Shane's Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas #3) (9 page)

BOOK: Shane's Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas #3)
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“Not that it’s any of your business but this was one of the few houses available.  The life of the sheriff can be short or long.  You just never know.  I just wanted someplace of my own to hang my hat.”

Lucy glanced at the door before she glanced back at him giving him a smile.  “I love you, Shane O’Connor, and I know deep down you love me and always have.” She walked toward the door and stopped.  “Cecily, I didn’t see you there.  You really shouldn’t eavesdrop on conversations.  It’s impolite.”

 

 

****

 

 

Cecily didn’t know what to think but it pained her heart to hear Lucy’s words of their love.  It really wasn’t any of her business; she just worked for Shane.  Lucy was a very attractive woman and she couldn’t blame Shane for loving her.  Disappointment floated through her.  She couldn’t help her feelings even if she had no right to them.  She stepped back out of Lucy’s way and watched her walk out the front door.  Taking a deep breath she walked into Shane’s room trying to keep a smile on her face.  “Is there anything you need?”

His eyes gentled as he gazed at her and after a fashion, the ends of his mouth turned up.  “How’s Poor Boy getting along? I want him to feel at home here.  But I have an inkling you’ve done that.”

Her face heated at his praise and she smiled back.  “He’s a good kid, smart too.  Do you think it would be okay if I tried teaching him to read? I don’t want to overstep my bounds here.  The whole situation is new for all of us and I suppose we’ll each have to find our way.  Right now, I’m just hoping we can all get along.”

Shane’s smile grew deeper until his dimples showed.  “That’s what I like about you.  You’re always thinking of others first.  I’ve traveled the country, and I have to tell you it’s a rare quality.  I’m not sure what we’re going to do about the sleeping arrangements.  I’ll give up my room so Lucy doesn’t pitch a fit if she doesn’t have her own bedroom.  I was thinking we could turn the two front rooms into bedrooms.  I see no other use for them anyway.  But for now I can make a pallet in front of the stove.”

She put her hands on her hips “You’re right no one wants to see her pitch a fit.  Poor Boy and I are grateful to have a roof over our heads and food to fill our stomachs.  It doesn’t much matter where we sleep.  We’d be happy to sleep out here.  You are not well enough to give up your room.  Don’t worry about Lucy, I’ve already begun to ignore her less than pleasant statements.  She’s very beautiful, and from what I understand you were childhood sweethearts.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll look around for another place to stay.  I don’t want you getting upset.  It’s the right thing to do.”

Shane patted the side of his bed, offering her a place to sit.  Cecily hesitated then sat next to him.  She arched her eyebrow in surprise as he took her hand in his.  “You’re not leaving and neither is Poor Boy.  We’re going to have that farm we’ve been talking about.  It’s getting late, but in the morning have Poor Boy come in and talk to me.  I want to know what skills he might possess.  Who knows? He might be able to make a chicken coop, but we’ll see.  If not, then we can hire someone.  Are you sure you want to be tied down to a farm? There are no days off.  The animals have to be fed and cared for.”

A wave of anticipation washed over her.  Having animals and planting a garden would make her feel more grounded, as though she belonged.  But she’d have to keep herself from getting too attached.  Whether he knew it or not, Lucy had big plans for him.

“I’m sure, and I’ll stay as long as you’ll have me.  I can’t promise Poor Boy will stay, though.  I have a feeling if Eats opens up another restaurant, Poor Boy will want to be by his side.”

“Understandable.  It seems as though Poor Boy views Eats as a father figure.  And you’re not bound to the property either.  I’m sure some man will come to sweep you off your feet and steal you from me.”

She ducked her head and gently withdrew her hand from his, not knowing what to say or do.  There’d be no man ever.  The silence became awkward, and she put on her best false smile and stood.  “I’ll get the sleeping arrangements all set.  I’ll be back to check on you as soon as I’m done.  I’m sorry you’re stuck in bed.  I can tell you’re not the type who likes to stay still for very long.  I’m sure after we all get to know each other better everything will run smoothly.”

Shane laughed.  “In this case, I think you’re being overly optimistic, but if we all try, it might be bearable.”

