such a scheme."
Bessie Jane giggled. "Maybe being courted by old Ancil Drayton has addled her mind."
Reed looked sternly at her, and she immediately straightened her mouth into a more serious expression. Her eyes, however, continued to dance. She always felt slighted when her father sat up for hours talking business with Reed, and she knew a surefire way to get Reed's attention was to make fun of Hattie Colfax.
"I expect a lot of people will have their doubts about our new crop," Reed continued. "But I don't intend to let any naysayers make me nervous."
Turpin rose with a little chuckle. "That's what I like about you, boy. You're not just smart, you're determined. You're going to be somebody in this town. I've never doubted it. That's what I told little Bessie Jane." He smiled at his daughter.
"'That Reed Tyler's the one you ought to be setting your sights on,' I said to her . ' He's the best one of the lot.'"
"Oh, Daddy," Bessie Jane said, a blush staining her cheeks.
"All right, all right, honeybunch." He chucked his daughter under the chin. "I'll be letting you two have a bit of sparking time. Not much, mind you, young man," he added, pointing a finger at Reed in a joking imitation of an overly prudent father. "I'll be leaving the door open. Don't stay too late."
"Yes, sir," Reed answered dutifully.
The older man was hardly out of the room when Bessie Jane scooted closer to him, and with a slight smile he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.
"I hope Daddy didn't make you mad," she said, pouting prettily. She was wearing a cerise muslin dress ornamented with tiny white dots. The gown flowed from her shoulders like a confection one might purchase at the soda fountain, and the sweet loveliness of her mouth and eyes had Reed almost forgetting what she'd said.
"No, I'm used to it by now," he answered after a moment, grinning. "It amazes me that he likes me so much and thinks that all my plans are so foolish."
"It's just that he has his own plans for you, Reed." She inched a little nearer, so that he could feel the warmth from her knee as it almost, but not quite, touched his. "He doesn't mind your interest in farming. He just hopes that you'll give it up when we wed and come into the business with him."
He looked at her and ran a finger gently along the side of her face. Her skin was pale and flawless, and the slight roses high in her cheeks never came from a paste bottle or coloring paper. "I hope you understand, Bessie Jane, that I have no intention of doing that."
She lowered her chin, then looked up at him coyly through her lashes. "It doesn't matter to me what you do, Reed. I just want to be your wife. That's all that's important to me."
He smiled. Pulling her into his arms, he kissed her softly, sweetly. She sighed, and he released her to gaze lovingly into her face. "You are so beautiful," he whispered. "When I'm not with you, I forget how really pretty you are."
"Thank you, Reed," she answered, but there was a strange distance in her eyes. Reed didn't understand it. He always wondered if she doubted his sincerity, or if his compliments seemed lame when compared to those other beaux had given her. He quickly pushed her lack of response from him and set about trying to cheer her. "I got some good news today in town," he said.
"What?" she asked, always eager for the latest gossip.
"Miss Hattie and I have a new partner in the rice."
Bessie Jane opened her mouth with surprise, and a delighted giggle escaped. She'd already anticipated that Reed's extra crop would cut into the little time they usually had to spend together. Another man to share the work would be a welcome addition.
"Who in the world did you find to go in with you?" she asked, leaning forward.
"One of your old beaux, actually."
"Who?" Overwhelmingly curious now, she mentally ran through the long list of gentlemen who had found their way to her door.
"I can see it's hard for you to guess," Reed said dryly. "You've had so many beaux, you