Texas Mail Order Bride(13)

By: Linda Broday

“I’ve heard of it but don’t know a lot about it. Tell me how I can help.”

Cooper filled him in and ended by warning him to be careful if he saw signs of it.

“Any thoughts on how it got in your herd?”

“Have some theories, but nothing solid.”

Silence stretched as both men got lost in their own thoughts. Cooper wanted to tell Brett that Tolbert Early had been strong on his mind. But he didn’t. That night they’d left Missouri in the back of Daffern’s wagon, they swore to never talk about what had happened. A lot of water had washed under that bridge, but not near enough.

Instead, Cooper told Brett about Delta Dandridge and how someone had played a dirty trick on them.

Brett threw back his head with a hoot of laughter. “A mail-order bride? I would’ve given five of my best horses to have seen your face.”

“It wasn’t all that funny. You can bet I wasn’t laughing. Neither was the lady.”

“Who do you think did it?”

Cooper shrugged. “I only know thirty people. Been racking my brain but haven’t come up with anything yet. Don’t suppose you’d have any ideas who the guilty party is? I accused Rand, since he’s the jokester, but he swore he didn’t have a hand in it. He seemed to take a little too much fun in it to my liking, though.”

“It wasn’t us, but I sure wish I’d thought of it. You, married?” Coffee spewed from Brett’s mouth as laughter bubbled up again.

“Just don’t get carried away, little brother. This is serious. I swear the woman has pointy mule ears beneath that mass of golden hair.”

Brett finally sobered and wiped his eyes. “I’d like to meet her. Sounds like she’s more than up to going toe to toe with you. But for now, you ready to get to work, Coop?”

Setting his tin cup on a rock, Cooper stood. “Might as well. That tepee isn’t going to put itself up.”

A little while later, after lots of sweat and a good deal of cussing, they stood back and surveyed their work. A lump formed in Cooper’s throat. The tepee stood as tall and proud as the twenty-four-year-old who’d just claimed a piece of his heritage.

“Anything else you want me to help you with?”

Brett shook his dark head. “Nope.”

“Then I reckon I’d best get my carcass into town for supplies and back to the ranch pronto. Can’t afford to be gone for too long.” Cooper clasped hands with his brother. “Watch out for shadows in the night and rotten varmints.”

“You too.”

Climbing into the wagon, he filled his lungs with fresh Texas air and turned toward town. If he expected to get anything done, he’d best be moving. The sun was fast crossing the blue, expansive sky.

For some odd reason, Delta Dandridge suddenly filled his thoughts. It didn’t sit well that she’d refused to let him help with expenses. Stubborn pride for you. Despite all that, he was certain she’d boarded the stage and was probably well on her way back to Georgia by now.

Thank God.





Six


Cooper was the kind of rancher who dove in right alongside his men. No standing idle.

Isaac Daffern had taught him that was the mark of a good cattleman and the way to gain his men’s respect, so he wasn’t afraid to get calluses on his hands. Or on his butt, either, from long hours in the saddle.

On the ride into town, he thought of the disease that had struck his herd. The only positive was that he hadn’t found any more sick ones. But he wouldn’t truly know until they rounded up all the cattle that had spread to the far corners of the ranch.

Hope lodged in his chest that the disease would vanish as quickly as it had appeared.

Battle Creek looked sleepy when he rode in, and for a second, he almost thought he’d gotten the day wrong. It seemed like a Sunday. But Abercrombie wouldn’t be open on the Lord’s day. No, this had to be Friday. Pulling the wagon to a stop in front of the mercantile, he set the brake and climbed down.

His leather chaps slapped against his legs and his spurs jangled in the quiet as he entered. He stared at the changes. Everything was neat and tidy, and for once, he could actually see what he was looking for. That’s when he noticed the sparkling window and the clean lamp globes.