Read Life After Wife Online

Authors: Carolyn Brown

Life After Wife (18 page)

“That’s me,” Elijah whispered. “I’ve been proud and reckless and stubborn and loud, Sophie.”

“Well, I’m low on patience, but I am also full of thunder and passion,” she answered.

Elijah chuckled and went on to sing about cowboys and lace and about how salt of the earth met heavenly grace. “You are a sight to behold tonight in that lace. I’d believe you were an angel if it weren’t for that Irish temper.”

She smiled. “Darlin’, you are a cowboy, but I do not have wings, and if I had a halo, it would be bent all to the devil and twisted up into a pretzel. I’m not an angel.”

The song ended, and the whole barn erupted into applause. Elijah held Sophie’s hand, and they took a deep bow. Then with a twinkle in her light gray eyes, Sophie turned around and said something to the singer. He nodded and leaned into the microphone.

“Seems Miz Sophie has a request. Let’s see if the cowboy Garth was singing about can keep up with the angel in lace with this song. Give us a little bit of ‘Country Girl’ by Mr. Jason Aldean, boys.”

The steel guitar and the drums started and Elijah’s face lit up. Sophie played the part, shaking her finger out across the dance floor at everyone when the singer started off by asking if the boys had ever met a real country girl.

The music was loud and fast. Elijah grabbed her hand and followed her lead as she started something between an Irish
reel and a fast line dance. He grinned when the singer said the girl was country from her “cowboy boots to her down home roots” and talked about her thick southern drawl, her sexy swing and walk. Neither of them missed a single beat, and when the song ended they were both panting.

“Great Scott, or maybe I should say Irish, I’ve never seen her dance like that,” Fancy said.

“It’s Elijah. He’s her life after wife. She just don’t know it yet,” Kate said.

“And now I’m going to put our hosts through one more song before I let them leave the floor. Y’all give it up for the best dancers I’ve seen. Wow! These two could bring down the house at that dancing show on television. Hey, that’s not giving it up. Y’all can do better than that,” the singer said.

The night had been slow up until then, but now everyone was getting fired up and ready to dance, and a band liked a lively audience.

Applause echoed in the barn until Sophie thought the roof would lift.

“OK, let’s have a little bit of Anthony Smith singing ‘If That Ain’t Country.’”

Elijah took a deep breath and got ready for another fast song. Sophie backed up to him and put both arms up over her head and around his neck. When the guitars whined and the singer started singing about a girl growing up out in the sticks where the ginseng grows, Sophie flipped around, switched her skirts back and forth, and the dancing began. The singer said the girl had a Bible, she’d been born again, she had a shotgun, and she wasn’t afraid of sin.

By the time the dance ended, Elijah was laughing so hard he had trouble keeping in step, and Sophie was improvising,
trying to throw him off his game. It ended with twanging guitars and drums and the guests didn’t have to be told again to applaud.

“Y’all come on out here on the dance floor now that our hosts have broken the ice and let’s have some fun,” the singer said.

In minutes the floor was packed with Theron and Fancy leading the stampede.

“I’m dying for a cold beer,” Sophie said.

“Oh, yeah!” he said.

“I do have a Bible and I do have a shotgun. You might do well to remember that,” she said as he led her to the open bar and ordered two longneck Coors.

“Yes, ma’am. And do you have a moonshine still out behind the shed?” Elijah asked.

“No. Not yet,” she teased.

He downed a whole glass of Dr Pepper and handed it back to the caterer for a refill. “That was more fun than I’ve had in years, Sophie. Thank you!”

“It warmed up the crowd. Look at that. Myrle even has someone out there with her,” she motioned with her bottle toward the floor.

“Not doin’ too bad but none of them can outdo us,” Elijah said.

“It’s been a good day and a wonderful party. To us.” She clinked her bottle with his.

“To us,” he repeated.

And for the first time, Elijah wanted more than a business relationship. He wanted much, much more and he wanted it with Sophie.


