Authors: Carolyn Brown
“Hey now, don’t be attacking me. I just spoke my mind, and besides, Elijah is a good, solid name right out of the Bible. It was my great-grandfather’s name.”
“Yeah, well, so is Mephibosheth, and I don’t like it either. Gwen is Fancy’s mother’s name, and Emma was Theron’s grandmother.”
“But I’ll bet you Glory didn’t come from anywhere in the family. Are they going to dress her in stars and stripes?” Elijah purposely provoked her. The madder she got, the more she’d hate living with him.
Sophie cooled down enough to know she was being baited. “Of course. She’s going to have blue eyes and blonde hair like Fancy. Don’t you think she’ll be so cute next Fourth of July, all dressed up in a little outfit with red and white stripes? You’ve got to hold her. She’ll wrap a big, old fellow like you around her finger in no time flat.”
“I doubt it. I don’t like kids. They grow up to be eighteen or nineteen years old and think they know everything. I’ve had to train too many kids already,” he said.
“Is that what you did in the military? Train irresponsible kids?”
“I did lots of things. That was just one of my many jobs,” he said.
“And you really don’t like kids?”
“I really don’t.”
“Ever thought about having some of your own, or do you have a few floating around out there with your strange blue eyes?” she asked.
He bristled. “My eyes are not strange. They’re not so different from Fancy’s, and you don’t think hers are strange. I think you just made a sly, little racial slur.”
“And I think you are full of cow patties. I asked if you have any children. Are you going to answer the question?” she asked.
“The answer is no, and I’m not having any, either,” he said coldly.
“Want to hear a funny story? That’s the same thing Theron Warren said less than a year ago, and now he has two kids.”
Elijah pondered on that for a while, trying to figure out how Theron got a child that was already three years old in less than a year. Surely there was an adoption, but he
couldn’t let it alone. Worrying with it for a few minutes like a hound dog with a big soup bone, he finally asked, “How’d that happen?”
“He was married a few years back to Tina’s mother, Maria. She divorced him but didn’t tell him she was pregnant,” Sophie explained.
Both of Elijah’s eyebrows shot up.
“Turns out that Maria had the maternal instincts of a rock when the baby was born. She left Tina with her sister about ninety percent of the time. Three years later, she met a rich guy from California and decided to marry him, only he didn’t want children.”
Sophie headed toward the kitchen to make a sandwich.
Elijah’s curiosity got the better of his will power to not ask questions and not care. “Go on.”
“One night out of the clear blue sky—actually it wasn’t clear blue because it was freezing drizzle and putting a layer of ice on everything in sight—she calls up Theron and says to meet her in Decatur to get the child, or she’ll leave her in the airport bathroom.”
“Holy crap, Sophie! A rock does have more maternal instincts than that for sure,” Elijah muttered.
Sophie slathered two sides of wheat bread with mayonnaise and stacked three pieces of ham on one side, cheese and lettuce and tomatoes on the other. She slapped it together and put it on a paper plate with some chips and got a cold Pepsi from the fridge.
“So he went and got her?” Elijah asked.
“He and Fancy were past the point where they wanted to murder each other by that time in their relationship. You’ll have to ask him all about that part later. Anyway he called
Fancy and asked her to go with him,” Sophie said and then took a big bite of the sandwich.
Elijah wondered if he was losing his ability to read people. Why would Theron need someone to go with him? His first impression of the man was that, although he was short, he was a stand-up kind of guy and didn’t need a woman to hide behind.
Sophie swallowed and took a long drink from the can. “I bet you are wondering why he asked Fancy to go with him when they could barely tolerate each other, aren’t you?”
“It’s your story. I’m just listenin’,” Elijah said in a flat tone.
Sophie took another bite. He could wait for the rest. His face, set like flint or stone or some other organism that did not breathe or move, said he could care less what she was prattling about. But his eyes told a different story. He must have gotten those from his Uncle Jesse’s side of the family, because they were definitely interested and wanted to know everything.
