The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 49)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(49)
Author: Cora Seton

Wedding weather. Her heart gave a little throb. She couldn’t wait for her chance to show the world she could achieve what she set out to do. By the time she slid into the booth across from Carl, she felt invigorated.

“I ordered your glass of milk.” Carl nodded at the full glass in front of her. “I wasn’t sure what you’d want to eat though.”

Mia was hungry. Her baby was really growing now and there was no doubt about her condition. Her baby bump pressed out against her clothing like a cantaloupe. When Tracey bustled over to take their order, Mia said, “I’ll have a club sandwich and a side of French fries.”

“I’ll have some of that peach pie. And keep that coffee coming.” Carl smiled at Tracey, who nodded absently and kept on going.

“Want to hear my pitch?” Mia said, folding her hands before her on the table. She’d actually come up with one while she was working.

“Sure. Lay it on me.” Carl sat back and waited.

“Mia’s Memorable Events—When You Want Perfection The First Time Around.”

Carl drummed his fingers on the table. “That’s an advertisement, not a pitch. It’s a pretty good advertisement, but not what we’re after.”

“Darn.” She’d thought she’d done a good job.

“Remember—you’re trying to interest an investor, not a customer. Why would someone else want to give you money to grow your company?”

“Because in a year or two, I’m going to be the go-to girl for every event in this town. I’ve already got Ellie from Ellie’s Bridals sending women my way. After these first few events, I bet the rental company will do the same. The restaurant I work for? Fila’s Familia? They’re already so busy they can’t keep up and they’ll be my first recommendation for catering. Chances are that will work both ways.” As long as Fila got over her anger at Luke.

“Now you’re getting somewhere. Sum that up in ten words or less.”

“Invest in my event planning company because I own this town.”

Carl laughed loudly and heads turned. “Okay, that’s too succinct. But you’re on your way. Next week I bet you’ll have it nailed. You’d better eat up.” They both sat back to allow Tracey to deposit their food on the table. “You’ve got to be back to work in fifteen minutes.”

Three booths down the row, Luke hunched in the corner of his seat with a menu propped up as a shield. Across the table sat Jake, similarly arranged.

“Can you hear what they’re saying?” Luke raised his chin a fraction of an inch and peered over his menu. He could see a quarter of Mia’s face as she chatted animatedly. All he could see of the man was the back of his head. But he knew all about Carl Whitfield—by reputation if not personally.

Carl Whitfield was the man who’d stolen Ethan Cruz’s fiancée. Carl was the man who’d lowballed a family who could no longer afford to keep the ranch that had been in their family nearly a hundred years and bought it for a fraction of what it was worth. Carl was the man who’d hired Luke’s brother, Rob, to build a fantastic walled garden for his bride-to-be and then got dumped by her at the unveiling in front of a dozen people. Carl was also the man who’d sold that ranch for twice what he bought it for to Evan and Bella Mortimer.

Like everyone else in town, Luke had privately sneered at the Californian when he first arrived dolled up like Hollywood’s idea of a cowboy. A hack rider and useless at ranch chores, it was clear he wanted to play at running a spread and he didn’t care who he hurt in the process. When he stole Ethan’s girl, Luke had classified the man as a lowdown snake. When he took the ranch from an old Chance Creek family for a song, his estimation of Carl had sunk even lower, and when Lacey Taylor dumped him in front of everyone, Luke figured the man had gotten exactly what he deserved.

Now he was back—God knew why—and this time he’d set his sights on Mia. Would he steal her away, just like he’d done with Lacey? Carl looked different now—leaner, older. Wiser. Would he make sure this time the girl didn’t get away?

Laughter rang out—first Carl’s hearty laugh and then Mia’s chiming one. Luke scowled. “What are they laughing about?”

“Your bank account?” Jake angled his head to get a better look.

Luke knew Jake meant it as a joke, but his barb hit home more sharply than his brother could know. Luke’s bank account would have been pitiful compared to Carl’s in any circumstances, but right now it was worse than ever. He’d bought all the baby furniture on a credit card already full to the brim. He was maxed out. He wouldn’t ask to have his limit raised, either. It was time to sink or swim on the salary he earned—such as it was. He hoped to God no fresh disaster struck at the Stone place. He wouldn’t be able to help Amanda if it did.

“What’ll you have, boys?” Tracey’s matter-of-fact tones startled him into awareness of his surroundings.

“Coffee, black. A cheese Danish,” Jake said. “Luke will have coffee and pie.”

“Peach or Apple?”


Tracey looked from Jake to Luke over to where Mia was laughing again. “Are you spying on your ex-fiancée? Because that’s just lame.”

“I’m having coffee with my brother. This is where I always get my coffee.”

“Uh-huh. Be back with that coffee-you-always-get right away.”

Luke worried that Tracey might point him out to Mia, but he was in luck. Mia was standing up and pulling on her coat. Carl Whitfield stood up, too, and said good-bye, but instead of leaving with her, he resumed his seat once she was gone.

“There’s your chance.” Jake nodded toward Carl.

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.”

He got up and crossed over to Carl’s booth, dropping down heavily onto the bench seat across from the man. “Hi, Carl. Long time, no see.”

Carl squinted at him. “You’ve got to be a Matheson with that hair, but I don’t know which one.”

“Luke. Rob’s older brother.”

“Got it. Good to see you again.” Carl held out his hand. When Luke didn’t take it, Carl grimaced and pulled it back. “Maybe not so good, after all.”

“No. Not so good, seeing as you’re hitting on my fiancée.”

“Aaah.” Carl chuckled. “Where to start. First of all, I haven’t hit on Mia. She’s much too young for me—almost too young for you, too, buddy. Second of all, I didn’t see a ring on her finger, which means you’re either not her fiancé, or you’re a lame son-of-a-bitch who can’t afford a wife. Third, that girl is desperate to talk about her business with someone, and since she’s coming to me that tells me that either you’re not her fiancé and she doesn’t want to talk to you about anything, or you are her fiancé but you have no business sense, which is probably the case because you haven’t put a ring on her finger, or you’re a complete fuck-up who doesn’t care about the thing that’s most important to his future wife. So which is it?”