Tina Leonard, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author

Frisco Joe’s Fiancee

Read the Excerpt

Chapter One

“You need help,” Mimi Cannady told Mason Jefferson as they peered at each other with some distrust. Outside, a storm brewed over Union Junction, Texas, crackling and vicious. “You’ll thank me for this later, Mason. I just know it.”

He turned his head to stare at the want ad she’d typed on the glowing computer screen. The room was dim, almost dark, as the February night had fallen swiftly, obliterating the cold light of winter. Mimi was right: he did need help at the ranch. Woman help.

His family: the Jefferson brothers of the Jefferson Ranch, better known as Malfunction Junction. Twelve men, each on a mission of survival in a family that loved each other, but like an old piano, had become woefully out of harmony.

Still, he wasn’t sure Mimi’s unconventional idea was the way to get the help he—or the family—needed. “I don’t like it,” he said for the tenth time.

“What if the woman we get is …” He searched for a word that wouldn’t irritate the woman he’d known ever since their childhoods on neighboring ranches. Mimi was spunky, witty, a veritable handful of laughter and quixotic temperament—always into everything. As the daughter of the town sheriff, she’d made a habit of skirting the law, just for fun. “What if the woman we get is not useful to mysituation?”

Mimi’s gaze turned from the computer screen to his face, touching every feature, it seemed, in a strangely searching manner. This childhood friend of his had gotten him into trouble more than once—he’d desperately like to know what was behind her blue eyes now. Thunder rumbled, ever closer to Malfunction Junction, the only home Mason and his eleven brothers had ever known.

Eleven wild, almost Grizzly Adams-types.

From Mimi’s point of view, Mason was little better than his younger eleven.

I need help.

“The ad goes through the agency, you can always send her back,” Mimi said, her tone reassuring. “It’s like using a nanny service. If you don’t like her, you let the company know. But my friend, Julia Finehurst, who runs the Honey-Do Agency, has made a reputation matching up the right people to the right situations. I’m sure you’ll get exactly what you want.”

Mimi had told him many things over the years, and, infrequently, she was right on the money. But infrequent was the operative word. He read the overly specific, purposefully careful ad one more time:

Middle-aged man requires live-in housekeeper to cook and clean for family of twelve cowboys on a thousand-acre ranch. Must like ranch living, not be offended by occasional swearing, not be afraid of snakes, large animals, extreme heat, insects, loneliness. Applicant must be forty-five or older, mature, able to cook real well. Best time to interview after nightfall.

“I don’t like the part about me being a middle-aged man,” he protested. “You’ve always said thirty-seven was just right for the picking.”

Mimi cleared her throat, clearly trying to think of a rebuttal. Mason raised a brow, curious to hear what she came up with.

“No female is going to come all the way out here if she suspects she’s going to be man prey. At least no serious job applicant,” she stressed. “We don’t want anyone to misunderstand what kind of position you’re looking to fill.” For a half second, she examined her fingernails, seeming to consider other points of argument. “Besides, that was my only line in the ad, Mason. You added all the other drawbacks that are sure to run off good women. You practically want her to be a goddess.”

“Maybe you should put in something about law-abiding. I don’t want any wild women on the property,” he said, eyeing Mimi’s long blond tresses. Her hair hung to her waist, hardly ever curled or styled, though occasionally she tortured it into a braid so that she could pull it through the back of a baseball cap.

It was hard to believe she was thirty-two.

It was harder to believe that he was the sole caretaker of younger brothers and a family ranch. There was simply too much to do, and while everyone pitched in with the ranch work, the three houses with four brothers each pitifully lacked a woman’s touch to make them homes.

An older woman’s touch, as Mimi had pointed out. A calming, settling influence.

An older woman, even a motherly figure, was fine with Mason, because none of the Jefferson males had expressed the least desire for a wife – mainly because they were all satisfied to continue sowing their wild oats. A younger woman might prove a distraction to their work, and they had enough of those. Plus, a young woman would want a family eventually, and they had more family than they could handle.

“It’s now or never,” Mimi said softly as the trees whipped around the two-story house. “It’s going to take Julia some time to find appropriate applicants.”

Strong wind cried through the branches, and lightning lit the room, showing Mimi’s gaze on him. “Though I’ve attached a picture of you to this email, it’s going to be tough to find a decent woman to want to come out here and live in hard conditions. The cattle sale is in two weeks, and I’m not coming over here to cook and clean up after your crew while you’re gone. I’ve got enough on my hands as it is.”

“I wouldn’t want you to. You might lead my brothers into avoiding their duties.”