Mail Order Misfit (Brides of Beckham) (5 page)

BOOK: Mail Order Misfit (Brides of Beckham)
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He frowned.  "I don't like the idea of you milking the cows, but I'll teach you to collect the eggs."

She folded her arms over her chest and glared at him.  "And just why can't I learn to milk the cows?"  If he told her that her leg wasn't up to it, she just might show him how strong her leg really kicking him.

"I don't want my wife to get hurt.  Cows kick sometimes."

"Do they ever kick you?"  She watched him as he answered her, ready to detect any lie he might be telling.

"Well, no, but they're used to me."

She took a deep breath, trying to keep her anger reined in until she was certain he deserved it.  "If you were married to a woman who...didn't have the injury I have, would you let her milk the cow?"

He thought about her question for a moment, realizing it was a sensitive issue for her.  "I honestly don't know.  I don't think I would, but I don't know."

She nodded.  "Thank you for not lying to me about it."

He turned to her, kissing her forehead.  "I will never deliberately lie to you.  I may sometimes do it inadvertently, but never on purpose."

"Thank you." 

"This is where my land starts."  He pointed to a fence made of
barbed wire.  "It's still going to be a little bit of a drive to the house, though."

She looked out over the land, spotting a large group of cattle standing together.  "Are those yours?"
  She was starting to get excited.  Cows.  Real cows and she would have a say in how they were raised.  At least she hoped she would.

He nodded.  "They're ours."  He squeezed her tightly with the arm still wrapped around her.

She smiled.  "I'm going to need a hot bath when we get to the house.  My leg isn't going to hold up for much longer if I don't get one."  She hated having to admit to it, but she knew it was the only thing that would make it so she could cook even one meal that evening.

Colin frowned.  "I have a pump in the kitchen, and we'll need to heat up the water.  I can do that for you while you rest if need be."
  He hated that she was in pain and was willing to do anything he could to help her.

Elaine shook her head.  "Sitting in the wagon on the way out will be enough rest.  I'll put the supplies away while I heat the water.  You can go out and work."  She hoped he'd listen to her, because she really didn't want to have to take a bath in front of him.

He grinned.  "I don't mind.  I'll even soap your back for you if you need me to."

She blushed.  "I don't think that will be necessary."  She knew she'd wasted a lot of his time that day.  "How late do you usually work?"

He shrugged.  "It really depends on the day.  I like to have supper around five or six if I can make that happen."  He'd never been good about being on a routine, but he liked the idea of a wife helping him to stick to one.

She nodded.  "I can definitely help you with that."  She saw a small house in the distance.  It was made of wood, and much smaller than what she'd grown up in, but she'd had four sisters, and there had been servants everywhere.  It would be just the two of them.  "Do you have a family?" she asked.

He pulled up in front of the house and walked around to help her down.  "I do.  They're all back East, though.  My parents are still in North Carolina, and my brothers and sisters are scattered all over.  One brother is in Maine, another in Kentucky.  My sisters stayed close to home, though."

"I never thought to ask.  How old are you?"  She couldn't believe she didn't know the age of her own husband.  What kind of wife didn't know that?

"I'm twenty-eight.  I moved out here when I was twenty-one."  He started carrying things into the house while she walked inside and looked around.  It was very small, but it would be cozy.  There was a big room at the front of the house that served as kitchen, living area, and dining room all at once. 

There was a small bedroom at the back of the house with a bed big enough for two people, but just barely.  Where would she sleep?  He'd promised her two nights.  She bit her lip, trying not to fret over the inconsequential detail.  She could see the outhouse out one of the windows, and that answered her question about whether there was an indoor bathroom.  Apparently, she would be going outside to attend to her needs.  That was one thing she would really miss, she knew.  A bathroom was something she'd always had back in Beckham.

