Authors: Em Petrova
Five brides for five brothers…at least that’s the deal the Daltons have struck with their boys. Each son must marry in order to inherit a piece of the ranch they love so much.
When the new ranch hand the Daltons hire asks Cash for assistance, he’s all in—until he learns it involves a Mexican daughter and a marriage license. His first instinct is to run the other direction. But he figures he needs a wife and she needs help, so it’s a damn good bargain.
Maya Perez is desperate to get out of her home city and into the States, where she can make a better life. When her only living family member, her father, sends for her to come to Texas, she’s met by a gorgeous cowboy and an offer of marriage.
Cash figures being hitched to a woman is no different than taking care of cattle, but his bride is driving him crazy. Between her sharp tongue and soft curves, he’s over his head. Finding common ground might be the only way to tame his little bride.
All Rights Reserved
Copyright Em Petrova 2014
Cover design by Love, Lust and Lipstick Stains
Electronic book publication September 2014
Book 2 of the Dalton Boys Series
By Em Petrova
“You get that order placed for the wood, Hank?” Cash asked his brother, dumping copious amounts of gravy on his plate.
“I wouldn’t likely forget. I’m feeling the push to get into my house.” Hank sent his pretty new wife a sidelong glance.
“How’s the construction going?” Momma gathered a basket of homemade buns against her torso and carried it to the table. She settled it in the center, and six hands snapped out like hungry alligators to snag one.
“Not so well.” Hank handed a bun to his wife.
“Thank you,” Charlotte cooed with a sweet smile. “Cash, can you please pass the butter?”
With a grunt, he pushed the white dish in her direction. If he wanted a wife, he needed better manners, but dammit, he’d been busting his ass on the ranch all day and could only think about getting food into his gnawing stomach.
“I’m not getting enough time to even think about the house construction let alone lift a hammer. I’m working too many hours down here on the ranch.” Hank bit into his bun and chewed.
“I can help out tomorrow after I’ve finished with chores.” Cash had pushed Hank to go after Charlotte. The least he could do was help him build a home for her. As promised, their parents had signed the deed to a piece of the Paradise Valley Ranch for Hank and his bride. Four more plots of land belonged to the other Dalton brothers—as soon as they got busy finding wives too.
The land Hank had chosen was perfect, and he planned to bring Dalton cows up to his spread. Good grazing land up there.
“I’d appreciate it.” Hank leaned close to Charlotte and buried his nose in her mop of light brown curls. She flushed, eyes shining.
Cash looked away. He needed the woman to get his share of the ranch, but it was slim pickin’s when they lived so far from town. Most times, he loved the isolation—looking across fields and seeing only cattle. But it made dating a drag.
He tucked in to Momma’s dinner.
“Great country fried steak, Momma.” Hank eyed Charlotte with a wink of underlying meaning.
Charlotte had tried, and failed, many times to make this dish.
She carefully removed a bite of steak from her fork, cleaning off the tines. Then she stabbed it right into Hank’s arm. He howled, laughing and holding the spot.
“High five on that.” Momma leaned over the table, and Charlotte shot her five.
The table erupted in laughter. Cash went back to filling the empty cavern in his stomach with good, hot food. He’d fought an ornery horse and too many stubborn cows down the valley.
When he reached for third helpings, Momma stopped him. “You may want to wait on that, son.” She disappeared into the kitchen and came out with a birthday cake.
He jerked upright. “I thought you guys had all forgotten. No one even said ‘happy birthday’ to me today.”
“How could we ever forget this date? You practically made it into a day of worship when we were kids,” Beck joked. Witt nodded.
“Remember when he used to make us call him ‘rodeo king?’” Kade asked.
More laughter, and the tips of Cash’s ears grew hot.
Momma squeezed his shoulder and began to light his candles. “I could never forget spending nineteen hours in labor with you. Especially since your pa didn’t come out of the field till hour
.” She swung her whole body toward the head of the table.
Ted Dalton shrugged, a half smile on his creased face. “Cows needed tendin’, woman. Besides, you’d had Hank. You knew what to do.”
