Idaho fairytale bride ro.., p.2

Idaho Fairytale Bride (Rocky Mountain Romances Book 2), page 2


Idaho Fairytale Bride (Rocky Mountain Romances Book 2)

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  He had no choice but to follow her as she hurried to a mound near the garden. She put the crock on the ground and lifted the wooden door on one side of what looked like a big pile of dirt. Instead, he saw a big hole shored up with six-by-six beams with shelves on one side. The hole was too dark to see more.

  “Potatoes are on the right, onions beside them, and carrots on the left. Get seven potatoes, one onion, and four carrots.”

  Tex had grown up in town—he’d never once been in a root cellar, and had no idea what he’d encounter down there, but he didn’t hesitate going down the stairs even though he wasn’t fond of the notion. The stairs were packed dirt with planks for treads. Light was at a premium, but he fumbled around in the dark, batting off the cobwebs and bugs, until he found the potatoes. The carrots proved more of a challenge because they were buried. One sliver of light showed a hint of orange, so he dug out four carrots with his fingers.

  Coming back up felt a whole lot better than going down, even if Wilbur was the first to greet him. He dodged the goose and stepped to Miss Jensen’s side.

  “You could use a lantern in there,” he told her.

  “There is one. Sorry, I should’ve mentioned it.”

  Yes, she should’ve, but he let the subject drop. “Thanks for letting us stay in your barn. Pa and I will get started on the house as soon as the lumber comes in.”

  “Mama made the arrangements.”

  Tex couldn’t figure her. She acted wound up tighter than a string top. Maybe she still mourned her father’s passing, or maybe she never wanted her mother to sell the farm in the first place.

  Or maybe she was a snooty prude. That would be a shame, for she had a pleasant face with full lips that needed to be kissed, and a very nice shape that made him want to pull her into his arms and keep her there. She seemed smart as a whip, too, which also attracted him.

  Everything about her, except for her prim demeanor, was perfect. In fact, since his wife’s death, he’d never met a woman that struck his fancy. Until Miss Moriah Jensen. All she needed was a sense of humor and a smile.

  * * *

  Tex impressed Moriah when he stopped by the pump and washed the vegetables without her telling him to. “Easier than hauling water into the house,” he’d said. It sure was.

  But then he filled a bucket with water to take along with them. “No use wasting a trip. Pa always hollered at me to work smart.”

  Something about him drew her in a way that both frustrated and thrilled her. More than his good looks—classically tall, dark, and handsome, with green eyes and a strong jaw. Well-built, too. Good sleeping shoulders, as her mother would say. Strong legs accustomed to gripping a horse for hours at a time. His calloused hands had seen some hard work. And his smile made everything in the world seem all right.

  A dangerous man. She’d been suckered once to her everlasting humiliation—it would never happen again. Never.

  As they stepped onto the porch, Moriah was glad to be back in the company of the others, for Tex Dillon scared her out of her wits—because no red-blooded woman could possibly resist him. She would, though. No matter what.

  And anyway, how shallow of her to be attracted to a man just because of his looks. Well, and that animals liked him. She’d always thought animals could judge character far better and faster than people.

  Grace and Morgan Dillon, their son Jeff and Tex’s son Arthur, all sat at the kitchen table with Edith when Moriah and Tex came into the house. The boys worked ever so enthusiastically on a plate piled high with the cookies that she and her mother had baked earlier. Lily sat on the floor beside Jeff’s chair, waiting for crumbs.

  “It’ll take most of the day tomorrow to get moved in,” Grace said, “but the day after, we can all help with the chores and I can help with the meals.”

  “Don’t push yourselves too much,” Mama told her as she pointed to the spot on the counter where she wanted Moriah and Tex to put the supper fixin’s. “You’ve had quite a trip and I’m sure you’ll be plenty tired after you get your things situated in the barn.”

  “We’ve only lived in the city,” Grace said, “so it’d be ever so helpful if you’d tell us how you spend a typical day on the ranch.”

