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At the designated time on the Fourth of July, Chance Lassiter and his half sister, Hannah Armstrong, approached the doorway to the massive great room in the Big Blue ranch house. "This seems wrong. I just learned two months ago that I have a sister and now I'm giving you away," he complained.
"That's true," she said, smiling. "But since you and Logan are good friends, I think we'll probably be seeing each other quite often."
"You can count on it." He gazed fondly at his five-year-old niece waiting to throw flower petals as she preceded them down the aisle. "I told Cassie I would come over and take her into Cheyenne for ice cream at least once a week. And I'm not letting her down."
"You're going to spoil her," Hannah teased good-naturedly.
Grinning, he shrugged. "I'm her favorite uncle. It's expected."
"You're her only uncle," Hannah shot back, laughing. "You have to be her favorite."
When he first discovered that he had a half sister from the extramarital affair his late father had some thirty years ago, Chance had experienced a variety of emotions. At first, he'd resented the fact that the man he had grown up believing to be a pillar of morality had cheated on Chance's mother. Then learning that Marlene Lassiter had known her husband had a daughter and hadn't told him had compounded Chance's disillusionment. His mother had been aware of how much he missed having a sibling and he felt deprived of the relationship they might have had growing up. But in the two months since meeting Hannah and his adorable niece, he had done his best to make up for lost time.
Chance tucked Hannah's hand in the crook of his arm. "Besides the standing ice-cream date, you know that all you or Cassie have to do is pick up the phone and I'll be there for you."
"You and your mother have been so good to us." Tears welled in Hannah's emerald eyeseyes the same brilliant green as his own. "I don't know how to begin to thank you both for your love and acceptance. It means the world to me."
He shook his head. "There's no need to thank us. That's the beauty of family. We accept and love you and Cassie unconditionallyno matter how long it took us to find you."
As they started down the aisle between the chairs that had been set up for the wedding, Chance focused on the red-haired little girl ahead of them. Cassie's curls bounced as she skipped along and her exuberance for throwing flower petals from the small white basket she carried was cute as hell. Of course, like any proud uncle, he thought everything the kid did was nothing short of amazing. But with an arm like that there wasn't a doubt in his mind that she could play for a major league baseball team if she set her mind to it.
Approaching the groom standing beside the minister in front of the fireplace, Chance waited for his cue before he placed his sister's hand in Logan Whit-taker's. He kissed Hannah's cheek, then gave his friend a meaningful smile as he took his place beside him to serve as the best man. "Take care of her and Cassie," he said, careful to keep his tone low. "If you don't, you know what will happen."
Grinning, Logan nodded. "You'll kick my ass."
"In a heartbeat," Chance promised.
"You don't have anything to worry about," Logan said, lifting Hannah's hand to kiss the back of it as they turned to face the minister.
When the bespectacled man of the cloth started to speak, Chance looked out at the wedding guests. Except for Dylan and Jenna, the entire Lassiter clan had turned out in force. But his cousin and his new bride's absence was understandable. Their own wedding had only taken place a little over a week ago and they were still on their honeymoon in Paris.
As Chance continued to survey the guests, he noticed that his cousin Angelica had chosen to sit at the back of the room, well away from the rest of the family. She was still upset about the terms of her father's will and refused to accept that J. D. Lassiter had left control of Lassiter Media to her former fiancé, Evan McCain. Chance didn't have a clue what his uncle had been thinking, but he trusted the man's judgment and knew there had to have been a good reason for what he'd done. Chance just wished Angelica could see things that way.
He shifted his attention back to the ceremony when the minister got to the actual vows and Logan turned to him with his hand out. Chance took from his jacket pocket the wedding ring his friend had given to him earlier and handed it to his soon-to-be brother-in-law. As he watched Logan slide the diamondencrusted band onto Hannah's ring finger, Chance couldn't help but smile. He had no intention of going down that road himself, but he didn't mind watching others get married when he knew they were meant for each other. And he had yet to meet two people better suited to share their lives as husband and wife than Hannah and Logan.
