Read Life After Wife Online

Authors: Carolyn Brown

Life After Wife (5 page)

He bit his lower lip. “You are a spitfire.”

“You are the devil.”

“OK, the ugly purple recliner can stay. Anything else you’re going to have a fit over?”

“The bookcase can’t be touched. I don’t care if you bring in your ugly, old, modern big-screen television, but you touch that rug in front of the fireplace, and I’ll poison your iced tea.”

“I don’t drink iced tea. I like ice-cold Dr Pepper,” he said.

“You can go to…” she stopped midsentence.

He chuckled. “I thought you were a preacher’s wife.”

“I thought you were a…” She couldn’t think of a word ugly enough to say. Not even her extensive repertoire of cuss words had one that would describe Elijah.

“I’ll let you think about that while I go tell these guys where I want the rest of my things placed,” he said.

Suddenly, Sophie was starving. She hadn’t known true hunger since the policeman knocked on her door and told her that there had been a plane crash. Fancy ate like a horse when she was upset. Kate always ate enough for two field hands. But Sophie ate when she had to, not because she wanted food.

She marched into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She piled little containers of leftovers on the cabinet and got a fork from the drawer. Cold chicken wasn’t bad at all; neither were baked beans or potato salad. When she took the top off some sauerkraut and hot links she paused.

“No guts, no glory,” she mumbled as she dug in.

“Wow! Even that’s good. Standing up for myself gave me an appetite! By Christmas, I may be calling on Omar the Tentmaker to make my clothes if it’s always like this,” she said when she’d chewed the first bite.

Elijah helped carry in his television and his sofa that matched the recliner. True to his word, he didn’t touch the ugly chair over by the bookcase. He scanned the titles, surprised to find several of his own favorite authors scattered among the familiar old classics that Maud had read and reread.

He’d finally accomplished his goal and made Sophie mad enough that she’d stormed off in a snit. Now he could do what he wanted with the den. The sofa needed to be exactly the right distance from the television to get the full effect of the big picture. The stereo system went into the corner where an antique secretary had sat for so long that there was a light spot on the carpet when they took it out of the room. He put on a Zac Brown CD and turned the volume to the right loudness as the guitar music started. He wiggled his head to the lyrics as Zac sang “Colder Weather.”

Elijah loved the mountains in Wyoming and Montana, but he wouldn’t want to live there forever. Still, the song reminded him of the times he’d taken his vacation time and gone to a cabin in the mountains and watched the sunset over the snowcaps. He sang loudly with Zac as he arranged things just so.

Sophie heard the music and carried the bowl of cold sauerkraut to the den. She could hardly believe that Elijah
would like that particular band. Hard rock went with his motorcycle image, not Zac Brown.

When he felt her presence, he turned quickly and almost blushed.

“I like this group,” he said.

“You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket with the lid welded shut,” she said around a mouthful of kraut.

“Who cares? I love to sing, and that’s all that matters,” he said.

“You are off-key and out of tune,” she said flatly.

“So what?”

“Turn it down.”

“No. I like it loud. You don’t like it; you can go outside and pout.”

She looked around at the den. It did look better. The leather brought out the dark, raised panel walls. The television didn’t even look out of place set in the rustic entertainment cabinet system with doors that could close off the screen.

Zac began to sing something about getting away to where the boat leaves from. She’d like to get away to anywhere, but not forever. Ranching was in her blood, and in the past year she’d been more alive than ever. If she sold out, she’d never know what the rest of her life was supposed to be like.

“Well? You going outside, or are you going to bring me a Dr Pepper and listen to the CD with me while I take a rest? The movers are taking the other furniture to the bunkhouse,” he said.

“Get your own soda pop. I’m not your maid or your wife. There ain’t enough money in the world to pay me to be either.”

He popped the footrest down and headed for the kitchen. “Honey, there ain’t enough money for me to pay you to be
either one. Anyone who’d eat cold kraut is crazy as an outhouse rat.”

She followed him. “You are lucky you’ve even got Dr Pepper. Aunt Maud and I like Pepsi. Someone just happened to bring in a six-pack of Dr Pepper for the funeral.”

Elijah deliberately eyed her from toes to eyeballs, this time without his sunglasses. “I would have pictured you with an ale in your hands instead of soda pop.”

“I’m half Irish, and believe me, if push came to shove, I could outdrink you any day of the week. Indians don’t hold their liquor worth a dang.” She shoved the fork into the kraut and brought up another mouthful.

He snarled. “That is disgusting.”

“You are changing the subject because you know I’m right about the drinking.”

“I do not drink, Sophie. In my profession, we had to have a steady mind and hand. Drinking didn’t go with it, but it had nothing to do with my Indian blood. I’m going to have a Dr Pepper,” he said.

“What’re the other genes?” she asked.

“Momma was a Whitehawk before she married Dad.”

“Chickasaw?”

“No, she was full-blooded Fox Indian from up in central Oklahoma. You got any smarty-pants remarks, say ’em now and get ’em out of your system. I don’t take teasin’ about my heritage.”

“Neither do I. First time you call me a Paddy, I’ll slit your throat in the night with a rusty knife. So you got anything to say about my Irish hair, my freckles, or my eyes, lay it out on the table now.”

Elijah almost grinned. Aunt Maud had been right when she said she was bringing the girl up out of the pits. She was hot-tempered, hot-looking, and there was no way she would ever let herself sink into the depths of despair again. Not Sophie! She was a full-fledged bag of pure sass.

