Montana SEAL's Mail-Order Bride

By: Elle James

Brotherhood Protectors Book #12

Chapter 1

Gavin stared out the window of the foreman’s office as Hank and Sadie Patterson climbed out of their dark, full-sized SUV. Sadie opened the back door and fiddled inside, finally lifting baby Emma out of her car seat and into her arms.

His chest tightened, and his breathing lodged in his throat. It happened every time he saw Hank, Sadie and Emma together. When he’d been on active duty, he’d thought himself immune to needing a family. Now, approaching thirty-five, single and missing part of one leg, Gavin guessed his chances at what Hank had were slim to none.

“Blackstock!” a female voice sounded behind him.

Gavin started and spun to face Lori Mize, one of the residents at the Brighter Days Rehabilitation Ranch. She leaned heavily on her good leg, her arms crossed over her chest, her bright blue eyes narrowed. “What’s wrong with you? I called your name four times before you turned around. Did one of your other disabilities have anything to do with your hearing?”

Anyone without disabilities wouldn’t have gotten away with her comment, but Lori knew he was there for the same reasons she’d come to Montana. Transitioning to civilian life after a catastrophic injury such as they’d both received had proven more difficult than they’d imagined. This ranch had better results than most facilities that tried to prepare them for life outside of Uncle Sam’s military.

But then Gavin could have never dreamed he’d lose a limb, ending his career as a US Navy SEAL. He turned back to the happy picture Hank, Sadie and Emma made.

Lori crossed to the window and stood beside him. “So stinkin’ happy. Almost makes my sweet tooth hurt.” She sighed. “But I can’t begrudge them their happiness. They deserve it after all they’ve been through.”

“Agreed.” Gavin continued to stare at the family. “Ever wonder where you’d be in your life if you hadn’t lost your leg?”

Lori’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I’d hoped to be married with a kid or two by now.” She glanced toward him. “You?”

He shrugged. “What’s it matter, anyway? We are who we are.”

Her brow furrowing, Lori faced him and cocked her head to one side. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

He nodded toward the Pattersons. “We’ll probably never have what they have.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I lost my leg, not my reproductive parts.” She patted her belly. “I haven’t given up hope on having kids.” Her gaze slipped from his and went to Hank.

He shot her a sideways glance. “Interesting. You didn’t say anything about marriage.”

She lifted one shoulder. “I figure if a man can’t accept me for how I am now, I don’t need one. I can have a baby without a man,” she muttered beneath her breath, but loud enough Gavin caught the words. “Though it would be a lot easier with one.”

“Right. I was hellbent on being a lifer as a SEAL. I didn’t want to get married and drag a wife around from duty station to duty station while I deployed eleven months out of the year. I didn’t think it would be fair.”

She glanced at him, one eyebrow arched. “And now that you’re not deploying, why don’t you date and find you a woman to settle down with?”

“You want to go out with me?” Gavin asked, knowing the answer before she gave it.

“Oh, hell no.” Lori shook her head. “It would be like going out with my older brother. Eww.” She studied him. “But there’s no reason you can’t find someone.”

He snorted. “In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t that many women around Eagle Rock, Montana. And most of them know I’m missing a leg.”

“So?” Lori’s brow dipped low on her forehead. “You’re saying you don’t think a woman can love you because you’re one leg short of a pair? Hell, what’s that mean for my chances? I’m short one leg, too” She flung her arm in the air. “Guess I’m destined to hit a sperm bank, if I want kids.”

“Be serious.”

She looked at the Pattersons again and gave a deep sigh. “You want kids?”

He nodded, his gaze going to baby Emma.

The ranch’s physical therapist Hannah Kendricks stepped out of the house, smiling at Hank and Sadie. She took Emma in her arms and tickled the baby beneath her chin.

“Sure, I want kids,” Gavin said. “But more than that, I want a partner in life. Someone to come home to, to share the ups and downs.”

“Someone to love?”