The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 20

 

 

 

 

Emily’s cheekbone had a streak of gold glitter glue smeared across it like war paint. A dot of purple glitter the size of a quarter was right between her eyes. It was all over her hands and her ratty old work shirt. Her jeans were faded and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. She checked the clock and figured she still had an hour before Jeremiah and his girlfriend, if Dotty was right, would show up. That would give her plenty of time to finish the last cowboy’s name and grab a quick shower, wash her hair, and dress to be presentable.

 

She’d just finished putting a heart instead of a dot on top of the i on the last cowboy’s name when she heard Greg yell from across the room, “Jeremiah, you are early!”

 

If only Emily had asked to see a picture of Jeremiah, her jaw might not have dropped. She’d pictured him as tall, dark, handsome, like Greg, only maybe wearing a three-piece suit and dark sunglasses. But the man that Greg grabbed in a man-hug was short, slightly round, and almost bald. The woman standing beside him wore high heels, skintight jeans, and a denim jacket with enough bling to blind a person. Her hair was black with blond steaks and cut short in a spiky ’do. Her eyes were almost as black as her hair, and her skin had that slightly toasted tone that comes from one Latino parent.

 

Jeremiah’s deep booming voice carried all the way across the barn and shocked Emily as much as his looks. It went with that image of the tall, dark, handsome private investigator.

 

“Meet Stacy, my girlfriend,” he said.

 

“Jeremiah!” Dotty hollered from the back of the barn.

 

When she reached his side, Jeremiah wrapped his arms around her and picked her up off the ground.

 

“Put me down, you crazy kid.” Dotty laughed.

 

He might be short, but he was strong as a horse if he could pick Dotty up like that. By the time he released his mama, Clarice was by her side to get her hugs. “It’s so good to have you home. What do you think of our idea for the bazaar this year?”

 

“Greg told me all about it. Y’all might raise enough with this auction idea to put two girls through school. I want to introduce you both to my girlfriend, Stacy. She is my secretary and keeps me organized.” Jeremiah looked at her like he could eat her up right there in front of everyone.

 

Emily didn’t even realize that Greg was beside her until he grabbed her hand. “Come on, darlin’. I want to introduce you to my best friend.”

 

She wanted to crawl under the table and hide, but there was nothing to do but stand up straight, ignore her messy appearance, and put on her brightest smile.

 

“Jeremiah and Stacy, I want to introduce you to Emily,” Greg said.

 

Jeremiah stuck out a hand. Everything about him might be generic, but when he smiled the whole room lit up. Lord, with that grin he could probably ferret more information out of someone than a tall, dark, and handsome cowboy ever could.

 

“Pleasure to meet you, Emily. I’ve heard so much about you. Greg has emailed dozens of pictures, but I pictured you taller. But there’s room in this world for us short people too, right?”

 

Stacy smiled at Emily with a friendly, down-to-earth smile that made Emily like her on the spot. “I hope so. If not then we’d best go on and forget about the party.”

 

“You are both so right. We make up for height in power and determination for sure,” Emily answered.

 

She would deal with Greg later. Just when had he taken pictures of her? Oh, Lord, hopefully not in the attic while she was sleeping.

 

Emily shook Jeremiah’s outstretched hand. “I’m glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard lots of stories.”

 

Jeremiah cocked his head to one side. “About the cigarettes?”

 

“My lips are sealed,” Emily said.

 

Then she held out her hand to Stacy. “We’ll have to find time for a visit before the day is done.”

 

“Looks like y’all got this under control, so I’m going to take Stacy up to the house so we can get unpacked before supper. I’ll tell you stories to curl your hair later, Emily,” Jeremiah said.

 

Greg threw an arm around Emily’s shoulders. “Dotty won’t let him out of her sight the whole time he’s here.”

 

“You got that damn straight,” Dotty said. “I’ll ride up to the house with them and get the enchiladas going for supper. That way I can get to know Stacy better and tell her some stories that might curl her hair.”

 

“All done with your chores?” Greg asked Emily.

 

Emily nodded. One more hour and she’d have looked presentable. And she’d agonized all day over what she would wear to supper, whether she’d make an entrance or just slip into her chair unnoticed.

 

“Then let’s go to the house too. By the way, darlin’, you are cuter than Bocephus or Simba with that glitter on your face.” He leaned down and kissed her on the tip of her nose.

 

“I look like crap. And his girlfriend is gorgeous. I felt like a country bumpkin beside her,” she said.

 

“Then crap is beautiful. Nana, we’re going on home. See you at supper. Are Madge and Rose stayin’ with us?”

 

“Yes.” Madge nodded. “Dotty made enchiladas. Ain’t nobody in the county can make them as good as she can.”

 

Greg waved over his shoulder and led Emily out to the truck. He opened the door for her, buckled her in, and then kissed her hard, his tongue teasing hers until she forgot all about how she looked. When the kiss ended he strung softer butterfly kisses over her face, spending extra time on the streak of bright red glitter.