Sophie awoke slowly, opening her eyes, checking the clock to see that it was nine o’clock, hearing the noise of pots and pans in the kitchen, and smelling coffee and bacon. She stretched and then frowned. So many voices, all male, were coming from the kitchen. Was that Gus?

He didn’t come to the ranch on Sunday. That was his day off. Had something happened? Was there another fire? She was out of the bed in a flash and stomping her feet down into her boots. She didn’t have time to get dressed if there was another wildfire.

Boot heels on the hardwood floor in the hallway sounded like off-beat drum rolls, and she was out of breath when she reached the kitchen.

“Where’s the fire?” Gus asked.

“That’s what I was going to ask you.” Sophie panted.

“No fire around here and it’s raining. Can’t ask for no better news than a great sale, a good party, and then rain the next day,” Gus said.

Sophie melted into a kitchen chair across the table from Elijah. Hayden sat on one side of him, with Gus at one end of the table and Tanner at the other. They’d finished breakfast,
but there was a big piece of paper stretched out on the table with diagrams and writing all over it.

Elijah pushed back his chair and ambled over to the cabinet, where he poured a cup of coffee for Sophie, then brought the pot to the table to refill everyone else’s cups.

“Thank you, Elijah. What’s going on? And why are you here?” Sophie looked at Gus.

“We’ve got a proposal to put before you,” Elijah said. “But don’t crawl up on that high horse of yours before you even hear us out. I didn’t want to mention it until after the sale because you had enough on your mind. You go first, Gus.”

Gus sipped his coffee and laid a hand on Sophie’s. “I’ll be eighty years old on my next birthday. It’s way past time for me to retire. Me and the wife want to do a little bit of traveling before I bite the dust. So yesterday was my last day, darlin’. The ranch don’t need me now that Elijah is here.”

Tears filled Sophie’s eyes. “The ranch will always need you.”

“Now that’s a right sweet thing for you to say. Miz Maud left me that right nice chunk of money in her will, and I want to spend some of it. You and Elijah are going to do right well here. That sale proved it to me, and I’d planned on leaving soon as she was gone, but I wanted to stick around until y’all got your ranchin’ legs down strong. You’ve done it, and it’s time for me to spend some time in my rockin’ chair,” Gus said.

“If you don’t work, you’ll get stiff with arthritis and die,” Sophie said.

Gus laughed. “I don’t reckon the wife is going to let that happen. She’s got a list of honey-dos lined up that’ll keep me from gettin’ arthritis for a hun’erd years. Now give this old man a hug, and then I’m goin’ to walk out of here. No tears.
No big foo-rah. Just a wonderful day to go home and sit on my porch and enjoy a fine rainy mornin’.”

He and Sophie stood up at the same time and she hugged him fiercely.

Gus whispered softly in her ear, “Listen to these boys. They’re scared to death you’re goin’ to say no, and it’s a good plan. Your money ain’t doin’ you a bit of good drawin’ the interest in the bank.”

“I’ll miss you so much,” she said.

“And I reckon I’ll miss the ranch, but it’s time for me to step down. Like I said, Elijah is doing a fine job and, with you to partner with, the two of you are going to make this place into something really big. Maud and Jesse would be proud.” He picked up his hat from the back of his chair, crammed it down on his head, and left as if he were going out to check on the cattle.

Sophie brushed a tear from her cheek and sat back down at the table. “What’s with the paper?” she asked.

Hayden combed his dark hair with his fingers and looked over at Elijah.

“It’s like this,” Elijah started. “First of all, before I show you the map, let me explain about Hayden and Tanner.”

“Hayden isn’t going to teach next year, and Tanner’s job disappeared when the cotton farmer sold out,” she said.

“That’s right.” Elijah nodded seriously. “So they are both available to work for us.”

“But we have Frankie, Kendall, and Randy all ready in the bunkhouse,” she said.