"By the power vested in me by the great state of Wyoming, I pronounce you husband and wife," the minister said happily. "You may kiss the bride."
Chance waited until Logan kissed Hannah and they turned to start back down the aisle with his niece skipping along behind them before he offered his arm to the matron of honor. As they followed the happy couple toward the door, a blonde woman seated next to his cousin Sage and his fiancée, Colleen, caught his eye.
With hair the color of pale gold silk and a complexion that appeared to have been kissed by the sun, she was without question the most gorgeous female he'd ever had the privilege to lay eyes on. But when her vibrant blue gaze met his and her coral lips curved upward into a soft smile, he damn near stopped dead in his tracks. It felt as if someone had punched him square in the gut.
Chance had no idea who she was, but he had every intention of remedying that little detail as soon as possible.
Felicity Sinclair felt as if something shifted in the universe when she looked up to find the best man staring at her as he and the matron of honor followed the newly married couple back down the aisle. He wasin a wordperfect!
Dressed like the groom in a white Oxford cloth shirt, black sport coat, dark blue jeans and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, the man was everything she had been looking for and more. He was tall, broad-shouldered and ruggedly handsome. But more than that, he carried himself with an air of confidence that instilled trust. She could only hope that he was related to the Lassiters so that she could use him in her PR campaign.
When he and the matron of honor continued on, Fee turned to the couple seated next to her. "Sage, would you happen to know the name of the best man?"
"That's my cousin Chance," Sage Lassiter said, smiling as they rose to their feet with the rest of the wedding guests. "He owns the majority of the Big Blue now."
Excited by the fact that the best man was indeed a member of the Lassiter family, Fee followed Sage and his fiancée, Colleen, out onto the flagstone terrace where the reception was to be held. She briefly wondered why she hadn't met him at the opening for the newest Lassiter Grill, but with her mind racing a mile a minute, she dismissed it. She was too focused on her ideas for the PR campaign. The Big Blue ranch would be the perfect backdrop for what she had in mind and there wasn't anything more down-to-earth and wholesome than a cowboy.
When her boss, Evan McCain, the new CEO of Lassiter Media, sent her to Cheyenne to take care of the publicity for the grand opening of the Lassiter Grill, she'd thought she would be back in Los Angeles within a couple of weeks. But she'd apparently done such a stellar job, her stay in Wyoming had been extended. Two days ago, she had received a phone call assigning her the task of putting together a public relations campaign to restore the Lassiter family image and Fee knew she had her work cut out for her. News of Angelica Lassiter's dissatisfaction with her late father's will and her recent association with notorious corporate raider Jack Reed had traveled like wildfire and tarnished the company's happy family image, and created no small amount of panic among some of the stockholders. But by the time she hung up the phone, Fee had already come up with several ideas that she was confident would turn things around and reinstate Lassiter Media as the solid enterprise it had always been. All she needed to pull it together was the right spokesperson in the right setting. And she'd just found both.
Of course, she would need to talk to Chance and get him to agree to appear in the television spots and print ads that she had planned. But she wasn't worried. She'd been told all of the Lassiters had a strong sense of family. Surely when she explained why she had been asked to extend her stay in Cheyenne and how important it was to restore the Lassiters' good name, Chance would be more than happy to help.
Finding a place at one of the round tables that had been set up on the beautifully terraced patio, Fee sat down and took her cell phone from her se-quined clutch to enter some notes. There were so many good ideas coming to her that she didn't dare rely on her memory.
"Do you mind if I join you, dear?"
Fee looked up to find a pleasant-looking older woman with short brown hair standing next to her. "Please have a seat," she answered, smiling. "I'm Fee Sinclair."
"And I'm Marlene Lassiter," the woman introduced herself as she sat down in the chair beside Fee. "Are you a friend of the bride?"
Shaking her head, Fee smiled. "I'm a public relations executive from the Los Angeles office of Las-siter Media."
