Wyoming Wildflowers Book 7
A Western Bridal Bouquet
Jack and Valerie invite you to share the big day with them and other characters you’ve come to love in A Cowboy Wedding. Actually, it will be more like their big week, with lots of goings-on at the Slash-C Ranch and in and around Knighton, Wyoming. Plus, there are romances going on with other characters you’ve met if you’ve read The Rancher Meets His Match in the Bardville, Wyoming series and the seaside Massachusetts romance A New World, the prequel to Jack’s Heart where Jack and Valerie meet.
It’s going to be a huge party, with romance and intrigue, a little unfinished business, and a reunion of some of my favorite characters.
Jack Ralston and Valerie Trimarco
And Addison Rose
Hope you’ll come join
The celebration of
And their new family.
Slash-C Ranch, Knighton, Wyoming
No gifts. Absolutely no gifts. The greatest present is your good wishes.
Donna Currick stared out to where the Big Horn Mountains lifted the western horizon toward a sky bedazzled in erratic streaks of orange, red, purple, yellow.READ MORE
Valerie Trimarco started to hurry past her, bound to the barn to check on the first batch of quilts friends and neighbors had brought by. They would cover hay bales for seating during the wedding ceremony next weekend. Before that they would be hung out to air, according to the Wedding Master Schedule. But for now they were in the barn. Rain was forecast for tonight. The barn roof was tight, but still…
These quilts had been shared by dear neighbors and friends from around the Slash-C and Knighton, Wyoming. She wanted to make absolutely certain they were safe.
But something in Donna’s stillness stopped her.
“Donna? Are you okay?”
The matriarch of the Slash-C smiled as she said, “I’m fine.” Yet she kept staring at that horizon.
“What are you doing?”
“Just thinking, dear.”
“Thinking about what?” Even as she asked, Valerie wondered at herself for pursuing this. She and Jack were getting married next weekend, friends and family would begin arriving Tuesday, and despite their determined effort to keep this wedding simple, fun, low-key, and uncomplicated, with invaluable help from Donna and her daughter-in-law Matty, myriad details — hello? the quilts? — kept popping up like prairie dog holes as far as she could see.
“I’m thinking about weddings. Do you ever think about weddings?” Donna asked dreamily.
Val laughed. “Yeah, you could say I think about weddings. Feels like that’s all I’ve thought about these past few weeks. Well, weddings and Gonzo here.” She patted her five months pregnant belly. “And Addie and Jack.”
“Oh, I know, Val. But I mean weddings in a more general way. The big picture.”
This dreamy, unfocused tone was so unlike Donna that Val was … not weirded out, because that wasn’t possible with this gracious, caring, practical woman. When Donna had married Ed Currick and come to the Slash-C decades ago to start a life and a family, everyone said it was the making of the man and the ranch. Now she and Ed were enjoying retirement while their son Dave, his wife Matty, and Jack Ralston, as foreman, ran the Slash-C.
From the small house built for them on the ranch as a home base, Donna and Ed traveled as they pleased, which these days largely revolved around their grandchildren in New York, where their daughter and son-in-law lived.
A year ago, Donna had been instrumental in helping Jack and Val overcome a major hurdle to realize they truly loved each other.
Well, mostly Donna helped Jack overcome it, because he was hard-headed and stubborn. Val, on the other hand, had known they should be together long before he’d recognized it. Something she reminded him of … now and then.
With all that she owed Donna, Val mentally told the quilts they’d have to wait a minute, and asked the question she thought the older woman wanted to answer.
“What about the big picture?”
“Ah,” Donna breathed out in apparent satisfaction. “Have you ever thought about how a wedding is two people, standing face to face, pledging their hearts, their lives, their futures?”
Oh, yes, she had, and if she could do that right this minute with Jack, she would. She touched her stomach. Already had.
“Beyond those two, their two families encircle them. From different backgrounds, divergent experiences, distant homes. Coming together, mingling, sharing, all to celebrate the one they already love and the one they are taking into their family.”
