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Lassoing The Virgin Mail-Order Bride

By:Alexa Riley



Chapter 1





Clare





“Miss Clare Stevens?” I turn my head to look at the man who said my name. The sun blocks my view until he takes another step forward, his cowboy boots tapping on the concrete of the train station’s entryway. His movement gives me a clear view of him now, and I’m taken aback by the sight of him.

He looks like he could be my father’s age. Not that I knew my father, but if I had to guess how old he was, he’d be around this old. Instantly, the little bit of the fear I’d been feeling slides away. The man looks nice. The laugh lines around his mouth are evident, even with all the wrinkles. His grey hair is cut short, his skin is deeply browned by the sun, probably from years of working out on the land.

“Yes, that’s me.” I rise from the bench I’d been sitting on for over an hour. I was starting to wonder if my soon-to-be husband was coming or if maybe he’d changed his mind. The worry had grown worse with each ticking minute that had gone by. I didn’t even have enough money to catch a train back out of Lobo, Texas. I would have been stranded in a town in the middle of Nowheresville.

“Sorry about that, ma’am. One of the fences broke this morning and we had hogs all over the place. Had to round the bastards up.” He cringes slight at his own curse. “Excuse my language, ma’am.”

I smile, letting him know it doesn’t bother me “Don’t hold back on my account. I grew up on a farm with ten ranch hands. I’ve heard it all.”

“That so?”

I nod. “Yeah, until my mama got sick and we had to move to the city.” I can still hear the pain in my own voice. It’s still fresh. I can’t hide it, even if I wanted to. She left me all alone a little over a month ago, and I don’t have anyone now. The ranch I’d grown up on was gone. It wasn’t our ranch, but it felt like it after all the years we poured into working there. The ranch hands there were the only family I’d ever really known, but the Blackwells upped and sold the ranch last year and there wasn’t the option of going back to work there now.

I’d found myself up the creek with no paddle.

“Sorry about your loss.”

I just shrug my shoulder because I really don’t want to talk about it.

“That all you got?” He nods at the one bag I have sitting next to the bench. That all you got? The words burn.

“Yeah, that’s all I got.”

He studies me for a second, his eyes going soft.

“He’s never going to see you coming.” He laughs, and the lines around his mouth are more prominent now. I know he’s talking about my future husband, Cash McCallister.

“Pretty sure he knows I’m on my way.” I go to grab my bag, but the man beats me to it.

“Name’s Earl,” he says, picking up my bag and giving me a wink. “And no, I’m not sure he knows you’re coming.”

With that, he turns, bag in hand, and starts heading out of the train station. I follow him as we make our way towards a black truck. He throws my bag into the back before opening the passenger door for me.

He actually has to give me a little boost to get inside. This thing needs a freaking stepladder or something.

Closing the door behind me, I slip on the seatbelt while he climbs in the driver’s side. He buckles his own belt before he turns the key and the truck comes to life.

“It’s about an hour’s drive out to the ranch. It’s nothing but farmland once we pull out of this town. You need anything before we go?”

“Where is he?” I don’t know why that’s my response, but I’m hurt that the man I’m supposed to be marrying isn’t here to pick me up. I actually thought we’d be tying the knot before heading out to his ranch. That’s what the email had said.

“Got held up,” is his only reply as he pulls out of the train station, getting right on the road out of town.

I bite my lip as I look over at Earl, who shoots me another wink. I debate whether I should try to grill him for information about Cash or let it be. He’d probably tell him everything I’d said. Besides, Cash told me how this marriage was going to work and why he needed a wife.

A marriage of convenience. Someone to warm his bed and cook his meals. He hadn’t said it in such blunt terms, but I could read between the lines. Though I didn’t know why a man as handsome as Cash needed a mail-order bride. Handsome was putting it mildly. He’d given me one picture of himself and said it was the only one he had. It looked like it was taken without him knowing. He was on top of a horse, a stern expression on his face.

