"What do you mean you ordered a husband?" Everett Becker asked his only daughter.
Essie clasped her hands in front of her and lowered her gaze. "I mean just what I said, Pa. I found myself a husband."
Everett tilted his hat up and wiped his brow. He leaned against the pitchfork in his hand. "Essie Marie, this is not the time for fun and games."
She lifted her green eyes to his. They were round and watery. "Pa, honest, I ain't playin' no games."
"How the hell do you just order yourself a husband?"
Essie glanced around the inside of the barn. She looked like she didn't want to make eye contact with him anymore than she had to.
"Well, when we went into town last, I noticed ads in the paper for brides." She swallowed, still bouncing her eyes around. "And I was struck with an idea." She beamed at him. "I can get myself a husband by placin' an ad!"
Everett stared at his daughter, his little girl that wasn't so little anymore. She was twenty years old already.
"Essie, women don't put ads in the paper. Men put ads in the paper." He set the pitchfork aside. Mucking out the stalls would have to wait.
"But I did and it worked!" she exclaimed.
Everett put his hands on his hips. "What do you mean by that?"
She rocked back on her heels, clasping her hands behind her back. "He replied."
Everett dropped his hands to his sides. "What does that mean?"
"He's comin'!" She sounded excited.
He strode slowly towards his daughter. "Who. Is. Coming?"
Essie backed up a step. She ran a hand over her blonde hair, licking her lips and darting her gaze all over the place again.
"Uh, well, he. Mr. Archie Smith."
"Archie Smith?" He glared down at her. She was tall for a woman, five feet and eleven inches, but Everett was even taller at six feet, five inches.
"Yes, he replied and he's on his way." she said a little shakily. "I went into town just last week with Mr. and Mrs. Berry and there it was —" she spread her hands. "A letter waitin' for me."
He couldn't believe his daughter had gone behind his back and ordered a husband.
"Essie, you don't find yourself a husband. That's the job of your father."
"But you wasn't doin' it!" she exclaimed. "I've waited and waited. And there ain't no men around here worth marryin'." She rubbed her arms and bit her lip. "I'm sorry, Pa, but I had to take matters into my own hands." She didn't sound defiant, she sounded defeated.
It softened his heart a little, but he couldn't help the worry simmering in his gut. Who was this man? Why had he accepted an offer of marriage from a woman he'd never seen? Women did it, but a man doing it? Answering a ad in the paper? It was unheard of.
"Essie, there were plenty of men willing to marry you here."
She put her hands on her hips and stared at him, her brows drawn together angrily. "Do you mean old man Carter? He's so old he could be my granpop . Or do you mean Ross or Amos? They're missing most of their teeth and they smell like them hogs they own."
"Essie..." he sighed.
"Adam and Norman ain't interested in me, they've never paid a lick of mind to me. They have stars in their eyes for Minnie and Nancy." She paced away. "There was no one for me. Them all the neighbors we got and none of them was for me." She spun around and faced him. Her lip wobbled. "I just wanted a husband afore I was a old maid."
Everett's heart ached. He knew she had been wanting someone, but he'd not known she'd wanted someone this badly. And he'd have never agreed to a marriage with Ross, Amos, or Mr. Carter. Norman or Adam he would have, but sadly, they weren't interested in his daughter.
"I could have taken you into town." He cleared his throat. "I could have found a respectable man for you."
"The closest town is half a day's ride from here. And it's pickings ain't much better than 'round here."
He put his hands on his hips. "That doesn't make it right what you did, Essie."
She came to a stop in front of him. Her green eyes were pleading. "Pa, I'm sorry I went behind your back and did this, but he's comin'. Last week he said he'd be on the train headin' this way on Wednesday."
"It's Friday." He shook his head. "I'm guessing he's arriving today?"
His daughter didn't have to say anything, he could already tell the answer by the darting of her eyes.
"And where did you get the money to pay for his way out here?"
"He said he'd pay his own, but I was goin' to pay him back when he got here." She stared at him with wide eyes. "From my own savings. I ain't never stole from you, Pa."
He pressed his forefinger and thumb into his eyes. "Essie, I don't know what to say to you." He tossed his gloves onto the table against the wall.
"Pa, I'm sorry, but—"
"He's not staying."
"No," he said firmly. "I'll go and meet him at the station, but he's not coming back to this house. I'm not giving my daughter away to a man I've never met before."
Her eyes filled with tears. "But Pa!"
"How many letters have you exchanged with this young man?"
Her cheeks tinted pink and her eyes shifted to the ground. "Uh, just the one I sent after I'd gotten the letter 'bout him comin'."
Everett pursed his lips. "So you don't even know what this man's intentions are?" He felt his hackles rise at the thought that this could be some man wanting to take advantage of a young woman desperate enough to place an ad in the paper.
"He said he was comin' to me marry me!" She clutched at her heart. "He didn't even wait for me to send him money. He just said he was comin'." She nodded her head once.
Everett's forehead pinched. "Where's the letter?" This was sounding more and more like this man was a no good rascal, who was hoping he could weasel his daughter out of everything she had.