She hurried to the basin and pumped water into a large pot, putting it on the stove.  She peeked into the stove and saw that the fire needed to be started.  Knowing there was no way she could manage to kneel down to do it, she waited for him to bring in a load of supplies.  "Would you mind starting a fire for me?"

His eyes widened with understanding.  "Oh, I wouldn't mind at all."  He carried a few logs of wood over from the box next to the front door, frowning as he looked at it.  He kept it there because it was easier to carry the wood to just inside the door, but he could see it would need to be moved.  Her convenience was so much more important than his.  He knelt down and started the fire, getting to his feet.  "Anything else?"

She shook her head, touching his shoulder.  "Thank you for helping me."  She walked to the work table and put away some of the supplies they'd purchased, trying to decide what she would cook for their supper.  "I won't always be so helpless."

He stared at her in surprise.  "You're not helpless at all.  You helped me
with purchasing things in town.  You've done everything I expected of you.  In fact, I think you should sit down and let me heat the water.  You can put the supplies away after your bath."

She shook her head.  "I'm strong.  I can do this."
  She wouldn't let her new husband down on her first day of marriage.  She couldn't do that to either of them.

He brought in the tin tub from where it was resting up against the side of the house.  "Why did you come here as a mail order bride?  Why not stay back East?"
  He glanced at her as he asked.

She flushed, not wanting to answer him, but not willing to lie to him either.  "From the time
I broke my leg, my mother has treated me like an invalid.  If I so much as walked into the kitchen to sit at the table and peel potatoes for our supper, she'd become angry and make me go back to the parlor to do embroidery.  I was allowed out of the house to go to church, but she stayed beside me.  She wouldn't let me wander around and talk to the other young people.  I've pretty much been a prisoner for the past twelve years.

"Our family's cook, Mrs. Jenkins, saw an ad for a mail order bride, and she brought it to me, knowing it may be the only way I would ever get out from under my mother's thumb.  I loved the idea, and jumped at the chance.  I didn't tell my parents that I'd sent the letter off until the day before I was to leave Beckham, though, because I knew my mother would do everything she could to keep me from leaving."

He looked at her with surprise.  "But you left anyway?"  She had to be strong-willed to go against her mother that way and strike out on her own.  He was very impressed, because he knew few women who could do that.

"I had to.  I talked to my father and told him, and he dealt with my mother.  He said he thought it would be the only way I would ever find happiness."

Colin walked across the room to her and pulled her into his arms, holding her close to him.  "I can't promise that I'll always be easy to live with, or that I'll be the best husband in the world, but I do promise that I will not keep you from doing things you're perfectly capable of doing."  He kissed the top of her head as he held her.

She smiled against his shirt, inhaling his scent.  "I think I was meant to marry you.  John wasn't ever meant to be my husband."
  Apparently, John wasn't meant to be anyone's husband.

He laughed.  "I hope you still feel that way after our first argument."

She looked at him in surprise.  "Are we going to argue?"  Her parents hadn't really argued much, because her father hadn't allowed it.

Colin shrugged.  "I come from a long line of hard-headed argumentative people.  If we don't fight, I'm not sure that I'll feel like I'm really married."

She laughed.  "My parents never fought.  They had discussions.  Mother told father how she thought things should be and he either said yes or no.  That was the end of it." 

"Elaine, I'm not your boss.  I believe marriage is an equal partnership.  If you don't like something, you need to tell me.  Your opinion will always matter to me."

She nodded smiling.  "My water's boiling."  She rushed to the stove and picked up a towel, carrying the pot to the tub and pouring it in.  She refilled the pot and started the process again, knowing it would be faster this time, because the stove was already hot.

"I'll carry in the rest of the things," he told her.  He couldn't think about her bathing in his kitchen.  He so badly wanted to stay there and watch her bathe, that he knew he needed to just get out.

She had the tub full by the time he had everything they'd purchased scattered between the work table and the table.  "I'll probably just cook something simple for supper," she said.  "I'll be able to do a lot more tomorrow.  I'm not always this worthless."

