The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Page 5)

The Cowboy Earns a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #8)(5)
Author: Cora Seton

“Mom!”

“Slap a ring on her finger and she’ll put out soon enough,” Holt declared.

Lisa dropped her fork on her plate. “Is that why you married me, you old coot? So I’d put out?”

“I thought that’s why you married me,” Holt countered.

Everyone laughed, and Luke knew his parents’ spat was over as quickly as it had begun.

“I bet Mia’s blowing you off because of your truck. What woman in her right mind wants to ride around in that old thing?” Jake said.

“It’s not his truck, it’s his hat,” Ned said. “He’s worn the same one since fourth grade.”

“It’s the fact he hasn’t taken her out to a single restaurant,” Rob said. “Luke, face it—women don’t marry cheapskates.”

“Yeah, you’re lucky we’ll still be seen with you.”

Luke rolled his eyes at their teasing, but some of the barbs hit home. He had a reputation for being cheap because he was often broke. And while that was partly his own fault—he liked a night out at the Dancing Boot as well as the next guy—it was more a result of helping Amanda Stone.

If he was smart, he’d let someone else know about the old woman’s problem, but he knew what would happen next. Amanda’s house and possessions would be liquidated and she’d be put in one of the state-run homes for the elderly. It was a smart solution—the right solution—but Amanda Stone was terrified of old-age homes. She’d broken down and told him about her fears one day five years ago—the day he’d found her shivering in her house. It turned out her grandmother had been institutionalized with Alzheimer’s and Amanda had been the one to discover the systemic neglect she’d suffered. She was terrified it would happen to her, too. She’d sworn him to secrecy and he’d promised not to tell anyone about her difficulties in maintaining her home. At first it hadn’t been hard to help her keep it up and cover a few of her costs, but now he was in over his head.

His father spoke up again. “I gave your brothers deadlines to speed things along.”

“Won’t work with me,” Luke said, coming out of his reverie. “I’m not the one holding up the proceedings. Mia is. Beside, you won’t kick me off the ranch. I’m the only extra pair of hands you’ve got left.” It was true; Jake and Rob were too busy with their own ventures to do more than help out now and then with some of the chores, and Ned was still recovering from breaking his leg last month. That left Luke and Holt to pick up the slack.

“I’ll think of something.”

Lisa sighed. “You know what, old man? I think you’ll just mind your own business for once.”

“I will, will I?”

“Yes, you will. Because I’m going to set the deadline this time. Luke, you’ve got six months to convince that girl to marry you, or I’ll help her move along. No, don’t worry—I won’t be rude. There’s no sense in either of you keeping the other from meeting your true love, if you aren’t meant to be together. Meanwhile, your father won’t say one word about marriage during that time.” She held up a hand when Holt began to sputter. “Not one word, or you’ll take me to France. That’s the deal. Keep quiet and we’ll celebrate our thirty-fifth anniversary on the ranch. Speak your mind and we’ll go to Paris.” She beamed. “My money’s on Paris.”

“My money’s on me finding another place to live,” Luke growled, pushing back from the table. “You can’t kick Mia out of my house if I want her there. Besides, I don’t see what the hurry is.”

Lisa became serious. “I think you will all too soon.”

Chapter Two

Mia sat on her bed in the room she was renting in Luke’s cabin and stared at the cashier’s check Ellis had given her, unable to make herself go have breakfast with everyone else at Luke’s parents’ house. Between the check and Inez’s revelation, she couldn’t form a coherent thought, let alone take part in a family gathering.

Inez wanted her to send a letter to the committee that oversaw the region’s beauty pageants and tell them what Fred Warner had done to her all those years ago. Inez meant to write to them too and follow up her letter with phone calls until they were taken seriously. It might be too late to prosecute Warner—Inez was looking into that, too—but maybe they could get him barred from judging pageants.

Mia had promised Inez she would think about it, but right now she had more a more pressing matter on her mind. As soon as she deposited Ellis’s check, she needed to tell Luke about her condition, and before she could do that, she needed to move into her own apartment. Luke would be angry at her when he heard the news. She needed somewhere else to go.

Last November when she left her parents’ home, she’d first rented a room at the Cruz ranch guesthouse, run by her close friends Autumn and Ethan Cruz. The guest ranch had opened to the public only last summer, and as winter began they’d lacked the customers they needed to keep paying their bills. Autumn had welcomed Mia and two other single women—Hannah Chatham and Fila Sahar—to rent rooms on a monthly basis. Mia had loved it there until an unexpected houseful of paying guests descended for the month of December. Autumn and Ethan needed all the rooms back then, so all three women moved out—each to one of the cabins on the Double-Bar-K. Mia had ended up with Luke, which was great. She fallen for him hook, line and sinker.

And Luke wanted to be with her. He made that clear every day. She couldn’t be with him, though. Not when she was nearly four months pregnant with another man’s child.

She’d promised herself she wouldn’t be the kind of single mother who dated a string of men and turned her child’s life upside down each time it didn’t work out. From here on in, she’d have to proceed slowly, and she wouldn’t let a man into her life she didn’t think could go the distance.

Mia placed Ellis’s check on the bed. She’d fallen hard for Luke. It wasn’t his broad shoulders, or six-pack abs, or the glint in his eye when she caught him looking at her.

It was his laugh.

Luke wasn’t an outgoing man. He was your typical strong, silent cowboy, which sometimes drove Mia around the bend, but when he laughed he gave in to it, and that joyful, masculine sound twisted Mia’s innards into knots of longing. She’d never thought such a simple thing could make her want to rip her clothes off, but there it was. She’d never tell him that though; the man would simply laugh her right into bed.