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Mallery Susan

Lucas's Convenient Bride

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Chapter Two

Emily stared at the man sitting in front of her and had the most unreasonable urge to cry. Since they’d left the sheriff’s office, she’d allowed herself to hope that Lucas MacIntyre was going to listen to her plan, understand and let her open the hotel. She’d thought she’d convinced him of her abilities, her business sense and her sincerity.

She’d been wrong. He had no interest in her plan. Instead he was humiliating her for the humor it brought him. She was disappointed, hurt and determined that he would never know how her insides trembled and her throat felt all tight and sore.

“How interesting,” she forced herself to say, keeping her voice low and even. “A proposal of marriage.”

She wanted to stand and walk out, but she didn’t yet have the strength. Was he doing this because she was a woman or because she was a plain woman?

Emily sighed. All her life she’d longed to be pretty, like other women. However the simple truth was that she was plain. Sometimes she wanted to scream out loud, proclaiming that her looks were not her fault. God had blessed her with many other fine qualities. She was intelligent, loyal, honest and caring. Why didn’t people—men, mostly—care about that? Didn’t they know that a pretty face aged with time, but that the heart and character of a person lasted forever?

Obviously not. She recalled what the miners in the saloon had said. How she was so skinny and unattractive, they couldn’t possibly ravish her in the daylight. They would have to wait until it was dark. Probably they would have to be very drunk, as well.

Familiar pain filled her. The ache for a husband and children. She would never have either. She’d learned that lesson well over the years. Wishing for the impossible was a sign of weakness, and she’d always prided herself on being strong.

Remembering that, she stiffened her spine and drew in a deep breath. But before she could open her mouth, Lucas spoke.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” he said, leaning toward her and resting his hands on the desk in front of him. “But I doubt it reflects well on me.”

She rose to her feet. “I’m sorry to have taken up your time, sir. I can see I misjudged you and the situation completely. I apologize for that.”

“Hold on there.” He stood and moved toward her. “What’s got your tail feathers in a twist?”

She blinked at the vulgarity of the question, then raised her chin. “I hadn’t thought of you as a cruel man. I have provided you with an afternoon’s entertainment. That should be enough. If you’ll excuse me?”

“What are you talking about?”

She forced herself to meet his gaze. “You could have simply told me no. Instead you have chosen to mock me.”

He muttered something under his breath that sounded surprisingly like a swearword. Emily willed herself not to react. If she wasn’t going to be conducting business with Mr. MacIntyre, there was no point in taking him to task on his language.

“I’m not mocking you,” he said, then lightly touched her arm. “I’m completely serious. Please, don’t go. Give me a chance to explain.

She wanted to tell him no. She wanted to jerk her arm free of his distasteful touch and stalk out of his office. But she couldn’t. For one thing, she didn’t find the light pressure of his fingers the least bit distasteful. Instead they were warm and caused a most disturbing tingling sensation that crept up to her shoulder. Her chest tightened a little, the way it had when she’d seen him smile in the saloon.

Unable to do more than keep breathing, she allowed him to lead her back to her chair where she settled onto the seat.

Once there Emily touched her temple to see if she had some kind of fever. Her skin felt cool as ever. Perhaps something at her noon meal had disagreed with her. Regardless of her brief physical ailment, she seemed to have regained her senses.

“What did you want to explain, Mr. MacIntyre?” she inquired, because trying to leave again would look foolish.

He grinned. “Considering what I’m about to say, you might want to call me Lucas.”

Her mouth went dry and she could feel her eyes widening. She wasn’t sure which shocked her more—his improper suggestion that she use his Christian name or the way his mouth had parted in that luscious, sinful smile.

Inside her sensible black shoes, her toes curled. Her knees actually seemed to bounce off each other in a most peculiar way. The chest tightness returned. But before she could put a name to her condition, he was speaking again.

“It’s all because of my Uncle Simon,” he said, settling onto a corner of the desk.

His left…limb…swung back and forth, nearly brushing against the fullness of her skirt. She shifted slightly in her seat in an attempt to pull back from the contact.

“My parents died when Jackson and I were pretty little. Jackson’s my brother. Uncle Simon raised us right here in Defiance.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t much of a town back then. Just a few mining shacks and an outpost that served as the general store.”

She didn’t think it was much of a town now, but if Mr. MacIntyre had grown up in the West, he couldn’t possibly understand about the beauty of a large city.

“There’s a mine up in the mountains,” he continued. “Jackson sees to that. We bought this saloon about eight years ago and I run it. We also bought a ranch, just outside of town. We’re going to catch wild horses, plus breed our own. For the army. We own the land free and clear, but we have to build corrals, barns, a house, plus pay for feed and stock. That’s what the income from the saloon and mine are going for.”

