Read The Last Bachelor Online

Authors: Judy Christenberry

The Last Bachelor

BOOK: The Last Bachelor
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CLUB TIMES

For Members' Eyes Only

An offer Joe Turner can't refuse!

A
fter a heavy gossip session in the Yellow Rose Café, I've made it my mission to nail down Joe Turner to the fine town of Mission Creek. Sure, you can describe his bedroom eyes and broad shoulders until your tongue goes dry, but this won't be worth beans if he goes back to the Midwest. We know who to contact if we need cement blocks, but that's only for drastic measures, Mr. Del Brio.

Meanwhile, I'm feeling in the mood for some sunshine. The closest I get is when calling Tyler Murdoch so I can listen to his tales about the hot jungles of Mezcaya. He keeps hanging up on me, thinking that I'm breathing too heavily into the phone. But we know how cold it can get in Texas, and darned if I'm not the only one who has respiratory ailments this time of year.

Nadine Delarue's bronchitis nearly killed us all.

Let's welcome Marisa Rodriguez to the fold. We're happy to have you as a new member of the Lone Star Country Club! And congratulations on snagging one of the hunkiest bachelors in Mission Creek!

Get ready to
spring
into action at the Lone Star Country Club. We are happy to serve you…Texas-style!

About the Author

JUDY CHRISTENBERRY

was born and raised in Texas. While she'd participated in some continuity stories, she'd never had one set in Texas. When she heard about the LONE STAR COUNTRY CLUB program, she asked to be included. The continuity stories draw from all kinds of experiences. She was once a foreign language teacher (French) and it helped out this time creating a character who was new to America.

“Writing entertains the writer as much as the reader,” she says. As the mother of two daughters, she finds everything in life contributes to the store of information that she uses in her stories. “Even difficulties teach us new experiences. Thanks for the opportunities.”

JUDY CHRISTENBERRY
THE LAST BACHELOR

Welcome to the

Where Texas society reigns supreme—and appearances are everything.

The last remaining bachelor of the five Turner men has come home…and has found himself falling for his new green-card wife.

Joe Turner:
In order to protect an Estonian damsel-in-distress—and get his well-meaning family off his back—Joe shocked the Turner clan by marrying Ginger Walton aka Virvela Waltek. The marriage-in-name-only worked out so well that everyone fell in love with his new bride…including Joe!

Ginger Walton:
Being surrounded by Joe's family was better than anything Ginger had ever imagined. But it was nothing compared to being wrapped up in his arms! After fleeing a terrifying situation, Ginger felt safe with Joe. But how much longer would Ginger be able to pretend her feelings for her soon-to-be “husband” were only make-believe?

Mission Creek Crisis:
Luke Callaghan has returned to Mission Creek and received nothing short of a spectacular hero's welcome. However, his joy is short-lived when he learns about the kidnapping of little Lena…his daughter!

Dedicated to Barbara White-Rayczek, a friend in deed, and Christina Willi, my daughter.
Without those two, my book would never have gotten finished.

Prologue

S
he froze, her hands full of orders ready to deliver to the latest table of diners.

Her heart pounded in her suddenly tight chest. She couldn't breathe. Nor could she think. What should she do?

Dashing back into the kitchen, she set down the plates of food and grabbed another waitress. “I have to leave. I feel very sick. Can you take these orders to table number seven? They're big tippers,” she added as an incentive.

“I've got a lot of tables myself,” the waitress complained.

She dug her hand into her apron pocket and pulled out five dollars from her tip money. “Here, keep this, too. I'd really appreciate it.”

Then she dashed out the door that led to the parking lot, assuming the food would be delivered. Right now, she had more to worry about than the people dining at the Lone Star Country Club.

She'd known this day would come. She'd prepared for it. But, oh, she'd prayed—hoped—that there would be a miracle in this blessed land of the free.

But no. Today it had ended.

One

J
oe Turner drove up the drive of the Lone Star Country Club. It was a little late for lunch, which meant the café wouldn't be packed. Maybe he'd have a little time to chat with his favorite waitress.

He chuckled. He was a fool, of course. Ginger Walton probably wasn't even twenty-one, and he was thirty-four. If he were precocious, he could claim to be old enough to be her father. Nevertheless, she caught his eye.

And every other man's in the place.

It wasn't her curves that drew all the men's attention, though Ginger certainly had some striking ones. It wasn't even her auburn hair, beautiful complexion or her big blue eyes. It was all of those things, actually, but it was her appearance of innocence that touched every man's heart. At least it did Joe's. He always had the belief that she was a princess in disguise who needed rescuing.

“Right,” he muttered, telling himself he was crazy.

The well-groomed drive wound its way to the entrance of the country club. Joe was almost there when out of the corner of his eye he caught the color of the waitresses' yellow aprons they wore in the Yel
low Rose Café. One of the waitresses was running from the parking lot toward the main highway.

Almost immediately he realized it was Ginger, her smooth hair blowing away from her face as she hurried. He knew she didn't have a car, but usually she caught a ride with one of the other girls. Besides, he knew she worked until nine o'clock on Fridays.