  “I’ll give you a rundown of our daily summer schedule. We milk and feed the livestock at five in the morning and five in the evening, and we collect the eggs and usually do the gardening in the morning so we can avoid the sun in the hottest part of the day. Breakfast is at seven, dinner at one, and supper’s at seven. Generally, we do housework in the afternoon unless there’s fieldwork to do, then both the garden and the house suffer. Mending at night after the dishes are done.”

  Moriah rested her hand on her mother’s shoulder. “Of course we still have to squeeze in washing, ironing, baking, shopping, cleaning, and all the things I’m sure you did in town.”

  Little Arthur raced for the door.

  “What’s the matter, son?” Tex asked.

  “Business, Pa. Right now!”

  “I better go with you in case Wilbur decides to have you for supper.”

  “Can Prince come into the house?”

  “No, son. Miss Jensen’s cat wouldn’t like that at all.”

  “Nor would Mrs. Jensen,” Edith said. “I’d rather the cat not be in the house—animals belong outdoors—but Moriah can’t seem to resist having a house pet. She’s had pets, many at a time, since she was a little girl.”

  “Not just dogs and cats, I presume.”

  Arthur tugged on his hand. “Pa, I gotta go!”

  After Tex and the boy left, Moriah started preparing the roast for supper. “How old is your grandson?”

  “He turned six a week before we left Texas,” Grace said. “Cute little fellow—looks just like Charles did at that age. I mean Tex. I think I’m the only one who calls him by his proper name.”

  “Is Arthur in first grade then?”

  “Yes, when school starts.” Grace looked a mite puzzled. “There is a school here, right? I won’t have to teach him at home?”

  “Oreana does have a school,” Edith answered. “The new year started just last week. We don’t much in the way of social niceties here but we do have a school. Moriah is the teacher, so she’ll be teaching little Arthur.”

  “He’s a bright little boy,” Moriah said. She could still avoid talking to Arthur’s father since it appeared that the boy’s grandmother did all the child rearing. “And there aren’t any other first-graders, so he won’t have any catching up to do.”

  “Jeff, too,” Grace added. “He just turned twelve and is ready to go into eighth grade. If I can get him to go. He’s got it in his head that he wants to be a cowhand like his older brother. But his pa and I want him to stay in school, maybe go to business college.”

  “Tex is a cowhand?” Moriah asked. “I thought he worked in the family carpentry shop.”

  “For a few years—started when he was sixteen, but when he was about your age, he got married to a sweet little gal. He decided to leave the trail for good and stay home with her. I think he was unhappy at first, but then of course Arthur came along a year later so there was no question of him riding herd again.”

  Morgan took another cookie. “Tex will have the best of both here. He can run cattle on the ranch and help in the shop, too. He’s a better carpenter than I ever was.”

  Moriah busied herself with preparing supper. She didn’t want to talk about Tex anymore. Surely a man couldn’t be so perfect.

  Chapter 3

  Moriah covered her discomfort with having Tex around by working. If she wasn’t cleaning or cooking, she worked in the garden or pored over her lesson plans for the upcoming school year. When the others sat on the porch and visited, she polished silver or went out to pet Wilbur.

  Anything to keep her distance from Tex.

  But she couldn’t escape meals, for Edith insisted that everyone should sit and eat together. She and Grace quickly became fast friends. Moriah didn’t want anything to interfere in her
mother’s happiness and was glad she’d finally warmed up enough to have a friend, but Moriah had filled that role since her father’s death, and now she felt the odd one out.

  Within only a few days, Tex and Morgan had moved all their possessions into the barn, where Grace and Edith had created a rather fine home amidst the hay.

  “Put it, over there...hmm, move it back.” Moriah had heard both Edith and Grace say that, and the two men complied, never complaining. It’d actually been quite funny.

  Grace could cook on the barn’s wood stove but Edith wouldn’t hear of it—all cooking and eating would be done in the house. Morgan hung on to the coffee pot, though. “A man’s gotta have a cup before chores,” he’d said.

  At dinner, Edith laid out the schedule for the rest of the day. “Moriah and I’ll show you around the community this afternoon if you don’t have any other plans. We can take our wagon—it has benches in the back—so everyone can go. Besides, your team needs a rest.”

