The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride By Carolyn Brown


Chapter 1





Emily took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.


The cold February wind swept across the wide porch of the ranch house and cut right through her lightweight denim jacket. Her heavy coat was in the pickup, but this job wouldn’t take long. Hand the box of letters over to Clarice Barton and she’d be back in her truck and on her way. Then her grandfather’s spirit would rest in peace. He’d said that it wouldn’t until the box was put in Clarice’s hands.


She heard footsteps on hardwood floors, and then something brushed against her leg. She looked down just as a big yellow cat laid a dead mouse on her boots. There were two things that Emily hated and mice were both of them. Live ones topped out the list above dead ones, but only slightly.


She kicked her foot just as the door opened and the mouse flew up like a baseball. The woman who slung open the screen door caught the animal midair, realized what she had in her hand, and threw it back toward Emily. She sidestepped the thing and the cat jumped up, snagged it with a paw, quickly flipped it into its mouth, and ran off the porch.


“Dammit!” The lady wiped her hand on the side of her jeans. “God almighty, I hate them things, and that damned cat keeps bringing them up to the porch like she’s haulin’ gold into the house.”


The woman’s black hair was sprinkled with white. Bright red lipstick had run into the wrinkles around her mouth and disappeared from the middle. When she smiled, her brown eyes twinkled brightly. Sure enough, the hardwood floor to the big two-story house was so shiny that Emily could see the reflection of the woman’s worn athletic shoes in it.


“I’m sorry,” Emily gasped. “It was a reflex action.”


The woman giggled. “Well, now that we’ve both decided that we hate mice, what can I do for you, honey? You lost or something?” she asked.


“Is this Lightning Ridge Ranch? Are you Clarice Barton?” Emily shivered against the cold and the idea of a mouse touching her favorite boots.


“Yes, it’s Lightning Ridge, but I’m not Clarice. She’s making a run out to the henhouse. We’re making a chocolate cake later on and I used up all the eggs makin’ hot rolls. It’s cold. You better come on inside and wait for her. I’m Dotty, Clarice’s best friend and helper around here. I’m going to have to wash my hands a dozen times to get the feel of dead mouse off.” The lady stepped aside. “What do you need Clarice for?”


“I’m here to deliver this box.”


“Your nose is red and you look chilled. Come on in the living room. We got a little blaze going in the fireplace. It’ll warm you right up. This weather is plumb crazy these days. February ain’t supposed to be this damned cold. Spring ain’t that far away. Winter needs to step aside. What’d you say your name was?” Dotty motioned her into the living room with a flick of her wrist.


“I’m Emily, and thank you. The warmth feels good,” she said.


“Well, you just wait right here. She won’t be long. Go on and sit down, honey. Take that rockin’ chair and pull it up next to the fireplace. Can I get you a cup of coffee or hot chocolate?”


“No, ma’am. I’m fine,” Emily answered. She would have loved a cup of anything hot just to wrap her chilled fingers around, but she didn’t want to stick around long enough to drink a whole cup.


“Well, I’m in the middle of stirrin’ up some hot rolls. Just make yourself at home until Clarice gets here.”


Dotty disappeared, leaving Emily alone in the living room. She held the ancient boot box in her lap. Her grandfather had worn out the boots that came in the box and now it held letters from a woman who was not her grandmother. His passing and her two promises to him in his final days seemed surreal, especially sitting in the house of the woman who’d written the letters more than sixty years before.


Warmth radiated out from the fireplace as she took stock of her surroundings. The room was a perfect square with furniture arranged facing the fireplace to give it a cozy feel. A framed picture of a cowboy took center stage on the mantel. She set the box on the coffee table and stepped in closer to look at the photograph. He had dark brown hair and green eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses. It had been taken in the summer because there were wildflowers in the background. One shiny black boot was propped on a rail fence, and he held a Stetson in his right hand. His left thumb was tucked into the pocket of his tight jeans, leaving the rest of his hand to draw attention to the zipper. And right there in the corner of the frame was a yellow sticky note with the words, “Miss you, Nana!” stuck to it.


