The Lady's Arrangement
Help Wanted Series
Neither Rex nor Regina wants a spouse, but they do have needs.
Ranger Rex Duncan needs a false identity—just long enough to uncover a ring of Kansas ranch thieves. Answering Regina’s ad for a temporary husband, he leaves his beloved red dirt of Oklahoma to assume that disguise. But the most obstinate woman he’s ever known confounds his assignment, and with hair the red color that has always made his heart beat a little faster.
Regina Howard needs a new Mrs. in front of her name—just long enough to reclaim her deceased husband’s ranch, since Kansas law won’t allow women to own property. When Rex answers her ad for a husband who can take orders as part of a brief business arrangement, she finds this stubborn man ignores her every command. Yet a good man is far more than just a name…
Ben was tall, and he felt even taller as he took a step closer and leaned my way. “It takes two to bind a contract, and since I’ve just withdrawn, your arrangement is null and void. And just so you know, you can thank your lucky stars I’m not staying to marry you, because I take surprises a lot better than I take orders.” His eyes stayed on mine until his gaze traveled from my face down to my boots. “And wearing trousers doesn’t make you any more suited to giving orders than wearing a skirt would make me fit for giving birth.”
My nails dug into my palms as I rolled my hands into fists. A word I’d heard Ted say when a pail slid off his bad arm came to mind. The word was immoral, but probably not too immoral for Ben Miller. “Just so you know, Mr. Miller, I’ve been running this ranch for three weeks now, in pants. I find skirts get in the way of things you’d probably be surprised I can do.”
The half-smile returned. “I won’t argue that. Skirts surely do get in the way.” Ben straightened and slapped his hat tighter on his head. “Been my experience, too. Fortunately, neither one of us has to put up with one, since you can keep right on doing things the way you have been. I’m giving you an early parting. I’m leaving.”
My nails dug deeper. I stretched Mr. Miller’s way. “I told you, this is my arrangement, and I decide when you leave, so don’t think you can just ride away before I get the chance to throw you off this ranch. And it just so happens I was about to tell you to go, so you are hereby free to take your leave. Get out!”
There was no wind in the barn to sweep my words away, but still he just stood there as if he hadn’t heard a thing, gauging me again, until he tipped his head forward and touched the brim of his hat. “Good luck to you, Mrs. Howard.” He wrapped a hand around the horn of his saddle, a hand as tan and weathered as the leather he yanked off the rail. With the saddle in one hand, he scooped his pack off the barn floor with the other, tall and sure of himself, as he headed Jess’s way.
“You’re right that it’s good I found out what sort of man you were early on. I had the perfect plan, and thank God I saw…”
I stopped. Ben continued his stalk toward the rear of the barn, as I turned to the voice behind me. “Ted? You’re a little late, I’ll have you know.”
Ted stood to one side of the barn’s wide doorway, reins swaying from his good hand to his horse behind him. “Someone here to see you.”
Mr. Gulliver stepped into the doorway and past Ted, stopping just inside the barn, looking every bit as fancy as he did at the bank. Or had at Flynn’s funeral. “I hope this isn’t a bad time. I ran into your manager, here, in town, and asked if you were home.” Mr. Gulliver nodded at Ted, but his eyes weren’t on him. Neither were they on me. His gaze traveled over the top of me, to the man who was supposed to be getting his horse and leaving.