The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 41)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(41)
Author: Cora Seton

The panic she’d been fighting for days surged up again. What if she’d overextended herself? What if she couldn’t do it? What if she ruined two of her friends’ weddings and Lila White’s reunion?

What if sending the letter to the pageant commission brought Fred Warner back into her life?

She turned and walked slowly toward her truck, trying to calm her own fears. Warner was far from Chance Creek. She didn’t have to worry about him. She’d get through these first three events and she’d be careful about scheduling more in the future.

Meanwhile, there were other real estate companies in town. Mia thought about visiting one now, but she didn’t have the heart to do it. She’d go home, regroup and figure out what to do next.

“Hey, Mia!”

Carl appeared on the sidewalk behind her, the door to the realtor’s office swinging closed. Mia stopped walking and waited for him to catch up.

“Want to grab a cup of coffee?”

“I thought you were buying a house.”

“I decided that woman wasn’t the realtor for me. If she treats you with disrespect—someone she knows—I figure she’ll treat me with disrespect too someday.”

“She treated me with disrespect because she knows me.” Mia kept her eyes on the pavement. “She knows I’m poor.”

“No one with two hundred grand in their bank account is poor.”

“Well, I was poor until Ellis gave it to me.”

“Ellis? Not Ellis Scranton?”

Mia wilted. Of course this nice man would have to know Ellis.

“Why did Ellis Scranton give you two hundred grand?” Carl peered down at her. “What did the old scumbag do to you?”

“Got me pregnant,” Mia said dejectedly. Everyone else knew about it. Carl might as well too.

He snorted. “Figures. Listen, I’m still up for that coffee if you are. I’m not Ellis—I won’t hit on you. I’m a businessman, though—just like him. I might be able to give you some advice.”

“Or maybe you’ll talk me right out of my money.” Mia was done with men taking advantage of her.

“I swear I won’t do that. Can I tell you a secret?”

Mia hesitated. Looked him over. “I guess.”

“I’ve got more money of my own than I know what to do with.”

“How much?” Mia didn’t think she’d ever met anyone so frank about his circumstances. Carl was a little strange, but she liked him for that.

“Last I checked? About fifty million dollars.”

She stopped dead. “Are you shitting me?”

Carl laughed. “No, I’m not. So I promise I won’t take yours. How about that coffee?”

“Okay—but I’ll buy my own.” Millionaire or not, she still wouldn’t trust a man fully. Not anymore. “Where do you want to go?”

Luke met up with Ethan and Autumn in line at the post office that afternoon when he came in to mail in his credit card payment.

“Why don’t you pay that on the computer?” Ethan asked as the line advanced toward the counter.

“Dad’s paranoia has rubbed off on me. He thinks online banking is the next best thing to throwing cash on a bonfire. What’re you here for?”

“Picking up a package.” Ethan held out the yellow slip. “Although why they didn’t just leave it at the ranch, I can’t guess.”

They found out when they reached the counter.

“The sender asked for the package to be held for you here. It’s marked fragile all over the thing,” Carrie Benton said and disappeared into the back room to fetch it.

“What did you order?” Luke placed his envelope on the counter.

“Nothing.” Ethan watched the door to the back. Autumn shifted Arianna into a better position. When Carrie came back she set a tall thin package on the counter. As she’d said, it was stamped fragile in many places. She took Luke’s envelope and the money he offered her and put on a stamp.

“It looks like a bottle of wine. Or maybe champagne. Where’d it come from?” Autumn asked. Ethan bent to scan the label.

“Can T. Siddown. Who the heck is that?”

Luke cocked his head. Suppressed a laugh. “Can’t sit down?”

Ethan read it again. “Naw.” He made a face. “You don’t think…”

They moved aside to let the next people in line reach the counter. Greg Hutton and his wife Eleanor held out another package slip for Carrie to fetch.

“I think I’d be careful about how I open that thing,” Luke said.

“I still think it’s wine. It’s got to be. Look at the box.” Autumn shifted Arianna again. “Open it!”

Ethan set the package down on a side counter and did just that, tearing the cardboard flaps apart. He reached in and pulled out a handful of tubes.

“What is that?” Autumn bent closer. “Preparation H? Why’d you order so much?”

Luke noticed the Huttons listening in. Eleanor nudged her husband when she spotted the tubes. “He must be as constipated as Grandma Hutton. She always had a stockpile of that around for her piles.”

“I didn’t order it!” Ethan’s face turned a mottled red. “I’m not constipated!”

Luke laughed out loud. “It was Ned—it has to be! Remember what he said?”

“No, what did he say? What’s going on?” Autumn said, looking from one to the other of them.

“Just Ned’s idea of a stupid joke,” Ethan said, tossing the tubes back in the box disgustedly. He closed up the flaps and tossed the whole box into the trash. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Autumn giggled. “Why does Ned think you need Preparation H?”

“Drop it!” Ethan stalked away.

Luke held out his hands for Arianna and Autumn handed her over as they followed the angry cowboy. “Thanks,” Autumn said. “Now how about explaining what’s going on?”

Chapter Fourteen

“Hi Mia,” Tracey said as Mia and Carl settled themselves into a booth at Linda’s Diner. “What can I get for you two?”

“I’ll have a cup of coffee and a slice of that apple pie I saw on the way in,” Carl said. “Mia, what would you like?”

“A glass of milk and a chocolate chip muffin. Thanks.” She smiled at Tracey, who cocked an eyebrow when she turned her back to Carl. Mia hoped she wasn’t coming to the wrong conclusion about this meeting.