Cold Hard Cash
We are Dead Horse, MT, Book 1
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The wealthiest man in Dead Horse, MT, decides it’s time to acquire a wife and gives his eminently efficient personal assistant the task of finding the perfect candidate…
The wealthiest man in Dead Horse, MT, Cash Whitaker, decides it’s time to find a wife before he begins his campaign for mayor. He figures having the right wife will increase his likability as a candidate. Becoming the mayor is important because the office will give him the power to protect his town by cleaning out the bounty hunters, who aren’t “Dead Horse” and have put his town on the map for all the wrong reasons.
Being a busy man and knowing his particular skill set doesn’t lend itself to the task, he decides to give the responsibility of finding a wife to his highly efficient personal assistant. He’ll let her put together a list of suitable candidates for him to sort through to find the woman who will help him on the path to his ultimate goal of becoming the governor of Montana.
Lila Hanson is spitting mad that her boss wants her to find him a wife. The single mom has spent two years becoming his ultimate asset, only to have him completely overlook her as the perfect candidate. When she turns to her girl squad to vent, they suggest a plan to open the clueless man’s eyes to what’s right in front of him.
However, a tragic incident throws both their plans into chaos and brings a new intimacy neither can ignore. Now, they have to work together to save an orphaned child.
Read an Excerpt
Cash Whitaker walked out onto the front porch of his home with a fresh cup of coffee. He’d finished moving in last night. Not until the last bit of furniture had been placed just right, all the fresh paint had dried, and his refrigerator was filled had he felt like it was ready to inhabit.
Cash was deliberate like that. Every action considered. Every decision calculated. He didn’t spend his money unless he’d gone over the figures in his head and decided the investment was one that would earn him more—only then would he part with a single dime.
He hadn’t become the richest man in Dead Horse, Montana, by being stupid. Hell, he was the richest in the county. But before he hit fifty, he was determined to be the wealthiest in the state—even though he was competing with tech billionaires and Hollywood cowboys, who bought up property in Montana because it was the thing to do.
Cash wasn’t determined to have the most because he loved money. No, but he loved what it bought him. Peace, privacy, respect. He’d figured the only way to get it and keep it was to make sure he could buy up tracts of land and keep it out of the hands of the “blow-ins”—all those folks who didn’t belong here and didn’t have history, family, to lay claim to the wilderness. They hadn’t earned it. Wouldn’t protect it. Not like him.
This house was just another investment. One that would grow in value because he’d done it right—using the best materials according to the best design. It would last as long as castles in Europe but without the mold and gloom.
When he was gone from this earth, everyone would remember his name.
But first steps first. He had a solid financial portfolio, one that he reviewed every morning before he headed out. He traded stocks and invested in risky ventures with high returns because he had a nose for what would increase in value—if not now, five years, ten years, twenty from now.
Money was something he had a natural knack for accumulating.
Not so, friends.
Sure, he had acquaintances aplenty. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce. Had a seat on the local school board and the city council. Due to his love of motorcycles, he had the local MC, Dead Horse Bones ’n’ Bikes, buddies he rode with. He was closest to them, but wouldn’t call them ride-or-die friends. However, he hadn’t bothered his ass to get truly close to anyone in Dead Horse. He didn’t share his inner secrets or ambitions with anyone. Not since high school when he’d been captain of the football team. Once he’d headed to college at Northwestern, he hadn’t kept in touch with his teammates. He’d worked on Wall Street and at a couple of international banks, learning his way around money and meeting influential people. But what good were wealth, success, and influence if he was just another fish in a well-to-do pond?
So, he’d come back to this backward town, buying up properties or offering cash to prop up businesses in need of silent partnerships. No one in town really knew how many businesses he owned outright.
He’d keep it that way until he figured out his next steps. Lately, he’d come to the conclusion that he ought to get out of his comfort zone a bit. Meet some people. Develop some ties. If he planned to run for mayor, he’d need friends. It was probably time to call in some markers.
He hadn’t come to that conclusion easily, but seeing what was happening on the opposite end of town—when a man named Fletch Winter had bought up the property that currently housed the Montana Bounty Hunters agency—rankled him. Fletch and his crew weren’t Dead Horse. Hell, most weren’t even Montanans. They didn’t belong. However, they were the ones putting the town on the map with their dumbass cable TV show, Bounty Hunters of the Northwest—We Are Deadhorse. He didn’t like it. Not one bit. They were outsiders and were letting the world see their town, horns and all.
Maybe he didn’t like that it hadn’t been his idea. His investment.
Whatever. They had to go. If he ran for mayor, he might have a chance of fiddling with their zoning and muscling them out.
So what if some of the townsfolk liked the hunters? So what if tourists spent their dollars in the townsfolks’ stores? And yeah, the hunters spent plenty on guns and ammo in his gun store and for time at the local gun range, which he also owned although nobody knew it.
Just the sight of them moving around town like they belonged irritated him.
Or maybe he was just grumpy. Envious of someone who’d had a good idea and it wasn’t his. Maybe that was it. Being self-aware didn’t make his attitude any different.
Maybe he needed to find a woman.
