“It’s pretty rude of you to keep staring at her like that, don’t you think, Luis?” Saint said as he quaffed off the dregs of his second cup of coffee and chewed absently on the grinds. The crew, minus Storm and Mr. Lynch, sat around the long breakfast table. The kid was getting on his nerves.
Luis shot him an irritated look and gave Lily one last glance before staring back at his fried eggs. Lily blushed bright red. Saint warily watched as she refilled his cup, imagining how a scalded groin would hurt if that shaky little grip missed and gave him a lapful. He reached out and grasped the pot handle, gently dislodging her hand with his and setting the percolator down on the table.
“You ladies sit down and eat, eh?” He knew she was trying so hard, trying above all else to make a good impression on them all. The poor girl was a nervous wreck. She wasn’t much like Jesse at all, at least as far as he could tell. Jesse was brash and liked excitement. His sister Lily, however, seemed sweet and quiet and endearingly bashful. A fragile little thing that seemed like she’d seen a bit more wear than she should have had to have seen. No wonder Jesse was worried about her. If I were Jesse, I’d tell me to stay away from her, too.
His gaze traveled discretely up her arm as her hand slid off the pot handle and took inventory on their way to her face. Slim, but, as Luis had correctly commented, strong enough. Her arms below her rolled-up shirtsleeves were a little sun-browned from her travels. Her neat apron hung from a trim waist, and her slight build swelled girlishly beneath her calico bodice. Open, readable face, her cheeks flushed with warmth and self-consciousness, and her clear grey eyes, hiding behind a pair of frumpy little spectacles, were honest and guileless. Her light brown hair was piled on top of her head in roll, wisps escaping in slightly unruly tendrils. She wasn’t the fiery beauty that Fiona was, but she was quietly pretty, and Saint found her gentle face appealing. She wasn’t the sort of girl he was used to dealing with in town, that was for sure.
“Sit, Miss.” He insisted, smiling reassuringly at her. “We’re big boys. We can help ourselves.”
She sat stiffly across from him, at the end of the bench beside Wash.
“S’, lass,” the Irishman said amiably, grabbing the spatula from the serving platter and sliding a couple of eggs onto the plate before her. “Fiona tells me y’ made the biscuits! I love ‘em. You lasses know how to turn out some chicken fixin’s, that’s f’ sure.”
“Thank you.” Lily smiled, her voice small and her eyes looking everywhere but across the table at Saint.
She’s afraid of me. Saint’s eyes narrowed. Good grief, what the devil has Lynch...and Jesse... told her about me?
"So.” Luis perked up as he thought of something to say that would allow him to continue to stare at the New Girl. “Jesse tells us he’s s’pposed to find out about some deed or something while he’s gone. You got land somewhere?”
“Yes. Well, no." Lily answered. "I have this deed my Uncle left me.” Lily eagerly made eye contact with Luis, relieved to have something to take her mind off her shyness. “It’s not worth anything, really. But I thought, since it’s near here, I’d try to find out more about it. I’ve had it for years without ever having seen the land it says I own.”
Fiona spoke up. “How did you come by it?”
“Well.” Lily gave a sheepish smile. “My uncle won it. In a poker game. He gave it to me for a birthday present three years ago.”
Saint smiled at that. Lily continued, warming. “ I just never got a chance to go there and find out before he was….” Her smile dropped almost imperceptibly. “Before he passed on.”
Luis leaned forward, interested. “You gonna go see what’s it about?”
“I’d like to, sometime.” Lily smiled. “I’m just curious. You never know. Anyway, it’s supposed to be near one of the relay stations Jesse will pass through, so he’s going to see if he can find out anything.”
“Well,” Tommy said, “Probably, he’s already found out something. He’s due back today or tomorrow, so likely he’s talked to somebody days ago.”
“I hope he comes soon.” Luis said, feigning innocence and cutting his eyes to Saint. “If the Yarl boys come after Saint because of that fight, he'll want to be here.”
Saint felt all the muscles around his spine tighten. How the hell does the little punk always, without fail, know exactly where to stick in the needles?
“Luis….” He snapped, feeling embarrassment creep into his guts. He put down his fork and glared across the table.
“Aw, come on, Saint. You should be proud, you took on both the Yarl boys and won." He gave Saint a sly, predatory smile and turned to Lily. "Saint Broke Rob Yarl's nose and stabbed Levi Yarl with a busted bottle! Blood everywhere! Jesse aint' gonna want to miss the next one! ”
Fiona frowned delicately. “I hardly think this is proper breakfast conversation, Luis.”
Saint winced as the unfamiliar heat of self-consciousness flooded his face. He glanced involuntarily at Lily and was horrified when their brief gazes collided in an awkward, mortifying train wreck. In the breath of a moment before they both frantically tried to avoid being caught looking at each other, Saint read the look on her face. It was the same look a person might give a grizzly bear they weren’t sure was sleeping or dead. I am going to kill that little git.
Dammit. “Luis, you need to be quiet. Right now.” He hissed, trying very hard to not sound like the kind of person who bloodied up saloons. Although, truth be told, he felt very much like he might bloody up the bunkhouse or barn if he caught Luis there anytime soon. "Uh...look, ladies...it wasn't like that." He mumbled lamely.
"Well, actually, it..," Tommy started.
Wash and Saint both cut him off. "Tommy."
“Oh.” Luis said innocently. “Si, of course. Sorry. I shouldn't have said nothing. I'll be quiet now. ” He took a long sip of coffee. Tension-filled silence hung over the table like a thick fog. Luis waited until it reached maximum awkwardness before shattering it.
“I s’pose I better, eh?" He quipped cheerfully. "Hate for Saint to use me to bust a table in half with like he did with Rob Yarl.”
© 2008 Regina Shelley