Chasing the Past: Chapter 2, Part 1
Quick Recap of Previous Chapter
In the previous chapter (links just below this message) Matthew woke up to a mysterious woman in his bedroom. This mystery woman turned out to be Janie, a young woman who desperately wants a way out of Abilene. Matthew is trying to escape some of his own demons by staying, though. Now the two of them are crossing paths again and getting to know one another a little.
Previous Chapter Links
- Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 1
An intro to a historical romance set in 1870 Abilene, Kansas. Janie tries to seduce a cowboy in order to get out of town.
- Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 2
Matthew can't confront his demons yet and he finds himself attracted to the woman who tried to seduce him for unknown reasons.
Well, that was a lot less awkward than it could have been. Was Matthew thanking her for her unexpected visit early that morning, Janie wondered? He certainly seemed a little flustered by something. Also determined. He was clearly a man on some sort of mission when they had their impromptu introduction. Where was he headed in such a hurry, anyway?
Janie tied her apron around her waist a little tighter before heading into the kitchen of the Drover's Cottage, trying to mentally prepare for the verbal reprimand she was sure would come for neglecting her work duties this morning. She knew she deserved a good tongue lashing, but Ms. Margaret Tatum, her supervisor, had no idea just how much of one she actually deserved. If everything had gone according to plan, she would not have just formerly met Matthew Cooper in the street. Nor would she be preparing to help make dinner for guests. She would instead be on her way to Texas somewhere with the handsome cowboy.
Why was she still thinking about him anyway, least of all how good-looking he was? She did not have time for daydreaming. Her plan was foiled, so what she really needed to concentrate on was what to do next in order to ensure her safety, not about where Matthew Cooper might be this very moment. Besides, if he was headed to town, he was probably like almost every other man she knew. She was well aware of the things that went on in Abilene, especially at night. She had no reason to believe Matthew would not set foot in the devil's establishments, did she? No. Except maybe that he had law experience. But that had its own complications.
Janie shook her head as if to shake the image of Matthew from her mind. She thrust her shoulders back and whirled around - right into Ms. Tatum. There she stood, her hands squarely on her hips. The short, round woman had her gray hair pulled back in a tight bun. Janie's eyes widened in surprise while Ms. Tatum's no-nonsense expression remained firmly in place.
"Ms. T-Tatum!" Janie stuttered, squirming a little under the older woman’s scrutiny.
She looked Janie up and down with what Janie decided could only be contempt. The seconds seemed to drag on for what seemed like minutes before Miss Tatum finally spoke.
"Janie, girl, you've been here how long - a month?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I can explain." But could she really explain without giving herself away?
"No need. I don't want your excuses. You are one of my best workers so I am going to forgive you this one time. Do you hear me, girl? This one time."
Janie forced a smile and, despite herself, let out a nervous sigh. "Yes, Ma'am." She still needed her job here as long as she was in town. It provided a roof over her head and money to save for when the time came to leave.
“Good. Get to work now; the bread won’t make itself.” Miss Tatum mumbled something else as she walked away, but "Hmph" was all that Janie was able to make out of it.
Janie was concentrating a little too hard on kneading the dough. She did not hear Mr. McCoy and Matthew enter the room. When Mr. McCoy cleared his throat Janie jumped, which caused her to knock over the flour container, which sent a plume of flour into the air around her. She immediately rolled her eyes upward, puckered her lips, and attempted to blow some of the dusting she received off of her lashes. Then she wiped her face with her elbow and her forearm before spinning around to see the two men standing dumbfounded. Although she swore she saw a twinkle in their eyes, Janie's feisty side showed when she momentarily forgot who she was speaking to.
"Is something amusing, gentlemen?" she said through gritted teeth.
"No, not at all, Ma’am," Mr. McCoy quickly said.
"It's just that you have a little something here." Matthew moved his hand around in front of his face, amusement definitely shining in his eyes now.
"You really shouldn't startle a girl like that, you know," she snapped.
Joseph McCoy removed his hat in a belated gesture of respect. Janie wondered if he was simply trying to save face in front of a guest. Surely he was not worried about the feelings of lowly staff members such as herself.
"We truly are truly sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “I was just bringing Mr. Cooper to meet Miss Tatum since she likes to cater to her regulars personally."
Her regulars? So Matthew was planning to stay awhile. Janie's heart fluttered and her face flushed slightly, but she did her best to keep her face impassive. There was an awkward silence while she convinced herself her delight was because she had more time to persuade him to take her with him when he left.
“Yes, sir,” she agreed, still trying to hold to her poker face. She did not want Matthew to guess that her heart just danced in her chest at the thought of seeing him around a while longer.
Mr. McCoy suddenly realized he had not made an introduction after inadvertently creating such a scene. He cleared his throat again.
“I should introduce you. . .”
When his voice trailed off with another slight throat clearing, Janie realized that he did not have a clue who she was and therefore he could not properly introduce them. However, she suspected that he was not as embarrassed as one might expect a man to be under these circumstances.
