For weeks now, sexy-as-heck Galen Fortune Jones has been playing the ardent groom in the Wild West Wedding show at Cowboy Country USA. The bride? His sweet, redheaded neighbor Aurora McElroy. Aurora’s secretly crushed on the rancher for years, but she’s kept that secret close to the vest!
…Lead To Marriage For A Lifetime?
Things get a little out of hand, however, when Galen agrees to pretend he and Aurora are real-life spouses. It’s only temporary, and for a good cause. But being Aurora’s hubby “offstage” is starting to mess with the confirmed bachelor’s head. He’s having far from friendly feelings for his in-name-only spouse, and it’s freaking him out! Has love finally found Horseback Hollow’s last unfettered Fortune?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"I need you to marry me." The words came out of left field. Literally.
Galen Fortune Jones stared down at Aurora McElroy. He was pretty sure the last time he'd seen his neighbor had been a few months ago. They'd run into each other at the Horseback Hollow feed store. There had been no romance involved, considering that at the time he'd paid more attention to helping her daddy, Walt, load up his truck, before tending to his own business there.
Now he looked from her hand, clutching his left arm, back to her dark blue eyes. "Beg your pardon?"
She huffed, pushing a shining red ringlet out of her face. "It's an emergency, Galen. I need a groom. Right now!"
You will marry a woman in white and be married within the month.
The words echoed inside his head and he wanted to shake it hard, just to see if something had come loose inside.
Instead, he glanced around where they were standing on a side street of Cowboy Country, USA, the Western-style theme park where just last weekin a moment of apparent insanityhe had agreed to be an "authenticity consultant." And where, just a few weeks prior to that, one of the "Wild West" fortune-tellers had told him he would soon be hitched.
He'd laughed it off then as nonsense for two simple reasons. One, he didn't believe in fortune-tellers, and two, he'd reached the age of thirty-four without once entertaining the idea of marrying someone.
So he looked back at Aurora and adjusted his hat. "You're dressed for the part," he allowed. "I'll give you that."
In fact, she looked downright pretty. All dolled up in an old-fashioned-looking dress with beads and lace hanging off her slender shoulders and her eyes made up to look even bigger than they already were.
She gave him a look that ought to have scorched his toes. "Of course I'm dressed for the part." Her hands spread a little wider. "Wild West Wedding!" She raised her eyebrows, clearly waiting for some response. "The noon show," she elaborated at his blank look.
She twitched her skirt, drawing his attention. It was some sort of filmy, lacy thing about the same color as the doily his mom had had forever sitting underneath a vase in the front parlor of the house he and his four brothers and two sisters had grown up in. Sorta white. Sorta beige.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Galen." Aurora sounded exasperated. "The noon show! I'm playing Lila, the Wild West bride. But I just found out my groom, Rusty, was hauled off a little while ago to see Doc Shoemaker, because he went and fell off his horse." She shook her head. "Lord save me from city boys who think they know everything about a horse just because they've watched Butch Cas-sidy and the Sundance Kid!''
Comprehension finally dawned. Maybe it would have more quickly if Galen hadn't gotten distracted thinking about that fool fortune-teller business.
"Wild West Wedding," he repeated. "That's the show you put on at the center of the park."
"Yes." Looking relieved that he'd finally gotten a clue, she lifted her other hand and shoved a dog-eared script at him. "It'll take ten minutes of your time, Galen. Please."
"I'm no good at playacting."
"How do you know? Have you ever tried?" She stepped closer and her shoulder brushed against his ribs as she flipped open the pages, seeming to take his compliance as a foregone conclusion. "It's not complicated. I'm Lila. You'll be Rusty." Her slender finger jabbed at the words on the page. "There's not really much time for you to memorize before we need to start, but the premise is simple. Lila and Rusty are in love. Frank, the villain, is determined to have Lila for himself, but what he really wants even more is the deed to her daddy's ranch so his railroad can go through."
"Original," Galen drawled.
"It's a ten-minute attraction at a Western theme park," she countered. "Be glad it's not Shakespeare or we really would be in trouble. Are you willing to do this or not? After all the problems we've had since Cowboy Country opened last month, the last thing this place needs is another canceled show. It's bad publicity when we're finally having a week where nothing seems to go wrong."
The "bad" was one of the reasons for Galen's presence. But agreeing to answer a bunch of questions about tending cattle and horses and walking around the park taking note of anything that belittled the ranching community didn't involve filling in for somebody who probably shouldn't have been on a horse in the first place.
