Shane's Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas #3) (12 page)

BOOK: Shane's Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas #3)
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She set the basin and the cloth on the table next to the bed, stood, and walked out of the room without looking at him.  Shane sighed and frowned.  He hadn’t a clue how to deal with her.

He could hear Cecily’s light laughter outside and longed to be out there with her.  He shook his head, and his heart pinged.  Cecily didn’t want a man in her life, and he wasn’t going to try to change her mind.  She’d already suffered more than most women had at the hands of men.  Still it would’ve been nice to see the look of joy on her face instead of picturing it.  He glanced at the door when he heard someone approach.

Upon stepping inside, Elliott laughed.  “Did they give you a bath and forget to give you a towel?”

“This is Lucy’s way of keeping my skin cool.  Plus, she’s mad at me.  Be a good friend and find a towel for me please.”

“I’ll even do one better, I’ll find you something dry to wear.” Elliott left the room and quickly returned with the towel and clean sheets.  He rifled through a few drawers and grabbed clean clothes.  He helped Shane take off his wet clothes, sat him on the wooden chair and threw him a towel.  As soon as Shane was dry Elliott handed him the clothes.  “Need some help?”

Shane shook his head.  “Thanks but I can take it from here.” He heard some arguing going on outside and stood.  He started to sway a bit, but Elliott came to his side and wrapped his arm around his waist.

“I can put the dry sheets on your bed.”

“No, that’s fine, just leave them.  Help me outside will you? I want to see what the shouting is all about.” Shane put his good arm around Elliott’s shoulder and together they made their way to the front porch.  Perspiration broke out on Shane’s brow as he sat back down.

Lucy was squawking, Cecily had her arms crossed in front of her looking as though she wanted to slap Lucy, and Poor Boy stared at the ground.  Mr.  Hopkins, a nearby rancher, looked perplexed as he glanced from one woman to the other.  He spotted Shane and a look of relief spread over his face.

“Maybe we should ask the owner of the property,” Mr.  Hopkins said.  Both women turned around and stared.

“What’s going on out here?”

Lucy was first by his side.  “I told you she was trouble.  She thinks she’s in charge around here.”

Cecily walked to the porch and gave him a nod as did Mr.  Hopkins.

“So what’s the problem?” Shane asked with his attention on Mr.  Hopkins.

“Shane, I brought you a milk cow not a steer to be butchered for meat.  The same with the laying hens.  You’ll need the hens for eggs.  There’s also a rooster which you will need.” He glared at Lucy.  “Not for eating.  I’m not sure, Shane.  I thought you were going to build a farm.  If you need chickens for food or a steer to butcher I have those too.  Eventually you’ll have enough chickens for food too but not to start.”

“Mr.  Hopkins we are building that farm and you brought out exactly what I needed.  I guess there’s been a little misunderstanding between the women.  Cecily and I are planning a farm and I suppose I didn’t let Lucy know any of the details.  I’m sorry about the argument.”

The tension seemed to leave Mr.  Hopkins body as his shoulders relaxed.  “Well as long as we’re on the same page everything’s fine.  I have some pigs that are almost weaned if you’re interested.”

“Of course we are,” Cecily said excitedly as she turned to Shane for confirmation.

“We most assuredly are.” A pleasant tenderness filled him, and a grin spread across his face.  Cecily’s excitement was contagious.

Lucy crossed her arms across her chest and tapped her toe.  “What about food? We can’t eat what she cooks.” She nodded her head toward Cecily.

Elliott had kept quiet the whole time, but now he stepped forward.  “Cecily is a fine cook.  A lot of us have been through hard times lately, and I know I’m grateful to have food in my stomach and a roof over my head.”

Lucy peered at them one by one and then shrugged her shoulders.  “I was just hoping for something different than watery soup.  I thought we’d all appreciate some chicken or steak for a change.”