Her family had certainly already taken Jack in during this past winter he’d spent with her in Gloucester, Massachusetts. And loved him. He had no biological relatives that he knew of. His family were the people of the Slash-C, who had already taken Val to their hearts when she arrived here unexpectedly last summer.
Donna wasn’t done. “Another step from the two at the center of this circle, takes you to their friends, their communities. Wishing them well, celebrating with them.”
Val smiled, thinking of all the wonderful friends she’d made in Wyoming, as well as the friends from earlier times who would be arriving next week.
“To another degree of separation,” Donna continued. “Extended family, friends, community. And out to the Plus Ones, who might not know anyone at this gathering except their wedding date.”
Kiernan’s mystery girlfriend.
Finally — finally — she and Jack would get to meet her. Kiernan had clearly been head over heels for her last winter, but she and Jack and Addie had returned to Wyoming before he introduced her to anyone in Gloucester. Val had heard reports from her cousin, Eleanor, and El’s husband Cahill, who was Kiernan’s older brother.
Now she’d finally get to meet Felicity, The Mystery Woman herself.
And make up her own mind.
Kiernan was all grown up, and a handsome devil, yet Val felt oddly protective of the now-man who towered over her.
“All these individuals brought together, all these paths crossing that might otherwise never have crossed, all these other hearts, lives, futures that can be changed forever during the celebration of a wedding, all started by two people falling in love.”
Donna turned toward Val, the vagueness gone, replaced by a smile.
“I’m so pleased that our long-time friends the Westons agreed to come for several days. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to spend any extended time together, between our running ranches and raising kids, and then all the traveling Ed and I have done. It’s wonderful that you invited them.”
“It was all Jack’s doing. He got to know them through Dax and Hannah Randall. He and Dax connected over abused horses. It’s too bad Cambria and Boone can’t come for the whole time, but at least they’ll be here for the wedding,” she said of the Westons’ daughter and son-in-law.
“And we’re sure hoping Hannah can talk her sister and brother and his girlfriend to come, too — they’re staying at the Circle CR now.”
Donna put her arm around Val’s shoulders. “We have you and Jack to thank for bringing Irene and Ted here. And now Dax Randall and his wife and her family. That’s what I was thinking about. How weddings bring all these people together … and all that it can set in motion.”
Circle CR Ranch
“A wedding?” Ethan Chalmers repeated his older sister’s words, but without her enthusiasm.
Paige sat back, quietly prepared to wait out what would come.
She’d known the Chalmers most of her life. For nearly as long she’d been in love with Ethan Chalmers.
“It’ll be fun,” Hannah said firmly. She was a decade older than Ethan and his twin sister, Mandy, and had taken on raising them when their parents died before the twins started high school.
Ethan showed no sign of hearing her. “Why didn’t you tell us you were going to a friend’s wedding? We wouldn’t have come—”
“That’s exactly why she didn’t tell you,” Mandy said.
“—out this week.”
“That’s why,” Hannah confirmed. “You take so little time off and get out here to the ranch so seldom that I didn’t want to give you any excuse to not come.”
“If he weren’t such a workaholic, he could come as often as I do,” Mandy, said immediately. “And—
“Being responsible does not equate with being a workaholic. You might not—”
“—bring Paige because she loves it here in Wyoming, too.”
He turned and looked at her in mild surprise. “Do you?”
“I do. I love the views and the air and the sky. And, most of all, I love seeing Hannah and Dax and the kids. But, about this wedding…” She looked at her boyfriend’s older sister. “We don’t know these people, Hannah.”
Rather a strange term for this tall, broad-shouldered, handsome, grown-up man she intended to spend the rest of her life with. But maybe because she and Ethan Chalmers had started dating so young, it fit.
“I think it will be fun,” Mandy said.
“As Paige said, we won’t know any of the people. We’ll stay here.”
She looked over at him. Two reactions — both familiar and long-standing — welled up in her simultaneously.
How much she loved him.
How smart he was about most things and astonishingly dim about a few others.