“I’ll see you in a little bit.  Try to get some rest.” She went out the door and quietly closed it behind her.  He was probably right about her being optimistic, but she had to try for all their sakes.  She had a feeling that being on the wrong side of Lucy would be a living hell.

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

 

              The next day didn’t start cheerfully at all.  Cecily had an ache in her neck from sleeping in the chair in Shane’s room.  Despite the pain and Lucy’s glare she made them all breakfast and decided a simple fare of beef broth would be perfect for the evening meal.  Shane hadn’t eaten much breakfast and she wanted something that would be easy on his stomach. 

Before he was even done chewing his food, Poor Boy was out the door.  Cecily longed to go with him.  Lucy didn’t say much but it was her manner that had Cecily on edge.  Lucy stared at her and shook her head most of the morning until Cecily’s nerves were frayed.  Of course as soon as the dishes needed to be washed, Lucy had grabbed her shawl and left.

Cecily cleaned the kitchen and checked on Shane who had fallen back to sleep.  She needed a breath of fresh air and decided to join Poor Boy out at the barn.

It was windy, very windy, and she had a hard time trying to keep her dress in place.  It was a good thing she wasn’t going anywhere important.  Her hair flew all around her head.  The barn look sturdy enough, not as new as the house, but much better than some she’d seen.  She smiled.  They’d be able to have a good farm here.  She stopped just before the barn door and glanced over the parcel of land that Shane owned.  In her mind’s eye she could picture chickens, pigs, a dog or two, a big garden, and a crop to bring in some money.  She’d have to find out what type of crops grew best out here.  Things were bound to be very different from Pennsylvania.

She threw open the barn door and stepped inside.  It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness.  Jester was in the first stall and he neighed at her in greeting.  She crossed over to Jester and patted his fine face.  “How you doing, Boy? You’re looking good.  Poor Boy seems to be doing a fine job of taking care of you.” She glanced inside the stall and saw that the horse had plenty of hay and clean water.

She looked into the empty stall next to Jester and was surprised to see Poor Boy sleeping on a mound of hay with an old worn wool blanket full of holes over him.  He was such a good kid and she certainly didn’t begrudge the nap he was taking.  Keeping silent, she left the barn, eased the door closed against the wind, and started back toward the house.  Glancing left, she caught sight of a figure at the entrance of the hidden trail in the canyon.  Fear held her in place for the barest minute before she ran back into the barn.

“Poor Boy, come quick I think trouble is headed our way.  Let’s make our way inside as quickly as we can.”

He woke and was on his feet instantly.  He scrambled out of the stall and followed her to the door.  He watched while Cecily peeked out and then he ran with her across the yard and into the house.

“Poor Boy, I need you to keep watch out the front window.” She led him to one of the front windows and pointed out the man in the canyon.  “Keep an eye on him while I go fetch the guns.  I don’t know most people who live around here and it’s better safe than sorry.  If you recognize him holler to me.”

Cecily ran from window to window quickly closing the shutters.  She grabbed the rifle which was placed on the mantle over the fireplace.  She didn’t know where the shells were.  Rushing into Shane’s room she was practically out of breath when she asked him where the ammunition was.

“Whoa, darlin’, what’s got you so upset?”

“There’s a man coming from the secret trail.  I know how to shoot.  I need ammunition for the rifle and I need your gun.”

Shane groaned as he tried to sit up.  “Here help me up and grab a shirt for me.  Don’t argue with me I can sit in the chair by the front window with my gun.”

Cecily nodded and quickly helped him to sit up while she hurriedly helped him into his shirt.  She grabbed his arm and placed it over her shoulders and led him out to the front room.  She left him leaning against the wall as she ran to grab a wooden chair for him.

Perspiration formed on Shane’s brow.  “The shotgun shells and bullets for my gun are under my bed.  My gun belt is draped over my headboard.  Run and get them for me, Poor Boy.”

Poor Boy nodded and ran.

Cecily stood behind Shane and pointed out the man in the canyon.  “Do you know him?”

Shane looked out the window for a bit before he shook his head.

“Can’t rightly say I do.  Lucy isn’t back yet?”