 

“Now it’s on your lips.” She giggled.

 

“Yes, it is. We match, so we’re a couple. Jeremiah liked you even if you aren’t all dolled up in your best boots. I like you, so it doesn’t really matter anyway, but now you’ve met the whole bunch of us… almost.”

 

She gasped. “Almost?”

 

“Well, Momma and Daddy will be here for supper too. They’re flying in from Houston in Dad’s little plane to surprise Nana. Nana has a place out in the pasture fixed up for them to land.”

 

She threw her head back on the back of the seat and shut her eyes. Her breath caught in her chest and panic set in. Meeting Jeremiah was one thing. Meeting Greg’s parents… well, shit! And if that sounded like it came straight from Dotty… well, so be it.

 

“They won’t bite and you do have time to polish your best boots,” he said as he shut the door and went around the front of the truck to his side.

 

“My boots are polished,” she said when he started the engine.

 

“Then you don’t have a thing to worry about.”

 

“Put yourself in my shoes. Would you worry if you were about to meet my parents even if your boots were shined?”

 

“Yes, ma’am! I’d be shakin’ in them boots. But I love you, Emily. And they will too. They’ll see that you make me happy and love you for it.” He laid a hand on her knee as he drove.

 

***

 

She had changed clothes six times and her bed looked like one of those overfilled boxes at the back of the Goodwill store. She filtered through the pile one more time, but nothing looked right to wear when she meet Greg’s parents. Now she remembered why she’d squirmed out of most relationships before she had to meet the parents and family. It was downright nerve-wracking.

 

 

Bocephus thought the clothing pile was better than a mountain of fall leaves. He stuck his nose in the waist of her jeans and crawled down the leg. It reminded her of those pictures of snakes trying to digest a small animal, only her jeans didn’t keep Bocephus. He stuck his nose out of the bottom of the leg and meowed at her. Simba was the lion, sneaking up on a pearl snap with his tail high and the fur on his back standing straight up. When he pounced, there wasn’t a pearl snap in all of Texas that didn’t shiver.

 

But nerves kept her from enjoying the kittens’ antics. She finally decided on her best pair of jeans even though the bling on the pockets wasn’t anything compared to Stacy’s, and a fitted knit shirt with long sleeves. Her boots were indeed shiny, and she’d taken time to apply makeup and to use the curling iron.

 

She took a deep breath and opened the door to find Greg sitting outside on the top step. He’d cleaned up, but he hadn’t dressed up. His jeans were soft and hadn’t seen the benefit of an iron; his chambray shirt hung open and covered a snowy white T-shirt. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and smiled.

 

“You are gorgeous tonight. I thought maybe we should make our entrance together. Mom and Dad got here about half an hour ago. I heard Nana squealing, so I knew they’d arrived, but I haven’t been down to see them yet.” He stood up and crooked his elbow.

 

She’d never loved him more than she did that moment. He waited for her. Now that was a cowboy worth keeping around forever.

 

“They’re in the den. Dad likes a cocktail before dinner,” Greg whispered.

 

“Does he know about my gramps and Clarice?” she whispered.

 

“Nana told him a couple of days ago, so he knows.”

 

“Well, look who is finally joining the party,” Jeremiah said from the other side of the room.

 

Stacy had removed her jacket but looked the same otherwise. She had a cold beer in one hand and waved with the other one. “Where’s the glitter war paint, Emily? I liked it.” Her tone and her expression said that she was as nervous as Emily.

 

Emily smiled. “We can always go down to the barn and get it if things get too tough.”

 

Dotty’s long bony forefinger shot up in the air in a blur. “Don’t you be stealin’ her away. We haven’t even started getting to know each other. Jeremiah wouldn’t even leave us alone a minute, so we still have lots to discuss and I get her first.”

 

“Fuss at me when I don’t come home. Fuss at me when I do. Damned if I do. Damned if I don’t.” Jeremiah smiled.

 

Clarice pointed at Bart and drew her eyebrows down. “Speaking of kids not coming home. It’s been two months since I’ve seen you two and that was only for half a day at Christmas. You should have told me you were coming for the bazaar. I would have made your favorite foods.”

 

“That’s why we didn’t tell you. You’ve been busy enough with this bazaar without cooking even more,” Bart said.

 

A blond-haired lady with brown eyes crossed the room and held out her hand toward Emily. “I’m Nancy Adams, Greg’s mother. I’m glad to meet you, Emily. And Mama Clarice, we’ll do better, I promise. This time we are staying two nights.”

 

Emily shook her hand briefly and then Nancy let go and hugged her son tightly. She whispered something in his ear that made him smile even bigger, but Emily couldn’t hear the words.

 

“Which barely makes up for Christmas,” Clarice said.

 

Bart chuckled. “The road runs both ways, Mother. You could come to Houston.”

 

“I get claustrophobic in big places. All that traffic and all those people give me the hives,” Clarice said. “Besides, I’m old and you are still young.”

