She would rather call her impending nuptials planned than arranged, but she's certain her fiancé is her perfect match. Still, Dr. Meera Malhotra jumps at the opportunity to spend the month before her wedding doing a medical rotation in small-town USA. Getting a taste of independence and improving public health are both part of her plan. Falling for a cowboy? Not so much. Jake Taylor is totally wrong for her, anyway: he raises cattle; she's a vegetarian. He's content with life on the ranch; she's from bustling London and wants to travel. She couldn't possibly throw away everything she's built over something as illogical as love.
About the Author
Sophia puts her childhood habit of daydreaming to good use by writing stories she hopes will give you hope, make you laugh, cry, and possibly snort tea from your nose. She was born in Bombay, India, has lived in the Canary Islands, Spain, Toronto, Canada, and currently resides in Washington DC. She loves to read, travel, bake, scuba dive, watch foreign movies, and hear from readers.
Read an Excerpt
"I don't mean to disturb you
Meera sighed in frustration. Americans! Does he have to be so rude? She stood on her tiptoes, peeking over the stall door. She could only see his back. White T-shirt, snug jeans streaked with mud and a straw cowboy hat. He knelt in front of a black mare who whinnied as he lifted her leg.
Meera took a breath. The air was thick with the smell of animal manure. "Pardon me," she said more forcefully. "I understand you have a room to let."
He turned and her breath caught. Too much dust in the air. Green eyes sparkled mischievously, sandy-blond hair glistened angelically in the sunlight and a broad smile showed straight, white teeth. All perfectly packaged in a tall, athletic body. She blinked.
"'To let'? Is that French for 'toilet'?" he drawled.
Thank you for changing your image from American cowboy to Forrest Gump.
She put on her best finishing-school smile. When in Rome She had to remember to speak redneck.
"Sorry, it's British for 'do you have a room for rent?'"
He stood, surveying her. She smoothed her black pantsuit, wishing for the millionth time she'd dressed more casually, especially in this oppressive heat. He patted his hands on his jeans, sending up clouds of dirt. She sneezed and instinctively brushed her arms. "Why would the Queen of England want a room at my dusty ranch?" The tone was sardonic, his eyes crinkling.
She pressed her lips together. She would rather leave than deal with such arrogance, but this was her last option for a place to stay tonight. This being her first time in America, she really didn't want to test her precarious, wrong-side-of-the-road driving skills to search for accommodations in the dark. "If you must know"
"I must." He mimicked her tone and accent.
She took a short breath. Keep your coolremember you made the decision to be in this middle-of-nowhere town. "I'm doing a medical rotation with Dr. Harper." Despite her frustration, she couldn't keep the excitement out of her voice. Even if she couldn't be in New York, she would still get a month to herself and a much-needed break from wedding planning. She wouldn't let anythingor anyonespoil it for her.
"Ah, lemme guessMarty said you couldn't stay at his inn."
"And it seems you would be able to tell me why."
His eyes danced with amusement. "Because the town doesn't want you to stay."
She tapped a finger against her thigh. I've only been here a day. What could I possibly have done to turn a whole town against me?
He opened the stall door, and Meera took a step back. He leaned forward, and she took another step back. He towered over her. She was only five feet tall and he was north of six. He smelled of dirt, sweat and something manly. She shifted. Why must he stand so close?
He wiped a hand on his jeans and held it out to her. "Jake Taylor."
He raised his eyebrows as she eyed his hand, still caked with dirt. She took it, meeting his gaze and feeling the gritty roughness of his skin.
"Ah, what now?"
"Mee-ra Mal-hot-ra," she said more slowly. "Well, that's quite a name. Welcome to Hell's Bells."
"Hell's Bells? I thought the town name was Bellhaven."
"The townspeople call it Hell's Bells. There's a story behind it."
He let go of her hand and picked up her suitcase. Apparently, she was not going to hear the story today. She followed him out of the barn, struggling to keep up with him in her heels as he strode across the field. The point of her heel kept getting stuck in the mud. He looked back, his lips curved in a smirk.
"Bollocks!" She reached down and took off her shoes, noticing the ruined heels. So much for the Manolo Blahniks. This was not the place for her London wardrobe.
"Are you coming, princess?"
"I thought I was the Queen of England!"
"You've been demoted."
She rolled her eyes; he would be a handful.
He extended his arm, offering his hand to her. She eyed it warily, not wanting to touch him again.
"Come on now, I don't have all day waitin' on your delicate feet to make the trek."
She sighed and took his hand. It was warm and large. Grass and clover tickled her feet as he firmly but gently tugged her across the field.
They arrived at a gravel road. She slipped her shoes back on and eyed the big stately house at the end of it.