“You don’t mention my ponytail, and I’ll keep quiet about your Irish-Afro hairdo,” he said.

“You got a deal. You want something to eat, get after it. There’s the microwave.” She carried her food out the back door to the deck, where she sat down in a lounge chair and propped her feet up. She’d never felt so alive in her life. Maybe she should eat kraut every day.

CHAPTER THREE

Sophie was sitting at the kitchen table, laptop in front of her, along with a cup of steaming black coffee and an empty plate. The aroma of bacon and hot biscuits filled Elijah’s nose when he stumbled into the room at five o’clock.

He was dressed in plaid cotton lounge pants and a white gauze muscle shirt that stretched across every well-defined muscle in his chest. Two major scars were visible. A long, skinny, white one on his upper left arm and a pockmark on his right shoulder.

Sophie didn’t see a single tattoo, which surprised her. Didn’t all military personnel prove how mean and tough they were by having some kind of art stamped on their body? Maybe he’d had his done where she couldn’t see.

If he noticed the blush, she hoped that he chalked it up to the heat in the kitchen.

“Good mornin’, sleepyhead. You always sleep until the sun rises?” she asked cheerfully.

He yawned. “The sun won’t be up for a couple of hours. What are you doing? Trying to get a step ahead of me?”

“Wouldn’t have to work too hard at that. I get up at four thirty every morning. Breakfast is always at five because that’s
what Aunt Maud liked. There’re biscuits and bacon on the stove. Sausage gravy in the pan on the back burner. You want eggs, you cook ’em.”

He poured a cup of coffee, sat down at the table, and pointed. “What’s that for?”

“It’s the ranch laptop. You can glance over it while you wake up. It’s got the financials, the bank balance, the savings accounts, CDs, and such in it. There’s another one for each cow or bull on the property. Hard copy is in the file cabinet in the office. Along with her stock portfolio. She didn’t take risks with those, so we’re in good shape. Password: Jesse. And I keep the files backed up, like I said, on a flash drive. I’m going out for my morning run now. You take your time. I’ll gas up the four-wheelers for the survey you wanted.”

“Why are you being nice?” he grumbled.

“I’m not. I want you to know exactly what this ranch is worth and what a good deal you’d be getting if you took me up on my offer today. It’s going down ten thousand dollars a day until there’s nothing left,” she said.

“It ain’t happenin’.”

She ignored the remark. He wasn’t going to rile her. Anger would only lose her points.

He slid a glance at her as she left. Boxer shorts with a picture of Minnie Mouse on the butt were a size too big, and long legs shot out from below the wide legs. Her bright orange knit shirt with no sleeves hugged her slim body, nipping in from well-rounded hips. Her kinky red hair looked like someone had combed it that morning with a hay rake.

He’d seen confidence leave a room before, but never in that measure. She had no doubt that she’d wear him down with her constant badgering to sell out, but like he kept telling her,
it wasn’t happening. She would have to learn that he wanted the ranch ten times more than she did. He didn’t care if she subtracted a hundred thousand dollars each day. He had come home, and peace did not have a price tag hanging on it.

He fried four eggs over easy. While he waited on them to cook, he loaded up a plate with sausage gravy over biscuits and strips of crispy bacon. When the eggs were ready, he added them to the plate, poured another cup of coffee, and carried it all to the table. He’d have to run an extra mile after eating so much, but it smelled so good.

By the time he finished eating, washed his dishes, and scanned the financial report—which sent his eyebrows to the ceiling more than once—Sophie was back from her morning run. He didn’t see her but heard her whistling in the shower when he passed the bathroom. He hurriedly changed into his running shoes and clothing.

Sophie finished her morning shower and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, pulled her hair up into a wet ponytail, shoved a few pins in it to hold a bun in place, and shoved an old straw hat on her head. She burned easily and never tanned.

Burn. Peel. Burn again. That was what Sophie did! She’d cut off her pinky toes for Kate’s skin. Kate’s mother was Mexican, so Kate had that coffee-with-heavy-cream skin that looked like she’d been in the tanning bed all the time.

She heard Elijah slam the front door as she went out the back one. Sophie loved Texas sunrises and sunsets, and that morning there was a fantastic show in the east with all the gorgeous oranges and pinks.

Was Elijah even appreciating all the beauty in front of him? What kind of name was Elijah anyway? Of course, it came from the Bible. She’d been dragged to church often
enough to know that much. But who, in these days, named their child such an antiquated name?

“OK, so it’s not
these
days, and his momma hung that on him forty years ago,” she mumbled on her way to the shed where they kept the three four-wheelers. Still, the idea of looking down into the face of a newborn, squalling baby boy and giving him a name like Elijah kept running through her mind.

Maybe he hadn’t ever been a baby. Maybe he’d been tossed onto earth from an alien ship in an egg, and when some redneck farmers out in the backwoods cracked it open, out popped a full-grown man in military garb. They named him Elijah because they thought he’d been heaved to earth from heaven. They didn’t know what to do with him, so they took him to the nearest military establishment and handed him over to them.

It made more sense than a little boy starting kindergarten and telling his newfound friends (named things like Kyle and Mark and Jimmy) that his name was Elijah. That could be what made him so edgy—having to take up for himself when the other kids picked on him about his name. Well, she hadn’t had it so easy either with a name like Sophia. It sounded like an old-maid schoolteacher with a gray bun and a hook nose with reading glasses perched on the end of it.

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