Duncan's BrideBy: Linda Howard
Linda Howard Duncan’s Bride
Reese Duncan lost half his ranch and all his dreams to his ex-wife, so when it came time for a family he did the logical thing: he advertised for a bride. She had to be willing to work, to bear his children and to settle for lovemaking in place of love. It sounded perfect – until Madelyn Patterson arrived. One look and he had to have her. Never mind that she was New York and nightlife to his own plain-spoken Montana ways. She was willing to herd cattle, wax floors and bake biscuits by the dozen. She was even willing to bear his children – but at a price he couldn't pay. Madelyn wanted love – and he was a man who had no love to give.
It was time he looked for a wife, but this time around he wasn't looking for "love" as part of the bargain. He was older and infinitely wiser, and he knew that 'love" wasn't necessary, or even desirable.
Reese Duncan had made a fool of himself once and nearly lost everything. It wouldn't happen again. This time he'd choose a wife with his brain instead of the contents of his jeans, and he'd pick a woman who would be content to live on an isolated ranch, who was willing to work hard and be a good mother to their kids, one who cared more about family than fashion. He'd fallen for a pretty face once, but good looks wasn't on his list of requirements now. He was a normal man with a healthy sex drive; that would be enough to get the kids he wanted. He didn't want passion. Passion had led him into the worst mistake of his life. Now he wanted a reliable, common sense woman. The problem was, he didn't have time to find her. He worked twelve to sixteen hours a day, trying to keep his head above water. It had taken him seven years, but it looked like this year would put him in the black, finally. He had lost half his land, a loss that ate at his soul every day of his life, but there was no way in hell he would lose what remained. He had lost most of his cattle; the huge herds were gone, and he worked like a slave taking care of the remaining heads of beef. The ranch hands were gone, too; he hadn't been able to afford their wages. He hadn't bought a new pair of jeans in three years. The barns and house hadn't been painted in eight. But April, his ex-wife, had her outstanding debts, incurred before their marriage, paid. She had her lump-sum settlement. She had her Manhattan apartment, her expensive wardrobe. What did it matter to her that he'd had to beggar himself and sell his land, his herds, wipe out his bank accounts, to give her the half of his assets to which she felt "entitled"? After all, hadn't she been married to him for two whole years? Hadn't she lived through two hellish Montana winters, entirely cut off from civilization? So what if the ranch had been in his family for a hundred years; two years of marriage "entitled" her to half of it, or its equivalent in cold, hard cash. Of course, she had been more than happy to settle for the cash. If he didn't have that much, he could sell a little land. After all, he had oodles of it; he wouldn't miss a few thousand acres. It helped that her father was a business magnate who had a lot of connections in Montana as well as the other western states, which explained why the judge hadn't been swayed by Reese's arguments that the amount April was demanding would bankrupt him.
That was another mistake he wouldn't make. The woman he married this time would have to sign a prenuptial agreement that would protect the ranch in case of divorce. He wouldn't risk so much as one square foot of the dirt of his children's heritage, or the money it would take to run it. No woman was going to take him to the cleaners again; she might leave, but she wouldn't leave with anything of his.
Given the way he felt, he would have been just as happy to remain single for the rest of his life if there hadn't been the question of children. He wanted kids. He wanted to teach them to love the land as he had been taught, to leave that land to them, to pass on the legacy that had been passed on to him. More than that, he wanted the life that children would bring to the empty old ranch house, the laughter and tears and anger, the pain of childish fears and the shouts of joy. He wanted heirs of his bone and blood. To have those children, he needed a wife.
A wife would be convenient, too. There was a lot to be said for available sex, especially since he didn't have the time to waste trying to find it. All he needed was a solid, steady, undemanding woman in his bed every night, and his hormones would take care of the rest of it. But unmarried, marriageable women were scarce in that part of the country; they were all packing up and moving to the cities. Ranch life was hard, and they wanted some excitement in their lives, some luxuries. Reese didn't have the time, money or inclination to go courting, anyway. There was a more efficient way to find a woman than that.