RUST CREEK RAMBLINGS
Greetings, merry readers! As the holidays approach in Rust Creek Falls, we are marveling at the number of couples who have been brought together by this summer's infamous wedding punch. And then there is Kristen Dalton, our town's resident actress/romantic. Since July, she has been pining over the "perfect cowboy," Ryan, whom she met at the wedding. But he left town soon afterfor good, or so we thought.
Now Ryan has returned, and folks are betting he and Kristen will be engaged before we can hang the holly. Not so fast, romantic revelers! Our out-of-town cowboy may not be exactly as advertised. Will they still meet under the mistletoe when Kristen finds out who Ryan really is?
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Fourth of July
"Do you see them?"
Kristen Dalton shaded her eyes with one hand as she looked up the road, but she couldn't see any hint of a horse-drawn carriage. "Sorry, sis. No sign of the bride and groom yet."
"I can't wait to see her wedding dress. The rumors have been all over the place. I've heard everything from country casual to Kardashian craziness."
Anything could be true. Although Kristen and her sister lived in a small town surrounded by ranches, technology made the world itself a small place. Even to the far northern edge of Montana, a gown from glittering Hollywood could be shipped overnight. Since the wedding dress possibilities were endless, the speculation around town had been, as well. For weeks, Kristen had been patiently listening to her twin, Kayla, list the pros and cons of every type of gown. Although today was the Fourth of July, her twin's excitement was closer to that of a kid on Christmas morning.
Kristen handed her sister her paper cup, then hopped up to perch on the top log of the split-rail fence that bordered the town park. She held out her hands for her cup and Kayla's. "Come sit with me. It could be a while. That photographer has to take pictures of a million Traub family members at the church."
Kayla climbed up to sit beside her on the railing, settling in for the wait. "What a beautiful day for their wedding."
Kristen thought it was a little too warm, nearly eighty degrees, which was as hot as things got this close to Glacier National Park. As she handed back Kayla's cup, Kristen took a healthy drink of her ice-cold wedding punch.
Thank goodness they'd decided to wear sundresses. They didn't match, of course. She and Kayla looked as identical as two peas in a pod, a phrase Kristen had been hearing for as long as she could remember, but they hadn't dressed like twins for as long as they'd been choosing their own clothes. From a distance, she supposed they looked like twins in blue dresses, but up close, they weren't alike at all.
Kayla's dress had an all-over print of tiny flowers. Her spaghetti straps were delicate, and she wore their grandmother's earrings. The shiny filigree drops were shown to their advantage on Kayla because she swept her hair up most of the time.
No one would ever see those earrings if Kristen wore them, because her hair was nearly always down.
And long. And wavy. Andokay, I'll admit it, Mom always blowing in the Montana breeze and getting tangled. Their mother had despaired of keeping it neat and had given up trying somewhere around kindergarten, when Kristen had become quite adept at removing barrettes and bows.
Kristen could also admit that she'd deliberately worn blue because it made her eyes appear their bluest. Her denim halter dress always made her feel like she struck the right balance between sweet and sexy. She got smiles from the town's mavens and mavericks both. Rather than sandals, she wore her western boots. Not the solid, broken-in ones that she wore to do chores around the family ranch, but the ones with the hand-scrolled swirls in the leather. These were the boots she wore for two-stepping, waltzing and square dancing, all of which she hoped to do before, during and after tonight's fireworks.
All she needed was the right cowboy to dance with.
If only there was a cowboy here in Rust Creek Falls that she didn't already knowand already know wasn't her type.
"I really admire Braden and Jennifer for thinking up this carriage ride," her sister said. "Their first experience as Mr. and Mrs. Traub will be private, just the two of them, as they start their journey together, figuratively, literally"
"Briefly." Kristen nudged her in the shoulder. "The church is only two blocks away. Then we'll be right here, ready to say hi while we're really checking out the newest Mrs. Traub's gown."
Kayla shot her a look. "We're supposed to admire the bride's gown. It's expected."
"I know, I know. It'll be worth the wait, I'm sure."
"They say the best things in life are." Kayla sounded like she really meant that.
Kristen kicked the heels of her boots against the lower log railing. Thunk, thunk. She polished off the rest of her punch, then lifted her heavy hair from the back of her warm neck again. Thunk, thunk. "I hope this carriage looks amazing, because it certainly isn't a very fast way to travel."
Kayla nudged her shoulder. "I heard Sutter Traub located true white horses, and they went to someone's place south of Kalispell to borrow a two-seater surrey. Paige and Lindsay bought miles of white ribbon for it and were making bows all week."
