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A Leap Of Faith
By Lenora Worth
Steeple HillCopyright © 2006 Lenora Worth
All right reserved.
"Weddings always make me cry."
Autumn Maxwell turned to the tall, dark-haired man who'd just whispered that slightly sarcastic statement, apparently for her ears only. He wasn't what she'd call handsome. But he wasn't hard to look at, either. He had brown, almost black eyes and hair about the same color. He wore an impeccably tailored gray lightweight suit with dark gray suede lace-up shoes that could only be described as sneakers.
Wondering why he'd decided to bother her, Autumn gave him a once-over then said, "I don't see any tears."
He slanted his head sideways, causing his thick hair to ruffle across his forehead, then held a hand to his heart. "In here. I'm crying in here."
"Oh, well, that explains it then." Autumn tuned out his pleasant drawling accent, then turned to stare out at the crowd of people mingling by the shimmering swimming pool at the Big M Ranch in Paris, Texas.
They were celebrating the wedding of Autumn's cousin, April Maxwell, to Reed Garrison. Reed had been April's high school sweetheart and the man she'd fallen in love with all over again when she'd come home earlier this year. Autumn knew this had been an emotional day for April. Her father, Stuart, had passed away back in the spring, and her mother had died years ago in a plane crash. But today, April looked joyfulas she mingled with her guests in the soft late-September sunshine. She loved Reed, and they were happy together at last, in spite of how much April missed her parents. April and Reed had a strong faith that would see them through. And they'd have a good marriage. Autumn sent up thanks for that, even while her own heart hurt with loneliness.
"Explains what?" the man beside Autumn asked, leaning toward her, his broad shoulders blocking her view.
Autumn looked up at him, a tired kind of reluctance pulling at her very bones as she refocused on him. Giving him a weak smile, she asked, "Are you still here?"
"Ouch, that hurt." He grinned then extended a hand. "Campbell Dupree, invited guest."
Autumn took his hand, shook it, then drew back, the jolt of awareness his touch had brought knocking her off balance for only an instant. "Autumn Maxwell, cousin of the bride."
He stood straight up, his eyebrows slanting as he grinned. "I know who you are."
That smug admission caused Autumn to step back. She didn't like the intimate way he was looking at her. "And how do you know who I am?"
He drew his head back, his eyes locked on her face. "I saw you in the wedding party, but I had no idea —"
"Second bridesmaid to the left," Autumn retorted, a wry smile on her face.
His gaze moved over her face. "As I was trying to explain, I was told before the wedding that you and your cousin Summer would be attendants, but I had no idea how pretty you'd both be. Especially you."
Autumn let out a laugh. "Okay, you should just can the sweet talk. We all know Summer is the pretty one. April is the stylish one, and me, well, I'm the plain one."
He shook his head. "Depends on your definition of plain. Right now, you don't look plain at all. You look radiant."
She hid her unladylike snort behind her hand. "Are you for real?"
He looked down at himself, patted his chest and shoulders. "I feel real."
Autumn could attest to that. He looked solid, as if he worked out on a regular basis. Nice biceps aside, she really wished he'd just go away. She wanted to stand here and enjoy watching April and Reed laughing with their guests. This was their day, so Autumn refused to think any negative thoughts. Except this annoying man with the strange shoes and the dark, mysterious eyes was making that difficult.
"Is there something else you'd like to say?" she asked the man, since he was still watching, make that ogling her.
"So you're Richard Maxwell's daughter?"
She mimicked his earlier moves, slapping her hands against her bare arms. "Yes, last time I checked." Then she made a face to discourage any more questions. "And it was really nice to meet you, but I'm going to walk away now, okay?"
"Why?" He followed her back toward the punch table on the long patio of the Big M's ranch house. "Why are you walking away?"
Autumn fingered the delicate strand of pearls April had given her for being a bridesmaid, then pushed at the smooth chignon she'd been forced to endure in order to please the bride's sense of style. "Because I'm not a very social person, and because you're beginning to get on my last nerve."
He stepped in front of the punch bowl, a beseeching grin splitting his face. "But you hardly know me."
"My point exactly," Autumn said, trying to scoot around him. Suddenly, she was very thirsty and that almond tea punch was looking better and better.
Campbell Dupree headed her off by coming around to the back of the table. He stood staring over the crystal bowl at her while he ladled her some punch. Handing her the cup, he asked, "So you attend weddings, even participate in them, but you don't enjoy being around other people at the receptions?"
"Something like that," Autumn replied, her smile practiced and efficient. She downed the whole cup of punch, hoping he'd be gone by the time she got to the bottom.
He wasn't. "And just why aren't you a social person?"
Giving him a shrug of impatience that caused her blush-colored sleeveless bridesmaid dress to shimmer, she replied, "I deal in numbers. I'm an accountant. Or at least I was."
"In New York," he said, admiration flickering in his eyes. "I've heard all about that."
"You have?" Curious now, Autumn stopped thinking about how to get away.
"How do you know all about me? Are you one of my father's clients or business buddies, or are you a friend of Reed's?"
Before he could answer, her father came barreling up to them. "There you are," he said to Autumn. "I've been looking for you. I see you've met Campbell."
"Yes," Autumn said, wondering with renewed interest how her father knew Campbell Dupree, and wondering why her father seemed so nervous and flushed.
"He was just about to tell me —"
"I was just about to tell her yet again how very lovely she looks," Campbell said, his smoky gaze moving from her father to Autumn. "As I said earlier, you and your cousin make a lovely pair of bridesmaids."
"Thanks," Autumn said, thinking the man was surely repetitive and just a bit too charming. Glancing back at her perspiring father she asked, "Daddy, are you okay?"
Richard Maxwell looked as handsome as ever in his dark suit and shiny cowboy boots, but a fine sheen of moisture glowed across his forehead. "I'm fine, honey. But we need to talk. In private."
"Is something wrong?" Autumn said, glancing around. "Is April okay?"
"April is one happy bride," Richard replied. "And Summer is inside with little Michael. Poor little fellow — tough about him losing his mother last month. But Summer and Mack are doing a fine job of surrounding him with love. I reckon they'll be having their own wedding soon."
Excerpted from A Leap Of Faith by Lenora Worth Copyright © 2006 by Lenora Worth. Excerpted by permission.
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