Authors: Marcia Lynn McClure
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Western
by Marcia Lynn McClure
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the contents of this book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or distributed in any part or by any means without the prior written consent of the author and/or publisher.
Published by Distractions Ink
P.O. Box 15971
Rio Rancho, NM 87174
©Copyright 2007, 2011 by M. L. Meyers
A.K.A. Marcia Lynn McClure
Cover Photograpy by ©/Dreamstime.com
Cover Design by Sheri L. Brady
First Printed Edition: 2007
Second Printed Edition: 2011
All character names and personalities in this work of fiction
are entirely fictional, created solely in the imagination of the author.
Any resemblance to any person living or dead is coincidental.
McClure, Marcia Lynn, 1965—
: a novella/by
Marcia Lynn McClure.
Library of Congress Control Number:
Printed in the United States of America
For all the glorious adventures we’ve shared...
Photo fun and beta fish sprees,
Belting out ballads in yogurt parlors...
And the Sudden Storms of life we’ve weathered together.
Thank you for being the blessed and bright sunshine after the rain…
For rare and true friendship to cherish—
and memories like no others in the universe!
Thus, for you…some kisses in the rain!
“I’ma comin’. I’ma comin’. Hold your horses,” Jolee Gray called. From where she stood at the kitchen window, she couldn’t see who was knocking at the front door. Drying her hands on her apron and tucking a loose strand of tawny hair behind her ear, she crossed the parlor to answer it.
“Yes?” she said, as she opened the door and found a young man standing before her. With sudden curiosity, Jolee’s fair eyebrows rose above her lovely sky-blue eyes as she studied the boy. He was dreadfully thin, and it was obvious he was uneasy. His oversized hat sat low on his brow, making it nearly impossible for her to see his eyes.
“Hello, ma’am,” the boy greeted. Jolee knew at once he must indeed be in his early adolescent years, for his voice was still unaffected by the deepened intonation of a matured man.
“Yes?” Jolee repeated. She smiled at the boy as he nervously twisted the hem of his shirt.
“Um...beggin’ your pardon, ma’am…my name’s Tommy Williams, and I was wonderin’ if ya might have some chores needin’ doin’…somethin’ that might earn me a meal or two and a place in your barn for a couple of nights,” the boy blurted in an uncertain voice entirely lacking in masculinity.
Jolee studied the boy for a moment. “You sure you’re up to it, boy? Ya look a might…” she began.
“Oh, yes, ma’am! I’m a might small…I know. But, I can work like any old horse ya ever seen!” the boy reassured her, nodding adamantly.
Suspicion began to creep to the front of Jolee’s mind, and she smiled inwardly as well as out.
This might be a fun little hand to play out
, she thought. She’d go along.
“Well, sure thing! I think I can put ya to work ’round here. At least for a few days. No doubt my brother will have some things needin’ doin’ as well.”
“Oh, thank ya, ma’am! I’m most grateful!” the boy sighed with relief as he reached out and shook Jolee’s hand in gratitude.
At the first touch of the boy’s hand, Jolee’s suspicions were confirmed, and she silently congratulated herself on her keen eye.
, she thought,
this might prove to be a very interesting few days
“Who in tarnation have ya got cleanin’ out the stalls, Jo?”
It was Paxton. Jolee giggled at her brother’s predictability.
Smiling she answered, “Just a young man needin’ somethin’ extra to do.”
“Well there ain’t nothin’ at all to him,” Paxton grumbled. “Pitches manure like he ain’t never seen a pitchfork and a pile before.”
Jolee turned and smiled at her brother as he swaggered through the back door leading to the kitchen. “Now, Pax,” she began as he worked the pump, rinsing his face with the water it produced. “He’s obviously travelin’ all alone. And did ya notice how small he is? Probably ain’t had a decent meal in weeks. All he wants is a couple of meals and a bed in the barn for a while. I think we can allow that.”
Paxton Gray dried his hands and face on the towel his sister handed to him. “We can’t be feedin’ every dang drifter that hops off the train in Blue River, Jo. ’Sides…somethin’ ain’t right with that boy.”
Jolee quickly glanced at her brother. “What ain’t right, Pax?”
“Oh…I don’t know. He’s too darn small to be on his own. What if he up and dies out there in our barn tonight of some grisly disease! Then everyone’ll think we’re infected, and they’ll…”
“Oh for pity’s sake, Pax!” Jolee interrupted with a relieved sigh followed by an amused giggle. “He ain’t got any strange sickness. Let the boy work and have a few nights of restin’. Maybe my cookin’ will put some meat back on his bones.”
“Well, all I’m gonna say is he’s your wounded bird, Jo. I ain’t takin’ no responsibility about him. You fatten him up and be his mama…but I ain’t gonna be bothered with it,” Paxton rumbled.
Jolee smiled to herself and said, “All right, Paxton. All right. Now, just eat your lunch and get your own self back to workin’.”
She set a plate on the table and watched affectionately as her brother enjoyed the ham and biscuits. Tipping her head to one side, she studied her brother’s rugged and absurdly handsome face. His own sable-smooth hair was a bit mussed from the day’s required chores, but his eyes were as brilliant a blue as ever. She thought on them a moment, noting how they held the tranquil blue of a robin’s egg one instant, and the next caused a person to shiver with trepidation. When Paxton was vexed or provoked, the tranquil sky-blue of his eyes turned stormy, and even Jolee could be unsettled by their intensity.