Shane shook his head and grinned.  “You’ve only been here for a short time, Lucy.  In fact, we had chicken a few days ago.  This is our dream, Cecily’s and mine, to build a farm.  I’m sorry, Lucy, but you have no say in it.”

Elliott chuckled, Mr.  Hopkins nodded in satisfaction, and Lucy clenched her teeth.  The fact that Cecily didn’t gloat over him taking her side warmed his heart.

“I made a chicken coop and everything, Shane! I bought everything you said and look.” Poor Boy told him excitedly.

Shane looked farther out into the yard, and to his surprise there sat a finely constructed chicken coop.  His gaze met Cecily’s and she was full of pride.  “You did a mighty fine job, Poor Boy.  It’s better than anything I could’ve made.  I’m very proud of you.” Poor Boy turned a bright shade of red, and he grinned from ear to ear.

Cecily touched Poor Boy on the arm.  “Come on, let’s get those chickens into the coop.”

Shane stood and watched as Cecily, Poor Boy and Mr.  Hopkins all gathered the chickens and put them into the new construction.  His heart filled with happiness as he observed the joy on Cecily’s face.  Who could have known that chickens could make a woman so happy? As soon as they were done Mr.  Hopkins led Cecily to the back of his wagon, where the brown cow was tied.  Feeling a bit woozy, Shane sat down on one of the porch chairs and watched.  Cecily checked out the cow from top to bottom and from nose to tail.  She checked its legs looked at its teeth and ran her hands over its back.

She laughed at something Mr.  Hopkins said and nodded.  Mr.  Hopkins untied the rope from his wagon and handed it to Cecily.  He gave Shane a wave and he nodded to Cecily before he got into his wagon and drove away.

Cecily led the cow to the porch.  “She looks to be a good one.  What do you think?”

Seeing her  eyes lit with such pleasure warmed his heart.  He would’ve agreed with her even if the cow was without udders.  “She looks mighty fine to me.” Her happiness became his and he found himself smiling right back at her.

“Poor Boy, come on let’s find a place in the barn for Bessie.”

Lucy frowned and put her hand on Shane’s shoulder.  “You’re going to let her name your cow?” Shane tilted his head up and narrowed his eyes as he stared at Lucy.

“I don’t see that it’s any of your business.” His voice was harsher than he had intended but he’d had enough of Lucy’s interference.

“Lucy, why don’t you and I take a stroll into town?” Elliott asked.  “I have some business I need to attend to.”

Lucy gave him a flirtatious smile and nodded her head.  “Why, thank you, Elliott, I would love the distraction and the pleasure of your company, of course.”

Shane gave Elliott a nod of thanks and sat back in the chair relieved.  He needed to get himself well and soon.  The town needed him and he needed to get the heck out of the house.

“Let me grab my hat and we can be on our way.” Shane and Elliott watched Lucy go back into the house.

“What type of business do you have in town?”

“I need to stop at the bank, and I would like to get a feel of the town.  My wandering days are over.  I want to settle down.  Do you have a claim on Lucy?”

Shane shook his head.  “We’re just childhood friends.”

Lucy smiled at them both as she came through the door with her elegant lace-trimmed hat placed on her head.  He had to admit she looked every inch the fine lady.

“You two have a good time now.  Don’t forget to find out all the gossip and see if anyone has been taking time to look after the town.”

“I wouldn’t worry about the town,” Elliott said.  “I think if they needed you, they would have sent somebody out to tell you.”

Shane nodded.  “I bet you’re right about that.”

Elliott offered Lucy his arm, and she slid her hand into the crook of his elbow, tilting her head up and smiling at him.  Shane just hoped she told Elliott the truth before things went much further.  Secrets had a way of coming out at the worst times, and Lucy’s secret could be deadly.  He wasn’t one of those who thought that freeing the slaves was enough.  People didn’t change overnight.  Most of those who fought to free the slaves didn’t want them as their friends.  Doors would slam in Lucy’s face, and she’d be lucky if she wasn’t harmed in some way.  He’d do his best to protect her.  He’d have to have a talk with her where Elliott was concerned.

