Blair Townsend didn't know the meaning of chaos until her holy terror of a nephew came to live with her. Jeffrey needed a positive role modeland Blair wasn't above buying one at the Lost Springs auction. Sexy-as-sin rancher Scott McKay looks as if he'd have no trouble teaching Jeffrey how to be a man. Except Scott seems far more interested in showing Blair how to be a woman .
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When she'd first heard about the plan, Blair Townsend had thought a bachelor auction was a desperate and probably futile scheme to save the financially strapped Lost Springs Ranch for Boys. A bachelor auction? Were they joking? What made these people think they could possibly raise a significant sum of money by parading a group of former ranch residents in front of a bunch of man-hungry women? Selling the guys off like like prize bulls?
Blair had pessimistically predicted that there would be more men up for auction than there would be women to bid on them. And as for the media coverage they were hoping for she'd thought they would be lucky to get a mention in the Lightning Creek Leader.
Now, as she gazed in awe at the TV news vans and reporters crowding the ranch grounds, she was perfectly willing to admit that she had been wrong.
She didn't know how they had done it, but somehow ranch owner Lindsay Duncan and director Rex Trowbridge had pulled off an amazing feat. They had a sizable group of gorgeous bachelors, a stadium full of enthusiastic bidders and a whole herd of reporters there to cover the festivities. The public relations benefits alone should go a long way toward helping Lindsay save her ranchand the lost young boys who needed it.
Blair groaned at the thought of lost young boys. That particular problem hit just a bit too close to home at the moment. A group of boys dashed past her, shouting, laughing, their destination the peeled-log forts and jungle gyms that made up the recently renovated playground. Though somewhat rowdy, they looked as though they were having a great time. It hadn't occurred to her that so many youngsters would be in attendance at a charity bachelor auction. Now she wondered why she hadn't expected itthis was, after all, a boys' ranch.
Maybe she should have brought Jeffrey. It might have been good for him to socialize with other children today. And yet did she really want him spending time with the residents of Lost Springs? Wasn't he difficult and rebellious enough without the influence of this group of troubled boys? She'd spent a lot of time lately worrying that if things didn't improve soon, Jeffrey was going to be a prime candidate for a residential program for boys who were headed for serious problems.
She put a hand to the back of her neck, squeezing the muscle that had tightened theresomething that had been happening with uncomfortable regularity since her ten-year-old nephew had moved in with her six months ago. A familiar burning sensation in her stomach made her reach into the pocket of her cream-colored cardigan for a roll of antacids. She popped a couple in her mouth and chewed grimly. The chalky taste made her grimace.
Wanting something to wash away the residue, she looked toward the crowded pavilion where food and drinks were being sold to an eager throng of customers. The tantalizing, smoky smell of barbecue wafted toward her, making her lick her lips. She had only come to observe the activities today, not to participate in them, but she could at least contribute to the cause by purchasing a soft drink and maybe a hot dog. She would love to indulge in a spicy barbecue sandwich, but she was afraid that would only intensify her heartburn.
Barely thirty, she thought ruefully, and she had to eat like a little old lady. And to think she'd moved to Lightning Creek, Wyoming, to reduce the stress in her life! But that had been before she'd become responsible for Jeffrey.
Several acquaintances greeted her as she approached the barbecue pavilion, people she had met during the year since she'd moved to the area from Chicago to take over her uncle's law practice. Lindsay Duncan, the ranch owner and one of Blair's clients, rushed by with a clipboard in her hand and a slightly harried look on her face. She gave Blair a distracted smile; Blair sent her a bracing thumbs-up in return, knowing Lindsay didn't have time for conversation just then.
Blair really hoped this gamble would pay off. The ranch had been in Lindsay's family for fifty years. Innumerable boys had been housed here, a significant number of them going on to lead successful, productive lives rather than the bleak, deadend futures they'd faced prior to being assigned to the Lost Springs Ranch. Some had been orphans, some children whose parents had been unable or unwilling to provide for them, others had been deemed incorrigible and had been sent here as a last resort before reform school or jail, but all had been given the finest of care and the best of opportunities. Many had taken advantage of the education and counseling they'd received to turn their lives around. Blair knew that the owners and staff of the ranch grieved over every boy who could not or would not be helped.
