The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 22

 

 

 

 

There was no room to wiggle in the church pew, so Emily had to sit still, but every single nerve in her body tingled. Greg’s right arm was thrown around her shoulders and his thumb made slow circles on her upper arm. Even through the sleeve of her sweater, his touch was pure fire. His left arm stretched across his lap and held her hand: bare skin on bare skin, which was even hotter than her arm.

 

The song director told them to open their hymnals, and Greg’s hands left her body, but their hands touched as they shared the book. Words came out of her mouth, but the picture in her head had nothing to do with praising God for all his wonderful works.

 

The preacher took his place behind the podium and started his sermon. She looked right at him but didn’t see his pretty red tie or his gray hair. The movie in her head played on and she and Greg were the only two stars in a little attic room with a twin bed in the center. Any minute a sharp crack of lightning could zip down through the beams, crossing the ceiling and frying her right on the spot for her thoughts, but she couldn’t stop them any more than she could stop breathing.

 

Greg leaned to his right just slightly and whispered, “Have I told you that you are gorgeous this morning?”

 

“Shhh.” If she looked at him, he’d be able to see what she was thinking.

 

He squeezed her hand and brushed a kiss across her cheek. “You are, and don’t shush me. Are you thinking about the attic?” Greg whispered.

 

His warm breath created ripples of goose bumps from her neck to her toes.

 

“Are you?” She pulled her hand free of his and laid it on his thigh right above his knee. The quiver in his leg said that her touch did the same thing for him that his did for her.

 

“You aren’t playing fair,” he whispered.

 

The temptation was great, and she could not fight it. If she was going to see the trees, she had to get out of the forest. She’d learned to love the forest and she didn’t want to leave, but she had no choice. Her head needed to be clear as a bell when she made the decision lying heavy on her heart.

 

Technically, she had five more days, a date with Greg on Friday night, and then before midnight on Saturday she had to be back at Shine Canyon. That was the plan she’d agreed to on her grandfather’s last day on this earth.

 

“We’ll ask Bart Adams to give the benediction this morning. It’s always good to see him back in Ravenna for a visit. But first, I’ve got to mention that last night’s bazaar was a big record breaker. The ladies are pleased to announce that they’ll be offering scholarships to more than one area girl this year. Now Bart, if you will, please,” the preacher said.

 

***

 

Jeremiah hugged everyone including Emily. “After that dinner Mama made, I should take a nap before I leave.”

 

“It’s only an hour and a half home and I can drive if you want to sleep,” Stacy said.

 

“You could be eating like this all the time,” Dotty said. “And you’d look a hell of a lot better. I swear to God, you’ve lost weight.”

 

Jeremiah left Stacy with Emily and hugged Dotty one more time. “Mama, you aren’t supposed to swear on Sunday or tell lies either. I’ve gained five more pounds since Stacy has been cookin’ for me.”

 

“I’m the mother. God don’t tell me when or where I can cuss, so you can’t either,” Dotty said.

 

Nancy and Bart pulled their suitcases out onto the front porch. Clarice followed right behind them, fussing the whole way, “I hate it when everyone leaves at the same time. I hate good-byes, and I wish you’d come more often.”

 

“But that would just make more good-byes.” Bart chuckled.

 

“Maybe I wouldn’t hate them so bad if I knew you were coming back in a week,” Clarice said.

 

Nancy hugged her. “We’ll do better. I promise.”

 

“I’m holding you to that promise,” Clarice whispered. “But you don’t fool me. If you do come more often it will be because you’ve finally given up on Greg coming back to Houston.”

 

Bart picked up both suitcases and carried them to Greg’s truck. “Come on, son. There’s not a bit of need in dragging this good-bye stuff out. Drive us out to the plane and we’ll get on our way.”

 

“You hate good-byes just as much as the rest of us,” Greg told him. He grabbed Emily’s hand. “Come with us, darlin’. We’ll take a ride after we get these old folks on their plane.”

 

“Hey, who are you calling old?” Clarice fussed.

