness. What kind of life was that for a girl or
for Luke himself, she wondered, and what could she do to change it?
A wife’s job, she knew, was to create a comfortable, peaceful home
where her husband could shed the cares of his day. She was expected
to rein in a man’s coarser character, and to rear children who were
well-behaved, quiet, and respectful. She had taught these values to
scores of young women to prepare them to lead proper lives and keep
proper homes. But she had no real practical experience. Although
this was not a typical marriage, surely if she bore Luke Becker’s
name she would do more than act as a governess to Rose. How she’d
go about it, though, with Cora holding court in the kitchen, she
wasn’t sure. No advice manual talked about her
circumstances.

Up ahead, Luke and the plow team came
into view. The April sun was gentle but his work was hot and hard.
He’d rolled up his sleeves above his elbows, and she watched,
fascinated, as the muscles in his arms flexed and stretched when he
pulled on the reins.

Seeing them approach, Luke halted the
team. After he fished out a dark blue handkerchief to swab his damp
face and neck, he reached for the canteen slung by a strap over his
shoulder. Pulling out the stopper, he tipped back his head and
drank, his throat working with each swallow. For a moment, he
seemed almost as big as the tall, broad-chested horses in front of
him, and just as powerful. His sweat-stained shirt clung to his
torso and was unbuttoned halfway down his chest. He lowered the
canteen and their eyes met for a single, riveting moment. Emily
slowed her pace and dropped her gaze, startled by her own visceral
response.

This was not the frock-coated man who
had met her at the dock yesterday, or the one who had written the
spare but polite letters to Alyssa. It wasn’t even the man who had
rescued her from the henhouse. This man was earthy and very male,
and looked like the type who would drink to intoxication at the
kitchen table.

This was worse than she’d originally
believed. Luke Becker would challenge her every day, forcing her to
fight those unseemly thoughts and frightening feelings with which
she struggled.

Risking another look at him in the
sun, his dark, curly hair ruffled by the spring breeze, Emily drew
a breath and stepped closer, determined to keep that dark corner of
her heart under lock and key.

After all, a lady could do no less and
still remain a lady.

CHAPTER FOUR


We didn’t finish our
conversation about Rose, Mr. Becker.”

Luke sat on the seat of the disc
harrow and gazed at Emily while he spooned Cora’s stew into his
mouth. He was surprised to see Emily out here in the fields,
especially after her run-in with Cora’s hens. After mulling it
over, he’d known there was no getting around having a word with his
mother-in-law after breakfast about the rotten trick she’d played
on Emily. But as always, she’d turned huffy and defensive. Nothing,
it seemed, was ever her fault.

She only meant to be
helpful . . . 

No one could take a
joke . . . 

It was only her
opinion . . . 

Everyone was so blamed
sensitive . . .  

Cora always had an answer, but none of
them ever included an apology.

If he was surprised that Emily had
come out here, he was even more surprised to see her with Rose. But
it pleased him. Obviously, she’d already begun to take his daughter
in hand and get her straightened around. The sensation of a weight
being lifted from his shoulders was almost physical.

She stood beside him in the mud, with
some funny winter boots peeking out from the hem of her black dress
and her shawl dangling on the crooks of her arms. Damn, she had
green eyes, he noticed again, probably the greenest he had ever
seen. But every time she turned them on him, he felt as if his
shirt was on backwards or his fly was unbuttoned.


No, ma’am, but I was hoping
you’d know what to do about Rose. That’s why I married—that’s what
we talked about yesterday.”

Emily got a pinched look, the same one
he’d seen earlier today. “It isn’t that I don’t know what to do,
Mr. Becker. I just want to find out if you have anything specific
in mind for Rose’s development.”

Gripping the jar of stew between his
knees, he tore off a hunk of bread from the loaf in the basket.
“It’s pretty simple. I want her to stop stealing, to have manners
that wouldn’t shame her mother, and to be happy. And I want to be
able to stop worrying about those things because I’ve got this farm
to run.”

Out of earshot, Rose walked along the
creek that edged the path, searching for ducks and ducklings.
Looking at her, Luke thought his heart would break. God, she was so
much like Belinda, not just in her face, but in her movements and
gestures too. Except for her ragamuffin appearance, it was as if he
were seeing Belinda as a child. It only made him miss his wife
more. “Just don’t break her spirit,” he added, almost to
himself.

Emily lifted her nose. “Mr. Becker, I
wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing! I know that accepted teaching
methods often include harsh tactics and even humiliation, but I do
not subscribe to those ideas. You can’t reach a child’s mind
through punishment and fear. Believe me, I know.”

His gaze shifted back to Emily, his
curiosity roused. Was she speaking from a teacher’s experience or
her own? Kids could be cruel, he knew. So could adults, for that
matter. Maybe in her past she’d been on the receiving end of
teasing about her height. A girl like her would never blend in, no
matter how hard she tried.

Nodding, he pulled off
another hunk of bread. “Rose hasn’t been the same since her mother
d—” He still couldn’t bring himself to say it aloud. “Since she
lost her mother. When she’s not in school she’s usually with Cora
or keeps to herself, and half the time I don’t know what she’s
thinking.” He threw the spoon into the basket. “Hell, I guess I
hardly
ever
know
what she’s thinking. I don’t know what makes her do things like she
did yesterday.”

