Liam's Invented I-Do, page 1part #3 of Seven Sons Ranch in Three Rivers Romance Series
Liam’s Invented I-Do
Seven Sons Ranch in Three Rivers Romance, Book 3
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Callie Foster sat on the edge of her bed, the magic of Christmas hardly touching her heart. She normally loved the holidays, especially since the Walker brothers had moved in next door and started sprucing this lane up. They put up garlands and hung Christmas balls on their fences. And the giant oak tree Callie had always coveted in front of their house was filled with lights, tinsel, balls, and even a popcorn string.
That had been added quite last minute for Oliver Osburn, Ivory’s son. Ivory was married to Tripp Walker, and Callie couldn’t think about the Walker brothers or the ranch next door without thinking about Liam Walker.
“Oh, Liam.” She sighed as she ran her hands through her dirty blonde hair. She hadn’t showered in a couple of days, but she had plenty of time before the big Christmas dinner at Seven Sons Ranch.
Callie normally loved going next door and eating a meal she hadn’t had to think about or cook. Or clean up after. Not only that, but Jeremiah Walker was a fantastic cook, and Callie’s mouth was already watering for some of the ham candy he’d serve for lunch.
But it wasn’t Miah that made Callie’s pulse skip around, and it wasn’t Miah she dreamed about at night, and it wasn’t Miah who’d asked her out or offered to buy her ranch or actually proposed a crazy idea to help her and Simone keep the Shining Star.
“Actually proposed,” she said aloud to herself, the sight of Liam down on one knee, holding that giant diamond out to her, so much hope on his face.
Callie had said no, of course. At the time, she was not going to take Liam Walker’s money, even if her ranch was only a month away from getting foreclosed on. She was not going to marry him for his money either, though she’d been all for the idea when it was Evelyn walking down the aisle.
“That was different,” she told herself as she padded down the hall to the kitchen. Everything around the ranch was just on the wrong side of shabby-chic, with more shabby than anyone would like.
She set the coffee to brew, no sign of Simone yet. Her sister loved to sleep late, and they had no reason to get up early even if it was Christmas morning. If Callie wanted to get Simone out of bed, she’d make a bacon quiche, the saltiness of the bacon a scent her sister couldn’t resist.
Callie had no room to talk, as her brands of kryptonite included ice cream and potato chips. She’d had to go up a size the last time she bought jeans, and the stress of keeping the ranch afloat hadn’t helped her ease up on her comfort foods.
So she didn’t tempt her sister with bacon, and she went back down the hall to shower while the coffee brewed. She took a long time in the hot spray, first spritzing her eucalyptus mist and inhaling the clear, clean scent to clear her mind, and then reaching for her purple shampoo.
Her hair was naturally blonde, but her stylist had told her to use the brassy-reducing shampoo a few times a month, and Callie was a little bit protective of her hair. At this time, this was all she had in her life.
She hadn’t been out with anyone in several years, as she spent all of her time, energy, talent, and money on the ranch. In quiet moments while she stood in the shower, Callie wondered what it would be like without the Shining Star.
What should I do? she prayed, tilting her head back as if that would allow the prayer easier access to God’s ears. He hadn’t answered any of her previous prayers about the ranch, and though she felt a bit abandoned by Him, she still went to church every week. But she hadn’t felt anything there either. She wondered if she was completely past feeling and should just give up.
She and Simone could sell the ranch and get a house in town. Simone could still do her antique restoration, and her craft fairs, and Callie would…be completely unhappy.
She loved the ranch with everything inside her, and she couldn’t imagine her life without it.
You’ve gotta do something then, she thought and she reached for the lemongrass soap, the scent another of her favorites.
By the time she’d dried, dressed, curled, combed, painted, and plaited her hair, she could smell the evidence that Simone had beaten her to making breakfast. Thankfully.
“Merry Christmas,” her sister said from her spot in front of the stove. She grinned like she was thirty years younger and Santa had brought them dozens of toys.
“Merry Christmas,” Callie said, getting down a mug for her coffee. “What are you making?”
“French toast,” Simone said. “And Mom’s hash brown hash.”
“Mm.” Callie smiled at her sister and opened the fridge to get out some cream for her coffee. She couldn’t find it, and she straightened, remembering that she hadn’t bought more cream when she’d gone grocery shopping last time.
Because they couldn’t afford it.
She turned back to the island and set her coffee down, sighing.
“Why don’t you just tell Liam you’ll marry him?” Simone asked.
“Because,” Callie said.
“Because I’m not taking charity from any of those Walker men.”
