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Before Quade could make further comment, the officer who had come into the saloon with him came over to their table.
"Do you mind if I join you and this lovely lady?" he asked.
"Of course not. George Roberts, this is my mother, Josephine McPherson."
George took her hand and held it to his lips. "Josephine is a beautiful name to match a beautiful woman."
Josephine could feel a blush creeping into her cheeks. The man with Quade was very handsome, even though his uniform was covered with trail dust. Never in her life had she ever had anyone kiss her hand and call her beautiful.
"I prefer being called Jo. May I call you George?"
"I would be pleased if you would. You've been holding out on me, Quade. You never told me that your mother was such a fine figure of a woman."
"I honestly didn't expect that the two of you would meet. It's been a long time since I've seen my ma. To be truthful, I didn't expect to find her waiting for me. I'm glad that she decided to come out here and find me."
Josephine bit the insides of her cheeks in an attempt not to cry at her son's words. "Now the two of you are making me blush even more than I did before. I will be getting a big head."
"I hope you don't mind having me for company once Quade goes out to the reservation, Jo," George said, once he seated himself at the table. "I was just told that it would be at least a week before the next train to Denver arrives."
"You could always ride to Denver," Quade suggested.
"Like I told you earlier, I'm getting too old for all this time in the saddle, to say nothing of sleeping in the open. I much prefer my carriage as well as my comfortable bed."
Josephinelaughed at George's statement. She could understand what he meant. As she aged, she certainly didn't enjoy the things she used to. Although she still worked in her garden, she much preferred to let Ella do the backbreaking work while she watched the children.
Am I really that old? I've had my fortieth birthday. I can remember when that seemed to be absolutely ancient. I don't feel that way at all. I'm still a young woman in my heart, especially when George kissed my hand.
She listened to the conversation going on between Quade and George. She allowed herself to think about what it would be like to be alone in this desolate place with a man like George. It had been years since she thought about a man romantically. After the twins had been born, lovemaking with Willard had been sporadic to say the least. Unfortunately every time they made love she got pregnant, but often Willard's temper would get the best of him, and before the child could be born, he would come home drunk and beat her until the baby came too early to survive. Thankfully, after the loss of the third child, Willard no longer came to her demanding his marital rights.
So why, after all these years did she have thoughts of what it would be like to be with George? You're a foolish old woman, Jo. The man paid you a little attention and now you think that he's interested in you. What are you thinking?
Quade spent the night at the railhead and left early the next morning. George didn't like to see this impressive young man leave, but he knew that Quade had obligations at the reservation. After bidding him farewell, he went inside so that Josephine would have time for her own good-byes to her son.
After getting another cup of coffee, George sat down at one of the tables and thought about Josephine. He had to be out of his mind to have romantic feelings about a woman after only meeting her for the first time a matter of hours earlier.
Don't you think it's about time, George?
The sound of his dead wife's voice in his mind came as a shock. Minnie had been the love of his life. They had married young, and she had followed him whenever the fort that he was assigned to allowed it and waited for him when it hadn't. She'd bore his children and raised them alone when he couldn't be with her.
When he'd been transferred to Denver four years earlier, they had both been excited about the prospect of being together again. At his last post in Arizona Territory, he'd been unable to send for her, and the three years they'd been separated had been difficult for both of them.
Minnie had arrived three weeks after he did, and they were happy for the first month. It was then that she took sick, and within two weeks she was gone. With her death the light had gone out of his life, and he threw himself into the work of hearing military cases.
How could things have changed so suddenly? He certainly never expected to have another woman in his life. So why was he so drawn to Josephine? The answer eluded him, but he intended to find it.
He heard someone enter the saloon and looked up to see Josephine coming toward his table. She was wiping her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief. He remembered the hours Minnie spent edging handkerchiefs to be given as gifts or for her own use.
"Are you all right?" he asked, as he got to his feet in order to hold the chair for her.
"I'm just being foolish. It's not like I won't see Quade again. The last time I said good-bye to him, I had no idea where he was going. This time he has assured me that he will be back to get me and bring me to the reservation once he's settled and has convinced Hannah to marry him."
"I know the situation with Hannah has weighed heavily on his mind ever since we left the fort."
"So, what brought you to the fort in the first place?" Josephine asked.
George considered his answer. He could say it was Quade himself, but it was so much more. He had served with Miles Walters, and sat in judgment of him when he'd been brought to Denver charged with crimes against not only Quade but also the United States Army.
"Over the past few weeks, Quade's name has come up more than once. The first time I heard it, his commanding officer was insisting that Quade needed to be either transferred or court marshaled. I helped to arrange for him to be transferred here. After that it came up again when that same officer came here to kill him. Thank goodness he didn't succeed. What really brought me here was the fact that there was a corrupt Indian Agent at this reservation and he'd been captured because of a plan Quade put in place. He had also brought in the renegade Crooked Snake and wanted to act as his defender at the trial."
"Didn't you think that was strange?"
"I most certainly did, but I also thought it commendable. Then I met both Quade and Crooked Snake and understood the bond they shared. The woman Quade loves, Hannah, is the daughter Crooked Snake mourned for so many years. It was my decision that Quade should become the Indian Agent for this area. The match will be a good one."
"But his enlistment isn't up, is it?"
"No it wasn't, but I have the means to bring it to an end early so that he can serve in a capacity that will be beneficial for the Cheyenne."
Was that the real reason you did this? Wasn't it because you're an incurable romantic? You wanted him to remain close enough to Hannah in order for the two of them to be together as they should be. You want everyone to be as happy as you were with Minnie.