He couldn't quite get over the fact that she had filled out so much. Although small, her waist was tiny, her breast plump and high, her hips flared. Perfect, his mind echoed. He drew breath. He remembered Rebecca being a beauty, but Jenny…had certainly turned into a swan. He never figured on her being such a gorgeous lady, why, she was prettier than her sister. And that was saying something.
"No, he left town about five years ago." She studied his frown. "A lot of things have changed since you've been here."
"I suppose they have. So, why didn't you leave this God forsaken town, Jenny?"
She leaned back in the chair and studied him. "Didn't have anywhere to go." She shrugged. "I was thirteen, Chance. I didn't know what hit me when the Sheriff came and told me I had to leave. I'd already sold all the valuables in the house I had to stay in the house and eat. When I left there was nothing left. Because Dad had so many enemies in this town, no one seemed anxious to jump in and help me. I was one of the Carter girls. So I decided I had to take care of myself. But jobs weren't plentiful for a girl of thirteen I can tell you. One of the girls that used to work here, told me about needing more girls. So I went to work here."
"Didn't you have an aunt in Philadelphia?" He asked. "I seemed to recall you and Rebecca visiting her a time or two."
"Yeah, but I wasn't any where near her favorite. She didn't want the likes of me. Especially after I whored my way to make a living for myself at thirteen. She was a prim was a proper lady and I didn't fit the bill. I don't think I ever fit the bill. Someone from town wrote her and told her dad died, and she came out, but her nose was so high in the air, I knew we wouldn't get along."
When he raised a brow at that, she explained more. "She couldn't stand the embarrassment. I couldn't stand her attitude. I used to write her when Rebecca was alive, she was always wanting to know what Rebecca was doing, who she was seeing. Real interested, in her. Not once in all those years did she ask about me. Not that I'm bitter, I'm not. I didn't like her much anyway. I loved Rebecca, she was my confidant, my friend and when she died, I was as devastated as you or dad. She might have been spoiled and catered to, but she always had time for me, always."
The way she said that had his head turning to stare at her. Little Jenny had to whore her way….? God, that went straight to his heart, and at thirteen!
"My God. I'm so sorry, I wished I'd known." He told her, stretching his hand to hers and covering it with his own. Then he looked at her hands, she still bit her nails. "When you gonna stop doing that?"
She chuckled, "Everyone has some bad habits."
There was a long silence as his hands covered hers again.
"Why, would you have come running to save me?" She snickered.
She sighed. "Listen, you did the right thing by leaving. Dad was out of his head about Rebecca dying, and the fact that she was running away with you to get married," Jenny told him. "It didn't help things. He'd have killed you if you'd have stayed."
"I figured he'd blame me for it."
"Oh yeah, he did." She chortled. "Even when the preacher told him you didn't have time to get married and you said you'd be back to take care of it later, he wouldn't believe it. Swore he'd kill you the next time he saw you. You were going to make his daughter live in sin. And all the time he was spouting this off to me, Rebecca lay dying." Jenny remembered. "He swore you must have forced her to leave home. It was the fact that she left him that bothered him so. She was the apple of his eye. She was everyone's favorite." Jenny's voice went raspy. She looked up at him with those gray-green eyes and tried to smile. "Including mine. When Momma died, Rebecca kind of became my second Momma. She was everything a girl should be."
But he noted the fact that the smile didn't quite reach her lips.
"It wasn't anyone's fault. Rebecca wanted to marry you, but with dad and his men chasing after you, you couldn't get it done. And then, the accident happened."
"He sure didn't know her very well, did he?" Chance glanced around. There was an older couple sitting at one table and a cowboy sitting by himself at another. He looked back at her and she was staring at him.
"No, but he thought he did." Jenny smiled. "I guess all parents have illusions about their children."
His eyes met hers.
"Jenny Mae Carter." He leaned back in his chair now and stared at her with a widening smile. "It's hard to believe you've grown up."
"I hate that name. It sounds like a cow!"
"Then change it…" He smiled sexily at her.
"Change my name? To what?"
"Whatever pleases you."
"I always like the name Elizabeth, it sounds so sophisticated." She smiled at him.
"You just aren't an Elizabeth…" He chuckled.
"No, what am I then? Plain Jane?"
"How about Jen…" He asked staring into her eyes once more. "And there's nothing plain about you, from where I'm sitting."
"Jen, yeah, I guess that does fit me better. Not very exciting, but it does fit."
"So tell me, do you like your job. Do you like living here?"
"Like it?" Just the way she said that answered his question. She shook her head. "When a boy grows into a man, he can leave home, go anywhere, find a job and live. When a girl grows up, there's few options. She can get married, become an old maid school-teacher, open a sewing shop, or live with her parents all her life. But she doesn't have the option to just pick up and leave. I've had no choice in the matter. No woman in her right mind would choose this kind of living, Chance. I had nowhere to go. I was a kid. Oh, they were gonna send me to one of those orphanages, but I wasn't having any of that."
His head quirked, "What do you mean? Why not?"
He recognized the reprimand in his voice and regretted it, because her expression registered disappointment.
"Heard too many horror stories about them. Now, I've been doing this so long, I don't know, don't have any place to go…and nothing to compare it to. I hate it, but until I can do better, I have to like it, as you call it. I've been saving my money a little along the way too."
"I saw you giving that kid the milk." Chance smiled at her. "Do you often help others out with your money?"
"He's a kid, Chance. His mother's having a hard time. If I can help someone I will. I make pretty good money, and I don’t have a thing to spend it on, except dresses."
"You are beautiful, through and through."
The compliment shocked her, but she remained skeptical.
She shrugged. "We live in a stagnant little town that hasn't changed its opinion of things in a hundred years. Someone had to help the poor kid. I know his mother, and she wouldn't have sent him unless she really needed it. I work there, but I don't have to put up with narrow mindedness. Leroy wouldn't help a dying dog."
His smile widened. "I like your spirit Jen."
"My spirit?" She wrinkled her nose. "Well, no one's told me that before."