Authors: Geralyn Dawson
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Book 2 of The Bad Luck Wedding Series, #Historical, #Fiction
She was a tiny woman with an enormous opinion about every issue and occurrence in town. Claire had witnessed her lecture of a pair of rowdy schoolboys in the mercantile just the day before. The woman had gone on for more than half an hour about how children should be seen and not heard.
I bet Maybelle Davis and the McBride Menaces mix about as well as a Baptist choir and bawdy songs
Loretta Davis acknowledged Claire and her “ooh” with a distressed nod.
Tye must know about Maybelle Davis, too, because he’d gone a bit green and his voice squeaked as he asked, “The girls have had dealings with your mother?”
“Yes, my mother,” Loretta confirmed, her bountiful chest heaving in agitation. “She spoke in my father’s place at school for Commerce Day. She talked about being a physician’s wife. The teacher invited a number of representatives from local businesses to speak also. Including a blacksmith.”
Claire noticed that Tye had to drag his gaze back up to Loretta’s face. Men and bosoms. They are never too busy to notice.
“I’m sorry,” he said to Loretta. “I’m not making the connection.”
“The blacksmith is my beau, Mr. Gus Willard.” Loretta blinked furiously as tears pooled in her honey-brown eyes. “It was that Emma. I swear she is eleven going on twenty. She told my mother you…you are…you are very…”
With every stutter, Tye’s complexion grew a little greener. He croaked, “I’m very what?”
“Eligible,” she wailed.
Tye blinked. “Excuse me?”
“Emma told my mother you are heir to some grand English castle. She said you are rich beyond our wildest dreams. Needless to say, my mother has made an abrupt about-face. She’s joined forces with those Menaces to see us wed.” Tears spilled down Loretta’s cheeks and she cried, “And my Gus heard the whole story. Now he thinks he’s not good enough for me.”
She clutched at Tye’s shirt sleeve and said, “Tell me it isn’t true, Mr. McBride. Tell me you don’t own a castle.”
Claire leaned forward in her chair, dying to hear the answer to this.
Grimacing, Tye scratched the back of his neck. “It’s not a castle. It’s a manor house. And I’m not the heir.
It’s my child who will inherit most of the wealth. My share is only a fraction.”
Hope shined like sunbeams in Loretta’s eyes. “You’re already married? You have a child?”
“No. I have no children.”
Claire heard a note of pain in the answer and wondered at it.
“Oh, no. That’s it then. My life is ruined.” Loretta dabbed at her eyes with a lace-trimmed handkerchief as tears overflowed
Tye cast a what-do-I-do-now gaze toward Claire. She gestured for him to pat the poor, sobbing young woman’s back. Awkwardly, he reached out and laid a hand on Loretta’s shoulder. His touch gave voice to her tears and she started blubbering aloud.
“Men,” Claire said with a sigh. She stood and wrapped a consoling arm around Loretta. “Now, now. Calm down. There’s no need to water yourself dry. Matters aren’t as bleak as you think. Mr. McBride will have a talk with your Gus and smooth things out.”
“It’s no use. It’s gone too far for that. My
She wrenched away from Claire and threw herself against Tye. She clutched at his shirt with both hands and buried her face against his chest. Though he bore it with a stoic look on his face, Claire noted he didn’t resist the proximity of a pillowy bosom.
Her offer of comfort dismissed, but unwilling to walk out on the play altogether, Claire turned her attention to tidying the shop.
First order of business is to get the bolts of fabric off the floor
, she thought.
Moments later, Loretta burst out in a new flurry of tears. “Oh, look. She has that bolt of red cotton. I’m making a shirt for Gus out of that very cloth for his birthday. All I have left is to sew on the buttons, and now he won’t want it.”
As the waterworks continued, Tye shot Claire a helpless, entreating look. “Miss Donovan?”
Claire rolled her eyes, then set the bolt of gingham she held on the worktable and approached the sobbing woman and uneasy man. Stopping directly behind Loretta, she looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes?”
“I think Loretta could use a little female encouragement about now. Maybe you could take her next door? Maybe feed her one of those cookies of yours? It might be helpful for her to talk with another woman. And as you heard, she seems to think her mother—”
“Is here!” Loretta whispered fiercely, her horrified gaze staring past Tye’s shoulder and out the window. She jerked back, hiding behind Tye. “You can’t let her find me here. She’ll know I’ve been crying and I’ll have to explain and I can’t explain. Not until I’ve talked to Gus. Don’t let her see me.”