That thought made the back of her neck tighten again. She was determined that her brother's son would not become one of the sad statistics.
Deciding to forgo the hot dog, she ordered a diet soda from one of the volunteers running the concession booth, a woman whose fairly amiable divorce had been one of Blair's first cases in Lightning Creek. "There you go, hon," fifty-something Arnette Gibbs said as she exchanged a cup of soda for Blair's dollar bill. "Enjoy."
"Thank you, Arnette. Looks like business is booming."
The woman's plump face beamed. "They're keeping us hopping, that's for sure. My goodness, would you look at that crowd gathered around Shane Daniels! If he don't stop signing autographs, he'll never get to the arena in time for the auction."
Following the direction of the older woman's gaze, Blair frowned. "Who is he? A singer? An actor?"
Arnette blinked in surprise that Blair hadn't recognized the name. "Honey, he's a rodeo champion. One of the best bull riders the circuit has ever seen."
"Oh." Blair's frown deepened as she studied the outright idolatry on the faces of the boys crowding around the handsome cowboy. A bull rider? Hardly the type of role model she would choose for her nephew.
"The auction's about to get started," Arnette announced, pointing toward the rapidly filling arena. "You better get over there before all the good ones are gone."
Blair's eyebrows rose. "I didn't come to buy a man. I'm only here to support the fund-raiser."
"Wouldn't hurt you to bid on one of those fine young hunks," Arnette advised cheerfully. "Just because I decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my life catering to Jesse Gibbs's every cantankerous whim don't mean I can't appreciate a pair of broad shoulders and a nice, tight butt. Sure makes for a pleasant diversion on a lazy weekend."
Laughing and shaking her head, Blair moved away from the folding table that had been set up as a sales counter, giving the people in line behind her a chance to be served. She sipped her slightly watery soda as she strolled toward the arena to watch the auction. She couldn't help but be curious. It was certainly a beautiful day for the event, unusually warm for mid-June, the sky that intensely clear blue she'd come to identify with Wyoming. Rolling, wildflower-dotted pastures spread into the distance, crisscrossed by fencing, and on the horizon loomed the purply Wind River Range.
A colorful handmade quilt flapping from a branch of an enormous oak tree caught her eye. Blair loved pieced quilts, appreciating the effort and history that went into each one. A raffle box on a folding table had been set up in front of the quilt, along with a banner that read Converse County Hospital35 Years of Sharing and Caring. A smaller sign proclaimed that proceeds from the quilt raffle would be donated to the Lost Springs Ranch for Boys. So many local organizations had pitched in to help today.
Impulsively, Blair stopped at the table, reaching into her pocket again as she greeted the striking redhead manning the raffle table. "Hello, Twyla. That's a beautiful quilt. I'd like to buy some raffle tickets."
Her cheeks unusually flushed, her manner a bit flustered, the hairstylist who had been cutting Blair's dark blond chin-length hair for the past year reached for the roll of raffle tickets. "Hi, Blair. How many tickets do you want? They're a dollar each."
Blair glanced at the bill she'd pulled from her pocket. "I'll take ten."
Twyla took the bill and handed Blair ten numbered tickets. "The emcee will announce the winning number over the PA system after the auction. Good luck."
"Thanks." Blair glanced wistfully at the quilt's lovely log cabin design. "I'd love to win that."
Someone else approached to buy raffle tickets, and Blair drifted toward the practice arena that had been built for the use of the boys on the ranch. The risers surrounding the arena were filling rapidly, mostly with women. Women of all shapes, descriptions and ages, she thought in amusement, glancing from a group of giggling teenagers to a couple of silver-haired women in spangled jogging suits. As she took an empty space near the front, she noticed that most of the people around her clutched glossy brochures filled with pictures of the men to be auctioned.
"Isn't that a fine-looking group of studs?" the young woman beside Blair asked with a sigh, eyeing the men beginning to take their places in the folding chairs behind the auctioneer's podium. "Lordy, what I wouldn't give for a weekend with any one of them."
Blair smiled at the brunette, who appeared to be in her early twenties. "Are you going to bid?"
