I gulped down my fear. This was not a sane, rational man.
“My… my husband is inside. He’ll be expecting me.” I was surprised I was able to get the words out, my mouth numb. I was so afraid I felt my knees wobble. My heart was beating so hard it hurt to breathe.
Carl slowly shook his head. “I saw them leave. Yes, them. You’re married to two men, giving yourself to them like a whore. No wonder your doctor husband bedded someone else.”
When he’d confronted me in Texas, he’d said I’d been too frigid to please John. Now, he’d spun his reasoning all around. Clearly, he wasn’t right in the head. And I was alone with him.
“What… what do you want?” I asked.
“To see justice served.” He stepped over to the barn wall, grabbed a coil of rope off the peg. “You’re going to hang, just like Neil.”
He unwound the rope, let the length of it fall to the ground at his feet as he began to fashion a noose. I was going to die and Luke and Walker couldn’t save me.
“The weather’s pretty bad,” Mr. Bernard said. With a cloth, he grabbed his coffeepot off his stove and poured two cups. Even with his rheumatism, his hands were still strong enough to grab it safely and I didn’t offer my help. I’d carried several loads of wood from a lean-to by the barn and brought up by the back door. I also carried several loads to set by the stove in the kitchen. He wouldn’t need to even go outside for more until tomorrow. I feared he might slip on the slick ground and with no one about to find him, he’d quickly die from exposure.
I glanced out the window toward the house. It wasn’t Luke’s house any longer, but our house. The house we shared with our wife, and hopefully soon, children. I caught sight of the lamp in the kitchen window, but then it was quickly obscured by the blowing snow. “Yes, I should get back so I’m not stuck here.”
He handed me my cup with a knowing smile. “Why would you want to stay here with me when you’ve got a lovely wife waiting for you?”
I grinned and spoke honestly. “It’s different than I imagined.”
“Sharing her with your brother? I’d imagine.” He took a sip, then went to sit at his small table. “I remember when I married Lydia.” His eyes focused on the cup in his hands, but I knew he was seeing the past. “A woman changes a man. Makes him want more. To be more. And when you have children...”
Mrs. Bernard passed on several years back and their children were full grown. One son lived in Jasper with a family of his own, the other settling in Denver. Neither had wanted to stay in Slate Springs, for there wasn’t enough employment. In the summer months, Mr. Bernard traveled to visit, staying for a few weeks with each of them. But with the pass closed, he was cut off from them for the winter.
“I never wanted children before, but I want them with Celia.”
“Then you better head home and get on that.” Mr. Bernard winked at me and I felt my cheeks heat. “But you’ve got company staying. I’d think that would put a damper on things.”
“That man. Your wife’s friend.”
I put my cup down with a thud, the coffee sloshing over the brim and onto my hand. A sick feeling spread through my gut. “Describe him.”
His eyes widened and all humor slipped from his face at my tone. “A little shorter than you, dark hair. Tan.”
“That’s not a friend,” I told him as I grabbed my coat, buttoned it. My heart was pounding and I tried to remain calm knowing who was at the house with Celia.
“Who is he then?” Mr. Bernard stood, went to grab his rifle he kept behind the door.
“Trouble from Texas.”
He pushed the rifle in my hands. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. He stopped by this morning, first thing. He didn’t even have a hat. I gave him one of my scarves to use.”
I gave him a curt nod and opened the back door. “Not your fault. But I’ve got to go save my woman.”
Carl fashioned a noose from the length of rope with a skill that made my skin crawl. Had he made one to hang someone before or had he practiced specifically for me?
“What if it had been Walker or Luke who came to tend the animals?” I wondered.
“I’d get to you,” he replied. I had to imagine he’d kill them to get to me without even blinking.
“You’ll be caught,” I added.
He glanced up from his work for just a second. His eyes had a wild glint in them. “Doesn’t matter. Justice will be served.”