Twenty-four-year-old Luke Rogers was finding life hard these days. His girlfriend Sara of two years left for Paris on a two-year internship for a high fashion modeling agency as a fashion consultant. They promised each other that they would resume their relationship when she returned to Cedar Hills. He owned a small ranch, cattle and a few horses. His house was a two-story with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, large modern kitchen, and a cozy living room. Having lost his cattle to poisoning and the mortgage on the ranch coming due he found himself in a financial bind. Since the bank in his hometown wouldn’t give him a loan he went to the nearest city and took out a loan six months prior with an investment company run by Mr. Martino. He was known for being heartless and a shrewd businessman. He grew up in Italy but having to escape the mafia as a young man moved to America and started up his new business.
Luke’s loan payment was coming due and he didn’t have the money to make the payment so he decided to take the three-hour drive into the city and see if he could get an extension. It was worth a try. All he had to do was explain that once he took his cattle to the auction he would be able to pay the loan off in full and still have plenty of money left to start over. The problem was the auction wasn’t for another four months.
He sat waiting patiently in Silvio’s office, arms crossed and ignoring the looks he was getting from the receptionist. She was eyeing him as though he was a piece of meat and wanted to devour him. It didn’t go unnoticed how she undid a couple of the buttons on her top, showing off her cleavage.
“You can go in now Mr. Rogers,” she said as she leaned over her desk, letting him get a good look at her breasts.
“Thank you,” he said, removing his hat walked in the door she pointed to, shutting it behind him. He looked at the man behind the glass desk. Silvio Martino was in his mid-fifties, tall and lean with dark hair that was turning grey.
“Mr. Rogers, take a seat,” he said, not bothering to look up as he signed some papers.
Sitting down he crossed his right leg over his left, hat resting on his knee he waited for him to finish doing whatever it was he was busy doing.
“I take it you’re here to make your payment. You could have sent it from your bank,” Silvio said snarkily when he looked up. “I’m a busy man Mr. Rogers. Why are you really here?”
“Well Sir, things have been a bit rough the last few months. Most of the ranchers have lost many of their cattle due to someone having poisoned the watering holes where the cattle drink from, myself included. I’m here to ask for an extension on my loan. If you could give me a few months I’ll be able to pay off the loan in total.”
Silvio sat back in his chair, stroking his chin as he stared at Luke. “I can’t do that Mr. Rogers. I’m running a business here, not a charity camp.”
Luke wanted to punch the smug look off the man’s face, his hand clenched he stared back. “I’m not asking for charity, just a few months to come up with the money.”
Sighing Silvio picked up the phone. He spoke, telling the woman at the front desk to bring in Luke’s file.
A few minutes she walked in and smiling at Luke dropped the file in front of her boss and then walked out. Opening the file Silvio was quiet as he looked over the papers, checking out the figures and checking out the pictures of Luke’s ranch.
“You have a nice piece of property here.” He shook his head and looked at Luke. “I’m sorry Mr. Rogers but if you can’t make the payment by Friday I’m afraid you’ll lose your ranch. Thanks for coming in but I suggest you try and find a way to make that payment.”
Luke jumped up and banged his fist on the desk. “How the hell do you expect me to come up with that kind of money by then?” Sweat formed on his forehead, his body shook from anger. His head was spinning. “Surely you can wait a few short months, this is my home, my livelihood.”
“Sit down Mr. Rogers. What if I told you there was a way to keep your ranch? A way of clearing your debt in full.” Silvio found this to be the perfect opportunity to take care of the problem that tormented him, a way to become free of it.
Luke's eyebrows furrowed together, he was so confused as he sat back down. “Just how would I do that? If you are suggesting anything illegal you can forget it.”
The older man laughed. “No, nothing illegal. It says here you are a single man.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
Silvio leaned in closer to his desk, his eyes stayed on Luke’s eyes. “I have a proposition for you, more of a business transaction if you’d rather think of it that way.”
“I’m listening,” Luke said, eyeing him suspiciously.
“If you agree to marry my daughter Sofia I’ll tear up your loan.”
Luke couldn’t believe he heard what the man had said. He must be hearing things, what father in his right mind would offer up his own flesh and blood to a complete stranger? “Is this some kind of joke?” he asked.
“I assure you this is no joke,” Silvio answered with a smirk on his face.
“There is no way I’m going to marry your daughter.”