 

“Not you, Nana. You’ll never be old, but Momma and Daddy might be getting too old to fly. They might need to build a house up here and stay a few weeks at a time when they come around,” he said.

 

“I’ll get with a contractor next week,” Clarice teased.

 

Bart waved over his shoulder. “Better wait until I retire, Mama. And then I wouldn’t live here all the time. If I had to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city I’d die.”

 

A few minutes later, Emily leaned against the truck fender and watched the small plane as it soared into the white clouds and got smaller and smaller until there was nothing but a small dot.

 

“I hate good-byes too,” she said.

 

Greg slipped his arm around her waist and drew her close to his side. “We all do. There’s always the possibility that it will be the last time we see someone and that’s scary. You are shivering. Let’s drive to the cabin and make a fire.”

 

There was no place on the ranch, other than the attic, that she’d rather spend her last day there, so she nodded. How would she ever drive away from Lightning Ridge? Just thinking about it created a lump the size of a basketball in her throat. How could she ever tell Clarice, Dotty, and most of all, Greg, good-bye?

 

She was quiet all the way to the cabin and curled up on the old sofa when they were inside. Greg tucked a quilt around her and set about building a fire. If he would have joined her on the sofa, the sparks doing backflips off the walls would have warmed the whole place up, but the second he left her side she was cold. He wasted no movements or matches. When the blaze was going, he made a pot of coffee and hung it on the andiron to boil.

 

 

She lifted the edge of the quilt and he snuggled down inside with her, his hands slipping under her shirt to warm on her bare skin.

 

“My folks liked you a lot,” he said.

 

“Did they say that?”

 

He shook his head and then buried his face in the crook of her neck. “Not in words but in actions. And you?”

 

“Loved them all, especially Stacy. She’ll be good for Jeremiah.”

 

“Nana says that Rose charged you fifty bucks for that ticket?” He laughed.

 

“Hey, anything worth having costs something, whether it’s money or something else,” she said.

 

Time was even more valuable than money, and she’d be giving up several days to go back to Shine Canyon, but it had to be done. She had to be absolutely sure about the ranch and about Greg.

 

“Kiss me,” she said.

 

“Gladly.” He tipped up her chin and kissed her ever so sweetly, then deepened it into something hotter and more passionate.

 

They were used to the cramped space of the twin-sized bed in the attic, so it wasn’t hard to adjust from sitting to lying on the sofa. He removed his boots and hers and then his lips found hers again. His hands moved over her body as if they were finding brand-new territory for the first time. He loved that Emily was a new experience every time they made wild passionate love or even sweet quickie love. Nothing was familiar; everything was exciting and fresh, from her kisses to the way her body felt beneath his hands.

 

“I love the way your body feels next to mine,” he said.

 

“You make me hotter’n blue blazes just by touching my hand in church. When I’m snuggled up to you, I’m just a big pot of boiling desire.”

 

With one swift motion she unsnapped his shirt and teased his nipples to aching nubs on her way down to his belt buckle. Passionate kisses got deeper and deeper as she deftly undid his belt and zipper. Her hand was like silk when it circled his erection, and his groan sounded hoarse even in his own ears. He’d never given up complete control of his body to another woman, but Emily was special. He was in love with her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her beside him.

 

She arched against him and he thought that he would explode before they even got naked, but she moved her hand upward to rest on his chest.

 

“Darlin’, I think we’d best come out of the rest of these clothes,” he whispered.

 

She jumped up and her clothes were blurs as they flew through the air to land behind the sofa. “It’s still cold, so you’d better hurry,” she said as she dove back under the quilt.

 

His jeans and shirt joined her things and he lay on top of her, his erection hard against her belly. He made love to her lips, tongue, and mouth in scorching kisses that left her panting.

 

“I’m so, so ready,” she whispered.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Oh, yes,” she gasped as she wrapped her legs around his middle.

 

He started a rhythm and she rocked with him. Nothing had ever felt so right in his whole life. Emily was his soul mate and he fully well intended to write her a long letter that evening and tell her so.