Colin shook his head.  "You're not worthless to me."  He walked out the door and unhitched the wagon, getting his favorite riding horse from the stall.  He needed to go mend some fences for a while so he wouldn't think about his beautiful wife getting naked in his kitchen.

Chapter Three



By the time Colin was home for supper, she'd done up the dishes he had in the sink, put all the food away, and cooked pancakes with the bacon they'd purchased at the store.  She was pouring milk into two glasses when he walked in, her hair was still damp in the long braid she had it in that went all the way down her back.

He greeted her with a kiss on the cheek and took one of the chairs.  She put the pancakes and bacon on the table, along with fresh maple syrup, and sat across from him.  There was no butter to be found, so she knew she'd need to churn some the next day.  There was a lot of work to be done, but nothing she couldn't handle. 

"Is there anything special you want me to do around the house before I do a deep cleaning and start
sewing curtains and tablecloths?"

He shook his head, watching her closely.  He could see she'd done a lot of cleaning, and she didn't look like she was any more tired or limping any worse than she had earlier in the day.  "Not a thing.  You've done a good job on the house."

Elaine smiled.  "It was fun cleaning something that's mine."  She poured some syrup over her pancakes and handed the bottle to him.  He poured his own.  "Will you say our blessing for us?"

He took her hand in his and quietly prayed over their food.  "You need to let me know if you want to cook anything special.  I can kill a deer or one of the pullets.  I don't mind hunting for you."
  He liked the idea of seeing her in the kitchen cooking meat he'd killed with his own hands.  It made him feel like a good provider.

She shook her head.  "Not just yet.  We have the salt pork we bought today, and there's plenty of bacon.  Between those things and the vegetables, we'll be set for a while."  She took a bite of her pancakes.  "How often do you usually butcher cattle?"

He shrugged.  "I never have, but most ranchers tend to do one every fall and every spring.  I raise mine and sell them.  Now that I have a wife, I'll start butchering them on occasion as well.  It would be nice to have them to eat. They keep for a while in the cellar, and then we'll have to cure it.  I'll try to get meat all through the winter."  He was looking forward to eating more than beans through the winter, and he smiled at Elaine, thrilled that she would be there to share meals with him, good meals that he hadn't cooked.

"I'd appreciate that.  I'm not the most creative cook, because I don't have a lot of experience, but I do like to experiment with food.  I think I should be able to cook just about anything you bring me."  She was confident in her abilities because of the hours she'd spent working with Mrs. Jenkins in the kitchen
while her mother had been out of the house.

"I'll enjoy testing you on that."  He grinned.  "Come sprin
g, we'll put in a kitchen garden so we won't have to buy everything from the mercantile."  He could just picture them working together to put in a garden.  He loved the idea of working together on just about anything, especially making babies.

She smiled.  "I'd like that a lot.  My mother was always worried about letting me go outdoors.  When I was a girl, all I did was
run and play, and after I hurt myself, I wasn't allowed to do anything.  The doctors kept telling her that I'd be better off if she let me get fresh air and keep my muscles built up, but she would never listen."  She sighed and shook her head.  "She really acted like I was a broken doll after it happened."

"We'll do it together."  He felt a great deal of anger toward her mother, even though he understood she was just trying to protect Elaine.  She'd obviously done a great deal to break his wife's spirit while she'd been working to keep her from hurting herself.

"Thank you."  She knew he would find it odd that she was thanking him, but she didn't care.  She finally felt like someone had some confidence in her, and it meant everything in the world to her.

After they finished eating, he dried the dishes while she washed them.  "You don't have to help me with the dishes," she protested.
  She hated that he was helping with a job that should be hers.  He couldn't work all day on the ranch and come home and do her chores at night.  She needed to be a helper to him not a burden.

