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Authors: Texas Destiny

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BOOK: Lorraine Heath
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“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she searched for words of reassurance. “I didn’t know. You didn’t mention … but it doesn’t matter. Truly it doesn’t. I’m so grateful—”

“I’m not Dallas,” he said quietly as he released her hand. “I’m Houston. Dallas busted his leg and couldn’t make the journey. He sent me to fetch you.” He reached into his pocket and withdrew her embroidered cloth. “He sent this along so you’d know you’d be safe with me.”

If his knuckles hadn’t turned white as he held the linen, Amelia would have taken it from him. He had shifted his stance slightly so only his profile filled her vision.

A perfect profile.

“He mentioned you in his letters,” she stammered. “He didn’t say a great deal—”

“There’s not much to tell.” He settled his hat on his head. “If you’ll show me where your other bags are, we can get goin’.”

“I only have the one bag.”

He leveled his brown-eyed gaze on her. “One bag?”

“Yes. You can’t imagine how grateful I was every time we had to get off the train that I only had the one bag to worry over.”

No, Houston couldn’t imagine her being grateful for one bag. He allowed his gaze to wander slowly over her white bodice and black skirt, taking note of the worn fabric. Wouldn’t a woman wear her best clothing when she met the man she was to marry?

Hell, he’d worn his best clothing, and he’d only come to fetch her.

He wrapped his fingers around the bag and lifted it off the ground. Judging by its weight, he figured she was hauling nothing but air, and they had plenty of that in West Texas.

She needed to be carrying all the things that they didn’t have at the far side of nowhere. Hadn’t Dallas told the woman anything about the ranch when he wrote her? Hadn’t he told her they were miles from a town, from neighbors, from any conveniences?

Two bullets. He was going to fire two bullets into his brother.

“I’m ready to go,” she said brightly, interrupting his thoughts.

No, she wasn’t ready to go. Only he didn’t know how to tell her without offending her. Without thinking, he removed his hat to wipe his brow. Her green eyes brightened, as though she were pleased with his gesture, as though she thought he’d done it for her benefit as a gentleman would. He fought the urge to jam his hat back on his head and explain the situation to her from beneath the shadows. “Did Dallas mention how long the journey would take?”

“He wrote that it was a far piece. I thought of a piece of cloth that I might use for quilting.” She spread her hands apart slightly and her smooth-skinned cheeks flamed red. “But that’s wrong, isn’t it?”

Three bullets. He was going to shoot three bullets into his brother.

“It’s at least three weeks by wagon.”

She lowered her gaze, her eyelashes resting gently on her cheeks. They were golden and so delicate—not thick like his. He wondered if they’d be able to keep the West Texas dust out of her eyes.

“You must think I’m an idiot,” she said quietly.

“I don’t think that at all, but I need you to understand that this is the last town of any size you’ll see. If there’s anything you need, you need to purchase it before we leave.”

“I have everything I need,” she said.

“If there’s anything you want—”

“I have everything,” she assured him. “We can leave for the ranch whenever you’re ready.”

He’d been ready three hours ago, consciously packing and arranging all his supplies so he left half the wagon available for her belongings—only she didn’t have any belongings. No boxes, no trunks, no bags. He cleared his throat. “I … I still need to pick up some supplies.” He crammed his hat on his head, spun on his heel, and started walking. He heard the rapid patter of her feet and slowed the urgency of his stride.

“Excuse me, Mr. Leigh, but how did my fiancé break his leg?” she called from behind him in a voice sweeter than the memory he held of his mother’s voice.

He turned to face her, and she came to a staggering stop, the bird on her hat bobbing like an apple in a bucket of water. Balling his free hand into a fist to prevent it from snatching off the bird, he wished now that he’d given Dallas his honest opinion on the damn thing when he’d asked him what he thought of it. “He fell off a horse.”

Her delicate brows drew together. “As a rancher, surely he knows how to ride a horse.”