“Because you’re prideful,” Simone said. “If one of them was proposing to me, I’d not only say yes, I’d say heck yes.” She smiled and flipped the French toast. “I mean, what’s not to like? Liam is super good-looking, he—”
“You said hot last night,” Callie said, cocking her eyebrows and adding too much sugar to her coffee. But she had to do something to make it palatable without cream.
“Fine, he is hot,” Simone said. “They all are, and if you can’t admit it, you’re blind.”
“I can admit it,” Callie said.
“Good.” Simone flipped the three pieces of French toast onto a plate from the pan and set it on the counter next to Callie. “And he’s rich, and he wants to help, and he’s liked you for a very, very long time.”
Callie thought of something Tripp had said to her months ago. You have to know he really likes you.
Callie knew, and she felt really bad for keeping Liam at arm’s length. Especially because her own feelings for the “super good-looking” cowboy next door were too high and too adva
And that scared her more than almost anything.
More than losing the ranch?
That was the million-dollar question, and if Callie could just answer it…
“Morning,” Evelyn trilled as she came through the front door, her own cowboy billionaire husband right behind her. Rhett had helped a ton on the ranch over the past year, and Callie was extremely grateful for him. But one cowboy’s work wasn’t enough to save the Shining Star, and Callie had hidden everything from her sister and her brother-in-law. Because Rhett had plenty of money too, and Evelyn knew how to login to the mortgage company and pay the bills.
“Merry Christmas,” Simone said gleefully. “Did you bring the syrup?”
“Right here,” Rhett said, setting it down on the countertop before kissing Simone’s cheek and then Callie’s. “Whoa, what’s wrong here?”
“Nothing,” she said, putting a smile on her made-up face.
“You look nice.” Evelyn sat at the bar, her eyes sharp and all-seeing. “What’s going on? You gonna try to win over Liam?”
Rhett chuckled. “She already has, like a year ago.” He slung his arm around Evelyn and grinned at Callie. “All you have to do is say the right word.”
Callie’s misery knew no bounds, and she nodded. “I’ll be right back.”
“Cal,” Evelyn called after her, but she couldn’t stay in the kitchen for another second. She was going to cry, and nobody needed to see her mascara mask. Frustration and anger combined with her misery, and she barely made it behind a closed door before the first sob pulled through her throat.
She entered the homestead at Seven Sons Ranch last, automatically looking around for Liam. He wasn’t in the room yet, and Callie relaxed a little bit.
“Hey, Cal,” Miah said as he came in behind her. “Wow, you look nice. Merry Christmas.” He smiled at her and squeezed her hand as he moved past her. “Liam’s right behind me, and he’s pretending to be happy.”
Join the club, Callie thought, but she just turned around and saw Liam coming toward her. The butterflies that lived perpetually in her stomach intensified, and she tucked her hair behind her ear.
She went to step back outside, her thoughts tangled. But maybe she could tell him she’d reconsidered the proposal. Maybe….
Her foot caught on the edge of the sliding glass door, and Callie stumbled. A cry came from her mouth, and everything started to move so, so fast.
“Whoa,” she heard Liam say as if she was a horse. Humiliation filled her as her knees hit the deck just outside the door. Her hands landed next, and then Liam was there, one of his warm hands on her back, the other on her arm.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he said as if he knew she was only a breath away from crying for the second time that day.
She looked up at him through her lashes, feeling stupid for so many things. This latest fall was just one of them. Liam was downright gorgeous, no “super good-looking” or “hot” about it. He’d always made her heart flutter as if it had grown wings, and she couldn’t believe he liked her.
She wondered if he liked her for her, or because he felt some sense of duty to help her. She’d never asked him that. Never mentioned it to anyone. And she wasn’t ever going to.
Liam certainly looked at her like he liked her, but Callie wasn’t sure why. She carried too much weight, and her greatest asset was kindness. Well, that, and her perfectly non-brassy hair.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “You wanna try getting up?”
“Yes, please,” she said, accepting his help for this. Why couldn’t she accept it when it came to taking thousands and thousands of dollars from the man?
She got to her feet, the steadiness of Liam’s hand in hers so comforting. It was starting to get colder in Texas, and she felt a shiver run down her spine. “Merry Christmas, Liam,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “It could be.” He grinned at her and reached out and tucked her hair. “Have you—?” He cut off the sentence and held up his hands, backing up. “Never mind. Of course you have.”
Callie didn’t know what to say. She needed more time to think. To talk to Evelyn and Simone again.