Wow! The place could have been Tara from Gone with the Wind, one of her favorite movies. Ivy grew up the white stone walls. There was a wraparound porch on the main level and a balcony on the second story. They climbed a set of brick steps that led to the front door. Jake opened it and set her suitcase down.
Her eyes widened as she took in the two-level foyer. A double staircase wound up to the second floor, and worn-out gilding begged to be shined on the banisters. Dark wood floorboards were covered in a light blanket of dust. A coffered ceiling replete with cobwebs finished the look. Meera's home was considered a small palace, especially by London standards, but this house was something else. Despite the grandeur, it lacked the stuffiness of aristocracy. Black-and-white family pictures, some yellowed with age, hung on the walls in different-sized frames. There was a spaciousness and welcoming charm that was missing in her family home.
"This is beautiful." Her heels tapped the floor as she walked over to a door and touched the handle. She immediately brushed the dust off her hands. "Why are these closed?"
"It's an old estate and very hard to keep up. We close the rooms we don't use."
Meera nodded as if it made complete sense. But why wouldn't you maintain your home?
"There's no kitchen in the guesthouse, so you can use the one in the back here." He pointed to the only open doorway. "I try to keep the fridge stocked for the ranch hands. Help yourself to anything you want." He grabbed a set of keys.
"Come on, your house is this way."
My house? He took her around the side of the building. Meera gaped at the small stone cottage. Pretty rose vines crawled up the side. The front yard was overgrown with weeds, but she could already see the possibility of a proper English garden. Jake opened the front door.
Inside, all the furniture was covered with white sheets.
"You'll have to dust things out been a while since anyone was in here."
Was it her imagination, or did his face flicker with sadness?
He showed Meera two bedrooms, a living room and a bathroom.
"This is quite a guest cottage. Has it always been here?"
"It used to be the servants' quarters. I gutted it several years ago and made it into a house for " His expression changed into something Meera couldn't read. "Into a guesthouse."
Meera looked around and felt excitement bubble through her. This is just perfectexactly what I need. It would take some work to clean up, but it was quaint and peaceful and all hers. For a whole month she wouldn't have to answer to anyone, live up to expectations or deal with her usual obligations. Freedom! Spending a month in this small town was a small price to pay.
"This is wonderful, thank you. What will you charge?"
"How about an exchange of services?"
"I beg your pardon?" Meera's muscles tightened. Maybe she'd been too quick to judge Jake. She suddenly realized that she had walked into a place all alone, trusting a complete stranger.
"You're a doctor, right?"
She nodded, relieved.
"My ranch hands haven't seen a doctor in years. I have twelve peoplethree women and nine men. I'd like you to give them a physical here on the ranch, make sure they're good."
Meera frowned. "Why don't they have a primary care doctor?"
"They don't have health insurance. I've been looking into gettin' them some."
"Oh," she said simply. She knew America didn't have a National Health Service, but didn't people with jobs have benefits? What could she possibly do on the ranch without a proper clinic or medical supplies? Her father had given her his old-fashioned doctor's bag with a stethoscope and basic supplies when she completed medical school at King's College. She considered it a sentimental gift but was glad she'd brought it along. "I'd be happy to do what I can for them, but if they need blood work, X-rays or any tests, they'll have to come to the clinic or possibly the hospital. I really can't do much by myself here."
He nodded. "Most of 'em can't afford to see a doctor. Just having you do a checkup will be more than they've gotten in years."
Years without seeing a doctor? Her father's medical practice in London was full of affluent patients; that's why her supervisor had insisted she do this small-town rotation before he would sign off on the completion certificate for her research doctorate. She had tried to talk him into letting her go to New Yorkher father had even pulled some strings to line up a placement therebut her supervisor wouldn't budge. He'd said she needed to understand how "real" people received medicine.
Maybe this would work out better than she'd expected. "It's settled, then. And I insist on paying for my groceries."
He glanced at her appraisingly, and she warmed under his gaze. "I doubt you'll put a dent in our stock." Jake waved as he stepped over the threshold to leave.
She stared at him. Her best friend and cousin, Priya, would look at someone like Jake and get giggly. Meera could objectively acknowledge his handsomeness, but she saw the swagger that came with it. Not at all like Raj.
"Before you leave, could you tell me why the town doesn't want me to stay?"
He turned back and laughed. "Oh, you'll find out soon enough."
Her phone chirped, distracting her. She took it out of her purse and looked at the screen. Her mother probably had another wedding-planning crisis. She needed to take the call.
"Hurry it up, sun's almost up." Jake drained his coffee and stood. Most of his staff were gathered for breakfast. It wasn't quite six in the morning, but the room was brightening. He wondered whether Meera would be up early; she must be jet-lagged. He hadn't seen her since he'd shown her to the guest cottage last evening.
