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Bo actually winked at her. "Talk to Walter about his plans and I guarantee you'll feel better about it. I actually thought this was your idea. You're making that old man soft."
Emmie frowned, wondering what he meant. But mostly she wondered if Bo knew that Walter had fired the shot that had taken down Mr. Johnson. She doubted it. There was no reason for him to know. Mr. Johnson had come to kill anyone at the house that day and Walter had protected those he loved. Knowing the truth about that would only cause Bo more pain. Some things were better left unsaid.
"I'll be home soon for Spotty."
"No rush," he said, turning to leave the hospital.
Her heart felt heavy watching him leave but she had enough faith in him to know in the end he would be okay. He had his sister and, regardless what Trick thought, she was not a bad person. They would cling to one another through this.
Emmie took her time returning to Silas's room. She knew he needed time to talk to his family. When Marco saw her standing outside in the hall, he joined her and asked if she was okay. She told him she was fine and thought she was being fairly honest. He said that he was leaving that evening on a train back to Chicago. He had promised to be better about keeping in touch and she believed him. Their relationship was strained but not broken. That was a vast improvement from what she would have said a month ago.
Al left the room and practically ran into her. He cupped her chin. "Are you okay here or do you want me to take you somewhere?"
Just like with Marco, she'd a.s.sured him she was okay.
"I had a feeling that's what you'd say. So, Silas, huh? You sure about that?"
"Positive," she answered.
Marco and Al left together and she sat in a chair outside Silas's door, watching the nurses move from room to room. After a while Trick popped his head out and shouted, "She's out here." Then he turned back to Emmie. "He's asking for you."
If they'd been talking about any tense family business before she entered the room, she couldn't tell. The atmosphere in the room was night and day different from when Bo was in there less than an hour ago. That made her feel a little better. She was going to be sure Bo didn't end up hurt from all this. He had already suffered so much.
Silas's father draped an arm around Emmie as she entered the room. "So, I'm getting a new daughter? Silas has kept this tight-lipped."
"Well the details are still being worked out," Silas said with an arched brow, looking pointedly at Emmie.
"Jemma will be glad. She was disappointed not to have you with her at the Bell House this week," the older man said, looking down at her. Emmie had forgotten she had promised to help there this week.
"When we are back in Chicago, I'll look forward to helping. It's a wonderful mission, Mr. McDowell," Emmie said honestly.
"That it is, girl," he boasted proudly. He and Trick left to return to the hotel not long after Emmie made her way back to the room, leaving her alone with Silas.
Silas patted the bed next to him.
She walked over, sat next to him, and leaned into his good side. "When do you want to be married?"
He rested his head against the pillow and looked up at the ceiling. "Four or five years from now?"
She smacked his leg playfully. "If you aren't careful you will make me think you don't want me."
He squeezed her into him and dug his chin into her neck. His scruffy beard left red marks on her skin. "Oh I want you, especially in that dress. Whatever it cost it just may be the best money I've ever spent." He trailed a finger up to the hem of her skirt.
She laughed and a moment of quiet pa.s.sed between them as they both thought of how to continue the conversation.
"Silas, I want to marry you. But before we do this there is something else I want to ask of you," she said, turning to face him.
His eyes widened. She rarely asked for things and Emmie could tell she had piqued his curiosity. "I don't think I'm a moll. I've never seen you hurt people just to hurt them. What is good and bad anyway? Everyone is just doing what they think is best in the moment they are living in, right?"
He nodded at her words but kept quiet wondering where this was going.
"And . . ." she swallowed hard, "I understand why you need to work with the moonshine. If the police aren't going to be able to keep it safe, somebody's got to, right? Some of those bootleggers are bad people and some of them aren't. I figure you're as good a person as any to help sort through that." She took a deep breath. "I'm not saying that I don't expect you to be involved because I'm not sure that's even what I'd want to ask of you. But I will ask for you to watch out for Walter and maybe if you could find it in your heart, after enough time for you to build some trust, for Bo too."
Silas frowned and opened his mouth to speak but she put a hand up to silence him. "But also, I'm hoping that in the future you can spend a little more time in the office and a little less time chasing down people with your fists or guns. I'm not saying never because I'm not here to change you . . . I'm just saying not often. If we are to have a family someday, it's what I'd need. I couldn't be spending every night wondering if you'd come home with a hole in your chest."
Silas toyed with the ring on her hand. "When we are married I'll pick up more duties at the law office. Some of my responsibilities can be pa.s.sed to others. Especially when Al returns to Bowling Green." He looked down at his injured side. "Plus I spoke with the doctor again after you left. It seems this arm may not be the quickest draw anymore."
"What do you mean?" Emmie asked, looking at his arm that lay to his side.
"Apparently the doctor thinks there is a chance of lasting damage to my insides that could impact how well I use this one," Silas said with a frown. "He says only time will tell though. And you know me, I don't give up that easy."
She gently touched his arm and nodded, careful to keep emotion off her face. She needed to be strong for him. "You're one of the most stubborn men I know. That should work in your favor for this battle."