  After Moriah finished the dishes, she went to the barn to harness the horses. Tex beat her to it, however, and Wilbur watched his every move. He didn’t peck or honk at Tex this time. She wondered if he’d won over the gander, too.

  She stopped in the doorway to appreciate how gracefully he hefted the tack onto the horses. For her, harnessing the team was a struggle, for the collars weighed more than she could easily lift over her head—which she had to do to harness the team. Tex had the advantage of considerable brawn, and he stood nearly a foot taller.

  She didn’t like where her thoughts were heading so she stepped up to the draft horses and petted the nigh wheeler. “You have the collars switched,” she told him. “This one goes on Clipper, not Schooner.”

  “You named your horses after ships?”

  “Papa was a sailor before he married Mama. He named them. My riding horse is named Compass.”

  “That paint mare with a star in the back corral?”

  “She’s the one. Papa said the star looked like the needle on a compass.”

  “How long has your father been gone?”

  “Nearly two years.” Actually, he passed on two weeks to the day after she’d stood in the church for over an hour waiting for her groom, William, who never showed up. She was so humiliated—she’d never set foot in Silver City again. Or at least, not for a very long while. Very long. Everyone there knew she’d been jilted. And then to lose her papa—that was nearly more than she could bear.

  But before her father had met his Maker, he’d been adamant that her ex-fiancé had done her the biggest favor of her life. “William doesn’t deserve you,” Papa had said. “And you’d have been miserable after a spell. You’ll find a good man someday who appreciates you.”

  But she didn’t believe him at the time. As the months passed, she grew to understand and agree—William didn’t deserve her, and she felt sorry for the women who fell under his spell. But the second part, where she’d find a good man, seemed next to impossible. There’d be no Prince Charming for her.

  “I’m sorry,” Tex said. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. You must still be mourning his loss.”

  He stepped toward her and she backed up, worried that he might want to comfort her with a hug, which would be anything but comforting. Then Wilbur came to the rescue run-waddling between them, flapping his wings and honking like the Silver City Brass Band. Tex tipped his hat to the goose.

  “Sorry, buddy.”

  Wilbur quit honking but he glared at Tex and Moriah reckoned Tex got the message.

  Thank goodness for Wilbur! But she decided to pretend nothing awkward had happened, and carry on. “Mama and I miss Papa dreadfully, but we’ve managed to get by.”

  “Looks like you’ve kept up well, all things considered.” Tex glared right back at Wilbur.

  “We’ve managed.” And could continue, although she was afraid all the hard work would put her mother into an early grave—which was the only reason she’d consented to selling the ranch. Not that her mother needed her consent. At least Papa’s grave was on the property they’d kept.

  “Before we set to building our house, I’ll get the house roof patched—I doubt it leaks yet, but it will.” Tex attached the hame to Schooner’s collar. “I met your father several years ago when we drove a herd of cattle from Texas to the Joyce Ranch. We went on to Silver City and he was there on business. Nice fellow—honest and a square dealer.”

  “You did?” She loved hearing about her father. It was as if she could recapture a moment with him.

  “Yep. He told me about a ranch for sale and I wanted it but couldn’t raise the money before it sold.”

  “You wanted to live here even back then? Was that before Arthur was born?”

  “A couple years. I doubt I was even twenty yet. Anyhow, the lot of us wanted to have a night of it at the Silver Slipper and asked him to join us, but he said he had to get back to his ranch, for he missed his wife.”

  She smiled. “Sounds like him.” Her folks had hated to be apart, even for a day trip.

  “So how did you hear about our place?”

  “Ben Lawrence over in Henderson Flats sent me a letter. He was my trail boss’s lawyer and we struck up a friendship. Nice fellow.”

  “I know him. He and Jake don’t get to Oreana very often, though.” She helped with the buckles despite Wilbur’s protests that she’d gone too close to Tex. “We best hurry up or Mama will come out here and harness the team herself.”

  * * *

  Tex headed to the barn to saddle his horse.

  “Where are you going?” his mother asked.

  “To fetch Dancer.”

  She shook her head. “We won’t be able to converse if you do. Besides, Jeff will want to ride his horse if you ride yours, and I already heard Edith telling Moriah that she’d be expected to ride in the wagon.”