"It's in my room." She glanced outside. "I think though we'd better head to town. It's getting late and I don't wanna miss him." She started for the barn door.
She halted, but didn't turn around.
"You're not coming."
She spun around, nearly tripping over her own two feet. "But he's my husband to be!"
He gritted his teeth. "He is not."
He held his hand up. "You are not to say another word. I will go into town and take care of this mess."
Everett couldn't believe he was losing a whole day of work because he had to make an unexpected trip into town. He'd left a surly Essie behind, with instructions to finish mucking out the stables and feeding the animals. But she couldn't do all the work around the farm. Tomorrow would be a long day.
He rode into town just as the train was pulling in. Newberry wasn't a big town, but with the new train station he knew it wouldn't stay small for long.
He pulled Embers to a halt in front of the hitching post.
"I'll be right back, girl," he said softly as he tied the reins to the post.
He wasn't planning on staying long.
Essie said Mr. Archie Smith was going to be wearing striped pants, and a black coat and hat.
Everett stepped up onto the ramp. The train was steaming and passengers were unloading.
Everett let his eyes slide over every man that disembarked. They either had someone with them or they had someone waiting.
Everett stood there, growing impatient as man after man passed him by.
Suddenly, a young man in a black hat stepped down from the train.
Everett's eyes locked on the figure. His stomach swooped and his heart skipped. A bead of sweat ran down his temple. His hands twitched and his palms grew sweaty.
This man stirred forbidden desires in him.
The man looked around. He was clearly searching for someone.
He had a black coat, striped pants, and a thin black tie around his neck. He looked like a city slicker.
His smooth face frowned as he cast his gaze up and down the ramp.
No way in hell was that Mr. Archie Smith.
The man's eyes landed on Everett. They widened slightly.
Everett felt his cock thicken and his balls tighten. Those dark eyes pulled at him like a moth to a flame.
Everett knew he should look away. He knew he shouldn't keep looking at that young man that stirred his gut and made his cock ache.
But his feet had a mind of their own, because Everett started walking towards him.
The man's eyes widened even more. Everett didn't break eye contact, even though they were surrounded by people. He felt like he was on a lead, being led right to the slaughter.
The man swallowed hard when Everett came to a stop just a couple of feet in front of him. He had to tilt his head all the way back to keep the eye contact.
Up this close, Everett could see the freckles across the man's nose and cheekbones. Wisps of golden brown hair snuck out from under the rim of his hat.
"You looking for someone?" Everett's voice came out deeper than normal.
The man visibly shuddered. "I...I am." He nodded. "Yes, I'm looking for Miss Essie Becker."
Hearing his daughter's name was like a splash of cold water.
He stepped back. "You're Archie Smith?"
Archie's eyes were round and his cheeks pink. "Uh, yes."
Everett didn't even know what to think. Or feel. The last few moments... it just wasn't possible that he'd felt...something towards this man.
He wasn't unnatural.
He put his hands on his hips, and lowered his head towards the wooden ramp under his boots.
"You need to head on back home." Everett said. He turned around and marched off the ramp. He felt like he was going to come out of his skin. He was burning up and icy cold at the same time.
"Wait!" Archie called out.
Everett heard the man hurrying after him.
Everett didn't stop. He couldn't. He was too rattled from those few moments where his sanity had left him. He couldn't deal with Archie Smith.
"Sir! Please." Archie had finally caught up with him.
Everett kept walking.
"Did something happen to Miss Becker?"
Everett made it to Embers and untied the reins. He was aware of every pant of air the young man breathed; every step he took, and every movement of his body.
"Nothing happened to her," he replied gruffly. "She made a mistake." He put his foot in the stirrup and mounted.
Archie ran around to his side and grabbed his calf. Everett felt like he'd been burned with fire. He had to grind his teeth together to keep from kicking the touch away.
"Please, wait," Archie pleaded. "I don't have anywhere to go." He looked like he was struggling to find the right words. "Is there somewhere in town I can stay perhaps?" He sounded uncertain.
Everett glanced down at him, then wished he hadn't. Archie looked so young and vulnerable gazing up at him like that. His brown eyes were big and a little scared. His lips were pink and wet and full.
Everett glanced away. He couldn't look at that mouth again.
"I'm her father."
Archie dropped his hands from his leg and stepped back.
Everett was grateful he'd taken his hands away, the touch had been searing his skin through his pants.
Everett straightened in the saddle. "That's right."
Archie licked his lips as he glanced down.
Everett didn't like the tightening he got in his groin at the sight of that pink tongue.
"Then you know I'm her intended," he said as he lifted his eyes back to Everett's.
"You are not," he said sternly. "You're going to get back on that train and head back where you came from."
Archie looked terrified at the idea.
"I'll pay you for your troubles." They didn't have the extra money to be spending on foolishness, but Essie hasn't left him much choice.
"No, it's not that." He swallowed. "I can't go back."
