His grin became true. “Smart girl.”
There was a sound behind her of Lily feeding another precious log into the fire; Rees thought she could hear the low rush of water in the old iron kettle preparing to boil. Cups, she thought inanely, forcing herself to turn away and go to the cupboard. We need cups. Theo’s eyes followed her, bright green wolf eyes that made her want to shiver. Inviting them in had been a mistake, but what choice had they?
“You didn’t answer my question,” she reminded as she pulled down the only things of value left in the house: her mother’s English painted china teacups. They’d been a gift from Papa, something he’d brought with him from London when he’d married his little Southern belle. When they’d arrived, two days before, they’d found the house stripped. It hadn’t been tossed over like the Harwood place: the door had still been neatly closed on its hinges, the floors intact, the barest of domestic necessities lingering in the kitchen. The sturdy furniture made here in town was all still in place. But the finer pieces – the settee, the brass bedframe, matching brass oil lamps – were gone, gaps in the dust marking their departure. The barn was clean, but empty, all manner of tack and harness and buggy taken. No chickens, no pigs. Which meant no eggs, and no bacon. The vegetable beds had been fallow for two years now, because Mama had been good and cracked for twice as long as that. Rees had done what little planting could be done without a plow. And she’d been gone, married off to William…
“Question?” Liam asked, and like it had the first moment he’d opened his mouth, his accent did strange, warming things to her insides. Mama had always been weak-minded, timid, forever frightened. But Papa had been a force. And he’d talked the way Liam did, at least a little. “What we’re doing here?”
“Yes.” The kettle whistled and Rees folded over a scrap of rag to grip the handle and lift it off the stove. When she turned back to the table, she saw that Theo was on his feet, looking even taller inside like this, and that Annabel had finally taken hold of sense and was giving him a wide berth.
Liam’s face had changed; he looked tired. “Actually,” he said, “it wasn’t so much a case of us wandering down your road as meaning to come.” His smile became almost sympathetic, and strained. “There was a rumor in town that you’d come home.”
Rees felt the blood leave her face. “You were looking for me?”
“We were looking for someplace safe.”
“And private,” Theo added.
“Rees,” Lily said with a little gasp. “Oh, God…”
Not again, she thought desperately. No, no, no, no. She’d thought these two were different, that she was smarter than she’d been before, that she would never allow…
She lifted the kettle, ready to slop boiling water over both of them.
“You see, what I was hoping…” Liam trailed off when he saw the way she was angling the kettle. “I beg of you not to make tea,” he said, and something moved across his face that surprised her: pain. “You’ll need to use the water–”
That was when she took note of the way Theo’s hand was curled around Liam’s shoulder: supportive. And beneath the dark roughspun of Liam’s shirt, there was…a stain. A stain she hadn’t noticed before.
“-to sterilize the needle,” he said.
Then she saw the blood. Thin rivers of it crossing down his wrist and across his hand, plunking down onto the table. One. Two. Three…
“You’re hurt,” Rees said, going numb with shock.
“Can you stitch him up?” Theo asked, and when Rees lifted a glance to him, she saw the fear behind the fierceness in his green eyes.
She waited, because she felt like she ought to, but she didn’t have to think about it. “Yes.”