Montana SEAL's Mail-Order Bride(9)

By: Elle James

Careful to keep her face covered, she wore fake glasses and the scarf everywhere she went, not wanting cameras to pick up on her whereabouts. Maybe she was being overly careful, but two of her suitors had died trying to marry her. She didn’t want a third fiancé to be the next target, nor did she want whoever was sabotaging her plans to come after her. She had an obligation to her country, and by God, she’d fulfill that obligation, even if it meant marrying a man she didn’t know and hiding for the next nine or ten months in the wilds of Montana to have a baby.

Hell, she hadn’t thought about it, but where did women have their babies out here? Did they hire midwives to deliver? She knew there was a well-equipped hospital in Bozeman, but would she be able to get from the ranch to Bozeman once her contractions were underway? If she got pregnant in the next month, that would put her having her baby near the end of spring. Would her baby be born in a late-spring blizzard? She’d researched Montana. The state was known for unpredictable weather. They had snow as late as July.

But as she stepped out of the bus, all her worries were pushed to the back of her mind. Her future husband stood beside Collin and a pretty woman with light red hair and blue eyes. Granted, the woman wore jeans and a plaid shirt, and her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. But her smile lit her face, making her quite attractive.

Who was she to Gavin Blackstock? Considering he’d advertised for a wife, she wasn’t in the running for the job, nor was she wearing a ring. And she appeared pleased to see Aurelia. All of this rushed through her head, almost wiping away her and Gavin’s plan to pretend they’ve known each other for a long time. Now was the time for her to put on a show. She and Gavin had discussed the strategy online before she’d agreed to come. As a royal, she was used to playing a part in public. But this part was far more personal than any she’d been tasked to perform in the past. Squaring her shoulders, she pasted a huge smile on her face and flung her arms around Gavin’s neck. “Gavin, darling, I’m so glad to see you. I could barely wait to get here.”

Gavin settled his hands on her waist and replied, “It’s good to see you too, A-aurelia.”

A bubble of laughter rose up Aurelia’s chest, and she let it go. The man was obviously embarrassed and maybe a little shy, which she found endearing.

A spark of something rippled from where their bodies touched and spread heat to the very tips of her extremities. Aurelia sucked in a breath and held it, afraid to let it go lest she gasp.

Gavin was as solid as a rock and made her feel surprisingly protected. His grip was firm but gentle for such a big guy, and he didn’t release her immediately. He leaned back a little and stared for a long moment into her eyes, as if searching for something. Just like when she’d looked into those eyes in the picture on the internet, she could feel the same connection, as if he was looking into her soul.

She released the breath she’d held.

“Aurelia, we’ve waited far too long,” Gavin said, his tone low, resonant and as rich and thick as melted chocolate, seeping into every pore of her skin.

Awareness made her shiver. Aurelia hadn’t expected such a swift and visceral reaction to this stranger. And frankly, it frightened her at the same time as it excited her.

In their correspondence over the internet, they’d agreed to keep their arrangement between themselves until they’d had a chance to meet and determine whether a match could be made. They would both have the opportunity to back out, should they decide their proposal wouldn’t work.

So far, Aurelia was still agreeable to the marriage, and even more convinced he was exactly what she needed. She wondered if Gavin would take a little more convincing.

Finally, he released her and stepped back, keeping a hand at the small of her back.

The woman beside him, held out her hand. “Hello, I’m Lori Mize, one of the guests at the Brighter Days Rehab Ranch. Don’t mind me,” she said with a smile. “I came along to meet you. Gavin kept talking about this wonderful girlfriend of his. We all thought she didn’t exist.” Lori winked. “I’m happy to see you really do.” Lori shook her hand with a strong grip and a lot of enthusiasm. “And you’re very pretty. Who would have thought Gavin would have a pretty girlfriend stashed away somewhere?”

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Mize,” Aurelia said.

“You can call me Lori. We’re not too formal around here.” Lori turned to Collin. “And this is our brand new ranch hand, Collin Banner. You two might have met on the bus?” Lori cocked an eyebrow.