Title: Harrison Ranch & Macgregor’s Mail Order Bride
Author: Susan Payne
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Callie St. Michaels, an orphan from New York, felt her only hope for the future was to leave her sous chef position in St Louis. Finding a job as cook for a group of ranch hands in Sweetwater, Kansas, seemed both prophetic and serendipitous. She can continue to practice her recipes while feeding a sizable number of hungry men. Everyone is happy with the outcome except for one man – Seth Harrison, the owner of the ranch and Callie’s employer.
Callie bonds with her new home – her possibly forever home if the man living in the big house can see her as anything besides a lame woman too young to be doing the job she was doing. But she was growing to love the ranch, the people who lived there and, she feared, the man who was her boss.
Seth isn’t sure why, but he feels uncomfortable around the young woman his attorney hired as the ranch hands’ cook. She hasn’t said anything improper, or is unable to do the work required, or is off-putting in any manner. In fact, she is well liked by all the other employees including his own housekeeper. So why does he get so unsettled around her?
She knew her eyes were still red from the afternoon of crying but hoped no one would remark on them. Pasting a smile on her face, she called out, “Come on in. It’s ready. Ring the bell for the others, please.” As usual they began their shuffle in. The first man in, Slim, snatched his hat off his head and pushed a handful of late fall wild-flowers towards her. The very same kinds she thought of picking for herself at one time.
“Thank you, Slim. They’re lovely. I will place them in this jar for all of us to enjoy.” She took up the fork and carving knife and placed a slab of rare roasted beef onto his outstretched plate and added a small ladle of au jus. The next plate was put forward and she greeted that recipient with the same easy friendly manner. Another bouquet of flowers showed up, this time already in a pitcher of water and Callie accepted them graciously then served Rusty a portion of meat.
Callie was touched the men were trying to sympathize with her but weren’t sure how to go about doing that. It made her sad that she may be leaving them just as she was forming these friendships.
A sudden shift in the atmosphere and a rise in mumbling brought Callie's head up from the slice of meat she was carving. Someone had replaced the ranch hand who had been waiting in front of her. She looked straight into the sherry colored eyes trimmed with golden lashes. Callie’s smile disappeared and she bit down hard on her inside cheek to keep from showing any emotion.
Seth wasn’t wearing his hat and held the plate out in front of him, a hesitant smile on his lips as he said, rather too robustly, “Miss Callie, this sure smells great. Thought I’d come down and have a meal with the rest of the men.”
Callie looked down at the roast and fought her instincts to yell, throw something, cry or run - anything to get away from this man. Instead, she pulled on some inner strength and searched around in the bottom of the pan for the piece of roast end she hadn’t planned on serving. Picking it up between the fork and knife blade, she slapped it onto the empty plate. The au jus splashed on to Seth’s shirt and vest but only a slight flutter of his left eyelid indicated he was aware of it.
Callie raised the full ladle and inquired, “Au jus?” The entire row of men stepped back toward the door as one cohesive unit and stared with wide eyes at the hypnotizing drama playing out before them. Seth politely replied, “Thank you, no.”