“No, she hasn’t been gone very long at all.  She said she was going to the mercantile but who knows.  Poor Boy, please hurry.”

“I got them, I got all you asked for.” Poor Boy skidded to a stop right next to Shane’s chair.  “I never seen that man before have you, Shane? I’ll take the rifle if you want the gun.”

Cecily widened her eyes in surprise.  “I’m a pretty good shot myself you know,” she said.

Poor Boy stared at Shane waiting for him to make a decision.

“Poor Boy, I’m gonna need you to reload.  I know you’re fast and I need someone fast.  Same goes for Cecily she’ll need someone fast to help her too.  Now no shooting until we see what this varmint wants.  But it wouldn’t hurt to be ready.  Cecily, do you have anyone coming after you? What about you, Poor Boy?”

Cecily felt all color drain from her face, and it took all she had not to sway. 

“Oh damn,” he said quickly.  “I’m sorry, both of you.  Of course you’ve had awful people in your life.  It was just the sheriff in me asking those questions.  I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable or to blame either of you.”

Cecily nodded and grabbed the gun.  She checked it and made sure it was fully loaded before she went to the other window.  Looking out the shutter hole she kept an eye on the stranger.  Breathing became labored as her fear grew.  Didn’t the man know that this was the Sheriff’s house? Time dragged as they waited for the man to get closer.  He didn’t look dangerous in his nice clothes.  He looked to be the same age as Shane, and he certainly seemed out of place.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Shane shook his head.  “We can put our guns down.  Poor Boy why don’t you open the door for me? Don’t worry, we’re safe.  It’s my old friend Elliott McManus from back home.”

Poor Boy seemed stuck to the floor; he didn’t move.  Cecily set down the gun and opened the door, hoping—praying—Shane was right.  The man smiled, and his eyes lit up as he tipped his hat at her.  “Ma’am, it’s mighty nice to see you.  My name is Elliott, Elliott McManus, and I’m looking for a man named Shane O’Connor,” he drawled with a deep southern accent.

Cecily stiffened as her eyes narrowed.  “Now what would you be wanting with the sheriff?”

Elliott’s green eyes filled with humor as he tipped back his head and laughed.  “I do believe it’s another Shane O’Connor I’m looking for.  The man I’m searching for went out of his way to taunt the authorities when we were kids.”

“Oh bother, just come in.  Shane’s been shot, and I have to get him back into bed.  You look like you have a strong back and you’ll be of some help.”

Elliott was still laughing as he entered the house.  His smile grew wider as he approached Shane and slapped him on the shoulder causing Shane to yelp in pain.

“Oh hell, oh excuse me, ma’am, I meant heck.  Did I just hit you where you were shot? Figures.  I’ve had a hell of a time finding you.”

Shane shook his head and his eyes filled with humor.  “Good to see you, Elliott.  I’ve never thought I’d see you in Texas of all places.  Here, give an old friend some help back into the bed.  I’m just as glad I didn’t have to shoot that rifle.  It’s got quite a kick to it.”

Cecily and Poor Boy watched Elliott help Shane into the bedroom.  There was lots of laughter with a groan and a moan mixed in.  Poor Boy looked at her and shrugged his shoulders.  “I guess we’re safe, Cecily.  Thank you for coming to get me.”

She tilted her head and studied Poor Boy.  It was as though no one ever gave him a second thought.  “You don’t have to thank me.  We’re practically family.”

“Family…yep, you can be my family any time, Cecily.” He made himself busy picking up the firearms and ammunition and then he headed into Shane’s room. 

Her heart still beat out of control, and there would be no calming it.  Just when she thought she might be able to relax, Elliott McManus came as a reminder that she’d always have to watch her back.  What was he doing coming through the canyon wall? Where was his horse? Shane would get answers.

She assembled the ingredients to make bread and commenced making the dough.  The kitchen grew uncomfortably warm, and she pushed back a few stands of hair that had loosened, positive she’d had gotten flour in her hair.  Not that it mattered, for there was no one to see her.  After all, she was just the hired help.

