The Ring That Binds
Widow Celina Innes, a dress shop owner in the small 1886 mining town of Aspen, Colorado, struggles to run her shop and live down her late husband’s bad choices for the sake of her four-year old daughter, Keena. She made the mistake of following after one man’s dream of striking it rich and has sworn not to do it again. Co-owner of Toussaint’s General Store, Mikel, watches this proud woman run a successful business but wishes he could make her life a little easier. He has to be contented by slipping treats to the child in hopes of pleasing her mama. When illness strikes the child, Celina turns to Mikel for help and they work together all night to get past the crisis, deepening their friendship. But when the crisis is over, Mikel disappears from Aspen and Celina learns he is seeking to increase his stores. How could she have been so wrong about the man? Can a woman sworn to put down roots and a man looking for more riches find happiness?
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Plastering on a smile for her most cantankerous customer, Celina turned and had to bite back a gasp. Only two weeks had passed since the first fitting, but she could see the side seams would have to be let out so the front could button properly. The banker’s wife did enjoy her cakes and pastries. “Yes, ma’am. The dove gray wool with black collar and cuffs. Such a smart fashion choice.” If only she could afford a new coat half as fine.
She grabbed her box of sewing pins, and slung the measuring tape around her neck. “Go ahead and step up on the platform.” To avoid pointing out the obvious problem, she ran her hand over the fine wool to check the sleeve hem then looked at the back side to see how the pleat folded. “The length at your wrist looks good, don’t you agree?”
Mrs. Peabody held out a pudgy arm, and looked at her reflection in the oval mirror on the wooden stand. “I suppose.” She half turned to get a glimpse of the back and then faced the mirror again. “But these front panels are wrong. Did you deepen the seams?”
“Possibly today’s dress is of a heavier weight, now that we’re further into December.” Oh, the merchant’s dance of choosing the most tactful words. With a quick move, she pulled the measuring tape across the open span of the jacket’s front pieces and noted the gap’s measurement. “Nothing’s permanent. I can taper the side seams…” She held the tape along Mrs. Peabody’s side, as if gauging where to make an adjustment when what she needed to do was let out the seams at least an inch on each side.
The bell over her door tinkled, and a whoosh of cold air swept inside.
“I’ll be right with you.” Celina glanced over her shoulder and spotted Mikel Toussaint, one of the two owners of the general store. Her heartbeat kicked at the sight of one of the town’s most eligible bachelors. “Oh, hello.”
“Mikel!” Keena ran around the counter to greet the tall, dark-haired man. “See what I made.”
“Ah, a necklace fit for a princess.” He scooped up the little girl in his arms then tickled her tummy before turning to acknowledge the women. “Hello, Mrs. Innes, Mrs. Peabody. How are you ladies this fine day?”
“Fine?” Mrs. Peabody sniffed, turning back to preen before her silvery reflection. “A Colorado winter hardly deserves that compliment.”
“A winter day in the mountains without snow is a fine day, my papa always says.” He smiled, white teeth flashing above his green woolen scarf. “Back in the old country, in Espana, on a day like today, people sit on verandas, enjoying wine and pintxo.” He raised Keena to head height and swung her around, causing her to erupt into a fit of high-pitched giggles. In a flash, a peppermint drop appeared in his hand and he presented it to the little girl.
Mikel’s smile softened his dark, slashing eyebrows, and nose with its hawk-like bend, making him almost good looking. Celina had heard ladies whisper about his older brother Danel’s rakish handsome features. But her preference was for a man who knew how to smile. Celina shook her head at his foreign word that she’d learned meant some type of tasty food from his Basque homeland.
A throat clearing behind her was a not-so-subtle reminder that she was with a customer. Her stomach tightened with a nervous twist. “What can I do for you, Mr. Toussaint?”