The crimson flushing her cheeks had nothing to do with the heat rising from the fireplace and everything to do with the way she’d mentally undressed this man she’d never even seen in real life. Get a grip, Em, she thought to herself. She backed away quickly and stood by the door, but when she looked over her shoulder, the cowboy was staring at her. She moved to the other side of the room and shivers shot down her spine when she realized he was still looking at her. She tried another corner and behold, those green eyes had followed her.


She was tired. It had been a long, emotional week and this was the final thing she had to do before she could really mourn for her grandfather. She’d driven since daybreak that morning, and her eyes were playing tricks on her. That must be it. Her dark brows knit together as she glanced at the picture from across the room. Did he have a wedding ring on that left hand? Determined not to let a picture intimidate her, she circled the room so she could see the photograph better, and his hand was ring-free.


How old was he, and when was the picture taken? Not one thing gave away a year or a time other than it was spring or summer. He might be a fifty-year-old man with gray hair nowadays and bowed legs from riding too many horses through the years. Or he could be a lot younger than he looked in the photograph and still be in college, just coming home to work on the ranch in the summertime like she had when she was getting her degree.


Unless he came looking for a warm spot to take the chill off, she’d never meet him anyway. Her mission was to deliver letters, and studying the picture was just a diversion while she waited on Clarice.


“My grandson, Greg Adams,” a woman said from the doorway.


“Fine-lookin’ cowboy, isn’t he? His daddy and momma wanted him to be a businessman in a big old office in Houston, but he’s got his grandpa’s ranchin’ savvy. He’s down in southern Texas at a cattle sale. Cute little sticker he left there, isn’t it?”


Emily swallowed hard at the mention of a grandpa. She fought even harder to keep from blushing again. “Yes, ma’am, he is surely handsome. I’m Emily Cooper, and you are Clarice Barton?” She quickly crossed the room and held out her right hand.


Clarice’s handshake was firm and her smile sincere. “Do I know you? Dotty said you had a box or something to give to me.”


Her thick gray hair was cut short to frame her round face. She wore jeans and a Western-cut shirt, boots, and no makeup, and she had the same green eyes as the cowboy in the picture.


“No, ma’am, you do not know me. You are Clarice Barton, aren’t you?”


“No, honey, I’m Clarice Adams. I haven’t been Clarice Barton in more than sixty years, but I was before I got married. Let’s sit down while we talk. Dotty is bringing us some hot coffee in a few minutes.”



Just out of curiosity, Emily glanced at the picture and sure enough, the cowboy followed her as she crossed the room and sat down.


She picked up the box from the coffee table and held it out to Clarice. “Marvin Cooper was my grandfather. He made me promise I’d bring these to you. They are the letters that you wrote to him when he was in Korea during the war.”


Clarice laid a hand over her heart, and the color left her cheeks.


“Marvin,” she whispered.


“Marvin Cooper?” Dotty set a tray holding three cups of coffee on the coffee table. “I’ll be damned. Did you tell her that you were playing kickball with a damned old dead mouse?”


“No, ma’am.” Emily’s nostrils curled just thinking about it. She looked down at her boots. Should she simply leave them in her hotel room or try to wash the mouse from them? She could visualize the thing right there on the instep.


“Well, it took half a bar of soap to get it off my hand.” Dotty went on to tell Clarice the story. “She don’t like mice either, so I’ve decided that she’s my new friend.”


Clarice giggled. “I wish I’d been here to see that sight. Dotty hates mice and I hate spiders.” She ran a hand down the side of the box, but she didn’t take it. “I can’t believe he kept them all these years or that you’ve brought them to me.”


Emily pointed to the one that had been slipped beneath the faded red ribbon tied around the box. “This one is from him to you. It got stuck in a mailbag and then the bag got shoved back into an old desk drawer down at the post office. They didn’t discover it until last week. According to the postmark, it should’ve been mailed sixty years ago, but it never left Happy. You might want to start with it. They brought it out to the ranch and apologized for losing it all those years ago. Gramps told me to put it with the others, and he didn’t even open it. He said he remembered right well what it said.”


