Read Devlin's Montana Bride (Sweet, clean Western Historical Romance)(Montana Ranchers Brides series) Online
Authors: Maya Stirling
DEVLIN'S MONTANA BRIDE
(A sweet, clean Western Historical Romance)
(Montana Ranchers' Brides series)
Billings, Montana 1886
"I cannot marry him, father. I will not."
Elise Macleod stamped her foot on the wooden floor of the land agent's office and clenched her fists in rage.
Her father, Jedediah Macleod sighed. He sat down on a leather backed chair behind his desk and looked like he wanted his land agent's office back to himself.
"Now Elise. How many times have we been through this. Bart Caulfield is one of the biggest ranchers this side of Montana. He's a great catch."
"Great catch?" Elise screeched. "He's fat and he stinks. How can that be a great catch? And he's almost as old as you."
Jedediah closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He'd put up a closed sign on the front door of the land office. Maybe it was time to take it down.
"Do you expect me to just agree to this marriage without any say in the matter?" Elise demanded.
"I'm only thinking of your best interests. Your sister Annabelle is too young."
Elise groaned. "Are you going to find a husband for her too when she gets old enough?"
Macleod rolled his eyes. "I might. Depends on who I can find."
Elise huffed. "I never realized your duties as a father included choosing a husband for me."
"It's still done these days, my dear."
"And mama? What does she think?"
"Your mother is in full support of the marriage. She too has only your best interests at heart."
Elise paced up and down the wooden floor of the dusty office. Her shiny new boots clacked noisily. She clutched the front of her pale blue dress with her gloved hands. There was so much dust on the floor she didn't want her outfit getting dirty.
Elise thought of her conversation with her mother earlier that morning. It seemed to her that her mother wasn't quite as sure about the arranged wedding as her father was. She recalled the wistful look in her mother's face when Elise got down on her knees and begged her to persuade her father that it was all a terrible idea.
If she couldn't persuade her father to call it off Elise Macleod was scheduled to be wed to rancher Bart Caulfield in one week. The minister had already agreed to carry out the ceremony.
Elise couldn't even think about standing at the altar with a man she loathed. The thought of heading back to a life on a ranch sent shivers down her spine.
A ranch! Cowboys, horses, cattle. Imagining the smells and the sights just made her stomach turn.
No. That wasn't going to be her destiny. She had loftier ambitions. If she had to marry it would be to a gentleman with manners and elegance, not some glorified cowboy boss. It didn't matter that Bart was rich and that his spread was one of the biggest in Montana.
"But why Caulfield, father?"
Macleod's lips tightened and she could tell that he wasn't going to say anything. She'd asked him the same question so many times and each time he'd refused to answer.
Elise went around the desk and laid a gentle hand on her father's shoulder. She tried to summon up the softest, most persuasive voice she could muster, in spite of the raging torrent of emotion inside her.
"What about my feelings, father. Have you not considered how I might feel about this?"
Her father looked up at her. Elise forcefully widened her eyes into an expression of desperate pleading.
"Of course I have Elise. I know it has been a great surprise to you but I know you will be happy. Once you get to know Bart you'll see what a fine man he is."
Elise thrust her fists down by her side. "Oh! You are intolerable, father. Truly intolerable."
Elise hurried away from him lest she succumb to the inappropriate impulse that had risen up inside her. She would never do what she had felt like doing in that moment. Not to her beloved parent, even if he was about to give her away to an entirely disagreeable man. Even a nineteen year old woman had to control her temper in public.
Macleod rose from his chair. "There's not much more to say Elise. The wedding's in a week. I expect you have a lot to do to prepare for that."
"Prepare? I don't have a black gown. Maybe I can get one fitted in time. Seems like it would be the right color," she said.
Her father frowned. "You'll be wearing the white gown your mother has arranged for you. That's already been settled."
They were both in on it. Her parents were absolutely determined.
Her father led her toward the door. He flipped over the closed sign and opened the door.
Elise stopped suddenly at seeing someone standing on the boardwalk in front of the door.
The tall, dark haired young man with even features, wide shoulders and long legs smiled and tipped his cowboy hat.
"Mornin' Miss Elise," he said. His voice was slow and deep.
Elise frowned. "Are we acquainted?"
The man's blue eyes narrowed. "We've met once or twice at town socials I believe."
"I don't recall," Elise said with a wave of her hand.
Jedediah glanced nervously at the man and started to close the door. "Well, Elise," he said to her. "I'll speak with you later. I've got work to do," he said hurriedly.
"Now hold on there, Jedediah," the man said stepping up to the door. Elise leaned back. The scent of the man was a mixture of soap and leather. "You know why I've come to see you," he continued.
Jedediah fussed in his pocket for some keys. "If it's about what I think it is Devlin then there's nothing to speak about. It's already been finalized."
"Really, is that so?" the man called Devlin said. "That's not what I heard."
Elise looked from Devlin to her father. These two looked like they'd come to blows soon.
"All the paperwork has been attended to. It's a done deal."
Elise looked at her father. Those were the same words he'd used to describe her impending marriage to Bart.
Which was not going to happen if she had anything to do with it.
"Now Jedediah that's not what you told me before. You said there was still time to negotiate."
Jedediah shook his head. "Time for that is over."
Jedediah kissed Elise on the cheek. "We'll speak later my dear."
He went to close the door but Devlin jammed a booted foot inside, stopping it from closing.
"You know my ranch needs that water. If Bart gets control of that he'll surely change it's course away from my land."