  She’d said more but Tex quit listening, for he knew he’d been had. With mothers—all women, really—there was a time to battle and a time to lay low. This was the latter.

  The wagon bed had a bench running longways on each side. Moriah sat behind Tex’s pa, who was up front in the driver’s seat, with Mrs. Jensen on the passenger side. Ma had insisted she do so on account of Mrs. Jensen knew where she was going and could navigate as well as introduce them to the locals they met.

  Tex would’ve sat beside Miss Jensen, but when he climbed into the wagon, Wilbur honked and flew onto the tailgate, then hopped onto Moriah’s lap.

  “You want to go to town, too, Wilbur?” she cooed.

  Women. She’d coo at an obnoxious goose but sure not at Tex. He wondered what had made her so standoffish, and sat splay-kneed on the too-low bench across from her.

  Arthur climbed onto his lap. “I’m riding here, Pa. It’s softer.” When Tex chuckled, Arthur asked, “Can Prince ride with me?”

  Tex couldn’t even find the mutt. “I think he’s off doing dog business. He’ll catch up when he decides to.”

  Jeff scowled as he made a manly hop into the wagon bed. “Ain’t no reason for me to go to town.”

  “Isn’t,” Tex corrected. “You never know—you might just find a nice little gal in Oreana.”

  “I had me a bunch of friends in Texas and I want to go back.” Jeff plopped down beside Tex.

  His pa handed his ma up and Tex stood to help her the rest of the way.

  “Sit by me, Mrs. Dillon.” Miss Jensen gathered her skirts and scooted over.

  But the second Tex’s ma sat, Wilbur pitched a fit.

  She moved to the other side of Miss Jensen but then Wilbur decided he wanted to sit in that particular place. One swift peck persuaded his mother to move again. Moriah offered to put Wilbur on her other side, which she did, but Wilbur would have none of it and made a big honking fuss until she put him back in his chosen spot.

  Apparently, Wilbur was a one-woman goose. “I’ll sit by my sons,” Grace said.

  Chapter 4

  Tex couldn’t exactly say he was comfortable. With Arthur on his
lap, Jeff to the right, and his mother to the left, leg room was at a premium. Moriah’s skirts took up the room in front of him and his mother’s skirt took up the room beside him. Jeff, for no other reason than being twelve and full of himself, didn’t help matters by slouching and taking up all the space he possibly could.

  Then again, Tex remembered what it was like to be that age. He’d decided cow punching would be a glamorous manly life. It proved not to be the case what with either being too hot or too cold, too hungry or too thirsty, and tired a good share of the time. Sleeping on the ground with rocks poking into his back didn’t thrill him, either.

  However, he did learn a lot about ranching during those years and he enjoyed working outside more than he liked working in the carpenter shop. Buying the Jensen ranch would be the perfect balance, for he could work a small herd and help his pa in the shop when needed.

  Once Pa got the wagon rolling, Prince followed alongside—except of course when he caught the scent of a rabbit and went hightailing off. After a while he’d return, tail wagging and drool dripping off his tongue as he panted.

  “Prince looks like he’s tired.” Arthur frowned. “I think he should ride with us.”

  “Not a good idea.” Tex pointed at Wilbur. “Dogs and geese should never be in the same wagon.”

  “But Wilbur wouldn’t mind. He’s got Miss Jensen.”

  Talk about a lucky goose.

  “I think Prince is plenty happy chasing rabbits, and it isn’t that far to Oreana. He can curl up on the boardwalk and take a nice nap when he gets there.”

  Tex glanced at Moriah, who nodded. Since they’d gotten underway, she hadn’t said a word. She moved her foot and bumped his boot, so he slid his boot the only spare inch in the entire wagon toward Jeff, who scowled at the invasion of his rightful territory. He’d just have to make peace with it.

  As they neared town, a man rode up to the wagon on a fine black horse. He touched the tip of his hat in salute and said, “Good afternoon, Edith.” He turned to Tex’s pa. “You must be Charles Dillon.”

  “Nope, I’m Morgan Dillon.” He shrugged to the back since his hands were busy holding the lines. “Charles is my son—they call him Tex.”

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