The Cowboy's Mail Order Bride
Author:Carolyn Brown

Chapter 24

 

 

 

 

She checked the mailbox five times on Wednesday, but there was no letter from Greg. Stacy said that he’d written to her so where was it? Surely it wasn’t stuck in the bottom of a mailbag somewhere between Ravenna and Happy. That couldn’t happen twice in the same family, could it?

 

 

Until that letter arrived, she couldn’t make the final decision to sell Taylor the rest of Shine Canyon. On Thursday morning she was having a bowl of junk cereal for breakfast when someone knocked hard on the door. It startled her so bad that she dropped her spoon and it scooted halfway across the floor. She wrapped her grandfather’s plaid robe tightly around her body and opened the door.

 

“Mornin’, Miz Emily. Got a letter here that you have to sign for.” He held out a small pad with a pen attached with a cord. “Right there in the box, please.”

 

She scribbled her name and handed it back. He put a letter in her hands, and her heart skipped a full beat when she saw the return address. It was from Greg Adams in Ravenna, Texas.

 

“Thank you. I would have come into town to get it if you would’ve called me.”

 

“No trouble. I had a couple of deliveries to make out this way. Rumor has it that you aren’t stayin’ in Happy. That true?” he asked.

 

“Still thinkin’ about things.”

 

“Well, we’ll miss you if you go.”

 

“Thanks again,” she said. She should invite him in for coffee since he’d always spent a few minutes with Gramps when he brought the mail. On some days the mailman and Amos were the only people outside of Taylor and Emily that Marvin talked to.

 

“Got to go. Miz Blackstone has been callin’ every day about her package. It’s something that her grandson has sent and he’s over in France. She says that it’s one of those fancy French scarves and she wants to wear it to a weddin’ this weekend. You did hear that Gracie Caldwell is marrying Teddy Green, didn’t you?”

 

Emily shook her head. “Lot happens in a month, don’t it?”

 

“Yes, it does. Hope you enjoyed your trip to Florida though. Marvin told me he was sending you away for a month. I was surprised to see you home a few days early. Guess home always calls to the heart, don’t it?” He spun around and was halfway back to his mail truck before she could do anything but look at the letter.

 

“Yes, sir, it surely does,” she finally said as she shut the door. She sat down in Marvin’s recliner and held the letter in her hand for a full minute before she opened it and read:

 

My darling,

 

I’m abiding by what you asked even though not seeing you, not hearing your voice, not being able to kiss you are the hardest things I’ve ever endured…

 

She inhaled deeply. “Okay, Gramps, you’ve sent enough messages. The decision is made and home does call out to the heart, but it doesn’t make it easier to say good-bye to the past.”

 

***

 

Greg awoke on Thursday morning with Bocephus on the pillow next to him and Simba sharing his pillow. “Good mornin’, boys. The house sure seems empty without her, but I’m not giving up hope and neither should you.”

 

He crawled out of bed, threw open the curtains, and looked down at the backyard. The place where she parked her truck even looked lonely. He dressed in work jeans and tugged a thermal shirt down over his head before he checked the USPS tracking number that they’d given him at the post office.

 

“Hey, guys, the letter has arrived,” he yelled across the room at the cats that were chasing each other from one end of his bed to the other. “She’s got it in her hands right now. God, I miss her so much.”

 

When he reached the kitchen, he grabbed Dotty around the waist and danced across the floor with her. “The letter arrived,” he singsonged.

 

“Have you lost your mind, boy? What letter? The mailman hasn’t come yet,” Dotty said.

 

“My letter. The one I wrote to her. It took me two days to get it just right and I sent it by registered mail and they gave me a tracking number and it got there this morning. I wasn’t takin’ chances on it getting lost like that one did from Marvin to you, Nana.” He stepped back and poured himself a cup of coffee.

 

“And what did you say in this letter?” Clarice asked.

 

Greg smiled. “Can I read that last letter that Marvin wrote to you?”

 

“Hell, no! That’s private,” Dotty answered for Clarice.

 

“Then y’all don’t get to read mine.”

 

***

 

Emily poured the rest of her cereal in the trash can, got dressed, and called Taylor.

 

“You cooking this morning?” he answered.

 

“No, but we could go to IHOP in Amarillo,” she said.

 

“You sure?” he asked.

 

“Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, western omelet, and hot biscuits and gravy,” she said.

