A ring of silence surrounded them as they traversed the main street of Bannock City. Boss's beard shone in the sunlight, so pale that it was closer to silver than gold. His stride was long and confident, his bearing as noble as any warlord's. He cordially greeted several people--the hostler, the grocer, and the big red-bearded Vester man. Soomey approved his actions. Only a fool showed his enemies an angry face.
At the whorehouse, he stopped and tied the horses to the porch post.
"Stay here. I'll not be long."
Soomey glared at him, but said nothing. When he had entered the front door, she put one foot in a dangling stirrup and pulled herself up to feel Tao Ni's face. He was warmer than she liked, although his sleepy smile was cheerful enough. She tipped Boss's canteen to his mouth and told him to swallow twice. The willow bark infusion she had prepared this morning was strong, and should keep him drowsy.
Boss was inside a long time, long enough that Soomey was certain he was taking his pleasure. She fumed, wondering what she could do to convince him that she was woman enough for him. Should she try again, when they were settled?
What if she angered him enough that he drove her away?
Now that Tao Ni was injured, she needed Boss more than ever. Perhaps she would be wise to allow him to patronize the whorehouse, until she could convince him to welcome her to his bed.
She supposed she must learn to cook the bad-tasting cornmeal for him. And whatever other barbarous foods he wished. If only he would not ask her for those vile red roots that Captain Slye had often eaten. Surely they would poison him.
At last Boss emerged, the whorehouse woman close beside him. She smiled up into his face as if they were lovers, and patted his hand when he thanked her. Disgusted, Soomey turned away. She had no desire to watch Boss make such a fool of himself.
She inspected the new sign on the saloon across the street. It hung crooked against the front of the tent, the letters staggering as drunkenly across its face as miners did when emerging from the saloon.
Boss caught her shoulder in a gentle grip and turned her to face him. "Here," he said, holding out a pair of scuffed boots. "These ought to fit you. And the socks are pretty thick, so if they're a little big, it won't matter."
They looked awkward and stiff. "I do not need these," she said. "I have shoes."
"The hell you do. I looked at them last night. You've got newspaper stuffed inside and it's damn thin. A couple more miles and you'd be walking on your bare feet."
"I have walked on bare feet before," she told him, remembering that it had only been when she was taken to the city where Captain Slye had purchased her that she had been given her first pair of shoes. "It will not harm me."
"Soomey, damn it, put the boots on and don't argue with me."
She shook her head. The boots had come from the whorehouse. She would not wear them.
His eyes narrowed. "You want to keep workin' for me?" he said, in the soft voice she had learned to heed.
"Then put on the boots."
He glared back, holding out the boots.
Soomey flung herself onto the porch. "Give them to me," she said. "I will wear the damn things, but only because you force me to."
"Don't swear," he told her, his voice again gentle and mild. "It's not ladylike."
Soomey resisted the urge to kick him, even after she had the boots on her feet.