For example, you’d think he’d know his twin — for that matter, both his sisters — better by now.
“Just because you’re a dour grump who objects to romance because you think it doesn’t fit The Plan—” Mandy started.
“That is inaccurate and—”
“—which is so rigid you probably have when you and Paige can kiss on a schedule, much less when you can—”
“Mandy,” Hannah inserted before she got too personal.
Ethan ignored the interruptions from his sisters and continued on. “—nonsense borne of hyperbole. Hyperbole is the antithesis of logic.”
“Logic? Sheesh.” Mandy’s expressive face twisted. “We’re talking romance. A wedding. Fun. Dancing. Toasts. Watching two people be blissfully happy about starting a life together.”
“I have nothing against that at the proper time. And—” He looked at Hannah. “—when it involves people I know.”
“Proper time,” grumbled Mandy. “Paige’s biological clock will be well past its sell-by date—”
“Ethan,” Hannah scolded. If the twins started critiquing each other’s comments, this would not only get off track fast, but it could go on forever.
“—before Ethan Scrooge over here thinks he’s got sufficient piles of money to do anything. You’ll end up childless, which might be a blessing for the kids of the world, except Paige would be a great mother.”
“If it comes to that, we’ll adopt,” he said calmly.
“I wonder if Jack will adopt Addie — that’s Val’s little girl. Did you know that’s how they met, Paige?”
She and Hannah had been doing this distract-the-twins-from-squabbling for years. “Oh, yes — how he delivered the baby in a snowstorm when her car got stuck. That’s amazing.”
“I know, but it wasn’t until Valerie came back last summer, with Addie a toddler now, that she and Jack connected for good. Jack and Addie adore each other. When they came up to deliver a young horse he’d worked with, it was clear they’re already a family, and now they’ll have another one late this fall.”
“She’s already pregnant?” Ethan asked.
Mandy jumped in. “Oh, for heaven’s sake. You know, if anyone else said that I’d accuse him of being a judgmental prig. But you’re worse. You’re disapproving because it’s poor planning.”
“It is. It makes far more sense to—”
Mandy threw up her hands. “Sense? It’s a baby, Ethan. They love each other and they’re having a baby together. I think it’s marvelous.”
“A baby needs to be housed and clothed and fed, plus a lot of needs beyond those basics. Medical bills and orthodonture and education. That all has to be provided. It all has to be planned for.”
“You forgot love and understanding. Can’t buy those.”
He ignored Mandy’s point. “A stable foundation in life and career are vital before raising a child.”
“Because Hannah did such a lousy job of bringing us up after Mom and Dad died,” Mandy shot back.
“I didn’t say that.”
“She scrimped and saved and managed and struggled—”
“All the more reason we should avoid that situation, since we saw what she went through. She had to struggle with difficult circumstances, fight against not having a stable foundation.”
“—yet she did a great job with us because she loves us.”
“She overcame obstacles. Absolutely. There is no reason, however, to repeat those obstacles when you can avoid them. And there’s no reason to attend the wedding of people you don’t know when you can avoid it by saying no thank you.”
“Dax?” Hannah invited her husband into the fray.
As usual, he’d stayed out of the twins’ tiffs. In general, Paige agreed with that strategy, because the only thing that got them wound up more than each other was anyone — anyone — saying something about the other twin.
The exceptions for Dax’s noninvolvement were if Hannah asked him to step in or if he thought anyone got too rough with her, in which case he stepped in, asked or not.
“You’ll know people. Ted and Irene are real close with the Curricks,” he said, referring to the older generation of the Westons, who owned a neighboring ranch to the Circle CR. “Don’t know if Cambria and Boone will get back in time. But Ted and Irene will be there for sure. Plus some others you’ve met over the years of coming here to visit.”
“Hah!” Mandy exulted.
The Westons had started a B&B to smooth out dips in their ranching income. It hadn’t thrived until their daughter, Cambria, took it over. Cambria and her husband, who owned a successful log-building company, and their family now split time between North Carolina and Wyoming.