“That’s all very interesting, Mr. MacIntyre,” she said impatiently, “but I fail to see—”


She pressed her lips together. “It wouldn’t be proper for me to call you that.”

He smiled at her again. His mustache twitched slightly. “I bet you can. Why don’t you kinda roll your tongue around the word? Come on. Say it. Lucas.

She felt heat on her cheeks. Had he actually said that word, the one naming that inner part of her mouth? Next he would probably name her limbs or something even more intimate. The man was impossible.

She thought about leaving, but she knew if she did she would never get a chance at the hotel. And then what choice would she have but to find another teaching position? At that rate of pay, it would take several lifetimes to save enough to open her establishment. She knew that she would never return home—at least not as a someone who had failed. She couldn’t bear the humiliation.

Which meant she was going to have to humor Mr. MacIntyre.

“Fine,” she said through only slightly gritted teeth. “Lucas.”

He winked. “I knew you could do it. Now as I was saying, Jackson and I have this plan for the ranch. The money from my share of the profits of the hotel would really help. The problem is Uncle Simon died.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“He left a will.”

Emily frowned. “That sounds more responsible than problematic.”

“You’d think. But there’s the matter of what’s in the will. You see he’s the actual owner of the mine, the saloon and the ranch. According to the terms of his will, if Jackson and I haven’t each married within three months of his death, we lose everything.”

“That can’t be right,” she said without thinking. Why on earth would a family member put that kind of restriction on his only relatives?

It was as if Lucas read her mind. “I know what you’re thinking, Em,” he told her. “But Uncle Simon had his reasons. He wanted the family name to continue. For the past nine years he’d been waiting for Jackson and I to up and marry. I guess he finally figured that wasn’t going to happen, so he decided to force our hands. The old coot.”

The last sentence came out as a grumble, but Emily—who couldn’t believe the man sitting in front of her had had the audacity to call her “Em”—heard the affection in his voice.

She wanted to ask why he and his brother had never married. She silently counted back nine years and realized Uncle Simon’s expectations had started in 1866. The year the war ended. Of course, Lucas and his brother were of an age where they would have fought. When they returned safe, their uncle had wanted them to start a family. Why had they both resisted?

“So you can see that I’m rightly serious about my proposal, Em,” Lucas said cheerfully. “You get your hotel and I get to keep what’s mine.”

“But why me?” she blurted out before she could stop herself. “There are other women you could marry.”

“Single ladies aren’t that easy to find.”

“But there are those…” She cleared her throat. “What I mean is there are nearly a dozen attractive young women who would suit your purpose.”

She was speaking, of course, of the ladies of ill repute who lived in the great house across from her rented room. Emily would rather sleep on hot coals than ever admit that she might have, on one occasion or another, peeked out her window and seen men entering that building. She’d seen Lucas go in more than once. And she’d seen the beautiful women inside leaving. While her good Christian heart was appalled by their disregard for righteousness, her woman’s soul envied their easy laughter and pretty clothes.

“Why, Em, you do me proud,” Lucas said with a grin. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d even acknowledge Miss Cherry’s existence, let alone that of her girls.”

“I don’t.” She squared her shoulders and avoided his teasing gaze. Which helped her ignore the tingling brought on again by his smile. “I’m simply saying they might be more suited to your needs.”

He nodded. “You know, I gave it a lot of thought, but there’s a problem. I don’t want a real marriage—I want one in name only. Then in a few months, I can get an annulment. One of Cherry’s girls would undoubtedly tempt me into consummating the marriage and then where would I be?”

He stood up and paced the length of the small room. “I thought I’d solved the problem by sending for a mail-order bride. Actually I sent for two. One for me and one for Jackson. However, mine changed her mind. I received a letter a couple of days ago and now I find myself without a bride and not much time left until Jackson and I lose everything. Then you showed up today, wanting to rent the second floor of my saloon and I knew you were a gift from heaven.”

Had Emily been the fainting kind, she would have found herself crumpled on the floor. His insult had been made so casually, she doubted he’d realized the import of his words. But she’d recognized the meaning and it burned. She clasped her hands together in an effort to hold in her pain and not let him know that she cared what he thought. Did it really matter that Lucas MacIntyre considered her charms so meager that she would be easy to resist in the marriage bed? With her he didn’t have to worry about temptation. He could have his marriage of convenience and keep his inheritance, with almost no trouble.

She wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all, but that wasn’t her way. Instead she told herself she was going to refuse him.

Except the marriage would help her, too.