The laughter coming from the barn lifted his spirits.  Somehow, Cecily had gotten under his skin and he wasn’t sure it was a good thing.  In fact, the more he thought about it, it wasn’t a good thing at all.  She’d never allow another man to touch her.  She’d been through so much.  He admired her good nature, her generosity of heart, and her strength.  It was better to be friends than nothing at all, but he couldn’t help the yearning he felt for her.  He wanted to be the one to make her feel safe.  He wanted to hold her in his arms, and he wanted her to hold him too.

He’d never experienced a great love or passion for a woman before.  He had just never found the right woman until now.  It was just his luck she was the wrong woman.  She didn’t want a husband.  His heart squeezed wondering if he would actually be able to live with her, wanting her, loving her, and not being able to have her.  If John Hardy hadn’t already been dead, he’d kill him.  A long, painful death was what he’d deserved.  Shane pushed himself up to a standing position, wishing he was able to make it to the barn, but in his condition his room would have to do.

Slowly, step by painful step, he walked to his room.  Another few days, and he’d be back at work, he was certain of it.  He went to sit on the bed, but remembered it was wet, so he sat on the chair instead.  Lost in thought, he didn’t hear Cecily come into the room until she touched his arm.

“What happened to your bed?”

“Lucy is what happened.  She was cooling me off.” He tried to keep from smiling, but it wasn’t working.

Her lips twitched as her eyes filled with merriment.  “Looks to me like she was trying to drown you.  Let me strip off the sheets, and then I’ll put the new ones on for you.” The chair was so close to the bed that every move she made was almost unbearable for him.  He wanted to touch her graceful neck and kiss her right behind her ear while cupping her cheek with his other hand.  Perhaps she would laugh and turn her head so he could plant a kiss on her delectable rosy lips.

Her arms laden with the wet sheets, she tried to walk in front of the chair and suddenly she lost her footing.  She landed on his lap with the wet sheets between them.  Immediately she tried to stand up but he couldn’t help himself and he put his good arm around her.  He held her loosely not wanting her to panic.

“Shane, you’re getting us both soaked,” she told him matter-of-factly, but making no attempt to move.

“Honey, with you around it’s best I’m cooled off.  I can’t seem to take my eyes off you, and I don’t know how to approach you.  I don’t want to frighten you, I don’t want to cheapen you.  I don’t want you to think it’s part of your job, and I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to.  I’m content to just watch you and enjoy your company.” He waited for her to scramble off his lap, but she still made no attempt to move.

Her eyes were wide, and she gazed into his as though she was trying to read his mind.  It was as if she was trying to gauge the truthfulness of the statement.  An array of emotions crossed her face.  She looked surprised then happy then doubtful and puzzled, and finally wary.  “I don’t know what to say.  You are a good man, Shane O’Connor, and it would only dishonor your name to have mine attached to it.  I wish I had met you before I was given to Long Nose.  Lord knows, I’d be the happiest woman on earth to hear your words, but that’s not how things happened.  I’m not considered good enough for you, and it would break my heart if someone thought the lesser of you because of me.  I like sitting here with you like this, even if we are getting wet.  You make me feel special, but you have your whole life ahead of you and someone like Lucy would be a better choice for you.” Her voice wobbled as tears filled her eyes.  She gave him a sad smile and pushed to her feet taking the wet sheets with her as she walked out of the room.

His heart squeezed in pain and then it squeezed again even more painfully.  She was right.  Oh, not about the Lucy part, but maybe about how others would see her.  He wasn’t about to accept her answer, though.  His heart wouldn’t allow it, and he didn’t have the strength to turn his back on her.  It would never be enough just having her work for him, but for now he’d have to take only what she offered.