But before that, when Boone Dorsey Smith was courting Cambria, he’d brought his employee, Hannah Chalmers, here to Bardville, Wyoming, for a working vacation. That’s when she and Dax met.
“Still,” Ethan said, clearly not ready to relinquish ground, “for us to go to the wedding of your friend—”
“Not just a friend. Dax is in the wedding party. You should have seen him when Jack asked.” Hannah grinned broadly at her husband, sitting at the head of the table with their young son, Chal, on his lap. Chal was short for Hannah’s maiden name, Chalmers. Their daughter, Sarah, named for Dax’s side of the family, was sitting on Ethan’s lap, happily eating all the icing off his piece of cake. Dax smiled back at Hannah, who added, “He was thrilled.”
“Hannah,” he protested mildly.
“You were — are. Jack’s a great guy. They sort of knew each other the way a lot of the ranchers sort of know each other from one county to another. But then they connected at a livestock auction a few years back when they saw someone with a starving pregnant mare and the two of them swooped in and rescued her.”
Mandy looked toward Dax. “You swooped? I’d like to have seen that.”
He grinned at her teasing. “Wouldn’t have said swooped.”
“What would you say then?” Mandy challenged him.
“More like we persuaded the guy that sending the mare to another home would be his best option.”
“You made him give you the mare?”
He shrugged. “Made him’s too strong. Like I said—”
“Right, you persuaded him.” Mandy chuckled. “Is this Jack Ralston as persuasive as you are?”
“Not more,” Hannah instantly said, ceding that anyone topped her husband at anything.
Paige raised a hand to mask her smile.
Dax didn’t bother to hide his. “When it comes to abused horses he sure is. And the work he does rehabilitating them is top-notch.”
“He does accomplish miracles with them,” Hannah acknowledged. “Cambria’s using several for the bed and breakfast’s trail rides.”
“They must be really well trained to let those greenhorns loose on them,” Mandy said.
“Mostly Cambria rides them or someone she knows is an experienced rider.”
Ethan ignored Hannah’s comment and said to his twin, “Hah, the greenhorn calling the greenhorn green.”
“At least I ride every time I’m out here, which is a lot more often than you bother to, since you’re rigid and a workaholic on top of it.”
“Back to this wedding,” Ethan said.
Paige bit the inside of her cheeks. Ethan knew he’d lost that round, so he’d shifted to being reasonable, organized, and above trading barbs with Mandy … after trading barbs with her.
He continued, “Somebody needs to stay and look after the ranch, right? With Will in Australia—” Dax’s first son was working on a cattle ranch there to expand his experience and see some of the world. “—and Pete Weston presumably going to the wedding—”
“Nope. He’s playing in a college baseball summer league on the East Coast,” Dax said of the Westons’ son.
“Also, I think there’s a girl,” Hannah said.
“Pete Weston’s caught at last?” Mandy asked with a grin.
“Regardless of the reason,” Ethan persisted, “he’s not available to look after things for you, either. We can stay here while you go to the wedding and we’ll—”
“What? Punch a cow? Are you going to make Paige mend fence?” Mandy demanded. “Or—”
“It’s all taken care of,” Dax said. “A couple friends of Will’s from the ranch management program at college arrive tomorrow. They’ve both been here before and know their way around plenty to keep an eye on things here and at the Westons’ while we’re gone.”
“See?” Hannah said. “Everything’s set. We’re all invited. And you have to come. You’ll like these people. We’ll help with the wedding prep and the partying.” She grinned. “It’s going to be a great time. It’s not even all that far — south of here some.”
“A day trip?” Mandy asked.
Paige looked at the two sisters. That sounded like a set-up question.
“Oh, no,” Hannah said immediately. “They’ve invited people for several days. We’ll go Tuesday and come back Sunday. It’s like the early ranchers used to do here. Tell them, Dax.”
“People were spread out, and it took so long to travel to an event, they’d make it worthwhile by going for a few days.”