She chewed slowly and had a potato chip before she continued. “Well, Fancy had been helping him in the Sunday school class that he taught for preschoolers, and he knew she’d be good with a little girl who might be terrified that her mother had abandoned her.”
Elijah didn’t say a word, but he didn’t shut his eyes and snore or turn his vision back to the television, either.
“That’s why he asked her to go with him, and it’s a good thing he did because a few months later Maria showed up and tried to take Tina back with her. It was all a power play for money. She wanted him to pay her to sign over the rights to his daughter, and he refused. But Fancy had been there when it all went down, so Theron had a witness.”
“That Maria really is a rotten apple,” Elijah said.
“Yep. The lawyers had all this documentation that said Tina’s DNA proved she was Theron’s. And Fancy had signed a statement saying that Maria had actually left the child alone before they even arrived to get her, which constituted abandonment. So Maria didn’t have a leg to stand on,” Sophie finished the story.
“They ever see her again?” Elijah asked.
“Not so far. Hopefully she’s out there in California and will stay there and not make trouble. I live in fear she’ll kidnap Tina just for money.”
Elijah stretched and stood up, shaking the legs of his cotton pajama bottoms down when he did. Without a word, he went to the kitchen and heated up some gumbo soup straight out of the can.
Sophie finished her sandwich, threw away the paper plate, and washed her hands at the kitchen sink. When she turned around, Elijah was just inches behind her on his way to the silverware drawer to get a spoon. For a moment their gazes locked, gray eyes doing battle with clear blue ones, and for a single breathless second she thought he might lean forward and kiss her. But it passed with a heavy awkwardness that sent her to her room with a weak excuse that she thought she heard her cell phone, and him back to check the soup on the stove.
She slung herself on the bed, head at the wrong end, feet on the pillow shams, and stared at the ceiling. A fly crawled across it, and she tried to concentrate on it rather than the emotional upheaval in her chest. She’d actually wanted Elijah to kiss her. It was definitely time for her to start dating again if a kiss from him was inviting. After the
sale, if she hadn’t found someone interesting, she would tell Kate and Fancy to start the process of fixing her up with Friday night dates.
She heard the familiar ringtone for Kate’s calls. She slung her legs over the side of the high bed, bailed off, and grabbed it on the fourth ring.
“Hello. I was just thinkin’ about you, and then you called,” she said breathlessly.
“What is going on?”
“Nothing. Not anything. I just told you,” Sophie said.
“And you are talking too fast and too furious and something else is happening. ’Fess up,” Kate said.
Sophie took a deep breath. No way was she admitting that she wanted Elijah to kiss her!
“Did you leave right after I did, from the hospital I mean?” Kate asked.
“Yes, I did, and why are you calling? Is something wrong on your end?”
“Did you talk to anyone on the way out or on the way home?” Kate ignored Sophie’s questions and kept asking her own.
“No, I did not, and stop interrogating me. I didn’t commit murder or rob a liquor store. You are a farm wife now, not a detective,” Sophie reminded her, hoping to flip the conversation toward Kate and get herself out of the hot seat.
“Okay, we’ve established that you haven’t talked to anyone since you left the hospital, so something has happened between you and Eli,” Kate said.
“Nothing happened. I told him about how Tina came to live with Theron and Fancy, and he made fun of the baby’s new name. We got into a bit of an argument about that,
which ended with him saying he never ever wants kids, and then you called.”
“I smell a half-truth, Sophia Lauren McSwain. I’ll let Fancy get the rest out of you when she’s up and around. Want to go shopping in the morning for something pink and pretty to take to Emma-Gwen tomorrow night? That’s why I called,” Kate said.
“I’d love to, but we’ve got a full day getting ready for the sale. We’ve got appointments with caterers and the decorating crew, and the buyers are arriving in three days for the preshow look-see,” she said.
“I hear a whine. Tell you what: I’ll buy something, and you can pay me half. We’ll meet at Fancy’s place at eight tomorrow evening with the Welcome Home, Baby banner. Theron says they’ll release her after twenty-four hours. I figure she’ll be home right after that.”
