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"How odd then—the bullets came from your gun,” the reverend said as he descended the stairs. Clad in his dated, yet well-tailored gentleman's jacket, the reverend made a handsome figure. His calm, controlled pres- ence soothed Viola’s galloping heart. Mrs. Widener sank into her rocking chair. She traced the patterns on her mouse-brown calico. "I'm too old for this." The man claimed her hand. Gold coins slid into the widow's palm. "I'll find a vacant room." He trudged up the stairs and passed by the reverend without so much as a nod. Viola towered over the widow. "Are you letting a stranger tramp through our rooms?" "Really Miss Blaise, lower your voice! I have talked with him. He is a priest—and a man willing to pay his keep. I must make my living like any other soul.” She eyed the ornate tatted lace covering Viola’s bodice. "Not that you would understand." The widow rose. A cold draft followed her departure from the front parlor. "Miss Blaise, you're soaked," the reverend said. ~*~ Rumors of the vanished Indian woman circulated the table. Mrs. Widener plunked down a bowl full of cabbage. Viola abandoned her utensils and twisted her hands together. The hotel’s masculine presence sharp- ened her isolation. And now, the blond stranger added an edge to that presence. Her thoughts danced an ever- quickening reel. Was the woman in the stable still or long gone? Would she have actually pulled the trigger? Je- sus walked straight out of her mother’s Bible and into her head. He had approached an unknown woman, a sin- ful stranger, at the Samaritan well. Perhaps, like Christ, she could touch the foreign and find commonality. From appearances, the gulf between her age and the stranger was narrow. Viola's chair scraped across the floor, caus- ing Mrs. Widener and the reverend to look up. She pasted on a smile and shook her head before excusing her- self. Viola snatched her notebook before slipping out. ~*~ Cabbage raced down the woman's throat. Viola stood in awe. The hotel's crude cuisine barely made it into her own, cultured stomach. Finally, the stranger nailed Viola with a stare. "Where is he?” Her words bore no hint of a Native's accent. "In the hotel." Viola nodded over her shoulder. The woman dug into a crevice in the wall, pulling herself up. She showcased her bony, frail hand. "Don’t go yet," Viola said. "You're unafraid?" Her dark eyes reflected in the lantern light. Viola’s winter skirt hid her shaking knees. "Why should I be?" The woman dug in her pocket—Viola tensed—but she brought out paper and tobacco powder. With practiced hands, she rolled a cigarette. The woman retrieved a match from a little case stashed up her sleeve. Viola called upon her hankie. “Please stop.” The Indian removed her cigarette, snuffing it out with her fingers. She tracked Viola's every move. "Why would you help me?" Viola opened her notebook. “I’m a writer. All I ask is that you tell me your stories. I promise, you'll re- main my secret." The woman tossed back her ruined hair. A slight laugh escaped her. "A foolhardy one, aren't you?" Questions waltzed on Viola's tongue, but she restrained herself. “You’ll freeze outside—you can hide in my room. I’m a lady—no one will search there.” “A lady sneaking through the night?” Viola spread her fan, shielding her face. "I'm a stranger here. No one cares much about my reputation." For the first time the woman made eye contact with her. "What's your name?" Viola asked. "Selone." "What's the English meaning?" Silence stretched thin. Finally, the woman answered. "Nothing. It's only a missionary's imagining." A cloak of trouble surrounded Selone. But what could Viola say? She pulled her bonnet ribbons tighter. In her own life, all of the lace and silk in the world had failed to shape her into the high class ideal. And now, here she was, alone. Ice wind invaded the stable. 19
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