"I won't most nights.  Tonight, you're really hurting, though.  I don't know if it's a normal thing or because of the walking we did or the long ride on the train.  Whatever reason, I'm not going to make you stand here alone to do them."  Colin reached for another dish and dried it.
  He didn't care if she argued with him.  He wouldn't feel truly married until they'd survived their first argument anyway.

Elaine wanted to argue, but she swallowed hard instead.  He was right.  "Thank you."

He leaned over and kissed her cheek.  "You're very welcome." 

Once the dishes were done, he looked around for a moment.  "I'm not sure where I'm going to sleep tonight.  I guess I can find some blankets and make a pallet on the floor.  I don't have my winter quilt out yet."
  He looked a little lost as he said the words.

Elaine bit her lip.  "I wouldn't mind if we shared the bed. you don't have to sleep on the floor."  She looked at the floor in embarrassment.  "I'm probably too sore to do anything, though."
  She couldn't make him sleep on the floor.  It was his bed after all, and she couldn't do that to him.

He smiled at her.  "I appreciate that.  I'll do my best to keep my hands to myself."

She limped into the bedroom and looked at the bed that hadn't been made yet that day.  The sheets and blankets needed to be washed, but that would have to wait until tomorrow.  She could see now why John had rejected her.  There was a lot of work to be done, and she really may not be able to do it all.  Squaring her shoulders, she held her head up.  She'd do it, and she'd do it so well, no one would know what happened to them.

She smoothed the covers, looking over her shoulder at him.  "Would you bring my bags in so I can change for bed?"  She hated asking him to do anything else, but her leg would barely make it to the outhouse and back.
  Colin rushed from the room and came back with both of her bags.  When she looked at him waiting for him to leave, he just looked back at her.  Finally she sighed.  "I'm not going to change in front of you."  She felt like she was a mother scolding her child as she told him.  He should know better.

He shrugged.  "I don't see why not.  We're married, and I'm going to see you with no clothes on eventually."
  He watched her expectantly.

She folded her arms over her chest and glared at him.  "Eventually is not right this minute.  Please go find something to do while I get ready for bed."

He walked closer to her and took her by the shoulders, turning her so her back was to him.  He carefully undid all the buttons that ran up and down her back.  "I've wanted to do that all day.  I'll go now."  He walked from the room thinking about the bare flesh he'd seen above her petticoat.  His finger had accidentally grazed it, and her skin had been so soft.  Two nights.  He could wait two nights, right?

Elaine stood with her dress clutched against her chest for a moment.  "What was that about?" she mumbled, before quickly undressing and pulling her nightgown over her head.  She slid between the covers and moved to the spot closest to the wall, thinking he would want to be the one on the outside, and it would be easier if he didn't have to climb over her.

When he returned, he blew out the lantern and removed his clothes, slipping into bed beside her.  He pulled her into his arms, and held her against him, his hand stroking her side through the nightgown.  When she started to protest, he said, "I'm not going to do any more than kiss you and touch you.  I promise." He couldn't lay beside her and not kiss her though.  He felt he'd die if he couldn't touch her just a little bit.

Elaine looked up at him.  The room was dark except for the stream of moonlight coming in through the window.  She could see his dark eyes looking down at her.  "I guess that's all right," she said shyly.  It felt strange to allow any man to touch her the way he was, even though he was her husband, and she knew it was fine.

"If I do anything that you don't like, you just let me know."  He slowly lowered his head to kiss her softly, his lips toying with hers, but not making any demands on her.  His hand stroked down her side, moving to her back and pulling her closer against him.  He hadn't put on anything to sleep in, so he could feel her breasts against his chest, through her thin nightgown. 

She moved her arm
s around him, clinging to him, her hands discovering his bare skin.  At first she started to move away, but then she remembered his words. They were married, and she would have to get used to his touch sometime, right?  She explored his back with her fingertips, her hands moving over the hard muscles there.  Why did she enjoy touching him so much?