 

 

 

Chapter Six

 

 

 

It’d been two days since Shane had said such joyous but anguish-filled words to her.  Part of her wanted to scream to the world that she loved Shane O’Connor, and part of her wanted to shrivel in shame.  She held his words locked in her heart afraid to take them out and examine them.  She knew if she started to cry or feel sorry for herself she’d be lost.  Her strength had gotten her through the worst of times, and she needed to hold onto it now.

Her only solitude had been the garden, the chickens, the cow, and Poor Boy.  She needed to go down into the root cellar again.  So far she’d only gone down there when either Shane or Poor Boy were in the kitchen.  Right now neither were around but as far she knew both Lucy and Elliott had gone into town again.  Taking a deep breath, she quickly opened the door in the floor and hurried down the steps.  She grabbed what she needed for venison stew and turned to go up the steps again.  She paused as she felt a slight breeze against her skin.  There
was
another entrance she just needed to find it when she had time.

She put the meat on the table to cut it into smaller pieces.  Suddenly, loud cursing came from Shane’s room.  What on earth? She wiped her hands and walked toward his room.  He appeared in the doorway clean-shaven looking more handsome than she'd ever seen him.

"You shouldn't be up and about.  You’ll only hurt yourself."

Shane gave her a cocky smile and folded his arms across his broad chest.  "Darlin’, the town needs me.  I am the sheriff, you know.  Doesn't do no good for me to just sit around in bed." She opened her mouth but he raised his hand to stop her.  "Don't bother, I'm going anyway."

She'd seen that obstinate expression on his face before.  Arguing would do no good.  She nodded and tilted her head staring at him.  "Just be careful, please?"

He came and stood right in front of her then cupped her shoulders and gave them a slight squeeze.  "Always." Then he walked to the front door, grabbed his gun belt and hat, and gave her one last glance before he disappeared through the door.

It was nice to see him well enough to be up and around, but somehow she liked it better when he was at home with her.  He’d given her the first sense of peace she’d felt since the War Between the States started.  Oh Lord, a lot had happened in her life since the start of the awful war.  She was no longer the naïve, happy girl she had once been.  Instead, she was a weary woman with a questionable future, just trying to make a life for herself.

She cut the meat and vegetables into pieces and made her stew.  The wash needed to be done, and just like every other day when there was work to be done, Lucy was nowhere to be found.  Elliott was often absent too.  What part of everyone had to work didn't they understand? It was obvious they still thought themselves to be guests, while she and Poor Boy were the servants.

Perhaps it was better that way.  She was certain she'd end up slapping Lucy.  It was just about all she could do to keep a civil tongue while being insulted by that woman.

Where they went and what they did for most the day, she didn't know, and frankly, she didn't care.  She had more important things to consider.  She needed to purge her mind of all thoughts of Shane.  She had too many romantic ideas in her head, and it would do no good.  Things like his fresh soap and water scent, his wonderfully clean-shaven face, and his beautiful heart-stopping smile.  When he’d touched her shoulders, she’d felt a huge spark between them.

It bewildered her; she’d never felt anything quite like it before.  She was so aware of him it scared her.  She’d never had feelings like this for her fiancé, God rest his soul.  Placing her hand over her heart, she walked to the front window and smiled at all the progress they’d made in such short time.  It dawned on her she hadn’t been running around checking the windows.  Shane made her feel safe and it was a feeling she never imagined she’d ever have again.

The smile on her face as she walked back to the kitchen surprised her.  She made quick work of finishing the stew and put it on the stove to cook.  She couldn’t get the image of Shane’s smile out of her mind, and she felt like she was glowing from the inside out.  When she found herself humming, she instantly stopped.  He wasn’t for her.  He deserved an untainted woman, one who was fit to be the wife of the town sheriff.  One whom he could be proud of and, of course, he needed a wife the town would embrace.  Unfortunately, she didn’t meet any of the qualifications.