Clarice’s hands trembled. “Gramps? That would make you his granddaughter, then? He got married and had children?”


“Yes, he did and he is—was—my grandfather. He’s only been gone four days and I’m still not used to the idea of saying ‘was.’ It sounds so final.”


“I understand. When my husband died, it took me a long time to use the past tense too. So Marvin had a granddaughter and I have a grandson,” Clarice whispered.


Dotty shook her head slowly. “Marvin Cooper! When I first met Clarice she told me all about Marvin, but we never thought we’d hear that name again. And you drove all the way across the state to bring those letters? You are talking about Happy, Texas, right?”


“Yes, ma’am.”


“You aren’t plannin’ on drivin’ all the way back tonight, are you?” Clarice asked.


“I’m staying at a hotel in Sherman,” Emily said.


“Please stay with us for supper. I’ve got to hear all about Marvin and how his life went.” Clarice’s eyes misted over and Emily couldn’t have refused her request if it had meant standing in front of a firing squad.


Besides, it was just supper and a couple of hours’ worth of talking about her grandfather. It would make Clarice feel good, and Gramps would like that. Maybe it would even give Emily the closure she needed so badly.


“And if that damned old mama cat brings up another rat, we might have to stick together to get rid of it,” Dotty said.


“Thank you. I’d like to stay for supper, but Miz Dotty, if that cat brings up another one of those vicious rats, you’re on your own,” Emily said.


“Rat, my hind end. It was probably just a baby mouse. Every time that Dotty tells the story it’ll get bigger and bigger,” Clarice said.


“You didn’t see it. It was only slightly smaller than a damned old possum,” Dotty argued.


Emily giggled and wished that she could take Dotty to Florida with her. That old girl would be a real hoot to have around all the time.


Clarice’s phone rang and she fished it out of her shirt pocket. “Greg, darlin’, the most amazing thing has happened.” She gave him the one-minute shortened form of Emily bringing the box of letters and told him that she’d tell him the rest of the story when he got home.


Emily looked at the blaze in the fireplace, at the ceiling, and finally settled back on the picture of Clarice’s grandson. She locked gazes with him, wondering what he would be like in the flesh. Was he really that handsome or just very, very photogenic?


“That’s her grandson, Greg,” Dotty whispered.


“She told me.” Emily nodded.


“He’s gone right now, but he’ll be home tomorrow night. We miss him,” Dotty said.


“I bet he misses being home,” Emily said.


“Emily,” Clarice said.


She whipped around when she heard her name, and an instant flash lit up her face.


Clarice giggled like a little girl. “I’m so sorry. He asked me what your name was again and I told him. It’s a good picture of you. You have your grandpa’s eyes. This is a new phone and I keep taking pictures of things rather than hanging up. I miss the old corded phones that we used to have and cameras that used a flashbulb. This new technology is enough to drive a person crazy.”


Dotty picked up her cup of coffee and sipped at it. “Ain’t that the truth. Us old dogs havin’ to learn all these new tricks is frustratin’ as hell, and that damned computer shit is the worst thing of all. Y’all best drink that coffee before it gets cold. Want some cookies to go with it? It’s a while ’til supper.”


“No, this is fine.” Emily covered a yawn with her hand. “I’m sorry. I drove all day, stopped at the hotel, and then got lost twice trying to find this place.”


“How did you find me?” Clarice asked.


“I stopped at the post office and the lady there said that there wasn’t a Clarice Barton around. The only Clarice she knew was Clarice Adams and I might check to see if that was you.”


“She’s new in town. Ain’t been here but ten years or she would have known the Bartons helped to build Ravenna.” Dotty pointed to the door. “I know Clarice is just dyin’ to dig into those letters. And I’ve got things to do in the kitchen. Would you like to take a nap until suppertime? You can rest in the first room on the left upstairs.”


