The door to Hope’s room banged open, the crash rattling the hangings on the. Margaret leapt from her seat, her eyes wild as a small knife appeared in her hand, papers spilling to the floor and her chair making a horrific noise as it tipped over.
The door bounced against the wall and hurtled back only to be shoved open once more as Jake stormed into the room wearing a thunderous scowl, his rage palpable. “What the hell is this?” he barked.
Gaze trained on him, Hope rose slowly. She’d been expecting this. “Mr Wade, I’ll thank you to lower your voice.”
“Don’t use that prissy tone with me, Hope. What the hell is this?”
Her gaze slid to the object brandished in his outstretched hand. “I believe it to be a newspaper.”
“Don’t toy with me, woman. You know what this is.”
She did know. Raising her chin, she said, “It is an article about Josiah Callihan.”
He closed his eyes briefly. Hope was fairly certain he counted under his breath. “It’s a goddamn dog whistle is what it is,” he said intensely once he was done. “What were you thinking?”
“I’ll leave you to it,” Margaret said.
Hope blinked. Margaret. Margaret was still here. Keeping her gaze on Jake, she said, “Thank you, Margaret. No need to return today.”
From the corner of her eye, she saw Margaret nod sharply. Jake barely waited for the door to close behind her before he demanded, “Why are you taunting Callihan?”
“I wouldn’t term it a taunt.”
“I would. Miss Hope McElroy has offered a reward for any information leading to the capture of Josiah Callihan,” he read aloud. “‘The man is a coward and a cur,’ Miss McElroy said. ‘The world would be better without him in it.’ Direction for Miss McElroy can be found at the Deadwater Hotel. What the hell is that but an invitation for him to come for you? You’re putting yourself in danger, Hope, and for no good reason I can see.”
She lifted her chin. “No more than you.”
“I’m used to danger. It’s my goddamn job. Just as it’s my goddamn job to guard you. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing.”
Her spine snapped straight. “I have managed to know what I’m doing for thirty-three years, all without your guidance. I’ll thank you to watch your tongue.”
“Goddamn it, Hope, don’t hide behind manners and niceties. This is goddamn suicide.”
“It is not suicide!” Smoothing her hands over her stomach, she took a breath. “It isn’t suicide,” she said more calmly. “It’s a plan.”
“What plan? You ain’t never said nothing about a plan. Last I heard, we were to the printers, and next I find you’ve not only given them direction, but they’re aiding and abetting in your goddamn suicide attempt.”
“It. Is not. Suicide.”
“I don’t care what you call it, it’s goddamn foolish, is what it is. You don’t know this man.”
“I know him.” She couldn’t stop herself from raising her fingers to her scar.
Her move drew his gaze and for the first time he appeared uncertain. “I know emotion drives you, and a powerful need for revenge, but there are better ways to do this. We discussed it.”
“He was taking too long.” And in the meantime, had sent a boy that could have harmed Jake. She swallowed. Say it plain, Hope. Could have killed him. “I’ll take your opinion under advisement.”
“Goddamn it, Hope! I forbid it!”
Her temper broke. “You, sir, can forbid me nothing. You are merely an employee.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she wished she’d bitten her unruly tongue.
He looked as if she had slapped him—which, in a way, she had. Muscle ticking in his jaw, he stared at her.
She didn’t know what to say, how she could take the words back, so she lifted her chin and stared back.
His eyes went flat. “As your employee, I advise against this,” he ground out
“Your opinion is noted.” She wanted to scream she hadn’t meant it, but the words wouldn’t come. All she could do was meet that flat dark stare and stand her ground.
Stiffly, he nodded. “If that’s the way of it, Miss McElroy, I’ll be on my way.”
She wanted to call after him, to tell him she was wrong, to explain her reasoning. That boy with his gun could have killed him. She wanted this over and done so he wouldn’t be shouldering the risk that should be hers. She wanted him safe.
Instead, she let him leave.