But as she walked back to her room, she caught herself daydreaming of George Randolph somehow making her future bright and secure.
Don’t be stupid, she told herself as she sank down on the hard, narrow bed in the single room she rented. He doesn’t even know your last name. And you can forget all the fairy tales you read about knights rescuing ladies. If your future is ever going to be secure, you’ll have to do it yourself.
She opened her drawer and counted her small hoard of coins. Less than twenty-five dollars. How long would that last? What would she do when it was gone?
The men had been getting more bold in their advances, more rude in their suggestions, more persistent in their demands. She didn’t know where she could find another job, but she’d starve before she’d let anybody make a whore out of her.
Rose shuddered at the sound of the word. She’d never said it out loud, never even let herself think it. She could leave Austin, but would it be any different in another town? She would still be a woman alone, without family, without money, support, or protection.
She thought of her father’s life savings, her only inheritance, lost in a bank failure caused by the union blockade. She thought of her uncle’s family, cold and distant when her father refused to let her live with them on their New Hampshire farm after her mother’s death; silent and uncaring after she refused to leave Texas at the outbreak of the war; angry and bitter since her uncle’s death at Bull Run.
She felt more alone and vulnerable than ever.
Rose went over to a small table and picked up a hand mirror. What did Luke see in her face that made him so sure she would share her body with him?
It couldn’t be beauty. She was always too tired to look her best. Besides, she did everything she could to make herself look ordinary. Her dresses were dark and loose-fitting. She parted her rich, brown hair in the middle, pulled it back from her face until all traces of natural curl were gone, and captured it in a braid at the base of her head.
Did he think desperation would force her to yield? She tried to smile, but nothing could hide the fear in the back of her eyes, the lines at the corners of her eyes, or the tightness of her mouth.
Luke wouldn’t be thinking about lust now. He’d be thinking about revenge. And what about Jeb and Charlie? Mr. Randolph would go back to his ranch in the middle of nowhere, and she’d be left here with three men determined to ruin her.
Unless she answered Mr. Randolph’s ad.
Rose could hardly credit the thrill that electrified her body. She had never met a man she liked as much or one as kind, but he was a stranger. How could she be thrilled by the idea of keeping house for him?
She couldn’t deny that her whole body trembled at the thought of being near him, but she didn’t know anything about him. Any woman who rode off with a man gambled with her fate. A woman who rode off with a stranger gambled with her life.
But it was different with George.
She remembered how she felt while she sat with him at the table. Safe. She hadn’t felt that way since the Robinsons left for Oregon. If he would protect a woman he didn’t know, wouldn’t he be even more ready to defend someone who worked for him?
She remembered the Confederate gray of his trousers and felt her body tense, her hopes dim. He had been an officer, too. No such man would hire her, not once he found out her father had fought for the union .
But she couldn’t stay in Austin, not without a job. She’d soon be forced to beg.
She was desperate enough to grasp at straws.
She would write her uncle’s wife again, even though she hadn’t answered any letters in five years, not even when Rose had written them of her father’s death.
Maybe one of her father’s army friends would help. If she went through his letters again, maybe she would find some names. She only needed one.
But even if someone decided to help her, she knew it wouldn’t work. It was foolish to expect it—she couldn’t wait two or three months for a reply. She needed help right now. Her twenty-five dollars wouldn’t last long. She had to do something immediately.
“Don’t know what kind of response you’ll get,” Sheriff Blocker was saying to George later that afternoon. “Lots of people come by, but they don’t cotton to the idea of living in the brush. Too much trouble with rustlers and Mexican bandits.”
“We don’t have much trouble around our place,” George told him. “The boys don’t allow it.”
“Maybe not, but you ain’t likely to convince people around here of that. Not a month goes by they don’t hear of a raid by Cortina or the men he protects.”