The Cowboy's E-Mail Order Bride (Page 26)

The Cowboy’s E-Mail Order Bride(26)
Author: Cora Seton

Carl closed his eyes and for a split second Autumn almost felt sorry for the man. Almost. “Honey, I thought we decided to keep that a secret.”

“You decided that. I want Ethan and his new fiancée to know exactly who’s buying their property. Ethan’s land is next to Carl’s, you know. When we merge them we’ll have the biggest spread in four counties. If Ethan’s looking for work, maybe we’ll hire him. Maybe.”

“Lacey, that’s enough. Out the door – now.”

Autumn blinked when Carl nearly picked Lacey up and shoved her bodily out the front door. Her mind spun with the information she’d just learned. “Is she for real?” She’d better let Ethan know Lacey’s plans as soon as possible, although she didn’t relish the idea. Ethan was going to blow his top.

“Oh, Lacey’s always been like that, but I didn’t think Carl would be such an idiot,” Matt said. “He’s already an outsider in this town, coming here and building his McMansion on the old Frommer ranch. If he takes the Cruz ranch…” He shook his head. “He’ll be mighty unpopular.”

“I’m not sure he cares about being popular.” She pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “He just cares about Lacey. I think Lacey still cares about Ethan, though. At least she doesn’t want him to move on.”

“She’s out for vengeance, I’d say.” She appreciated the calm confidence of this man. He was going to make someone a good husband someday, if he wasn’t already married. “And she’ll do whatever it takes to get it. Your sudden appearance in town has raised questions, you know. You and Ethan might want to tell your story to a few of the local gossips before someone else starts a story for you, if you know what I mean.”

“Thanks for the advice,” she said slowly. What did Matt think of her relationship with Ethan? What would everyone think if they knew the truth of why she’d come here? She needed to cut her ties with the magazine, get her ducks in order and put her relationship with Ethan on solid ground – fast – before someone discovered the truth and broadcast it. All of this was so crazy – so backwards! First she’d agreed to marriage – well, she’d fake-agreed to it; then she’d gotten pregnant – maybe; and now she was falling in love with her intended.



Did she love Ethan?

Yes, she did.

How could she – she’d barely known him a week.

Yet his every touch took her breath away, the life he led called to her like nothing else ever had. She wanted what this marriage would bring her – a husband, a family, a career, even a community. She would have a place in all of it that was just for her.

She thought about Ethan’s concern for her wellbeing since she’d arrived, the work ethic that had him racing out to the fields before dawn to meet his crew and get to his chores, the loyalty to ranch, family and hired help that made him want to turn things around for the benefit of all of them. And the way he made love to her…

Yes, she loved Ethan Cruz.

But did he love her back?

She thought so. She’d just have to stick around long enough to find out. And that meant presenting her plan to save the ranch to Ethan before Claire got too caught up in the idea of selling it to Lacey. Now that she had all the information she needed, she’d get her shopping done fast and head right home. Would Ethan agree her idea was a good one?

Would it work?

* * * * *

When Ethan said good-bye to Jamie and headed home to the bunkhouse, he found pizza cooking in the oven – homemade, by the looks of things – but Autumn nowhere to be found. Ten minutes remained on the timer, and he hoped he could get a shower in before they sat down to eat.


As he moved down the hall, he heard the clack of fingernails on a keyboard. Was she still working on that proposal?

“Autumn? You in there?”

“Yep! Just finishing up.” He heard a rustle of paper and the rattling sound of an office chair being pushed away from a desk.

“Do I have time for a shower?” He poked his head around the door and was unexpectedly met by a kiss.

“Sure, if you’re fast. Don’t be too long, though – we really need to talk about my plan.” She returned to the small corner desk and began to type again.

“I can be fast.” He waited a beat for her to laugh, but she was already engrossed in the spreadsheet on her laptop again. She really must be into this idea of hers, whatever it was. He hoped she wasn’t getting her hopes up too high that they could keep the ranch. Oh, who was he kidding – his hopes were high and he didn’t have the slightest idea how to manage it. Sighing, he headed for their bedroom and began to strip down.

The hot water sluiced away all the dust and aches of eleven hours spent out of doors doing physical work. It had been the kind of day he liked best. Work to do and typical ranch problems to solve, but nothing insurmountable – and no new bills. Jamie was always a good companion. He knew when to talk and when to keep quiet, and he always pulled his own weight.

He wished he could offer him the guarantee of a stable income. It weighed on him that if he didn’t figure out something quick, Jamie would be one of the first to suffer. Of course a horseman like him could find work on just about any ranch. Still, he treated Jamie like family – always had – and he knew that counted a lot with a man.

Had Autumn found a way to buy out his sister? It would be a miracle, and he could use one of those right about now.

Five minutes later he was sitting at the kitchen table, biting off the triangular end of a slice of the most delicious pizza he’d ever had. Autumn sat across from him, her hands held stiffly in her lap. Was she nervous? Maybe he shouldn’t have started eating yet. He dropped the slice back on his plate, wiped his hands and took a drink of milk.

“Sorry. I couldn’t help myself – the pizza smells great. Tastes great, too.”

She smiled a little. “I have some bad news and some good news. I’m going to tell you the bad news first. Please don’t get upset.”

Crud. That didn’t sound good. “Okay – shoot.”

She took a deep breath. “Lacey and Carl want to buy the ranch. They’ve already talked to Claire about it. Ethan, you promised!”

He surged out of his chair so fast it tipped over. “They what? Uh-uh, no way. They’ll have to pry the deed out of my dead, stiff fingers first.”