"Wow," Kristen said, impressed at the wealth of details her sister knew. Kristen had only heard that the bride and groom were going to arrive at the park by carriage. "You've got wedding fever worse than anyone else in town, and that's saying something, considering the entire town is here for the reception."
Kristen stopped thudding her heels against the cross rail; even a twin might get annoyed at the rhythmic thumping, even an identical twin who understood Kris-ten's restless nature better than anyone else in the world. Squinting against the bright July sun, she joined Kayla in staring silently down Buckskin Road, past their old high school. Every kid in Rust Creek Falls had been educated there. Every kid still was. Some things in this small town never changed, and that was fine with Kristen.
She'd gone to the University of Montana, majored in theater and spent a summer as an unpaid intern in New York City. Like Dorothy in a pair of ruby red slippersa role she'd played onstage at the universityshe'd realized there was no place like home. Cities were great fun to visit, but the tiny town of Rust Creek Falls under the big sky of Montana was home. It always had been. It always would be.
Small didn't mean boring. Things were always changing. Their local politics could make the national scene appear tame, but everyone had pulled together to rebuild after a flood had wiped out a substantial portion of the town just a couple of years ago. Old Bledsoe's Folly, an abandoned mountain retreat, was now an upscale resort that had the town buzzing with talk about developing the area's first ski slope.
But it was the people of Rust Creek Falls that were the most interesting. There must be something about Montana's famous Big Sky, because lots of folks who'd come to help with the flood recovery or to turn Bledsoe's Folly into Maverick Manor had ended up staying, partnered up after falling in love in Kristen's hometown.
She glanced up at that blue sky now, automatically scanning the horizon for planesfor a certain plane. It was a habit she'd formed earlier this year, when she'd thought the blue sky was bringing her true love to her. The handsome pilot of a commuter airline had turned out to be a heartbreaker of the lowest kind. Like a sailor with a girl in every port, he'd had a woman at every airport. Kristen still felt like an idiot for falling for him.
She got another shoulder nudge from her sister. "Does he fly into Kalispell on weekends now?"
Leave it up to quiet Kayla to never miss a detail, not even a glance at the sky.
Kristen wrinkled her nose. "I don't care what Captain Two-Timer does or where he flies or who he tells lies to after he lands."
"Or to whom he tells lies after he lands."
"You should be a writer, you know." Kristen resumed her rail-thumping. "I don't care 'to whom' he lies. It isn't to me, not anymore. 'Gee, I wish I didn't have to go. I won't be able to call you for a few days. You know I'd rather be with you, but this job is so demanding.' I was an idiot. I can't believe I couldn't see through him."
"You were in love."
"I'm not anymore." She tossed her hair back. "I'm in the mood to dance. I'm hoping for a handsome stranger or two to flirt with, but I'm not going to fall in love again."
"Not for a long while. Definitely not today." Kayla didn't say anything for long seconds. Kristen stopped looking for the carriage when she realized her sister was staring at her, not at the road.
"You shouldn't dare the universe to prove you wrong like that."
"Stop that. You're giving me goose bumps." Kristen jumped down from the fence, an easy drop of two feet at most, but somehow she stumbled and nearly fell. She was normally as nimble as a cat, and this sudden imbalance struck her asfunny? Yes, it was funny. It was good to giggle after that serious moment. "You stay here on carriage watch. I'll go get us some more punch. Give me your cup."
When Kayla reached down to hand her the cup, she slipped, too, and fell right into Kristen. They dissolved into giggles together, for no reason at all.
"What do you suppose is in that punch?" Kristen asked. "We only had one cup."
"I don't know, but stay here with me. Just look down that road and wait for true love to come our way."
Ryan Roarke parked his red Porsche in between two sturdy pickup trucks. The high-performance sports car belonged in Los Angeles, but this wasn't LA. In fact, Ryan had come to Montana to get away from Los Angeles. When he'd directed his assistant to reserve a luxury rental vehicle at the Glacier Park airport, he'd expected to be handed the keys to his usual Land Rover or an Audi fitted with a ski rack, the kind of rental he drove when he visited his brother in a different part of Montana, the upscale ski resort of Thunder Canyon.
This was July, however, and the roads were clear of snow, so the clerk had been enthusiastic when she'd handed him the keys to the Porsche. Ryan had attempted to return her smile when he wanted to grimace.
