“What’s he doing here?” Cody asked, lifting his chin in William Tompkins’ direction. Tompkins was standing on the porch of the Express station with an armful of flowers.
“Why I think Mr. Tompkins has come to court,” Teaspoon replied thoughtfully, hooking his thumbs through his suspenders.
“Court?” Cody exclaimed loudly. “Court who?”
When Rachel opened the door, Tompkins handed her the fragrant bouquet. “For you,” the storekeeper rumbled.
“Rachel?” Cody hissed at Teaspoon.
Teaspoon shrugged, “Sure looks that way.”
Rachel took the flowers from Tompkins awkwardly and held them in one hand, while swatting helplessly at a bee which was now buzzing around her head with the other. “Thank you, Mr. Tompkins.”
“Bill,” Tompkins quickly correctly. “You can call me Bill. No need to be so formal now, is there?”
Rachel stifled the urge to scream. Why did he want her to call him by his given name? She rather liked keeping her distance from that man. Ever since she was in his store a week ago, the overstuffed turkey had been making what Cody so aptly referred to as goo-goo eyes at her. But she refrained from making a scene and managed to stammer, “Bill.”
“Now that’s better,” Tompkins said. “I was just wondering if you were free to join me tomorrow night at the supper the ladies bazaar is putting on?”
“Supper?” Rachel squeaked.
Tompkins sucked in his belly and said loudly. “I thought we could get to know one another better.”
“Better?”Rachel squeaked once more.
Tompkins narrowed his eyes slightly. “I think if we got to know one another a little better, we’d find that we have a great deal in common.”
Teaspoon walked quickly to the porch and interjected smoothly. “She’d love to,” he said. “It’s just that our Rachel can be a little shy sometimes.”
“Shy?” Tompkins boomed. She certainly never seemed to be shy, except for now. He smiled slightly. Rachel was obviously not used to being courted in such a proper fashion.
Rachel fixed her eyes on Teaspoon. Now what was that old coot up to?
“You can pick her up tomorrow evening around four o’clock,” Teaspoon continued. “But I think I am gonna send one of the boys along.” He winked broadly at Rachel. “As a chaperone.”
Rachel’s eyes flew open in dismay, but Tompkins just nodded, as if this was acceptable to him. “Four o’clock then,” he said. Tompkins stepped off the porch and ambled in the direction of his store.
“Have you lost your mind?” Rachel shrieked, once the storekeeper was safely out of earshot.
“Now, now,” Teaspoon said soothingly.
“Don’t now me,” Rachel yelled. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Well we are going through a rough patch right now,” Teaspoon explained calmly. “I just don’t want anything to happen that will set Tompkins off.”
“And you’re using me,” Rachel exclaimed. “Like, like...”
“A prostitute,” Cody supplied helpfully, as he came to join the two of them.
Teaspoon and Rachel both turned to glare at the light-haired rider.
“You know,” Teaspoon told him. “I don’t think we are in need of your assistance right now.”
Cody ignored him and added. “You said you needed a chaperone. I’d like to be the first to volunteer.”
“Oh no,” Rachel said quickly. That was all she needed, being sent out on the town with Tompkins and Cody. “I’ll take Lou.”
“Lou?” Teaspoon sputtered. That puny thing would not be of any use to Rachel if need be. Not to mention the fact he just didn’t know what to make of that particular rider. He had tried to interest Lou in the Smith girl and had also tried to dangle the youngest McHenry boy in front of Lou. And as usual, nothing. Teaspoon shook his head slightly. Of course the creature was quick-witted enough to be of some help and of all the riders, he/she/it would be the least likely to cause a spectacle. “Maybe.”
“No maybe’s about it,” Rachel declared firmly.
“No maybe’s about what?” Kid asked, stepping out of the bunkhouse. He had heard a commotion on the steps and had just come to see what was going on.
“Tompkins is taking Rachel out to supper,” Cody snickered. “And Lou is gonna be their chaperone.” He doubled up with laughter at those words.
“I can go too,” Kid said quickly. Too quickly, for Teaspoon’s liking.
Teaspoon frowned at Kid. He didn’t care for that idea at all. He had tried last week to send Kid to the hardware store to pick up some supplies and maybe meet up with the Perkins girl who always smiled so sweetly at him and somehow Kid and Lou had ended up going together. It worried him greatly how those two were always together, making sheep eyes at each other. It just wasn’t natural. “I don’t know,” he began.
“Well I do,” Rachel announced. “Either I go with Kid and Lou or I don’t go at all.”
“Fine,” Teaspoon muttered. If she wanted to be seen in such strange company so be it.
Rachel put her head in her hands, it just got worse and worse. Kid had come along as her chaperone, but what did he do? Did he sit at the table with Tompkins and her? No! Why would he? Just because that was his role for the evening?
Rachel glanced around the crowd mingling at the bazaar, which was being held on the outskirts of town. Everyone appeared to be having a good time, especially when they turned their heads, glancing surreptitiously at her. Every look she received was a mixture of pity and amusement.