The thought came from nowhere. At first she wanted to dismiss it, but then she considered the meaning. If she married Lucas, she could write her family and tell them that she finally had a husband. A rancher would be considered respectable, even romantic, by her sisters and her mother. She wouldn’t have to say anything about him owning a saloon or their marriage being one of convenience rather than affection. When she left Defiance to start her establishment, she could pass herself off as a widow. Again, respectable.

She glanced at the man sitting in front of her. He waited patiently. Yes, there was something in the situation for her, but he needed the marriage far more than she did. Which meant she was in the better bargaining position.

“I might be interested, however, I want to know what’s in it for me.”

Lucas knew he’d won. The prim Miss Smythe was going to agree to marry him, which meant he was halfway to his goal. “What do you want?” he asked. “I said if you married me, I wouldn’t charge you rent.”

“You suggested that before I knew all the facts. However, I know them now. Therefore, I’ll pay you ten percent of the profits, no rent, and I want a cash settlement at the time of the annulment.”

Had he been drinking, he would have choked. “Why?”

“Because you need to marry me more than I need to rent your hotel.”

Lucas raised his eyebrows. Em might be a scrawny thing on the outside, but she had the heart of a lion. And she was a damn fine businesswoman. He was in trouble and she didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that.

He stood and crossed to the door connecting his office to the main room of the saloon. He opened it and yelled for Perry to bring him a pot of tea and two cups. He glanced back at Emily.

“Bargaining is thirsty work.”

* * *

Thirty minutes later Lucas knew he’d been had—cheated by a professional in spinster’s clothing. In exchange for Emily’s hand in marriage, he was getting a mere thirty percent of her profits, she wasn’t paying rent and when the marriage was annulled he would pay her five hundred dollars. He should have been furious. Instead he was impressed.

“I think that’s everything,” she said, rising to her feet. “Thank you, Mr. MacIntyre.”

He shook his head. “Lucas. Or the deal is off.”

She pressed her lips together. “All right. Lucas. And I must tell you, I don’t particularly care for you shortening my name. Emily is perfectly fine.”

“I know, Em. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“When did you want to get married?”

“How about tomorrow morning? Say ten?”

“Fine. I trust you’ll make all the arrangements?”

“Sure. Just meet me at the church.”

“After the wedding I’ll start moving my things in upstairs. I want to get the hotel open as soon as possible.”

She nodded slightly, then turned to leave. Lucas watched her go. He had the oddest feeling that he should do something to seal the deal. But what? Shake hands? Kiss her?

That last thought came from nowhere and he quickly pushed it away. Kiss Emily Smythe? That would be about as exciting as kissing a block of ice. She might have a head for business, but she had the heart of a spinster. Her idea of warming her husband’s bed would probably be to set the mattress on fire.

Chuckling at the thought, he watched her leave, then had the disquieting realization that by this time tomorrow, they would be married.

* * *

Curled up in a small chair just to the left of the window, Emily watched the men entering Miss Cherry’s house. From across the street she could hear the music spilling out the open windows. There were faint sounds of laughter and occasional drifting bits of conversation. Bright lights illuminated the front of the house, as well as the well-kept wooden sidewalk.

Emily’s room was at the top of the stairs, the third story of a building on the town’s main street. The floor below housed the baker and his family and the ground floor held the bakery. When Emily had first arrived in Defiance, she’d been pleased with her narrow but private quarters. She’d spent many nights staring with fascination until she’d finally realized the purpose of the house across the street. The comments she’d heard around town had suddenly made sense. She’d been shocked and embarrassed, afraid someone might have seen her practically hanging out of her window, staring.

Unfortunately, her curiosity had never lessened, so she’d found a way to sit in her chair, out of sight of anyone on the street and yet still watch the goings-on.

Miss Cherry’s girls were lovely in a way Emily could never be. They had large eyes and beautiful hair. Their bodies were full and womanly. They knew how to talk to men, to tease and laugh and flirt. Sometimes Emily’s stomach hurt so much when she watched them.

She knew she wasn’t pretty, but she also knew there had to be something else wrong with her. Other plain girls had managed to attract beaux and eventually husbands. Why couldn’t she? Why didn’t she know how to start a conversation with a man? She’d listened to her sisters flirting with their gentleman callers. Everything they said sounded so silly and the men had loved it. When she tried it though, men simply stared at her as if she were completely without sense.

A tall man turned in to the house. At first Emily’s heart leaped into her throat. Lucas? But then the light caught the side of the man’s face and she realized she didn’t recognize him at all. No. Not Lucas. Not tonight. But he had visited Miss Cherry’s before. Would he after they were married? She knew that some other husbands did, and theirs was to be a marriage in name only. Wasn’t he marrying her because with her he wanted to be sure he wouldn’t be tempted to consummate the marriage?

