The Cowboy's E-Mail Order Bride (Page 27)

The Cowboy’s E-Mail Order Bride(27)
Author: Cora Seton

“Ethan. Sit down – listen. I told you I have an idea.”

It was all he could do to bite back the torrent of curses that wanted to spill from his lips. Damn Lacey and Carl to hell. He’d spend the rest of his days in a federal penitentiary rather than allow them to take over his ranch. He pulled the chair upright and carefully sat back down.

“I know you’re upset. I was, too, but I talked to Matt about my idea and he thinks it’s a good one. Are you calm enough to hear me out?”

He wanted to kick himself for losing his temper when all Autumn was trying to do was help. What kind of husband would he be if the first sign of trouble sent him throwing chairs and swearing up a blue streak? He had to do better than that.

“I’ll behave,” he said and let the corner of his lips quirk up. Her expression softened and she met his gaze with shining eyes.

“A guest ranch.” She waited for his reaction.


“A guest ranch! We turn the Big House into guest accommodations and make money off of tourists!”

He sat back, a frown thinning his lips.

“Hear me out,” Autumn said. “It doesn’t have to interfere with the normal running of the ranch at all. You barely have to be involved if you don’t want to be – we can hire people to do most of the work with the guests. You and Jamie and the rest of the hands just need to be around looking…I don’t know – cowboy-ish, you know?”

“You want me and Jamie to be tourist attractions?”

“For heaven’s sake, there are guest ranches all over Montana. Surely you know someone who has one.” She looked exasperated.

Ethan forced himself to think over her words. Yes, he did know people who owned guest ranches. He’d just never considered the idea for himself before. He’d always expected to have his father’s help running cattle, and that his income would always come from that line of work. “I wouldn’t have to lead trail rides?” he said warily.

“Not if you’re dead set against it. Of course, the more work we keep in the family, the more money we make.”

“Won’t there be a passel of start up costs?”

“Not as much as you might think.” She tossed him a pile of paper. “I’ve outlined all the numbers in there. I made a budget for the next three years with some income projections and so on. The Big House is already gorgeous – and with all its bedrooms and bathrooms it’s basically set up for accommodating guests already. The kitchen is professional grade and the dining room seats plenty of people. With us living in the bunkhouse there’s plenty of space for paying customers. That is, if you’re comfortable with people being in the Big House…” She trailed off, seeming nervous again. After a second, Ethan realized why.

“I’m all right with that,” he assured her. “After my parents died I didn’t want to live there alone, but I don’t mind if other people use it.”

“You might have to eat some dinners there,” she warned. “Entertain the guests with cowboy stories.”

“I can probably do that once in a while.”

“We will need some money,” Autumn warned him, “and we’ll need to buy Claire out. Matt has an idea for that. He said he has a buyer – not Lacey and Carl – who is interested in purchasing one hundred acres in the southeast corner. If we sell, we’ll have enough money to secure a second mortgage so we can pay off Claire. Things will be tight for a long time, but eventually we’ll get back in the black.”

“Who’s the buyer?”

“I don’t know. He said it might take a week or two for the buyer to get his money together, but it sounds like he’s definitely interested. We’ll have to figure out a way to hold off Claire until then.”

He would call Matt in the morning and find out who the mystery buyer was. “Claire can’t sell until I agree to; if she wants to take me to court over it the process will drag on for months. I’ll tell her to give me a couple of weeks to pull things together.” Ethan stared at Autumn, his pizza all but forgotten. “Why are you doing all of this?” he asked. He must be dreaming. For so long his life had been bad news followed by disasters, and now this woman – this angel – had appeared out of nowhere and set everything to rights in such a short time. How was he supposed to believe it could last?

“Because this is where I want to raise our family, Ethan.”

“We’re really doing this?” He leaned forward and took Autumn’s hand. It was soft and small, but he now knew she would make a capable partner for his life’s journey.


“We’re getting married in twenty-one days?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “We’d better start planning. I need a dress and flowers…”

“What you need,” Ethan said. “Is to get over here and let me take you to bed.”


According to the phone book, Ellie’s Bridals was the only store in Chance Creek that carried wedding gowns. Autumn parked Ethan’s truck outside the boutique with trepidation and remained in the driver’s seat a moment to look the little store over. She’d always thought she’d spend days trolling through New York City with her friends trying on dresses when it came time for her to be married. She’d pictured sales ladies in haute couture serving her champagne from silver trays while she posed in front of floor length mirrors in the latest style.

As a young girl, she favored dresses with trains a mile long. At twenty she would have picked something severe and sophisticated. What did one wear to a country wedding?

She gripped the steering wheel with hands that were suddenly sweaty. What was she doing? She hadn’t even told her mother or sister or even her best friend what was happening and she was supposed to get married in less than three weeks. Becka had texted her once or twice, then reverted to email when she realized Autumn wasn’t carrying her cell phone with her everywhere like she normally did. She’d told Becka some of the details about the ranch and gardening and cooking, and how hot Ethan was, but she’d neglected to say anything about sleeping with the man. For one thing, it didn’t sound very professional. For another, she didn’t want to face Becka’s tough questions.

Tonight she and Ethan would have to sit down and make some plans. Guest lists, catering…her head began to swim and she rested her forehead on the steering wheel. She needed to call her editor, too – tell her she wasn’t coming back. Panic gripped her. Was she ready to burn her bridges like that?