A wave of sadness poured over her almost knocking her to her knees.  It would hurt so much if she left.  She paced the length of the kitchen and stopped.  It would also be torture to be around him, loving him, knowing she had no chance of ever winning his love.  Taking hold of a bucket, she filled it with water, then picked up a stiff brush and got down on her hands and knees to scrub the floor.

She’d been at it for some time before she heard the door open.  “Take off your shoes.  I’m cleaning the floors,” she called out.  She shook her head in dismay as she heard footsteps coming toward her.  Whoever was coming still had their shoes on.  Looking up she wasn’t surprised to see Lucy standing there glaring at her.

“Oh my, there’s nothing worse than being on your hands and knees all day scrubbing floors.” Lucy looked down at her and shook her head.

“There’s another brush if you’d like to help me.” Cecily didn’t even look up as she continued cleaning the floor.

Lucy was so quiet Cecily finally raised her head and peered at her.  “Was there something you wanted?”

“Your back is bleeding.  Come on let me take a look at it.”

Was this Lucy actually being nice? “Thank you, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Either I can tend to it or I can go get Shane.  Which would you rather I do?” Lucy put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows.

Cecily had felt the pain but decided to ride it through and get the floors done.  It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was clearly a big mistake.  “Thanks for telling me, but I think I can tend to it myself.” She shifted to stand and fiery pain spread across her back between her shoulders and down to her waist.  She groaned and sank back to the floor.

“Come on, we might as well get it over with.  Attending to you is not my idea of fun.  Let’s go into my room, shall we? ” Cecily bit the inside of her mouth to keep herself from saying something caustic as she stood.  Lucy’s
shall we
wasn’t a question; it was a command.  Cecily followed Lucy into the bedroom and began to unbutton her dress.  She let it slide down to her waist and stood there with her back facing Lucy.

“The chemise, it has to come off too.  I’ll go get a basin of cool water and some clean cloths.” Cecily lifted her chemise over her head.  As she studied it, she was surprised to see so much blood staining it.  She should probably skip Lucy’s ministrations and just go to see the doctor.  She started to pull the chemise back over her head when Lucy walked into the room.  The gasps she heard seemed to echo throughout the house.  Shamed, Cecily hung her head and closed her eyes willing herself not to cry.

“Sakes alive, who whipped you? From the look of your back it was more than one whipping too.  The marks on top aren’t all that old.”

Cecily willed herself to remain silent in fear that anything said would be all over the town by the end of the day.  “I really should get to the doctor.  I appreciate your help, Lucy, but Doc has dealt with these before, and I’m sure he’ll fix me up again.”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll go get the doctor.  You stay here, lie down on my bed and rest.  I’ll be right back.”

Cecily nodded and waited until she heard Lucy leave before she allowed her tears to fall.  Truth be told, her back was in excruciating pain.  Humiliation swept through her.  Lucy had seen, and she would probably tell.  Even if she did move to a different town, how would she explain the marks on her back? Sure she could invent a cruel, dead husband but she was tired of lies.  They just wore her out as they went against her very nature.

Try as she might, she couldn’t stem the tears in her soul, it was filled with torment.  The door opened and closed and she sighed in relief hoping the doc would be quick.

“Cecily, what’s going on? I saw…”

Oh, dear Lord, no.  When she heard Shane’s voice,  she wished she could run and hide but she didn’t have the will inside her anymore.  The bed dipped as Shane sat at the edge next to her.  At any other time, she would have scrambled to cover herself, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore.

“Oh honey, this looks pretty bad.  Why didn’t you tell me? You must be in agony, yet you kept on working.”

“I—I didn’t want to give you an excuse to throw me out.  Besides, I’m tough, I’ve had to be.  The doc will fix me up right as rain, and I’ll get the floor finished today.  I’m just so embarrassed I never wanted anyone to see me like this.” She winced at how wobbly her voice was.

