The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 17

 

 

 

 

The rain started on Monday morning with a clap of thunder that sent both kittens skittering under the nearest chair. It hit with wind and a force that blew it so hard against the kitchen windows that Emily thought there could be a tornado pushing it. But by the time breakfast was finished it had slowed to a gentle drizzle coming from solid gray skies.

 

“I’m glad we’ve got a barn to get ready for the party,” Max said at breakfast. “We’d have cranky hired hands if they were all holed up in the bunkhouse with nothing to do. I’ll call Louis and tell him that we’ll meet them there in ten minutes.”

 

“Want to come along?” Greg asked Emily.

 

“No, she’s my assistant again today,” Clarice said.

 

Greg pushed his coffee cup back. “You are going somewhere in this weather?”

 

“We’re going to the office. Computer work is backing up. Emily is going to work on that,” Clarice answered.

 

Dotty refilled her coffee mug. “Thank God! Clarice gets plumb bitchy when she has to poke numbers into that stupid machine all day. That computer shit ain’t for us old dogs to have to learn. That’s the reason I don’t want a new cook stove. New ones ain’t got nothin’ but fancy buttons. Give me five knobs any day of the week rather than a bunch of push buttons.”

 

 

Emily would have far rather been in the barn as inputting data into the computer, but that was as big a part of ranching as cows, hay, and plowing. Work always came before play. Sometimes work was play; sometimes it was plain old work.

 

“It will take her at least three days to get done. Then Thursday and Friday all of us bazaar ladies will decorate the barn and she’s going to help with that. She is my assistant all week. You’ve got lots and lots of help who can clean out a barn,” Clarice said.

 

Emily picked up the kittens. “I’ll see y’all at dinnertime. The boys and I will be in the office if anyone needs any one of us.”

 

***

 

Dotty slammed a dish towel down on the bar with enough force that it popped almost as loud as the thunder. She glared at Clarice until the woman finally threw up her hands and said, “What?”

 

“You’ve gone and ruined it. Just when they were gettin’ on so good, you put her in that damned office for a week and send him to clean out a barn. How in the hell are they supposed to find any attic time or even thirty seconds to steal a kiss? What is the matter with you, Clarice Adams? Have you lost your damn mind?”

 

Clarice smiled.

 

“I’ll slap that grin right off your face and leave a big smear of lipstick all the way to your ear when I do it,” Dotty fumed.

 

“Remember when you were a little girl and you played with your little friend all day on Saturday and then went home with her after church on Sunday?” Clarice asked.

 

“What the hell has that got to do with anything?”

 

“On Monday, what did you want to do?”

 

“Play with my friend some more, but Momma wouldn’t let me.” Dotty clamped a hand over her mouth.

 

“Because familiarity breeds contempt?” Clarice asked.

 

“Words right out of her mouth; I swear you even sounded like her.”

 

“They need some time apart to want to be together. They might not even realize it, but I do. It’s less than ten days until her vacation time is up. There’s just flat-out not time for them to spend any of it fighting. So they need to yearn for each other and want to be in each other’s arms so badly they can taste it.”

 

Dotty nodded very slowly. “They will fight sometime. You know that, don’t you, Clarice? You and Lester fought. Me and my husband were professional at fighting, but oh, honey, the making up was so hot that the fights were worth it. Sometimes I started one on purpose just so we could have makeup sex.”

 

Clarice giggled. “Any smart woman knows how to do that. They can fight, but only after she decides that she wants to stay on Lightning Ridge. When she sells Marvin’s ranch to Taylor she won’t have a place to run to when they have their first big one.”

 

“Forgive me for doubting you.” Dotty held out her pinky finger and the two old ladies locked their fingers together, counted to three and let go, clapped three times, and then went back to work.