That thought drifted through his mind before he could shut it down.
Women, he could have. A woman, one woman—well, he wasn’t going to be foolish. They were expensive and untrustworthy. They’d want his attention at inopportune times. He’d have to buy them things, and heaven forbid if he ever got one pregnant.
No, if he was going to get himself a woman, he’d have to go about it like he did all things—after researching what was out there with marriage as the goal. He’d make a list of qualities he sought. Next, he’d have to do background checks, then pull the candidates’ financials. The background checks would be no problem. Sheriff Malcolm Potter owed him after he’d provided the financial backing for his election. The financials would also be no problem since he was the majority stockholder in the local bank.
He winced at the thought of all the time he’d waste looking for the perfect candidate. Then he remembered he had a personal assistant. An efficient woman who put together detailed plans for new acquisitions, often anticipating his questions and needs.
Yes, he’d push off the onerous task on Lila Hanson and offer her a nice bonus if she succeeded in finding the perfect candidate. If only he could foist the obligatory courting rituals on her as well.
He pulled his iPhone from his pocket and quickly pulled up her number. Lila was the most brilliant hire he’d ever made. Smart, efficient, not overly talkative, and she already operated under an ironclad non-disclosure agreement. She likely wouldn’t balk at a prenup… Too bad she wasn’t in her twenties and already had a kid. She might have been perfect as a partner for his push into politics.
Well, mixing business with pleasure was never a good idea anyway. He’d learned that lesson early on. So what if she was pretty and slim with perfect taste in clothing and décor? She’d taken the lead with the designer he’d hired to decorate this house. All calming colors, neutrals that didn’t make his eyes hurt, but with pops of colors that weren’t too wild but looked tasteful, or so she said.
The phone rang twice before she picked up. He liked that she was never far from her phone. “Lila,” he began before she even said hello, “I have a new challenge for you.”
There was a pause. “What do you need, Cash?”
He liked her crisp, professional response. No doubt she was already reaching for a pen.
“I need you…” He paused, realizing how his request might sound. What successful man needed his PA to find him a wife?
Why did she suddenly sound breathless? Had he caught her while she was on the treadmill? Why did he like that breathy sound so much?
“I’ve been thinking…you know, that plan I have for next steps…?”
“Oh, are you talking about the campaign you mentioned…you running for mayor?” Her words were a little clipped now, back to business.
“Well, it’s kind of related…” Why was he having so much trouble spitting it out?
“Do you need me to see who has already filed so you know who your competition will be now that Mayor Watson has announced his retirement?”
“Of course, but that’s not all…”
Silence on the other end dragged. He grimaced and wrinkled his nose. “I had an idea last night when I was going over qualities voters might want to see in their candidate.”
“Okay, is there something I need to look at, some charitable cause we can add to your resume to improve your likability?”
She said likability with a bit of an edge to her voice. Did she think he wasn’t likable? That he needed to do that much work for voters to trust him? Irritated now, he blurted, “No, I don’t need to find something else to throw my money at. I need to find a wife.”
A snort sounded on the other end. Not the least professional sounding. Then followed breathy huffs and a chortle, which ended in a single, full-bellied laugh. A sound completely out of the norm for his ever-professional assistant.
Just what the hell was so damn funny?
“Lila?” he said with an edge to his voice.
“Sorry,” she said, then snorted again. “Just a sec…” Then nothing. She must have muted her phone. When she came back nearly a minute later, she said, “As you were saying…”
She was back, her words crisp and tone even. The Lila he knew and appreciated.
“…you need a wife?”
“Not just any wife. Someone who can see me through to the governor’s office. I want you to begin putting together a list of eligible women.”
“On it,” she said. “Um, do you have an idea how you want me to proceed? Online dating? An ad in the paper?”
Again, he heard some suspicious breathy laughter. An ad in the paper? Was she joking?
“I’d like it to be a local woman. You’re from around here, so no ad necessary. Maybe look at the women in your church or among the friends you have. She must be intelligent, driven, and presentable—although beauty isn’t required. Style counts for more as a woman ages,” he said, thinking of Lila, who was striking but not beautiful, and who knew how to dress herself regardless of the situation. She was silent for too long. He really wanted her input. “Are you taking notes?”
“A list of attributes might be helpful,” she murmured.
“Single, no kids, late twenties, college-educated.”
Was there a bit of a bite in that last word?
“Yes, of course,” he said. “We’ll have to live together. Oh, and a good person. No scandals.”
“Gotcha. And when I find this paragon?”
“You should probably find a few,” he said, frowning.
“Well, I’ll have to spend time with them. Figure out who works best with me.” Kind of like how I went through personal assistants until I hit gold with you, Lila. Not that he could ever say that aloud because she’d know she held leverage for a raise.
“I’ll get right to work on this.”
“That was all you needed?”
He frowned again at the snippiness he was picking up in her tone. Then he glanced at his watch, which reminded him it was a Saturday. He really didn’t like waiting when he’d already made a decision. However, she was a single mom. “I’ll see you bright and early Monday. Enjoy your weekend,” he said as an afterthought, proud he’d thought to end the conversation with a pleasantry.