Jolee stood behind her brother and ran her hands the breadth of his strong shoulders. She wondered then at the true age of the young person outside cleaning Paxton’s stalls as she said, “Paxton Gray…you’re wastin’ this fine form Mama and Daddy blessed you with. Tall, fine, handsome men like you shouldn’t wait so long to settle down. Ya oughta find ya a cute little girl and…”
“Ah,” Paxton growled, brushing his sister’s hands from his shoulders. “Don’t ya go startin’ in on me again, Jo. You go ahead and work ol’ Weston Warner into your weddin’ bed, and then ya can talk to me about such nonsense as marryin’.”
Jolee bent and kissed his cheek affectionately. “Me and Weston Warner? What’re ya goin’ on about? Such silliness I never did hear. Now, eat your lunch and leave that boy I hired alone,” she scolded. A knowing smile broke across her face, however. Glancing out the window into the beauty of the day, she nodded. She had a feeling. And Jolee Gray’s feelings had never steered her wrong.
“Well, Tommy,” Jolee began as the boy stood waiting her instruction. “Why don’t ya carry some water to the tub for my brother’s bath tonight? That’s somethin’ I like to do for him after he’s been workin’ hard all day. He don’t run me, mind you. But he gets so awful sore and tired. I already have the pot on the stove heatin’. You can carry some cold water in buckets from the pump at the sink.”
The boy nodded and within a few minutes had a nice, smooth routine going. Fill a bucket from the pump, lug it into Paxton’s bedroom where the tub sat, and empty it in.
“It’s nearly full, ma’am,” the boy announced directly.
“That’s fine, Tommy. Pax will be in any minute. Here.” Jolee handed the boy two folded towels and pointed to the pot of boiling water sitting on the stove. “Now, lug that on in, and pour it into the rest. Be careful! We don’t want ya burnt, now do we?”
The pot was extremely heavy, and Rivers wasn’t at all certain she could carry it to the bedroom. The steam from the boiling water stuck to her face, causing her discomfort.
Setting the pot on the floor in front of the tub at last, Rivers stood up and arched her aching back. She was glad Jolee Gray had let her do some chores around the farm. She did indeed need a good meal and shelter, but she was beginning to tire rapidly now that the day was drawing to a close. Her hands, arms, and legs were sore from the strenuous work, and she hated having to wear a hat! It stifled her so. Especially when she wore it pulled down so far over her brow. Still, she’d found a kind soul in Jolee Gray.
What a kind person Jolee seemed to be. Rivers guessed Jolee must be close to her own age. She was small like Rivers, yet sturdy looking. The woman’s blue eyes and golden hair had a serene and calming influence on Rivers’s tired and anxious state. It seemed Jolee was a lovely woman within and out.
Rivers thought of her own dark brown hair and black-brown eyes. She’d always felt her features were too severe. Her skin was fair, but her hair, eyes, and eyelashes were varying shades of dark brown. She had never been able to see a trace of beauty in herself. She had almost been able to convince herself once that her mouth was pretty enough. Her perfectly shaped lips held a natural red ripe-cherry color that she found herself having to disguise with dust and chapping when she was riding the trains. But even with that one claim to possible beauty, Rivers had known she was only fooling herself. And considering her circumstance, it was all the better. If she had been some dazzling beauty, Jolee would have known instantly that Rivers was, in fact, a young woman and not an adolescent boy searching for work.
Rivers’s mind quickly left Jolee then. That man—Jolee’s brother! A heavy sigh of admiration escaped Rivers’s lungs at the thought of him. When he’d come upon her in the stall out in the barn, she felt sure he suspected. He’d stood glaring down at her for several moments and then, without a word, turned and determinedly strode away.
He was frightening after a manner. His frown, for one thing—so severe and intense. Still, he was the most physically appealing man Rivers had ever seen in all her life! Tall, broad-shouldered, onyx-black hair, square and unshaven jaw, piercing blue eyes. He was astonishing! The mere sight of him had caused Rivers’s heart to miss several beats—caused her to feel breathless and overheated. His physical build was as flawless as his face, and he moved with an incredibly intimidating air of confidence and determination. This Paxton Gray was, from all outward appearances, an embodiment of perfect masculinity.
Rivers had been so greatly relieved when he had left her to her work. And now, she was anxious to leave his bedroom before he arrived for his evening bath.
Lifting the great pot of water, she began pouring it into the tub. Then having finished, she set it down again and said out loud, “There now.”
“Thank ya kindly, boy.”
Whirling around, Rivers gasped in horror as she saw Jolee’s brother standing before her in the process of removing his clothing. He grinned at her in a friendly manner, revealing one long, thin dimple on his left cheek at the corner of his smile. He’d already stripped his shirt from his broad torso; his trousers, too, lay in a heap at his feet. The man was nearly finished unbuttoning his flannels. As he peeled the garment from his arms, Rivers turned to face the other direction.
“Pardon me, sir,” she apologized.
“You’re a bashful little feller, ain’t ya?” the man noted, and Rivers held her breath when she heard him disturb the tub of water as he stepped into it.
“Aaahhh,” he sighed. “Ain’t nothin’ like a warm soak after a long day. Ain’t that right, boy?”
“Um…yes, sir,” Rivers agreed, stepping sideways toward the door.
“Hold up there, would ya? Hand me that there brush and lye ’fore ya run off, young feller,” the handsome man commanded.
Rivers saw the brush and soap lying on top of a trunk sitting before her. Swallowing hard, she reached out, taking hold of them. She took several steps backward, keeping her eyes on the wall directly in front of her. Holding the items firmly, one in each hand, she stretched her arms out behind her.
“Thank ya kindly,” the man said. An unsettling sensation akin to some sort of delightful shiver wracked her as he took them from her. “You can be on your way now, boy.”
Rivers rushed from the room and slammed the door tightly behind her. She could hear the man chuckling. He must think her an odd duck indeed.