Emily’s face relaxed into a small, wry
smile that made her plainness almost pretty. “Young girls’s hearts
are often mysteries to their fathers.”

Screwing the lid back on the jar, he
asked, “Did your father understand you?”

She glanced down at the toes of her
boots, and a shadow seemed to cross her smooth brow. “My own father
died when I was six. My stepfather and I weren’t very
close.”

He gazed at Rose again, scampering
along the creek bank, showing more enthusiasm than she’d let him
see in quite a while. “I don’t want that to happen to me and my
girl.”

Emily looked up again and considered
him for a moment, as if assessing his worth as a man. He resisted
the urge to shift on the seat of the harrow. “I’ll try to see that
it doesn’t, Mr. Becker.”

He met her eyes, then handed her the
empty lunch basket. “Ma’am, would you mind taking this with you?
I’d better get back to this field or it won’t be
finished.”


Surely.” Turning, she
called, “Rose, are you coming back with me?”

Rose looked up from the creek bank and
shook her head.


Then I’ll see you at the
house.”

Luke watched as she turned to walk
back to the house. She was fussy in her ways, and everything about
her would discourage a man from doing more than tipping his hat.
For his own part, Luke had always preferred women with more curve
than angle. Emily was nothing but angles. She was graceful, though,
he had to admit that, even if she was as tall and thin as a willow
sapling. Maybe because of it.

But he hadn’t married her for himself.
He’d married her for Rose.

~~*~*~*~~

That night after dinner,
Emily sat in the parlor with a slim volume of Elizabeth Barrett
Browning’s
Sonnets From the
Portugese
open on her lap. Rose and Cora
had gone to bed and the house was quiet. The divan under her bore
cushions with crocheted covers, and a pretty braided rug graced the
hardwood floor. The glow of the lamp, with its lovely rose-painted
shade, gave the room a warm hominess. It was peaceful here, with
both Cora’s voice and her kitchen noises silenced. Only the soft
tick of the mantel clock broke through the night sounds of the wind
rustling the boughs of the big oak just beyond the
window.

Yet Emily felt as if she were not
alone. A presence loomed here, just as it did in her own room and
in other parts of the house. The presence was Belinda Becker. Not
that Emily had seen her or even believed in ghosts. But the dead
woman’s spirit was kept alive and well by her family.

Cora took advantage of every
opportunity to point out something around the house that Belinda
had made, or owned, or collected. Having just lost Alyssa, Emily
thought she understood Cora’s need to hang on to Belinda’s memory.
Yet she spoke almost as if Luke’s first wife were not dead, but
merely away. In fact, Emily had hesitated before coming into the
parlor, worried that she might be trespassing on a sacrosanct
memory by even using the room.

But this was her home now, as well,
and she would not be confined to her bedroom and the kitchen. Luke
had promised her respect and a roof over her head—certainly the
home should consist of more than just those two rooms. And as for
the respect . . . 

Her gaze dropped to the text on the
page in her lap.

How do I love thee? Let me
count the ways.

Emily traced over the words with her
fingertip and sighed. Elizabeth Barrett had written these intensely
personal sonnets for Robert Browning before eloping with him to
Italy. Their courtship, which began with his correspondence to her
when she was thirty-two, had lasted eight years. She had been frail
and forty when she found a love so great that it deserved a book of
poetry.

I love thee to the depth
and breadth and height

My soul can
reach . . . 

What must it feel like,
Emily wondered, to love so deeply and to be loved in return? This
was not the kind of question that she often allowed herself to
ponder. It wasn’t one of her
unseemly
thoughts—the ability to love
and give it in return ennobled humankind. But when her mind ran
down this path she usually became dispirited and her heart actually
seemed to ache in her chest.

Things were difficult enough right
now, she decided, without the added burden of melancholy. Closing
the book with a clap, she glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten.
She’d been waiting here for Luke to come in from the barn for more
than an hour. He’d gone out there right after dinner, and she
remembered what Rose had told her about him skulking around out
there. She had another question to ask him, one that she didn’t
want to put off. But following him to the barn, especially if he
was in his cups, didn’t seem like a good idea. Better that she
should wait here. He had to come in eventually.

Just as the mantel clock began to toll
the hour, she heard the kitchen door open. That was followed by the
sound of footsteps that had become familiar to her already. Tucking
the book in the crook of her arm, she went to meet Luke.

He was reaching to turn down the
kitchen lamp when she walked in. “Mr. Becker—”

He jumped and whirled to face her.
“Goddamn it to hell, don’t sneak up on a man that way!” he
snapped.

Her brows rose and her mouth
tightened. “I didn’t think I had.” He looked, well,
unbuttoned
was the word
that came to Emily’s mind. His shirt tails weren’t flapping but
they were working their way loose. One strap of his suspenders was
falling off his shoulder and stubble shadowed his jaw. He closed
the back door, giving her a whiff of spring night breeze. “And
there is no need to use such vulgar language.”

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