“Lord McBride?” Maybelle Davis called as she entered Fortune’s Design. “Lord McBride, is that you? I need to speak with you about the most interesting information I picked up at school-” She broke off abruptly. “Why, Lord McBride, do you have a woman in your arms? Here in your sister-in-law’s shop? Have you compromised my daughter? Is that our Loretta?”
Tye’s mouth worked but no sound came out.
“The dressing room,” Claire whispered to Loretta. Then she whirled around to the rescue. Wearing her most charming smile, she glided toward Maybelle, silently demanding her attention. “It’s me, Mrs. Davis. Claire Donovan. Mr. McBride was just helping me get a piece of lint from my eye. All this fabric, you know. I’m so glad you stopped by the Rankin Building. I haven’t helped but notice what superior sense of style you have. I need to choose fabric for curtains for The Confectionary and I’m wondering if you would mind assisting me with my decision?” She gestured toward the bolt of yellow gingham on the worktable.
Maybelle raked the scene with a suspicious gaze. “Has your choice been so difficult that you created this mess, Miss Donovan? I do hope you handle foodstuffs with better care than you do dry goods. Otherwise the safety of eating in your shop will come into question.”
“Miss Donovan didn’t do this. It’s all my fault,” Tye hastened to say. “I’m afraid my puppy and I got a bit rambunctious while playing earlier.”
Maybelle smiled with delight. “You enjoy pets do you, Lord McBride? My Loretta just loves her kitty.”
“I’m not a lord. I’m a—”
“Landlord,” Claire interjected. “My lease called for the replacement of the curtains in my shop, so Mr. McBride is acting in his brother’s stead. He tried to help me choose, but you know how men are. I could certainly use a lady’s opinion, Mrs. Davis.” She lifted the yellow gingham and hurried toward the front of the shop. “Please, would you mind terribly walking next door with me? I need to know if this will look all right with the color of the paint, and I do so admire your sense of style.”
Flattery, along with the idea that Claire’s presence in the shop was just business did the trick. Maybelle beamed a smile at Claire. “Why, certainly. I’d be glad to help. I just need a moment with Lord McBride first.”
“Tye” he insisted. “Please, just call me Tye. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
The older woman’s eyes took on a predatory light as she said, “I’m hoping you can join us for dinner this evening, Tye. Loretta is cooking, and she makes a delicious roast beef. And she has also baked her pecan pie that won the blue ribbon at last year’s fair.”
“Sounds wonderful, but I’m afraid I can’t leave my nieces.”
Tye appeared truly regretful. Claire didn’t believe it for a minute.
“Oh, pshaw.” Maybelle waved a hand. “Please, feel free to bring them along. Loretta loves children.”
Tye attempted half a dozen more objections but he might as well have saved his breath. The woman overcame every one. Finally, he bowed to the inevitable and agreed to arrive for supper at seven o’clock that evening.
As Claire escorted the matchmaking mama from the dress shop, she glanced back over her shoulder. Tye McBride sat slumped in the chair, his legs stretched out before him, waving a frilly, white lace fan in front of his face.
The Menaces, Mrs. Wilson, Maybelle, and Loretta Davis.
Yes, Lord McBride, I’d say you’re in the hot seat now
She stifled a laugh. The man certainly had a way with women.
TYE WAITED a couple of minutes to make sure Maybelle wasn’t coming back before he ushered Loretta out the back. “I’m doomed,” the distraught daughter said once they’d reached the alley. “The McBride Menaces have ruined my life.”
Tye glanced heavenward. “Hush, now. Don’t be ridiculous. My Blessings haven’t done any more than speak a little out of turn. I’ll look up Gus and explain the situation, and before you know it, we’ll be dancing at your wedding. Now go on home, girl.”
She wore a pleading look as she insisted, “You’ll put a halt to this matchmaking your nieces are up to?”
Tye rubbed his palm across his jaw. “Yeah. I’ll put my foot down.” As he watched Loretta hurry down the alley, he added, “I just hope I don’t step in something unpleasant when I do.”
Back inside, he started putting Fortune’s Design to rights. He figured a good hour’s work would be required to make it fit for the store to reopen the following day. As he worked, he kept his ears perked for sounds of Maybelle Davis’s departure from next door. He wanted to thank Claire for all her help. Not only had she stood with him against Mrs. Wilson, she’d bailed him out when the Davis women came to call. He figured he owed the baker big time.
