The Rancher's Marriage Pact

The Rancher's Marriage Pact

by Kristi Gold
The Rancher's Marriage Pact

The Rancher's Marriage Pact

by Kristi Gold

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Overview

In this sexy romance, a billionaire cowboy hires himself a convenient bride to meet the terms of his inheritance ,only to fall for his wife in-name-only.

Dallas Calloway is desperate to find a bride. If the billionaire former rodeo champ’s not married by his birthday, his dreams for the D Bar C will end, thanks to his father’s will. So Paris Reynolds’s arrival at the ranch looks like the answer to his prayers.

The ravishing interior designer is desperate for a job. And Dallas has a proposition he hopes she can’t refuse—marry him for one year, in name only, then get an annulment. But with the irresistible passion raging between them, how will they ever make it a year without sharing a marriage bed?


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781488001604
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 05/26/2022
Series: Texas Extreme , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 185
Sales rank: 9,187
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Since her first venture into novel writing in the mid-nineties, Kristi Gold has greatly enjoyed weaving stories of love and commitment. She's an avid fan of baseball, beaches and bridal reality shows.  During her career, Kristi has been a National Readers Choice winner, Romantic Times award winner, and a three-time Romance Writers of America RITA finalist.  She resides in Central Texas and can be reached through her website at http://kristigold.com.

Read an Excerpt

The Last Chance Ranch…

Her first thought, as she left her compact sedan and strode toward the single-story white stone structure set somewhere between San Antonio and the middle of nowhere. Her second thought—the South Texas weather was ridiculously hot for March. She should never have worn the tailored black blazer and skirt. Fortunately she'd twisted her hair up and off her neck that was now damp with perspiration. Of course in part, her current predicament could be attributed to nerves, not the afternoon sun. And a good dose of desperation.

Once she reached the threshold, Paris flipped her sunglasses up onto her head and noted the wooden plaque to the right of the entry.

"Welcome to the D Bar C, where cowboys and hospitality rule. Take off your boots, hang your hat and come in to sit a spell. And if we don't happen to be here, just reach out and ring the bell."

Cute. Very cute. Unfortunately she wasn't wearing a hat or boots, but what she wouldn't give to kick off her three-inch heels and barrel in barefoot. Not a banner idea when applying for a job, and boy did she need this job. Of course, the position hadn't exactly been announced, yet that hadn't stopped her from showing up, uninvited, which could result in rejection. Nothing new there.

After smoothing a palm down her jacket, Paris drew in a calming breath as she clutched the strap of the teal briefcase hanging from her shoulder. She exhaled slowly before opening the heavy mahogany door to find the place blessedly cool, otherwise she might have shed her blazer to reveal the sheer sleeveless white shell. The area happened to be completely deserted, not one soul in sight behind the lengthy mahogany counter, yet she did spot the aforementioned bell.

She could ring it to summon someone, or she could wait. She could leave, or she could convene some courage and see this through. But she had come too far to give up now.

In a fit of sheer procrastination, Paris took a few moments to study the area with a designer's eye. Aside from the usual office equipment behind the counter, she discovered typical Western decor—burntorange-and-white cowhide chairs set about the waiting area, massive stone fireplace with a heavy wood mantel, a set of horns hanging above said mantel. She moved closer to read the bronze plaque below the sad symbol of human cruelty to find it etched with "Prize twelve-point buck bagged by J. D. Calloway."

Lovely. Just lovely. She supposed she should be thankful dear J.D. had only saved the horns as a souvenir and not the poor deer's entire head.

More than ready to see this spontaneous plan through, Paris turned back to the counter and reached for the bell with a trembling hand. But before she could pick it up, a tall, dark-haired man emerged from an entry at the far end of the office, looking as if he had walked right out of an Old West time warp and into the future. He kept his attention trained on a document clasped in his rather large and masculine hands as he strode toward her, the jingle of spurs echoing against the beige walls, providing her the prime opportunity to do a comprehensive inspection. He was every bit a cowboy, from the top of his tan hat to the tip of his brown leather boots. He wore a faded blue shirt and equally faded blue jeans, yet the large silver belt buckle drew her immediate focus. She noticed the word Champion before her gaze traveled lower to a place no self-respecting, professional woman should go.

"Can I help you, ma'am?"

At the sound of the incredibly deep voice, Paris's attention returned to the cowboy's face, her cheeks flaming from mortification. "Uh, actually, I'm…" Heavens, the impact of his silver-blue eyes caused her to forget her name. She'd seen several photographs of him, yet none had done Dallas Calloway justice.

