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Ten days later Elizabeth was in no mood for a wedding. She no longer believed in fairy tales, and that's all love was one big, fat fairy tale that was invented by writers and poets and songwriters. Only a hopeless romantic could actually believe that a man and woman could love each other for a lifetime. She knew better. It only lasted until the love of your life went to Germany for an international soccer tournament and met a blond bimbo.
"You're thinking of Spencer again, aren't you?" Katherine said as she stepped forward to zip her dress for her. "You've got that look on your face "
Glancing over her shoulder at her, Elizabeth scowled fiercely. "What look? I'm perfectly fine."
"Yeah, right," Priscilla drawled as she stood before the mirror and gave her makeup a last check. "The last time you looked like that, you murdered my doll."
Elizabeth didn't want to laugh, but it gurgled up inside her and escaped before she could stop it. "I did not! You're the one who wanted to see if her head would come off. I just accommodated you."
"You put the thought in my head!"
"No, I didn't. It was Katherine."
"It was not!" Katherine objected. "I didn't even know about it until you had the funeral."
Quietly pushing open the door of the bedroom that had been set aside for the bridesmaids' use, Rainey grinned as her soon-to-be sister-in-laws traded quips back and forth. "Buck must have had his hands full, growing up with you three," she told them with a chuckle. "I'm surprised he wasn't part of the beheading."
"Of course he was part of it," Katherine laughed.
"He organized the funeral."
"I should have known," Rainey laughed. "That's the man I'm going tomarry."
"And have children with," Elizabeth pointed out with a grin. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Love softened her face and lit up her smile. "Oh, yes. I can't wait!"
Watching her, Elizabeth blinked back tears. She hoped with all her heart that things worked out for Rainey and Buck, but she didn't think she'd ever be able to take that risk herself. Not after the way Spencer had betrayed her. And the way she'd found out! She'd been at Heathrow with her sisters, waiting to board the plane for the States and Buck's wedding, when she'd picked up a copy of one of London's most notorious tabloids. And there on the cover, for all the world to see, was a picture of her boyfriend with a blond bombshell plastered all over him.
Even now she didn't want to believe that he'd cheated on her with some tart who couldn't count to four. But when she'd called him to question him about the picture, he hadn't bothered to deny the fact that he'd taken the woman with him to Germany. He hadn't even understood why she was upsetthe woman was nothing but a groupie and didn't mean a thing to him. What was the big deal?
Elizabeth still couldn't believe he'd had the nerve to ask her such a thing. Of course she knew about groupies, how strange women threw themselves at him and his teammates all the time. After all, he was an international soccer star, and she'd seen for herself how he couldn't go anywhere without women he didn't even know flirting with him. She hadn't liked it, but she'd learned to live with it.
The woman in the picture, however, wasn't someone wanting a hug and an autograph. She'd slept with him. He hadn't said as much in so many words, but he hadn't had to. The truth had been right there in the picture, in his eyes, in the blonde's, in the intimate smile they shared.
She shouldn't have been surprised. She'd known in her heart that he was the kind of man who had no use for faithfulness. She'd just convinced herself he loved her enough to change. So much for fairy tales.
"It's going to be okay, Elizabeth," Rainey said quietly, breaking into her thoughts. "You just need some time."
"And another man," Priscilla added, wrinkling her nose at the thought of Spencer. "The best way to get over one man is to get another. Get yourself a cowboy."
"Oh, no!" she said quickly, grimacing. "I don't want a cowboy or anyone else, thank you very much. I'm done with men."
"That's what I said," Rainey told her, grinning.
"And now I'm marrying your brother. C'mon. We've got a wedding to go to."
Looping her arm through Elizabeth's, she tugged her out into the hall and laughed as Priscilla and Katherine took positions behind them and gently grandfather clock in the front entry struck 8:00 a.m., Rainey laughed. "I can't believe I'm getting married at eight in the morning!"
"What's with that, anyway?" Priscilla asked. "Why so early in the morning?"
"We wanted to start the first day of our marriage as soon as possible," she said simply, grinning as they all spilled into the limo waiting for them in the drive. "So it was either 8:00 a.m. or dawn. We picked 8:00 a.m."
Ten minutes later they arrived at the church and Elizabeth fought the need to cry. She loved her brother and Rainey, but she really didn't want to do this. Unfortunately, she couldn't back out without looking like a complete idiot. So she pasted on a smile, and no one knew just how much it cost her as she stepped out of the limo.
Then she walked into the old wood-frame country church that the Wyatt family had attended for over a hundred years, and stopped with a gasp of surprise. If she hadn't known better, she would have sworn she'd stepped back in time.
Although the church had been wired for electricity nearly a hundred years ago, Rainey had chosen to use candles instead. They were everywhere, casting a golden glow over the guests that filled every pew. The sound of violins floated on the hushed, fragrant air, and just that quietly, the ceremony began.