 

“I’ll pick you up in ten minutes,” he said.

 

Emily picked up the letter again and read it. When she got to the second paragraph, it took two hard swallows to get rid of the lump in her throat.

 

Bocephus and Simba have slept with me since you left. Poor little boys keep sneaking back into your room and meowing for you. I know exactly how they feel. I sat in your chair all evening that first night you were gone. Your perfume still lingered in the room. I’m glad I found the sticky notes before anyone else got up that morning. I touched each one and told myself that you would come back. I need you in my life, Emily Cooper.

 

“Hey, you ready? I’m starving,” Taylor yelled through the door.

 

She shoved the letter back into the envelope and dropped it in her purse.

 

“I’m ready,” she said.

 

She hopped into his truck and fastened her seat belt. “What kind of plans you got for today?”

 

He fired up the engine and headed toward town. “What a rancher does everyday. Work the land, the cattle, and hope that by fall there’s enough profit that I can do it again another year. What have you got in mind?”

 

“I thought maybe you might like to buy a ranch, or the last of what was left of a pretty big spread at one time.” She smiled.

 

“You sure? I thought once you slept on it and went to the cemetery you might still change your mind.”

 

“I’m more sure than I’ve ever been about anything in my life,” she said.

 

“How about you just lease it to me with intent to buy in one year? I don’t want you to get out there in that forsaken part of Texas and change your mind. We can close up the house and it will be waiting right here for you and I’ll take care of the land like it was my own until you come back.”

 

She shook her head. “No, Taylor. I want a clean break. If I change my mind, I’ll put my money into something else.”

 

Taylor laughed. “You’re in love for real, aren’t you? You went out there with intentions of staying one day and flat-out fell in love.”

 

“Yes, I did. I talked to Ray already and he has two sets of papers drawn up. You don’t have to pay for the whole thing if you don’t want to. You can pay me in installments like a banknote, only with no interest. It’s up to you.”

 

“You know it will become part of my ranch and my brand. It won’t be Shine Canyon anymore. Does that bother you?”

 

“It’s yours.”

 

Taylor stomped the brake and left a cloud of dust behind the truck. When they came to a stop in the middle of the dirt road, he turned toward her. “The ranch has been Shine Canyon since your great-grandparents bought it, Em. Don’t you have any feeling of family?”

 

She wiped a tear from her eyes. “My momma and my daddy and my grandfather are all gone. Gramps kind of saw something that made him send me away for a month and I want to think it was a vision of the way things should be, Taylor. It was Buffalo Draw when Gramps’s folks bought it from the previous owners. A name is just a name and a brand just a brand. Add it to your ranch like Gramps wanted you to do,” she said stoically and vowed that the tears were over and done with.

 

 

He took his foot off the brake and drove to the paved road that would take them into Amarillo. “I understand and I’m sorry I yelled at you. Will you promise to come home for the Fourth of July?”

 

“I promise, but only if I can bring Simba and Bocephus with me, and I won’t have my boys around cigarette smoke.”

 

“Then keep your scrawny, bony ass out there. You’re not bringing no damn cats in my house,” he teased.

 

She rested her hand on his shoulder. “We’re both getting a good deal. I know that you’ll love the land and I’m going home to a family who loves me.”

 

“You saying we don’t?” he said hoarsely.

 

“Hell, no! I’m just sayin’ that you don’t have to worry about me, Taylor. I will be loved. Hey, there is one jar of moonshine left. Let’s have a toast when we get home?”

 

Taylor smiled. “Sounds like just the right thing to do. And FYI, darlin’ cousin, my shirt pocket is empty. Melinda asked me how I’d feel about my daughters smoking and it set me to thinkin’. I put my first patch on this mornin’ and threw the rest of my pack out the truck window.”

 

“Bless Melinda’s heart.” Emily smiled brightly.

 

***

 

Greg kept time with his thumb on the steering wheel as he listened to the country music station on the radio.

 

“Emily will be home by Friday night. She paid a lot of money for a date with you,” Max said from the passenger’s seat.

 

“What made you think of that?”

 

“I’m psychic. I can read your mind. Every song reminds you of Emily, doesn’t it?”

 

“Guess it does. I love her, Max. I told her and she left without telling me good-bye. I was so angry and upset that morning, but then I read her letter and saw all those sticky notes and I understood that she had to go back before she could go forward.”

