The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Page 4)

The Cowboy Rescues a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #7)(4)
Author: Cora Seton

He didn’t want to give up his life—not any of it. He didn’t want to hurt anybody, either. He couldn’t walk this path anymore.

Cab must have seen something of his thoughts in his eyes. He should have arrested Ned and hauled him up to see a judge. With all his priors, Ned should have spent some time in jail.

Instead, Cab gripped his bicep with fingers that could have snapped his arm in two, stepped into Ned’s personal space and said, “One more time.”

Ned had nodded. He knew exactly what Cab meant. He had one more chance to get it right. One more chance to become the man he knew he could be. One more chance to learn another way of dealing with the heartbreak and pain life threw at you.

One more chance, or he’d be locked up for a good, long time.

Ned had grabbed that chance with two hands and was holding on for dear life. Especially now that Fila had come to Chance Creek.

He put his tools away carefully, tucked the envelope under his arm, and left the shop to make his way back to his cabin. He’d take a look at the contents when he was alone. Maybe he could piece together the information he needed from the catalog’s pictures. Maybe he could read just enough of the words to figure it out.

Or maybe it would remain as much a mystery as a foreign language, he thought disgustedly.

Or maybe Fila could help.

With that thought buoying him up, he increased his pace, already anticipating the meal to come.

By the time Ned came through the door for lunch, Fila had herself under control again. She’d sobbed until she’d run out of tears, then taken a shower, scrubbed her face until it burned, washed her hair and rebraided it, got dressed in clean clothes and tried again.

This time she didn’t sing along to the music, but she kept it on, absorbing the words and rhythms and melodies, hoping against hope that they would crowd out the haunting Afghan tunes that had filled her head for the past decade.

She still managed to have the bolani ready for Ned’s meal when he came home from morning chores. He burst through the door in a wash of cold, fresh air that braced her up.

“Be right there.” He tossed a large envelope on the sofa in the living room, kicked off his boots, hung up his jacket and cowboy hat and headed for the bathroom. A few minutes later they were seated at the table, and Fila served him several bolani flatbreads and passed a container of spiced yogurt to use as a dip.

As she sat down in her chair, she felt Ned’s gaze on her and she knew he had noticed the signs of her earlier tears by the way his mouth went hard. He didn’t say anything, though. Just fell to eating with a relish that made her heart warm. Ned liked her cooking. He liked the way she kept his home. He did a million little thoughtful things to show her that he was pleased.

He never, ever yelled or hit or pinched or punched—no matter what she did. Fila knew that was supposed to be a given, but it wasn’t. Not in her experience.

“I had to feed the cattle twice as much as usual this morning. Sure is cold out there.”

Fila nodded. She’d seen the cattle come out from their sheltered hideouts in the brush to eat their hay this morning. They’d stood patiently in the uncomfortable weather and eaten their fill. Ned had explained that digesting the tough hay actually helped increase their body temperatures.

“We’re still on for dinner tonight, aren’t we?”

Fila set the piece of flatbread she was eating down on her plate and wiped her hands on the napkin that lay across her lap. She’d hoped Ned would forget about that.

“Yes,” she said finally, but she dreaded the outing.

“It’ll be great, you’ll see,” Ned said. “The food at DelMonaco’s is terrific. Almost as good as yours.”

She tried to smile.

“Besides, I want to show you something. Something you’re really going to like.”

“What?” Her voice was thin and she wanted to try again, but that seemed silly. She knew she had to practice talking as much as she needed to practice singing, though, so she cleared her throat. “What do you want me to see?”

“It’s a surprise,” Ned said. “You’ll like it, though. I know it.” He held up a flatbread. “These are terrific, like always. My favorite.”

“I know.”

“The house looks great. What are you going to do this afternoon?”

Fila shrugged. The usual. Listen to her music. Watch television. Autumn had encouraged her to watch as much as she could to catch up with everyone else after her ten year absence. She was beginning to understand pop culture again and while she found she had to avoid the news and violent dramas or risk flashbacks, she enjoyed women’s talk shows and had even gotten hooked on a soap opera. It passed the time and made her feel like she had company, even if in reality she was alone.

Sometimes Ned’s mother came over for a chat, or invited her over to the main house on the spread to spend time there, but Lisa seemed to understand that made her feel uncomfortable. The older women in the village she’d left behind were sometimes as bad as the men. Or worse. Lisa was so kind and sweet, Fila hated herself for the way her words dried up in her throat around her. Her reaction was yet another indication of how much her fear had a hold on her. Fila knew she was healing, bit by bit and step by step.

She just hadn’t expected it to take so long.

“There’s something you could do for me,” Ned said, breaking into her thoughts. “That envelope over there has some information about feed supplements we need to order for the cattle. I don’t have time to look through it today. Think you might take a look? It’d be a help.”

Understanding broke over Fila. He wanted her to read through it because he couldn’t.

It hadn’t taken her long to discover Ned’s secret, once she’d come to live with him. It had been the clue to all that anger and ill-temper everyone else talked about. Ned was a proud man, just like the village men had been back in Afghanistan, and just like them he hated to feel at a disadvantage in any way.

Just like many of them, he couldn’t read.

Fila had missed reading even more than she missed music when she was in Afghanistan, but while she learned to speak Pashto during her time there, she had no opportunity to learn to read it. There was very little in the village to read, and what little there was wouldn’t have been shared with her. She soon realized that ignorance of the wider world was deemed becoming in a woman. Education wasn’t. Fila kept her mouth shut and learned to play dumb. She paid attention, though. She knew what a man looked like when he couldn’t read but wanted to pretend he did. She’d seen Ned act the same way soon after she arrived on the ranch. It didn’t take long to put two and two together. While many Afghan village men might be illiterate, few American men were. She realized the disadvantage Ned was under. Saw how hard he worked to cover it up.