She flapped a hand at him while everyone laughed. “Thank God I had Diane here visiting and she drove me to the hospital. If I had to rely on a rancher and his bumpy old truck, Cash would have been born along the highway.”
Witt groaned at mention of Aunt Diane. “No wonder Cash is so screwed up. Aunt Diane had a hand in it.”
“Ha. Ha,” Cash said flatly. Then he cocked a grin, puckered up and blew out his candles. All twenty-eight of them.
As he sliced into the double chocolate cake with fudge frosting, he marveled that he was this old and still living at home. He had to hurry and find that woman of his dreams so he could claim his land.
Maybe it was time to go into the city on another wife hunt.
* * *
“Kade, you’re a wrangler. Animals respond to you.” Cash nodded at his brother, who leaned against the corral, thumbs hitched in his back pockets. Some of their more unbroken horses trotted restlessly around the fenced area, aware that something fishy was about to happen.
“Yup.” Kade spat into the dirt and looked back up at the
. The group of horses they’d choose from today was frisky, for sure.
Cash’s fingers tingled with anticipation. He loved a good bronc ride first thing in the morning. Got the blood pumping for the rest of the day.
It also ensured he’d fall into bed that night, exhausted and with no desire to spoon a sweet woman.
Damn, now he was getting aroused at the thought of a round backside snug against him.
He knuckled down the brim of his hat. “Let’s go. Open the gate, Beck.”
His brother swung it open, and the horses darted in all directions. Cash threw back his head and laughed into the sky. With twin whoops, he and Hank rushed into the corral, stampeding to the nearest horse.
Cash caught one’s mane and attempted to launch onto its back. The black horse had been broken once, but with the five brothers spread so thin over a lot of acres, they’d allowed the animal to get a little wild.
The new group of horses shared genetics with plenty of award winners, and Cash wished he had time to work with the small herd. They deserved to be in the fields every day, not penned up. The first thing Cash would do when he had his land was hire more hands.
Hank approached a horse that stood still, but with his tail cocked. As wary as they came.
Kade gave a nod of approval. Hank moved in, speaking to the animal with quiet, reassuring words and clicks. Then he placed a palm on the animal’s neck. With a swift move, he threw a leg up and over the bronc.
Cash fist-punched the air. Not to be outdone, he jogged toward the closest horse, planted his hands on its rump and vaulted onto its bare back.
The horse’s muscles bunched, and Cash held on with both hands. As the horse jostled him wildly in an attempt to buck him off, Cash managed to stay upright. Witt cupped his hands and hollered, “Give him hell!”
The ground rushed up, and his shoulder hit first, jarring every bone in his body. He grunted and rolled to his feet, aching all over but prepared to find his horse.
Kade had one eating sugar lumps from his hand. He looked up with a grin. “You do better with sweetness than force, bro.”
“Yeah, yeah. I want an animal that gives me a run for my money.” He stalked around the corral, ignoring Beck’s shit-eating grin as he trotted by on his own fresh mount.
Cash scanned the herd. One gleaming chestnut coat caught his attention. The horse’s head was held high, his flanks rippling with power. Cash clapped his gloved hands together, raising a little dust. “It’s you and me, horse.”
He approached with long, sure strides. The animal didn’t move away, but it eyed him. He’d never let Kade know he was taking his advice, but Cash had a few tricks up his plaid shirt. He cooed to the horse.
It snorted and stamped one foot. His grin stretched.
, he liked this beast. It had enough spirit to get him through several hours of herding cows.
He clucked his tongue, and it flicked its tail. “You’re a pretty one, sure. And you’re going to be doing my bidding as soon as I get hold of ya.”
The horse tossed its head as if it understood and wouldn’t be tamed easily.
Hank, Beck and Kade were running their horses while their old cattle dog, Prince, ran alongside, tongue lolling out.
“Game on.” Cash jumped onto the chestnut bronc. It put up a fight, trying like hell to throw him off. He clung to it, using the pressure of his knees and spurs to guide it even as he leaned forward and spoke soothing words. Its ears twitched, and he knew he had a worthy mount.