“Maybe I’ll buy her a hat,” he said to the rag doll Katrina had left in the shop. He knew it was Katrina’s because of the chocolate kiss stains across the face.
Tye had all the fabric off the floor and half the thread picked up when he saw Maybelle stroll past the window. Trying not to appear too anxious, he told himself to wait a full minute before heading next door.
He held out for thirty seconds.
Claire was wrapping yellow gingham back onto the bolt when he sauntered across the vestibule and into The Confectionary. She hadn’t seen him come in. He stopped abruptly just inside the door.
The woman literally sparkled. Sunlight beaming through the front window highlighted strands of fiery red that streaked through her golden hair. Her blue eyes danced, color stained her cheeks, and the grin teasing her lips gleamed. She was the very picture of beauty, and she took Tye’s breath away.
Must be the air in here, he thought. All that Magic hanging around. He cleared his throat, trying to break the spell.
She turned her head, then gave him a cutting glance. “I’ll have to talk my way out of pumpkin-colored curtains all because of you.”
He eyed the freshly painted yellow walls and said, “That’s going above and beyond the call of mere acquaintanceship. I guess we’ll have to be friends. Can you use a friend, Miss Donovan? I sure can.”
She tossed him a droll look. “You probably go through friends pretty fast. All that bailing you out of trouble wears on a person.”
Damn, but he liked her spunk. He realized that he meant it when he asked to be her friend. It wasn’t simply a throwaway line. He liked Claire Donovan and he would enjoy her friendship. Especially since she couldn’t be his lover.
What he didn’t like was the way his body responded to her. Damned Magic. Did it affect every man this way? “Do you have many male friends, Claire?”
Arching a brow, she tossed the gingham onto a nearby table. “I don’t remember giving you leave to use my given name, Lord McBride.”
Tye grimaced. “I swear you could fillet a fish with that tongue of yours. I figured after all we’ve been through together today, we were already on a first-name basis. Please, call me Tye.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “
call me Tye.”
She laughed and headed back toward the kitchen. “I’m thirsty, Tye. Can I offer you a lemonade?”
He remained in the main part of the shop, hesitant to go any closer to the place where she stored her elixir. While he waited he found himself wondering about men and Magic and whether he had cause to be concerned. His innocent, impressionable nieces would be living upstairs for the next couple of weeks. If she planned on parading a passel of fellas high on Magic through here, then he reckoned he had something to say about that.
Another thought struck him, and he momentarily shut his eyes. Good Lord, cattle season started shortly. Imagine the potential trouble when dozens of cowboys— randy by nature anyway—got hold of her cookies. It’d be like mating season on a goat farm. “I’ll have to move the Blessings to Dallas.”
He gave his head a little shake and accepted the glass she handed him. “The paint fumes are getting to me. Wouldn’t you like to go outside?”
She shook her head. “I have work to do, boxes of dishes to unpack. Your problems have already delayed me enough as it is.” Her skirt swirled as she turned around and headed for the back room.
Tye remained where he was, drumming his fingers on his knee as he thought. He, too, had work to do, but first he needed to do what he’d come here to do. Pushing to his feet, he braved the lingering Magic fumes and followed her into the kitchen. She was removing a white stoneware plate from a straw-filled crate, and her movements drew her blouse tight across her bosom.
She can give Loretta a run for the money in the breast department
, Tye couldn’t help but observe. Dragging his stare away from the pleasing sight, he spied a neat row of bottles lining the shelf. Damn Magic. Best get his business done and get out of here. “Thank you, Claire.”
Claire set the plate down, then looked at him. “For…?”
Even her neck is pretty, he thought. Slender and graceful. Damn, but she’s pretty as a polished pearl.
Tye cleared his throat and tried to drag his attention back to where it belonged. “For helping with Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Davis and with the shop. And most of all, for backing me up with Maribeth. I didn’t know how else to get around Rule Number Three. It would have killed me to have to take the dog away from them.”
“I know,” she replied. “And you are welcome. And, since I guess I would like to be friends, I probably should warn you about Maybelle. Her daughter was right to be worried. My little tête-à-tête with Maybelle convinced me she definitely has plans for you and her Loretta. She came right out and said she hopes Jenny McBride returns from her honeymoon in time to make Loretta’s gown for her wedding to you.”