It’s one of those summer days where the sky is endlessly blue with white fluffy clouds floating overhead. The sun is shining through the trees, and the tinkling sound of my children’s laughter is on the breeze.

For a moment, I pause outside our backyard to appreciate the sounds of my family enjoying their day. It’s been eleven years since Luke and I married, and every year, our lives get a little sweeter.

Food sizzles, and I round the corner. Luke is manning the grill, an apron over his red T-shirt and blue jeans. He taps his feet in rhythm to the country song playing from the radio.

He looks up, somehow sensing my presence. His eyes crinkle at the corners when he smiles. There are laugh lines by his eyes, and most of his hair is silver. He’s put on some weight now. He carries the dad pouch, but his body still makes me swoon. Especially on days like last week when he rushes toward one of our scared kids who had gotten sick and needed comfort. He never hesitates, never falters. He’s always there for our family.

I press a quick kiss to his lips. “Surprise.”

He brushes a strand of hair out of my eyes. “You weren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow afternoon. I would have picked you up from the airport.”

I shrug. It’s hard going away on business trips, but coming home to my family makes it worthwhile. “I was able to get an earlier flight. Am I crashing your party?”

The look he gives me is filled with heat. “You can always crash my party.”

The hotdogs sizzle again, and I nod to them. “Give me a minute to get the travel grime off of me.”

My shower takes less than ten minutes. I love running Bloom Anywhere, and just as I’d hoped, it’s become a well-known chain. Luke is so supportive of my dream, and he’s incredibly proud.

Normally, he and the kids travel with me. But Kaci and Kayla, our twin girls, caught a stomach bug on the night before we were to leave. Luke told me to go without them, and he stayed behind to look after our little brood.

I should send Cash a gift basket later this week. I know Luke must have driven him crazy with questions while I was gone. Any time our children are sick or hurt, he’s constantly calling his doctor brother. Some days, I’m amazed that Cash hasn’t discharged all of us from his practice because of Luke’s overprotective nature.

As soon as I’m out of the shower, I slip into a pair of blue jean cut-offs and my husband’s old t-shirt. It smells like him, and I smile. This is what I missed while I was gone, being with the love of my life.

When I come back out to the yard, Luke looks me up and down. His gaze darkens, and I know he’s thinking about the same things I am. It’s been a week since he’s taken me, which might as well be a year for us.

“Hey, Sheriff! Do you have an extra hotdog to spare?” I call out.

The kids turn from their seats at the picnic table where they’ve been eating their food. Gasps and shouts fill the air, and then five little ones are rushing me. I cover them in hugs and kisses, delighted to be reunited with my favorite people.

“Mom, are you going to play war with us?” Oliver asks.

The kids often play war on the property. Luke bought them those plastic guns that shoot foam darts about a year ago. Ever since then, they spend hours chasing each other around the ranch with them. They’re always going into battle.

 “Of course, but only if you kids eat first.” I ruffle Oliver’s hair. He’s eight now, and he won the state spelling bee championship last year. He plays a daily crossword puzzle with his dad every day, and it’s so sweet to watch that tradition continue with the next generation.

When I sit at the table, Kayla crawls into my lap. “Feeling better, snuggle bug?”

My four-year-old girl nods and takes another bite of her hotdog. Luke always slices the hotdogs for the kids lengthwise then cuts them into tiny strips to prevent choking.

Elijah, our six-year-old, launches into a recap of everything he and his siblings have spent the week doing, down to the exact moment they found a worm on the sidewalk that they rescued and put back in the dirt.

Luke takes the seat next to me, sliding onto the picnic bench. His thigh is resting against mine. He holds my hand, giving it gentle squeezes under the table as our children tell their stories.

After we’re done and the paper dishes have been put in the recycling bin, it’s time for our game of war. Foam darts have been loaded and the kids have stocked up on their toy weapons. It’s almost amusing how seriously they take this game.

“Assemble!” Luke yells. He’s a team captain tonight, and so is LJ. Everyone started calling Luke Junior by his initials when he began school, and it’s stuck since then. The kids all take turns being team captains and tonight is LJ’s night.

The rest of us race to show up on the porch where we wait to be picked by the team captains.

Luke looks over the crew and grins at me. “I pick the prettiest girl in the whole world.”

I chuckle and move to his side of the yard, standing next to my hunky husband. He reaches for me automatically, one hand going around my hip. He’s always touching me, always reminding me of how beautiful he thinks I am.

LJ scowls at his dad. “No fair. You picked mom last time. Why does she always get to be on your team?”

Luke gives my hip another squeeze. “Because she’s hot.”

A chorus of remarks calling dad gross follow.

I shake my head and smack him on the shoulder. “Behave.”

Luke shrugs, looking unrepentant. “They asked.”

We spend the next few hours playing games with the kids until they’re so exhausted they can barely keep their eyes open. I help Kayla and Kaci through a quick bath, and Luke puts them to bed while I usher the boys into the showers too.

When everyone is settled for the night and Luke is reading one last bedtime story, I sit on the front porch. The swing moves in the cool night breeze, and the sky is so clear that I can count every star overhead.

Luke joins me on the swing, and I instantly scoot closer. I rest my head on his shoulder and let out a happy hum of contentment. Our lives are busy and full with five kids, but I couldn’t ask for anything better.

We stay silent for a long time until Luke finally says, “Happy Anniversary, Austin. You’re my best friend, and I feel happy every day to have you in my life.”

I smile against his shirt. He always says the sweetest things to me. Still, I can’t resist teasing him. “Aww, you’re just trying to get lucky.”

He chuckles, the sound rich and deep. “I already got lucky, the day I married you.”

I take his big hand in mine, feeling the strength and the warmth there. I stand and tug him to his feet. “You’re about to get lucky again.”

As he follows me into the house, I have to shake my head. I’m so grateful for this wild cowboy and his crazy plan to marry me. What started out as a fake marriage became the greatest adventure of my life.


Can the alpha cowboy convince his shy curvy girl that they can be a real family?

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Her Wicked Cowboy by Mia Brody