The Heir Comes Home-Part 5 (See Parts 1-4 Here)
by Sandy Kay Slawson
Regina Waters paced her cramped boarding house room for the hundredth time. The news she’d received from the marshal brought with it the potential to upend her life. Again. The two men who still lived free despite their murder of her family, the murder she’d witnessed, were spotted in the vicinity. However, when the marshal arrived, they were nowhere to be found.
Did they come to this area because they’d found her? Were they hidden away in wait for a chance to kill her along with her testimony? Would she be forced to leave another town, other people she loved and cared about? The marshal said to stay put until he garnered additional information. Without corroboration, he could not be sure if the men were the same ones who’d escaped detection for the last couple of years.
Perhaps the return of Mr. Scotty’s heir came at the best time. If she must flee, at least his mercantile would go on without her. Mr. Scotty alone had known of her need to stay hidden. He’d protected her like his own daughter, and watched out for her day after day. He studied the wanted posters she’d given him, and hid her when any strange man came to town who might fit the description. Regina owed him, but her chance to repay died with him. How could she let his life’s work decay into disrepair, or allow the townspeople Mr. Scotty loved go without the necessities the mercantile provided? She'd done her best. Her duty to Mr. Scotty's memory had been fulfilled now that his grown children had arrived to take control. If she must leave, it would be with a clear conscience.
At a knock on the door, Regina’s breath caught, and her heart skipped a beat. “Y-yes?”
“It’s Kathleen. May I come in?”
Regina forced a smile, then opened the door to greet Mr. Scotty’s daughter. “Good evening, Kathleen. May I help you with something?”
Kathleen glanced around Regina’s neat room before she repeated, “May I come in?”
“My room is one of the smaller ones, but if you’d like to come in, you are welcome.” Regina stepped out of the way and waved toward the chair in front of her vanity table.
Kathleen entered with a sweep of her taffeta skirt and claimed the seat. Regina perched on the edge of her bed and waited.
“We haven’t seen you since we were in the churchyard this morning, and well… we worried you’d become ill. My brother, Kyrk, and I still hoped we might discuss the mercantile situation,” Kathleen said.
Regina wondered if it mattered anymore. If the marshal returned and said, she must flee and change her identity again, or return to the town of her birth to give testimony against those outlaws, what difference did it make if Mr. Stewart offended her, or thought her a thief? For the time being, though, she ought to continue on as normal, and not let fear of the unknown chain her to these quarters.
“I’m ready to quit this room for a while, and I am a tad famished. Perhaps there are some remnants left from breakfast or dinner. If so, might we have our conversation while I satiate this hunger of mine?"
“We’ll meet you in the kitchen,” Kathleen said with a grin before she darted out the door.
Regina liked the woman. Perhaps they’d become friends. Who knew but the Lord? With the marshal’s appearance at the church, she found her life in more turmoil than at the arrival of the Stewarts, and her future even more unsure.
In the kitchen, Regina found biscuits, butter, and jam. Perfect. When she raised her head from giving thanks, Mr. Stewart watched from the doorway. “Please join me, Mr. Stewart. There were more biscuits if you—”
“No, I’m still stuffed from supper. I appreciate the offer, though. The sisters who run this house love to cook, don’t they?” Mr. Stewart pulled out a chair across from Regina. “From what I've noticed, you've eaten nigh on nothing today. Are you unwell?”
Regina covered her mouth and finished her bite. “I’m fine, as you can see my appetite is quite normal. The sisters have helpers, but yes, they love to cook, eat, and feed anyone who steps through the door. Is Kathleen joining us?”
“Soon, said she must see to something or other first. Listen, Miss Waters, about the way I acted last night—”
“You apologized earlier, Mr. Stewart, and I accept. You don't have to—”
"I should apologize again, and I do. Also I beg your forgiveness. You deserved better for many reasons I’ve come to discover. However, one reason alone is enough to condemn me for my rash accusations. I’ve checked the records for Da’s store, and not only did you not steal, but you haven't paid your own wages since two weeks before my father’s death. We must rectify that at once. You earned every penny. The books and store itself are in meticulous order."
“No. I'm thankful for the sentiment, but I don't want it. Once your father passed, my employment ended. The work I did after that came out of our friendship and my deep gratitude for his generosity when I first came to town and every day after,” Regina fought the emotion which made her voice quiver, and blinked to prevent the deluge she experienced at the most inconvenient times since Mr. Scotty's passing.
Mr. Stewart’s expression softened to concern, and she accepted his handkerchief without argument. When she attempted to return the damp linen, he waved it away. “Keep it. Miss Waters, you’ve proven how much I misjudged you. Please, may we start over? And won’t you call me Kyrk? I’m far too young for this Mr. Stewart business.”
Regina offered a half-grin, relieved the somber moment had passed. “Kyrk, then, and I’m Regina, not Miss Waters.” Truer words had never been spoken. Kyrk's countenance lit with the beam of his pearly whites, and Regina lost herself in his masculine allure, until his next statement.
“Regina, did the man you met after church upset you? If so, please believe I’ll help you in whatever way is necessary. Don’t let my previous unacceptable behavior keep you away. Ask for my assistance anytime.”
Drat. How might she explain the marshal’s presence or their private conversation?
Kathleen entered the room with her usual energy and a large envelope that displayed Regina’s name. Out of the envelope Kathleen pulled copies of the wanted posters Regina had given to Mr. Scotty for reference. Regina did not need to see the posters to remember the men who’d killed her family, and who may still seek the one witness to their crime, her. Their likenesses were etched on her brain.
“Where did you find this?” Kyrk asked Kathleen.
“Da’s room when I went to look around this afternoon.”
“Why didn’t you show me?” Kyrk said with a frown at his sister.
“I’m guilty enough for my invasion of Regina’s privacy and thought she ought to be here to unravel this mystery herself. I do apologize, Regina.”
“That file belongs to you… and you,” Regina said with a glance at Kathleen, then at Kyrk, though she wished she might snatch it away and run. How many times had the marshal lectured her on the importance of secrecy to keep her safe? Mr. Scotty never told a soul. Would his daughter and son show the same wisdom?
“Still—” Kathleen said.
“These posters say the men are wanted for murder. At least they were unless they’ve been captured,” Kyrk said, then stared at Regina with a hint of the same distrust he’d displayed when they’d first met. “Care to explain, Miss Waters?”
To be continued...
CONFERENCE TIME: At the end of this month is the Blue Ridge Mountains Writers Conference (BRMCWC). This is a conference where many Christian writers/authors of all genres gather. The last time I attended in 2020 it was a great experience. I'm excited about this year's line-up of classes, speakers, and professionals who are attending. The time leading up to the conference will be filled with preparations and prayer. Going to these conferences is a blessing I don't want to take lightly. The learning experience in itself has been worth the time, money, and effort. Hopefully in next month's blog, I'll have an update for you so stay tuned.
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