Priscilla started down the aisle, then Katherine. Waiting her turn, Elizabeth was caught off guard by the emotions that tugged at her heart at the sight of her brother waiting at the altar for his bride. Elizabeth liked Rainey, loved her, in fact, but ever since Buck had informed Elizabeth and her sisters that he was getting married, she'd been afraid that he was rushing into a mistake. After all, just last year, he'd been engaged to someone else. But as she watched him smile at Rainey and she caught the look of love that passed between the two of them, she knew that she'd never seen him so happy.
Just that easily, she realized that nothing else mattered. Locking her own heartache away, she started down the aisle, and for the first time since she'd seen the picture of Spencer in the tabloids, the smile that curled the corners of her mouth came straight from her heart.
After that, the morning couldn't have been more magical. Rainey looked like a fairy princess as she started down the aisle toward Buck, and there wasn't a dry eye in the church as they exchanged their I do's. Then they rushed up the aisle, glowing with love, and laughingly led their guests back to the ranch for breakfast, then, later in the day, an old-fashioned barbecue and barn dance.
Buck and Rainey had invited not only their friends from both sides of the Atlantic and around the world, but they'd also decided to include the local ranchers and most of the inhabitants of Willow Bend. It was a risky move, but they'd both felt it was better to keep their enemies close at hand than plotting in the shadows, and Elizabeth had to agree with them. If there was anyone there with ulterior motives, they kept them well hidden. Everywhere she looked, people were smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves.
"It's quite a turnout, isn't it? How many do you think are packing guns?"
Surprised, Elizabeth turned to John Cassidy, the Broken Arrow's new foreman. Buck had introduced him to her and her sisters when they arrived the day before yesterday, but there'd been little time to talk to him, let alone get to know him. He'd been busy running the ranch while Buck took care of the last-minute preparations for the wedding and entertained his guests.
And even though Elizabeth had never seen a cowboy, let alone a ranch foreman, before visiting the United States, she had to admit that John Cassidy had the look of a man who could handle just about anything life threw at him. Tall and lean, with a body that was rock hard and a chin that could have been chiseled out of the granite mountains that formed the western boundary of the ranch, he had tough written all over him.
And for some reason, that set her teeth on edge. It was the hard glint in his eye, she thought. That I don't give a damn look that a lot of women found impossible to resist. She wasn't one of those women.
"I realize I'm not familiar with the local customs," she retorted, "but do people usually bring guns to a wedding in Colorado?"
"That depends on who's getting married and why," he replied dryly. "They've been known to take them to funerals, too."
Not believing that for a second, Elizabeth sniffed, "I wasn't born yesterday, Mr. Cassidy. Just because I was born and raised in England doesn't mean that I don't know a line of bull when I hear it."
"Really?" The corner of his sensuous mouth curling with mocking humor, he lifted a dark male brow at her. "Then maybe you'd care to tell me what that bulge is under your brother's tuxedo jacket?"
"What bulge?" she demanded. "What are you talking about? Buck wouldn't wear a gun to his own wedding!"
"Then he's got a tumor under that jacket," he said.
"And so does just about every man here. Didn't you notice? Or did you think we're all nothing but a bunch of hicks in bad suits?"
"No, of course not! I'm not a snob, Mr. Cassidy. I've been too busy circulating to notice how anyone was dressed."
"For your own safety, I suggest you keep your eyes and ears open whenever you're around your neighbors, Miss Wyatt. They're not your friends."
"I'm well aware of that," she said stiffly. "I know all about the attacks on the ranch.As far as I'm concerned, my brother and sisters and I can't trust anyone."
"Including you," she retorted honestly, then graciously added, "At least for now. I know Buck has a great deal of faith in you and that you passed a background check with flying colors. For what it's worth, I hope you do turn out to be as trustworthy as you claim to be. It would be nice to know that there's at least one person outside the family we can trust."
John had to give her credit. He didn't know another woman, short of his mother, who would have looked him right in the eye and given him such a straight answer. "Trust takes time," he said flatly. "Luckily I've got plenty of that."
He had, in fact, nowhere else to go, and he was pretty damn sure that Elizabeth Wyatt knew that. If Buck had told her everything, then she knew that his past was less than stellar. Oh, he'd been a Navy SEAL, and he'd been damn good at it. But then he'd made a mistakejust oneand a man had lost his life.
How many years had he punished himself for that? Three? Five? His commanding officer, the base psychiatrist, even the chaplain, had assured him that everyone made mistakesit could have happened to anyone. Nothing they'd said, however, had helped. Because he'd killed his best friend, and the memory of that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He'd tried to forget. But years of drinking hadn't dulled the images from the pastjust destroyed his life. His wife had walked out on him, he'd lost his ranch, his self-respect, everything he cared about. And it was all gone forever. When he'd told Elizabeth he had nothing but time, he hadn't lied. He had nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but lose himself in work.
"Just for the record," he added, "I'm not interested in getting my hands on your land. I just want to do the job I was hired to do. That means taking care of the ranch and you and your sisters when Buck's not here."
For a moment, he didn't think his words registered. Then her sapphire-blue eyes flashed indignantly. "Take care of me and my sisters? You think that was the job you were hired to do?"