Funny how, until Lucy showed up, being hired help had been a good thing, an honorable thing, and she had been grateful.  Actually, she was happy to have a job and a roof over her head.  Picking up a cloth, she wiped her hands and shook her head.  Her happiness had been stripped from her one too many times, and there was no way she would allow Lucy to strip it away again.  She had survived.  After all, that was what she did best, survive.  Looking into the small mirror, she dabbed the flour from her hair.  She tried every waking moment to forget the atrocities she had suffered at the hands of Long Nose.  She covered the loaves of bread with cloths so they would rise.  If she kept herself busy doing chores, the probability of being around Lucy would be low. 

She’d expected Poor Boy to hightail it out of Shane’s bedroom.  He was never comfortable around strangers.  To her amazement Poor Boy remained in Shane’s bedroom.  She poured herself a glass of water and went out onto the porch for fresh air.  The surroundings were so peaceful and serene, it was hard to believe that they had been scrambling for cover less than an hour ago.  Texas certainly was unpredictable country and so very different from Pennsylvania.

She wondered how her mama and daddy were doing on the farm.  It was a meager existence, but they had refused to move, citing the generations of McGuinnesses who had worked the land before them.  A wave of homesickness washed over her, and she wished she had stayed on the farm.  It would have prevented a lot of pain and heartache, but there was no going back now.  No matter how much Mama and Daddy loved her, they’d still see her as tainted.

In the distance she spotted Lucy walking at the edge of town.  She had a strange way of walking; she kept her head up but it appeared as though she avoided all eye contact.  Odd she had no problem eyeing Cecily with that pointed stare.  Shrugging her shoulders, she turned and walked back into the house.  Lucy was none of her business, and she planned to keep it that way.

 

 

****

 

 

Shane couldn’t remember smiling so much.  It was damn good to see his old friend.  Though the news from home wasn’t so good.  The plantation had been overrun.  Those good for nothing Yankees, winning wasn’t enough for them they’d had to pillage and plunder the whole of the South.  Unfortunately, that was the way of war. 

“I’m sorry the news from home couldn’t have been better.  You were right to leave when you did.  I just wish I’d done the same,” Elliott said as he eyed Poor Boy who was sitting in the corner pretending not to listen to their conversation.

Shane nodded and gritted his teeth, wishing he had the words to make everything all right again.  The life they’d known growing up was now gone, forever.  For all of Elliott’s bravado Shane saw a flicker of being lost in Elliott’s eyes.  “Now, we forge on and make new lives for ourselves.  Being sheriff is something I fell into, but I like it.  I like the town and its people.  Some have become like family to me.”

Elliott rubbed the back of his neck and gave Shane a feeble smile.  “You’re right our lives can be anything we make them.  I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do.  Truthfully, I followed you here to Asherville once I picked up your trail.  I really don’t have much of a plan.” Elliott shrugged.  “I don’t suppose there’s many positions for a plantation owner in these here parts.  Hell, all I know is how to grow cotton.  Though I have to say, I’ve heard about your Texas Longhorns, and I’d love to see one.”

“It’s hard work, but a rancher’s life can be rewarding.  I have two friends who are ranchers.  Cinders and Keegan have both built nice lives for themselves and their wives.  In fact, we’ve been waiting on news haven’t we, Poor Boy?” Shane stared at Poor Boy until he finally looked up.  Poor Boy gave him a quick nod.  “Both their wives are expecting, and their time is near.”

“I’ll have to give it some thought and check out ranching and all.  So tell me how you got so lucky as to have someone as fine as Cecily working for you?”

Poor Boy’s eyes widened.  “She don’t like being talked about.  But I tell you one thing, she’s the nicest lady I know.”

“That has to be the best compliment I have ever received.  Thank you, Poor Boy,” Cecily said as she smiled at Poor Boy.  “I didn’t mean to interrupt I just wanted to know if you needed anything?”

Shane frowned when he saw Elliott smiling at Cecily.  Cecily had the good grace to glance at each of them and smile.  It rubbed him the wrong way.  He’d rather she just smiled at him.  But that was the way between him and Elliott always vying for the same girl.  “I was thinking to sit outside for a while with Elliott’s help of course.”

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