Montana SEAL's Mail-Order Bride(10)

By: Elle James

“No, I’m sorry, we haven’t met.” Heat threatened to rise up Aurelia’s neck. She focused on not feeling guilty for lying about knowing Collin. She held out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

Collin shook her hand, giving it an extra, reassuring squeeze. “Pleasure, ma’am.”

Gavin waved a hand toward a large, black king cab pickup. “If you two are ready, we can head on out to the ranch.”

“I just have to get my luggage,” Aurelia said and turned to the three new, matching cases the bus driver had set out on the curb. She’d had to leave most of her clothes and toiletries at home in Lastovia. In order to sneak out of the country, she’d had to leave with what she wore, the suitcase Collin had pre-positioned at the train station and the fake passport, praying she wasn’t caught and thrown in jail along the way for falsifying legal documents.

Their first stop in the US had been in New York City where she’d had to buy enough clothing and toiletries to last her for the year she’d be in Montana. Unsure of what the wild western state had to offer, she’d stocked up on everything she thought she might need, including several pairs of blue jeans, boots and a heavy winter coat. Though it was late summer, she’d heard the winters could be long and brutal. Her own country was quite cool in the winter, so she wasn’t worried about how to deal with the cold.

She was worried about taking too long to get to the part where they promised to marry and start making babies. Though she’d arrive in the country under a forged passport, she would make certain she signed her marriage certificate with her full, legal name. Otherwise, all her efforts to marry and produce an heir by her birthday deadline would be null and void.

Lori took one look at the three suitcases and laughed. “I guess you’ve come to stay.”

Aurelia’s gaze captured Gavin’s. “That was the plan,” she said softly, daring him to say otherwise. He could back out, though she prayed he wouldn’t.

If she had a lot of time to court the man, she would. And she’d tell him why she needed to marry and get started on having babies, but that might make him even more inclined to back out of the deal. The man would probably be uncomfortable being a part of a royal family. And who said they couldn’t be married and live separately? The law of her country didn’t say the spouse had to live in Lastovia. Just that the royal had to be married and produce an heir by his or her thirtieth birthday. For that matter, would Gavin want to live that far away from his children?

Gavin gathered two of the suitcases in his hands. When he tried to juggle the third, Collin snatched it out of his reach and carried it to the pickup.

Aurelia and Lori followed the men.

“Just so you know,” Lori whispered, “I’m the only other person on the ranch who knows your secret.”

Aurelia shot a wide-eyed glance at the woman who limped along beside her. Her secret? Did she know she was a royal and that she was there to fulfill her family obligation in order to inherit her throne? “And how do you feel about it?” she asked vaguely, not offering any more details about anything.

“I think the idea of a mail-order bride is exactly what Gavin needed. Otherwise, he would have given up completely on the idea of marriage and a family. He has some dumb idea that a woman wouldn’t find him husband material because he’s missing one measly leg.”

Aurelia studied Gavin’s back and legs as he carried the two heavy suitcases. “He seems to get along just fine without it. Why should that bother me?”

Lori shrugged, limping along beside Aurelia. “You never know how people will react to people who are different from them.”

Aurelia’s focus shifted from Gavin to Lori, and she frowned. “You speak as if from experience.”

Lori bent and tapped her knuckles against the lower half of her left leg, making a sound like knocking against metal.

Aurelia’s eyes widened. “You, too?”

Lori nodded. “My supply truck rolled over an IED. I was the lucky one.”

“Losing a leg isn’t what I consider lucky,” Aurelia said.

“I lost my leg…” Lori looked away. “My battle buddy lost his life.”

Aurelia touched her arm. “I’m sorry. I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel.”

Lori shrugged. “Like it should have been me. I should have been the one to die. Landers had a wife and kid back home. I had no one depending on me. If I hadn’t insisted on driving the last leg of the journey, he’d be alive today.”

“And you wouldn’t be.” Aurelia sighed.