Texas Mail Order Bride(126)

By: Linda Broday


It became even more apparent that she had good breeding a few minutes later. She went to get the boy from the pile of quilts but wouldn’t let him eat until they’d both bowed their heads and given thanks.

Toby she’d called him. The lad’s fevered eyes lifted to Rand’s. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome, son.” Rand swallowed a hard lump in his throat. The scrappy child reminded him of himself and his two brothers seventeen years ago. They’d had nothing and no one except for each other, were on the run for their lives, forced to trust strangers for survival.

He poured himself a cup of coffee. “I would’ve made biscuits, only I don’t know how. Me and cooking are like two snarling strangers and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to win.”

She spoke low. “This is fine. It’s filling. More than we had outside. You have no woman?”

“No.” And that’s the way Rand wanted it. He would live alone the rest of his life. “What’s your name, ma’am?”

“It’s not important. I deeply appreciate your kindness, but we won’t be here long enough to socialize, mister.”

“Like I told you, I’m Rand Sinclair, not mister. And a name is always important…to someone.”

“Not anyone I know.” She sighed. “It’s Callie. That’s all. Just Callie.”

“Glad to meet you, Callie.”

“I didn’t know anyone lived here.” She forked a bite of food into her mouth. “I’m not a poacher.”

“I guessed that,” Rand said quietly. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you want. But it’s too cold out there. I can’t in good conscience let you go back to that bunkhouse.”

Callie’s chin raised a notch. “Then we’ll move on.”

He couldn’t let this woman and child risk it out there in the unforgiving Texas winter. His conscience would never forgive him. And he suspected he needed them as much as they needed him. This morning had already proved he might well starve if left on his own.

An idea took root. “Wait a minute and hear me out first. I’m looking to hire a cook for me and a few ranch hands when I bring them on in a few months. I’d love for you to fill the job. If you’re willing, I’ll furnish room and board in exchange. You’d live off this kitchen.” He walked to a door and opened it to show her the small bedroom that had not one single stick of furniture in it. “I know it isn’t much, but it’s warm.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “And you? Where would you sleep?”

“Upstairs. You have nothing to fear from me. This kitchen would be your domain. You alone would rule it. I have some furniture ordered that will be here in a week or so. As I told you outside, I recently bought the place. It’ll take time to fix it up and get it looking decent. Frankly, I could use the help.”

The boy coughed, the sound rattling from deep inside his thin chest. Concern darkened Callie’s eyes. She tenderly smoothed back his hair.

“Winter is supposed to be a bad one,” Rand pressed.

“I make no promises about how long Toby and I will stay.”

“Agreed.”

“And no one can know about us being here.”

“Can’t promise that. I have two brothers and they’ll both be here helping me. The oldest, Cooper Thorne, is now the sheriff in Battle Creek. Brett Liberty is the youngest. I won’t lie to them. But I can agree to not tell anyone else.”

“You swear?”

“Yes. My word is my bond.”

“You’re not to ask any questions.”

“Understood. Do we have a bargain, Miss Callie?”

The lines in her face relaxed a bit. “Toby and I will stay. Just for a while.”

Why it meant so much to help them, Rand couldn’t say. Maybe he simply wanted to pay forward Daffern’s kindness to him. Yet when he and Callie struck the deal, it seemed to lift the dreariness of the gray gloom that had closed around him.

What had seemed overwhelming before now appeared manageable. He would succeed. He had a strong back and hands that itched to carve out something he could be proud for others to see, even if those “others” were just the pair of strays he’d found.