The stranger stepped from the driving snow into the warmth of Gentry Mercantile. He stomped his feet and shook his buffalo coat to shed encrusted ice before hanging it on one of the hooks near the door.
“Welcome, Cowboy. Set yerself down by the fire to thaw.”
Colter gratefully pulled up a rocker. “Lance Colter. Just lookin’ for work. I broke some bones and don’t do so well on cattle drives nowadays.”
The two men playing checkers both found some knobby joints to rub and grinned at him in sympathy. “Bet this weather ain’t lettin’ you fergit, neither.” Colter had to restrain himself from reaching to rub some aching joints. He wasn’t near the age of these two codgers and wasn’t about to mimic them, even unintentionally.
“Sarah. Bring out some more coffee. We got us a visitor.” Gentry grinned at Lang as he jumped his opponents last piece.
“In a minute, Pa.” The voice drifting from the living quarters in the back was lilting and made Colter think of spring and flowers. That cold musta froze my brain. Spring and flowers? He sidled up closer to the stove.
It wasn’t long before the curtains swished and in walked the most beautiful thing Colter had ever seen. Her blond curls were up in a fashionable style that framed her delicate face and made her blue eyes glow. Of course that blue gown she was wearing matched her eyes perfectly, maybe that’s why they seemed almost unreal.
She walked over to the men and placed her hand on Gentry’s shoulder. “Pa, there’s hot stew and fresh bread. Are you ready for some lunch?”
“Let’s eat, men.” He stood stiffly, stretched, and beckoned to Colter. “Come join us. Sarah is the best cook in the territory.” She looked at him but never met his eyes.
“Don’t mind if I do.” They stood to follow Sarah toward the dining room but Colter winced when she caught her toe on the edge of his rocker and nearly fell. Her Pa steadied her and they continued as if nothing had happened. Colter tossed his hat onto the sideboard as they seated themselves.
Sarah carefully ladled the stew into large bowls but dripped some onto the hot stove. She quickly wiped it off with a damp cloth kept nearby for just such an occasion, but the smell of burning food permeated the room. She placed the bowls in front of the men and Gentry’s prayer was short but sincere.
In spite of the smoke, it tastes better than … A startling crash made Colter leap to his feet and he looked with horror at the mess. Broken glass was scattered all around Sarah’s feet and she shivered in fear and shock. Colter lifted her into his arms and carried her away from the mess.
“What happened?” Even her voice trembled. Her father wrapped his arms around her and spoke soothingly in her ear.
“What in tarnation made you put the tray on my hat, woman?” Fear made Colter’s voice harsher than he intended.
“I didn’t see it.” She burst into tears.
“Sarah. Listen to me.” She choked back sobs and lifted her head from her Pa’s shoulder. "Glasses can be replaced, girl. An’ we got us a whole shelf of new hats.” He gave her a shake. “No one’s hurt, the food is durn delicious, an’ this little accident is nothing compared to how well you’re doin’. It’s only been three years, girl. Yer doin’ great. Now head on up an’ change. We’ll have things put to rights afore you git back.”
She sniffed and lifted her chin. Her determined smile changed the whole atmosphere of the room. “I’ll be back in ten minutes with cookies and a fresh dried apple pie.” She turned to Colter. “Do you take milk or sugar?” He shook his head dumbly. How can she look so beautiful with her curls dangling and tears streaking her face? She pulled out a lacy handkerchief and wiped her nose. And why does she seem like she’s still waiting for something?
“No, girl. He takes it plain. Now git goin’. I want some of thet pie.” Her pa shot him a look.
As Sarah disappeared upstairs, Gentry turned to Colter. “I guess I shoulda told ya. It ain’t something we can put behind us, I suppose… not like broken dishes and ruined hats.” Colter still stared in confusion. “Cowboy, doncha git it? Sarah cain’t see nothing. She’s been blind roun’bout three years now, boy!”
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