The young woman laughed and shook her head. "I'm sure they'll all go for more than I can afford. Some of these guys are famous, all of them are prominent in their fields, and there are some seriously rich women here to bid on them. Women from other states, even. I just came to make a donation to the fund-raiser and watch the fun. And maybe to fantasize a little about doing something wild and crazy with a good-looking stranger."
Wild and crazy. Sounded like a description of Blair's family. The Townsend reckless streak was notorious for spurring on impulsive and imprudent behavior. It was a part of her own nature that Blair had been suppressing for years, ever since it had become clear that someone in her family had to be responsible. That task had fallen to her at a very early age.
She looked again at the men assembling behind the podium, talking among themselves, some posturing good-naturedly for the women who hooted and whistled and flirted outrageously from the audience. If ever there was an opportunity for a woman to do something daring, this auction was it. They were an exceptionally intriguing-looking group of males. Not all of them could be called classically handsome, but it was obvious they were all comfortable with who they had become since leaving the ranch. They'd progressed a long way from the lost boys they'd once been. It must have been a sense of gratitude and obligation to the ranch that had brought them back for this rather odd occasion.
Blair looked from one self-consciously smiling male face to another. Each of them had at one time been in trouble, poised on the brink of potential disaster. Yet they had all chosen to turn themselves around. To make something of themselves. To
Her eyes suddenly widened. Why hadn't she thought of this before? She didn't want Jeffrey spending time with the boys currently at the ranch, but would he benefit from talking to one of these former residents? A man who had been faced with a troubled future but who had chosen the path to success and responsibility instead? Jeffrey had never had a responsible, dependable male role model. Any one of these men would understand what rejection felt like. What it was like to be angry, confused, rebellious, defiant. Maybe they could share the secret of putting those negative emotions behind them so they could get on with their lives.
What if she bought one of these men to spend a weekend with Jeffrey, be a role model for him? It was a crazy idea but she was desperate enough to give it serious consideration as the emcee took the podium and tried to calm the excited crowd so the auction could get under way.
Her thoughtful gaze moved from one bachelor to another. She wished she had one of those brochures so she could read their bios, pick the ones who seemed most responsible. She tried to make some guesses strictly on appearance. The famous rodeo champion was rejected immediately. A footloose, daredevil cowboy was not at all what she had in mind. Jeffrey's father was both a wanderer and a thrill-seeker, and he had certainly not been a good influence on his son.
No, she most definitely did not want a cowboy.
A couple of the other bachelors looked a bit too nonconformist for her taste, she mused as her gaze skimmed across a guy with an earring and a ponytail. What she needed was a man who looked as though he understood the importance of conforming to the rules and expectations of society.
The auctioneer finally had everyone's attention. "So, ladies, put your hands together for our first bachelor, Dr. Robert Carter."
Doctor? Blair straightened with interest as an absolutely gorgeous man stood and stepped toward the podium. A ripple of appreciation went through the audience, followed by wistful sighs when the man whimsically kissed Lindsay Duncan's hand. Blair noted his fabulous lookswhat woman wouldn't?but she was more interested in other details of his appearance. The expensive, conservative haircut. His elegantly casual clothinga navy golf shirt and crisply pressed khakis. The auctioneer introduced him as a successful pathologist, following that up with an amazing list of professional and personal accomplishments. A weekend with this man, Blair thought, tapping her chin, could be exactly what Jeffrey needed. And she would be making a donation to the ranch, a charity that had become close to her heart during the past year.
The bidding for Dr. Robert Carter started at five hundred dollars. To the apparent delight of the woman sitting next to her, Blair bid six hundred. Within minutes, the amount had risen sharply, as had the level of noise from the giddy, keyed-up crowd. Blair dropped out of the bidding at five thousand dollars. The guy looked nice, she thought, but there was a limit to how much she was willing to pay for a weekend that might not accomplish anything, anyway.
"See?" the brunette next to Blair said with rueful amusement. "I told you there are some high rollers in the crowd today."
"You were right," Blair said as the bids topped eight thousand and kept climbing.
The handsome doctor sold for a staggering amount. Blair gasped in surpriseas did a number of others in the audiencewhen the auctioneer called the name of the winning bidder. Sugar Spinelli was seventy-five years old and had been married for half a century! What did she want with a young stud of a doctor?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A sweet and heartwarming story.