On His Bended Knee: a Sweet Marriage of Convenience series
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“Wives? As in married? To women?”
“Unless there’s something about you that we should know, Ramos.”
Xavier Ramos reached over and tried to smack Reed Cannon in the head, but the other man raised his prosthetic arm to ward off the attack. There was nothing wrong with his reflexes. Ramos’s flesh hit Cannon’s metal and Ramos winced.
“Can’t we get the zoning changed?” asked Sean Jeffries. He had his sunglasses off now that they were all inside one of the ranch’s barns.
The men had converted the old barn into a gaming room complete with large flat screens, an old-fashioned record player and tape deck, and every gaming console including an antique Atari which Rees had brought back to life with his techno-genius.
“It would be a long process,” said Dylan. “And in the meantime, we’d all have to leave the ranch while the powers that be waded through all the red tape.”
The men were lounging in recliners or sitting on bar stools, but an anxious hum went around the room. The ranch was their haven, their home. Even for those who had somewhere that they could go, leaving was not an option.
Unlike with Dylan, Jeffries’s family hadn’t rejected him. They called the ranch on a regular basis. It was Jeffries who didn’t want them to see him. It wasn’t just the scar on his face that shamed him. He suffered from PTSD and was prone to flashbacks. He could be taken back to the war-torn deserts of the Middle East when he slept, or with loud noises he could readily identify. The men surrounding him knew how to manage his episodes. But Jeffries was terrified of hurting someone he cared about. And so he stayed away from his family and wouldn’t receive their calls.
“Aren’t you all missing the obvious?” They all turned to Reed and waited for his revelation. Reed took his time. The man had a bit of the flare for the dramatic at times. “We just need to get married.”
Eyes and heads rolled as everyone turned away from the proclamation. Except Fran.
“It’s not a bad idea,” Fran said. “People do it all the time. For green cards, for financial stability, some fools even do it for something called love.”
Dylan had been such a fool who wanted to get married for love. Or what he thought was love. He had no idea where the plan came from as his own parents hadn’t been in love.
Catherine and Charles Banks had married for social standing. The irony was that they couldn’t stand each other. Though the rest of society would never know it. At parties, they put on a show of devotion and compatibility. They used to put on the show at home for Dylan when he was a kid. But they soon stopped caring about what he saw behind the closed doors of their many homes, which they often occupied separately.
“Who would want to marry a bunch of broken soldiers?” asked Sean.
“Hey, we’re not broken.” Dylan almost believed the words coming out of his own mouth. “We served our country. We are highly skilled. We are loyal, dedicated men.”
Though the speech was impassioned, the faces around him looked doubtful.
“Frances might have a point,” said Xavier, using the feminization of the name to get under Fran’s skin like they all did from time to time. “There are a lot of hard-up women out there. Some probably need a place to stay, money in their pocket, or just a good lay.”
Now it was Dylan who rolled his eyes and neck at the preposterous direction the discussion was taking. He needed his men to focus on viable solutions to this very real problem. But the other men were listening to Xavier’s nonsense.
“Dr. Patel is always saying we need a good woman to heal our hearts.” Reed picked up the gauntlet of the insanity. He was a romantic at heart and still believed love was waiting to come into his arms. “Maybe now’s the time.”
“Patel had an arranged marriage,” said Fran. “And it worked for him.”
“This is the Wild West,” said Reed. “This kind of stuff happened here all the time. Remember the Gold Rush Brides?”
“That was California,” Sean said. The man was a walking encyclopedia. “You mean mail order brides.”
“It would be email now,” said Fran. “No one uses the postal system.”
“We are not finding women on Craig’s List,” said Dylan, pinching the bridge of his nose and squeezing his eyes shut in exasperation.
“Then how are we gonna stay here?”
Dylan wasn’t sure which man said it, but he knew they all were thinking it. He opened his eyes and faced the room full of men. They’d looked to him for leadership when they were in combat, and they looked at him the same way now. How would they win this particular war on the home front?
“We’ll petition the court,” said Dylan. “I have a few contacts in the government.”
“We have more recruits coming in a couple of month. What are we gonna do with them?”
Dylan didn’t have an answer for that. He didn’t know how he would take in another wounded soldier only to potentially turn the man away. As he prepared to turn around, a flash of fur ran through the room.
No, ran wasn’t exactly the right word. Two front paws ran. The two back paws were not there. Instead, two wheels acted as legs that the little dog used to propel himself onward.
Dylan wasn’t the only one who spotted the animal. The other soldiers turned and stared at the creature. The dog stared back. It also slowed down as it looked up at all the big humans eying it.
The dog had had a grin on his face, but under the close scrutiny, his muzzle closed. He pulled his lolling tongue back into his mouth and let out a low whimper.
Dylan bent down to be on the dog’s level. He rested on his good knee, which was a difficult feat for him after a long day. But he had to get a closer look at this dog and his apparatus.
The dog made a slow beeline for Dylan. Dylan put his hand out to the dog. The dog gave the back of his hand a tentative sniff and then a lick.
Who would do such a thing as to take a dog’s hind legs? But more importantly, who would take the time to make a contraption that gave the animal back a semblance of the life he once knew?
“I’m so sorry,” said a feminine voice. “That’s my dog.”
Dylan looked up into the face of the woman. She was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Her hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. She wasn’t wearing a lick of makeup. She looked fresh, clean, capable.
She marched into the room, not like she was on a catwalk, but like she was on a mission. She reached for the dog and he saw her hands were un-manicured. When one of her rough fingers brushed the skin of his forearm, Dylan felt a spark. His breath caught and so did hers.