Housekeeper to the Millionaire(5)

By: Lucy Monroe

There were times the big house felt empty too, times he felt empty. His certainty that marriage was for idiots didn’t waver. He’d learned the lesson too well at his mother’s knee. Hadn’t she married five men and divorced four? The only reason she hadn’t divorced her last husband was because she’d died before she could get bored again with marital bliss.

There had been a time when Win had been willing to believe that there were women out there that weren’t like his mother. He’d been young and foolish. Barely out of high school and overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for his thirteen-year-old sister, he’d met a shy, sweet little gal who wanted to get married—Rachel. He had believed that Rachel could help with his sister, could make their household, devastated by the death of his mom and stepdad, a home again.

It hadn’t worked that way. Rachel had wanted him to sell the Bar G and move to the big city. She had dreams and no one was going to stand in her way, least of all her young husband and his needy little sister. He hadn’t wanted to risk marriage since then. He’d learned his lesson the hard way, but he had learned it.

Carlene sure had been offended when he laid it out flat for her. She’d bristled with feminine pride and it had been all he could do not to laugh. She was naïve if she thought most of the women who entered his life didn’t see him as a potential meal ticket complete with caviar and silver spoons.

She didn’t know it, but it hadn’t been rude for him to set things straight from the beginning. It had been fair and he was a fair man. She had a right to know where he was coming from. He wanted her and he meant to have her, but he wasn’t interested in marriage.

He’d wanted her from the moment he opened his door, irritated by the second ringing of chimes set off by the impatient person waiting on the other side. The woman standing on the other side had been so far from what he’d expected that he’d felt sucker punched. And horny.

No doubt about it. He had been too long without the company of a woman, but he’d had the good sense to hire Carlene and soon that would be rectified.


CARLENE liked Shorty, the ranch hand Win had assigned to help her in the kitchen, the minute she met him. He had a grin that more than made up for his lack in stature. Soft gray eyes twinkled under a crown of silvered hair. “Well, missy, Win says you don’t got a hill of beans in experience, but I’m to help you learn the ropes. You know anything about cooking?”

She laughed. “I’d have to be pretty dumb to take a job as housekeeper and cook if I didn’t, now, wouldn’t I? Do I look dumb to you?”

Shorty sized her up as if he was seriously contemplating his answer to that question and Carlene’s respect for him went up a notch. The man kept his eyes focused mainly on her face.

“No, missy, you don’t look dumb at all. That must mean you can cook.” He sighed with relief. “It’s a good thing. Win and the hands ain’t real fond of my vittles.”

Then why had Win assigned the man to help her in the kitchen? Shorty answered that question for her with his next statement. “None of the hands, including our boss, can do any better. At least I know how to cook food without burning it, even if it isn’t real appetizin’.”

Carlene walked over to the sink and washed her hands. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Shorty. I can cook without burning the food and I’ve been told that my food is better than passable by more than one person.”

“Well, glory be, that’s a relief.”

Carlene hoped that the rest of the ranch hands would share Shorty’s enthusiasm when they filed into the large kitchen for lunch. She’d made French dip sandwiches, Caesar salad and cookies for dessert.

Win took a seat at one end of the table. Shorty sat to his left and a man they called Joe, who looked about the same age as Win, sat to Win’s right. He was introduced as the ranch foreman in charge of the horse and mustang training. Four other hands, ranging in age from just out of high school to another man who looked as wizened and gray as Shorty, sat down. Apparently, most of the hands worked for Joe, while Shorty and one of the youngest men, a brunette with cold gray eyes they introduced as Lonny, worked in the thoroughbred stables with Win.

Carlene placed filled plates in front of each man, beginning with Win. She didn’t realize that she’d been waiting for his approval until he looked up and nodded. “Looks good.”

She quietly said, “Thank you,” and continued passing out plates, feeling ridiculously pleased. After serving everyone, she turned back to the counter where she had lined up the ingredients for the pies she planned to make.

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