She took a sip of water and began to choke on it when she saw Kid take Lou by the hand. Rachel wasn’t sure if she should strangle Kid or Lou first. How could Lou abandon her in her hour of need? Lou, instead of accompanying the three of them, had shown up about a half and hour ago in a dress. A dress for heaven’s sake! And ever since Kid laid eyes on her, well it was just too disgusting for words. Rachel almost regretted not taking Cody up on his offer to come along with them. At least he would have sat at the table with them. “And last year...” Tompkins droned on.
Please Lord, let me be struck by lightening, Rachel prayed silently. She couldn’t take much more. Tompkins did nothing but talk about his store. How he had built it from the ground up, how much flour he had to order, blah, blah, blah. The storekeeper felt compelled to tell her how much his store had made every year for the past five years. He then proceeded to regale her with stories about his suppliers and even his customers.
“Excuse me,” Rachel said brightly. “I see Mrs. Turner. And I think she has to talk to me.”
“Well, we can just go together,” Tompkins smiled. “She is a little behind on her payments.”
“Okay,” Rachel said weakly, rising from her seat. She began threading her way through the crowd. But before she reached Mrs. Turner’s side, the old woman had disappeared.
Rachel sighed loudly.
Tompkins tucked her hand under his arm. “I see that the music is starting up,” he noted.
“Music?” Rachel whispered. She soon found herself being dragged onto the dance floor, where Tompkins proceeded to whip her about, as if she were a rag doll. Mercifully for her, he stomped on her toes and she had to be led off the floor.
“I’m sorry,” Tompkins told her. He didn’t understand how such a thing could have happened. He was usually so light on his feet.
“It’s alright,” Rachel said, hobbling to a chair in a corner. “I think I just need to sit the next one out.”
Tompkins nodded and took a post beside her, standing quietly for once.
As Rachel looked up she saw Tompkins eyes mist over. “Mr. Tompkins?” she inquired.
“Bill, are you alright?”
“Yeah. Just a song from my wedding.”
“You mind if we call it a night?” Tompkins asked.
Rachel shook her head. “No.”
Tompkins, once again took her arm and led her through the crowd. “I just need to stop in at the store, before I take you home,” he said.
“That’s fine,” Rachel replied.
As they entered the store, Rachel planted herself in a corner, while Tompkins checked every nook and cranny of the place. After about a half and hour of watching Tompkins touch every piece of merchandise in the store, Rachel wandered over to a display case which held a new Henry repeating rifle. Rachel picked up the gun and handled it gingerly.
“Just came in yesterday,” Tompkins informed her. He came to stand close to her.
“Cody would certainly be interested to see this,” Rachel remarked casually while her brain screamed - Not so close.
And then, much to her horror, Tompkins took her face in his meaty paws and held it while his lips locked with hers.
When he pulled away, with a satisfied smile, he said, “I hope you don’t think I was too forward.”
Rachel nearly dropped the weapon. “No,” she managed to say, tightening her grip on the rifle. Lord have mercy, Tompkins could kiss. He gave her a kiss that made her toes curl.
Tompkins grinned wickedly at her. “I’ll be through in a minute.” The storekeeper turned away and busied himself in a drawer.
Rachel kept her eyes firmly on Tompkins, as she picked her jaw up off the floor. What was wrong with her? How could she have enjoyed Tompkins’ kiss? Was she so desperate for a man that any male would do? She was just coming to grips with that notion when she saw a small movement near the storekeeper’s feet. She blinked her eyes a few times, just to make sure. It was a snake, a rattler in fact. She opened her mouth to warn Tompkins when she saw the snake rear it’s head. Automatically she raised the rifle she still held and fired.
“What in tarnation?” Tompkins thundered. “Are you trying to kill me?”
“No,” Rachel protested. “It was a snake, a rattler. See?” she said, pointing. But there was nothing there. Maybe she had blasted it into smithereens.
Tompkins marched over towards her. “You ruined by boot!” he bellowed. He raised a foot and showed her the very large whole in the toe of his shoe.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said. “But there was a rattler. I had-”
“You could have taken my toes off!”
“Then you should be thanking me for saving you life,” Rachel said tartly.
“I think it’s time I take you home,” Tompkins replied. He gave Rachel a look which could have frozen the ice cream Teaspoon was so fond of.
“Bill,” Rachel began.
“I think it’s best if you call me Mr. Tompkins,” he said. “We don’t want to cause any confusion, now do we?”
Rachel shook her head. “Whatever you say, Mr. Tompkins.”
Rachel giggled. It didn’t seem so bad now. It was almost funny. “No matter what I said, I couldn’t convince him that a rattler was there.”
Teaspoon patted her arm, “Well I don’t think it would be as bad as rejecting him outright. He would have cut off our credit for sure.”
“You know,” Rachel said carefully. “He ain’t such a bad sort.”
“Rachel Dunne!” Teaspoon chided her. “You trying to tell me you’re sweet on the man?”
Rachel flushed slightly, recalling the kiss. “Not sweet on him,” she said. “Let’s just say I see him in a whole different light now.”