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Mallery Susan

Lucas's Convenient Bride

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Chapter Three

“I heard you got hitched,” Mangus Reeves said, then waved his beer in the air. “Say it ain’t so, Lucas. Not you.”

“I heard he married that schoolteacher lady.” Barney Jefferson—a tall redhead with a temper to match his fiery looks—shook his shaggy head sadly. “It’s a terrible day when one of our own gives in to a female. And that one in particular. It’s not just that she’s skinny. It’s worse. She has a way of lookin’ at a man as if she knows all the black secrets of his soul.”

“And disapproves,” another man added.

Lucas ignored the comments and kept pouring liquor. He’d known that he would get some ribbing about his sudden marriage, not to mention his choice of a bride. He could silence them all by telling them why he’d married, but strangely enough, he couldn’t bring himself to do that. As if by telling the truth, he would embarrass Emily. Although why he cared about her delicate feelings was beyond him.

“She ain’t so bad,” Hep told the crowd collected around the bar.

The old miner was on the far side of sixty. Small and wiry, he’d worked the mountain most of his life without ever once striking it rich. Now age and pain in his bones kept him from his chosen profession. Hep was honest and a hard worker, so Lucas gave him small jobs to tide him over through the cold Colorado winters.

“What do you know about the schoolteacher?” Mangus demanded.

Hep raised his chin and stared up at the man more than a foot taller and nearly two score younger. “She taught me some learning last winter. My letters and my numbers.” The old man flushed slightly at the confession but kept on talking. “I’d tried before, but figured I didn’t have a head for it. Miss Smythe—” he shot a look at Lucas and amended the title “—Mrs. MacIntyre was real patient and now I can read.”

Lucas frowned. He hadn’t known that prim Emily had ever bothered with the likes of old Hep. Maybe she wasn’t as spinsterish as he’d thought. Damn. Until Hep had said something to defend her, Lucas had been content to let the men talk themselves out. Now he had to speak up.

“Emily MacIntyre is my wife,” he said to the crowd. “I’m proud to have her as my bride. Anyone who says a word against her is going to answer to me.”

He spoke the words easily, but their meaning was clear. He wasn’t a man to go looking for a fight, but he wasn’t afraid of one if it found him, and he generally left his opponent much the worse for wear.

Everyone got very quiet. Mangus and Barney avoided his gaze while Hep looked pleased.

“I’m sure she’s very nice,” Mangus muttered into his beer.

In the silence Lucas heard the sound of people climbing the steps leading to the second story. Emily had three men hauling trunks and boxes up to her new hotel. How many things could she have and how long was this going to take? He had a sudden sense of having gotten more than he’d bargained for when he married Emily that morning. Perhaps he’d better go see what she was up to.

* * *

An unexpected delivery, not to mention a brawl over a “friendly” card game, delayed Lucas’s trip upstairs until nearly three that afternoon. He left Perry in charge and made his way up the rear stairs to the top story of his saloon.

The men Emily had hired had finished a couple of hours before. He found the rear door propped wide and dozens of boxes and trunks open in the large foyer area.

Curtains, sheets, blankets and lace things that looked unfamiliar were stacked together in foot-high bundles. A stiff breeze attested to the open windows in all the rooms and he could hear banging from a far room.

He followed the sound, taking in the swept-and-washed floor and relatively clean walls. Lucas had never paid much attention to the upstairs of his saloon, but obviously this section of the building had been intended as a hotel all along. In addition to the foyer, he counted fifteen bedrooms, two linen closets and a small office just off the built-in reception desk.

Most of the rooms had at least a bed frame and a dresser. Some even had wallpaper. As he came to the end of the hall, he heard a sneeze, followed by a ladylike sniff.

“Em?” he called.

“In here.”

He turned to his right and found himself in a large bedroom overlooking the main road. The bed was large and, unlike the others in the hotel, covered with a feather mattress thick enough to make Miss Cherry’s girls envious. Emily had already hung crisp white lace curtains at the windows. She was in the process of hanging blue velvet drapes over the curtains. On the high dresser stood a basin and pitcher sitting on a lace table runner. A gild-edged mirror hung opposite the window. There was a rocker in the corner and two table lamps, pillows on the bed, along with sheets, blankets and a coverlet in deep blue.

“I just can’t…” Emily’s voice trailed off as she tried to reach the last hook of the drapes.

“Allow me.”

He motioned for her to step off the stool, then he reached up and slid the hook into place. When he was finished, he glanced around the room again because it was much easier than looking at the woman he’d just married.

“It’s very nice,” he told her.

Emily gave him a tight smile. “Thank you for both the assistance and the compliment.” She picked up the stool and surveyed her handiwork. “I have enough linens for fifteen beds, although only mattresses for five. I’ve ordered the rest. I’ve also ordered more lamps, towels.” She paused, then shrugged. “By the end of the day I’ll have at least five rooms for rent. More tomorrow.”

She led the way into the hall. “And speaking of customers, I want to talk with you about getting a sign. Something elegant. I thought I would put it on the side of the building, pointing to the rear stairs. Is that all right with you?”

“Order as many signs as you’d like.”

“One should be sufficient,” she said, moving into the bedroom next door. He followed.

Twenty-four hours ago he’d barely known that Emily Smythe was alive. Now she was his wife. He’d also learned that she was a tough negotiator, a hard worker and that she’d taught old Hep how to read, although he couldn’t for the life of him imagine where the two of them had ever met up long enough for her to offer assistance and Hep to accept.

