The Cowboy's Secret Bride

By: Cora Seton


Camila glanced up again. Caught his eye. Looked away with a shake of her head.

Carl’s gut tightened. What did that mean?

“A promise is stupid if you ask me,” Fila said just as loudly. “You’re lucky no one else came along to steal her heart.”

“Who’s heart?” Maya asked. “And why are you all yelling?”

Carl gripped the edge of the counter. No one had better be chasing after Camila. He was still trying to process that head shake. Was she telling him to stop talking about it in front of Maya? Or was she telling him she wasn’t interested anymore?

“It could happen, you know,” Fila asserted.

He did know. Camila was something special. He was amazed she’d waited this long for him to get it together, and sometimes he worried another man would snatch her up before he could find what he was looking for.

“Who. Are. You. Talking. About?” Maya demanded.

Carl paid for his order and stepped aside to wait for his food without answering her, and Maya let out a little huff. “Coopers,” she said derisively.

“Carl’s not a Cooper,” Fila told her.

“He might as well be. He worships them. And he acts like them, too. Stubborn as a mule.”

Carl kept his cool. He’d never understood the feud between the two families, or how someone as level-headed as Maya could fall under its sway.

But all the Turners were like that. Dead set against the Coopers. And vice versa. Had been for years.

While Carl waited, he kept his eye on Camila, but she never once looked up to meet his gaze. He knew she got a great deal on rent from the Turners and wouldn’t want to put that in jeopardy just to chat with him—not until he’d bought his ranch and made it clear he meant to stay.

When Fila delivered his meal, Maya turned to speak with another customer, and suddenly Camila straightened. She caught his eye. “Ten minutes,” she mouthed and pointed in the direction of the portable toilets set a discreet distance away from the rest of the festivities, then turned back to her grill so fast Carl thought he might have hallucinated the whole thing.

But he hadn’t. His pulse kicked up as he walked away from the booth. Camila wanted to meet with him. Talk to him.

The portable toilets might not be his first choice as a rendezvous spot, but who cared?

This was his chance to move things forward with Camila—and he meant to make the most of it.

He’d only made it about twenty paces away from the food tent, however, when something sharp prodded him in the side.

“Carl!”

“Hell!” Carl nearly dropped his nachos as a gimlet-eyed, gray-haired woman poked the tip of her umbrella into his rib cage again. He sidestepped her third attempt to spear him. “Virginia—you nearly made me lose my food!”

Carl’s anger didn’t faze her. Nothing fazed Virginia Cooper, matriarch of the Cooper clan, and his landlord at Thorn Hill. Since he’d moved onto the spread, he’d come to enjoy the younger generation of Coopers, despite their ready tempers, but Virginia was another matter. Virginia would try the patience of a saint. It wasn’t her age—her 84 years hadn’t slowed down her keen acumen, her fast stride, or her sharp tongue.

She was simply mean.

Carl had learned to stay out of her way.

“I’ve got a proposition for you!” she announced, ignoring his protest. “Did you hear about the prize?” In her three-quarter length gray skirt and flower-patterned blouse, Virginia was neat as a pin. Her gray hair was pulled back, braided and coiled into a bun. Her fingers gleamed with several large rings, but none of them circled her ring finger. Virginia had never married.

“What prize?” Carl looked back to catch a glimpse of Camila but too many people blocked his view.

“What prize? Weren’t you paying attention to the announcements? It’s only the biggest piece of news to hit Chance Creek in over a hundred years!”

Now she had his attention. “What’s going on?”

“The city’s giving up Settler’s Ridge. Giving it away to the winner—which will be us!” Virginia’s eyes shone with determination.

Carl was lost. “Where’s Settler’s Ridge? And how would we win it?”

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