Rem scanned Birdie quickly for any further injuries—feeling instantly relieved that she didn’t seem to be harmed—and then turned his attention to the man beside her. He didn’t recognize him, but something about the man made Rem feel he was not a threat to either Birdie or him and his ma. He was tall but not very broad shouldered. It didn’t appear the man did much heavy lifting. His features were soft but distinguished, and from the way he dressed, you could tell he possessed a fine amount of money. He was handsome, but not exactly manly. He wouldn’t survive a day as an icer.
With a slight nod, Rem opened the door wider and moved out of the way, motioning for them to enter.
“Well what do we got here?” his ma said as she wiped her hands on her apron. “Shut the door before the chill catches us all.” She ran over to an afghan slung across the back of a chair, grabbing it and covering Birdie’s shoulders with it. “You are nearly as frozen as the ice Rem chops at all day.”
“Mr. Langston, Mrs. Langston,” Jeremiah said as he removed his hat and nodded at both. “Thank you for seeing us unannounced. My name is Jeremiah Banks, and I’m a friend of Birdie.”
Rem signaled for them to sit down. “Why don’t you tell us what this is all about?” He looked at Birdie, whose big brown eyes skittered around, clearly nervous. Her busted lip looked better than last night, and her shiner hadn’t gotten any worse, both of which made him happy. Her shoulder length hair shone bright without all the mattes and tangles, giving Rem an odd sense of pride. This young lady sure did look different than the one he brought in last night from the storm. “Ma, why don’t you get some coffee started?”
Jeremiah pulled out a chair for Birdie and then sat down beside her across from Rem at the head of the table. “Well, Birdie here has told me all about the kind act you and your ma did for her, and how you helped a woman in need. I’ve known Birdie since we were kids, and I know what type of man her pa is. Which is why we are here, hoping you can help us.”
“Of course we’ll help Birdie,” Ma cut in, too focused on what was going on to start any coffee. She just stood beside Rem, stunned in place.
Rem patted his ma’s hand, silently hushing her. “Go on. What is it you want?”
“Jedson Bluebell got himself in a mighty mess. One that puts Birdie’s life in danger.”
Fire erupted inside Rem’s gut, and he clenched his fists on top of the table. “What kind of danger?”
“Nothing I can’t handle, but I need a place that Birdie can stay while I’m away taking care of business.” Jeremiah reached out and touched the shiner on Birdie’s face. “I don’t want her returning to her pa, as I’m sure you can understand why. So I was hoping that you could provide her safety under your roof until I can return and marry her.”
A bullet to the heart would have been less painful. “Marry?” Rem asked, looking at Birdie for explanation, none of which she gave.
Jeremiah nodded. “Yes. Birdie and I have come to an agreement, and we have decided that it is best for all involved for us to marry when I return. It’s complicated, and something I will allow Birdie to elaborate on more when I’m gone, but for now our focus needs to be on her wellbeing and safekeeping.” He paused and studied Rem and then looked at Ma. “I would most certainly pay you for her keep.”
Birdie looked up at Jeremiah with her mouth agape but said nothing.
“We ain’t taking your money,” Rem snapped. Birdie turned to look at Rem and made eye contact for a mere second, quickly lowering her stare.
Now it was his ma’s turn to pat his hand. “What Rem means is that we would be more than happy to let Birdie stay with us. As our friend and houseguest. No money is needed.”
“How is Birdie in danger?” Rem asked, feeling the inferno grow in his inner depths.
“Her pa did wrong by some very callous men. I worry that not only will they kill her pa, if I don’t fix this, but they may also go after Birdie. I think I can calm the waters when I throw enough money at it.”
“And you think she will be safe with me and my ma?”
“I do. I also think you can agree with me when I say that I don’t want her having any contact with her pa.”
Rem nodded. “I can guarantee that much. Keeping her from her pa and keeping her safe.” He looked at Birdie again and studied how she never looked up once from the table. Her shoulders slumped as if the weight of the world rested there. He hated that they were speaking as if she weren’t even in the room. “Birdie?” She tentatively looked up to him. “Is this what you want?”