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Tessa smiled at the man perusing the boots and wrapped an arm around her rumbling stomach. Van brought a basket of bread, preserves, and apples to the shop before leaving to visit his family. But he’d put the food upstairs, and she was down here waiting on the tenth customer this morning. Most had just come in curious to see what the new shop offered, However, she had sold three pairs of boots.
The door opened and a gust of cold wind entered along with Beth smiling and swinging a small basket in her hands.
From across the room Tessa could smell fried chicken and her stomach rumbled louder.
“Marvin, you know you aren’t going to buy anything so run along so Miss Harrison and I can eat lunch.” Beth hooked her elbow in the man’s and towed him to the door. When he was standing on the walk in front, looking a bit dazed, Beth closed the door and locked it.
“Van didn’t tell me to close for lunch.” Tessa was starting to wonder why she allowed herself to be bossed around by the tiny woman.
“I’m sure he’d want you to eat and you can’t eat if people are in here.” Beth brushed past her and started for the back room.
Tessa raced around her and stopped, crossing her arms over her chest. “Where are you going?” She glared down into Beth’s china doll face.
She blinked her blonde lashes and smiled. “I’m not sitting on the floor to eat my lunch. I know Van has purchased furniture for the living quarters.”
Tessa left her night clothes folded on the pillow and her extra dresses hung on hooks in the living quarters. Van had insisted she move all her belongings up there this morning before he left. She couldn’t have Beth walk in and see she was also living up there even though they were sleeping with a floor between them.
“I really think we should unlock the door and sit here. I can bring another chair down.”
The hem of Beth’s brown wool skirt moved and the sound of tapping registered. “What are you and Van hiding upstairs?”
“Nothing. I just think since it is the second day of business we should stay open.” Gulping the prickling ball of dread down her throat, she hoped her tone didn’t sound as wishy-washy to Beth as it did to her.
“Why don’t you want me to go upstairs?” Beth narrowed her eyes.
“Fine. Go, I don’t care.” If the woman was going to be this insistent she might as well fess up.
Beth started around her and stopped, holding her sleeve in front of her nose. Patch sauntered out from the back room and slinked around her skirt.
“No! Get back!” She sneezed and dropped the basket as she frantically searched her pockets and finally came up with an embroidered hanky. “Cats make me sneeze. I can’t… I can’t stay.” Beth scurried to the door. “Bring the basket when you come to dinner tomorrow.”
A giggle of relief bubbled in Tessa’s chest. “I will and thank you for the food.”
She gathered the cat into her arms as Beth fumbled to unlock the door and rush out. Tessa rubbed her face against Patch.
“Thank you for scaring her off. I ’m not ready for her or anyone to know how many of us are living in this building.” She picked up the basket and sat by the stove. Patch jumped from her lap to the workbench and sniffed each item she came to.
“I’m as interested in watching him make a boot as you are.” Tessa pulled back the cloth covering the basket and plucked out a piece of chicken.
The door opened and air whooshed around her ankles. A man who looked vaguely familiar wandered in. He wore a long oil coat and had his hat pulled low on his forehead.
She placed the chicken back in the basked and wiped her hands on the cloth. “May I help you?” She stood and approached the man.
He ignored her and wandered around the shop stopping briefly to look at the boots. “Where’s Donovan?” he asked not even glancing at her.
“Out. May I be of assistance?” The man made her nervous, fidgety.
“Tell him Crane was by to see him.”
Tessa sucked in air and stared at the man who killed her father. Before she could shove her surprise aside and dredge up her anger, he was gone. Her hands shook. Her head swam with hatred. Now she knew what he looked like, she’d be looking for him. He’d pay for taking her father from her.
She couldn’t eat, couldn’t even sit.