He reacted to her momentary mental lapse with a half smile, revealing a deep dimple creasing the left of his whisker-shaded jaw. "Are you lost?"

"Not really," she managed to say although in a sense she did feel a bit lost. "I'm Paris Reynolds."

He leaned over the counter and offered a hand. "Dallas Calloway. What can I do for you?"

That question was as loaded as a shotgun. But since this man could hold the key to her future financial security, she had to regain her composure. "I'm here about your new venture."

Before he could respond, a petite woman dressed in a plain tailored floral blouse covering faded jeans, her silver-and-brown hair twisted into a braid, strode into the room and pulled up short when she caught sight of the pair. She eyed Paris with suspicion as she made her way to Dallas's side. "Whatever you're selling, we're not buying."

Paris had the feeling no one crossed this woman and lived to tell about it. "I'm not selling anything but my services."

She huffed. "For your information, my stepson doesn't have to pay for it."

When awareness dawned, another bout of embarrassment plagued Paris. "You've definitely misunderstood my motives. I'm here to discuss a business proposition." Not that the explanation sounded much better, evidenced by the woman's raised eyebrows.

"Stop jumping to conclusions, Mom," Dallas interjected. "I'm fairly sure that's not what she's selling."

The woman propped a hand on her hip and sneered.

"Dallas deals on a daily basis with females who come here under the guise of business."

"Oh, so true, Maria," came from behind Paris. "Our stepson is a regular chick magnet."

Paris turned to find a pretty middle-aged blonde dressed in a chic coral sundress, standing at the front door. Apparently the place was rife with the now-deceased J. D. Calloway's wives. Determined to get off on the right foot with this one, she held out her hand and smiled. "I'm Paris Reynolds."

The blonde returned her smile and shook her hand with much more gusto than Paris expected. "I'm Jenny Parks Calloway, J.D.'s third wife."

"Not officially," Maria added in a sour tone.

Paris assumed there must be a story behind that comment, but chose to remain silent and await the fallout between the feuding former spouses.

It came out in Jenny's intense frown. "Please forgive the second missus. Sometimes Maria forgets her manners. What shade on the color chart is your blond, if you don't mind me asking?"

Paris's hand immediately went to her hair. "I wouldn't know. I'm actually a natural blonde."

Jenny chuckled. "Oh, so am I."

"And I'm the queen of Texas," Maria said with a smirk.

Ignoring the other mother, Jenny turned her smile back on Paris. "By the way, I love, love, love your suit, sugar."

Paris grasped to find a return compliment. "Thank you, and I love your bracelet."

Jenny twisted the diamond and silver leaf bauble around her wrist. "And thank you. I picked this up at a silent auction at the art center in San Antonio last month."

Unbelievable. "Really? I was there, too." But she hadn't had the funds to bid. She'd been there to drum up business. An unsuccessful plan that had led her to this remote ranch.

Jenny laid a hand beneath the strand of pearls at her throat. "A small, small world it is."

"Way too small if you ask me," Maria grumbled.

Jenny sent her another scowl. "No one asked you, Maria, and no one appreciates your attitude or your sarcasm. You really should learn some Southern decorum."

"I think we all can work on that," Dallas chimed in as he opened the half door built into the counter. "Ms. Reynolds, if you'll follow me to my office, we can get away from all this verbal sparring and you can tell me what you need."

"But make it quick," Maria added. "He has work to do."

"Oh, hush," Jenny replied as Paris stepped through the opening. "He's not too busy to entertain a pretty girl. Also, their names go so well together—Paris and Dallas. Sounds like a match made in heaven."

"Sounds like an airport flight schedule," Maria muttered.

"It's high time he meets a nice girl, Maria," Jenny added. "Don't forget what's coming up at the end of the week and we both know what that means."

If only Paris knew what that meant. Regardless, she could tell Dallas wasn't comfortable with the conversation when he rushed toward an opening to his left without responding.

With her mind riddled with confusion, Paris followed Dallas down a lengthy corridor, all the while unsuccessfully trying to keep her eyes off his derriere. She found the way he dangled his arms at his sides, his perfect lean build and the roll of his hips quite fascinating.