She continued to stare out into the night and ignored the single tear that trickled down her cheek. She told herself that she had made peace with her life a long time ago. A husband and children were not for her. She had other plans. Yes, of course it would have been lovely to fall in love, but she wasn’t the kind of woman men responded to in that way. She had a greater purpose. She had a plan. And that was going to have to be enough.

* * *

Despite the fact that nothing about the marriage was going to be real, Lucas found himself surprisingly nervous the next morning as he waited for his bride-to-be and the minister to make an appearance in the wooden church on the west side of town. He’d come alone after making arrangements for Pastor Bird’s wife and oldest boy to act as witnesses. He’d thought about sending a message to Jackson but figured his brother either wouldn’t show or would make a scene. A brawl during the wedding wouldn’t help anyone.

“Good morning.”

He turned toward the sound of the voice and saw Emily had entered the rear of the church. She removed her dark cloak to reveal that she’d dressed for the occasion. Today’s dress was light gray and edged in cream lace. At least she hadn’t shown up in black. Not that he’d ever seen her in anything but gray.

Nothing else about her had changed in the night. She still wore her hair tightly pulled back in a knot at the nape of her neck. Her posture was straight, her thin shoulders square.

“Miss Smythe,” he said, bowing slightly.

She raised her eyebrows at his formal address. He only did it to throw her off balance. While he hadn’t spent much time in Emily Smythe’s company, he’d learned several things about her. She was intelligent, determined, a damn fine negotiator and great fun to tease. If he had to be married, the last thing he wanted was some grim woman who didn’t know how to laugh. He wasn’t convinced Emily enjoyed humor, but he’d received a few hints that she might be tempted into a giggle now and again.

“I spent most of last evening packing my things,” she said, walking up the center aisle of the small church. She placed her cloak and her gloves over the first pew. “I thought that after the ceremony I would begin to move in my belongings. I assume I may use the back stairs.”

“Sure. There’s a way up from the hallway behind the saloon, but I don’t guess you’ll want to walk through my place very much.”

Her blue eyes widened at the thought. “No. Thank you.”

He pretended to consider the idea. “In case you change your mind, seeing as we’re going to be business partners as well as man and wife, I want you to know that any liquor you drink is on the house.” He squinted at her. “I can’t see you sipping whiskey, but you might enjoy a nice glass of apple brandy in the evening. To help you sleep.”

Color flooded her face, but she didn’t rise to the bait. “How considerate,” she murmured. “I’ll have to let you know later.”

“Whenever. The offer stands. Oh, and I’ve put a couple of my men to work on cleaning the rooms. They haven’t been used in years, so they’re quite dusty. There’s also more furniture up there than I’d remembered. Plenty of beds and dressers. All you’ll have to do is provide mattresses, curtains and whatever other doodads you like.”

“Thank you,” she said, obviously pleased. “How very thoughtful and kind of you.”

Her words and her smile made him slightly uncomfortable. “It wasn’t anything.”

“I disagree. It was a very nice something.”

Light seemed to fill her blue eyes. That, along with the color still lingering in her cheeks, made her look…different. Not exactly pretty, but not quite so plain. But before he could figure out what, if anything, that meant, Pastor Bird, his wife and his oldest boy arrived. It was time for the ceremony.

Lucas and Emily stood together at the front of the church. Except for the exchange of vows, the large open space was quiet. Lucas tried to remember if he’d ever been to a wedding before, and, although he couldn’t recall a time, the words he and Emily repeated sounded familiar.

As he promised to love and honor the stranger standing next to him, he felt a flare of resentment that he had to go through all this to keep something that was already rightfully his. Damn Uncle Simon. Did the old bastard really think he could force his nephews into marrying?

Obviously he had and it had worked. But he couldn’t keep them married. Lucas had never planned on taking a wife and he didn’t intend to keep this one for very long. He sure wasn’t going to turn the marriage into a real one, so there weren’t going to be any children. It was unlikely that Jackson would think any different, so the MacIntyre name would die out with them.

“You may kiss the bride.”

The pastor’s words brought Lucas back to the present. Apparently he and Emily were well and truly hitched. He leaned down to do his duty, but she shook her head and took a quick step back.

“A handshake will do, Lucas,” she said primly as she extended her hand.

“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, taking her slender fingers in his and squeezing gently.

She seemed startled by the contact, or maybe she hadn’t expected him to agree so quickly. She pulled away as fast as she could and busied herself thanking the pastor and his family for their assistance. As he watched her, Lucas had the crazy idea that it might be kind of fun to seduce Mrs. Emily MacIntyre, just to see what happened.

Then he reminded himself that he had enough troubles already, the main one being getting his brother married before the three-month deadline was up. He hoped Jackson’s mail-order bride had plenty of backbone and didn’t scare easy.


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