He pressed his lips harder against hers, his tongue tracing her lips, until she parted them and he could move it into her mouth.  His hands roamed up and down her back at first, and then they moved around to her sides
.  "You feel so good," he whispered.

She pressed her lips to his neck, her tongue moving out to taste his skin.  She'd been tantalized by his neck all day, wondering how it would taste.  She'd never thought of such a thing in her life.  Why was she thinking about touching
him and kissing him when the idea had never occurred to her before.  "I like the way you taste," she whispered as he shuddered against her. 

"You're killing me."  He sighed and kissed her one last time before rolling to his back, pulling her head down on his shoulder.  "Maybe kissing you wasn't the best idea I ever had."
  He was panting as he forced his body to calm down.  He had promised her she would have two nights, and he would give her those two nights if it killed him.

Elaine lay for a moment in the darkness, wondering what she'd done wrong.  She was close to tears when she finally asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
  She didn't want to ask, but the way he was acting, she knew it was something.  If she didn't ask she'd never know what it was.

He pulling her closer, hugging her tightly.  "No, of course not.  I just...I don't want to stop, but I promised, so we need to just lay here."
  He hated the sorrow he heard in her voice.

She thought about his words for a moment, before her eyes widened in understanding.  He was interested in her.  Physically.  She couldn't believe a man could see past her hurt leg to want her physically.  She hadn't believe it was possible.  "I'm glad you want to do...that with me."

Colin looked at her with astonishment.  "Of course, I do!  I wouldn't have married you otherwise."  Had she really thought she was just a charity case to him?  She was one of the most beautiful women he'd ever met.  "Do you not have any idea how pretty you are?"  He looked at her.  "Do they not have mirrors in Massachusetts?"

Elaine shrugged.  "No one has been able to see past my leg since I was a little girl."  She paused trying to think of the best way to put it.  "I didn't just have a hurt leg, I became the hurt leg.  Even my mother never saw my personality any longer, she only saw the leg and made all kinds of rules to keep me from doing any further injury to myself."
  She hated it, but it was fact.  He was able to see past her leg, and it made all the difference in the world for her.  Colin was truly a good man, and he'd make her the best of husbands.  She knew it with everything inside her.

"I see you as so much more than your leg."  He stroked her hair as he spoke.  "Do you want to know what I see when I look at you?"

She nodded, half afraid, but she knew he wouldn't deliberately say anything to hurt her. 

"I see a very pretty lady, who is sweet, well-mannered, can cook like a dream,
doesn't mind hard work, and who is willing to put up with my ways.  She also just happens to have a hurt leg."  He leaned down and kissed the top of her head.  "She makes my heart beat faster, and I want to carry her off to my bed and have my way with her every minute I'm with her, but I know she needs a little time.  She's worth waiting for."  Whether he liked it or not, she was definitely worth waiting for.  He couldn't have found a girl better for him if he had hundreds to choose from.

Elaine felt tears prick her eyes at his words.  What had she done in life to deserve having a man who saw all those things when he looked at her as a husband?  "Thank you," she whispered.

"We need to sleep.  A rancher's day starts early." 

She nodded, sleepy.  She'd slept very little on the train, because being unable to straighten her leg for that long had made her too uncomfortable.  "Will you come home for lunch?"
  How could she tell him that she wanted to spend every moment with him she possibly could?

He nodded.  "I'll come home for lunch most days. 
I'll let you know if I won't be here, and you can pack sandwiches or something."  He looked down at her.  "You are asking so you know if you should cook for me, right?"  He couldn't keep the eagerness out of his voice.

She laughed softly.  "You don't like to eat, do you?"
  Feeding this man would be a never-ending task, and she loved the idea of it.

"One of my favorite things.  Kissing you is up there too."  He knew that making love to her would top everything else in life, but he didn't say that to her.  He didn't want to scare her off so early in their marriage.

BOOK: Mail Order Misfit (Brides of Beckham)
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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