“Cecily, you don’t have to worry I will not throw you out.  I offered you a home not temporary housing.  Oh, how you must’ve suffered at the hands of Long Nose.  You’re an incredibly strong woman to have survived all this.  I just don’t understand how one person could do this to another.”

The tears continued to fall, and she couldn’t get them to stop.  “He destroyed my life and my dreams.  I so wanted to be a wife and a mother, and to help my husband build his dream whether it was a ranch or a farm.  I had hoped to find a fine man to love and one that would eventually love me back.  I wish I was skilled at something.  Shannon sews so beautifully, she could open her own shop, Addy has many skills of her own.  Both of those women could make it on their own.  Even Edith has her mercantile.”

“Being a wife and a mother is a fine dream, and you’d be an asset to any man you marry.  Honey, you have plenty of skills.  Didn’t you tell me not to buy things at the store because you could make many of them? Making butter and candles and soap, being able to start a farm, those are all skills.”

She nodded stiffly.  His words were meant as words of comfort; instead they were an arrow to her heart.  The was no man who wanted her and her skills were the skills of a wife and homemaker.

“The doc is here.  I’ll leave you two alone.” He got off the bed and greeted the doc.  She heard the doctor come in and shut the door behind him.

“I thought I told you to take it easy, young lady.  You’ve broken open a few of the wounds.  Are you in pain?”

She nodded and cried out as he cleaned her wounds.  Clutching the sheets in her hands she tried to lie as still as possible.  After what seemed a long time, he was done.

“I’m not going to bandage these right now.  I want you to stay in bed on your stomach and let the air get to your back.  In other words, I don’t want you covering your back.  I’ll return in time for supper to bandage you up.  I don’t want you getting out of bed, and I know for fact that dinner’s already on the stove, and I must say it smells mighty good.”

There was a light knock at the door. 

The doc yelled out, “Come in.”

The door slowly swung open, and Shane stood in the doorway hesitantly before he took a step into the room.  “So what’s the verdict, Doc?” Lying on her stomach she had her head turned toward the door.  Even through her pain-induced haze he was still the handsomest man she’d ever seen.

“She’ll live if that’s what you’re asking.  But you need to make a few changes around here.  Cecily is to lie in bed on her stomach with her back exposed to help with the healing.  She’s doing too much around here.  I want her to have this room to herself.  I’ll be back in time for dinner to check on her.  You’re going to have to make other arrangements as far as the cooking and cleaning go.  This little gal needs time to heal.”

Shane met her gaze and gave her a sympathetic smile.  “We’ll do whatever it takes to keep Cecily comfortable so she can get better.  Don’t worry about the chores.  We have plenty of people here to take care of things.” For a brief moment, she forgot her pain as the amusement of his statement hit her.  Sure, there were plenty of people, but who was going to take care of things?

The doc gave her some laudanum, and she was in a fog as he instructed Shane on the dosage.  She watched them walk out the door and heard it gently close before her body totally relaxed enough for her to sleep.

Confusion overcame her as she opened her eyes.  What time is it? There were no windows in the room and she hadn’t a clue.  Searing pain ripped through her when she tried to move.  Just as she was about to call out to see who was home she heard voices.

“She has to go,” Lucy insisted.  “Shane, I don’t think you realize the impact she is having on your integrity.  Why I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they were thinking of getting a new sheriff.  One that does not have a woman dirtied by some Indians.  Anyway I thought you were supposed to kill yourself before you allowed yourself to be captured.  If you won’t think of your own reputation, think of mine.  No decent person in this town will want to associate with you.  There must be some other place she can go.  You know she’s just taking advantage of your kindness.”

A lump formed in Cecily’s throat as fear and resentment clutched her heart.  She’d known all along that it wasn’t right for her to be living with the sheriff.  Perception was everything in a small town, and she was doing him an injustice by staying.  Lucy was a mean, spiteful woman, but she did have a point.

BOOK: Shane's Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas #3)
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