He would never forget the image of her standing in his barn. She wasn't what he'd expected. He'd heard about what happened in town yesterday. The way everyone was talking, he figured she would show up at his door eventually. He hadn't planned on letting her stayhe didn't need any more gossip about him going aroundbut something made him change his mind.
What was Meera's deal, anyway? Why would she want to come to his little town? From the clothes she was wearing, those ridiculous heels, not to mention the fancy luggage, she obviously didn't need the money.
He felt a punch on his shoulder. "Earth to Jake! What're the orders, boss?"
He shook his head to clear Meera from his brain, then quickly barked out the day's assignments.
"Billy John, it's your turn to make dinner. And please, none of that awful chili you made last time."
Billy John began to defend himself to a chorus of insults, and Jake slapped him good-naturedly. Suddenly, his eye caught a flash of yellow in the doorway.
"Ah, this is our new renter, or 'paying guest,' as she would call herself." He said the last part in a British accent.
She rolled her eyes. What's wrong with me?
She peered into the kitchen, her movements tentative. She looked different in a simple yellow sundress; the color complemented her milk-chocolate skin. Her big brown eyes were awestruck, her already petite frame even tinier in the soaring doorway. The room went unusually quiet.
He glanced around his kitchen and realized what an overwhelming sight they all made. Nine burly men and three loud women would intimidate anyone.
"Hello, everyone, I'm Meera Malhotra." Her voice was soft.
Silent stares greeted her. Jake started to say something when she gave them a disarming smile.
"If you couldn't tell, I'm not from around here. I'm from London. I'm a doctor, here to do a one-month medical rotation with Dr. Harper."
"Good luck with that."
Jake smacked Billy John on the back of his head. Meera's eyes widened.
Jake quickly interjected. "Now, listen up, I've asked Dr. Mal." He frowned at Meera.
"Malhotra, but please call me Meera."
"I've asked Dr. M. to give you all physicals" there was a chorus of groans and protests "which will be mandatory if you want to work here. So shut it. Last one to get their checkup will have to clean the entire house top to bottom." More groans followed. "And I do mean the whole house."
"Please don't worry. I'll make it as quick and painless as possible," Meera said soothingly.
The protests and general grumbling continued as everyone rinsed their dishes and filed out. Meera stood in the corner watching the whole process, her brows creased, eyes dark.
"Don't worrythey'll come around."
"I'm not worried about them." She hesitated. "No more so than the rest of the town, anyway. I still don't know what I did yesterday to make everyone so cross."
Jake smiled. She's in for a surprise. I bet she 'll be packing her bags this afternoon.
"Why come here all the way from London?"
She shrugged. "I was required to do a one-month rotation and thought it might be fun to do it in a small town."
"But why here? Why not someplace closer to home?"
"I've never been anywhere outside the UK on my own. Or Indiathat's where my parents and I are from originally. I've always wanted to visit America, and this seemed like a good opportunity. Besides, it will be good for me to learn how medicine is practiced in rural areas like this one." She sounded rehearsed. There was definitely more to the story; it was written all over her face.
"That sounds like a mighty boring reason to be here all month."
She began twisting the watch on her wrist. Jake sensed she wanted to say more, but she didn't continue. What aren't you telling me, Meera?
"Well, you might get more than you bargained for, but I'm sure you'll make the best of it." She bit her lip, and Jake found himself staring at the way her mouth moved.
"Won't you give me a hint of what to expect when I go into town today?" she pleaded.
He laughed and shook his head. "There's no way to explain it. You'll have to experience it for yourself."
"Any words of advice?"
He grinned. "Yeah, give 'em hell!"
She laughed. It was a pleasant, tinkling sound, and for some reason he wanted to make her do it again.
"Well, thank you for giving me a roomthe cottage is just what I need for the month." She got a faraway look in her eye. "Do you own this ranch?" she asked suddenly.
"My father does. It's been in my family for a long time, passed down four generations now."
"So you grew up here, then?"
He nodded. "I was born right upstairs and spent my whole life here."
"Must be nice to have roots." Her voice had a sad longing in it.
"It's what makes this my home." Jake was surprised to hear his own voice catch. Home this ranch is so much more than home.
"Is your father still alive?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
First Comes Marriage is my first read by Sophia Sasson. I was captivated by Ms Sasson's storytelling from page one. Meera and Jake's story is a train wreck of opposites being attracted to each other. From different countries, to different cultures, even to different foods, two people couldn't be more different. Ms Sasson has guided us through the ups and downs of Meera and Jake in this well written story. First Comes Marriage is enhanced by fantastic characters, humor and drama. I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more from Sophia Sasson in the future. First Comes Marriage is a complete book, not a cliff-hanger. I won a copy of this book from Goodreads.