The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 13

 

 

 

 

Dotty clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Okay, ladies and cowboys, here’s the way we’re doing things tonight. We’ve got eight players so we’re going to run two tables. No partners tonight, just straight-out playing. At the end of the night we’ll have a loser from each table, so we’ll toss a coin to see who hosts next week’s game. I’ve got eight names on paper slips in this bowl. I’m going to divide them evenly. First bunch will sit at this table right here.” She tapped the one in front of her. “Second will take the second table over by the fireplace.”

 

Clarice held up a palm. “Before we start, I want everyone to know that Emily lost last week and that she did her own cooking. Dotty offered to help and so did I, but she said that it was her loss and she’d do her duty. And you are in for a treat.” She pointed to a tray at the end of the table. Emily had really enjoyed cooking “armadillo toes”—the bacon and cheese wrapped around the jalape?o coated the mouth and kept the heat at a minimum, and she knew her pecan floozies were a mouthwatering treat. Both were among her grandfather’s favorites.

 

“And,” Dotty held up a hand to hold off the applause, “my kitchen is clean and my oven is spotless, so Emily is welcome to cook in my kitchen anytime she wants to.”

 

Itchy heat started on Emily’s neck and crept to her cheeks as they all applauded. A quick look around the room netted her a wink from Madge, a big smile from Max, a brief nod from Greg, and a smile from Prissy.

 

“Maybe you could teach me how to cook,” Prissy whispered.

 

“Don’t let all that fanfare fool you, ma’am. I’m not all that great. I just made something no one else has,” she whispered back.

 

Dotty picked out four papers and said, “Rose, Clarice, Madge, and I will play right here. Guess that leaves the rest of you—Emily, Max, Greg, and Prissy—to play at that table. No fists, as little cussin’ as possible, and no bloodshed. Loser at both tables is up for next week’s host. Coin toss will decide the real loser.”

 

She raised her voice and held up her fist. “Now play dominoes! I always wanted to say that.”

 

“Well, ain’t I the lucky one,” Max whispered to Greg.

 

Prissy sighed loudly.

 

“Something wrong?” Emily asked.

 

“Nothing anyone can fix but me,” she said.

 

 

Greg and Max seated Emily and Prissy and then settled into the remaining chairs. Max turned the dominoes upside down and shuffled them. Greg gave each player seven and the game began.

 

“Where’s the gold ones?” Emily asked.

 

“My dominoes. My table,” Clarice said. “You can lose just as well with black and white ones, my child.”

 

Prissy finally smiled. “We really should go to lunch sometime, Emily. I could use an opinion from someone who doesn’t know me so well.”

 

“We’ll give you our opinion,” Rose raised her voice.

 

“You know me,” Prissy said.

 

Prissy was on Greg’s left, Emily on his right, and Max across the table from him. Greg was frustrated about something and it showed in his lack of attention when he made a horrible play. He kept looking at Max and nodding toward the table where Rose and the ladies were whispering.

 

They were most likely comparing each of their four names to be sure there were no duplications, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Greg was catching on to them.

 

“That was sweet,” Emily said as she played off a double deuce and bit back the giggles.

 

Greg kept his eyes on his dominoes. “My mind was somewhere else.”

 

“Well, get it in the game.” Max laid down a trey-deuce off of Emily’s six-deuce.

 

“Ouch!” Emily said. “Prissy, you just stomped my toe.”

 

Prissy threw her hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry. My legs are so long and I really didn’t know that was your toe. I was just trying to get comfortable. I hate being this danged tall.”

 

“Well, then give me some of that height,” Rose said. “I was lookin’ at that weight chart in the doctor’s office and if I was five feet eight inches I wouldn’t be a pound overweight.”

 

Emily scooted her chair as far to the left as she could and moved her legs to one side in such a way that her knees were against Greg’s thigh.

 

“I said I was sorry,” Prissy pouted.

 

“You are forgiven, but I’m not taking any chances of you getting my other foot. I intend to dance all the leather off a brand-new pair of shoes at the party on Friday.” Emily smiled.

 

“Oh, are you going with Greg?” Prissy asked.

 

“No, she’s going with me,” Clarice answered. “Y’all going to play dominoes over there or keep fussin’?”

 

“Play dominoes,” Emily said.

 

Greg looked at Prissy and said, “Your turn. What has Dotty had you working on today? She said something was haywire in her computer.”

