The Cowboy's Secret Bride

By: Cora Seton


She poked him again with her umbrella. “Settler’s Ridge is a ranch that straddles Pittance Creek to the north of Thorn Hill and the Flying W. It was given to the city by the Ridleys in 1962, and kept in trust since then. Those fools thought the town center would spread to encompass it. Must have figured Chance Creek was the next Chicago.” She shook her head to show what she thought of that. “It’s been sitting there unused ever since.”

Carl was beginning to understand the significance of the announcement. If the Coopers won it, they could double the size of their ranch.

“Think of it.” Virginia jabbed with the umbrella, but Carl dodged it. “Twice the land—and control over Pittance Creek,” she said triumphantly.

Clarity crashed over him. There was the rub. The land was one thing, but the water could be even more important. The Turners’ ranch—the Flying W—depended on Pittance Creek, too. Both ranches had wells, of course, but the creek was valuable, nonetheless.

“Virginia, you’re incorrigible. You wouldn’t deprive the Turners of their water, would you?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Depends.”

Hell, he wanted no part of this. “Well, good luck. Hope you win.”

“That’s all you’ve got to say?” Virginia lifted her chin. “Fat lot of help you are, after everything we’ve done for you.”

Carl sighed. “What do you have to do to win it?” he asked, going along with the conversation, but promising himself his involvement would end with it. He needed to focus on Camila—and buying Hilltop Acres.

“Provide the biggest boost to civic life during the next six months. Whatever that means.”

Carl could have laughed. It meant the Coopers would have to do something good for the town at large—maybe for the first time in their lives. The family wasn’t known for its civic-mindedness. “Like I said, good luck.” This time Carl really meant it. If vying to win Settler’s Ridge motivated them to become model citizens, he was all for it. He liked the Coopers, but they were a wild bunch.

“That’s where you come in.”

“What do you mean?” Carl nearly groaned. He should have known she’d try to rope him into something. His eyes wandered to watch Camila working again. He couldn’t help it.

He yelped at a sharp pain in his ribs. “Hey!” He eyed Virginia and her pointy-tipped umbrella.

“Pay attention. This is important. Like I said, I’ve got a proposition for you.”

“Spit it out!”

“You help me win this contest, and I’ll help you get that ranch you want so badly. Must be getting old living in our little cabin. A millionaire like you,” she added.

“You’ll sell me Settler’s Ridge?” That was interesting. He tried to picture the land to the north of Thorn Hill. All he’d seen from the road was a tangle of brush and scrub. Were there any buildings on it? He couldn’t say. At least it was close to town.

Virginia bristled. “I’m not selling you Cooper land. I’m talking about another ranch. It’s not for sale yet, but it will be soon. I can get you access to the seller before anyone else even knows about it. If—and only if—you help me win.”

A ranch for sale no one knew about? That would be a miracle. Prosperous ranches in these parts stayed in family hands for generations. The ones that did come on the market were too dry, too rugged, too far from town, too one thing or another. Multiple buyers competed for them anyhow. Before today, he’d almost given up hope he’d ever find a decent place. Hilltop Acres barely qualified.

He didn’t doubt Virginia’s word, though. Despite being the nominal owner of Thorn Hill, she’d spent the last few years at the Prairie Garden assisted living facility in town, and that put her in close proximity with dozens of pensioners who might be ready to dispose of a property.

“If we get a jump on this civic stuff, no one will be able to catch us. Give my family a leg up, and I’ll see you get your ranch,” she said.

“You want me to donate money?” He supposed he could do that much. He could keep the ranch Virginia knew about in his hip pocket, in case something fell through with Hilltop Acres—or Camila vetoed it. He’d been meaning to contribute more here in Chance Creek. After all, this was his town, too.

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