The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 40)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(40)
Author: Cora Seton

“We’re working on it.”

Luke felt the other three men’s satisfaction as if it was wafting off of them in waves, and suddenly his chest ached with frustration.

He should be married to Mia already. He should be preparing to be a father to her little girl.

Instead he was still alone.

It was several days before Mia got a chance to stop in at one of the real estate offices in town. The wall to the right of the entryway was covered in corkboard and held all the current listings. A receptionist sat behind a counter typing at a desktop computer. A row of faux leather chairs formed a waiting area. Only one other potential client was in the office—a lean man in his early thirties with light brown hair and gray eyes. He had the build of a serious athlete and Mia bet he spent his off hours doing extreme sports. He didn’t look like a rancher, exactly. He lacked the easygoing, down-home attitude, for one thing. Instead he had a kind of intensity she couldn’t entirely place.

Mia smiled and nodded at him politely, then turned to examine the wall of possibilities. She wouldn’t want to spend all the money that Ellis gave her on a house. She needed savings to start her business and to tide her over until she got enough clients. She also wanted a college fund for baby Pamela. And she wanted to travel someday—just enough to give Pam a wider sense of the world.

As she began to examine the house listings, she bit her lip, surprised at the prices. The cheapest ones were well over a hundred thousand dollars and they all had frightening words like water damage, needs work or handyman special in their descriptions. The houses closer to a hundred and fifty thousand dollars were somewhat better, but they weren’t in the best parts of town and most of them had postage stamp lawns. She’d hoped for something more than that. Trailers were cheaper, of course, but then she’d have to pay a pad fee, and most of them barely had yards at all.

When she finally spotted a house she really liked, its list price was a hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. Her fingers tightened into fists in the pockets of her jeans. That left just twenty-five thousand dollars from Ellis’s money. What if the house needed repairs, or her truck broke down, or the baby got sick?

What if she did?

Still, a house was something special. Maybe it was worth the risk.

She hadn’t realized she’d sighed until the man glanced over at her. “Find a good one?”

“It’s too expensive.” She pointed to the one she liked, a yellow house with white shutters on a comfortable lot on the south side of town.

“What’s your limit?” He moved closer and scanned the listing.

“I’m not sure. I have—” She broke off. She shouldn’t talk money with a stranger.

The man chuckled. “It’s okay. I promise I won’t tell anyone else. My name’s Carl.”

“I’m Mia. Are you looking for a house?”

It was his turn to sigh. “Yes, unfortunately. I was stupid enough to sell the one I had.”

“And now you want it back?”

He shrugged. “Seller’s remorse, I guess you could say. So what’s your limit again? There are some nice ones around two hundred and fifty thousand.”

“That’s way over what I can afford. I’ve got two hundred—but this one is one-seventy-five.”

“You have two hundred grand to spend? Or that’s all you have in the world?”

“Two hundred grand is a lot of money,” she said, surprised at his tone.

“I didn’t mean it wasn’t.” His expression was kind and she relaxed.

“That’s all I have in the world. So I think this one is too expensive.”

He leaned against the wall and surveyed her thoughtfully. “Most people don’t buy houses with cash, you know. They make a down payment—about twenty percent is good. Then they get a loan for the rest.”

“I wouldn’t qualify for a loan,” Mia admitted. “So it’s cash or nothing.”

“Then this one is definitely too much. I wouldn’t go over ninety-five if I were you. Get a fixer upper and learn to do as much of the work yourself as you can.”

Jolene Manning appeared from the back of the office, a stack of file folders in her hand. She deposited them on the receptionist’s desk and walked right over to them. “Mia Start—are you looking at real estate? You must be marrying Luke, after all. I heard conflicting reports on that.”

Heat rose in Mia’s cheeks. “Actually, no. We’re not getting married. I’m looking to buy a place for myself.”

“Oh.” Jolene’s surprise was clear. “Then honey you’d better look at rentals. I don’t think you’ll qualify for a loan, and you’ll need one even for the condos.”

“I don’t need a loan. I want to buy a fixer-upper. With cash.”

Jolene laughed, her white teeth bright against her red lipstick. “Sweetie, did you look at the prices up there? You can’t buy these places with pocket change, you know.” She turned to Carl. “I’ll be with you in just a minute, sir.” She faced Mia again. “Honey, you go home and make up with Luke and come back together. I’ll be able to find just the right place for you if you don’t want to live on the Double-Bar-K.”

“I’ve got money of my own,” Mia protested.

Jolene took her arm and walked her firmly toward the door. “No, you don’t,” she said in a quiet voice that brooked no dissent. “I’m sorry, Mia, but I know your circumstances and you can’t afford a house. I work on commission. I need to talk to the customer that can afford one.” She tilted her chin toward Carl. “Make an appointment if you want me to explain real estate to you. I’m busy right now.”

A second later, Mia was out on the sidewalk, blinking back tears. She jammed her hands in the pockets of her winter jacket and hunched her shoulders against a biting wind that had just started up. The sky was the color of lead and the thaw that had seemed imminent this morning now seemed as distant as the moon. She couldn’t believe Jolene wouldn’t even listen to her. So much for her new professional look.

But then again, why would Jolene believe she had enough money for a house? No matter what she wore or how she styled her hair, she still worked a cash register for a living, and like everyone else Jolene believed that was all she’d ever do. She wasn’t proving to be an ace at business either. Look at the way she’d scheduled three back-to-back events in a single weekend.