Everett frowned at him. "You a wanted man?" It was just as he thought; this man was no good. He'd been hoping to take advantage of his daughter and then leave her high and dry.
Archie shook his head so hard the damn thing near flew off. "N—no, uh, I uh, well, the thing is..."
"Goodbye, Mr. Smith." He clicked his tongue and turned his horse around.
"No, wait!" The young man jogged along side Embers. "Please, Mr. Becker, I can explain. I'm not a wanted man. I just can't go back. I'm not on good terms with my family. I have no one." He said all that in a rushed breath.
"I don't take kindly to people who take advantage of those they view as weaker." He stopped Embers and stared down at the sweating man. His cheeks were red and his hair was sticking to his forehead underneath his hat. He was clutching a small carpet bag to his chest.
"Mr. Becker, I assure you, I had no intention of taking advantage of your daughter. I was not even going to take the money she was going to give me for reimbursement of the train ticket."
Everett didn't know whether this man was telling the truth or not. He appeared to be genuine, but Everett didn't trust so easily. Especially a man that accepted a proposal from an ad in the paper. With no written letters between them. Nothing but the answer that he was coming.
"You're not marrying my daughter." He glared at Mr. Smith.
"I'm sorry for the misunderstanding. I had no idea—"
"You had no idea because there wasn't any correspondence between you two other than the letter you sent her."
Archie did look a bit embarrassed about that. "Yes, I am sorry, but I knew when I came across her ad in the paper, it was a god send."
Everett scoffed. "A god send, huh?"
"Yes," he said.
Everett guided his horse to the shade between two buildings. Archie followed close behind.
He dismounted when they were both out of the sunlight.
"Listen, Mr. Smith..."
"Archie," he said. "I don't have room at my house for another person."
"I'm not afraid of hard work, Mr. Becker. I can do anything you need. And I can sleep anywhere. Even outside."
Everett stared at him. He looked determined; his shoulders were squared and his jaw rigid. His brown eyes gazed unflinchingly into Everett's.
"I don't need another hand on the farm." He could use the help, but he couldn't afford to pay him.
"I won't ask for anything but room and board."
Everett sighed. "I don't like bringing a stranger into my house."
A bit of that vulnerability Everett has seen earlier crept back into Archie's eyes. "I'll do anything...please just give me a chance."
Everett pushed his hat back with his knuckle and hung his other hand on his hip. Archie watched his every movement.
He didn't know why this man pulled at all the carefully hidden desires he'd had since he was a boy. Everything about him, from his short height to his golden brown hair, tugged at his heart.
The whole time he'd been in his presence, he'd been half hard. His balls were aching with the need to release.
It was a bad idea, he knew it, but he couldn't turn him away.
"I only brought the one horse." He chucked his thumb over his shoulder.
A bright smile split Archie's face. "I'm fine with that."
That damn smile nearly stole the air right out of Everett's lungs.
This is a bad idea.
Archie tried not to move as he rode behind Mr. Becker. His arms were already wrapped loosely around his firm waist, and every time he shifted, Archie was forced to grip that firm stomach even tighter.
It was making his pants a little uncomfortable.
When he'd first laid eyes on Mr. Becker he'd thought he'd fallen asleep on the train. No one could look like that and be real.
Archie flexed his fingers slightly, feeling the hard muscle. He bit his lip to keep all sounds inside.
Mr. Becker was definitely real.
Those storm gray eyes had pierced through him like a lightning bolt. He'd felt alive, and like he was drowning, all at the same time.
"It's going to be a while before we reach the farm," Mr. Becker said.
Archie cleared his throat. "That's fine." He didn't know what else to say. He was so grateful that Mr. Becker had not tossed him away like he'd been about to do. Archie didn't have anywhere else to go, and he'd used nearly all of his money on the journey here.
He'd begged Mr. Becker, and he should have felt embarrassed by his lack of pride, but at the moment, he only felt relief.
A hot breeze blew over Archie's sticky skin. It was much warmer in Texas than it was in Boston. He wished he could take his coat off.
His ass started to feel numb; he shifted on the horse's back, which only bumped his groin against Mr. Becker's back.
He jumped and wobbled.
Mr. Becker grabbed his hands and held them around his waist. "You alright, Mr. Smith?"
Archie swallowed, his heart beating a little harder. "Archie. And yes, I'm fine."
Mr. Becker eased his hand off of Archie's. He instantly missed the heavy and rough feel of those hands engulfing his own.
This was not the time or the place for such thoughts. He had come to Texas to start a new life. He was different now.
He was putting all the old ways behind him.
Everett stared straight ahead and gritted his teeth every time Archie Smith moved behind him. He couldn't get his damn cock to soften; it remained half hard the entire ride back to the farm.
It'd never done that.
But Everett wasn't a weak man. He knew the meaning of the word self-control. He wasn't going to allow these unnatural feelings to take him over.
Archie Smith was a handsome man, there was no denying that fact. But Everett wasn't going to let whatever happened at the station distract him from what was important: keeping the farm going and keeping his head down.
He had lived that way his whole life, and he'd continue that way till the day he died.