Issued to the Bride:One Navy SEALBy: Cora Seton
Four months ago
On the first of February, General Augustus Reed entered his office at USSOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, placed his battered leather briefcase on the floor, sat down at his wide, wooden desk and pulled a sealed envelope from a drawer. It bore the date written in his wife’s beautiful script, and the General ran his thumb over the words before turning it over and opening the flap.
He pulled out a single page and began to read.
It’s time to think of our daughters’ future, beginning with Cass.
The General nodded. Spot on, as usual; he’d been thinking about Cass a lot these days. Thinking about all the girls. They’d run yet another of his overseers off Two Willows, his wife’s Montana ranch, several months ago, and he’d been forced to replace him with a man he didn’t know. There was a long-standing feud between him and the girls over who should run the place, and the truth was, they were wearing him down. Ten overseers in eleven years; that had to be some kind of a record, and no ranch could function well under those circumstances. Still, he’d be damned if he was going to put a passel of rebellious daughters in charge, even if they were adults now. It took a man’s steady hand to run such a large spread.
Unfortunately, it was beginning to come clear that Bob Finchley didn’t possess that steady hand. Winter in Chance Creek was always a tricky time, but in the months since Finchley had taken the helm, they’d lost far too many cattle. The General’s spies in the area reported the ranch was looking run-down, and his daughters hadn’t been seen much in town. The worst were the rumors about Cass and Finchley—that they were dating. The General didn’t like that at all—not if the man couldn’t run the ranch competently—and he’d asked for confirmation, but so far it hadn’t come. Finchley always had a rational explanation for the loss of cattle, and he never said a word about Cass, but the General knew something wasn’t right and he was already looking for the man’s replacement.
Our daughter runs a tight ship, and I’m sure she’s been invaluable on the ranch.
He had to admit what Amelia wrote was true. Cass was an organizational wizard. She kept her sisters, the house and the family accounts in line, and not for the first time he wondered if he should have encouraged Cass to join the Army back when she had expressed interest. She’d mentioned the possibility once or twice as a teenager, but he’d discouraged her. Not that he didn’t think she’d make a good soldier; she’d have made a fine one. It was the thought of his five daughters scattered to the wind that had guided his hand. He couldn’t stomach that. He needed his family in one place, and he’d done what it took to keep her home. That wasn’t much: a suggestion her sisters needed her to watch over them until they were of age, a mention of tasks undone on the ranch, a hint she and the others would inherit one day and shouldn’t she watch over her inheritance? It had done the trick.
Maybe he’d been wrong.
But if Cass had gone, wouldn’t the rest of them have followed her?
He’d been able to stop sending guardians for the girls when Cass turned twenty-one five years ago, much to everyone’s relief. His daughters had liked those about as little as they liked the overseers. He’d hoped when he dispensed of the guardians, the girls would feel they had enough independence, but that wasn’t the case; they still wanted control of the ranch.
Cass is a loving soul with a heart as big as Montana, but she’s cautious, too. I’ll wager she’s beginning to think there isn’t a man alive she can trust with it.
The General sighed. His girls hadn’t confided in him in years—especially about matters of the heart—something he was glad Amelia couldn’t know. The truth was his daughters had spent far too much time as teenagers hatching plots to cast off guardians and overseers to have much of a social life. They’d been obsessed with being independent, and there were stretches of time when they’d managed it—and managed to run the show with no one the wiser for months. In order to pull that off, they’d kept to themselves as much as possible. He’d only recently begun to hear rumblings about men and boyfriends. Unfortunately, none of the girls were picking hardworking men who might make a future at Two Willows; they were picking flashy, fly-by-night troublemakers.