by Paty Jager
Tessa slumped exhausted onto the chair by the stove. They'd both been so busy the potbellied stove hadn't been stoked in hours and barely warmed a foot beyond its round body. Her arms and back were too tired to lift the needed wood to bring back the heat. She wasn't even sure she'd be able to undress for bed
The shop and living quarters were clean. Van built and installed shelves and two work benches. The newly sawn wood filled the room with the sweet tang of pine. Tomorrow, they'd bring in Van's tools and inventory. What would the boots he made look like? They must be special for people as far away as Washington D.C. to order them.
Stomping and a tall shadow on the front window drew her gaze to the door. The knob jiggled. Whoever it was couldn’t get the door open. It wasn’t locked. She pushed with her tired arms and raised her body off the seat.
"Tessa, open the door, my hands are full," Van called.
She crossed the room and helped him enter. Van stepped through carrying a basket and metal pail in one hand, a carpet bag, coat, and blankets in the other arm.
She took the basket and pail, stepping back to see his face above the pile of blankets.
"What's all this?"
"The basket and pail is our dinner and the rest goes upstairs." He crossed to the backroom. "I didn't see any sense in paying for another night in the hotel when I can sleep upstairs." He nodded toward the stairs. "Dowse the lights and follow me. You don’t need some busybody see us eating together in the shop."
Tessa's heart raced. It was one thing to clean up his living quarters when he was down stairs sawing and pounding, but to actually keep him company… The way her body reacted to him she wasn't sure it was a good idea to be alone in such an intimate setting. But she'd dreaded the idea of slipping into bed hungry. She'd worked up a good appetite from all the cleaning.
She nodded and he entered the backroom.
"Bring the two tin cups," he said before his footsteps thumped up the stairs.
Her heart purred as lively as Patch. It wasn’t fear that rippled her skin, but anxiety. She was filthy, disheveled—and when in her life had she ever worried about that? Never. Because she'd never given a thought to what a man might think of her until Van. She'd more or less determined to remain a spinster and be a school teacher. Surround herself with other's children, and not let a man become everything in her world, making her unable to function when he was gone.