The Cowgirl Ropes a Billionaire(2)

By: Cora Seton

“Come on, if you were going to marry you’d have done it by now. You’re incapable of dating a woman for longer than twenty-four hours, let alone getting engaged. Time to admit defeat and hand Mortimer Innovations over to me.”

Evan would rot in hell before he did that, or he’d marry the 72-year-old cleaning lady, for that matter. “What’s got you so excited? You found some more farmland you want to destroy?”

“It’s called fracking, and it’s the next big thing,” Nate said. “We’re already late to the party. We should have invested years ago. Why aren’t we in North Dakota right now, buying up those farms, blasting that bedrock and getting rich on oil?”

“Because we’re already rich, and we’re in San Jose, trying to promote technologies that will free us from our oil habit once and for all,” Evan said. They’d been over this a million times.

“Hand your shares over, buddy, and let me get this company into the twenty-first century,” Nate said.

Evan stood up, and was frustrated to find himself eye-to-eye with his younger brother. It had been so much easier when he stood a foot above Nate. “Sorry, man, but I’m not going anywhere. If I don’t find a fiancée the old-fashioned way soon, I’ve got a backup plan.”

Nate snorted. “What kind of backup plan? Are you going to marry a mannequin? I don’t think that counts, buddy.” Giving his family photograph a final pat, he left the office as abruptly as he came.

Evan couldn’t believe he needed to marry at all. But the strictures around who got to run Mortimer Innovations were ironclad. He needed a wife.

Nate was right; time for plan B.

He reached for his phone and tapped the link for his secretary. “Amanda, get me on that show.

* * * * *

When Bella charged through the door the following morning, late and disheveled, still twisting her unruly blonde hair into a ponytail, her cowboy hat—a tan affair she’d had since she was twelve—tucked under her arm instead of on her head, she noticed Morgan Matheson stood behind the reception counter with her sole employee, Hannah Ashton. Morgan’s husband, Rob, sat on one of the waiting room chairs, his hands laced behind his head.

The two women looked guilty, like Bella had caught them dipping into the petty cash, and she felt the usual pang she did when she saw them together. Hannah was twenty-five and she had worked for Bella for four years. Bella counted her as her closest friend.

However, when Rob Matheson brought his fiancée in to pick out some kittens last month, Hannah and Morgan instantly took to each other. As soon as Morgan returned from her honeymoon, she began to stop by the shelter several times a week. She spent a lot of time with the animals, and even more time with Hannah—often inviting her out to lunch when she came by. It wasn’t that the other two women excluded her exactly—Bella always worked through lunch, as Hannah knew all too well—but she still felt left out. Bella knew she’d neglected her friendship with Hannah; while they saw each other at work every day, they didn’t hang out after hours, or go out to eat, or shop, or anything else women did together for fun. She simply didn’t have time. She worked all day at the clinic, all night at the shelter, fell into bed as soon as she got home, and woke up and did it all over again.

Not to mention it was getting harder and harder to look Hannah in the eye when they both knew Bella would have to let her go soon. The one time she brought it up Hannah told her not to talk crazy, but the woman needed the money as badly as she did. She couldn’t work for free.

She had to fix things, but she didn’t know how. Her only option was to institute the same euthanization program all the other shelters had for their unwanted pets. She wasn’t ready to do that.

“Bella! Great, you’re here. I’ve figured it out!” Hannah said, breaking into her thoughts.

“Hi, Morgan, Rob.” She nodded to the Mathesons and turned to Hannah. “What did you figure out?” She gratefully accepted the cup of coffee her receptionist offered her. Hannah lived a few miles out of town and passed the Bagel Bookshop—Chance Creek’s best source of java—on her way in to the clinic. As much as it shamed her that her receptionist was buying her coffee these days, she hadn’t been able to make Hannah stop, and she did love her coffee.

“How to get all the money we need!” Beside her Morgan nodded like she knew all about it, her thick, dark hair swinging. Bella suppressed another pang at the thought the two had discussed her situation behind her back. Judging by the grin on Rob’s face, he was in on it, too. A tall, blond cowboy with wide shoulders, and an easy-going personality that had gotten more serious in the time he knew Morgan, he was one of four brothers who’d grown up on a ranch not far from town. Now Morgan and Rob were busy starting a winery and lived with two other couples on the Cruz ranch, next door to the spread where Rob lived as a child.

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