 

“What if she asks you to leave Lightning Ridge and move to her ranch? Her roots are there even more than yours are here. She was born right there and raised on that ranch. She’s never lived in another house, Greg. Your roots aren’t nearly as deep as hers,” Max said.

 

“It’s going to work out between us. I know it is. This is her home now. I just feel it in my heart and soul, Max.”

 

“I hope so, son. I really, really hope so,” Max said.

 

***

 

The papers were signed and now the hard part was before her. With a critical eye she walked through the house. Everything held a memory. How could she leave anything behind? Taylor had said that she could store what she didn’t take in one of the barns, but she’d decided on a clean break. She had twenty-four hours to decide what was the most important. But first she had to make one more trip.

 

She pulled on a jacket and headed toward the barn. She sat down beside the wooden cross with Bill’s name on it. “I’m so sorry, old boy, that I wasn’t here for you. If you hadn’t gone on to be with Gramps, I’d have taken you with me. You’d like Coolie, but he wouldn’t like you because you’d put him in second place. There won’t ever be a number one dog like you, just like there won’t ever be another Gramps.”

 

Taylor sat down beside her. “I’ll take care of his grave. I promise he won’t ever be forgotten. And Em, I promise to take care of the family plot at the cemetery, too. I’ve been taking care of other members of the family for the past few years, so it won’t be any trouble to keep two looking good. And I promise there will always be flowers on Uncle Marvin’s grave at the cemetery.”

 

She brushed tears from her cheeks. “And you’ll call me every now and then to let me know what’s going on out here.”

 

“I thought you wanted a clean break,” he said.

 

“That don’t mean I don’t want to hear.”

 

He squeezed her hand. “Of course I’ll call. And you’ll let me know how things go with the four-eyed cowboy.”

 

She jerked her hand free and slapped him hard on the arm. “Don’t you call him that. I think he’s sexy with those glasses.”

 

Taylor grabbed his arm. “You’ve broken it and now you have to stay and work for me until it’s healed.”

 

“Stop your whining. You aren’t hurt and I wouldn’t work for you one day.”

 

“Afraid I’ll make you muck out horse stalls. Speaking of which, are you taking Dream Boy or are you going to sell him to me?”

 

“You might have bought the ranch, but my horse and the trailer that he rides in belong to me,” she answered.

 

“He only takes up half of that trailer. Why don’t you use the rest, as well as the back of your truck, to get all your junk out of my house?” Taylor’s grin said that he was teasing.

 

“Sounds like a good idea to me. Go bring it and a couple of good strong men that don’t have broken arms to the house and we’ll get started.”

 

***

 

She turned back the covers in her dad’s bed that night. She still hated good-byes, so after she and Taylor had a toast with the moonshine, she’d told him that the next morning she would load Dream Boy and drive away without any hugs, kisses, or even waves. He’d kissed her on the forehead and told her to call if she got into trouble and to remember that she always had a home, a job, or a place if she wanted to come back to Happy.

 

The minute her head hit the pillow that night panic set in.

 

What in the hell had she done? This was her home. It was where her momma brought her home from the hospital. She’d kissed her first boyfriend out behind the barn after the sale the fall that she was thirteen. Gramps had drawn his last breath in the room across the hall from where she was curled up on the bed where her daddy spent his last night on earth.

 

She jumped out of bed and started pacing on the cold floor. She pulled the curtains back and there was a big moon hanging in the sky. Was Greg looking at the same moon?

 

The clock made a ticking noise as it clicked off the night. Twelve thirty. An eternity later it was twelve thirty-one. Time had sped by so fast when she and Greg were in the attic room wrapped up in that old quilt together; how could the same time be so slow that night?

 

She flipped on the light and pulled the letter from her purse.

 

She touched the letter as she read it until she got to the final paragraph, when she whispered the words aloud:

 

If you feel the same way about me, then meet me at the front porch swing on Friday at three o’clock. I’ll be the one on my knees with a ring in my hand. I love you, Emily Cooper, and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to show you just how much. It wasn’t in the cards for Nana to be a mail-order bride, but I’m asking you to be mine.

 

She folded the letter, kissed it, and put it back in her purse. She flipped out the light and the darkness erased every single doubt in her mind. In her dreams she had gray hair and a cane. Greg’s glasses were thicker, but he was still her handsome cowboy. And they held hands on the front porch of Lightning Ridge as they watched children playing with a litter of yellow and gray kittens in the yard.