He grinned, weaved his fingers through her wavy hair, and pulled her mouth to his. His arm may not be working as well but there was no problem with his lips. Even in a hospital bed he could make her feel like mush.
"You warmed up?" he asked with a smile.
She laughed thinking of the night they had ice skated.
"Melted," she said.
"You don't know melted yet," he tilted his head to the side as he spoke and kissed her neck then whispered, "but you will soon."
Silas was in the hospital longer than expected. No infection set in, but the wound wasn't healing as quickly as the doctors had hoped. Emmie began to almost look forward to the no-visiting hours each day because he had become such a bear. That man didn't like bed rest. She'd spent all her free time at Max's makeshift hospital in the white Victorian house. She asked Dr. Stone how she could be helpful. At first he very politely blew her off, saying he didn't need any a.s.sistance. By the end of the first week, he sat her down with a couple of mothers that couldn't read to help them fill out required hospital paperwork. Another time she showed up with a new book and read to the kids while their parents met with Dr. Stone. One day she cooked beans and cornbread for the folks staying in the house. They looked so thankful for the home-cooked meal. In the afternoons she made her way out to the shed and helped Max with reading. It wasn't unusual for other kids to join them. At the end of the second week Dr. Stone had come up to her, making sure she understood he had no money to pay for her work. She'd laughed at his suggestion, letting him know she only wanted to help others and would never request payment.
Ridiculously enough, married or engaged women couldn't be paid for their work but were allowed to donate their time for free. The ring on her left hand wouldn't take away this opportunity. In the eyes of society Silas would provide the income and she would volunteer for the hospital. She thought it was a crazy rule, but she wouldn't have wanted to take money from the hospital anyway. Those funds would be better spent on kids like Max.
She and Max sat at the foot of the stairs in the entry hall, finishing his math homework when she looked up and saw Silas standing in the doorway of Dr. Stone's house.
"Silas. They've let you out early?" she asked, looking at the clock on the wall. She wasn't due back at the hospital for another thirty minutes.
"Good behavior, I suppose." He smiled and winked at Max.
"I know better than that." She stood and wrapped her arms around him.
"So this is Max's hospital?" he asked, trying to keep judgment out of his voice but failing.
"It sure is," Max said proudly.
"They're building a larger facility that will be finished next summer. This is actually run out of Dr. Jonah Stone's home, remember?" They'd talked about the hospital a lot in the past couple of weeks.
Max gave Silas a tour that lasted all of three minutes. Silas smiled as he told Max about how nice the place was but she could tell he was less than impressed. Well, until he met Dr. Stone. The doctor limped up to them, shook hands with Silas, and explained how he'd started this little office that had soon grown into a real hospital. Emmie saw Silas's demeanor change as he realized this doctor had a personal pa.s.sion for his work with children. She wondered if her own reaction to the little white house had been similar that first day she'd stumbled upon it.
Trick had driven them all back to Tealbach that evening. Emmie was surprised to learn Walter and Mae had decided to spend the last couple weeks in the hotel rather than staying in their leased house. Too many bad memories now accompanied that little house. Before Silas's father had left town he'd made sure they were put up in one of the largest suites. Walter didn't like the finery, but he agreed it was better for Max so he went along with it.
Emmie stood in the lobby, waiting to walk upstairs when she saw Trick carry her bags downstairs. She looked at Silas and frowned. He grinned before he spoke.
"Are you ready to go home?" Silas asked.
"We're going back to Bowling Green this afternoon?" she asked in surprise.
He nodded with a grin, grabbing her hand and leading her out of the hotel.
Emmie was both excited and nervous as they drove back through the streets of her hometown. The night was clear, revealing a black sky dotted with stars. The drive home had been beautiful. Home. Her heart sank as she realized her house was gone. They'd pa.s.sed the scorched land on their way to drop off Walter. The old man had told her to not even look at it, but she couldn't help herself. Everything was gone now. Even the barn had burned down. She wondered if someone she loved had done that on purpose. Someone who didn't want her to see the ugly word carved into the side of the building.
After they dropped off Walter's family and helped them get settled inside their little farmhouse, she, Trick, and Silas had stopped at her land. Silas hadn't wanted to, saying it was too late and she didn't have to worry about that right now, but she wanted to see it. She had cried seeing the ruins of her home, but strangely enough, a part of her had felt at peace with the loss. That house had seen a lot of happy memories but it had seen a lot of horrors too. Ronnie had been murdered, not fifty yards from where she was standing. She had not darkened the door of her house since the day she was kidnapped.
Emmie had looked around in the pitch-black night and decided that it was time to let those ghosts go. She was moving on to do the thing she'd always dreamed of, carving out a real life for herself. She didn't know if she would keep the land and rebuild or sell it, but that wasn't something she had to decide under the glow of the moonlight.
