Lassoing:The Virgin Mail-Order BrideBy: Alexa Riley
“Miss Clare Stevens?” I turn my head to look at the man who said my name. The sun blocks my view until he takes another step forward, his cowboy boots tapping on the concrete of the train station’s entryway. His movement gives me a clear view of him now, and I’m taken aback by the sight of him.
He looks like he could be my father’s age. Not that I knew my father, but if I had to guess how old he was, he’d be around this old. Instantly, the little bit of the fear I’d been feeling slides away. The man looks nice. The laugh lines around his mouth are evident, even with all the wrinkles. His grey hair is cut short, his skin is deeply browned by the sun, probably from years of working out on the land.
“Yes, that’s me.” I rise from the bench I’d been sitting on for over an hour. I was starting to wonder if my soon-to-be husband was coming or if maybe he’d changed his mind. The worry had grown worse with each ticking minute that had gone by. I didn’t even have enough money to catch a train back out of Lobo, Texas. I would have been stranded in a town in the middle of Nowheresville.
“Sorry about that, ma’am. One of the fences broke this morning and we had hogs all over the place. Had to round the bastards up.” He cringes slight at his own curse. “Excuse my language, ma’am.”
I smile, letting him know it doesn’t bother me “Don’t hold back on my account. I grew up on a farm with ten ranch hands. I’ve heard it all.”
I nod. “Yeah, until my mama got sick and we had to move to the city.” I can still hear the pain in my own voice. It’s still fresh. I can’t hide it, even if I wanted to. She left me all alone a little over a month ago, and I don’t have anyone now. The ranch I’d grown up on was gone. It wasn’t our ranch, but it felt like it after all the years we poured into working there. The ranch hands there were the only family I’d ever really known, but the Blackwells upped and sold the ranch last year and there wasn’t the option of going back to work there now.
I’d found myself up the creek with no paddle.
“Sorry about your loss.”
I just shrug my shoulder because I really don’t want to talk about it.
“That all you got?” He nods at the one bag I have sitting next to the bench. That all you got? The words burn.
“Yeah, that’s all I got.”
He studies me for a second, his eyes going soft.
“He’s never going to see you coming.” He laughs, and the lines around his mouth are more prominent now. I know he’s talking about my future husband, Cash McCallister.
“Pretty sure he knows I’m on my way.” I go to grab my bag, but the man beats me to it.
“Name’s Earl,” he says, picking up my bag and giving me a wink. “And no, I’m not sure he knows you’re coming.”
With that, he turns, bag in hand, and starts heading out of the train station. I follow him as we make our way towards a black truck. He throws my bag into the back before opening the passenger door for me.
He actually has to give me a little boost to get inside. This thing needs a freaking stepladder or something.
Closing the door behind me, I slip on the seatbelt while he climbs in the driver’s side. He buckles his own belt before he turns the key and the truck comes to life.
“It’s about an hour’s drive out to the ranch. It’s nothing but farmland once we pull out of this town. You need anything before we go?”
“Where is he?” I don’t know why that’s my response, but I’m hurt that the man I’m supposed to be marrying isn’t here to pick me up. I actually thought we’d be tying the knot before heading out to his ranch. That’s what the email had said.
“Got held up,” is his only reply as he pulls out of the train station, getting right on the road out of town.
I bite my lip as I look over at Earl, who shoots me another wink. I debate whether I should try to grill him for information about Cash or let it be. He’d probably tell him everything I’d said. Besides, Cash told me how this marriage was going to work and why he needed a wife.
A marriage of convenience. Someone to warm his bed and cook his meals. He hadn’t said it in such blunt terms, but I could read between the lines. Though I didn’t know why a man as handsome as Cash needed a mail-order bride. Handsome was putting it mildly. He’d given me one picture of himself and said it was the only one he had. It looked like it was taken without him knowing. He was on top of a horse, a stern expression on his face.
I couldn’t make out his hair with the Stetson on his head or his eye color, but there was no hiding he was attractive and massive. Intimidating was the best word I could use to describe him in the picture. I couldn’t imagine a man like him needed to get a mail-order bride, but here I am. Something about not needing the tangles of love. This wasn’t going to be hearts and flowers. We would each do our part.