The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 12

 

 

 

 

Greg was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase the next morning when Emily started down. His green eyes twinkled when he looked up at her.

 

“I liked it. There’s something so personal about it. I think I understand Nana better,” he said. “So the snow is almost melted and the roads are clear. Are you assistant or hired hand today?”

 

“Don’t know for sure until I ask Clarice,” she said. “Ready for breakfast?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.” He stood up, shook the legs of his jeans down over his work boots, and crooked his arm.

 

She tucked hers inside the loop, and he covered her hand with his. “I’m already looking forward to tonight,” she said.

 

“Me too.” He smiled down at her.

 

The desire to kiss him was so great that she had to blink and look away.

 

“Well, look who’s up and ready to get on with the day.” Dotty grinned.

 

Clarice was dressed in ironed jeans, a light blue shirt, and a red blazer. Dotty wore jeans and a dark green sweater. It looked like they were going Christmas shopping rather than Valentine’s party shopping.

 

“I guess that by the way you two are already all spiced up that we’re going to town today,” Emily said.

 

Clarice looked up from her morning newspaper. “We are, but you’ve got plenty of time to eat. Tressa doesn’t open until nine. We’re picking up Rose and Madge on the way. Tomorrow we’re having our hair and nails done in Sherman, so you belong to us two days in a row.”

 

Greg poured two cups of coffee and set one in front of Emily. “Dominoes tomorrow night or not?”

 

“Oh, speaking of dominoes tomorrow night, I asked Prissy to join us,” Dotty said.

 

“Why? Don’t we have enough people to play?” Greg asked.

 

Dotty raised a shoulder in a shrug. “Truth is I need her to help me with a computer problem, and since she’s going to be here anyway, she can stay and play with us.”

 

Clarice put down her newspaper. “We’ll set up two tables and we won’t play partners like last time.”

 

“Oh!” Emily gasped.

 

They all three looked her way.

 

“I flat-out forgot that it’s my job to cook. We won’t take all day doing the shopping, will we?”

 

“I’ve got some secrets that I’ll share,” Dotty whispered. “I won’t cook for you, but I do have a few quick recipes.”

 

Greg’s phone rang and he answered it while the ladies went on with their conversation.

 

Clarice patted Emily on the hand. “Dotty could prepare a meal good enough to feed a king in under an hour. She’s that good.”

 

Greg put his hat and coat on. “I’m going to the bunkhouse. That damned hot water tank is on the blink again. I guess it’s time to buy a new one.”

 

Emily waited until he was out the door and said, “I hate not telling him what’s going on with Prissy and what y’all are doing. I feel like a traitor.”

 

“But we want him to have a whole bunch of women to pick from. Think of it as a business. We’ve done the preliminary interviews. Now he can get down to the serious shit,” Dotty said and then changed the subject. “Clarice, are we going to put Simba and Bocephus in solitary confinement for the domino night?”

 

Clarice smiled. “Of course not. Madge has indoor cats and so does Rose. Prissy don’t like cats, but she’s not allergic to them.”

 

***

 

Clarice whispered into Dotty’s ear, “Well done, old girl. You sidestepped that real good. Now she’ll worry all about them women she has to compete with. Did you really invite yours yet?”

 

“Oh, yes, I did. A little competition never hurt anyone, did it? OMG, you don’t think she’ll shoot one if they get too close to him, do you?” Dotty grinned.

 

“FYI, I hope not! Now here is our golden chariot with our princess driving. Let’s go do some major retail therapy, as Rose calls it,” Clarice said.

 

They picked up Madge first that morning. And when they reached Rose’s house, she wasted no time hustling out to the van.

 

“Ivy just called me and said that Prissy was coming to domino night. Which one of y’all is having trouble with your machine? Emily, can you help out? He’s going to catch on before the auction. I just know he is and then we’ll all be in trouble,” Rose rambled.

 

Madge finally clamped a hand on her shoulder. “Hush and stop your carryin’ on. Even after that thing with the stripper, we’re okay. Emily took care of it.”

 

“Turn right here and then park at the first sign of a place. Parking is limited down in this area of town,” Clarice said.

 

 

Tressa’s Dress Shop didn’t look like such an exclusive place from the outside. Wedged between a doctor’s office and a shoe store, it had two display windows, with mannequins dressed in casual attire on one side, and on the other a mannequin in a party gown seated at a tea table. It reminded Emily of an old movie setting instead of a modern-day dress shop. Inside she picked up the first tag and blinked half a dozen times. It did not change the handwritten numbers one bit. She might pay a hundred bucks for a fancy pair of jeans for the fall ranch sale, but six hundred dollars for a little black dress was just plain crazy.

 

A gray-haired lady came from behind the counter and gave Clarice a hug. “Miz Adams, I’m so glad to see you. It’s been a while. I bet it’s time for the Angus Valentine’s party, right? And this is the young lady you called me about yesterday. I do believe you sized her just right.”

 

Tressa’s gray hair was pulled back into a tight little bun at the nape of her neck. Bright red lipstick had bled into the wrinkles around her mouth, and crow’s-feet had settled around her green eyes. She folded her arms across her big chest and eyed Emily critically.