“Exactly,” Hannah said. “Matty says these days the problem isn’t covering distances, but having time. Because everyone’s so busy. She says as long as folks are making the trip, they want everyone to enjoy it for a few days.”
Ethan picked up his device, a silent sign of surrender. The only one who didn’t seem to recognize it as such was Ethan. “If we go, we’ll need to know the name of the town.”
“Knighton’s closest to the Slash-C, but the wedding will be at the ranch.”
He was typing away. “We’d get hotel rooms—”
Hannah laughed. “No you wouldn’t. There’s no hotel in Knighton. Or motel. Not even a B&B like the Westons’. We’ll all stay at the ranches.”
“They run the two family ranches together — the Curricks’ Slash-C and the Brennans’ Flying W, that’s Matty’s family ranch.”
Ethan wasn’t distracted from what was, for him, the main point. “We can’t intrude on them like that. We’d—”
“You won’t be intruding. I guarantee it. And if you don’t stay where she tells you to stay you’ll mess up Matty’s plan.
“Wait a minute,” Mandy said. “Matty’s plan? But you said the bride’s name is Valerie, right?”
Ah, so Mandy had heard about the wedding before this conversation.
Ethan didn’t seem to notice, though.
“It is. Val — Valerie — Trimarco is marrying Jack Ralston, who’s the foreman of the combined Flying W and Slash-C ranches. But Matty’s doing some of the planning, including the sleeping arrangements, and she’s a woman after you own heart, Ethan.”
Mandy groaned. “The female version of The Man with the Plan? Charts? Diagrams? Minute by minute campaigns? I might have to rethink my answer. No, wait. What am I saying? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Is Dax going to be in a tuxedo? That alone would make it unmissable.”
“No tuxedoes,” Hannah said with a chuckle. “Though he’d carry off a tuxedo perfectly. It’s going to be a casual, western affair with lots of fun before and after, in addition to the main event Saturday.”
“Multiple days, staying right there, I don’t think—”
Ethan’s ruminations were interrupted by Hannah standing quickly. Paige and Hannah exchanged a look of perfect understanding. If Ethan made a firm decision now it would be no and it would be hard to budge him.
“What I think is it’s time for these two little ones to get to bed. Chal’s already asleep and Sarah’s nodding off despite the sugar high courtesy of her uncle.”
“Hey, I didn’t—” Ethan started.
But Paige stopped him by resting her hand on his, saying, “Let’s go for a walk.”
Simultaneously, Hannah lifted Sarah out of his lap, then hooked a hand in Mandy’s arm, saying, “Come help me with Sarah, then you can tell me what to wear.” There was nothing surer to grab Mandy’s attention. “Dax, if you’ll bring Chal?”
As they left in opposite directions, Paige looked over her shoulder. Hannah was doing the same. Their eyes met again.
To her surprise, Paige heard a chuckle, and realized Dax was watching both of them.COLLAPSE
Cowboy Eyes Are Smiling: The Music
If you’d like to hear the songs from Val and Jack’s wedding, I’ve created a YouTube playlist, from the traditional folk song “Mairi’s Wedding” to “Grow Old Along With Me” (a John Lennon tune sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter) and lastly to country band Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish.”
You can view the entire playlist above, or listen to the individual versions of the music Cahill plays and sings at the celebration:
Before the wedding
Mairi’s Wedding, by Noel McLoughlin
The One, by Kodaline
Wedding party processional
Haste to the Wedding, by Dulahan Ireland
Til There Was You (from “The Music Man,” sung by Kristin Chenoweth)
Haste to the Wedding (reprise, guitar and fiddle)
Haste to the Wedding, from “The Corrs: Live at Royal Albert Hall” (photo above; picks up to faster version at 3:25, and there’s a bonus beautiful violin solo at the beginning)
Grow Old Along With Me (by Mary Chapin Carpenter, lyrics by John Lennon)
And bonus The Road to Lisdoonvarna, by Georgia Guitar Quartet
My Wish, by Rascal Flatts