Home by Nightfall

Home by Nightfall by Alexis Harrington Read Free Book Online

Book: Home by Nightfall by Alexis Harrington Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alexis Harrington
Tags: Fiction, General, Romance, Historical
heard familiar footfalls on the porch steps, and she looked up to see Tanner pull open the kitchen screen door. He had not gone to the train with the rest of them, and she hadn’t seen him since they returned.
    Jessica glanced at him, then at Susannah. “Um, well, I guess I’ll see what they’re up to in the dining room.” She wiped her hands on a towel that hung from the back of a chair. Then she left, and Susannah waited until she was gone before she spoke.
    “Where have you been keeping yourself?” she asked Tanner.
    He pulled out a chair across the table and sat down, idly reaching for an unpeeled potato. “There was work to do.” He rolled the almost-round tuber between his hands. He smelled of horses and hay, scents she had always liked. His expression was carefully blank. She’d grown accustomed to the trait but sometimes found it frustrating. He was very good at hiding his thoughts. He wanted to say something else, though. She could tell.
    “And?”
    “I moved my stuff out to the bunkhouse.” They called it a bunkhouse, but really, it was more than that, something like a utilitarian cottage that had a kitchen area, a room with bunks, and another that was a small, plain room with an iron bed in it.
    Susannah stared at him. She’d begun to reach for the knife again, but stopped. “What? Why? I thought you were just going to move into the boys’ room down the hall.”
    He wouldn’t look at her. He just kept his eyes fixed on the potato and took a long time to answer. “You said yourself that we might not be legally married. Besides, I’m a hired hand. A hired hand wouldn’t be sleeping in the house. And I figured you need to sort out who your husband is. If it’s not me, I’ll have to step aside. If it’s not him, he needs to know. Either way, I’ll stay out there until you decide.”
    An icy chill began in the pit of her stomach and spread to her limbs. “It’s not my decision. I, we , have to talk to a lawyer.”
    “It’s yours. The law doesn’t have a say-so over what’s in a person’s heart.”
    “But—” She realized she had no answer to this. Not yet, but it bothered her that he’d abandoned her in arriving at the solution to this horrible dilemma. Would he not step in to defend his place as her husband? “What will we tell Josh and Wade?”
    Now he lifted his gaze to hers. “Can they stay in their room upstairs?”
    Susannah felt her heart wrench again. She’d never had her own children, and she adored those boys as if they were her own. Did he really suppose that she would make them leave the house? “Yes, of course. But what shall we say?”
    He shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ll think of something. Maybe that there’s a wolf pack that’s been coming down and pestering the horses, and that I need to be on the lookout.”
    They all had to think of something. How to treat Riley, what to tell Josh and Wade, how to get through this.
    “I still expect to see you at the supper table,” she said. “Every night.”
    His smile was so brief, she wasn’t sure she’d seen it. “Yes, ma’am.” Then he rolled the potato across the table to her and went back outside.
    • • •
    The man everyone called Riley sat on the edge of the big bed in his room and looked around. His small suitcase stood by his foot, still packed, and his cane was propped against the mattress. He hadn’t changed from his uncomfortable suit, although Cole had opened the doors of the wardrobe to show him clothes that had belonged to him before. Jeans, boots, shirts, a set of dress clothes—they were his to wear, and since he had little else, he supposed he would try some of them on. He found it strange that they had kept them all this time, even though he was believed to be dead.
    Despite the circumstances, everyone in the family had been painfully polite to him, treating him with anxious courtesy. Well, everyone except the evil-humored troll who was his father.
    This was a nice room, too. The quilt on

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