 

“The red one isn’t the right one, Miz Adams. No, ma’am. Everyone else will be wearing red or white. This one needs to stand out, and I got just the right dress in yesterday. It’s definitely one of a kind.” Tressa went to the back room and returned with a long dress on a hanger.

 

Run, run, run, Emily, played through her mind as she looked at the ugliest pale blue dress she’d ever seen. Emily would look like she was wearing her Nana’s nightgown.

 

“Some dresses are hanger dresses. Some are not.” Tressa removed the plastic bag and shook the dress out. “It was designed for a short lady like you, and she decided at the last minute that she wanted something in red. She didn’t have your eyes or hair and would have never pulled it off like you will. She had a bit too much flesh on her back and thighs and this requires absolutely nothing under it.”

 

Emily checked for the price tag when she got to the dressing room, but there wasn’t one. She muttered as she removed her jeans and boots about not paying more for the ugly bit of blue silk than she would a decent pair of jeans with bling on the pockets. She pulled off her bra and her underpants but left her white boot socks on and stretched them up to her knees. There was a clip in her purse so she twisted her hair up in a messy French twist and secured it with the black toothed clamp.

 

“Well, here goes nothing,” she said as she put the dress over her head and let it shimmy down her naked form.

 

“Oh, my God, it feels like cool water against my skin. It really is a nightgown.” She smiled. And then she turned around to look at herself in the three-way mirror. Tressa was a genius. The subtle silver threads woven into the shimmering blue silk picked up the light every time she moved. Thank God there was a built-in bra because Tressa had been right about not wearing anything under it. The faintest panty line would show and even a touch of cellulite would shine through like Christmas tree lights.

 

The back draped from the shoulders to the waist in soft folds, and the walking slit up the back seam went from the floor to four inches below her fanny. She was totally in love with the dress, and if she had to sell the ranch to Taylor to pay for it, she had to own it.

 

“Come on out here and let’s see,” Clarice called from the other side of the door.

 

Tressa pointed. “Right up here on the bride’s stand so I can really look at it. Yes, it’s perfect on you.”

 

The round stand surrounded by mirrors was much better than what was in the dressing room, and Emily fell in love with the dress all over again.

 

“Them socks ain’t goin’ to cut it, girl. We’d better look at some shoes too, Tressa,” Dotty said.

 

“I thought I’d go barefoot or wear my boots,” Emily teased.

 

“As near barefoot as possible. You do not want to draw the eye to your feet, but you want the men folks to ache to touch your bare arms and shoulders. You want them to imagine what could be under that dress,” Tressa said.

 

Emily felt the heat rising from her neck and circling around to her face, but there wasn’t a blessed thing she could do about it.

 

Clarice smiled and nodded. “What have you got, Tressa?”

 

Madge giggled. “This is more fun than Barbie dolls.”

 

“Shit, woman! We’re all too damned old to have ever played with Barbie dolls,” Dotty said.

 

Tressa left and returned with a shoebox. “Size six, right?”

 

“How…” Emily started.

 

“Honey, I’ve been in this business almost fifty years. I can tell every one of you what size you wear, what size your bra is, and your shoe size. They weren’t ordered to go with the dress, but I think that’s what it needs.” She opened the box to reveal silver slippers with flat soles and no bling.

 

They looked so plain that Emily was disappointed until Tressa jerked off her socks and slipped them on her feet.

 

“See, they won’t hurt your feet when you dance and they won’t jack you up to be even an inch taller. You need to play on your petite size and femininity, and most especially your mesmerizing blue eyes. You should not be wobbling on heels so high that you look like a clown on stilts at a circus. Shoes should enhance, not overpower.”

 

The woman was a genius. Emily wanted to adopt her.

 

“Jewelry?” Rose asked.

 

“Diamond ear studs. Nothing dangling, and have her hair done in an upsweep that will show off the back of the dress. Maybe a pretty but small clasp in all that dark hair would be nice. Nothing overpowering. The dress will carry the evening,” Tressa said.

 

“She can borrow my studs,” Clarice said. “Corsage or not?”

 

“Are the other women wearing flowers?” Tressa asked.

 

Clarice nodded. “They usually do.”

 

“Then you shouldn’t. You don’t want to be like everyone else, darlin’. You want to stand out as the exotic flower among the weeds.” Tressa smiled for the first time.

 

“Do you take credit cards or checks?” Emily asked.

 

Tressa patted Emily on the wrist. “For you, neither. This one is on the house. I have owed Miz Adams a favor for twenty-five years that she would not let me repay. Please allow me to do this in return for something she did for me.”

 

When they were in the van and the gorgeous dress was hanging in a special garment bag, Emily looked over at Clarice and asked the question, “What was this favor?”

 

“It was nothing.” Clarice’s cheeks turned bright red.

 

Rose held up her hand like a second grader. “I’ll tell you. In the early nineties, with the arrival of all the cheaper stores, Tressa was either going to have to fold or go to cheaper clothes off the rack rather than one of a kind. She went to the bank for a loan, but they said that she was a bad risk.”

