The Cowboy's E-Mail Order Bride (Page 15)

The Cowboy’s E-Mail Order Bride(15)
Author: Cora Seton

His credit cards were maxed out. He had barely enough cash to pay the bills until the next cattle sales went through. All his high-falutin’ words about caring for Autumn and keeping her in house and health swirled in his mind. Empty promises. He was one flat tire away from going bankrupt himself.

What the hell was he going to do?

“Forget something?” Autumn said when he didn’t start the truck.

“What? Yeah…yeah, I did. Hold on.” He grabbed the excuse she handed him gratefully, hopped back out of the truck and retraced his steps to the house. Back inside the kitchen he pulled out his cell phone and dialed Rob.

“Rob. I need five thousand dollars. Now. For the ring, you rich sonofabitch. Move the money into my account. You have half an hour. Don’t give me that – you’re the one who booked the chapel, remember? Now I have to buy Autumn a ring. Yeah, so what if I like her; it’s still your fault.”

He hung up, knowing that for all Rob’s intrinsic pain-in-the-assness, he was a friend he could count on in a pinch.

He tried to stifle the thought that he’d just dug his hole a little deeper. Worse, he was planning to enter the state of matrimony with a lie the size of Montana on his mind.

* * * * *

“That one.” Autumn pointed to a thin silver ring dotted with the tiniest diamond chip she’d ever seen.

The salesgirl, whom Ethan had addressed as Rose, looked at them with a frown. “Really? You want to try that one?”

“It’s nice, isn’t it?” she asked Ethan innocently. She was not going to allow this man to spend a lot of money on her, story or no story, and when she secured her contract she would pay him back for the ring, just as soon as she could afford it… which unfortunately wouldn’t be anytime soon.

Ethan looked at the ring and frowned. In fact, he hadn’t looked comfortable since they’d climbed into the truck. Maybe he was having second thoughts. He glanced at his watch for what seemed like the fifth time in the past two minutes. “I think we need to take our time. I want you to try on every ring in the place until we find the right one.”

“Why don’t you tell me your price range,” Rose said, “so I can help you stay under budget. That way your bride-to-be doesn’t have to try so hard to spare your pocket.” She winked at Autumn.

Ethan hesitated, and for the first time Autumn realized he must actually be on a budget. Maybe that was the real reason he’d left the Big House and moved into the bunkhouse. Maybe the Big House cost too much to keep up. Was the ranch losing money? She found that hard to believe – it looked prosperous enough. Although what did she know about cattle? She made a mental note to do some more research on the internet when she got home. She’d been too busy learning about horses and Montana to focus on the financials of running a ranch.

“Five thousand,” he said, after a long moment.

Five thousand? It wasn’t a huge budget, but it was nothing to sneeze at. Sure, lots of women spent more – way more – on their rings, but five grand certainly bought more than a diamond chip. Did he think she was such a princess she would look down on him for keeping to that amount? What kind of women lived out here in Montana if $5,000 was regarded as cheap? He caught her eye and she thought she detected a faint reddening to the skin on his neck and cheeks. Ethan was blushing? Over five thousand dollars?

“That’s way too much,” she said, shaking her head.

“What’s way too much?” The door slammed shut behind her, making her jump, and in an instant Rob was next to her at the counter, examining the rings in the glass cabinet as if he was the groom instead of Ethan.

“Hey, Rob,” Rose said. “Ethan was just telling us his budget for the ring was five thousand dollars.”

“Five thousand! Don’t be a cheapskate, Ethan – buy the girl a real ring!”

“Rob,” Ethan growled. “Get out of here.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not staying. Just wanted to say hi to my best girl, Rose.” He leaned over the counter, and gave the petite brunette a resounding smack, “and to let your fiancée here know that you can afford to pay ten thousand dollars for a ring. Ten thousand. Got that, buddy? Rose, what do you think about these two? A match made in heaven?” He grinned, cocking an eyebrow.

“They’ll do just fine,” she said.

“Hear that, buddy?” he said to Ethan. “You’re golden! Rose knows these things.”

“Rob.” Ethan grabbed him and hustled him toward the door. Autumn watched him haul the man out to the sidewalk.

“What’s that all about?” she said.

Rose grinned. “Oh, Ethan and Rob have been friends all their lives. You’d think they could just give each other a man hug once in a while, but not them; they torment each other.”

“What do you mean?”

“They play practical jokes all the time. If you ask me, though, Rob deserves some tormenting. If Ethan says five thousand, I’d stick to five thousand.” She shrugged.

“Why does Rob deserve tormenting?”

Rose glanced around the store and leaned closer over the cabinet. “My friend Stacey heard from her friend Ella that her cousin was in town and met Rob at a bar. They were drinking and dancing all night and she went home with him.” She lowered her voice even more. “Normally, I’d say a girl like that got what’s coming to her, but no one deserves what Rob had planned. When they got to his bedroom he had a video camera set up – like, on a tripod! He’d hung a backdrop on one wall – painted like a barn with horses all around it and he had these lights set up. He wanted her to make a movie with him! A sex movie!”

Rose hissed the last words and Autumn’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. So she’d been right about Rob – he was sleazy. Good thing she hadn’t invited him inside this morning.

“What did he mean that you know things?”

Rose blushed. “Oh, don’t mind him. It’s just…” she fussed with some brochures near the register, “I get a feeling sometimes. About people. Couples. Whether they’ll make it or not.”

“Really?” Autumn did her best, but she was sure her face reflected her skepticism.

“It’s nothing, really.” Rose glanced at the door, as if eager for Ethan to return.

“And you think we’ll make it? Ethan and I?”

After a moment, she nodded. “Yeah. You’ll make it.”