“I wouldn’t want to be a bother,” Emily said.


“No bother at all. You go on up there and rest. If you aren’t awake by supper, I’ll holler for you,” Dotty said.


Clarice reached across the space separating them and patted her arm. “And thank you so much for bringing these letters.”


“I promised Gramps I would do it. Is it all right if I take this upstairs with me?” Emily picked up her cup of coffee.


“Of course it is,” Clarice said.


Dotty stood up at the same time Emily did. “Clarice was right about Marvin. She said that she thought he was about to ask her to marry him. She’s the only one of us four that isn’t a mail-order bride. That’s the way I come to live in these parts. I was from Kentucky and he lived here. I thought any place was better than Harlan County, Kentucky, so I climbed on a bus and come out here. Married Johnny and loved him to his dying day, but the best thing that come out of me bein’ a mail-order bride is that I met Clarice and we become best friends.”



“Four of you?”


“Yep.” Dotty nodded. “Me and Rose and Madge all come to Texas right after the war was over more than sixty years ago. I got here first in January and the other two came on later that spring. It’s a long story how it all happened. Rose and Madge are cousins. Madge was writing to a soldier that she met through the church pen pal group. So she came out here to meet him, and then Rose came to visit and wound up married to a local guy too. Our husbands are all gone now and we are widows.”


“You were all kind of like mail-order brides?”


“Mainly me and Madge were, and Rose kind of got in on the deal like shirttail kin. Clarice is the only one of us that was raised right here in Ravenna,” Dotty said. “Now get on up there and get some rest.”


“Supper is at six?” Emily checked the clock and glanced at that picture one more time.


“Yes, it is.” Dotty smiled.


A two-hour nap, supper, some talk about her grandfather, and then back to the hotel. Tomorrow she would be on her way to Florida for a whole month on the beach.


“Oh, my!” Emily gasped when she opened the door into the bedroom.


Back when she was in high school she would have hocked her tomcat, Spurs, to have her own room like the one before her. A queen-sized four-poster bed covered with a pretty quilt and lacy bed ruffle sat on one side of the room. A big, deep recliner and a vanity with a three-way mirror were located over beside the door into the bathroom, which sported a deep claw-footed tub. She’d always shared the one bathroom in the small three-bedroom ranch house with two men who did not understand why one girl needed so much hair spray, lotion, bath oil, and her own pink razors to shave her legs.


She washed her hands, dried them, and then rubbed lotion into them—sweet-smelling lavender lotion that reminded her of Great-Aunt Molly, grandmother to her favorite cousin, Taylor.


Her grandfather’s words the day that he and Molly went to the courthouse together came back to her as she looked in the bathroom mirror. Molly had deeded her ranch to Taylor, and Marvin had given what was left of his adjoining ranch to Emily. On the way home he had said, “I’m not real sure your future is on Shine Canyon Ranch, Em.”


When she’d asked him why he’d say a thing like that, he’d just smiled and tapped his heart. “Ranchin’ is in your heart and you’ll always love it, but something in my soul tells me your future is not on Shine Canyon. When I’m gone, I want you to take a month and think things through before you commit to this land for the rest of your life. You’ll have a hard row to hoe even with family to help with just a hundred acres. I’m not sure in today’s economy that you’ll ever make it without taking a job in town, and that means ranchin’ at night after you work your ass off all day at your job.”


She blinked away the tears and turned away from the mirror. “A hundred acres might not be much, but it’s mine, Gramps. And I love the land as much as you did. I’m not afraid of hard work, and piece by piece I’ll buy our land back from Taylor. He promised he’d sell it to me when I could buy it, remember. That was the rule when you sold it to him.”


Lacy curtains covered the narrow window overlooking the backyard. She drew a corner back and peeked out. She dropped the curtain and took a step back, stumbled over a small footstool, and went down on one knee.


