The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Page 45)

The Cowboy Imports a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #3)(45)
Author: Cora Seton

"Holt!" Lisa warned. "She’ll call it whatever she pleases."

"The Matheson name will go on the winery," Morgan promised with a smile. "It’s a good name. Practically sells itself."

"You can have 300 acres near the river," Holt said, giving her hand a squeeze and letting it go. "In the northwest corner."

"You mean 200 acres, right, Dad?" Rob said, slipping an arm around Morgan’s waist.

"I mean 300. I may be stuck in this hospital bed, but I haven’t gone senile," Holt said. "Now get on with you. My program’s on." He reached for the television remote as they turned to leave the room. "By the way," he added. He raised his voice and spoke distinctly. "Got you!"

Morgan stopped in her tracks. Rob spun around. "What do you mean?" he demanded.

"That wasn’t no panic attack," Holt said. "That’s what’s known in the business as damn good acting."

"Dad," Rob said. "Come on, we both know that was real."

"What, you’re the only one who can play a joke in this family?"

Morgan put her hand on his arm before Rob argued any further. Holt was trying to save face, anyone could see that. She gave his sleeve a little tug. "You got us good, Dad," she said.

Holt stiffened, then turned toward her. "What’d you call me?"

Morgan couldn’t find her voice. Had she put her foot it in it again? "Dad," she said again, unsteadily.

Holt stared at the wall behind her head, his jaw working. "I like that," he said, and nodded once.

She figured they’d better leave while they were ahead. "Rest up," she said.

"See you later, Dad," Rob said.

Out in the corridor, he pulled her into a tight hug. "You’re a genius."

"Thanks."

"But that panic attack wasn’t no practical joke."

CHAPTER TWENTY

When they returned to the bunkhouse, she let Rob take her suitcase and followed him up the steps. Being back on the Cruz ranch felt like coming home and she hesitated on the porch, taking in the view. When she finally entered the living room, she came face to face with Autumn.

"You can’t move to California. I cried my eyes out when you left," Autumn said, throwing her arms around Morgan’s neck and refusing to let her go.

"We’re not moving. We talked to Holt and he’s giving us 300 acres and we can do whatever we want with it," Morgan rushed to say before Autumn strangled her. She felt awful about fooling her. Should she tell her it had all been a joke? Would Autumn hate her for it? "I’m so glad he gave in. I couldn’t have left you guys and moved to California."

Autumn held her at arm’s length. "I know that, dummy. You think you took me in with all that moving to Napa stuff? No way!"

Morgan stared at her. "You knew? You just said…"

"Hello! You’re marrying the king of practical jokes! You fooled me for a few minutes," she conceded, "and I was really upset at first. Then I figured it out. Pretty smart, though; you had the rest of them fooled all the way."

"Does Ethan know?" Rob asked.

"I think he suspects, but he doesn’t blame you. Your Dad was being pretty unreasonable. So was Claire. But speaking of Claire, I’m glad you’re back because I finally got around to cleaning that attic, and I found something I think you’ll both want to see."

"What is it?" Morgan asked when Autumn handed her a thick manila envelope.

"Take a look through it. I’m going to rustle you two up some dinner. I doubt either one of you has eaten yet."

She disappeared into the kitchen, and Rob and Morgan sat down on the sofa to examine the contents of the envelope. A kitten appeared and Morgan did a double-take. It was Button, and she’d grown like crazy in the few days she’d been gone. She snuggled the cat in close and turned back to the documents inside the envelope. The first page seemed to be an itemized list of expenses. Not making heads or tails of it, Morgan handed it to Rob. Underneath she found a pile of receipts and old plane, bus and train tickets, many of them in an exotic script. She leafed through them with growing confusion.

The tickets were all issued to a woman named Anne Smith. By the looks of it, she was a world traveler, flying from Chance Creek to New York City, to England, France, and then – Morgan’s eyebrows shot up – in every case to Dubai, followed by a connecting flight to Afghanistan.

How had these ticket stubs made their way into the Cruz’s attic? She passed them to Rob, and looked further. The next set of pages contained a list of names, dates and locations. Badria Khan, b. June 8, 1986, Sangin to Kabul, May 15, 1997. Afshan Wazir, b. January 3, 1985, Khewa to Kabul, September 22, 1998. The list went on and on, sometimes with several listings per year, other times only one or two. Kabul always figured in the entries. Morgan knew it was one of the largest cities in Afghanistan. She assumed the first words were names of people, and the second, towns. People moving from villages to Kabul? What on earth did it have to do with her family?

The answer came at the bottom of a pile, where she found a smaller, worn envelope, that when opened disclosed a Canadian passport, birth certificate, driver’s license and social insurance number card. Her mother’s face stared out from the passport and driver’s license, but in each case the name on the document was Anne Smith.

Morgan let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding.

What had her mother done? Wordlessly, she showed the passport to Rob.

"Well, hell," he said.

Morgan took back all the documents again, sorting through the tickets and receipts for trains and buses.

Her mother had been moving people from villages to Kabul. Accompanying them in their travels.

Why?

Autumn popped back into the room. "What do you think?"

"She was helping people move. In Afghanistan. I don’t understand why, though."

"I checked – all the names on that list are female," Autumn said. "She was helping women move – girls, actually. Look at the two sets of dates on each line. I think the first is a birthdate. The second is the day she delivered them to Kabul."

Morgan began to do the math as Autumn brought in plates laden with warmed-up pizza and set them on the coffee table before them. "They’re teenagers," she exclaimed.

"Child brides, I bet. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me," Autumn said.

"You think my mom was rescuing…" Morgan trailed off. This was too bizarre.

"She was saving young women who were probably married off against their will. I imagine she brought them to a safe house in Kabul."