He grimaced now. Pulling into the packed dirt of the parking spaces at the edge of Rust Creek Falls' park in a Porsche was not what he'd had in mind for the weekend. The flashy car was so inappropriate for this rugged town, it made him look like he was having a midlife crisis. Ryan killed the powerful engine and got out, feeling like a giant at six-foot-one next to the low car. He returned the stares from a few cowboys with a hard look of his own.
Ryan knew what a midlife crisis looked liketoo many of his fellow attorneys blew their children's inheritances on sports cars in an effort to replace their children's mothers with starletsbut he didn't know what one felt like. He was not having a midlife crisis.
He was only thirty-three, for starters, and a confirmed bachelor. He wasn't trying to appear more wealthy or powerful or attractive to women than he already was.
As the second generation of well-known attorneys in Los Angeles, Ryan already owned the sports cars, the Rolex, the hand-tailored suits. Physical intimidation had a subliminal effect even in a courtroom, and Ryan kept himself in fighting shape by boxing with exclusive trainers and surfing on exclusive beaches. When it came to young, blonde starlets finding him attractive, he didn't even have to try.
This was definitely not a midlife crisis.
So why am I standing in the smallest of towns in a landlocked state more than one thousand miles away from home?
He was supposed to be on a yacht, slowly getting sloshed with his fellow millionaires, drinking top-shelf mojitos while waiting for the sun to set over the Pacific and for the city of Los Angeles to blow an obscene amount of money on a fireworks display worthy of a Hollywood movie. One Laker Girl, in particular, was quite upset he'd canceled those plans. But the government had closed the courts of law on Friday for the holiday weekend, and for the past two years, whenever Ryan found himself with a chance to take a few days off, he'd found himself taking those days off in Montana.
The reason he'd first set foot in Big Sky Country was his brother. Shane Roarke had gained fame as a celebrity chef, a man whose dynamic personality and culinary skill had combined to give him the keys to the world. Shane had opened restaurants all over that world, but when it came to choosing one place to live, he'd chosen Montana.
Shane, like Ryan, was adopted. Shane had found his birth family in Thunder Canyon. He'd found a pair of half brothers, a baker's dozen of cousinsand the love of his life. She'd been working right under his nose at his own restaurant in the Thunder Canyon resort.
None of that would be happening for Ryan. Not in Montana, and not anywhere else on the planet. Unlike Shane, Ryan hadn't been adopted at birth. He'd been almost four years old, too young to have many memories of his birth mother, but old enough to have retained an image or two, impressions.
And that one clear moment in time: watching his mother voluntarily walk away from him, forever.
No, there would never be an embrace from a happy second family for him. He was loyal only to one family: the Roarkes. His parents, Christa and Gavin Roarke, his older brother Shane, his younger sister Maggie.
It was Maggie who lived here in Rust Creek Falls, some three hundred miles even farther north than Thunder Canyon. Maggie was married now, and she'd given birth to her first baby less than three months ago.
The Fourth of July wasn't a big family holiday, not like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Between the LA traffic to the airport, the security checks, and the need to change planes in order to cross one thousand miles, Montana was no weekend jaunt. No one was expected to travel for nine or ten hours to see family for a day in July. And yet, Maggie had mentioned over the phone that the whole town would be celebrating the wedding for a couple Ryan vaguely knew from a previous trip, and he'd booked a flight.
Another moment in time, another feeling: A wedding in Rust Creek Falls? I should be there.
He was acting irrationally, following a hunch. Was that any worse behavior than the attorneys who really were having midlife crises?
Maggie had told him the wedding would be in the church, a formal affair with five bridesmaids and men in tuxedos. Accordingly, Ryan was wearing a suit and tie. He owned a few tuxedos, of course, but since the wedding was in the afternoon and he was one of an entire town of guests, he'd assumed wearing black tie would be too much.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Small town Kristen came back home after getting her college degree in theater. Entertainment lawyer Ryan is in Montana to visit his sister and see if his desire to settle down there is real. When the two meet at the 4th of July town celebration/wedding reception sparks fly but misunderstandings abound. When he returns to town a few months later to find her, those misunderstandings are still between them. The book is well paced, the settings are beautifully described, the characters are well developed, and the romance is definitely in the air. If your heart doesn't break a little for them then you don't have a soul :)
A very sweet romance - with some major miscommunication/misunderstanding of the "facts" by the heroine. And some definite walls around the heart of the hero. But it all comes right in the end. Just the way you like a romantic story to go - and all in time for Christmas. Hooray. Now I have to investigate the other "Maverick" stories in the series.