A customer had come in and seen her and grabbed her and had her on his knee.
Without a thought Lee whirled her by the hand on the other side of him protectively and looked at the stranger. “Sorry, but she’s not for sale.”
He felt the sweat between their hands, and the tremble that rumbled through Hattie as he held her protectively away from the man. She was scared to death and he was glad of it.
“Well hell, why not, she’s younger and prettier than most these girls in here,” the man laughed. “I like ‘em young. Less of course she’s your property.”
“She’s a human being…that’s all she is. She’s no one’s property.” Lee guided her back to the room where Sam was. He closed the door once she was inside. He had to calm down, he’d gotten angry too fast. He glanced over at her and saw her staring at him.
“Look. I can’t do much else for you. I paid the lady some money to take care of you. I’ve got to get to the army. I can’t stay here. You’ll be alright, just do what little she asks of you and try to get along. Understand?”
The girl’s lip pouched out and Lee was sure tears were close to falling.
“You’re leaving?” Her eyes took on an innocent look of surprise.
“Thank you for what you done.” She came closer, and looked up at him.
“You’re welcome…” Lee’s eye lingered on her longer than they should have. He cleared his throat. He hadn’t expected a thank you from her.
“You going to war?” she asked her voice filled with concern.
“Yeah.” He answered staring at her through the dim light of the room.
Without another word, she flung herself into his arms. Lee felt the warmth of her as her young body fit against him naturally. He felt himself react and again he scolded himself. But nothing prepared him for the shocking kiss she placed on his lips as she tiptoed to reach him. Her soft lips moved against his, moving her tongue into his mouth, as they instantly mated. Just like his lips had explored hers last night, today, she boldly imitated his actions. Soft as a buttercup, her lips touched his, lingered, and then moved away slowly. Their eyes met with a storm of emotion clouding them.
Deliberately, he put distance between them. An old woman’s kiss was nothing like this one. He’d felt it to his toes and his body reacted quite naturally. She’d pressed her young body up against him so tightly she was bound to have felt his reaction. She was just a child, he quickly reminded himself, he would not let anything happen between them. It was naturally up to him to see that it didn’t. But by all that was holy, she brought out the man in him like no other.
“I really am sixteen, and I really want you to come back…safe…to us.” She said lowly. “You get shot up, I’ll take care of you. I know how, did it for my pa many times.” She moved a little closer, her eyes wide with expectations.
He cleared his throat again, and he felt his own heart beat quicken. “You shouldn’t have done that.” He touched a finger to his lips.
“Don’t other girls kiss you goodbye…” She suddenly looked as though she’d said too much.
“There are no other girls…?”
“You mean I’m….the only one….” She almost smiled.
“Yeah…the only one…” he answered backing away from her.
Her mouth formed a perfect Oh, but nothing came out. She seemed out of breath suddenly her chest rising and falling quickly, he noted.
She smiled at him now, “Good. And I’m glad I kissed you. Mama said you had to try a boy out to see if he was the right one….”
“Right one for what?” he frowned at her.
“Right one to be with….”
Lee’s frown grew, although her words confused him mightily almost as much as her kissing him had.
“I just wanted to thank you…for all you done. It was right decent of you. I never met a nice white man before. Didn’t know there were any.”
Lee moved closer, his temper flaring in defense, “That’s no way to thank anyone, you hear me girl. Don’t let me catch you ever thanking anyone else like that, do you hear me? You don’t kiss a man on the lips as a thank you. And I better be the only white boy you ever kiss like that.”
“Like what?” she asked innocently.
“Like you meant it.”
“I didn’t mean to do nothin’ wrong…?” she huffed and saw his head shake. “…and I did mean it.”
He stared into her amber eyes, “I know…that’s the problem, Hattie, so did I.”
Her mouth flew open.
“You are playin’ with fire, girl, don’t you know that. I’m a full growed man, and you’re just a kid.”
“Didn’t you like it?”
His eyes met hers and for all that was holy, he couldn’t lie, couldn’t look away. “Yeah…too much.” His mouth curled into a slight smile.
She smiled back shyly.
His gaze swept her, “Did you?”
She nodded and placed her hand over his. For a long moment he stared at their hands, and then a thumb reached over and grazed the top of her hand. Her breath hitched, her chest rose and fell quickly.
“Will—you come back?” she asked breathlessly.
“I’m going to the army, in Texas, girl.” He moved away and stopped looking at her. Those sad cow eyes of hers had him feeling things and thinking things he shouldn’t. “I have no idea. The army isn’t a happy place. But I reckon if I live through it, I might stop off and see how the two of you are doing, someday. So you behave yourself. And no more of that. I got every reason to come back…now. Understand? And don’t you run off and leave Sam by himself here, you hear me. He’s your brother and you take care of him. Family stays together, you understand?”
She nodded, and a tear slipped down her cheek. “Where’s your family?”
“Ain’t got anything left but a brother. He went off on his own some time ago. Been a while since I seen him.”
“Well…we won’t forget you, Lee Nelson. Not as long as we live. And from now on….we’ll be your family.”