“Come now Mr. Rogers, what’s the big deal?”
“What’s the big deal? My God man, you’re asking me to marry a woman I’ve never met. What’s wrong with her that you would want to do this?” He could picture her as an overweight spinster who couldn’t find a husband on her own so her father had to go to great lengths to find one for her.
“There’s nothing wrong with her.”
“Then why are you doing this?”
“Look Mr. Rogers, the reasons are my business. Are you in or not?” When he got no response he carried on. “If it helps I only expect you to stay married to her for one year, after that you can divorce her.”
Luke thought about it. What was one year out of his life? Who cares what she looks like? It wasn’t as if it had to be a real marriage, he wouldn’t have to sleep with her. He would be able to keep his ranch and maybe have things turned around for him. “If I say yes it will be in name only and I want a prenup, don’t want her taking half of what I got.”
Silvio nodded his head. “That can be arranged, and you too will have to sign one.” He stood and they shook hands. “It’s a deal then.”
So what happens when the year is up? I mean to your daughter?”
“She’ll leave your home, where she goes is up to her.”
Just then Silvio’s phone buzzed and he answered it. “Good, send her in.” He looked back at Luke. “You’re about to meet your bride. Oh, and the wedding will take place next Friday. I’ll have all the papers drawn up by then.”
Luke swallowed the lump in his throat, he wasn’t expecting it to happen this quick. Being a cowboy and a gentleman he stood when the door opened, his jaw dropping when he saw the stranger he was going to marry. She was not what he was expecting. Sofia was medium height, slender with long, thick dark hair, almost black. She was drop-dead gorgeous, wearing long black leather boots that went up past her knees. Wearing a short leather skirt and a white blouse, low cut and he couldn’t help but notice what a great rack she had. Her nails were long and painted red, matching her lipstick. For a moment he thought she was an angel, that is until she spoke.
“Father, I didn’t know you had someone with you. I’ll come back later,” she said, her eyes looking Luke up and down with a hint of disgust. Though he was good looking he was dressed in ripped jeans and a white tee shirt. He smelled of horse and she wrinkled up her nose.
“No I want you to stay,” her father said. “I’m glad you’re here, meet Luke Rogers.”
Luke leaned over, holding out his hand to shake hers, which she didn’t offer. Right off he realized though she was beautiful she was also a snob.
“Sofia, I have arranged for you to marry this young man, next Friday.” Silvio sat back waiting for the fireworks to start with a smug look on his face, and he didn’t have long to wait.
Jumping to her feet she glared at her father, sweat formed above her eyebrows and her body trembled ever so slightly. Her voice became high-pitched, arms flailing around and she looked over at Luke. “No way I’m going to marry this loser, this, this country hick. You can’t make me,” she screeched at her father.
“SIT DOWN,” he yelled at her, slamming his fist on the desk. Turning to Luke he handed him a piece of paper. “Be here at this address around two P.M. on Friday.”
“Look, sir, she obviously doesn’t want to marry me,” he said, ignoring the blazing fury in her eyes when she looked at him.
“You let me handle her,” Silvio barked. “Now leave me alone with my daughter.”
Luke glanced over at Sofia before walking out. Something was terribly wrong with those two but he shrugged it off. After all, it had nothing to do with him, he made a deal and made it clear it would be temporary. Now the hard part would be telling people he was married, which he would take care of after the marriage took place. There was one person he would have to tell, his longtime friend, Andy Ward.
As soon as they were alone she whirled around, facing her father defiantly. “I won’t marry him, you can’t make me.”
“Sit your ass down,” he growled. “You listen to me, young lady. You will do as I say and marry that man.”
Sofia started crying, looking at him. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Silvio shook his head, knowing her tears were fake. She was a good actress and could turn the waterworks on and off at a drop of a hat. “You know damn well why I’m doing this. Since your mother passed away four years ago you’ve been running around wild, embarrassing me. I’m fed up with you and just maybe married life will knock some of that behaviour out of you.”
Her tears instantly disappeared and her lips curled up into a scowl. “So you think sending me to live in some God-forsaken place with a stranger is the right thing to do? Why not just send me away? Far away to another country.”
“You know why Sofia. Now get out, go home and pack whatever you want to take with you. Here is my credit card, go buy a dress to get married in, something conservative and fitting for a wedding.”
Standing up she takes the card. “Why do you hate me?” she asked, but not receiving an answer she turned and walked out.