“It’s quite alright, Mr. McCoy,” Janie assured the hotel owner. “Mr. Cooper and I had the pleasure of meeting this morning when I was speaking with Mrs. Stewart.”
“Yes,” Matthew agreed. “Miss McEntire saved me some embarrassment.”
Janie arched her brow in surprise.
“You see, though Mr. and Mrs. Stewart are neighbors of mine here at your fine establishment, I could not for the life of me recall her name! It was Miss McEntire who mentioned her name and jolted my memory.”
So that was why he thanked her, she mused. One mystery solved. Only about a thousand more to go. She was surprising herself by how much she actually wanted to get to know this man. Even in Joseph McCoy’s presence, Matthew Cooper somehow seemed different. He had an air of authority underscored by humor and kindness. In contrast, there was a bit of arrogance behind Joseph McCoy’s authority that showed through even though he tried to hide it for the time being. Mr. McCoy generally left the management of the staff to Ms. Tatum. Janie knew that he had no real desire to know her or anything about her, yet here he still stood because Matthew seemed to be at ease with everyone he met. Momentarily lost in her thoughts, she sighed.
Mr. McCoy cleared his throat one more time. “If you will please excuse us, we will let you get back to work. Please accept our sincere apologies.”
Janie watched them leave the room before returning to the task at hand. Hopefully, Ms. Tatum would also have a sense of humor when she saw the mess. She could clean up the workspace fairly quickly. Too bad there was little she could do about her personal disarray until after dinner was prepared.
Janie looked around the kitchen with satisfaction. All of the evening activities were finally over and she had the place sparkling clean. She decided that a stroll in the moonlight was just what she needed to clear her crowded mind. But first, she needed to change out of her floury attire.
Lost in her thoughts, she headed up the stairs completely oblivious to who was coming and going around her. Bumping shoulders with a man going down as she was going up, she momentarily paused. She expected to exchange polite pleasantries and apologies and quickly be on her way. Instead, she found herself looking up into the bemused eyes of none other than Matthew Cooper.
“Miss McEntire, good evening to you.”
“Mr. Cooper,” she said, unsure of what the proper response should be at this point. He had already seen her naked on one occasion and covered in flour on another. It seemed as if they should be well past formalities, yet the pair hardly knew each other.
He looked around as if noticing for the first time that they were stopped in the middle of the stairs, forcing everyone else to squeeze between them and the wall. She started to continue up the steps, but he grabbed her hand, hesitated a second, and then asked her to go for a walk with him. Before she knew what was happening, she was on her way back down the stairs instead of going to her room to freshen up first.
The two of them strolled leisurely around the property before heading to the stables, where she learned that his horse’s name was Turkey Beak.
“That’s an interesting name for a horse,” Jamie quipped, casting him a revealing sideways glance.
“My sister named him.”
His expression went serious and she waited for him to offer more information.None came. Instead, she attempted to lighten the mood by tossing a piece of straw lying on the stall rail in his direction.
“Why, Mr. Cooper, you’re so much more handsome when you’re smiling,” Janie quipped.
Matthew bent down without a word. Seeing his intention, Janie turned to run toward the door, but he caught up to her with only two long strides. She winced when his handful of straw hit her and the amusement quickly faded from his eyes. A knee-jerk reaction to something that did not really hurt. Marveling at her sudden sense of relief, she laughed. A rich sound that she herself had not heard in quite some time. Probably in well over a year. It sounded foreign to her, but it felt so good.
Laughing was such a sweet release for more than her current embarrassment. So much so that she laughed even more hysterically because of her self-consciousness. Janie knew that Matthew was standing there helpless to do anything about her current predicament, but the confusion displayed clearly upon his face made her laugh all the more. It was as if all of the tension she carried around for years was being released all at once.
When she was finally able to pull herself together, she leaned against the stall behind her to catch her breath. The horse in that particular stall did not take kindly to her visit. He snatched the ribbon from her hair with his teeth, sending her hair tumbling down around her shoulders. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as her hand shot up in a belated attempt to try to stop it from happening. Matthew laughed this time, though not hysterically.
“You sure know how to make an impression on a man, Janie,” he said as naturally as if they had been on a first name basis all along.
“Yeah, about that,” she said, suddenly sobering. “I should apologize for slipping into your room and into your bed. Throwing myself at you like some. ..some…Look, what I’m trying to say is that is not who I am. I’m not a. . .one of those ladies.”
“Well, considering the unconventional ways we keep running into each other, I figure we should give friendship a shot. What do you say?”
Her face flushed. Oh, sure, she thought, now her body had the good grace to show her embarrassment. But not while she was standing naked before him, throwing herself at him like a common prostitute in one of the town saloons. That was when she should have had the decency to be ashamed of herself, except that her only desperate focus was on how to get out of town. He changed her plans with his rejection and now, for some strange and unknown reason, she wanted him to like her. She wanted to be wrong about him, wanted him to be different from most of the men she ever knew, and most importantly, wanted him to be different from her husband.
© 2018 Shannon Henry