Tessa finished washing the insides of the windows and needed clean water to tackle the outside. She picked up the pail and started for the back room.
"Where are you going?" Van stood and arched his back, stretching.
She stared. The top two buttons had worked loose. The way he stretched pulled his shirt open, revealing his neck and the ridge of his collar bone. Squinting, she noticed a sprinkling of dark hair. What would it feel like to lay her cheek upon his chest?
"Where are you going?" His deep voice rumbled into her thoughts.
Her cheeks flamed, and her breathing caught. Inappropriate thoughts didn’t usually flounce through her head. She slid her gaze up to his face half afraid her thoughts were etched across her forehead. He pointed to the pail in her hand and raised an eyebrow. Thank goodness, his preoccupation with the bucket had spared her.
"I need clean water to wash the outside of the windows."
"I'll get the water. I need fresh water, too." He slipped his hand around the handle next to hers. His touch opened her fingers, and the weight of the pail slid from her grasp as her gaze locked with his. She couldn't move. Didn’t want to move. Something about his nearness drew her like the magnet her mother kept in her sewing basket to pick needles out of the deep grain of the old floor. She'd become lost in the depths of Van's eyes just like the needles had nearly been lost.
"Well, isn't this interesting, the robber and the accomplice's daughter."
Judge Spencer's voice sliced through her chest like an axe through wood, crushing, splitting, and ripping her apart. Tessa jerked and staggered back before she caught her footing and realized Van had moved between the judge and her.
"I'm not a robber and Mr. Harrison wasn't an accomplice. I told you that twelve years ago. Why have you made his family suffer when you know the truth?" The venom in Van's voice matched the anger she'd witnessed earlier with Floyd. Fear he'd do something to end up back in jail, she grabbed his arm.
"It's okay. You told me the truth, that's all that matters." She didn't bother glancing at the man standing in the doorway. Her gaze locked onto Van's. "Don't let him rile you. It's what he wants." She knew by the tone the judge had used his visit had been to bait Van. Why?
Van bobbed his head once and patted the hand on his arm. "If you're in need of a new pair of boots, judge, you'll have to come back tomorrow when we have my inventory unpacked." He eased away from her and turned the judge out the door shutting it behind the sputtering man.
Van had a smile from ear to ear and the dimple in his chin deepened. "That felt good. How did you know he was baiting me?" He crossed the floor in three strides, retrieving the pails from the floor by her feet.
"He came to our house at least twice a year after my father's death baiting us to tell him who all was in on the robbery and threatening to turn the town against us, which he did anyway." She crossed her arms and rubbed her upper arms. "Why would he care who was in on the robbery? What would he gain?"
Van didn’t like the idea of him badgering the widow and her young daughter. The judge had always seemed slimy to him and this just validated his feelings. "I don't know, but I plan to find out." He placed both bucket handles in one hand and rested his palm on Tessa's warm, slender shoulder. "Stay inside until I get back with the water."
She put a hand on his when he started to pull it away. "You're only going after water."
Her concern touched him. The last person to be concerned for him was his mother, the week before he agreed to help Crane with the bank robbery. The day his father told him he'd never amount to anything.
He enfolded her hand in his and gazed into eyes that held the promise of renewing his life. "I'm only getting water. My first priority is to set up my shop, then visit my family, and then dig into Judge Spencer's strange behavior."