“He can ride just fine. He took it into his head that he could break this rangy mustang, and it broke him instead.” He spun back around, increasing the length of his stride. If Dallas had just listened to him, heeded Houston’s warning, Houston would be back at his own place smelling the sweat of horses instead of the flowery scent of a woman, hearing the harsh snort of horses instead of a woman’s gentle voice. He wouldn’t have to watch a stupid bird nod. He wouldn’t be carrying a bag, wondering what the hell she didn’t have.

Four bullets. And even then he wasn’t certain that thought could sustain him through the hell that tomorrow was sure to bring.

Chapter Two

melia followed the towering man as his long, even strides stirred up the dust and took them past several storefronts. His spurs jangled, his coat flapped around his calves, and he pulled his hat farther down on the left side.

He stepped on the boardwalk, sending the harsh sound reverberating around her. He seemed as impatient as she was to begin the journey, and she wondered why he hadn’t thought to purchase his supplies before she’d arrived. She could only be grateful that he wasn’t the man she’d come to Texas to marry.

He hesitated before shoving open the door to a hotel. He moved back slightly, waiting for her to go inside. She felt as though she were still on the train, traveling headlong toward a destination she wasn’t even certain was right for her.

“Why are we going in here?”she asked.

His jaw tightened as three people barged past him. “I figure by the time we’re done gettin’ the supplies, it’ll be too late to travel today, and considering how many people got off that train, I figure we ought to get the rooms before we get the supplies.”

“A very wise decision,” she acknowledged as she slipped past him and entered the hotel. People crowded the lobby, closing in around her. Fighting the urge to run, she struggled to draw in air. As long as she could breathe, she could live.

Houston dropped her bag to the floor. “Wait here while I see about some rooms.”

She watched him walk to the front desk, tugging on his hat. She was greatly disappointed that Dallas Leigh had not met her. She had hoped to become better acquainted with him before they exchanged their vows. But she had little hope of that happening now. Once she arrived at his ranch, she was certain they would be married. She’d have no opportunity to change her mind, return to Fort Worth, or travel home.

Home. How easily the word slipped into her mind. How difficult to remember that she no longer had a home or a family. Everything of importance, everything that meant anything to her at all was carefully packed away in the bag resting near her feet, along with the marriage contract Dallas Leigh had asked her to sign. His wording had been practical and straightforward, a guarantee that he would take her as his wife if she journeyed to Fort Worth, a guarantee that she would take him as her husband if he provided her with the funds with which to travel.

She did not begrudge him his caution. He knew as little about her as she knew of him. Trust, like love, would come with time.

As the scowling man returned to her side, she could only hope that Dallas’s moods were not as dark.

“This way,” he grumbled as he snatched up her bag.

She followed him through the lobby and up a distant set of stairs. At the top landing, he took a right and charged down the hallway. He inserted a key into the lock, turned it, and flung open the door. He stepped back and waited for her to enter the room.

Amelia walked into the small room. The bed beside the window immediately drew her attention. Dallas had sent her tickets that allowed her to sleep in a berth. She had taken one look at the small compartment and traded in the tickets, using the refunded money to purchase him a wedding gift—a gold pocket watch, second hand.

During her journey, she had snatched sleep here and there, sitting up, whenever she’d dared to sleep. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like to sleep in a bed.

She faced the man standing in the doorway. He was holding his hat, presenting her with his right side.

“I need to take the wagon and animals to the livery and let the hostler know I’ll be keeping them there overnight. I thought you might want to”—he waved his hat helplessly by his thigh—“do whatever it is ladies do when they get off a train. I’ll meet you in the lobby in an hour, and we’ll go get those supplies.”

“Where is your room?” she asked.

“This was the last room. I’ll stay at the livery.”

“That hardly seems fair. You’re paying for the room—”

“You’re gonna sleep with the horses?”

“I’ve slept with worse.” Amelia dropped her gaze as the heat rushed to her face. She should explain that statement, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to give freedom to the blurred memory lurking in a shadowed corner of her mind. “I simply meant … I am most grateful for the room, but if you wished to share it—”

“That wouldn’t be proper.”

She forced herself to meet his gaze. “Won’t we be sleeping together while we travel?”

