The Cowboy's Secret Bride

By: Cora Seton

“Is Camila dating anyone?” he asked Megan, focusing on the present.

Megan shot him a curious look. “Not that I know of. She works too much to date.”

Carl nodded. That was Camila. She’d told him she’d spent every dime opening her restaurant with her partner, Fila Matheson. She wanted to build up her savings again. She’d set down roots—and she didn’t want anything to be able to dislodge her again.

He wanted that too. Always had.

But he’d begun to feel that his hesitation three years ago had cursed him. He hadn’t confirmed his desire to stay quickly enough, and ever since, Chance Creek kept rejecting him. Every time a suitable property came up for sale, someone bought it right out from under his nose.

If Camila purchased a home, it would sink the final nail in his coffin. He’d have to admit he’d blown it. She’d have made her own home in Chance Creek.

Without him.

He scanned the property again. It was small, but it was a working ranch. The house was a hovel—but he could rebuild.

“Carl? You coming?” Megan asked, already walking away.

“Yeah. Listen, I want to make an offer. First thing tomorrow,” he added when the realtor turned in surprise. He needed to talk to Camila first.

“Really?” Megan asked.

“Really.” He was done screwing around. Done waiting to start his life as a rancher.

Done standing by while Camila moved on without him.

He’d hesitated once—and lost his chance to be with her.

He sure as hell wasn’t going to let that happen again.

This wasn’t the place.

Camila tried to hide her disappointment as Megan extolled the virtues of a kitchen so small its oven and fridge were three-quarter size. The house’s two bedrooms had been hardly big enough to hold beds. It lacked hookups for a washer and dryer. The living room faced north, gloomy as a crypt on this beautiful spring morning.

It wasn’t going to work.

“It’s in your budget,” Megan reminded her when she was done praising the scant two feet of chipped counter-top.

“I guess I was hoping for something… more.”

She was hoping for something that felt like home, but all this place did was remind her that since leaving Houston she might have started a business and made some great friends, but her situation was still temporary. Someday one of the Turners would want the cabin she rented from them. Then what would she do? She’d scraped together a down payment that would barely get her into a house like this, but the truth was, she’d pictured something altogether different when she’d thought of buying a home.

Something bigger.


Something she wouldn’t move into alone.

She’d never thought she’d still be single when she went house-hunting. Once she’d even thought she’d found the man she wanted to be with—

But Carl hadn’t been ready to settle down. He hadn’t even been able to say if he planned to stay in Chance Creek. For all his promises that he’d buy a ranch soon, he never had.

He had stayed, though. Camila saw him all the time, and it was like torture having him so close—and knowing he wasn’t the one for her. She knew she’d done the right thing, though, cutting off contact with him.

Leaving Houston had nearly killed her. Striking out on her own after a lifetime at the heart of her big, boisterous family had been like stepping into an abyss—not knowing where she’d land, or if she’d survive.

She’d done well for herself since. Started her own business. Found wonderful friends. She was staying right here, for good. She needed a man as committed to Chance Creek as she was.

Or maybe she needed to be alone. Camila was beginning to think that staying in Chance Creek and having a partner in life were mutually exclusive.

“Are you and Carl an item?” Megan asked.

Camila swung around to stare at her. “Me and Carl?” Had Megan read her mind?

“He asked about you this morning. I didn’t know you two were friends.”

He’d asked about her?

Camila couldn’t say why the thought left her breathless. It wasn’t like she still carried a torch for him after all this time. He obviously didn’t carry one for her. He was polite when they met. He was still living in a cabin on the Cooper spread. No closer than he’d been three years ago to buying a place of his own.

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