Joe picked up speed and followed the circle up the other side, toward the highway. He pulled in front of Ginger and stopped, hurrying out of his car to intercept her.

“Ginger? Is something wrong?”

“Oh, Mr. Turner! No. Nothing is wrong.”

“Then why are you crying?”

She self-consciously wiped her cheeks. “Uh, I—I don't feel well. I must go home.” She started around him.

“Get in my car. I'll drive you home.”

“No, I—” As she looked back toward the country club, she evidently changed her mind. “Okay.”

Joe looked behind Ginger and saw two men in dark suits getting into a dark car—a government car from the looks of it. With a frown, he slid behind the wheel again as she got in.

“Who are they?” he asked. He turned to look at Ginger, only to discover she'd slid down in the seat, as if she were hiding. “Ginger, what's going on?”

“I—I can't—Please just take me home.”

Her normally pale cheeks were flushed and tears gathered in her light blue eyes. Joe could never refuse to help her. He put his Lexus in Drive and
started toward the small apartment where Ginger lived. When he'd first realized Ginger lived in such a tiny place, he'd tried to talk Harvey Small, the manager of the club, into giving Ginger a pay increase so she could afford a nicer apartment.

Joe didn't like Harvey, but the man assured him Ginger was making good money. It wasn't his fault she didn't spend her pay on better accommodations.

Joe drove slowly, studying Ginger out of the corner of his eye, trying to figure out what was wrong. She didn't give him any clues.

“Are you nauseated?” he asked.

“No.” She stared straight ahead, her teeth sunk into her bottom lip, a frown on her face.

“I could take you to the doctor.”

“No! I—I just need to go home.”

“Okay,” he agreed, trying to sound calm. But something was wrong.

They approached the small apartment house, and Joe figured he'd done his best for her. She obviously didn't want any help.

Suddenly she moaned. “No! No, no, no!”

He stopped at once. “Ginger, what's wrong? I'll help if you'll tell me.”

“No one can help me now.” Her mournful words broke his heart.

“Sweetheart, I promise I'll do what I can.”

“Take me to…the park, please.” She had her eyes closed. Then she opened them and hurriedly said, “If you don't mind.”

“Not at all.” The small park across the street from
the apartments had a few picnic tables and a basketball court that drew the neighborhood boys after school. Right now it appeared deserted.

He parked his Lexus in the empty parking lot. When he turned around, he saw Ginger staring into his rearview mirror. That was when he noticed the dark sedan parked near Ginger's apartment. The same car from the country club.

“I think it's about time you explained to me what's going on. Obviously those two men are upsetting you. Shall I go talk to them?”

“No!” she shouted, then seemed to pull herself together. “Mr. Turner, you've always been so nice, so generous, I know you want to help. But there's nothing you can do. If you don't know what's wrong, then you can't be accused of anything.”

“Accused? Accused of what? There's nothing illegal about giving a ride to a friend.”

Ginger looked at the man beside her with gratitude. An architect from Chicago, Joe had come back to his hometown a few months ago to supervise the rebuilding on the country club, after a bomb had destroyed the Men's Grill restaurant. He'd been friendly ever since the first time she'd served him. Ginger had loved waiting on him not only because he was handsome, with mahogany hair and chocolate eyes, but because he treated her with respect. He didn't try to get familiar with her or ask her out. Now he called her his friend.

But she couldn't get him in trouble. With a sigh, she suggested he go back to the country club.

“Are you coming with me?”

“No, I can't.”

“So what are you going to do?”

She didn't have an answer for him. As long as those men were there, waiting for her, she couldn't go home. And she couldn't leave until she got her money out of the apartment. Why hadn't she put it in a bank? Instead she'd cashed her paychecks and hidden in her apartment the money she didn't need to pay bills. All so she could leave quickly when she had to.

“Ginger?”

It took her a moment to remember Joe had asked her a question. What
was
she going to do? “Uh, I don't know.”

“Are those men looking for you?”

“They are looking for Virvela Waltek,” she admitted with a sob.

Joe frowned at her. “Who's that?”

She sniffed. It was so very hard to admit the truth. Finally she whispered, “Me.”

She didn't want to look at him, expecting him to be horrified by her deception. When she looked at his handsome face, however, she didn't see disgust.

He leaned closer. “I knew you had a little accent, but I couldn't identify it. Where are you from?”

“Estonia. I came to America three years ago. I was sixteen.” It seemed so very long ago.

“Good Lord, you're only nineteen?”

“Almost twenty.”

He smiled ruefully. “I'm fifteen years older than you.”

She shrugged her shoulders, as if that didn't matter. It wasn't as if he was romantically interested in her. A good-looking man in his prime, educated, wealthy, Joe Turner could have any woman he wanted.

“So, are you here illegally? Is that why you're scared?”

“Not really. But…my mother has refused to sponsor me now.”

This time she had shocked him, she could tell.

“Your mother? Your mother sicced the INS on you?”

Ginger nodded, keeping her gaze lowered. It was such a shameful thing, for her own mother to turn her back on her. She'd warned Ginger, of course, thinking it would make her come home and do what her mother wanted her to do. But it hadn't.