She wanted to cry, to curl up in a ball and weep, but she couldn’t. She limped over to the recliner, flipped the handle on the side, and leaned back as far as it would let her, looked up, and right there on top of the chest of drawers was another picture of Greg. A bust shot of him in his high school graduation robe and mortarboard hat with a tassel hanging to the side. The gold charm told her that he’d graduated two years before she did and that his school colors were orange and black. A sticky note attached to the side of the frame held the message, “I’ll bring home the best bull. Miss you!”


He was younger, but the eyes were the same and they still looked right into her soul like the picture down in the living room. She threw her arm over her face and forced herself to think about the beach, to hear the seagulls and the slapping of the waves against the sandbar. The soft smell of the lotion on her hands sparked a deep memory of her mother in her dreams. They were playing in the wildflowers like the ones in the picture of Greg Adams. She was a little girl with dark braids and a cotton dress. The grass was soft on her bare feet but cool, so it had to be spring. They’d sung the “Ring around the Rosy” song, then fallen back in the flowers. Her mother touched her cheek and said, “Don’t ever give up your wings. Always know that you can fly, my child.”


Then out of nowhere there was a door right in the middle of the pasture of wild, colorful flowers, and there was a yellow cat peeking around the corner. A mouse darted through the cat’s front legs and was coming right at her when she sat straight up in bed and her eyes popped wide open.


“Damn it! I don’t get to dream about Mama very often. Why’d you bring that thing into my dreams?” she asked.


Someone rapped gently on the door, but she thought it was part of the dream until it happened again. She cocked her head to one side and said, “Come in.”


Clarice pushed inside and sat down on the vanity bench. “Thank you. It’s been more than an hour and I was hoping you were awake. Would you please tell me more about Marvin? I read the letter and it said what I thought it would. Strange, that something sixty years old can still be so bittersweet.”


“Is it all right if I sit on the bed?” Emily asked. “This chair would be a lot more comfortable for you than that bench.”


“Honey, this is your room right now. Make yourself at home.”


“Is that your grandson in that picture too?” Emily asked.


Clarice nodded. “When he graduated from high school. He leaves me little notes when he has to be gone. It’s to convince me that he’s coming back. I have a fear that he’ll change his mind about ranchin’. Now please tell me about Marvin.”


Emily kicked off her boots and crawled up in the middle of the bed. She crossed her legs Indian-style, kept her gaze on Clarice and off the picture on the chest, and said, “He fought cancer for five years and last week the battle ended. It won. I thought he’d kick it for sure right up until that last week. He was diagnosed the week I graduated from college five years ago. I had planned on coming back to the ranch anyway, so it didn’t change my life drastically. I took care of him. He was always too stubborn to hire a foreman, so I took care of that too. As the ranch dwindled to pay for his bills, there was less ranchin’ and more caretakin’.”


“How many children did he have?” Clarice asked.


Emily held up one finger. “Just one son, my father. But Nana’s family lived on the next farm over. She came from a family that had five girls, so I had lots of family around me and lots of cousins to play with when I was growing up. My father died nine years ago in a horse accident. I was a senior in high school and the shock was horrible. Even worse than when Mama died, but I was just barely four that year and too little to really understand what an aneurism was. He was fine that morning at breakfast, and that evening he was gone. I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever endure, but watching Gramps go by degrees was even tougher. How many children did you have, Miz Clarice?”



“Just one son, Bart. He and his wife, Nancy, only had one child—Greg. He’s thirty now. And you?”


“Twenty-eight,” Emily answered.


“Did Marvin ever mention me?” Clarice asked softly.


“He talked about you that last week and to you the last hours of his life. I really thought that you were probably dead and had come to help him cross over into eternity. He made me promise that I’d find out if you were alive and see to it that you got those letters and understood that he hadn’t been a jackass. It all started when the mailman drove out to the ranch with that letter they found at the post office,” Emily said.


“Thank you for keeping that promise. You’ll never know what this means to me. Did Marvin, was he, did he suffer?” Clarice dabbed at her eye.