His brothers cheered when he made a circuit of the corral without getting tossed on his ass. His shoulder was starting to stiffen, but he ignored it. As he looked into the lightening sky, he knew more than ever this was his place in the world. He had to find that woman to receive his own deed.
And if he were lucky, she’d be just as feisty as the horses he preferred.
Four of them took their new mounts into the barn and got them saddled while Witt led his trusty old paint horse from its stall. “Ruby will get me through most of the day.”
Hank rubbed his jaw. “A long day ahead. I probably shouldn’t have stayed up all night.”
Cash snorted. “I applaud your energy, bro. All I can think of during this time of year is getting food in my belly and a mattress beneath me. I’m half glad I didn’t find a wife in the city a few months ago. I wouldn’t be able to keep her happy.”
“You find the time.” With a grin, Hank wheeled his horse around and thundered out into the field, first as usual.
Cash shook his head. It was easy to wish he’d find a woman the way Hank had—Charlotte had broken down along the secluded highway, Hank picked her up and brought her home. Charlotte fit into the family like a glove on a work-worn hand. She’d taken over Momma’s duties while her broken ankle healed, and she was satisfied with living in Paradise Valley.
Finding another woman like that would be akin to finding a unicorn among the horse herd. Cash fed his mount a lump of sugar—he’d never tell Kade—and swung into the saddle.
Spurring the animal across the field, he caught up with Hank. His brother looked at him from under the shadow of his hat, white teeth flashing.
“You can’t stand eating my dust, can you?”
“Nope. Besides, I wanted to talk to you about your house.”
Hank nudged his hat back. “What’s that?”
“Unless we have a week to raise the walls and longer for the roof, you’re not going to get into it before winter. How much money do you have stockpiled? Because you’re going to have to either hire a construction crew or some ranch hands so we brothers can help.”
He pushed a breath out through his nose. “I know. I can’t afford that much. Most of my cash is tied up in a down-payment for my mortgage. I mentioned some hands to Pa the other day, though.”
“What’d he say?”
Hank rubbed his jaw. “That he’d think about hiring a person or two. He’s always hated the idea of having strangers on this land.”
“I know, and I like taking care of things myself too, but I don’t have faith that we can build a house and keep the ranch running. Look at how hard it was for you to fix Charlotte’s transmission while doing your regular work.”
“It’s gonna be a pain, and I’m sorry for it. I don’t want to run you ragged.”
Cash lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Don’t worry about that. But I know how eager you must be to get into your own place. The walls are thin.”
“You little shit!” With lightning speed, Hank threw out his arm, catching Cash across the gut.
Cash huffed with laughter even as his horse danced to the side.
“Mind your mouth or that horse’ll throw ya,” Hank said.
“Yeah, he’s a wee bit wild. I think I like him.” Cash patted the animal’s side. They rode in silence for a while, and soon Witt, Kade and Beck joined their group.
As they passed a section of land with a big stand of trees, Kade pointed. “That’s mine. When I get my wife, that is.”
“Because you have so many women lined up for the job,” Beck heckled.
“Not yet. But as soon as things calm down here, I’m going out searching again. This time I’m not going to the city.”
“That wasn’t one of our best ideas,” Witt agreed.
Cash had spent two days schmoozing a hotel employee, only to discover she was already engaged. Thing was, most city gals didn’t want to be country gals. Especially when Paradise Valley was far enough from civilization to make things inconvenient.
Witt cantered up beside them, so they rode five abreast. “Know what I think?”
“You actually have thoughts? Like real things going on in your head—not just flashing pictures and lights?” Cash asked, and was struck in the stomach from the other side. “Man, you guys don’t have any sense of humor.”
“I think,” Witt drawled, “that we’re spending too much damn time thinking of wives and not enough on the ranch. Our parents made a bad move, telling us we need wives before they’ll give us the land.”
“Worked out for me,” Hank said.
“You got lucky. Four more pretty little women who happen to love country cooking aren’t going to break down on our turf.” Witt had a point.
“Is that a requirement of your wife—she loves country cookin’?” Cash asked.
“Hell yeah. If she can’t even cook country fried steak, what good is she?”
They all looked to Hank, who laughed. “Charlotte can do plenty of other things right besides country fried steak.”