 

***

 

Emily found a letter under her door on Tuesday. One short page talking about getting the barn cleaned out and how much he missed having her by his side. Even if he couldn’t hold her or make a quick trip to the attic, he liked knowing that she was close enough he could see her. It was a bigger job than they’d thought since they’d stored hay in it until the fall sale and would sure enough take every waking hour until Wednesday. Maybe they could meet on the steps or in the living room late tomorrow night, even if only for a few minutes to cuddle.

 

The noise of a truck engine took her attention to the yard. There was Max and Greg, wearing slickers the same color as the sky. Greg looked up at her window and blew a kiss her way and then he was gone. She didn’t even know if he realized she was looking out.

 

After breakfast she went straight to the office. She found Simba asleep on the keyboard and Bocephus sorting through the basket of paper, sending it flying all over the floor. She grabbed the gray cat by the scruff of the neck, gave him a toy mouse to play with, and carefully moved Simba to the rocking chair.

 

She hit the enter button and Christian Mingle popped right up, which meant that Clarice had already been in the office that morning and had forgotten to log out of the site. Emily had the cursor on the “log out” button, but she couldn’t force herself to hit the enter key. Just what did Clarice say to make those women believe that she was truly Greg? How did an eighty-year-old woman convince twenty- and thirty-year-old computer-savvy women that she was a cowboy?

 

Curiosity won the battle playing out in her head. She opened up the chat window and her eyes got bigger, bigger, and bigger until she thought for sure they’d pop out of her head and Bocephus would bat them around the floor like marbles.

 

Tonya: What kind of man are you?

 

Greg: I like to be in total control.

 

Tonya: Ohhh, I like a man like that. Shall I bring the leather?

 

Greg: Honey, if you want to ride on our first date, it can be arranged.

 

Tonya: Ohhh, I’d like to ride. I’ll bring the leather and a whip.

 

Greg: No whips. I like a rough ride, but I’m not into whips.

 

Tonya: So you are a down-to-business-type man?

 

Greg: Yes, ma’am. I am a businessman. My grandmother and her friends are having a church bazaar at Lightning Ridge ranch on Friday night. Why don’t you join us and I’ll show you just how much I enjoy getting down to business.

 

“Dear Lord,” Emily gasped.

 

She had to look away from the screen to blink. And that’s when she saw the sticky note with four names attached. Tonya was one of the four.

 

“You are in for a big surprise, Tonya. You’re speaking one language and the person playing Greg in this picture is speaking another. I’ll have to be on my toes for sure if I’m going to protect him that night,” she whispered.

 

She started to go into the chat room with the next woman, but Bocephus made a running dive for the basket of paper under the desk, reminding her that she had a lot of work to do before the auction on Friday night. She’d already read enough to know that poor old Greg had best put on his tallest boots because he was going to be wading through some serious shit.

 

***

 

After supper Greg yawned and declared that Clarice had better give him and the guys more than a week’s notice if the bazaar was going to be held at the ranch every year. “That barn was a complete mess and cleaning it up for a fancy bazaar is a lot different than getting it ready for a cattle sale. I’m tired, so I’m going up to my room and catching up on emails. See y’all tomorrow morning.”

 

“Don’t forget that tomorrow night we’ve got to be at the church for the reception,” Clarice said. “Y’all knock off work at four. Supper will be an hour early so that Dotty, Emily, and I can get down to the church to help decorate. We’re on the hostess list.”

 

“You are the hostess, Clarice. I didn’t volunteer. Did you, Dotty?” Emily asked.

 

“Oh, yeah, I did, and I put your name down too. We are all three hostesses. And Madge and Rose, and about seven or eight others. You might as well learn that business as well as dominoes and ranchin’ and takin’ care of that computer shit,” Dotty said.

 

Emily grumbled under her breath all the way up the stairs to her bedroom, where she shut the door. Jesus couldn’t even make her smile, so the kittens didn’t have a chance in hell of putting her in a better mood.

