The Convenient Cowboy
Angel Crossing, Arizona, Book 2

Read the Excerpt

“I now pronounce you man and wife. Thank you. Thank you very much,” announced the standard-issue Elvis minister at the Little Chapel of the Strip in Vegas.

Not exactly how Olympia had pictured her wedding, but then she’d never planned to get married at all. So the $29.99 ceremony would do just fine.

“Thanks,” her new husband, Spencer MacCormack, said as he shook Elvis’s beringed hand. He used his aw-shucks-ma’am smile, which hid his sharky lawyer brain.

Olympia shook the minister’s hand, too, ignoring his raised eyebrows. He was clearly wondering why they hadn’t kissed. Simple answer. The marriage had been contracted, signed, sealed and delivered. No lovin’. No touchin’. No squeezin’. She’d get the cash she needed for her sister. Being a husband would get Spence full custody of his son. When they each had what they wanted, they’d go on their merry ways, just like they’d done after that night in Phoenix.

“Do you want to eat before we head back?” Spence asked as he opened the door into the desert heat, waving for her to go first. Another one of those cowboy gestures that was as fake as a three-dollar bill. She knew that Spence had grown up in suburban Phoenix—on a golf course—and had never ridden a horse and never wanted to. Even without the Stetson and drawl, his all-American good looks—the disordered blond hair, the dusty-blue eyes and the barely there dimple—probably got him what he wanted in the courtroom and in the bedroom. She blamed falling into bed with him three months ago on his looks. But that was ancient history. Over. Done.

“I just want to get back to Tucson,” Olympia said. The knots in her stomach stayed firmly tied, as they had for months, ever since her youngest sister had announced that—in a stroke of James-family bad luck—her four-year college scholarship had dried up, and she’d have to drop out of school before she’d even started. When Spence had approached Olympia with the “marriage” proposal out of the blue, she’d hoped that she’d finally been cut a break.

“If traffic is good, we should be home by four,” Spence said as the oversize, fuel-guzzling, dual-pipe pickup with the king cab roared to life. “If you need me to stop for a pee-pee break, just holler.”

“Really? I’m not two.”

“Sorry. Old habit from when I hauled my son around as a toddler.” He pulled out of the parking lot.

Nausea added to her misery. When they’d been getting hitched, she’d been able to forget that Spence had a seven-year-old son who would not be living with them or even visiting. Thank the Lord. The former in-laws had his custody all tied up in court, and Spence could see his son at only neutral locations. He’d talked about that when they’d met at her friend’s wedding. She’d felt bad for him. Even though they’d connected and he’d charmed her with a smile she’d found attractive at the time, she’d never imagined that they’d be involved beyond that one night. That was the kind of curveball life always threw at her, so here she and Spence were—married, with a one-hundred-page prenup contract. The document outlined a lot of how they would carry on before and after the marriage and stipulated he’d reside at her house. She’d been the one to explain that the ranch would help show he had a stable home life—no pun intended. But the overly legal agreement didn’t get into the nitty-gritty of the everyday. Like, who cooked? Not her. Who cleaned the toilet? Not her.

The number one unwritten ground rule, though, had to be that she and Spence would not repeat what had happened in Phoenix after the wedding of Jessie, her friend, to Payson, Spence’s brother. Olympia had no room in her life for romance or wannabe cowboys. She swallowed hard, bile creeping up the back of her throat, then picked up her purse and rooted for the TUMS, which had become a staple of her diet the past three weeks.

They had hours before they’d get to the foothills of the Catalina Mountains outside Tucson. She’d inherited a small ranch there from her deadbeat father. Her daddy—though she usually thought of him as The Sperm Donor—hadn’t paid child support or done any of the other things a father should do. Then three years ago, he’d died and left her the ranch. Of course, the taxes hadn’t been paid, the house hadn’t been lived in for years and the barn, which could house only six horses, had needed major repairs. By stretching her finances beyond the breaking point, she’d made it livable…just. The ranch wasn’t the only thing she’d inherited. According to Mama, Olympia looked more like her daddy with her dark hair and slanted eyes. The only thing James about her was her breasts—large and high—and her short pinkie fingers.