Emily shook her head. “He was sick for a very long time, but for a while he was still able to be up and around. It wasn’t until that last round of chemo that he wasn’t able to at least sit on the porch swing with me every evening. At the end I prayed that God would take him on to a place where he wouldn’t hurt anymore. That sounds ugly, doesn’t it?”


Clarice shook her head. “No, it’s the way life is. Why didn’t he come to Ravenna all those years ago? He knew where I was.”


Emily shrugged. “I asked him that, but he just smiled and said that God must’ve had other plans for both of you or that letter wouldn’t have gotten lost.”


Clarice nodded. “Can’t undo history. I was happy with Lester Adams. We had a good life, raised a good son, and he married well. Now I have Greg to help me run the ranch. I’m glad you brought the letters home to me, Emily, and I’m glad you agreed to stay for supper.”


“Thank you,” Emily said.


“Want to come with me to the kitchen and help Dotty get things on the table?” Clarice asked.


“I’d love to.” Emily bounded off the bed, stomped her feet back into her boots, and followed Clarice on down the stairs.




Greg checked out every square inch of the big black bruiser of an Angus bull. He was one of the finest specimens he’d ever laid eyes on, and Lightning Ridge would be lucky to have him.


He took his phone out of his shirt pocket to call his grandmother to tell her that he’d discovered the perfect new bloodline for the ranch, and found that Clarice had sent a picture. She hadn’t learned the art of texting with the new phone he’d gotten her, but apparently she had figured out how to take and send pictures.


He adjusted his glasses and stepped away from the bull pen to the shady side of the sale barn so he could see the picture. So that was Emily that Nana had called three times about in the past two hours. She’d been adamant that he stop what he was doing and look at the picture the last time she called.


According to Nana, Emily was an inch or two shorter than she was and had come to the house in jeans, boots, and a lightweight denim jacket. She didn’t have tattoos, and the only thing Nana could see that was pierced was her ears. He’d told his grandmother that there might be a whole raft of surprises under those jeans and jacket, but she was so excited about some old boyfriend she’d had back when she was a teenager that she didn’t hear a word Greg had to say. He held the phone up to get better light and had to admit that Emily was striking with all that dark hair and those crystal, clear blue eyes.


“So is your body covered with tats? Do you have a belly ring and a tongue stud?” he asked. “Are you a ranchin’ woman, or do you just like jeans and boots? Nana is quite taken with you, but I’ll never meet you in real person, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?”


His phone rang, surprising him so much that he almost dropped it. “Yes, Nana. I just saw the picture. You did a good job. What’s her name again—Emma? And Dotty called to tell me about the mouse. That would have been a sight to see, the way that Dotty hates those things,” he teased.


“It’s Emily,” Clarice said. “I told you already that her name is Emily. What do you think of her? Did you find all my notes? I only found two that you left me.”


“She is a very pretty lady. And yes, I found your notes and I left more than two, so you’d best start lookin’ around. It’s past time to clean off the fridge if you can’t even find a new note on it.” He chuckled.


“I have offered her that job we’ve been talkin’ about,” Clarice said bluntly.


“Nana! I called an ad in the newspaper to be published next week that we would take resumes for that job. And I had in mind that we’d hire a man for the job, not a woman that we don’t even know. Hell, we could have hired Prissy,” Greg said.


“Emily has got a degree in agriculture business and has been working on her grandfather’s ranch for five years. I don’t think any man could beat her credentials. And it’s just for a month. She’s got a hundred acres out in west Texas that she wants to get back to by the first of March. That way I get to see if I really want someone in the house to help me or not, and I get to know her better. So call the newspaper and take the ad out, and believe me, Prissy has a job and she won’t ever live on a ranch,” Clarice told him.


“Did Emily take the job?” Greg asked.


“She’s stayin’ at a hotel in Sherman until tomorrow. She’s going to think about it. Marvin died after a long battle with cancer and she took care of him. He made her promise to do two things: bring my letters home to me and take a month off. Her cousin is running things while she’s gone, but she will be going back. I swear she talks about that ranch like it’s a real person,” Clarice said.