 

She shed her boots and jeans, ran a tub full of water, and sunk down in it. Hostess, her ass! Prissy would be floating in her new bride status, flashing either a gold wedding band or a set of diamonds and gloating. Emily hadn’t even planned on going to the damned old reception and now she was a hostess?

 

 

In her fretting she didn’t hear anything until she looked up and there was Greg sitting on the edge of the tub. He leaned forward and kissed her hard on the lips.

 

His chest was bare, his hair still wet, and his plaid lounging pants rode low on his hips. He wasn’t wearing glasses, and he had a heavy five o’clock shadow.

 

Bocephus was in one arm and Simba in the other.

 

“The babies were crying at the door,” he said.

 

His smile erased all her grumbling. He set the cats on the floor and Bocephus attacked the toilet paper, rolling off two feet before Greg could grab him and put both of them out in the bedroom. He shut the door and picked up the shampoo from the vanity.

 

“Sit up and lean your head back. I’ll wash your hair,” he said.

 

“You look like a Greek god,” she whispered.

 

“Greek gods had blond curly hair.” He filled a plastic glass from the vanity with bathtub water and poured it gently over her hair.

 

“Mine don’t,” she said.

 

The cool shampoo sent chill bumps up her naked back, but when his fingers began to work it through her hair, the chill turned hotter’n the devil’s pitchfork.

 

“I missed you so bad these past two days.”

 

“Me too,” she whispered.

 

The kittens set up a howl on the other side of the door, sending one little gray paw and one yellow one under the door to wiggle around and beg for forgiveness. Greg ignored them until he got her hair washed and rinsed then said, “Don’t go away.”

 

She heard him sweet-talking to the kittens as he put them out on the landing. Then he was back, had lathered up the washcloth, and was running it up her thigh, her stomach, and around her breasts.

 

“This water is about to start boilin’, and what if…” she whispered.

 

“Nana and Dotty are in the kitchen making starch for their doodads, and they haven’t climbed the stairs up to this floor in more than a year,” he said.

 

“They’ve got ears like bats, Greg. They can probably hear us whispering.”

 

She stood up and he wrapped a towel around her, scooped her up in his arms, and carried her to the recliner. He sat down and she snuggled against his chest. The masculine scent of men’s soap and that smell that belonged solely to Greg Adams stirred desire and lust together.

 

“We can’t, not in the house,” she said.

 

He chuckled. “We can sit here with both of us nearly naked, but we can’t have sex?”

 

Dotty’s voice got louder and louder as she climbed the steps. “Okay, okay, Simba. I’ll take you back up to Emily. I swear you are the biggest crybaby. Bocephus is happy as a lark playing with his toys in the kitchen.”

 

“I told you,” Emily muttered and jumped up.

 

She grabbed Greg by the hand and pulled him into the bathroom with her, shutting the door behind them just as Dotty knocked on the door frame.

 

“Hey, Emily, you in here?” Dotty called out.

 

“In the tub,” she yelled.

 

“I brought this whining cat up here. I’ll put him on the recliner and shut your door.”

 

“Thank you,” Emily yelled.

 

“I’ll bring Bo up when he gets tired of playing,” Dotty said.

 

“Just holler and I’ll come get him,” Emily said. “No problem. I don’t mind. More than a year, huh?” she whispered to Greg.

 

He nuzzled the inside of her neck. “I guess you were right. They do have ears like bats.”

 

His warm breath shot a stream of scorching fire through her veins.

 

Emily hopped up on the vanity.

 

His eyes went all soft and his lips found hers in a kiss that steamed up the whole bathroom. He laid the towel back gently and cupped her bottom in his hands.

 

They fit perfectly that way, but still, when he slid into her, she gasped. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and enjoyed the sensation of a hard surface under her butt and a broad chest against her breasts. It was her first experience with vertical sex, and she floated over the moon.

 

It ended in a rush with her digging the tips of her fingers into his back and burying her face in his neck. She wrapped her legs firmly around his waist and he carried her to the toilet, put the lid down, and sat down with her in his lap.