 

Prissy studied her dominoes for a full minute. “Just a glitch in a game she likes to play.” She put down a domino that would be a bitch to play off of and laid her hand on Greg’s wrist. “What’s wrong with you tonight? Your mind is off somewhere else. Are you going to have to cook next week?”

 

“Hey, Prissy, did you know that Tommy Randolph is leaving your grandpa’s ranch?” Max asked. “I’m having coffee with him in the morning at Braum’s to discuss what it would take for him to come work for me.”

 

The woman’s face lost all color and her pretty red lips made a perfect circle as she sucked air and jerked her hand away from Greg’s wrist. “Tommy would never leave my grandpa’s ranch.”

 

“He might if I make him a good offer. We were talking last week and he said that things were getting kind of sticky over there. I had the impression that it had to do with a woman, but that’s his personal business and I don’t pry. He’s been working on a ranch for more than ten years, and I think he’d train up to be foreman quality, so I’m going to offer him a sweet deal,” Max said. “Your turn, Greg.”

 

Greg was more careful that time. He studied the table and his hand before he played. “I’d love to recruit Tommy for Lightning Ridge. That man can tear down a tractor and put it back together faster’n greased lighting.”

 

Clarice called out across the room, “Hey, did I hear Tommy Randolph’s name over there? Offer him fifty percent more than he’s making and tell him we’ll give him his own trailer. He can step into your place when you retire, Max.”

 

Prissy inhaled deeply and let it out slowly.

 

“So you grew up with cows and barbed wire like the rest of us?” Emily asked. Poor girl looked like she was about to faint dead away and Emily sure didn’t want Prissy falling on her other foot.

 

Prissy fiddled with the multicolored scarf around her neck. The browns and turquoise colors blended beautifully with her ecru-colored sweater and dark brown slacks.

 

“I grew up in town. I hate the smell of cows and anything to do with a ranch. But going to Grandpa’s ranch doesn’t mean I have to wear boots and a hat and look like a man.” She clamped a hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry. That came out wrong. I didn’t mean you look like a man.”

 

Max put out a domino. “I’m not stealing Tommy. Your grandfather’s been a good friend of the family here on Lightning Ridge for years, but if the guy is feeling like he needs a change, I’m willing to give him one. He’ll just find another ranch if we don’t take him on, and I’m not getting any younger. Man can do a lot worse than working as a foreman on a ranch. Your older brother is the foreman at your grandpa’s ranch, so that position is going to stay in the family. Tommy don’t have much room for advancement over there.”

 

“Ryder is happy working with Grandpa,” Prissy said. “What about when Greg has children? What if one of them wants to be a foreman?”

 

“I reckon that’s at least twenty, thirty years down the road if he had one next year. By then Tommy will be ready to hand over the reins to him or her,” Max said.

 

Prissy laid out a domino. “What do you mean him or her? A woman could never be a foreman. She can be the wife of the owner like Grandma, but a foreman? Come on, Max. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be out walking in cow manure in her high heels.”

 

“I own a ranch and I suppose you could say I’ve been the foreman of it for the past five years. And I wear scuffed-up cowboy boots and an old mustard-colored work coat and a Stetson when I’m out there shoveling crap out of horse stalls or working cattle. Woman does what a woman has to do,” Emily said.

 

“Ain’t that the truth,” Prissy said softly.

 

A tinny version of “Hillbilly Bone” caused everyone in the room to look toward the fireplace. It wasn’t Emily’s ringtone, and Greg wasn’t jumping to grab the phone either. Max looked at the other table and all four women shook their heads.

 

“That will be mine,” Prissy said. “Excuse me. I’ll have to take it.”

 

“Hillbilly Bone” was hers? That made no sense at all. She wore custom-made clothes and had her hair done in Dallas or maybe even New York City. Who in the hell would she give a ringtone like that to?

 

She turned her back to the tables and whispered only a few words. Emily made out “right now?” and “I don’t believe it,” but the rest was just mumblings covered up by a crackling fire and conversation at the other table.

 

She shoved the phone in her purse and in a couple of long strides was back at the table. “I’m so sorry, but I have to leave. Nice seeing y’all, and maybe I’ll play again another time. Sorry I missed out on your cooking, Emily. And about that lunch, maybe next week?”

 

 

“Wonder who that was?” Max asked when she was out of the room.

 

“I’d guess that it was Tommy,” Emily said. “Now let’s get serious about this game.”

 

She moved her legs back under the table. No way could she concentrate with Greg touching her, and she’d be damned if she cooked two weeks in a row.