For His Brother's Wife

By: Kathie Denosky
One

Colby Richardson—Cole to his friends and family—pushed his wide-brimmed Resistol back on his head and muttered a word he normally reserved for dire circumstances and locker room banter as he stood in the feedlot of the Double R Ranch and surveyed the damage to the outbuildings. His gaze strayed to the empty space where, up until six months ago, the main barn had stood. The debris had been cleared away, but it did little to erase the memory of seeing the barn he and his brother used to play in reduced to a pile of broken boards and splintered beams. The deadly twister that had leveled parts of downtown Royal, Texas, and several other small communities close by had skipped its way across the west Texas landscape, laying waste to everything in its path—including part of his family’s ranch.

Glancing over his shoulder at the ranch house, he shook his head as he amended that thought. It didn’t belong to his family anymore. When their father passed away a few years back, the ranch had gone to Cole’s twin brother, Craig. Now it belonged to Craig’s widow, Paige.

He sighed heavily as guilt and regret settled over him. He had always hoped that one day he and his estranged twin would be able to put the anger and resentment aside and, at the very least, establish a semblance of a relationship. After all, they were only thirty-two. There should have been plenty of time for that. But when the tornado tore its way through the area, his brother’s time had run out, and with his passing any possibility of reconciliation between them had been brought to an end.

The devastation and loss of property were one thing, but the death of Craig—along with six other souls at the Royal town hall that day—was another. Cole and his business partner, Aaron Nichols, had used their Dallas-based construction company to help rebuild the town and make repairs to damaged property. But there wasn’t a damned thing anyone could do to bring back the lives that had been lost. He wished with everything that was in him that there was.

Taking a deep breath, Cole unclipped the cell phone on his belt. He had put off making the repairs to the Double R long enough. The construction crew he had assigned to rebuild the Lone Star Bar and Grill would complete that job by the end of the day and could start on the repairs to the Double R first thing in the morning.

As he relayed the work order to the crew foreman and clipped the phone back onto his belt, he watched his sister-in-law leave the house and start across the yard toward him. A knot the size of his fist twisted his gut. The moment he’d learned about the tornado and Craig’s death, he had rushed back to his hometown to do whatever he could to help Royal recover and to help Paige get through making the funeral arrangements for his brother. Right away it had become apparent that he’d have to keep his interaction with her brief and he knew she had to be confused by the strained encounters. But he hadn’t anticipated the effect she still had on him.

The first time he’d laid eyes on her in his senior year of high school, Cole had been fascinated with her. Tall and willowy, she moved like a graceful dancer, and as he watched her walk toward him now, he found himself just as captivated as the day they’d first met. The slight breeze played with her long auburn hair and he couldn’t help but wonder how the soft wavy strands would feel as he ran his fingers through them.

“I didn’t realize you were coming by today, Cole,” Paige said, smiling as she walked up to him. She used the name his family called him and it suddenly occurred to him, she was the only family he had left.

Shaking his head to dispel the last traces of his ridiculous introspection, Cole forced himself to concentrate on the reason for his visit to the Double R. “I’ve scheduled one of the R&N work crews to start rebuilding your barn and making repairs to the other outbuildings first thing in the morning.”

“Have the construction crews you brought with you from Dallas finished all of the work on the other projects first?” she asked. She had been adamant that the repairs the Double R needed could wait until permanent housing for the displaced families who had lost everything during the storm had been taken care of. Her selflessness hadn’t surprised him in the least.

He nodded. “Aaron is in charge of overseeing those crews, but he assured me the last of the houses R&N Builders are contracted to rebuild will be finished by the end of the month.”

“Good.” She shaded her pretty gray eyes from the midafternoon sun with one delicate hand. “Stella and I were talking the other day about how important it is to get the families back into homes of their own and reestablish a sense of permanence and normalcy,” she said, referring to Stella Daniels, the town’s acting mayor and his business partner’s new wife. “Children need that sense of belonging after what they’ve been through and all they’ve lost.”

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