One Texas Night - By Jodi Thomas

Chapter 1

Fort Worth, Fall, 1889

Hank Harris squared his shoulders, forcing himself not to slump as he passed through the doorway of the Tucker dugout. He stepped into the one-room home with dread settling around his heart like sand.

At six feet six he knew he was destined to hit his head any time he ventured indoors. Seemed like houses all got too short about the time he started growing whiskers. Now, at thirty-one, he’d spent half his life watching out for low rafters.

He caught himself wishing that was all he had to watch out for tonight.

“Welcome, Mr. Harris!” a female bellowed as if he wasn’t standing within reach of her. “Trust you made the five miles from Fort Worth without any problem. That north wind has sure been howling all day.” The woman winked boldly. “I’ll bet you think it’s calling you home to that mound of dust folks call Amarillo.”

Hank removed his hat and nodded, not wanting to encourage conversation. Dolly Tucker’s shrill voice could strike kindling in a dry stove. He only prayed that her tone wasn’t hereditary.

He couldn’t stop the smile that wrinkled his normally hard mouth. Maybe he should be praying for himself. After all, he was the one fool enough to agree to meet Dolly’s little sister. Most folks would say he had no right to be criticizing others. He wasn’t the kind of man anyone would mistake as good-looking and, with the price of cattle dropping, any wealth he had lay far in the future.

I’m a hard worker though, he reminded himself. And honest. If I ever get a wife, I’ll never mistreat her. That should be worth something in this world.

“You’re looking all cleaned and pressed,” Dolly yelled as she patted his arm. “You must have stopped at the creek.” She waddled around him like a round little toy. “Your hair still looks wet.”

Hank didn’t know how to answer. He had no intention of discussing his bathing habits with the woman. In truth, he could never remember discussing anything but the weather with the fairer sex.

When he’d seen Dolly’s husband, Charlie Tucker, at the stockyard in Fort Worth a few hours ago, it had seemed simple. Dolly’s sister was visiting from Chicago and Charlie said they’d like him to meet her. He had even insisted that Hank stop by around suppertime.

Hank knew what that meant. They were introducing her to all the single men in West Texas. He’d played the game before a few times in the ten years he’d been ranching. He was respectable enough for a brother-in-law to introduce. He owned his own spread, was single, didn’t drink to excess. But Hank also guessed that if Charlie was rounding up prospects, he might as well take his place at the back of the line.

On the bright side, he’d get a home-cooked meal for his trouble and Hank figured that made the ride out worthwhile.

“Would you like some coffee, Mr. Harris?” Dolly didn’t give him time to answer before shouting, “Charlie Ray, pour him a cup while I go to the barn and find Agnes. It’s almost dark. She should be able to guess it’s about time for supper. The world can’t always run on her schedule.”

Hank swallowed hard. Agnes was close to the ugliest name he’d ever heard. That must be why they keep her in the barn. Either that or the girl talked like her sister and poor Charlie would be deaf if he heard the voice coming from two directions at once.

Another thought crossed his mind. What if Agnes wasn’t bright enough to know the time of day? Some men in this part of the country weren’t too particular, but knowing the time seemed a necessary skill.

Dolly’s husband moved to the iron stove and burned his hand grabbing the pot. Hank fought down a laugh. What was it about some men? They seem to live perfectly well by themselves for years. Then they get married and act like they’ve never been near a stove.

“I appreciate you stopping by,” Charlie mumbled as he finally managed to pour a cup.

Hank nodded, knowing he was just doing a favor for a friend. Men like Hank lived alone. No woman would have wanted to start out with nothing like he’d had to and, by the time he could afford more than a three-room house, he’d be too old and hardened for a woman to be interested.

Before Hank’s coffee cooled enough to drink, someone tapped at the door.

Hank stood ready to offer his hand as more