Written in 52 minutes.
“Yes. I’m not—I’m not a widow. I’m so sorry.”
The words hung between them for a long moment, and Elizabeth was torn between the rush of relief that she was telling the truth and fear that Lila Quartermaine would reject her and this small fledging chance at a life would be over before it had even begun.
She’d had to tell the truth. Once it was clear Lila had known her grandparents, had even attended her parents’ wedding, there was every chance Lila would write to old friends in New York or even find her parents. She would learn the truth another way. Of all the advertisements Elizabeth could have answered, she had chosen a family with deep roots in the very New York society she was fleeing.
“You must have loved him very much,” Lila said gently, and the kindness Elizabeth could see in the older woman’s blue eyes nearly overwhelmed her. “What a terrible tragedy, my darling.”
“It—” She closed her eyes. She hadn’t allowed herself to think of Alexander in so many years. There hadn’t been room for the grief, not when she’d been facing the prospect of a child born out of wedlock. “Yes.”
“And your parents were not sympathetic? I’m sorry. Of course not. You already said they sent you away. But now you have your beautiful boy.” Lila looked at Cameron who finished the sweet bite of his candy. “And their loss will be our gain, won’t it?” She paused. “For Cameron’s sake, it will be necessary to continue the fiction of your widowhood. I’m sure you understand.”
“Of course.” Elizabeth managed a smile. She sat back and Lila released her hands. “Thank you for your understanding.”
“Thank you for your trust. And now that my new grandson has finished his pre-supper treat, we ought to adjourn to the dining room for dinner.”
“I hope you aren’t angry with me.”
Hoisting the sleeping Cameron in his arms a bit higher, Jason waited for Elizabeth to step outside of his grandmother’s gate to begin the walk back to the boarding house.
“For telling my grandmother the truth? I wanted that to be up to you. I’ve told you I don’t care.”
“It’s just—she knew my grandparents. I was worried she might feel nostalgic and reach out to someone who might know the truth. I would hate if she learned the truth another way. She was so kind to Cameron. To me. Even though I’m sure a mail order bride was the very last thing she wanted.” Her voice seemed quiet on the dark street, and he wished now he’d brought a cart to take them home. There was little light from the moon, and gas lamps were still being argued about in the council meetings. “But maybe it’s a blessing,” Elizabeth continued. “Your grandmother seemed happy that we could tell people that I’m the granddaughter of an old friend from back East.”
“It will smooth some things out for you,” Jason told her. “Less curiosity, I suppose.” They finally turned onto the Main Street, where there was more lighting. “I was thinking that we should arrange the, ah, wedding soon.” He paused. Would tomorrow be soon, he wondered. She’d only arrived that morning. But why wait?
“Of course. I’m not sure how it works here,” Elizabeth said. “Do we just—do we just show up somewhere?”
“We’ve got a church,” Jason said. “I could ask Reverend Coates to set it up for tomorrow. Unless—”
“No, tomorrow is quite fine.” They stopped in front of the boarding house. “Thank you for carrying him,” Elizabeth said, reaching for her son. “I can—”
“I can take him up,” Jason said at the same time, and her hands dropped to her side. “If—if that’s okay.”
“I suppose—I mean, all right.”
The boarding house foyer was empty, the lamps turned down for the evening. He was relieved to see Britta Westbourne, the woman who ran the place, not behind the desk. They climbed the stairs and went down the hall to the pair of rooms Dillon had reserved for her. At least the idiot had done one thing correctly, Jason thought as Elizabeth slid a key into the lock.
“Thank you again,” Elizabeth said after Jason had deposited Cameron in the bed. The little boy had felt heavier in his arms than he’d expected, but since the last child he’d picked up had been his nephew—
Jason exhaled slowly at the memory. He’d held Michael after the two-year-old’s death, carrying him to the coffin that would hold him for the rest of his life. By the time the cholera had claimed, the boy had lost weight and had weighed little. Cameron was a healthy boy of four years old. Of course he would be different.
Jason rejoined her in the main sitting room as she turned up two of the lamps, giving the warm a bright soft glow. They stared at each other for another moment, filled with an uncomfortable mixture of tension, awkwardness, and something else—he should bid her goodnight and head out to the ranch to make it ready for two new occupants.
But he felt it difficult to simply leave. He’d woken this morning without much plan for the day or his life. He’d been avoiding his grandmother’s wishes to marry and settle down by claiming he couldn’t find someone who would suit him.
Was it the height if insanity to suppose his cousin could have found someone who would by picking out a familiar name from a cluster of letters? She was a beautiful woman—that was impossible to miss, and any man would have given her a second glance with her deep blue eyes, soft skin, and chestnut hair. And maybe Jason would have sought her company out if she’d been from Port Charles. But what did they really know about one another? Could the small mixture of facts be enough for a lifetime?
“This has been the strangest day,” Elizabeth said, breaking the tense silence. “I’m not sure why since little has changed for me. I came to Colorado to marry you. But you—” She twisted her hands. “You must tell me now if you’re having second thoughts. It might be too late later.”
“Not second thoughts,” Jason said. He approached, took her hands in his to stop her from twisting and wringing. The palm of her hands were tough, and he could feel the missing portion of her finger. There were callouses on the tips of her fingers. And yet, her grandmother had described a family that had run in the same society as his own. She wouldn’t have been raised for such hard work and labor. “You told my grandmother that your parents sent you away.”
She frowned, confused at the twist in the subject. “Yes. I told you the same—”
“Was that the only option they gave you?” he asked, not entirely sure why it seemed important. “Did they learn of your condition and that was it?”
“No. No. They—” She drew her hands back, curling one into a fist—the one with the finger, he realized. She was embarrassed by it. “They wanted to send me away until the baby was born, and then I could come home without him. I simply don’t think about that much as it was never a serious option for me. I would never see my son again.” Elizabeth sighed, looked down at her hands. “Alex and I were childhood friends. It was always understood that we’d marry, and we were fortunate enough that we cared for another. He knew about the baby. He was looking forward to being a father, and promised me no one would even blink at a seven-month birth. It happens all the time, he told me.” She bit her lip. “We loved our little boy before he was even born. How could I give him away and pretend he never existed?”
So she’d chosen the harder road. The one that left her with few choices and a short life span, if the injury to her hand was any indication. Because she wanted her son.
“I’m sorry for them,” Jason told her, reaching for those hands again. Uncurling her fist in his, stroking her palm. “As my grandmother said, it was their loss. I am not having second thoughts,” he told her.
“It’s important to you that I chose to keep my son?” Elizabeth said, drawing her brows together in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
He didn’t either. Not really. “I don’t, either.” He dipped his head to kiss her, curious if it would feel the same as it had earlier that day when he’d sought to prove his physical attraction to her or if it had been a fluke. The power of novelty.
She tasted like the cream in the dessert his grandmother had served after dinner, her lips soft and sweet. He nibbled at her bottom lip, and she opened her mouth, dipping her head back, allowing him a deeper, longer taste.
No fluke, he thought a long moment later when he finally stepped back, steadying her as she swayed a bit. Her eyes opened slowly, the blue deeper and slightly gazed. She licked her lips and he thought of kissing her again.
But the reminder that her son lay sleeping only feet away behind a door that was not closed, and that she would be his wife tomorrow was enough to keep the distance. He kissed the inside of her palm. “I’ll speak to the Reverend in the morning and send word of the time.”
“All right.” She followed him to the door. “Good night, Sheriff.”
“Jason,” he corrected, as he turned to face her, standing in the hallway. “My name is Jason.”
“Good night, Jason,” Elizabeth said, a smile tugging at her lips.
“Good night, Elizabeth.”