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Imogene spread her shawl over the rock to protect their dresses. “Sarah, would you be happier married?”

            Sarah thought for a moment before she replied. “I should, I know.”

            “Do you want to marry Mr. Weldrick?”

            “He put Wolf out in the rain.”

            “What if he hadn’t? I mean, what if he’d not been responsible for what happened?”

            “I would marry him. If I was sure. The six months are almost gone.” She said the last defiantly. Imogene didn’t understand but was too engrossed in her own thoughts to pursue it.

            A night bird swooped low overhead, its wings whistling as they cut the air. Imogene listened and it was gone. She pulled the note from her pocket and stood to shake the dampness from her skirts. The moon was at her back, full on Sarah’s face. Imogene looked at her, young and soft in the moonlight. Between her thumb and fingers she held the bit of paper with Nate’s proposal and his declaration of innocence.

            “My dear, would you love Mr. Weldrick?”

            Sarah was quiet for a long time, then she replied, “No.” She shook her head slowly. “I love you, Imogene.”

            Imogene started to cry and, hugging Sarah fiercely to her, she crumpled Nate Weldrick’s note in her hand.

29

            DUST MOTES DANCED IN THE SUNLIGHT AND THE ROOMS WERE UNNATURALLY still. All the girls but those who’d stayed for the dance had gone home for the summer. The others were in church, and Bishop Whitaker’s School was empty but for Imogene. She sat at her desk, looking over the neat rows of inkwells, chairs, pencil trays. After two years of use, everything still looked new and smelled slightly of furniture polish. She sat motionless, her chin resting on her folded hands, sunlight pouring in through the open door of the recitation rooms on the east side.

            “I thought I’d find you here.” Kate Sills appeared in the doorway, her neat Sunday hat pinned squarely on her head, her white gloves immaculate. “I met the bishop’s wife before the service; she told me you’d handed in your resignation.”

Imogene smiled wanly. “Oh dear, I’d hoped to slip away without good-byes. I’m glad I didn’t. We’re leaving Reno, Kate.”

            “You love Bishop Whitaker’s.”

            “I love Bishop Whitaker’s. But we’re leaving today, on the morning stage.”

            Kate unpinned her hat and set it and her gloves on a desk. “You’re certainly not doing things by halves, are you? Where, may I ask, is the morning stage bound?”

            “Round Hole—among other places.” Imogene laughed. “I’m going to be an innkeeper, Kate.”

            “At Round Hole? The stop on Smoke Creek? Imogene, you must be unbalanced! Have you ever seen the Nevada desert? It is truly a land God forgot.” Kate gave Imogene a hard look. “You’re in trouble. Let me help. I am not without influence in this town.”

            “I’m not in trouble. Sarah hasn’t been very well—even before Wolf died. Innkeeping is something we can both do. Something we can do together. I used to think teaching was my life, but it takes me from Sarah and she needs me.”

            “We need you too, Imogene. You have a gift for teaching.”

            “There are other teachers in the world. Sarah Mary needs me.”

            “As an innkeeper? Just the two of you? You’ll break your backs and your hearts.”

            “It’s a stage stop. Mac says it’s isolated; he goes through it twice a week on his run. It will do Sarah good to live out of town; she’s too easily influenced by what people think.” Imogene gave vent to a small bitter smile. “Or what she thinks they think. We need to get off by ourselves if she’s to get away from that.”

            Kate sat on the edge of the desk, cool and unblinking, regarding Imogene. “Is that all?”

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