Texas Mail Order Bride(3)

By: Linda Broday


“Yes. I’m so happy to finally meet you.” She smiled, covering the few steps with her hand extended.

He touched her palm for the briefest of seconds and cleared his throat. “There’s been a terrible misunderstanding.”

The wild beating of Delta’s heart suddenly stopped, and for a moment she feared it wouldn’t start again. “What are you saying?”

“I don’t know how to break this to you gently. I’m not looking for a wife, ma’am. Never was. I’m a bachelor and quite content to stay this way. I’m not sure how such a mix-up could happen.”

“So you never intended to keep your promise? You dragged me here under false pretenses. Why would you do that, Mr. Thorne?”

From under the brim of his hat, she glimpsed surprise and something indiscernible in an honest gaze that was the color of gunmetal.

“What I’m saying is…well, I didn’t send for you.”

White-hot anger swept over Delta. It was one thing to spurn her, but calling her a liar made her mad enough to fight. Yanking the packet of letters from her pocket, she thrust them into his hands.

“Then would you mind explaining these? If you can.”

Cooper didn’t spare them a glance. “Look, lady. I didn’t write them. And if I ever find out who did, I’ll make him rue the day he took it into his head to claim to be me.”

“If you’ll just read the letters, you’ll see the promises, the words of endearment that brought me here.”

A muscle in his jaw worked as he shook his head. “Once and for all, I’m sorry. I truly am.”

“Maybe if you just gave yourself a chance to get to know me.”

“I can’t offer hope where there is none. I’m sure you’re a very fine woman who’ll make someone an excellent wife.” Finality echoed in his soft words. “I’m not on the market.”

Delta went very still. Slowly, her situation began to sink in. There would be no marriage. She was stuck in Battle Creek, Texas, with an empty purse and no prospects. She blinked back the tears that threatened to spill and humiliate her even further.

He continued, “Seems we’ve both been played for fools. I’ll be glad to pay your way to wherever you want to go.”

The last thread of Delta’s dignity held fast. Her voice was cold and brittle. “You can keep your money, Mr. Thorne. I won’t take one cent from you.”

With that, she jerked the letters from his hand and strode into the boardinghouse with her head held high.





Two


Safely upstairs in her room, Delta sat numbly on the edge of a bed that sagged on one end and bowed in the middle and let the tears flow. What was she going to do now? She couldn’t go back to Cedartown. She couldn’t ever go back. That bridge had burned. Her mother had died three months ago, although in truth she’d been dead long before that. Delta had no family, no friends, no place to belong.

She allowed despair to grip her for only a moment. Crying wouldn’t solve a blasted thing. What was done was done. She would survive this latest blow somehow.

Wiping her eyes, she opened her small, frayed reticule. There was fourteen cents inside, which was every penny to her name.

What was she going to do? Shaking, she clung to what strength she had.

Battle Creek was her home now. Here she would stay. No one was going to run her out. Surely there was a job of some sort for a woman with willing hands. She’d look until she found one, even if she had to beg.

By the time noon arrived, she’d washed her face and straightened her best dress—the one she had intended to wear to the marriage ceremony—carefully arranging the folds over the tear she’d mended. Inhaling a calming breath, she went downstairs. Mabel King had fixed a simple lunch. Delta took a place at the empty table, wondering where the other boarders were.

“Are you all right, my dear?” Mrs. King passed her a bowl of savory vegetable soup. “I thought I heard you crying.”

“Please, don’t you fret about me, Mrs. King. I’ll be just fine.” Delta accepted a chunk of bread to go with her soup. “Where is everyone?”

Last night the table had been almost full.

“I’d like it if you’d call me Mabel. I packed their lunches this morning. They eat where they work.”