“Alright, what are we voting for?” I step away from the wall and inspect the two colors. We have the choice between snuggly duckling yellow or gentle forest green.
It’s been six months since I married Ranger and we’re expecting our first child together in four months. I rub my hand across my belly that’s getting a little rounder each day. Even though I don’t like the weight gain, Ranger certainly doesn’t mind. He talks to my stomach every morning, always telling his daughter how much he loves her.
Lydia, my second sister, looks between the two paint samples that I added to the wall. “I’m partial to forest green.”
“It is soothing,” Naomi, my oldest sister, agrees.
They found me a few weeks after I married Ranger for the second time. It turns out that Lydia left not long after I did. She managed to find Naomi in Asheville but neither of them could locate me until my marriage certificate had my true name on it.
The two of them share an apartment together with Naomi’s little girls. All those years I thought she went missing when in reality, she’d taken her kids and disappeared. She’d been careful to make it look like an accident near the river and even after all this time, Prophet has never questioned it.
Naomi seems to have adjusted well. I don’t know if it’s because she has kids that she has to be strong for or simply because she’s been out of the community longer.
I study the green color. I can’t describe how happy I am that my sisters are here to do ordinary things with me, like paint the nursery. The only thing that would make me happier is if Sarah were here to help us. But she’s eight months pregnant and wasn’t up for traveling. Instead, I’ll video call her later and show her what we’ve done to the room. “We’ll go with that one then.”
“Let’s do it,” Lydia agrees. Her breath doesn’t smell of alcohol today the way it normally does. She’s had a hard time coming to the outside. Not only did Lydia believe in a lot of what she was taught but she’s also infertile. She hasn’t said much about it, but I’m certain that Prophet made her pay for that.
She takes the paint chip from me and the keys to the car while Naomi and I add painter’s tape to the nursery.
“She seems better today,” I say when Naomi and I have worked in silence for a few minutes. I know that Naomi wouldn’t let her drive if she thought she had been drinking. We might be grown but Naomi still squawks over us like we’re little baby birds.
“The outpatient treatment program is really helping her,” my older sister explains as she pauses to smooth tape around the edges of the window. It’s hard to believe that this used to be my room when I first came here. Now we’re going to make it into a nursery.
“I remember she applied. I didn’t know she’d gotten approved,” I answer. Normally, they tell me about things like this.
“I thought you knew.” She nods when she’s happy with her taping job. “Ranger is paying for it. There’s no way either of us could afford it.”
Somehow, I’m not surprised that my sweet husband is doing that. When my sisters first reached out to me, it was obvious they were struggling financially. They didn’t ask for a cent even though they were facing eviction from the tiny apartment where they were living.
Without telling me, Ranger made plans to move them into a bigger apartment and paid for the first two years of rent. Even my sisters wouldn’t have known who the anonymous benefactor was if the landlord hadn’t slipped up and told them.
He also helped Naomi find a good-paying job as a receptionist at a car dealership. She’s saving to go to night school though she’s sworn me to secrecy. We both know that if Ranger finds out, he’ll make that happen too. The way he takes care of my sisters as if they were his own family is just one more reason I love that man.
When Lydia returns with the paint, we get to work on the nursery. While we work, we chat and laugh. For a few hours, it feels like we’re normal, like our lives weren’t stolen from us by a cult leader.
I’ve just finished the last swipe of paint when I hear the familiar whirl of Ranger’s chair. Like some people recognize their loved one’s footsteps, I recognize the sound of his various chairs.
“Dammit, Tia, I told you to be careful.” His hands are around my hips as he tugs me off the step stool and into his lap.
He’s always protective over me but with the pregnancy, he’s gone into overdrive. He insisted on driving me into town yesterday when I needed a new set of maternity bras. The man would wrap me and our unborn child in bubble wrap if I let him.
I press a kiss to his lips, not caring that my sisters are still in the room. They know I love my husband. While Lydia has said she never wants to get married again, I see the way that Naomi looks when I’m with Ranger. She wants a good husband. I keep telling her to move to the ranch with me. Rough and rugged cowboys who love their women fiercely abound in Courage County.
Since we’re finished with the painting, Naomi says, “We need to go. I still have to pick up the munchkins for dinner.”