Get it over with, cowgirl, Olympia told herself. “We need to clear up the house rules. You know, like I don’t do laundry, cook meals, make beds—”

“I get it,” Spence said. “You’re not June Cleaver. But let me remind you that I may need to show the courts that I have an appropriate home life, in case of an official visit.”

Olympia gulped down the tension that had lodged in her throat. She plucked three lint-covered TUMS from the bottom of her bag and chewed. “As long as you’re clear about me not being the wifely type. I’m not a slob, but I don’t clean up after anyone but me.” The idea of being tied down to a man made her want to howl and chew off her leg like a coyote caught in a trap. She had this one final thing to do for her youngest sister. Then her responsibility to her family was over and done with. James women looked after themselves—only—just like her mama had said again and again.

“You don’t have to be anything,” Spence said, his eyes never leaving the road as he raced down the highway. “You can act, can’t you?”

“Act like a damned Stepford wife from the sounds of it.”

“No swearing. You’re the mother—stepmother—of an impressionable young boy.”

“What the hell? I won’t be seeing him. He’s not coming to the ranch. How much can I corrupt him?” The temporary marriage would barely register for the boy. She should know. She’d had at least six “daddies.” And what did she remember about any of them, even her own? Next to nothing.

“We need to be prepared for the possibility of a court examiner coming to the house. That person will expect a home where there isn’t swearing or yelling, and there are snacks and sit-down meals.”

The antacids hadn’t touched the nausea or the burning in her stomach. “That’s not what we agreed to. I’ve got a life, you know.”

“Obviously,” he said, glancing at her, “the judge will need to see a report clearly showing that, unlike my ex, I can provide a stable, loving home.”

“There isn’t anything in the prenup about not swearing.”

“In section four, paragraph six, I included a morality clause.”

“A what?”

“Morality clause. You know, no messing around with other men, no drinking—”

“Well, slap me stupid, I didn’t know I’d hitched my wagon to a preacher’s.”

“This is my son.”

She’d seen a picture of the pale, frail little boy, wearing plaid pants and a sweater vest—nerdy anywhere, but in Arizona, his clothes were a billboard that said Kick Me. “Fine. No swearing. I’ll try, if the examiner ever comes.”

“Get into the habit now.”

“Whatever,” she said, sticking out her chin to show him that he couldn’t intimidate her. She swallowed hard. She never got carsick. Must be the air-conditioning blowing his unwelcome, but familiar, scent of leather, desert and black licorice into her face.

Spence glanced over, wondering where the sexy cowgirl he’d met at Payson’s wedding had gone. Today she looked rode hard and put away wet. They hadn’t married for keeps, but couldn’t she have pretended she cared that it was her wedding? Maybe the cowgirl-hobo look was a thing? On the other hand, he didn’t want to remember taking off the silky dress she’d worn to Pay-son’s wedding, revealing the lacy bra and panties… Nope…shouldn’t think about that night in her Phoenix motel room.

Sleeping together wasn’t part of what they’d agreed to, no matter what had happened when they’d met. He wouldn’t tell his son about the Vegas wedding or about Olympia, unless he had to. Right now, Calvin was in his former in-laws’ custody. On the plus side—as if there could even be a plus side—Calvin could stay in the dark about having a stepmom. If his grandparents said anything, Spence would come up with a story that he hoped would hold up under Calvin’s questioning, which had become nearly as sharp as Spence’s own. It was hard not to feel proud of his son’s intelligence, even while it could be a huge pain in Spence’s butt.

He pushed his son to the back of his mind because he had to deal with Olympia first by making her understand the importance of the marriage. Or maybe reiterate the importance. The one-hundred-page prenuptial contract explained the details, but he had the feeling that he needed to appeal to her emotions again. When they’d talked at his brother’s wedding, she’d been sympathetic. She’d hinted that her own childhood had been less than ideal, but she’d spoken of her youngest sister with a lot of affection and pride, telling him how the girl had gotten a full-ride scholarship, which had disappeared just a month later. Clearly, at times, her family exasperated her, but she loved them and felt responsible for their welfare. So when he’d come up with the crazy idea of a marriage to gain custody of Calvin, she’d immediately sprung to mind. He figured that she’d agree to all this for her sister. No matter what she said now about not wanting to meet Calvin or get too involved, she understood sacrifice and love for family.