“I still think a man would be better,” Greg said. “But if it’s just for a month, then whatever you think is fine, Nana. And Nana, you talk about Lightning Ridge the same way.”


Clarice laughed out loud. “I’m the over-romantic one, and you are like your grandpa, ever the businessman. That’s what makes us such good ranchin’ partners, Greg.”


“You are right about that. It takes both of us to run Lightning Ridge, doesn’t it?” Greg said.


He adored his grandmother even if she was more sentimental about everything since his grandfather passed five years before. A month with someone to help her in the office with the new computerized bookkeeping and to drive her and her friends around would show her just how valuable an assistant could be. And then they’d hire a man to do the job. It was a win-win situation.


But right now, he had a bull to buy. He said a few more words to his grandmother and hung up. On his way back into the sale barn he brought up Emily’s picture one more time. There was something about her eyes that was downright mesmerizing.


But still, a ranch was a business, and running one was hard work. Maybe Emily would work out just fine for a month, but Greg had a feeling that the whole reason his grandmother wanted her around was to drag up the past. She and Dotty seemed obsessed with it lately, constantly arguing about what had happened when they were younger or when someone had died or given birth. Maybe it was the fact that they were both eighty years old, or maybe all elderly folks relived their glory days as they got older. He got a kick out of their close friendship and a bigger one out of all four of the old gals—Clarice, Dotty, Rose, and Madge—that made up their circle.


He’d only been gone three days, but his heart was back at Lightning Ridge. He wanted his own bed and Dotty’s chocolate cake. He didn’t give a rat’s ass if his grandmother hired a dozen women. If that made her happy, then he’d write the paychecks out of his personal account, but when the permanent hire was put on the ranch payroll, he wanted someone who could protect those four elderly women. He’d rest easy if he hired someone who could pick one of them up and carry them to the hospital if they fell and broke a hip while walking into the ice cream store.



He sat down in the bleachers with his bidding card and took his phone out of his pocket. “Nana, how old was you when you wrote all those letters to that soldier?” he asked when she answered his call.


“I was a senior in high school and I read the letter that got stuck in the mailbox. In it he says that he’s got something important to ask me when I get out there to his ranch. We’d talked about me riding the bus out there when he got out of the service and I got out of school that summer. I really thought I was in love with him and he was about to ask me to marry him,” she said.


“And you never met him?” Greg asked.


“I have a picture of him in my box of letters up in the attic,” she said. “But I never did actually meet him or even hear his voice. We didn’t make phone calls in those days like we do now.”


“You kept letters from another man after you married Grandpa?” he gasped.


Clarice laughed. “Yes, I did. That part of my life had been over for two years, but I couldn’t throw those letters away. I took them to the burning barrel just before I married your grandpa, but something wouldn’t let me throw them in the fire. So I tied them up with some bailing twine and put them in the attic. I’d forgotten about them until today. Emily has her grandfather’s eyes.”


“How do you know that, Nana? Is the picture you have in color?”


“No, but I can tell they are blue and he told me they were,” Clarice said.


“This is just for a month, right?” Greg asked.


“Yes, it is. Did you buy that bull?”


“It’s the next one up on the block. How high should I go?” he answered.


“The sky is the limit. I trust your judgment,” she said.


That was Nana’s way of saying that he should trust her as well. If she and Dotty wanted to go on a monthlong cruise around the world, he would have booked it without so much as blinking. So if she wanted to hire Emily to drive her around and help out on the ranch for a month, then he wouldn’t fight her.


“Okay, then. And Nana, make Emily an offer she can’t refuse. It would be nice for you to have someone to take you and the ladies to all your beauty shop appointments and auxiliary meetings. Time to start bidding. I’ll see you late tomorrow night.”


“I love you, Greg. Drive careful now, and when you get home, don’t turn that bull loose in the pasture until I get a good look at him,” Clarice said.