"Weren't you always in the school plays when you and Toby were kids?" His younger brother had gone to school with her. When Galen had been that age, he'd have been one of the kids sitting in the auditorium, hooting over every flubbed line. Though when he thought about it, he couldn't recall Aurora ever flubbing hers. Even as a kid, she'd been memorable with her flaming red hair.
"If you want to walk down memory lane, we can do that later." She grabbed his arm again and was dragging him toward the rough-hewn gate at the end of the make-believe street. "Right now, you need to get into costume."
He grimaced, eyeing the mass of sausage curls streaming down the middle of her back. Her waist below that seemed cinched down even smaller than usual. "Just what all does that mean?"
She pulled open the gate and shot him a grin. "You're not going to have to fit into a corset, if that's what you're worried about. They save that torture for the girls." She tugged him through the gate, pushed it closed, and headed toward a trailer that was a century more modern than anything visible within the guests' portion of Cowboy Country. Even the thrill rides were couched in Old West touches.
Aurora lifted her skirts and darted up the two metal steps, disappearing inside the trailer. "Come on. We've only got a half hour before we're on."
He went up into the trailer and found himself standing inside a miniature warehouse, crowded on all sides by racks loaded with costumes and props. He pulled a bull whip off a hook. "Ohhh-kay."
"That's for Outlaw Shootout" she said. "The show's shelved temporarily until they work out some kinks with the stunts. Here." She whisked his black cowboy hat off his head and plopped a creamy white one in its place. "Rusty wears a white hat. Naturally."
"Naturally," he repeated drily, even though he was wondering what the hell had gotten into him. He hung the whip back in place.
"You need to change your shirt, too." She shoved a hanger at him that held a rough cotton button-down. "At least Joeyhe's the guy who plays Rustyhadn't changed into his costume before he fell off a darn horse." She tsked as she pulled open one drawer after another. "Being the big-budget show that we are, we've only got one."
She glanced at him. "What're you waiting for?" She waved her hand at the hanger he was still holding and turned back to the drawers she was pawing through. "You can get by with wearing your own Levi's and boots, but that shirt's gotta go."
Stifling a passel of misgivings, since he'd yet to actually agree, he dumped the script on a pile of folded Mexican blankets, set the white hat on top and pulled his NASCAR T-shirt over his head.
"Ah. Success." Aurora pushed the drawer closed and turned to him, a black string tie in her hand.
Her eyes seemed to widen a bit at the sight of his bare chest, and she dropped the tie on top of the white Stetson, then quickly turned back around to yank open another drawer while he pulled on the shirt. "It's a little Wyatt Earpish, a la Tombstone" she chattered, "but what it might lack in historic accuracy is at least recognizable for the customers. So I hope it passes muster on your authenticity scale."
She pushed the drawer closed again without removing anything and turned back to face him. Her cheeks looked excessively pink to him. Like she wasn't all that used to seeing a guy shirtless. "Anyway, about the, uh, the show." She pulled the script out and muttered under her breath when the cowboy hat fell on the floor, quickly followed by a cascade of colorful woven blankets.
He crouched down to help her right the mess. "Relax, Aurora. The show's still gonna go on. Though I seriously think you'd do better with just about anyone besides me."
"You fit the shirt," she said with a shrug.
He let out a wry laugh. "Well, hell, then. Guess that makes me feel real good."
She smiled. "And soon as I saw you, I knew you wouldn't let methe park, I meandown. If you weren't already on staff, we could never get away with this, though. I'm sure there'd be insurance issues and all of that."
They reached for the same blanket at the same time, knuckles knocking, and she snatched her hands back, straightening quickly to swipe her hands down the sides of her dress.
"Thanks." She sounded breathless. "I'll, uh, just wait for you outside." She shoved open the trailer door and brushed past the guy who was coming up the steps. "Hey there, Frank," he heard her say. "I found us a Rusty, so we're still on."
Blankets stacked once more, Galen straightened and stuck his hand out toward the newcomer as he came into the trailer. "Galen Jones," he offered, and sent a silent apology to his mom for omitting the "Fortune" part that they'd all been adding to the "Jones" ever since his mom's birth family had found her. He was trying to get used to the addition. But it still didn't come all that naturally. Not because he was opposed to acknowledging the Fortune connection. But to him, it just all sounded sorta fancy. Which he wasn't.
The other man shook his hand briefly before grabbing a black hata whole lot cleaner and dandier-looking than Galen's usual oneand setting it on his gleaming blond head. "Frank Richter," he said, studying his reflection in the mirror over the drawers. "I play Frank, the dastardly villain. Nice to have the right name already for a part." He adjusted the hat so it sat at an angle, dipping low over his right eye. "Haven't seen you around here before. You been with Moore Entertainment for long?"