 

Clarice raised a shoulder. “I liked her things and we need a place like she runs in the area. If we wanted something really outrageously nice, we had to go to Dallas.”

 

“So Clarice bankrolled her,” Dotty said.

 

“And she weathered the storm and paid me back every single dime,” Clarice said. “Now the favor is really paid in full. You will be lovely at the party, my child.”

 

“I would have gladly paid for it.”

 

Madge tapped her on the shoulder. “We all have to learn how to receive as well as give, darlin’. Consider it a lesson with benefits. Now let’s go to the Catfish King and eat lunch. Then we’ll go to Walmart and have a good time there. I hear you got two new cats. I love their names.”

 

 

***

 

“What in the hell are you so upset about? You’ve done nothing but fuss and fume like an old woman all damn day,” Max asked.

 

“Women! Something is going on and I can’t put my finger on it,” Greg said.

 

“Understanding all that rocket launching shit down in Houston would be easier than understanding the simplest of women. What have they done anyway?”

 

“Whatever they are up to, I know Dotty and Nana are in the middle of it. And Emily might be and that’s what makes me so mad. It’s got something to do with that woman who showed up at my cabin. I’m still mad at Louis for telling her where to find me,” Greg said.

 

“What could they be up to? Lord, Greg, they’re four old women and the youngest one of them is eighty years old. And Louis says that he had no idea what she wanted to see you about.”

 

“Something fishy is going on. Why don’t you come to the house and play dominoes with us? You’ll see what I mean. There’s all these little sly glances and whispers, and Prissy is in on it too.”

 

“A conspiracy? Are you losing it?” Max laughed. “Just date Emily and if they are up to something, she’ll have to tell you because she’ll be your girlfriend.”

 

Greg punched him on the bicep. “Who said anything about dating Emily?”

 

“I can see the way you look at her, and I can damn well see the way the sparks fly between the two of you. Makes me wonder if the universe put things in motion…”

 

Greg held up a hand. “You sound like Nana. So what if I’m attracted to Emily. I’ve been attracted to lots of girls.”

 

“Yes, you have.” Max grinned.

 

“And I didn’t get the itch to marry one of them,” Greg pushed on.

 

“No, you didn’t.”

 

“So let’s just get back to work and drop it,” Greg said.

 

“Sounds like the right thing to do, but do you really want me to come to dominoes or not?”

 

Greg grinned for the first time all day. “Yes, I do.”

 

***

 

Emily fished her brand-new stationery with matching envelopes, along with a whole package of sticky notes, from her Walmart bag. She’d chosen stationery that had a picture of horses running across the top of the page and a horse head on the corner of the envelope. It didn’t look all sexy and inviting, but it reminded her of the way she’d felt when she let Star Baby run to his top speed the day before. She’d looked forward to stable duty again that day, but the experience in Tressa’s made up for the disappointment when Albert and Louis returned to work that morning.

 

She opened a package of ten-for-a-dollar ballpoint pens, pulled one from the plastic wrap, and wrote, “Dear Greg,” but then she didn’t know what to write next. He’d written and she’d responded. It was his turn to write. That’s the way it worked in the old days and it should be a rule.

 

Bocephus crawled up into her lap, turned around a couple of times, and curled up in a gray ball. Simba chased shadows thrown onto the carpet by the sunrays filtering through the lace curtains.

 

It was early. She should go back down to the den and visit with Clarice and Dotty as they worked on their cowboy dream catchers, maybe even offer to do the starching job when they finished each one. But she wanted to tell Greg about her day and how much fun she had going to lunch with the ladies.

 

He’d been so quiet at supper that she wondered if he even thought about writing another letter, especially that soon. From the dates on the letters from Clarice, she and Marvin hadn’t written every day there at first. Toward the end the letters had been postmarked more frequently.

 

A movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention. When she turned her head, she saw that Simba was attacking something he had tucked into his tummy area and was kicking at it like he intended to kill the wicked thing.

 

She jumped up so fast that poor little Bocephus went tumbling from her lap to the floor, but she got the letter before it was ripped to shreds. She picked the gray kitten up, returned to her chair, and read,

 

Dear Emily, I miss you when you aren’t here on the ranch. Just knowing you weren’t in the house made me lonely. I’m beginning to see why Nana spends so many hours reading her letters. I’ve read yours a dozen times…

 

She picked up her pen after she’d read through the first letter again. Handwritten letters took on a whole new meaning. They were much more than a text message or even an email. They were two people in a vacuum that no one else could ever hack into. She read through the letter again before she started writing,

 

Dear Greg, Spending the day with the ladies was an experience that words can’t describe. They were so much fun, but I have to admit, I missed riding the horses and cleaning the stables, and I missed you.

 

She didn’t tell him that everything from the gorgeous dress to little snippets of the conversation with the ladies brought something about him to mind. Or that her breath had caught in her chest when she sat down at the dinner table beside him and his thigh brushed against hers.