“Listen. I’m sorry. You obviously had a rough time growing up, and I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do about drinking.” Thomas rubbed the back of his neck. “I know you probably don’t believe me, but I never really drank before. I never wanted to be the man that beat my sister.”
Bethany rolled her eyes at his words.
“Trust me. I’m a man who likes to be in control at all times. It was just that— ”
“There is always an excuse,” she said under her breath.
“I know. That girl, though … she did something to me. Have you ever not wanted to think about someone but that same person haunts your dreams?” Thomas blew out a long breath. “Of course not.”
“Yes.” The man sitting by her side tied her stomach in knots and she wanted to hate him more than anything, but the way he gingerly tended her wounds stirred an ache for him to touch her more. She didn’t want him, she didn’t want any man controlling her. “I know you believe that woman are dumb for sticking around when their husbands beat them. You think your sister had a choice to leave, but you’re wrong. Men do things to control their wives.”
Thomas retrieved the reins and wrapped them around the brake. “Perhaps. I can’t do anything about that, though. Neither can you. All we can do is be better men.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know the girl … Bethany, right?”
She couldn’t deny it now. Not after being accused of stealing and saying Bethany gave the stuff to her. How did things get so confusing? “Yes.”
“Do you know if she’s married?” His voice trailed off, as did his gaze.
He sat up straight, a smile crossing his lips that screamed danger. “She’s not?”
A lifetime was revealed in that smile—a lifetime of serving and being abused by a man who would tire of her and turn to the bottle. He’d already shown the bottle was his friend.
“I … I don’t know.” Tell him she’s married. Tell him he can never have her. The words wouldn’t flow.
He beat his palm against his head. “Stupid. This is stupid, Thomas.”
“Do you always talk to yourself?”
“Too often lately.” Thomas sat back and moved his hat over his eyes and crossed his arms. “If you don’t know, then I’m going to find out.”
“Why? We’ve got a good thing going. What if she’s married to a man like Sarah’s husband? A drunk who beats her all the time. You going to get involved in that?” Bethany needed to stop him from searching for her. Especially if it meant examining her closer. Since they’d left he’d barely looked at her, and when he did he commented on her strange ways. No. This couldn’t happen.
He stiffened and sat up, dropping his hat at his feet. “I don’t know what I’d do.”
“I know what you’d do. You’d give her hope then turn the other way because you don’t want to get involved, leaving her to face a worse beating than before you stepped into her life. Let it be.” Bethany grabbed the reins, ignoring the sting in her hands, and slapped the rear of the closest horse, brooking no more conversation. Not when her heart quickened and her thoughts betrayed her. Not when two little words that would end her life rolled to the tip of her tongue. I’m Bethany.