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The beginning of a menage a trois.

She often found herself talking about plants or animals with him, though she tried to stay away from her favorite topic- geology- since she'd been in so much trouble lately over her explorations.

After several weeks of Mr. Easton's visits, however, their sporadic discussions of evolution led Becky inevitably to Lyell's theory of stratification.

Since Brody knew nothing about geology unrelated to the practicalities of removing gold from rock and water, she began by explaining how multi-colored stripes in the rocks were formed. The limestone layers in nearby cliffs and canyons, for instance, had been created by the deposition of millions of dead sea creatures, layer upon layer upon layer, over aeons. Brody was silent for such a long time after her description that Becky began to think maybe he was one of those stupid, stubborn people who automatically regarded any radical, new knowledge as impossible. Or maybe he just doubted the veracity of intelligence imparted to him by a woman.

Then Brody started asking questions, and she forgot all that. Every answer she gave raised another question in Brody's mind, and half his questions raised a question in hers, too.

How did sea creatures come to be in cliffs this far inland? If Texas was underwater at one time, how was it not underwater now? If fossils were formed in layers of stone, why weren't there fossils in metals? He'd seen a lot of gold straight from the mine, and he'd never heard even a rumor about anything like that. What about quartz crystals? There weren't any fossils in that, either, and it was rock, too, wasn't it?

Their conversations about geology were so stimulating that Becky lost all her reservations about being around him. She forgot she was pretending he didn't exist. One particular evening, she even forgot to go to bed. They talked so enthusiastically and at such length that everyone else drifted away, and Becky barely heard herself bidding them goodnight. One by one they slipped off to bed, until only Jem and Colt were left on the porch with Brody and Rebecca.

Finally, Becky paused to sip her drink, hoping to soothe a throat made sore by talking, and surprised Colt and Jem staring at her and Brody with a mixture of apprehension and amusement.

She looked from Brody, to Colt, to Jem, and back to Brody.

After a long moment spent absorbing the shock of her brothers' suppositions, she flushed and stood so abruptly that she nearly knocked the drink from Brody's hand as he hurried to rise, as well.

"Well, good night, gentlemen," she said evenly.

Without looking at Brody, Becky fled into the house, leaving Colt and Jem grinning from ear to ear. Both men stood to face him down.

Colt stuck one thumb in his belt. "Guess you got no choice now, Easton. Ask her or don't, but Becky better tell me she wants you settin' on our porch before I see you out here again."

He turned and went inside.

Jem lifted the lantern from the hook by Brody's shoulder and followed his partner, leaving Brody alone in the dark.

-:-:-:-:-:-:-

Two days later, Becky was in the barnyard feeding chickens when Brody appeared, as though she'd conjured him with the confusion she'd been feeling since that night.

"Miss Connor." He removed his hat, squinting in the afternoon sun. "I was wondering if I might have a word?"

Becky latched the door in the fence surrounding the chicken coop- they'd been having a grey fox problem recently, and the chickens were temporarily imprisoned until someone shot the fox. She turned toward the house without another glance at Brody. "I'm very busy today, Mr. Easton: perhaps some other time."

Brody caught Becky's hand, and she was forced to stop, her eyes flying to his face. She tried once to tug her hand from his grasp, but saw right away that was useless and stopped tugging.

"Mr. Easton-" she began.

"Miss Connor-" Brody interrupted, still holding her hand and standing much too close.

In the sun, Brody's eyes sparkled li

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