The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 2)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(2)
Author: Cora Seton

That didn’t mean he was going to change his mind.

“You’re the one who shouldn’t push things.” He met his father’s steely gaze with one of his own. “She’s the one I mean to marry. Best get used to it right now.”

Holt’s face changed color, but his tone remained steely. “You marry that girl and I’ll cut you right out of my will. You will be dead to me!”

“Better start making funeral arrangements then.” Ned turned on his heel and headed back toward the door, anger simmering throughout his bloodstream. “Make my casket walnut. I’ve always been partial to a walnut casket.”

“Goddamn it!”

Ned slowed to a stop despite himself. That break in Holt’s voice wasn’t something he was accustomed to. He waited for more. He wasn’t disappointed.

“I could accept a first-generation American. It’s not what I want for my son but I could accept it. I could accept a woman who for all intents and purposes practices a different religion—”

“Fila’s not all that religious—”

“That’s why I said for all intents and purposes,” Holt snapped. “I could even accept you falling for a girl that nearly got your brother killed, seeing as I doubt she meant for that to happen.”

“No, I doubt she did.”

Holt ignored his sarcasm. “But I cannot stand here and watch you hitch yourself to a damaged woman.”

Ned stiffened. “What the hell do you mean by that?”

Holt must have caught his tone. Realized he’d gone too far. For once he explained himself. “I mean that girl can’t hardly meet a man’s eyes. She can’t hardly walk out her door. She has no skills. She’s frightened of her own shadow. What kind of partner is she going to be for you? You’re going to be her nursemaid, not her husband. You think you can heal her? You can’t.”

Of all the things his father could have said, this was the one that cut him to the quick—because it was true. He did want to heal Fila. He thought he could. Holt’s words highlighted his darkest fear.

Maybe Fila was beyond saving. Maybe she’d never confront her demons and win.

“Watching you marry that girl will be like watching you commit suicide. You can’t ask that of me.”

How the hell could he answer that?

Ned decided he couldn’t. He walked out the door.

Fila hummed along with the pop song playing on the iPod Ned had stationed in a dock on the kitchen counter this morning for her. She’d been able to find an online radio station that played hit music from the last decade—all the songs she’d missed while she’d been away. She was determined to learn them, to recapture her lost years. Pop music was one of the things she’d missed the most during her time in captivity.

She moved around the pleasant room quickly, gathering the ingredients she needed to make bolani—potato and green onion-filled flatbreads—one of Ned’s favorite Afghan dishes. She loved this now-familiar space with its hardwood floors and trim, and the wide windows that looked out over the pastures to the south. At first she’d been terrified to move in with the silent cowboy who owned the house when Ethan and Autumn needed her bedroom for an influx of paying guests, but she’d soon found that Ned’s brusqueness hid a tenderness she would never have credited in the man, especially since she’d heard the way everyone else talked about him. If she listened to gossip she’d think Ned was a fighter, but she’d never seen such a thing. Bringing her the iPod was just the latest in a long line of considerate gestures he’d made toward her.

As the song’s chorus sounded, Fila tried to sing along, but the sound of her own voice ringing out in the otherwise quiet house brought her up short and had her glancing over her shoulder to see if anyone had heard. She dropped the measuring cup she’d begun to dip into the bag of flour and gripped the counter to keep herself on her feet as waves of fear and nausea spun over her frame. She gripped the inch-thick wood with both hands, fighting against the urge to run upstairs and hide in her bed, to wrap herself up in her quilts and huddle there until her breathing slowed again.

There was nothing here to fear. She was alone. She was safe.

The Taliban were thousands of miles away.


No, definitely.

Fila straightened again. This was America. This was Chance Creek—not the hills of Afghanistan, where singing a pop song got you beaten—or your food withheld for two days. This was Chance Creek, where country music spilled from every radio, and listening to pop music—while not exactly approved of—was definitely tolerated. She made herself focus on the song again, already familiar with the words although it had come out during the time she was away. She waited for the chorus to come around again, then once more joined in, singing an entire phrase before her body reacted and shut her down. Her pulse increased, her breaths came short and quick as she gripped the counter harder. She braced herself for a slap or a pinch or a harsh volley of words, none of which came, of course.

She was safe. No one wanted to hurt her here.

Fila took deep breaths like Autumn had taught her—in through her nose and out through her mouth. Still the fear rolled over her, her stomach pitching and tossing like a ship on the waves. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she sunk to the floor to crouch on her knees, her fingers sliding from their handholds until she was balled up on the hard wood, her arms wrapped around her chest, her shoulder pressed against the cabinets that supported the butcher block island where she’d begun to work.

She fought back the tears that threatened to fall and swallowed past the burning lump in her throat. She couldn’t even sing. The Taliban had taken that from her just like they’d taken everything else.

She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t laugh, she couldn’t venture out past her front door without feeling like she’d pitch up the contents of her stomach at any moment.

Fear was her constant companion, just as it had ever been in the little village in Afghanistan. She’d thought she’d outrun it. She’d thought she’d conquered it during her flight home.

But it had followed her here and refused to give up its grip on her life.

She couldn’t let it beat her. She couldn’t let them win—those wiry men with piercing eyes and furious tempers, with their diatribes against everything and everyone and their need to hem her in, cut her down, dictate her every move, steal her words, steal her parents, steal her home—