Texas Mail Order Bride(15)

By: Linda Broday

“I’m not the person to ask about such things. The only thing sure about women is that you never know what they’re thinking.” Much less doing. He still reeled from the shock of finding out Delta had decided to stick around.

“And the pies aren’t all. She’s always patting my hand and asking me if I’m eating right. Does my laundry too. Won’t take a cent for it, either.”

“Better watch it, Rand. It may be you instead of me standing there at the altar. You know how lonely widows are.”

“Take care of your own affairs, Coop, and leave mine alone. About the pies…just don’t eat ’em all this time. My customers and I want some too. What are you gonna wash ’em down with?”

“Sarsaparilla will do,” Cooper said around a mouthful of pie. Rand opened the bottle and slid it before him. “Where’s your barkeep? Don’t tell me you fired him.”

“Nope. He took the day off on account of his wife being sick. What are you doing in town?”

“Came after supplies. Got quite a jolt to see Miss Dandridge working at Abercrombie’s. You could’ve warned me.”

“Yep, I could’ve, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun. She’s the talk of the town, the way she cleaned up the store and got it shipshape. Awful pretty too. And smart. She’d make some man a good wife.”

“Long as it ain’t me,” Cooper growled, taking a swig of his sarsaparilla while reaching for another hand pie. “You seem to have taken quite an interest in her, Rand. How is that?”

His tall younger brother shrugged. “Just remarking on her attributes is all. No more. No less. You could be more charitable toward her, you know. Give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s not the enemy.”

“It wasn’t you she came to town intending to set up house with and raise a mess of young’uns.”

“All the same, wouldn’t hurt you to be friendlier to her.” Rand dried a beer mug and set it on the shelf underneath the mirror.

Tipping up the bottle of sarsaparilla, Cooper drained it in one long gulp. “Don’t reckon you’ve heard anything about who might’ve lured her here.”

“Nope. Nary a word. Whoever did it is keeping quiet.”

“Had to be someone with money. It cost a pretty penny to pay her way from Georgia. He’ll slip up one of these days and I’ll catch him. You can bet on that,” Cooper promised.

“I’ll keep an eye out. How are things at the Long Odds?”

“Haven’t found any more sick cows. Won’t know until we get them all accounted for, though. We begin roundup on Monday.”

A wistful look crossed Rand’s angular face. He rubbed his dark stubble that he could never seem to keep off no matter how often he shaved. “One of these days I figure I’ll sell the saloon and buy me a nice parcel of land. It’d be nice to own a ranch and a fair-to-middling herd.”

“The saloon business losing its sparkle? If you hadn’t tried to take the easy way out, you could’ve had your own spread. It was your choice, brother.”

“Don’t think I don’t know that. Let’s say I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years. Learned what was really important.”

“Glad to see you’re thinking about more than easy money.”

“Just hope when I do get my ranch, I remember all the stuff Isaac Daffern taught us. Guess I can always ask you or Brett about things I don’t know, though.”

“Of course. We’re always here for you,” Cooper said quietly. He’d do anything for his brothers and they for him. Seeing Rand wanting something so badly and not having it created an ache in his chest.

“Speaking of Brett, it’s been a while since he’s been to town. When’ve you seen him last, Coop?”

“Just came by his place. Needed to warn him about the hoof-and-mouth disease. Helped him put up a tepee.”

“You don’t say.” Rand threw back his head and roared with laughter.

“Says he’s embracing his heritage. I have to admit that tepee is a damn sight better than living out of a wagon.”

“Before we know it, he’ll be paintin’ his face and doing a war dance around his campfire.”