 

“Clarice Adams, you aren’t ever going to be old, so you don’t get to play that card,” Emily said.

 

Nancy smiled and winked at her. “I see why you hired this girl. I bet she keeps you all on your toes.”

 

“Yes, she does,” Dotty said.

 

“Emily, this is my dad, Bart. I’m sure you figured that out already,” Greg said.

 

There was no doubt that Bart was Greg’s father. He was an older model of the same man, same green eyes, and same wire-rimmed glasses. Bart was thirty pounds heavier and two inches shorter. Instead of jeans and a Western-cut shirt, he wore soft relaxed-fit khaki slacks, loafers, and a three-button baby blue knit shirt.

 

“I understand you own a ranch out in west Texas,” Bart said as he shook her hand firmly.

 

“Yes, sir, I do. Not very big right now, but it’s still home.”

 

“Lot of flat land out there. Great place to land a plane. You can see for miles and miles.”

 

“It’s a little different than the land around here. It’s all dirt and sky and not many trees, but ranchin’ is ranchin’, and when it’s in your blood, it’s about all the same,” she said.

 

“That’s what my son and my mother tell me. It must’ve bypassed my bloodline. It’s all right to visit the boonies, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Can I make you a drink?” he asked.

 

“I wouldn’t mind having a beer like Stacy is having. In the bottle is fine,” she said.

 

“Yes, sir, son, she’s a rancher all right.” Bart laughed.

 

***

 

Later that night Emily cuddled up next to Greg on the single bed in the attic and inhaled deeply. “You washed the quilt. It smells like fabric softener.”

 

“I made an excuse to leave the barn for a while and got it in the washer and dryer without anyone even catching me. I wonder how many other lovebirds have been up here in this attic.”

 

“I can’t picture Clarice…” she started.

 

He slapped his hands over his ears. “I don’t want to picture that. I’m one of those fellers that think their parents and grandparents didn’t do those things.”

 

She giggled. “Come on, Greg! They were all young like us at one time. They had raging hormones too! And they liked cuddling and kissing. I betcha that’s why there’s still just a twin-sized bed up here instead of a big old king-sized one. They liked being close as much as we do.”

 

“Em… i… ly!” he drug her name out. “I don’t want to think about that.”

 

The giggling stopped.

 

She sat straight up in bed and clamped one hand over her mouth and the other against her forehead. “My underwear?”

 

“Oh, no! I must have left them in the dryer,” he said.

 

She fell back on the bed with a loud moan. “What are we going to do?”

 

“Momma was talking about doing laundry before she went up to bed. She’ll find them for you,” he said.

 

“She’ll know and she’ll hate me and I thought maybe that she was going to like me. We’ve got to sneak down there and get them out before someone finds them, Greg. They’ll throw me to the coyotes in the morning.”

 

“Well, I’ve gotten kind of used to having you around and I wouldn’t want the coyotes chewing on your cute little ass.” He reached across her and picked up the black lacy underpants from the table. “Just kiddin’!”

 

She slapped him on his broad chest and grabbed at them. “God, you scared me so bad. What if your mom really had found them?”

 

“She wouldn’t know they were from the attic. She’d just think you didn’t get them out when you did laundry. Nobody knows we come up here. It’s our secret,” he said.

 

 

Emily eased back down and put her head on his chest. Nothing that went on at Lightning Ridge would ever be a complete secret, but Greg didn’t need to know what Dotty had told her earlier.

 

She tossed the underpants back on the table and shifted her position until she was lying on top of him. His body was hard and tough but felt oh so right underneath her naked breasts, tummy, and legs. She traced his masculine jawline with her forefinger and he groaned.

 

“You turn me on with nothing but your hands.” He wrapped his arms around her tighter and nuzzled his face into the soft crook of her neck.

 

“You turn me on with nothing but your kisses,” she whispered.

 

He flipped her over and kissed her softly at first, then deepened the kiss, turning sweet into a raging fire of desire that begged for satisfaction. Her hands roamed over his broad back and lower to his hips and thighs until she ran out of reach. She’d never realized before that moment that there were erotic zones in the tips of her fingers, and just touching his body turned her on almost as much as him touching her… almost.

 

He kissed her lips, eyelids, tip of her nose, neck, and every other part of her body he could reach as he settled on top of her and found his way inside her body, uniting them. They began a steady rhythm, working together until they were both frenzied. She nipped his neck and then backed off. His mother would hate her if he showed up with a hickey. But even that fleeting notion going through her head couldn’t take away the heat. Not until he looked down into her eyes and asked without saying a word; not until his mouth found hers as they tumbled over the top together; not until he’d rolled to the side and wrapped his arms around her, letting the afterglow of something wonderful warm them from the inside out; not until then did the heat subside inside her body.

 

“I love you,” she panted.

 

“I love you, darlin’.”

 

Just before she fell asleep, she wondered what happened next in the relationship. She’d never gone this far before, never said the words, never felt the love in her heart. Now what?