Texas Mail Order BrideBy: Linda Broday
Many, many thanks to my awesome critique partners, who are always quick to lend support and gently push me to be a better writer than I am. I’m so blessed to have these wonderful ladies. They welcomed me into their little family and made me feel that I truly have something to contribute. Our friendship and admiration for each other means the world to me. May each of us keep learning and growing and ever striving for the elusive golden ring as we travel this amazing path together. I love you all.
North Central Texas
It was strange how a day could go south quicker than a steam locomotive on a downhill slope.
Cooper Thorne drew his black hat farther down on his forehead and reflected on that fact as he rode across his ranch land, trying to recapture the good mood he’d enjoyed before his morning turned into an unholy mess.
He kneed Rebel into a trot and navigated a small rise before reining the powerful buckskin to a halt to take in the breathtaking sunrise. This was his favorite vantage point from which to gaze out over the gently rolling hills that comprised the Long Odds Ranch.
Tall cliffs bordered the six hundred and forty acres on three sides. The only way to enter his spread was from the east. He felt safe here.
It had taken blood and sweat and dogged determination to get where he was. Fair to say he’d been through hell and come out the other side to claim this life for his own.
He rested his elbow on the saddle horn and took in the view.
This wild Texas land was his home. For the first time in his almost thirty years, he’d truly found a place to belong. It felt right, and his soul was at peace at last.
Or as much as it ever would be.
The rich black soil that could raise fine crops or prime cattle was now in his blood. It had put back together his broken dreams.
He’d chomped at the bit to get out and put his hands to work…until he got to breakfast. Mack Malone, the cook he’d hired a month ago, had burned the biscuits, charred the eggs, and mangled the flapjacks. Then his horse threw a shoe and Cooper had to round up the ranch blacksmith to put a new one on. And to make matters worse, one of his ranch hands up and quit with branding about to start. All before dawn. He needed this moment of peace before heading back to work.
Because heaven only knew what awaited him next…
His middle brother, Rand Sinclair, sat cooling his heels on the porch when Cooper finally made it back to the house sometime that afternoon.
Rand’s ever-present grin widened as he unwound his tall frame and got slowly to his feet. “Thought I’d have to send up smoke signals or get Brett to track you down or something. Figured you’d be coming in to get some vittles sooner or later, but I’d about decided maybe you’d packed up and moved on without telling anyone.”
Cooper dismounted. “I do run a ranch, you know. Out here we work from can to cain’t, unlike you. All you do is pour whiskey down drunks and watch their wives have a conniption.”
“There’s a lot more to it than that, and you darn well know it. I work hard to make a living.”
“Reckon so. You eaten?”
“This an invite?”
“All you’ll get.”
“In that case, I can always eat.”
“Don’t I know it.” Cooper led the way to the kitchen table.
Over a plateful of beans with chunks of ham and fried potatoes that were thankfully almost edible, Cooper turned to Rand. “What brings you all the way out here? Shouldn’t you be in town lubricating those drunks and taking their money?”
Rand owned the Lily of the West in the nearby town of Battle Creek. Their younger brother, Brett Liberty, had acquired the Wild Horse Ranch, five miles as the crow flies from the Long Odds Ranch, though it was more like seven or eight if you traveled by road.
“They don’t need me for that. It’ll happen whether I’m there or not.” A big grin stretched from ear to ear and devilment twinkled in Rand’s blue eyes. He leaned back as though very satisfied with himself.
“What’s got you in such a good mood?” Cooper sensed a shoe was about to drop. He didn’t like dropping shoes. Or grinning brothers who knew something he didn’t. “You look like a cat that just caught himself a big fat mouse.”