 

His mouth covered hers in a string of kisses and she arched her back against him, giving herself to the red-hot fire and forgetting about saying good-bye the next morning. As always, her toes curled when she heard him say that he loved her, and she found a sweet release seconds before he did. In a few swift shuffling moves, they were wrapped in each other’s arms on the narrow sofa. Her head rested on his chest and she bit back the tears. She could never tell him good-bye… not ever.

 

He kissed her good night at the top of the stairs that Sunday night. One last wonderful sweet kiss that she’d take with her. Both Bocephus and Simba were curled up in the recliner on their fluffy blue blanket when she got out the stationery and ink pen and started to write Clarice a note first. She told her that she needed to go back to Shine Canyon to settle both business and her heart. The next note was to Dotty, and she begged her to take care of the kittens while she was away.

 

The third was the hardest. My dearest Greg, she started and then ripped the page into shreds. Writing good-bye was just as difficult as saying it out loud.

 

She heard his movement on the landing, and an envelope slid into her room from beneath the door. She picked it up and held it against her chest, much like Clarice had done with that sixty-year-old letter the first day Emily had come to Lightning Ridge. She couldn’t read it, not before she’d written her letter.

 

She tucked the letter inside her purse and picked up another piece of stationery. The words flowed from her mind to the paper, along with several tears that turned some of the words blotchy. She could only hope as she sealed the letter and kissed the back that he would understand the desperate need she had to go back and settle the past before she could go forward into the future.

 

She kissed the kittens at a little after four. It took two trips to take her suitcases down the steps. Before she carried them out to the truck she went to the kitchen and plastered the top of the refrigerator with sticky notes that all said, “I love Greg Adams!” and had little hearts drawn in all four corners.

 

When the sun came up in her rearview mirror she was already a hundred miles away from Ravenna on her way back to Happy, Texas. On the west side of Wichita Falls, she pulled over at a rest stop, used the bathroom, and got a free cup of coffee. She reached in her purse for Greg’s letter from the night before and pulled out her grandfather’s funeral memorial for the second time.

 

“Okay, Gramps, tell me what you’ve got on your mind,” she said.

 

She waited, but nothing came to her mind.

 

“Are you telling me to turn around and go back?” she asked.

 

Her phone rang and her soul came close to leaving her body.

 

“Hello?” she said cautiously without checking the caller ID.

 

“Mama said that you left the ranch. What in the hell is going on, Emily? I thought you and Greg were solid as concrete.” Jeremiah said.

 

“I left a letter to each of them explaining what I was doing. I’ve got to settle the past before I can face the future. I love Greg, but I’ve got to get rid of the baggage. It’s not fair to him to take on my problems. I’m trying to take care of it.”

 

“You sure?” Jeremiah asked.

 

“Both of us need a few days to be sure that this isn’t all just something of the moment. He might not realize it, but he needs it as much as I do.”

 

“Lust instead of love?” Jeremiah’s voice softened.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“What do you want me to tell Greg?”

 

“I wrote him a long letter. He knows what I need and he’ll do it. And I left sticky notes on the refrigerator.”

 

“Then I’ll just listen to him whine like a little girl. And I heard about the sticky notes already.” Jeremiah finally laughed.

 

“Greg might be lonely just like me, but he won’t whine,” Emily said.

 

“Hurry up and figure it out. Mama and Clarice miss you as much as he does and it’s only been a few hours.”

 

“I will. I promise.”

 

“Besides, you’ve got a date on Friday night, remember? And Clarice paid a hell of a bill for you to go on that date.”

 

“How’d you know that?” Emily asked.

 

“I’m an investigator, remember. Get home by Friday, Emily.”

 

“Home?”

 

“It’s not to me, but it is to you. Call me when you arrive to Shine Canyon and I’ll let Mama know. She worries about the people that she loves.” Jeremiah didn’t say good-bye; the line just went dead.

 

 

Emily looked down at the memorial folder in her hand. “Guess you answered that question loud and clear, didn’t you, Gramps?”