Spence looked at the passing sign. Hours to her ranch, where they’d live—a negotiating point she’d refused to give on. His brother, Payson, would have a good laugh at Spence living on a working ranch, not a prettily landscaped one like those their friends’ families had owned when they were growing up. Spence wore the trappings of a cowboy and drove an oversize truck because it was what his clients expected. Everyone assumed a native Arizonan like him was a cowboy, but he was a city boy through and through.

He pulled in a deep breath, catching her oddly erotic scent of Granny Smith apples and smoky chipotle, before he put on his lawyer face. “You’ve laid out your expectations, but there are some points that will need further discussion. When we met, it was clear to me that you were committed to your family, your sisters. And I believe when I ‘proposed’ you said, ‘I’ll do anything to help my sister and keep my ranch afloat.'” Sounding like such a jerk might be the reason for all the lawyer jokes. On the other hand, he’d do whatever he had to do to keep his son.

“I did not say that.”

“It was implied.” He glanced over and saw her tabby cat-brown eyes narrow. She pushed back a strand of dark hair that had fallen from her stubby ponytail. Did she cut her hair herself?

“I married you. That doesn’t automatically make me—”

“I don’t make this request without reason, and it could easily be covered under the contingency clause in section ten, subsection D.”

“I don’t like the sound of contingency clause!” “I told you to have an attorney look over the document.”

“As if I have the money for that. The whole reason I even signed the da…darned thing was for the money.”

“You did sign it, and there is a contingency clause.” Spence changed lanes and floored the truck, hoping to outrace this sinking feeling. He’d known that the marriage, the prenup contract and moving to the ranch had been desperation on his part… Hers, too. It wasn’t just the marriage that he needed. He hadn’t really made that clear during the negotiations. A lawyer tactic. He hadn’t lied, but she hadn’t asked, so… “As I said, we may have to submit to the court sending someone into our home to determine its suitability. My lawyer and I are also fighting for Calvin to have a chance to visit me while we negotiate for custody—”

“Excuse me, but that was not in the agreement or in anything we discussed.”

“The contingency clause—”

“My a—” He glared at her. “Aunt Fanny. You told me that Calvin didn’t live with you. That was the whole reason for the wedding.”

“Right. To get custody of my son. Didn’t you ever hear that possession is nine-tenths of the law, darlin’?”

She clamped her mouth closed, barely moving her lips when she said, “I married you for the money. You said this wouldn’t be a real marriage. I’m holding you to that, lawyer boy.”

He tightened his hands on the wheel and glared hard at the white SUV in front of them to stop himself from blurting out something he’d have to apologize for later. Why was he so annoyed that she didn’t want to be near his child? That was what he wanted. He didn’t want Calvin to think of her as a new mommy.

“If,” he emphasized, “I’m granted a visit, maybe you could go stay with your family. You and he wouldn’t need to meet.” Had he overplayed his hand? He glanced sideways to gauge her annoyance, noticing the sharpness of her jaw. Had she lost weight? What words was she holding back? How the hell had things gotten so complicated? For maybe the first time in his life, he decided to keep his mouth shut.

“I told you I don’t have the mothering gene.” She sucked in a breath, her face paling. “It is my ranch, so why do I have to leave?”

The way she talked about her sister, he was pretty sure she did have a mothering gene. But that didn’t matter now, because he was stuck. He’d let the lease go on his apartment—his crappy apartment—and he wouldn’t have the funds to pay for her sister’s tuition and the apartment anyway. He also had to pay his attorney. Spence had represented himself before, and it’d been a disaster. The case was too emotional. His attorney had let him slide on his bills before, but that had come to an end last month.

He knew how to negotiate. He’d drop the argument, change the subject and let her think that she’d won for now, then come back later and work on her. “I got us a room at the Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain, outside Tucson. The honeymoon suite.”

“Excuse me?” she asked in a tone that suggested that she wanted to eviscerate him.

“I don’t want anyone to think this marriage isn’t real. They might understand that we can’t immediately go on a big honeymoon, but we have to take at least one night. I’ll have the receipts.”

“Great. You can stay at the hotel. I’ve got animals to see to.”

“Someone is going out to the ranch to care for the stock tonight, too.”

“You have a stranger at my place, without my permission?”

“It’s my ranch, too.”