Married to Claim the Rancher's Heir

By: Lauri Robinson

CHAPTER ONE

“Do you know what it’s like to be hungry, Mr. Callaway?”

Who did this woman think she was? Her snippy attitude couldn’t make up for the fact she was shorter than corn grows. And who has purple eyes? Gabe stared a bit harder, just to make sure they were indeed purple, before he answered, “Yes, I’ve been hungry.”

“But all you have to do is walk into your kitchen and find something to eat, don’t you?” She was waving her hands around like a bird learning to fly. “That wasn’t so for Ruby. When she was hungry, there was nothing to satisfy that hunger.”

She’d pointed to the little dark-haired girl sitting on the couch, staring at him with big eyes. The little girl’s eyes weren’t purple. They were blue. As pale blue as an afternoon sky. He had a hard time looking away from the little girl. The thought of her going hungry didn’t sit well inside him. Even if it wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t known she existed until a short time ago.

“You could have prevented that if you weren’t so stubborn. She is your niece,” the woman said.

Stubborn? This woman hadn’t even begun to see his stubborn side. Furthermore, Ruby could have been his daughter. He’d tried to not let his mind go down that route since the two of them, Ruby and Miss Janette Parker, as she’d curtly introduced herself—emphasis on the miss—had walked into his house, but the idea kept inching its way forward every time he glanced at the little girl. She resembled Anna. He could also see Max in her features. His brother and once best friend. Until the woman he’d been considering marrying—Anna—and his brother—Max—ran away together.

“She’s your niece, too, Miss Parker,” he pointed out.

“Which is precisely why I’m here,” she snapped.

Gabe would have crossed his arms, but they were already crossed, so he shifted his stance slightly and waited. He knew why she was here but would let her admit it. Let her ask for money. Then he’d deny her request. First, however, he’d see Ruby got something to eat. “Rosalie,” he shouted, knowing full well his housekeeper was listening outside the parlor doorway.

“I’m right here.” Rosalie’s skirts rustled as she rounded the doorway. “There’s no need to shout.”

There was no need for her to be standing outside the room either. “Take Ruby into the kitchen and get her something to eat.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that she’s hungry right now,” Miss Janette Parker said. “I was referring to—”

“You’d rather let her sit here and listen to how hungry she’s been in the past?” he asked pointedly.

Maybe her eyes weren’t purple but black. As black as coal. About as cold, too. She looked nothing like her sister. Anna had been taller and meatier, not big, but she wouldn’t have been blown over by a brisk wind like this woman. Anna’s hair had been lighter, too. Piled high on her head and partially covered with a flowered hat, this woman’s hair was as black as her glare. Turning about, he quietly asked, “Ruby, would you like something to eat and a glass of milk?”

The child cast a wary glance between her aunt and him.

When the woman didn’t say a word, he instructed, “Tell her it’s all right.”

After casting him a cold glare, she knelt down in front of Ruby and spoke too quietly for him to hear and then helped Ruby off the couch before she stood. Walking the child to the doorway, she thanked Rosalie before relinquishing Ruby to his housekeeper.

He didn’t say a word or alter the stance he’d taken near the fireplace shortly after Rosalie had answered the door and led Janette and Ruby into his parlor. He didn’t take his eyes off her either. Not when she spun around, smoothed the material of her green dress over her flat stomach or lifted her chin into the air as she marched back over to stand in front of the couch again. The pinch of her lips said she was miffed by his silence.

He truly didn’t care. This woman was so full of herself she should be as round as a bloated badger lying in the hot sun.

“As you are aware, Mr. Callaway, Max and Anna are no longer with us?”

“Max and Anna haven’t been with me in a very long time,” he replied.

“That’s not what I mean, and you know it.”

He knew what she meant, but he’d meant what he’d said, too. He’d accepted the loss of his would-be bride and his brother five years ago. The news of their deaths last month hadn’t altered him one way or the other.

She poked a finger inside the frilly lace collar that encircled her neck as if it irritated her. It probably did. It sure as heck would him. She must like lace, though. Ruby’s dress was covered with the frilly white stuff, too. As she continued to scratch her neck, he hoped the lace wasn’t irritating Ruby as much as it seemed to be her.

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