"Not all that sure I'm technically 'with' Moore Entertainment." Galen didn't need to adjust his hat. He dropped Rusty's Stetson on his head the same way he did with his own cowboy hat every single day. Didn't matter if it was black or white or straw. For him, the covering wasn't a matter of costume, but nature. Same as his leather Cas-tleton boots that he got resoled every few years. "I'm the authenticity consultant." He felt more than a little stupid just saying the words, same way he felt using Fortune Jones as his last name when all his life, "Jones" had been plenty, and he flipped up the collar of Rusty's shirt and started on the tie. He didn't need a mirror for that, either. He'd worn a similar one to the Valentine's Day wedding when three of his brothers and one of his sisters all got hitched on the same day.
The powers that be for Moore Entertainment considered him a cowboy. So he guessed that made the tie authentic enough for the theme park.
"Heard they'd hired something like that." Frank was running some dinky comb covered with clear goop through his eyebrows, and Galen nearly stared. "You're supposed to make sure Cowboy Country rings true." Frank air-quoted the word and looked over his shoulder at him. They were about the same height, though Galen damn sure never once combed his eyebrows, with goop or without.
"That's about it." Galen finished tying the tie and flipped down the collar.
"Well, make sure your punch during today's show doesn't ring entirely true," Frank said, looking back at his reflection. "I don't need to end up with any real bruises. I'm getting new head shots done tomorrow. I'm trying to get into the Moore Dinner Theatre in Branson. Lot more exposure there than in Hicksville Horseback Hollow." He made a face in the mirror, then pulled another, and another, stretching his face into comic proportions before he fixed on a dark handlebar mustache over his top lip. "Most any one of Moore's other Coaster World locations would be better than here. Not surprised they're having a hard time getting Cowboy Country off the ground in a little Texas backwater like this." He glanced over his shoulder again. "Know what I mean?"
"Wouldn't know," Galen said with irony. He, for one, was glad that the company had chosen not to follow the Coaster World model like the rest of its theme parks. Horseback Hollow was special.
Any park that was going to be there needed to be special, too.
He grabbed the script and reached for the trailer door. "Seein' how I'm one of the hicks."
He stepped outside and spotted Aurora leaning over her old-fashioned buttoned boot that she'd propped on a picnic bench. The curls of her hair hung over her shoulder, leaving the crisscross laces on the back of her dress visible. They cinched together down the center of the lacy fabric hugging her torso, seeming to make a point of showing off the way her waist nipped in all small and female, and swelled out again over her hips.
He frowned, yanking his eyes away.
He'd always lumped Aurora in the same category as his little sisters. She'd been the kid sister of one of his best friends. Noticing anything about her waist or hips, or anything else for that matter, wasn't something he was altogether comfortable with.
He settled his hat more squarely on his head and made some noise thumping down the metal steps, and as he'd hoped, she lowered her foot and straightened as he approached.
Her blue eyes ran over him. "I knew Rusty's costume would fit you." She gave a quick smile. "You don't know how much I appreciate you doing this."
"Don't y'all put on this wedding show more than once a day?" The other shows he'd noticed in his week working here had repeated themselves several times a day. There was a bank robbery thing that happened out on Main Street as Aurora's show did, a stunt show that was held at the far end of the park in the corral set in the shadows of a wooden roller coaster complete with two loop-the-loops, a saloon girl dancing show held almost hourly inside the Texas Rose restaurant, and a few others that seemed to alternate, all designed to keep the guests entertained.
Aurora was nodding. "You and I well, Rusty and Lila get to pledge their troth four times daily." She pulled on the thin gold chain hanging around her neck and a locket emerged from the front of her dress. He realized it was a watch when she flipped it open. "Which we've got to do in ten minutes." She slid the locket back into her cleavage.
Somehow he'd missed the fact that Aurora McElroy even possessed cleavage. That time at the feed store he was certain she'd been wearing a plaid work shirt that had been big enough to fit her daddy.
He dragged his mind away from cleavages. They were fine in their place. He was even a man who enjoyed his fair share of 'em.
But not when their existence seemed to come out of the same left field as Aurora's "I need you to marry me" had.
"Seems to me missing one show wouldn't be the end of Cowboy Country," he said, keeping his eyes well above her neckline.
"We get paid by the show," Aurora said. "Maybe it wouldn't be the end of Cowboy Country. But it cuts into the performers' paychecks, believe me." She gestured at the script. "Did you look through it?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What started out as a favor for a skit ends up leaving pretend and becoming reality. An adorably sweet confection of fun characters, hilarious misconceptions and heartwarming moments. I loved it and know that others who read it will fall in love as well. Received an ARC of Fortune’s June Bride for an honest review.