James Landry brought the wagon to a halt alongside the train depot. He set the brake and hopped down from the hard seat then grasped his fiancée, Tess Weston, around the waist and lowered her to stand on the hard-packed ground beside him. Behind him, a horse snorted. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Russ and Bear dismount and go inside the depot. The aging cowhands from Wooded Acres, the Westons' sprawling ranch north of town, would take Tess home once he boarded the train.
"I still don't understand why you have to be the one to go to Denver," Tess complained while smoothing her skirts. "Pa has twenty men working for him. Let him send someone else."
"No one else but me can go." He looked toward the jagged mountains in the distance. "Those storm clouds have been gathering since last night. Your pa sent the others out to herd the cattle closer to home. There was no need to move them until now. Weather has been mild for months."
"I don't care about the cows." Tess grasped his forearms. "Our wedding is in two days. What happens if it does snow and you get stranded in Denver?"
Tess wrinkled her nose, a trait he recognized as annoyance. Not with him for showing affection in public. She liked that. She didn't like being left behind. Or having her objections overruled, especially this one. Truth be told, he didn't favor leaving her behind. Or not being able to give her something she wanted. But he didn't have a choice. He had to go. And she had to stay here.
"I'm not gonna get stranded in Denver," he assured, cupping her cheek and caressing her soft skin. "I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. We'll chop down that pine tree I promised you and have it up in our house to decorate Christmas morning. Okay?"