Good grief. Evidently the lengthy amount of time she'd been without male companionship had her falling head over common sense over some cowboy. Okay, not just any cowboy. An extremely gorgeous, rich cowboy who had succeeded at everything he'd tried, from rodeo to ranching, according to what she'd read on the internet. A far cry from her seedy ex-husband who'd managed to screw up everything he'd endeavored, including their marriage.

Dallas soon paused to lead Paris into a well-appointed office that served as a tribute to his success. The lush brown leather sofa and love seat set near the window complemented his masculine aura, and the massive mahogany desk spoke to his rugged persona. The hand-scraped dark wood floors topped off the decor that couldn't have been done any better if she'd done it herself, even if it wasn't exactly her cup of tea.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked as he crossed the room to the elaborate granite-covered wet bar in the corner.

"Water would be fine," she said, although wine would be better, she thought.

"Water it is. Have a seat."

After settling in a beige club chair across from the desk, Paris set her case on the floor, crossed her legs, adjusted her skirt and prepared to make her pitch. She decided to begin with casual conversation and in the same instant, assuage her natural curiosity. "If you don't mind my asking, what's coming up at the end of the week?"

"I turn thirty-eight on Saturday," he said as he retrieved a crystal highball glass from the upper cabinet.

Six years her senior. Not too bad. Not that it mattered. "Big party planned?"

Once he filled the tumbler with ice from a bucket on the counter, then poured water into it from a pitcher he pulled from the built-in stainless refrigerator, he returned to the desk and set the glass on a coaster before her. "I hope like hell that's not going to happen. I'm not one for having people making a big deal over my birthday."

She sensed he would be that kind of man. "I have a feeling your stepmothers might be planning a big deal."

He dropped down into the chair behind the desk, leaned back and affected a relaxed posture, but his expression said he didn't exactly appreciate her conjecture. "They know better than to pull that on me."

Paris gathered he might be suffering from a severe case of the birthday blues. "Are you sure? It sounded as if at least one of them wants you to have a date for some soiree, hence the nice girl comment."

He sent her that sexy, crooked smile again. "If that's the case, are you volunteering to fill the role?"

If she were only that brave. Then again, if it helped her secure the job… "I generally avoid mixing business with pleasure, although your family seemed to jump to the conclusion that my business is pleasure."

He narrowed his eyes and studied her straight on. "Speaking of that, what exactly do you do for a living?"

The suspicion in his tone ruffled her feminine feathers. "It doesn't involve a nine hundred number or a pimp, I promise you that."

Now he looked amused. "Glad you cleared the air."

So was she, and she planned to be perfectly clear. "In reality, I'm—"

"Wait. Let me guess." He inclined his head and pointed at her. "You're a stockbroker and you want to get your hands on my investments."

She might like to get her hands on something of his that happened to be a far cry from his portfolio. Since when had she become a purveyor of naughty thoughts? "Not even close."

He rubbed a palm over his chin. "I would bet the back forty you have an accounting degree."

If he only knew about her lack of accounting skills, he would never have assumed such a thing. That downfall had landed her in deep trouble and served as another reason for being there, about to beg for employment. "Believe me, math is not my forte."

"Marketing?"

In an effort to clear her parched throat, Paris took a quick sip of water. "Try again."

His gaze landed on her fingers still wrapped around the glass. "Considering your perfectly manicured nails, I'm guessing you're not a ranch hand."

"I haven't even seen a cow up close."

"Not even on your dinner plate in the form of filet mignon?"

"I'm primarily a vegetarian."

"I'm strictly a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy."

What a shocker. "I won't judge your food preferences if you won't judge mine."

"Agreed." He took off his hat to place it brim up on the desk, then forked a hand through his dark brown hair that worked well with those deadly blue eyes. "If you're a beautician, I don't need one. Just a quick round with the clippers and I'm good to go."

Yes, he was. Good enough to go anywhere he might want to take her. "No, I'm not a hairstylist. Do you give up now?"

"Yep. I'm all out of guesses."

The time had come to lay all her cards on the table, less a few secrets he didn't need to know. "I'm a commercial interior designer." Disgraced designer.

"No kidding?" he said, sounding somewhat awed over the admission.

"No kidding. And that's why I'm here. I wanted to speak to you about—"

"Hey, Dallas, I'm about to head out."

Paris shifted in her seat to see a young, buff blond guy filling the doorway. Aside from the tattered jeans and worn cowboy boots, he looked more surfer than rancher. Or body builder in light of the fit of the lime-green T-shirt hugging his muscled arms and torso.

"Where are you going now?" Dallas asked, looking and sounding none too pleased.

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