The hero has cooked up a plan that he thinks will ultimately help him convince Stormy's father, Zed, to retire and sell the ranch to him. Zed is in on the plan, which is to order a beautiful dress for Stormy, who wears only jeans, shirts and boots.
Zed pulled a button from the pocket of his Sunday jacket. “I need you to stop at Mrs. Rosenbaum’s. Find a button to match this one or buy thirteen new ones. I’ll sew them on this afternoon.”
Stormy tried to think of an excuse. The clothing emporium sold frilly dresses and breath-robbing corsets. Shoes with ribbon ties. Useless white gloves.
Suddenly, a truly awful image stabbed through her mind: Zed laid out in a pine box wearing this black jacket.
She forgot about the clothing emporium, and how surreal she felt whenever Blade was near. Maybe Zed was feeling poorly and wanted to get everyone else out of the house so he could talk to her alone. “Are you dizzy? Any pain in your left arm?”
“I feel fine.” He thumped his chest like a jungle ape. “Good enough to go dancing.”
Skeptical, she lifted his hands and examined the tips of his fingers. To her relief, they were pink and warm. “No dancing,” she said sternly. “Doctor’s orders. Remember?”
Zed smiled like a Cheshire cat. “Your breakfast is getting cold.”
“Hello, Stormy,” Mrs. Rosenbaum said. “Come in, dear. It’s nice to see you.”
Stormy looked warily at the shopkeeper, who’d never welcomed her warmly.
Mrs. Rosenbaum slid an arm across her shoulders and shoved the Emporium’s front door with the toe of her shoe. The door shut with a resounding thud. “Laura, look who’s here.”
The gray-haired seamstress flung open the curtain that separated the store’s fitting room from the retail area. A dressmaker’s tape measure hung from her neck.
“Laura has a rush order for a dress but is having trouble getting the measurements just right. Would you mind being a model? It won’t take more than a minute.” Mrs. Rosenbaum propelled her into the small fitting room, blocked her escape, and drew paper and a short pencil from her skirt pocket. “Raise your arms, please.”
Bewildered, Stormy let Laura Boe fit the tape around her chest.
“Thirty-four,” the seamstress said. “Waist twenty-three. Hips thirty-three.” She spun Stormy partway around, pressed one end of the tape against her neck, and measured to her belt. “Eighteen. Waist to ankle…twenty-eight.”
“Just a little bit longer.” Mrs. Rosenbaum picked up a swatch of mint green fabric from a shelf and set it on her shoulder.
Mrs. Boe shook her head.
In quick succession, Mrs. Rosenbaum thrust more swatches under Stormy’s chin. Neither woman asked for her opinion, but the emerald green was the prettiest.
The bell over the front door chimed.
Mrs. Rosenbaum turned to greet her new customers. “Gertrude and Emma Schultz, good morning. You’re right on time. Emma’s dress is ready for a final try-on.”
Stormy’s heart almost sank into her dusty boots. Emma was the last person she wanted to see. Invariably, Emma found a way to make fun of her.
Mrs. Boe tugged on her sleeve. “This way.” Holding two bolts of material as a shield, the older woman motioned with her head. Together, they sidled along the wall and backed into her workroom. The seamstress unbolted the store’s rear door and shooed her outside.
“Your mama bought the first dress I made when I come to this town,” Mrs. Boe said softly. “Said it made her feel like a real lady. You remember that, Stormy Hawkins.”
Stormy felt like an escaped piglet. She was free, but the buttons she needed were inside, where Emma Schultz was trying on a new dress, probably for the Founders Day dance.
Stormy hated Founders Day. After two or three cupfuls of Levi Hollingsworth’s hard cider, hired hands shoved each other for a chance to dance with Emma. Emma always twirled fast so her petticoats showed and called even more attention to herself by whooping like a drunken sailor whenever Ibra McSweeney called Soldier’s Joy.
Stormy walked around the building and stood next to her buckboard.
Brownie would go to the dance. He played the fiddle. Running Bear had to bring his meat and potato pies. They could take Blade with them.
Her breath hitched. Emma would flirt with Blade, and he’d probably ask her to dance. Stormy didn’t want to watch that.
She tugged on the ropes that bound her load of fence posts. The doctor in Yankton said Zed shouldn’t overexert, so if she went back inside and bought buttons, and Zed went to the Founders Day dance, she’d be violating medical orders.