"I think I remember Dylan mentioning that someone from the L.A. office had been handling the publicity for the Lassiter Grill opening here in Cheyenne," Marlene said congenially. She paused for a moment, then lowering her voice added, "And when I talked to Sage yesterday, he said you were going to be working on something to smooth things over after Angelica's threats to contest J.D.'s will and her being seen with the likes of Jack Reed."
"Yes," Fee admitted, wondering how much the woman knew about the board of directors' concerns. Something told her Marlene Lassiter didn't miss much of what went on with the family. "I'll be putting together some television commercials and print ads to assure the public that Lassiter Media is still the solid, family-friendly company it's always been."
"Good," the woman said decisively. "We may have our little spats, but we love each other and we really are a pretty close family."
They both looked across the yard at the pretty dark-haired woman talking rather heatedly with Sage. It was apparent she wasn't the least bit happy.
"I know it's probably hard for a lot of people to believe right now, but Angelica really is a wonderful young woman and we all love her dearly," Marlene spoke up as they watched the woman walk away from her brother in an obvious huff. Turning to Fee, Marlene's hazel eyes were shadowed with sadness. "Angelica is still trying to come to terms with the death of her father, as well as being hurt and disillusioned by his will. That's a lot for anyone to have to deal with."
Compelled to comfort the older woman, Fee placed her hand on top of Marlene's where it rested on the table. "I'm sure it was a devastating blow to her. She worked so hard for the family business that many people just assumed she'd be running it someday."
"When J.D. started cutting back on his workload, Angelica knew he was grooming her to take over and we all believed she would be the one leading Lassiter Media into the future," Marlene agreed, nodding. "When he left her a paltry ten percent of the voting shares and named Evan McCain CEO, the girl was absolutely crushed."
Fee could tell that Marlene was deeply concerned for Angelica. "It's only been a few months since Mr. Lassiter's passing," she said gently. "Maybe in time Angelica will be able to deal with it all a little better."
"I hope so." Marlene shook her head. "There are times when even grown children have a hard time understanding the reasons their parents have for making the decisions they do. But we always try to do what's in our children's best interest."
It was apparent the woman's focus had shifted and she was referring to someone other than Angelica. Fee didn't have a clue who Marlene was talking about, but she got the distinct impression there might be more than one rift in the family.
"I don't have children, but I can imagine it's extremely difficult sometimes," she agreed. Deciding to lighten the mood, she pointed to the bride's table, where the wedding party would be seated. "I don't know who did the decorations for the reception, but everything is beautiful."
All of the tables were draped with pristine white linen tablecloths and had vases of red, white and blue roses for centerpieces. But the table where the newly married couple and their attendants would sit had been decorated with a garland made of baby's breath and clusters of red and blue rosebuds. It was in keeping with the holiday and utterly stunning.
"Thank you," Marlene said, smiling. "Hannah left the reception decorations up to me and I thought red, white and blue would be appropriate. After all, it is the Fourth of July." Marlene smiled. "We'll be having fireworks a bit later when it gets dark."
"Grandma Marlene, can I sit with you for dinner?" the adorable little red-haired flower girl asked, walking up between Fee and Marlene.
"Of course, Cassie," Marlene said, putting her arm around the child. "As long as your mother says it's okay."
"Momma said I could, but I had to ask you first," Cassie answered, nodding until her red curls bobbed up and down. She seemed to notice Fee for the first time. "I'm Cassie. I got a new daddy today."
"I saw that." Fee found the outgoing little girl completely charming. "That's very exciting, isn't it?"
Cassie smiled. "Yes, but Uncle Chance says that I'm still his best girl, even if Logan is my new daddy."
"I'm sure you are," Fee said, smiling back.
While the child walked around her grandmother's chair to sit on the other side of Marlene, Fee felt encouraged. She hadn't realized she had been talking to her new spokesman's mother and niece. Surely if Marlene knew about the public relations campaign and was all for it, her son would be, too. And with any luck, he would be more than willing to play a role in the publicity she had planned to help restore the Lassiters' reputation.