Her body relaxed, and he was blessed with a smile.
"Yes, I'm anxious to see this inventory you talk about." She slipped her hand from his and stepped aside, allowing him to fill the buckets.
"The sooner we get this place ready the sooner you'll see them." The fact she wanted to see his work pleased him. "I'm not one to boast, but many prominent men in the Northwest purchase my boots. Once they feel the comfort, they tell their friends. I actually sell more boots that I ship than I sell out of a shop."
"Now I'm even more impressed and anxious. Get the water so we can get this shop running." She swat at him with the broom, and he hastened into the store room and out the back.
Van tossed the dirty water across the alley and hurried to the water barrel. If he was set up by the end of the week he'd visit the ranch on Saturday. He was anxious to see his mother and curious to see his father. Had the man mellowed in twelve years or had age made him worse? He often wondered how his mother lived with the old hard-ass.
Scrubbing the floor had worked him into a sweat. The cold December air across his wet skin set his teeth to chattering. He hurried back inside and found Beth and Tessa holding up two different colors of cloth.
"Which do you like?" Beth asked when he set the buckets down.
"Because these are both serviceable and good colors for curtains in your front windows." Beth stared at him like he'd dumped the buckets of water on her feet.
"I don't remember asking you to find me material for curtains."
Tessa stepped forward. "You didn't. Beth stopped by before when…" she rolled her eyes to the back of the building, "you filled the pails the first time. I asked her if she could find some material for curtains. It will give the shop a homey feel." She lowered her gaze. "I know that was presumptuous of me, but you want to make it look appealing to women as well as men."
Van held the smile that wanted to split his face. He liked her taking a hand in making his business a success. If helping here boosted her image of herself it would help the community boost their opinion as well.
"Who's sewing these? I need your help." She didn't need to know he liked the idea.
"I will," Beth chimed in. "Could you help us measure the windows?"
He took the bolts of fabric from Beth and held them out to Tessa. "Which one do you like?"
She stared in his eyes then touched the solid color deep red bolt. He handed it to Beth. "Make the curtains out of this one." Tessa smiled timidly, and he wanted so bad to scoop her into his arms and kiss that trembling smile.
"Measurement." The one word came out like a command from tiny little Beth.
Van shook out of Tessa's trance and dug in the crate by the stove for his measuring stick. Tessa wrote the numbers down he called out and within minutes, Beth was just the lingering scent of bread and ringing in his ears.
Van started measuring the wall for shelves. Tessa picked up a bucket of water and headed for the front door.
"Put a coat on, the wind has a bite to it today."
She set the bucket down and disappeared in the back room. He wrote numbers on a slab of wood with a graphite stick. Tessa returned with a thin shawl.
"Is that all you have to wear in this weather?"
Her face turned nearly as red as the fabric they'd picked. "I've been saving my money. A coat wasn't needed when the weather was warmer."
"What about last winter? Did you run around in only that shawl?" Guilt assaulted him again. How different her life would have been if he'd told his father or the sheriff instead of treating his part in the robbery like a joke.
"Last winter my mother was ill. I spent most of my time inside nursing her." She stomped her foot. "Don't look at me that way. I won't take pity from anyone." She spun around and out the door, slamming it in her wake.
He'd have to find a way to help Tessa without bruising her pride. Pride was a hard thing to deal with. Almost as hard as guilt.