Trick drove them away from her house; she sat in the front seat and watched her past get smaller in the window behind her. Silas ma.s.saged her shoulders from the backseat using both hands. His grip on his affected side wasn't as strong but he was improving. She put her hand on his weaker arm and patted, turning to face forward. They drove the rest of the way back to town in silence. She had a.s.sumed they would be staying at Ava's parents' house but she was wrong. Trick pulled the car into Marco's rarely used home. Emmie was surprised to find the front of the house lit up. Someone was expecting their arrival this late at night?
Emmie turned to Silas confused. "I thought he'd gone to Chicago."
"He did," Silas said mysteriously.
Silas carried her bag in his strong arm and rested his other hand on the small of her back, leading her into the house. Emmie walked up the stone steps slowly trying to sneak a peek through the large windows. Silas's boots thumped loudly on the wooden deck, as if to announce their arrival. Trick laughed and Emmie frowned, her eyebrow arched in question.
"Not a good idea to sneak up on newlyweds," Trick explained.
The door popped open as he reached for the handle. Spotty bounded out the front door, nearly knocking Emmie down. He generally wasn't a big kisser, but her dog licked her from her hand to her elbow. Emmie smiled and scratched his belly causing him to kick his back leg excitedly.
"You are in big trouble, girl," Ava said from the other side of the screen door, taking her attention from Spotty.
Emmie bit her lip to suppress her smile. Ava stood in front of her in her warm winter robe and sock feet with her hand pressed firmly to her hip. Gabe reached around her and pushed open the creaking screen door that had snapped closed after Spotty's escape earlier.
"Ignore my wife and come on in. None of you are in trouble." He gently moved Ava to the side.
"Oh no. This one," Ava pointed to Emmie, "she's in a mess of trouble."
Trick mumbled under his breath, "She wouldn't be Emmie if she wasn't in some kind of trouble."
The boys laughed and moved to the fireplace to warm their hands. It was a bitter cold night and their little escapade, wandering around Emmie's land, had left them chilled to the bone.
"I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye. But you were still asleep. And it was your wedding night."
Ava frowned. "You think I'm mad you left Chicago? Oh, do you not know me at all?"
Emmie's eyebrows knitted together. "Well, then what are you mad about?"
She grabbed Emmie's hand and pointed at her ring. Spotty sniffed her hand for good measure but found nothing of interest and backed away.
"Oh," Emmie said. She had completely forgotten Ava didn't know Silas had given her the ring. "It happened after you left the ice rink and then it was your wedding day and it didn't seem right to tell you then that Silas had given me a ring. Plus it was kind of complicated, Ava."
"You get a ring and are getting married and you know who tells me?" Ava asked, throwing her arm out to the side. "Gabe. I had to find out my best friend is getting married from my husband who found out from his father. And you know what makes it even worse? When I went to tell my parents they already knew. I was quite literally the last to know you were getting married. Do you have any idea how many unspoken rules of sisterhood you have broken, Emmie?" By the time Ava finished her voice was a high squeal.
Emmie stood there in silence for a moment. None of this had ever crossed her mind. "I'm sorry, Ava. It all happened so fast."
Her friend crossed her arms over her chest and nodded, accepting her words. "I suppose you have been through a lot with Silas being shot and all."
Emmie couldn't help but laugh at the way Ava said that phrase with such casual indifference.
"I've been worried about you even though I was angry. I saw what they did to your house. Millie and I met out there and sifted through the ashes and were able to collect a few things. Some pictures and such that weren't too badly damaged." Ava grabbed her hand and pulled her through the house to the kitchen.
Two wooden crates sat in the corner. Her life had come down to two crates of half-burned photographs and chipped china. She'd be lying if she said her heart didn't sink at the thought. She sighed and knelt down, sifting through the boxes, her eyes wet with tears. She felt Ava's arms around her. There was always a choice of emotions and att.i.tudes, right? Emmie would do her best to see the positive here. This was all just stuff. Her family was safe and her memories rested in her heart, not the walls of some broken-down house.
Something Ava had said dawned on her. She looked at her friend with wide eyes. "Ava, you sorted through the ashes of my house?"
Ava nodded. "Why wouldn't I? You were busy taking care of your fiance, and it needed to be done."
Emmie had never in her whole life seen Ava get dirty, even as a child, yet she had spent a day in the cold winter wind sorting through dust and ashes. "I cannot thank you enough for doing this for me. You are a good friend."
"Millie helped too. I think Bo sent her when he heard what I was doing. She hardly said two words to me the whole day," Ava said.
"I think Millie is having a hard time with things," Emmie said, but felt like that was probably an understatement.
"Enough of the sadness and dust," Ava said, switching gears. She bounced over to the fireplace and pulled a large box out of the corner.
Something else caught Emmie's eye as she watched her friend. Gabe handed Silas a small teal pouch. It looked like a tiny change purse. He shoved it in his pocket. Emmie frowned but Ava bounced in front of her, holding the box.
"We got you a Christmas gift," she said.
"Ava, Christmas is weeks away."
"An engagement present then. Open it." She pushed the box to her friend.