A general wave of hellos went up, and Liam nodded toward the house behind her. “Tripp and Ivory are here.”
And Callie wanted to talk to Ivory. Thankfully, Oliver came skipping out to the deck. “Tripp, can we go see Pretzel real quick?”
“Sure thing, bud,” he said, glancing at Callie. “But we have to be quick, okay? Jeremiah will have dinner on soon, and he doesn’t like it when things start late.”
“We’ll be so fast.” Oliver zoomed away from them, making race car noises with his mouth. Liam chuckled, nodded at Callie, that edge of hope in his eyes, and turned to follow the boy.
Callie let him go without even saying thank you for helping her stand up. Pure humiliation filled her, and she turned back to the homestead. It was almost time for lunch, and she wanted to talk to Ivory. She knew Tripp had married her to help her catch up with her bills and help her keep full custody of her son.
And Callie needed to know how Ivory did that, because then maybe she would be able to do the same thing with Liam.
Liam Walker grinned at Oliver Osburn, the boy’s enthusiasm exactly what Liam needed to get through this day.
And of course, the very first person he’d seen upon coming in from the ranch was Callie Foster. The very scent of her perfume had met his nose before he’d come out of the barn, and he hated that his pulse still pumped out too many beats at the thought of seeing her. But it did. He liked her a whole lot, despite the last few rocky months.
Very rocky months.
And “few” wasn’t the right number. Ever since Rhett and Evelyn’s wedding, which was nine months old now, had Liam and Callie been fighting over whether or not he could help her keep the Shining Star Ranch in the Foster family.
Every month, he watched the desperation in her eyes grow. Every month, he watched her dig her heels in harder. He’d suggested everything he could think of, and Callie had done some of them. But the Historical Society of Texas had denied her application for historical status at the ranch. That would’ve at least prevented the land sharks from circling.
Liam had seen another fancy town car drive down the lane just last week. He hadn’t left his office and gone next-door to comfort Callie. She knew where to find him, and she hadn’t come to his office.
In fact, Callie very rarely came to Liam, not that he was keeping track.
“Liam, hurry up,” Ollie called, and Liam pulled himself out of his thoughts. He joined the little boy at the fence that kept the horses in their pasture, laughing at the squirrelly child. “You got any peppermints?”
“It’s have,” Liam said. “Do you have any peppermints?”
Oliver bent down and ripped out a handful of grass without saying anything. He held his palm out flat for Pretzel to take the fresh grass, which the horse did.
Liam put his hand in his pocket, the faint crinkling of the wrapper enough to bring over another couple of horses.
“Liam,” Oliver whined. “You got ‘im all riled up.”
He chuckled and took the candy out of his pocket. “It’s fine,” he said. “I have plenty.” He handed the treat to Oliver, who struggled to open it, almost tossing it on the ground once the wrapper gave against his grip.
Pretzel pulled back his lips and gave a disgruntled noise, which made Oliver laugh. “He wants the candy.”
“He sure does, bud. You better hurry up and feed them. Jeremiah—”
“I know, I know,” Oliver said. “He doesn’t like it when we’re late.” He held out the red-and-white striped candy, and Pretzel sucked right into his rubbery lips. Oliver giggled and giggled, and Liam kept giving him peppermin
“All right,” he said, once they’d each had one. “That was their Christmas gift. Now, let’s get inside so we’re not the last ones there.”
“All right.” Oliver skipped away, and Liam followed him, taking in a deep breath of the Texas Christmas air.
“Is today a good day, Lord?” he asked. Maybe today would be a good day for him to talk to Callie, though he sort of already had.
When he entered the homestead, he swept the large room for Callie, his stomach plummeting when he saw her sitting on the couch in the family room, her sisters and Ivory gathered around. Their heads were all bent together, and he could only imagine what they were talking about.
Nothing good, he knew that. Probably him and his insane marriage proposal. His face burned, and he wanted to leave. Surely there was a restaurant or church group serving Christmas dinner today. The only thing that kept him there was Jeremiah. Oh, and his mother and father, who’d come all the way from Grand Cayman.
Everyone seemed to be talking, and with the number of people who’d come to celebrate the holiday, the noise level was off the charts. Liam stood by the back door and watched for a moment, usually not one to sit on the sidelines. He’d just stepped over to Tripp and Rhett when Jeremiah yelled, “Dinner’s ready. Let’s gather over here.”
He stood between the island and the stove, various dishes on the counter in front of him, with more pots and pans on the burners behind him. He wore a black apron, and while Liam had some skills in the kitchen, he never minded when Jeremiah put food in front of him.
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