“I can do that, and all of you can crash here tonight,” Ranger offers. He’s made it clear to them over the past few months that our home is their home. Sometimes, they do take him up on the offer and spend the night. But he never complains when they’re around. He’s welcomed my sisters with open arms since day one.
She waves her hand. “Another night. They have summer camp to get to in the morning.”
I walk them to the door and the three of us exchange a flurry of hugs before they’re gone, and I’m left alone with my handsome husband.
“How are we going to fill this long, lonely night?” I ask, sexy ideas filling my mind. Since we’ve been married, I’ve discovered a new side to myself. A flirty side that Ranger seems to appreciate just as much as I do. Every time we’re together, it feels magical and special. He says that’s because we’re in love. I say it’s because he’s so selfless and gentle.
Disappointment flickers across Ranger’s face. “Logan and Audrey are coming for dinner.”
I’d forgotten about that. We normally eat dinner with Logan and his wife at least once a week. They have a great marriage and the cutest little daughter, Paisley. I love cuddling with the one-year-old. It reminds me that soon I’m going to get to meet my own daughter.
I shower while Ranger throws together a quick meal that we eat on the patio while watching the July sun slowly sink lower.
Dinner is a simple affair. Logan and Ranger talk about the ranch while Audrey and I discuss motherhood. She’s been an invaluable source of information since I found out I was pregnant. She’s the first person outside of Ranger that I told.
When dinner is done and our family has finally left, my husband pulls me into our bedroom for some alone time.
“I have a surprise for you,” I tell him, the lacy material that’s been caressing me all night is definitely damp at this point. Every time it brushed against me during the meal, I could only think about how much fun he and I would be having soon.
“I have one for you,” he says, a twinkle in his eye. Ranger enjoys finding things to do for me. Whether it’s adding a new book to my collection or giving me a foot rub, he’s always expressing his love for me in different ways.
“You go first,” I tell him. The moment he sees what I have on underneath my sundress that we’re both going to forget everything else.
“It’s in my dresser drawer,” he says.
I retrieve a white box with a ribbon tied around it. I rattle it and listen for the sound because I’ve learned that he hates it when I try to guess the gift. There’s no sound with this one.
He smirks at me. “Finally found one that you couldn’t guess.”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?” I ask as I sink onto the edge of our bed. My pregnancy has been great. I’ve had a very easy one compared to some women and I’m so thankful for that.
“Open it and see,” he prompts before joining me on the bed.
I wait for him to get settled then open the box. What greets me is a paper print-out. It’s reservations for that bed and breakfast in South Carolina I mentioned to him a few weeks ago. “Aww, you remembered.”
“Course I did.” He presses a kiss to the crown of my head. “I think we should go now. You know, the honeymoon we never took.”
I can’t help smiling. He is determined to give me everything I ever wanted. I could tell him I want the moon, and he’d start making plans to get it for me. This man is endlessly thoughtful. Now it’s time to show him that I’m thoughtful too.
“Are you ready for your surprise?” I ask as I shimmy off the bed. One of the things that I’ve loved about the pregnancy is that it makes me horny all the time. Not that Ranger ever complains. He’s more than happy to love on my body. Just like he promised, he worships me every day and we’re still discovering new things together.
He nods and I step back further so he can appreciate the surprise. Then I reach for the tie on my wraparound sundress and undo it.
To tease him, I slowly peel the dress apart and let it drop from my shoulders onto the floor. Now, I’m standing before him in only my hot pink lacy undergarments.
Lust fills Ranger’s expression and his eyes turn to liquid fire. “I like your surprise better than mine.”
I can’t help but laugh as I strut toward the bed, putting an extra sway in my steps. “I thought you might.”
An hour later when I’m exhausted and sweaty, I snuggle into Ranger’s embrace. He rubs my arm and grins. “You’re going to be a great mom, butterfly.”
The words warm me as I place a hand over my belly. “I can’t wait to meet her.”
“We will soon,” he reassures me.
I can’t help smiling at his promise. I had no idea the day I applied to become a mail-order bride that my life would change forever. That day, I didn’t just find a groom. I found the man that’s meant to be mine.
If you want to know what happened with Logan and Audrey, they’re starring in The Cowboy’s Soulmate, the next book in the Courage County Brides series. Read their story now to see what happens to this jaded playboy when his mail order bride shows up with a baby!