Lucas glanced around and saw a feather mattress placed neatly in the bed frame. Folded linens sat on top. Two open boxes stood on the floor, one containing curtains and drapes while the other held a basin and two lanterns. Afternoon sunlight sparkled through a clean glass window.

He’d ordered his men upstairs the previous day. They’d swept out the place and had washed it down, but it never would have occurred to them to clean a window. Emily must have done that herself.

“You’ve been busy,” he said, pointing to the glass.

“I didn’t do them all,” she told him.

“Just the ones in the rooms I can get ready tonight. It’s going to take me a few days to get things in order.”

He tapped his toe against one of the open boxes. “Where’d you get all this? You have enough to fill a couple of houses.”

She set down her stool, bent over the box with the drapes and pulled out the lace curtains. “Or one very large one.”

He didn’t understand. “Did you cart all this west with you?”

“Some of it. The rest my parents shipped to me.”

When she reached for the stool, he grabbed it and the curtains from her. “I’ll do that,” he grumbled. “No sense in you breaking your neck on the first day we’re married.” Although he couldn’t believe he’d just volunteered to hang drapes. Hell, he had a business to run. He didn’t have time to stay up here with Emily. Yet he didn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave.

She pulled out a lace table runner from the box with the basin and put it onto the long, low dresser in this slightly small room. While Lucas fumbled with the curtains, she put the bowl and basin in place and assembled the lamps. He inhaled the scent of oil as she filled them, then something floral. He glanced over her shoulder and saw her tucking lace sachets into each drawer.

“The businessmen won’t appreciate that smell,” he said.

“They’ll like bugs even less. When I’m sure the drawers are pest-free, I’ll take out the sachets.”

He reached for the length of velvet drapes. These were a deep burgundy. He noticed the coverlet matched. “Come on, Emily, tell me the truth. Why do you have all this? Was a hotel your plan from the beginning? And if that’s the case, why’d you come to town as a teacher?”

She busied herself with making the bed. “I didn’t plan on a hotel from the beginning. I really wanted to be a teacher. I liked the idea of starting a new life in Colorado. It’s so beautiful here. I’ve never seen anything like the mountains in winter.”


He finished with the drapes and leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “Just say you’re not going to answer the question. Don’t avoid it like a preacher avoiding sin.”

She glanced at him, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. “Is that what I’m doing?”


She had a nice smile, he thought, wondering why he hadn’t noticed it the day before. And while she was still a skinny thing, when she bent over the bed like she was doing now, he could see that she wasn’t quite as lacking in curves as he’d thought. Her bosoms were small enough that she could never get a job at Miss Cherry’s, but they were a mouthful and sometimes that was plenty.

Lucas realized the dangerous trail his thoughts had taken and quickly jerked them back into safety. No sir, he did not plan to find his wife anything but convenient.

Her smile faded. She sat on the edge of the unmade bed and for the first time her back wasn’t stiff and straight. In fact, her shoulders seemed a mite slumped.

“My family sent me these things,” she said, motioning to the contents of the trunk. “They’re to help me get settled. You see, this is the West and everyone knows there’s a shortage of women. My parents assumed that even I could find a husband.”

Except she hadn’t, he thought. He didn’t count.

“Did you want to get married?” he asked.

“I thought I might, but it’s not really important to me. I have other plans. My establishment.”

“Your what?”

Light entered her blue eyes. They were a lovely color, he thought absently. The color of a summer sky.

“I want to open a school to train women so they’re not so dependent on men.”

He frowned. “I thought women liked being dependent on men. You want them to learn a trade?”

“That’s part of it, but not all of it. I want them to learn to count on themselves. To be strong. I’m fortunate. I knew early I wasn’t going to get married and I didn’t want to stay in my father’s house forever. Coming west solved many problems for me. But not everyone can do that. What about the women who don’t have the education, or who don’t know how to make their way in the world? What about women who are widows, or whose fathers or husbands are cruel?”

“Who was cruel to you?” he asked softly.

She sprang to her feet and busied herself with the sheets on the bed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My family is ever so kind. My father especially. He was proud of me. When I was little, he used to take me into the office with him and teach me the business. He had a shipping company. Quite successful.”

She smoothed the sheets across the bed. He thought about helping her but figured she would get nervous if the two of them were too close to a bed. After all, she hadn’t even been willing to kiss him at the end of their wedding ceremony. He wondered if Emily had ever been kissed and if she had, who’d been the man brave enough to scale her resolve.

“So why’d you leave?”

“I told you, I…” She pressed her lips together. After giving the sheets one last flick with her hand, she crossed to the window, pushed aside the drapes and stared out at the street.

“I have two younger sisters,” she said quietly. “They’re not very smart, but that isn’t important. They’re both lovely, very accomplished.”

“But your father never took them to the office with him.”

“No.” As she spoke, she continued to gaze out the window. “My mother was thrilled with their social success all the while she despaired of ever finding me a husband. I didn’t really mind.” She gave a small shrug. “My father and I were very close. As long as he adored me, I knew everything would be fine. As silly as it sounds, I used to dream about joining the family business.” She touched the glass. “It would have been better if I’d been born a boy.”

“Not for me,” Lucas told her. “Uncle Simon was real specific about us taking wives.”

She managed to give him a slight smile. “It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t born a boy and one night, at a musical, I met a young man who seemed more interested in talking to me than staring at my beautiful sisters. David was kind and intelligent. He worked for my father.”


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