Texas Mail Order Bride(129)

By: Linda Broday

He took a sip of coffee. “How long until supper? I need to unload the wagon and put my horses in the barn as soon as possible.”

“Probably twenty minutes or so. I’ll help you and it’ll go faster.”

“I appreciate the offer, but it’s too cold for you out there.” He emptied his cup and set it down, then got his coat, hat, and gloves. “Better get to it. The prospect of hot corn bread will make me hurry.”

She watched him go back outside, shivering from a sudden onslaught of frigid air that swept in through the open door. No one had cared about her in such a long time. Maybe, just maybe, he was an honorable man and truly what he seemed.

Was it possible?

He came back a few minutes later with packages and bundles teetering precariously in his arms. She flew to take some from him.

“I may need a little help getting the mattress inside if you don’t mind.” He laid the packages down on the floor.

“I’ll be happy to.”

“You stay inside. Keep the door shut until I bang on it. Don’t want to lose all this wonderful heat.”

Over the next twenty minutes, she assisted, taking some of the load after he got the bedstead and mattress to the door. By then, the corn bread was done, golden and delicious. She set it in the warming oven while he took the horse to the barn.

Checking on Toby, she was relieved to find his fever had broken.

“I’m hungry, ma’am.”

“I have some nice hot soup for supper. Do you think you can wait for Mr. Sinclair to come back in?”

He nodded. She smoothed back his sweat-drenched hair, giving thanks for the improvement. Overcome with emotion, she kissed his cheek. “I love you, little man. We’re going to be all right. I’ll make sure of it. I’m going to keep you safe.”

“Love you too,” he said quietly.

When Rand returned from the barn, she had the table set and the pot of soup and the corn bread sitting in the middle.

“Horses are cared for, and now I can hardly wait for supper.” He removed his outerwear and blew on his hands to warm them, taking the fresh cup of coffee she offered.

“We can spare a few minutes for you to thaw out by the fire. We don’t have to eat right this instant.”

“Oh no you don’t, lady,” he growled. “I’ll not take a chance on eating cold corn bread. I’ll warm up when that home cooking hits my belly. Won’t talk me out of that pleasure.”

Callie called Toby and they all took their places. She’d barely said “Amen” before Rand dove in. She watched in amusement, wondering at his enormous appetite. You’d think he hadn’t eaten in a month of Sundays.

With the rancher occupied, her gaze wandered over his hair, which was the color of worn saddle leather. The light brought out golden glints that danced amongst the brown strands touching his collar. Dark stubble on his jaw lent toughness to his handsome face. The long fingers lifting a slice of corn bread to his generous mouth appeared far more suited to a banker or lawyer.

Like it or not, she was curious about him.

As though sensing the direction of her thoughts, he leveled his vivid blue eyes on her. Her mouth dried. To hide her discomfort, she quickly turned to Toby. “Do you like the soup?”

“Yes, ma’am. It’s good.”

“More corn bread, young man?” Rand asked.

“No, sir.”

“You’re still looking kinda peaked.”

“He’s better,” Callie said. “I kept a mustard plaster on him all day. It helped break his fever. He’s not coughing as much. I’m sure tomorrow will see more improvement.”

“Thank goodness I found you when I did, even though you were ready to break both my legs with that big stick.”

“You scared me.” She felt heat creeping into her face. “You looked eight feet tall standing there with your gun drawn. What did you expect?”

“Thought it was poachers. The Colt was a precaution. Never thought I’d find you and Toby in the shadows.”

Callie laid down her spoon. “I’m grateful for this warm house and hot food. I’ll try not to make you regret taking us in. Toby and I will stay out of your way.”