The cheek that was visible to her reddened as he turned his hat in his hands. “No, ma’am. You’ll sleep in a tent, and I’ll sleep by the fire.” He settled his hat onto his head. “Tonight I’ll sleep at the livery. I’ll be back in an hour. I’d appreciate not havin’ to wait on you.”

Before she could remind him that she’d had to wait on him at the depot, he slammed the door closed. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Three weeks. She would be in that man’s company for three weeks, and if the past fifteen minutes were any indication of what she could expect on the journey, she anticipated an extremely lengthy three weeks.

She closed her eyes. Grateful, grateful, grateful. He had to possess some redeeming quality. She opened her eyes and smiled. She could be grateful that he appeared to be a man of few words, and she was incredibly grateful that he’d left.

He no doubt thought she had the brain of a gnat, and perhaps she did: traveling from Georgia to Texas in order to marry a man she knew only through correspondence. What if she had misjudged the tone of Dallas Leigh’s letters? What if she had created in her mind a man who did not exist beyond her imagination?

Since the war, she had received offers to better her life, but none had carried the respectability of marriage. To the victor go the spoils. Her father’s plantation, his wife, and his daughters had been the spoils.

Shuddering, she squeezed her eyes shut and wrapped her arms around herself. She was too tired to hold the memories and fears at bay. Too tired.

With longing, she gazed at the bed. She would sleep for just a few moments. Then she would wash away the dust of her journey and meet Houston Leigh in the lobby. She imagined it would be quite interesting to watch him bargain for supplies. With his temperament, she had little doubt he would end up paying double for anything he wanted.

She eased onto the bed, sighing with contentment. The mattress, as soft as a cloud, sank beneath her weight.


Just a few moments of heaven.

Hell’s fury had surrounded Houston for so long that he couldn’t remember if he’d ever known heaven’s touch. He was afraid that if he wasn’t careful, he’d drag the woman into hell with him.

He’d already hurt her feelings. He knew he had. Otherwise, she would have met him in the lobby.

He was angry at Dallas, and he had taken his anger out on the woman. He hadn’t meant to, but in looking back he could see that he had.

He stood outside her door, practicing his apology. He couldn’t recall ever giving an apology, and the best words to use wouldn’t come to his mind. An apology to a woman should be like the piece of cloth she’d sewn for Dallas: flowery, dainty, and pretty.

Hell, he didn’t know any words like that. She’d just have to be happy with the words he knew, sorely lacking though they were.

Thank God, he wasn’t the one she was going to marry. He’d spent the whole morning thinking about what he would say when he met her. When he’d seen the tears glistening within her green eyes, shame had risen up and sent every word he’d practiced scattering like dust across the prairie. Shame that it had taken him so long to gather his courage and cross that platform to greet her. Shame that he hadn’t considered how she might feel standing alone in a strange town waiting for a man who wasn’t going to come.

At the livery, he’d thought about how he might explain the supplies. Their purchase was sure to be a delicate matter. After all his thinking and word gathering, she hadn’t met him.

Now he was having to think of an apology.

He just wanted to be back at the ranch, where he could walk alone and think alone. He didn’t want to answer questions, or consider another’s feelings, or remove his hat.

With a heavy sigh, he removed his hat, knocked lightly on her door, and waited, the apology waiting with him, ready to be spoken as soon as she opened the door.

Only she didn’t open the door.

She was either angrier than he figured or she’d left. If she’d left, he’d be the one with four bullets in his hide because Dallas always hit what he aimed at.

Earlier, without thinking, he’d placed the key to her room in his pocket, leaving her without a way to lock her door. What if someone had stolen her? Women were rare … so rare …

He knocked a little harder. “Miss Carson?”

He pressed his good ear to the door. The blast that had torn through the left side of his face had taken his hearing from that side as well. He heard nothing but silence on the other side of the door.

Gingerly, he opened the door and peered inside. The late-afternoon sun streamed through the window, bathing the woman in its honeyed glow. Curled on the bed, asleep, she looked so young, so innocent, so unworthy of his temper.

He slipped inside and quietly closed the door. He crossed the room, set his saddlebags on the floor, and sat in the plush velvet chair beside the bed. He dug his elbows into his thighs and leaned forward.

BOOK: Lorraine Heath
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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