Hard times call for desperate measures in this absolutely engrossing excerpt from No One But You by Leigh Greenwood, out July 5th, 2016!
“Mrs. Winborne is looking for someone to help her on her ranch,” Rose explained. “I told her you were the perfect man for the job.”
“Why me?” Salty asked, turning to George. “Are you dissatisfied with my work?”
“Of course not,” George said. “I’d hate to see you leave, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that would stand in your way.”
“Stand in the way of what?”
“Mrs. Winborne’s offer is a little out of the ordinary,” Rose said. “I’ll let her explain it. George, why don’t you take Jared into the kitchen? I made gingerbread which he might like. Then you can round up Zac and Tyler to help me with dinner.”
Salty would have been happy to look for George’s two youngest brothers himself, but it looked like there was no way out of this interview. He didn’t know whether it would be kinder to tell Mrs. Winborne right away that he wasn’t interested in leaving the Circle Seven, or allow her to explain her offer and then turn her down.
“I can tell you’re uncomfortable with being put on the spot,” Sarah said.
“A little,” Salty agreed.
“I am, too, because I don’t think you’re quite what I’m looking for.”
Salty had been prepared to say just that, but hearing the words coming from someone else affected him quite differently. Much to his surprise, he found himself saying, “Maybe not, but why don’t you explain your proposal? I might be able to offer some suggestions.”
What was he talking about? He knew nothing about this woman and her situation. Still, he entered the parlor and sat down in a straight back chair at a safe distance. He had a weakness for people in trouble, but he didn’t want that to get him tangled up with Sarah and her brood.
“I own one of the largest ranches in Caldwell County,” Sarah began. “My husband didn’t come home from the war, and it’s too big for me and the children to operate alone.”
That was a familiar story, but most women in Sarah’s position would have married again or sought refuge with family. He wondered why she hadn’t.
“I’ve hired a succession of men to help with the ranch, but they never worked out for a variety of reasons.”
“Why?” Knowing the problems she’d encountered might help him find a logical reason for turning her down.
“Some didn’t want to work hard. Others were rude or rough with the children.” She averted her gaze. “Some appeared to be more interested in me than in their work.”
He had no trouble believing that. She was a very attractive woman. Any man working on a secluded ranch and seeing no other woman for weeks on end could be forgiven for becoming more than interested in her.
“Couldn’t you find anyone in Austin to work for you?”
Sarah kept her gaze averted. “I’m not in a position to pay a wage that would induce anyone to work for me.”
“Have you offered to let the men share some of the profits?”
“There haven’t been any profits to share. Unless the situation improves, I’m going to lose the ranch. The bank president has done everything he can to hold off, but he can’t much longer.”
“Maybe it’s time to ask your family for help.”
Sarah’s gaze locked with his. “My husband’s family will only help if I put Jared in an institution. If you’ve ever seen one of those places, you know why I could never do that.”
Salty did know, but he also knew what it was like to have to deal with a handicapped person day after day. “So what do you propose to do?”
Sarah glanced away before turning back to Salty. He could practically see her gather her courage. That stiffness in her jaw returned. She sat up straighter, her back firm, her head up. “I’m proposing that the man marry me.”
If she was willing to remarry, why hadn’t she done so before now? From the look in her eye, the thought either frightened her or was repugnant. He felt sorry for any woman forced to barter herself in this fashion, but he couldn’t think of a better inducement for a man to take on the responsibility of a failing ranch. Knowing he would have such a woman in his bed at night would be more than enough incentive for hundreds of men. He didn’t understand why she hadn’t been able to find anyone to accept her offer.
“There are two conditions,” Sarah said. “First, the man will not share my bed.”
Salty’s eyebrows rose. Now he understood why she didn’t have any takers. Working like a farm horse all day and being denied the comfort of your legal wife’s body at night would be enough to drive a lot of men to do something drastic.
“Sorry, ma’am, but I don’t see that you have any incentive to offer. It sounds like all work with nothing in exchange.”
“That’s not all. The man must agree to divorce me when the ranch has reached a certain degree of profitability.”
Salty threw up his hands. “Whoa. You’ve just give a man every reason to accept your proposal.”
“In exchange for the divorce, I will give him half my ranch.”
Surprise caused a quick intake of breath, a sudden jump in Salty’s heart rate. What was left of his parents’ farm had been directly in the path of General Sherman’s march through Georgia. When the Union army moved on, they left nothing standing. Salty had been trying to accustom himself to the prospect of working for someone else for the rest of his life. He wasn’t a tradesman and had no desire to live in a town. He’d saved everything he’d earned working for George, but the only land he’d be able to afford in the foreseeable future was much farther west where the Indians still roamed and it was too dry to farm.
“I can’t believe you can’t find anyone to take you up on your offer. Most ex-soldiers will never get the chance to own land.”
“I haven’t made the offer because I haven’t found anyone I felt I could trust.”
“Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know you well enough to answer that question.”
About No One But You
First Comes Marriage…
Alone in the world and struggling to make ends meet, Texas war widow Sarah Winborne will do anything to keep her two small children safe and her hard-won ranch from going under. She hasn’t fought for so long to lose everything… and if that means marrying a stranger to protect her family’s future, then so be it.
She never expected anything but a business arrangement, but something about Benton Wheeler’s broad shoulders and kind eyes awakens emotions she’d long since buried. He makes her feel beautiful. He makes her feel desired. He makes her feel like a woman again. And even though their marriage was never intended to be more than a matter of convenience, as Benton stands between her small family and the wild and dangerous West, Sarah may just realize that the cowboy she married is the love she never dreamed she would find…
Leigh Greenwood is the USA Today bestselling author of the popular Seven Brides, Cowboys, and Night Riders series. The proud father of three grown children, Leigh resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. He never intended to be a writer, but he found it hard to ignore the people in his head, and the only way to get them out was to write. Visit him at Leigh-Greenwood.com.