“I’m not whining. I’d far rather go with you than spend the time with Elijah. Surely I’ll be done in time to get away by evening to welcome Fancy and Emma-Gwen home, though.”
“What happened between you and Eli?” Kate asked suddenly.
Sophie almost answered, but caught her answer before it left her mouth. “Nothing. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”
“Chicken. Did he kiss you finally?”
“OK, anything less than that can wait until later,” Kate said and hung up.
Sophie threw herself back on the bed and flipped on the television set on her dresser.
was playing, but she couldn’t keep her mind on the show. It kept flitting around the idea of dating.
She definitely would have to get her own place. She’d been looking around the ranch when they were out culling cattle for the sale and had decided on the far southern corner. It faced a section line road, which would make it easy for her to come and go, and she wouldn’t have to build a road from the house back to the trailer. There was a nice grove of pecan trees and a pond not far back on the property. She’d already thought about which trees would have to be removed and which could stay for shade.
The trailer would be facing the pond and the back door toward the road. The deck would look toward the north and run the whole length of the trailer, so she could sit out there during three seasons of the year and watch the sunrise and set both.
And she could bring dates home without having to deal with Elijah Jones. Maybe that’s what made him so argumentative. He’d been one of those military playboys who had a girl in every state and didn’t think he could date with Sophie in the house.
Why he didn’t just sell her his property and buy another ranch was a mystery. At that notion, she perked up. She thought about it for a while, then jumped out of bed and grabbed her laptop. In a few minutes, she’d found two ranches not far from Baird, up toward Albany, that were for sale. She’d up her previous offer to enough money that he could purchase either one of them. She marched out to the den to find it empty. She opened the back door and found Elijah sitting on the deck staring out into space.
“What’re you doin’ back out here? I thought I heard your girly show playin’ when I went down the hall a while ago.” He didn’t look at her. That little episode in the kitchen
had sent him into a thinking spin. He needed a woman in his life, and finding one at his age that didn’t have a couple of divorces and teenage kids under her belt wouldn’t be an easy job.
“I was piddling on the Internet and found a couple of ranches for sale within twenty miles of this one.” She hoped her voice didn’t sound too excited.
“So you lookin’ to buy or sell?”
“Buy. But not for myself. The biggest one is up by Albany. I’ll buy it and deed it over to you, if you’ll give me your half of this ranch.”
“Ain’t happenin’. This has been Jones property since back before Baird was even put together. Uncle Jesse said he could prove it was Jones property back about the time that Sam Houston stomped Santa Anna’s rear end and Texas became a state. So it’s not going to be McSwain property now. You go buy that Albany ranch. It’d put you closer to your friends anyway,” he said.
“Why don’t you listen to reason? This is my ranch. I took care of Aunt Maud. I know this place. I love it. I’ll even keep the brand and the name. It won’t be McSwain property.” She would have rather snatched his ponytail right off his head than kissed him.
“No, ma’am, it won’t be. It’s goin’ to be mine, or at least half mine, until the day I die,” he said.
“And then who will you leave it to? You don’t have children that you are claiming, and you don’t want any. You think it’s going to stay Jones property after you are dead?” she asked.
“Don’t know about that. But it will be while I’m living. All I can take care of is what I do with it in my lifetime. The next generation can pick up the responsibility from there.
I intend to do just what Uncle Jesse wanted me to do. Live here, run this ranch, and love it.” Elijah was glad that he’d remembered to say Uncle Jesse rather than Aunt Maud. One of the stipulations she made in her last letter was that he never tell anyone that she left him the property. It had been broadcast among her friends and family that it had been Jesse who had willed him half the ranch.
Sophie went back into the house and let him have the last word. It was beginning to look more and more like she would have to share. But by golly, she did not have to like it or live in the same house with Elijah Jones. As soon as Fancy was able, they were going shopping for a double-wide.