“Yes, we do and there’s room for three more out there. The two ranches south of us took a severe hit with the fire. The one right next to us was an abandoned house, and the
people who own it were leasing it to the folks south of them. Those people suffered the biggest damage. They got their cattle out just fine, but their house and barn didn’t survive. So they called me the morning of the sale to see if we’d be interested in buying since we have connecting land. The folks between us whose land they were leasing are looking to sell also. Our ranch is this section of land.” He pointed to the map. “The next section is right here. That would be the Garretts’ place. You said you had enough to buy me out, and I have enough to buy you out. What if you bought one of these sections, and I bought the other one. We’d triple the size of the ranch that way. We could run more cattle, get into the hay production in a bigger way, and make a lot more money.”

She looked at the map on the table and remembered what Gus had whispered to her moments before. Could she really take a step that big? Did she trust Elijah enough to pool her money with his? What would she lose if she decided she could not work with the man after all?

She stared at the chart. “How much money are we talking about?”

Elijah pointed at the property due south of them. “These folks want seven fifty an acre if we’ll take it all. This one wants eight an acre. A square mile or six hundred forty acres in each deal.

Sophie did the math in her head. “Just under a million for both sections.”

“Closing costs and lawyer fees would make it pretty close to the whole mil,” Elijah said. “I’ll put in half if you will. Then we can share the cost of more equipment to get the place up and running by spring time.”

It felt right, but that was a lot of money.

“Can I think about it?”

“The sellers are putting it on the market in a week if we don’t give them an answer,” Elijah told her.

“We wanted to buy into the proposition, but Elijah said that two bosses were enough,” Hayden said.

“Most of the time it’s one too many.” Sophie tried to smile, but those big dollar signs kept dancing around in her head in bright neon colors.

“Hungry?” Elijah asked.

“Starving,” Sophie answered.

“Think maybe a western omelet and half a dozen strips of bacon might help you think about it harder?” he asked.

She nodded. “Would we keep the brand the same?”

I tried to buy that land for years, and if you don’t do this, I’m going to sit on the side of your bed every night and pester the living daylights out of you
, Aunt Maud’s voice was suddenly inside her head.
It’s a wonderful plan, and you’ve got money just molding away in that savings account. If you don’t like it in a year, then sell out to Elijah. And by the way, I loved the party last night. I knew that if you two were pitched into a sinking ship, you’d figure out how to paddle it to shore. Now buy the land! It’s a precious commodity. Ain’t no more bein’ made on the earth, so buy what you can, when you can.

“You can make that decision. I got no problem with the Double Bar M brand.” Elijah pushed his chair back and headed to the stove. All the makings for omelets were still lined up, so he broke three eggs into a bowl, popped two pieces of bread into the toaster, and, without wasting a single motion, had an omelet prepared and toast buttered in record time.

“Thank you, and OK, let’s do it,” Sophie said when he set the plate in front of her.

“That all the time you need?” Elijah was amazed.

She nodded. “It feels right.”

She didn’t tell him that the money she received from her husband’s insurance policy had never been touched, or that her half of the venture would only use up a small portion of what was in the bank.

Hayden and Tanner slapped hands in a high five and then grabbed Sophie in a sandwich hug. Sophie giggled and wiggled free.

“Mercy.” She gasped. “I didn’t see that coming.”

Hayden grinned. “OK, then we move into the bunkhouse today. If we’re out by eleven, we won’t have to pay another motel day, and we’ll be ready for work tomorrow morning.”

Sophie nodded as she stuffed a forkful of eggs, flavored with peppers, cheese, and bacon, into her mouth. It seemed a lifetime ago since she’d put on her black suit to wear to Aunt Maud’s funeral. How could so much happen in a month’s time? The future loomed before her and it didn’t look so scary. She’d made a major decision without shaking in her boots, and she could almost hear Aunt Maud giggling behind her.

Hayden and Tanner threw back the rest of their coffee and stood at the same time. “See y’all in half an hour. Where do we stow our extra stuff?”

Sophie looked up with a question on her face.

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