"I'll get the water." Van grabbed the pails and headed to the back room and back door. In the store room he stopped and scanned the area. They could easily partition off the far side for her quarters and still use the rest for storage and to allow him back door access to the privy and the water supply without disturbing her.
He stepped into the alley and scanned the area. Would it be safe for Tessa to come and go from this door? She'd been coming and going for who knew how long without a problem. He mentally smacked himself. If he smothered her with protectiveness she'd find somewhere else to stay. Propriety would be to give her an advance and move her into a boarding house. But he couldn't—no wouldn't let her live alone. Watching her eat her breakfast he knew she'd skimp on food and save her money if she had to spend it for a place to sleep. This way she could save more money, and he could put some meat on her bones.
The water barrel shared by his business and the saloon sat at the corner of the back of the Red Dog. He'd have to be sure and bring in water every morning and evening to keep Tessa from going anywhere near the saloon. There was no telling what the angry owner might do if he found her alone.
He pulled the lid off the barrel and dunked the buckets, filling them. From the amount of water in the barrel he'd better contact the water delivery business and ask them to bring more. Two businesses would now be using the supply.
The back door of the saloon shot open and the owner stumbled out. Van picked up the buckets.
"Hey! What you doin' stealing my water?" The man stalked to within three feet of him.
"I'm not stealing your water. This barrel is for both buildings." He nodded his head toward his shop.
"First you take my best saloon gal and now my water!"
The man swung a fist at Van. He dodged the blow and set the buckets down, sloshing water over the edge. When the man came at him again, Van grabbed an arm and yanked it behind the man's back, a trick he'd witnessed used on unruly prisoners.
"Ouch! You Son-a-bitch!" The man stopped struggling, but he spouted profanity.
Tessa ran out the back door of the shop and stopped. Hearing the howls and profanity of Floyd she'd feared for Van, but once she set foot in the alley she discovered Van had the situation under control.
Floyd stabbed her with a vicious glare, and his lip turned up in a sneer. "I tried to bed you for half a year and this dandy sticks up for you and you fall into his."
Anger shot through her body like a pitch fire. She stalked up to the man and slapped his unshaven cheek. The sound ricocheted through the empty alley in the early morning silence. Her hand stung, and she took satisfaction in the red welt the size of her palm appearing on his face.
"Why you little…OW!"
Van jerked Floyd's arm so hard she heard a pop. "You don’t talk to her that way. And if I hear you spreading rumors, you'll be nursing two sore arms."
"You know I'm now working for Mr. Donovan in his shop. That's why I'm here early, to help clean it up." She stared at Van. The anger and hatred on his face stopped the air in her lungs. She took a step back. Had going to prison hardened him more than most?