I couldn’t make out his hair with the Stetson on his head or his eye color, but there was no hiding he was attractive and massive. Intimidating was the best word I could use to describe him in the picture. I couldn’t imagine a man like him needed to get a mail-order bride, but here I am. Something about not needing the tangles of love. This wasn’t going to be hearts and flowers. We would each do our part.

His words were cold, and at that, I’d pushed the idea of finding my Prince Charming out the window. When I’d first found out about the Cowboy Mail-Order Bride Program, I’d let those little romantic ideas dance around in my head, but it was clear from the emails and the fact that he couldn’t even bring himself to pick me up today that he hadn’t been lying. This is all for convenience.

He didn’t even ask for a picture of me. All he wanted to know was if I could cook, clean, and work a computer. That had pretty much been the gist of it. The agency did a background check, and I’m not sure what-all they’d given Cash of it.

I close my eyes, and soon the hum of the truck puts me to sleep. I don’t know how long I drift, but the touch of a hand to mine wakes me from my sleep.

“We’re here,” Earl says. I look out at a large ranch-style home made completely out of wood. A deck wraps around the whole thing and I see white swings on the porch. The double front door is a dark blue, giving the home a welcoming feeling.

I open the truck door, wanting to see more, but Earl grabs me by the wrist.

“Wait for me.” He exits the truck, coming around to my side to help me down.

There’s land as far as I can see, with barns speckled here and there.

“It’s beautiful here.”

Earl just nods in agreement before going back to the truck and getting my bag. A few men step out of the white barn closest to the house. Both raise their hats, saying hi. I nod back at them.

One thing I’d always loved about growing up on a ranch was that there were always people around. And I love to cook. Mama and I could cook for hours for the men, and it was worth it to see their faces light up when they came in after a hard day of work. It made me feel needed, a part of something. I want that feeling again.

“Let me show you inside.” I follow Earl up the porch stairs. He opens the doors to the house, leading right into the living room. Everything is minimal. It looks like a woman has never even stepped foot in here. The walls are bare, and the only furniture consists of three sofas facing a giant television screen. The living room is open and connected to the dining room and kitchen.

The dining room has a wooden table that could probably seat fifteen people at it, but the kitchen steals the show. I find myself standing in it, not even realizing I’d moved. The countertops are all granite. The island has a sink of its own. One wall has four ovens built into it. The stainless steel appliances practically sparkle. I think I’d marry Cash just for this kitchen alone.

“Brand new,” Earl says, breaking through my kitchen high.

I turn to look at him still standing in the living room as he watches me.

“How many hands are here?”

“Total is eighteen people if you count yourself, ma’am.”

I could definitely handle eighteen people in a kitchen like this. I glance over at the clock. It’s already one in the afternoon.

“Dinner time?” I ask as I start to pull open drawers, looking to see where everything is.

“Six,” I hear him say from behind me as I find an apron and pull it on, tying it behind my neck and making sure not to catch any of the blonde spirals that have come loose from my ponytail.

“Well, I better hop to then if I want to have dinner done by then. I’m guessing that my adoring soon-to-be husband has no plans to marry me today since he couldn’t even be bothered to pick me up.” I turn, putting my hands on my hips.

Earl just smiles. Again.

“No, I don’t think he has plans to marry today.”

I give a curt nod before getting back to the task at hand. Not even married and I’m already mad at the man. But I think this is how our marriage will be. I’ll see him at meals and when he comes to bed. A bed I’m sure I’m supposed to be in. That was never outright said, but that is what married people do.

I’d made plans for that as well, making sure I’d gotten myself on the pill before I’d come out here. I might have landed myself in this situation, but I wouldn’t bring a child into it with me. This was about surviving, and Cash had never said anything about children.

I go to the pantry and look to see what I have that could feed almost twenty people. After looking over the shelves in here and in the kitchen, I decide on burgers with baked fries and a pasta salad. I’ll need to go to the store soon, but I have enough for tonight and breakfast tomorrow. But I need to start with the pies to get them into the oven.

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