Page 12 of A Wanton Woman

He meant they hadn’t been able to fuck a woman for that stretch, but I didn’t clarify.

“Once the pass opens, most of the men are eager to leave town, never to return. As a business owner, it is a concern since my miners have walked away from their jobs, but there is a never ending line of men ready to work. Replacements are easy to come by.”

“But the town does not grow, nor have a large number of families,” Walker added. He’d sat on the other side of him and made quick work of his carrots. He speared another. “They are quite good. Try one.”

He coaxed me into eating a buttery sweet carrot and I nodded in agreement. The food on the journey had been passable at best. This was the first meal I’d had in weeks where I didn’t have to eat quickly when the train stopped for more water and coal, or eat alone.

“The solution was to allow two men to marry the same woman,” Walker added, when he was satisfied I’d eaten the vegetable.

“I can’t imagine everyone would be keen on this idea. Surely the clergy would find it amoral,” I added, cutting another piece of steak. My stomach had settled after the men’s initial surprise and I realized I was ravenous. I was glad for the food, and something to do as we spoke. Was this why Walker had suggested it?

“There are some who are against the law, but they are either wed already or are, as you say, in the clergy. The Bible was separated from the challenge the town council faced.”

“And yet you used it to identify yourself to me on the platform,” I countered.

Walker grinned, pointed his fork at me. “Touché.”

“Most men in Slate Springs want a bride, but they are few and far between.” Luke snared a roll from Walker’s plate, ripped it in half and popped a piece into his mouth.

“Thus, your need for a mail order bride,” I added. “I assume the other men will need to leave town to find a bride?”

“Yes.” Luke shifted in his seat. “As mayor, everyone in Slate Springs is looking to me to set an example, to ensure the law works before others are willing to commit.”

“So I am wanted solely as an experiment?” I knew Luke had not specifically chosen me, personally, from Mrs. Carstairs’ business. He’d wanted a woman who would wed him sight unseen. I shouldn’t have felt hurt by the truth because I’d known it all along, but still, I was.

Luke didn’t answer the question. Instead, he asked one of his own. “And what of you? You must have a reason for choosing to become a mail order bride.”

I was very thankful then for the food on my plate. I took a big bite of carrot and took my time to chew, stalling.

I glanced at the men, who recognized my action for what it was, but remained quiet and patient. Waiting.

“My husband died and left me without money. While I have skills as a nurse, my chances for a job were limited in Tyler.” Especially with my history and the gossip that followed. “I felt it was best to move somewhere else.”

That was vague and did not cast any light to the real reasons for my departure. Pleased with myself, I took a sip of water.

“We are businessmen, Celia. We can bullshit better than most,” Walker said, not softening his words. “Luke’s the mayor and this kind of vague talk is his strength.”

“That’s right, sweetheart,” Luke added. “You’ve probably been raised not to share your burdens, being diplomatic and aloof. I appreciate a woman who can keep a secret, but we’re your husbands. There will be no secrets between us.”

Husbands. Instead of being standoffish, they wanted me to bare all.

The mashed potatoes on my tongue tasted like sawdust and I worked hard to swallow them down.

“Let me ask you more specific questions and that are easier to answer,” Walker said, placing his fork and knife on his plate. “How long were you married?”

“Five years.”

“From your clothing, it does not appear as if you were destitute in your marriage. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” I answered, then took a moment to study him. “You sound like a lawyer.”

Walker smiled then, brilliantly, showing off straight white teeth and a face so handsome my breath caught. “That’s right. You have me figured out, doll. Now let’s do the same with you.”

“What was your husband’s profession?” Luke asked.

“He was a doctor.”

“Impressive. And you were his nurse?”

I nodded.

“How did he die?”

I bit my lip, recognizing Walker had started off with easy questions and they were quickly becoming more difficult to answer. Using my napkin, I wiped my mouth.

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