His stomach growled and he apologized. “I'm sorry, I'm hungry. How about we go to the Dairy Queen and grab something to eat?”

“No. They would find out that you hid me.”

“Sweetheart,” he drawled, and she almost grinned. She loved it when he sounded like John Wayne. “They won't think I know your identity. Besides, they won't think to look there.”

“I can get out now and you can go back to the club and have a nice meal.” She was determined to do the right thing for this kind man.

He started his car and backed out.

“Wait, I have to get out.”

“Nope. You don't even have a sweater to keep the chill off.”

Usually late March in this part of Texas was warm, but a storm had come through the day before and the wind was still blowing, the air chilly.

“Please, I can—”

“Come with me.” It was more an order than a request.

Two minutes later he pulled into the Dairy Queen and led her inside. “Let's take the back booth. No one will see us there.”

She obediently slid into the booth, facing the door.

“I'll be right back,” he assured her. He ordered some food at the counter and came back to join her.

“Now, tell me why your mother would try to get you thrown out of the country. That seems pretty weird to me.”

“It is better that you know nothing. I shouldn't have told you my real name. When they ask you questions, you must say you think I am Ginger.”

“Maybe they just have some questions for you and that's all. I don't see why they'd want to kick you out. You're a model citizen.”

Her chest constricted. “I—I don't have a sponsor. My mother wants me to—I won't.”

“Won't what?”

“Please, Mr. Turner—”

“I think you should call me Joe, don't you? You're not waiting on my table now. We're talking.
We're friends. Friends call each other by their first names.”

Before she could protest, one of the employees brought over a tray of food and put it down on the table. “Here you go,” the woman said. “Need anything else?”

“No, thank you,” Joe replied. After the woman walked away, he grinned at Ginger. “She doesn't quite have your style, but the food's hot. I got each of us a hamburger. You haven't eaten, have you?”

She shook her head.

“There's French fries, too, and a Coke.” He gently shoved her food toward her. “You have to eat so I don't feel bad eating in front of you.”

She took the food. Who knew when she'd have a meal again? She'd best be practical.

Joe was relieved that she accepted the food. She was looking pretty fragile. After she'd had several bites, he asked casually, “What is it your mother wants you to do? And where is she?”

Ginger looked up from her food. “She's in New York. She married a man there.”

“So she got her citizenship because she's married to an American? How long has she been married to him?”

“Three years. He came to Estonia and he proposed. We came to America three months later and they married at once.”

“She knew him before?”

Ginger shook her head.

Joe stared at her. She was a beautiful, delicate
young woman. If her mother looked anything like her, he wasn't surprised that a man would marry her at once. “So why would she want to send you back to Estonia? She might never see you again.”

Tears pooled in her blue eyes again and she looked away.

“You've got to tell me, sweetheart. Otherwise, I can't help you.”

“You can't help me, anyway. My mother will not change her mind.”

“Just tell me,” he urged softly, reaching across the narrow table to lay his warm hand over hers.

“She wants me to marry.”

“Whom?”

Her cheeks flushed again, as if the information shamed her.

“Do you know him?”

She nodded her head, but she didn't look up.

“You don't love him?”

“No!” When he didn't speak again, she finally said, “My mother married a man who is a member of the mob in New York. I believe that's what you call it, right?”

“Yeah,” he said grimly. He didn't like the way the story was going.

“My stepfather's friend is his boss. He decided I would make a good bride, but I said no.”

“How old is he?”

With her head still down, she whispered, “Fifty-eight.”

“Damn!” Joe cursed. That kind of a marriage was
barbaric, trying to force a beautiful young woman into a marriage with a man three times her age. “You were right to refuse.”

“Even if it means my mother is beaten?” When she lifted her gaze to him, he read the guilt and pain there. He squeezed her hand.

“It's not your fault.”

She looked away. “I was eighteen. I believed all the wonderful things they say about America. I thought I was free, that I could choose.” She sobbed, before she could compose herself. “I ran away.”

“Good for you.”

His reaction seemed to surprise her, but the thought of her being married to an old man, one involved in crime, made his gut clench. “I think if we explain the problem to the government men, they won't send you back.”

“They will,” she assured him, fear in her eyes. “I must go away where they can't find me.”

“Ginger, I don't think you can hide that easily. You'll need to work. They'll be able to find you.”

“I saved all I could. I can make it for a while.”

“Let me contact a lawyer. There's got to be a better way.”

“Lawyers are very expensive. I cannot—”

“One of my brothers is a lawyer. He'll help us.” He took a bite of his hamburger, but he kept his gaze on her.

She shook her head. “I don't want other people to
be punished. I don't even know your brother. I cannot shift my troubles to him. Or to you.”

“Ginger, I want to help.”

“No. I must go.” Without waiting for his agreement, she slipped out of the booth and headed for the door, leaving her food uneaten for the most part.

Joe stared after her. Then he wrapped up his hamburger and fries, grabbed his drink and hurried after her. By the time he got to the car, she was nowhere in sight. But he couldn't stop trying to help her. Getting in his car, he drove the two blocks back to her apartment. He scanned the area and didn't see the government car. Maybe they had given up and returned to wherever their office was located.

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