 

“Wow!” he said.

 

“I know, but I already feel guilty, Greg. We shouldn’t. It’s disrespectful in Clarice’s house,” she whispered.

 

“Hey, Emily, I’m putting Bocephus in here too and shutting the door. He’s not happy without Simba,” Dotty yelled.

 

“Thank you,” Emily managed to holler, but even in her own ears it sounded breathless.

 

“Good night,” Dotty said and the door slammed shut.

 

“Neither one of them have been up here in months. I’ve felt like something fishy was going on for days. Now I know it,” Greg said.

 

“I tell you, they’ve got my bedroom bugged or else they speak cat language and those two boys told on us,” she told him. He knew something was up and the ladies would be lucky if he didn’t find out exactly what it was before the auction.

 

She stood up and turned on the shower above the tub. “Come on. We’ll take a fast shower, get dressed, and go sit on the steps. I don’t think that’s sinnin’, is it? And Greg, darlin’, that was surreal.”

 

He put a finger on her lips. “It was, wasn’t it? I missed talking to you today. Somehow texting just isn’t the same. So, yes, let’s sit on the stairs.”

 

***

 

It was after eleven when Clarice and Dotty came out of the kitchen and noticed the kittens fighting with a catnip mouse on the bottom step. Dotty frowned and said, “I took them critters up to their bedroom. How’d they get out?”

 

“They can’t make up their minds if they want to be with me or with y’all,” Emily answered from halfway up the staircase where she leaned against the banister.

 

“Y’all are up past your bedtime, aren’t you?” Greg asked.

 

They didn’t fool him one bit. They’d stayed up late just to check on him and Emily. They’d both pushed them together until he said they were dating, and now they worked at keeping them apart. Didn’t Nana realize that she was playing the game backward?

 

Clarice narrowed her eyes at him. “I thought you had a lot of emails to take care of.”

 

“Took care of all my stuff and heard Emily giggling at the kittens, so I came out here to see what was so funny. We’ve been talking,” he said.

 

Clarice sat down on the second step from the bottom. “About the auction? Who are you bidding on, Emily?”

 

“Oh, do I get to bid? I didn’t know the hostesses got to bid.”

 

“Of course you get to bid. All unmarried women who buy a ten-dollar bidding fan get to bid. You are going to buy a fan, aren’t you?”

 

“Haven’t decided. Who are you bidding on, Clarice?” Emily asked.

 

“I’m bidding on Max,” Dotty said. “I promised him that I’d buy him so that he wouldn’t have to be nice to some middle-aged woman trying to sweet-talk him into bed.”

 

“If you’ll pass those two wildcats up to me, I’m going to put them to bed. Tell y’all what… if I dream about Greg tonight, I’ll bid on him at the auction. If not, then I’ll stand aside and let all the other single girls have a chance at him,” Emily said.

 

“Good night, ladies.” Greg blew kisses to them all and disappeared into his room. He picked up his glasses and pen and started to write. His phone signaled a text message.

 

 

Emily had written: I need a letter tonight so badly.

 

He wrote back: Yes, ma’am. Dream about me. Please dream about me.

 

His pulse quickened as he thought about standing on the bidding block and watching her raise her fan to outbid the other women. He wanted to belong to her. He wanted for the whole area to know that they were together, and he wanted her to stay on Lightning Ridge forever.

 

He’d dreamed about her since that first night. Sometimes it was sexual and he awakened to find a pillow lying next to him and not Emily. Sometimes it was sweet, like the one last night when they’d been lying on the quilt from the attic in a field of wildflowers. She wore the pretty blue dress that she’d worn to church and she was barefoot. They pointed out the shapes that the big white fluffy clouds made in the sky like two little kids. Their bodies didn’t touch, but their hands were laced together.

 

He looked down at the ranch stationery and wrote,

 

Dearest Emily, I dream of you often. Last night…