Jedediah tried to close the door but Devlin wouldn't let him. Devlin grasped the door with strong hands, his knuckles white.
When he spoke there was a fierce determination in his voice."If he does that I'll be out of business within the year. You know that."
Jedediah lowered his head avoiding Devlin's burning gaze.
"I'm sorry about that. There's nothing I can do."
Elise had seen her father express remorse before. It didn't happen very often but this time it looked genuine.
She glanced at the man. Devlin was a rancher? He didn't look like one. He was well dressed in sharply pressed jacket and pants. He was clean shaven and his hair was neat.
No. Devlin didn't look like your typical rancher.
Finally Devlin sighed and withdrew his foot from the door.
"Fine. Jedediah. You win. For now. But this is not the last you'll hear from me on this."
Jedediah closed the door and turned the lock, relief on his face.
Devlin turned to Elise. "I'm sorry you had to witness that Miss Macleod."
Elise looked at Devlin seeing the sincerity in his eyes.
"I understand Mr...?"
"Cooper, ma'am. Devlin Cooper." He tipped his hat in a gentlemanly fashion. His smile revealed white, even teeth. His cheeks creased attractively at the corners of his mouth.
Elise acknowledged him with a slight bow of her head. This rancher has manners, she thought. And looks. But she quickly pushed that stray thought out of her mind.
Devlin glanced quickly at the closed door to her father's land agent office. "May I accompany you while you walk?"
Elise was taken aback. "I...uh...why sure, Mr. Cooper. If you wish."
"Devlin ma'am. Please call me Devlin."
"But I hardly know you."
"It would be an honor to walk with you ma'am. In fact I have something I'd really appreciate speaking to you about."
"Really? What could I possibly speak to you about," said Elise immediately regretting the harsh tone.
Devlin ignored the way she'd spoken.
"Well, it's something I think you may find of interest to you in your present circumstances."
"My present circumstances? What do you mean?"
"If we may," Devlin said, gesturing with an extended hand that they should walk on.
Elise frowned. What on earth could this rancher know about her private affairs?
They made their way slowly up the Main Street of Billings. It was busy with horses and buggies, and the townsfolk were out in numbers. The stores were busy today, Elise thought, recalling that she was due to go to the dress shop for a final fitting.
Not if she had her way!
Devlin walked slowly by her side keeping a considerate distance.
He sure is a fine looking man, Elise thought.
Devlin cleared his throat. His brows furrowed as if deep in thought. "I believe that you may have been placed in what I might describe as an awkward position, Miss.Macleod," he said slowly.
Elise stopped and stared at Devlin. She felt her mouth open in shock.
"What did you say?"
Devlin glanced around then leaned in close. Once again she caught his unique scent,
"It is my understanding that you have been betrothed. Am I right in saying that?"
Elise took a deep breath. For a moment she was lost for words.
"Why that is my private affair Mr. Cooper," she said trying to contain the irritation rising up inside her.
"It's also something that affects me," he said firmly.
Elise frowned. "How so?"
Devlin glanced at a passing couple and waited for them to be out of earshot.
"It's my understanding that you are to become Bart Caulfield's bride next week. Am I right?"
Elise's brows furrowed. "I'll thank you to change the subject Mr.Cooper."
Devlin merely smiled at that. He was a mischievous one, thought Elise.
"Oh, I don't think I can do that Elise."
"Please don't be too familiar with me."
"I'd like to call you Elise. If I may," Devlin asked.
"You may not. I think our conversation is at an end Mr.Cooper."
Elise made to walk away but Devlin moved in front of her.
"Please get out of my way sir," she ordered. "I have an appointment."
"That would be for a wedding dress fitting?"
Elise shook her head. "Absolutely not."
"So you're not marrying Bart."
"I said no such thing. It is not your affair," she declared.
"That's where you're wrong Elise. Your business is very much my affair. You see. If you marry Bart Caulfield I lose my ranch."
"I heard you say as much to my father."
Devlin moved closer. Elise felt the strength of him as leaned over her.
Devlin cleared his throat and took a quick glance around. Then he leaned so close she thought for brief, panicked moment that he was going to try and kiss her. She leaned back and her eyes widened. She could feel his breath he was so close. Then he spoke quietly and firmly.
"That's why I have to tell you the real reason I came to your father's office this morning."
She gazed into his ice shard blue eyes.
"I came to ask you to marry me, instead of Bart Caulfield."
"What! You want me to marry you? What on earth do you think I am?"
Devlin took Elise's arm and drew her closer to the alleyway. Elise moved her arm to loosen his grip. His touch had momentarily affected her in a truly surprising manner. A shiver ran through her body that she couldn't explain.
Elise's heart was racing. What was happening to her? Two ranchers wanted to marry her. All because they wanted her father to hand over valuable water access rights. She felt like a chattel being traded and exchanged. What did these men think she was?
Devlin looked at her with a serious intent. "I think you are a beautiful woman who's been put in a difficult position by your father. In spite of what he is proposing I believe your father loves you very much."
"Filial devotion can only go so far Mr. Cooper.
It doesn't go as far as being married off in this manner. Especially to someone like Caulfield."
Devlin nodded. "I know this comes as a surprise..."
"That's putting it mildly," she interrupted.
Devlin sighed. "But I'm serious. I can offer you a good home, security and you don't have to marry Caulfield."
Elise frowned and shook her head. "I can hardly believe what I'm hearing. I don't want to marry anyone. Don't you understand?"