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The Basque really know how to get married, Ginger Dysart thought. She hadn't attended the wedding ceremony and she'd had doubts about attending this reception, given all the sadness she'd suffered over the past year. Her own marriage had barely begun when it ended in divorce. But she was so glad she'd come to the reception. It was an ethnic extravaganzathe Basque food, the music, the dancing. The bride and groom, Scott and Peyton Grant, had whirled around the dance floor a couple of times, then parted so Scott could dance with his mother and Peyton could dance with her father. And then there was a series of handsome dark-haired men who claimed the bridebrothers, cousins, uncles.
Paco Lacoumette presided over the party with all the aplomb of a king and was clearly in his element. The couples dancing would cease and the Basque men in their traditional dress of white with red vests and caps would take the floor and put on a show to the wild applause of the guests. Then more couples dancing. Even Ginger was dragged from her chair and pulled out to dance, despite her efforts to decline. She danced with men she knewCooper, Spencer, Mac, Scottand men she didn't know, those good-looking, dark Lacou-mette relatives. At one point she spied Troy, Grace's boyfriend, who must have just arrived. Grace, Ginger's boss and owner of the flower shop in Thunder Point, thought Troy wasn't going to make it and had been so disappointed, yet there he was, twirling Grace around with almost professional skill. And judging by the glowing look on Grace's face, she was completely thrilled!
Wine flowed, food was constantly replenished, dancing and laughter filled the night. Ginger felt pretty for the first time in so long. She wore a new dress, cut to her slim figure. She'd lost a lot of weight in the past several months; men were looking at her in a way they hadn't before, and she actually enjoyed the feel of their eyes on her. Those lusty, dark-haired Basque men did nothing to conceal their appreciative gazes.
The whole atmosphere was magicalteenagers were dancing or dashing about the grounds and orchard, sneaking behind trees for stolen kisses, children were riding on the shoulders of fathers, grandfathers and uncles, women were clapping in time to the music, laughing, singing, gossiping. Peyton and Scott were in much demand on the dance floor and in between songs many toasts were made. There were far too many Lacou-mettes to remember all their names, but they made her feel welcome and appreciated, thanking her repeatedly for helping Grace bring the wedding flowers.
There was one darkly handsome man she'd noticed right away because he was the only one who seemed sulky and unhappy, and he was the one approaching her now as she stood beside her table. He had the swarthy good looks and fierce eyes of a pirate or maybe a serial killer. And with such precision timing, he had singled her out while everyone else from her table was dancing.
"Hey, pretty lady," he said with a smile that was off-kilter. His words were slurred. That would at least partially account for the half-mast eyes and pouting expressionhe was obviously drunk. Well, this happened at weddings with great regularity, especially weddings where the wine flowed so liberally.
"Time for a dance!" he said.
"Thank you, but I'm going to sit this one out," she replied.
"Hmm," he said, stroking his chin. "Then we should go straight to the hayloft!"
She was appalled. But she remained composed and confident. "I'm sitting that out, as well."
"No, come with me," he said. "You and melet's do this." And then he reached for her. And grabbed her right breast.
She shrieked, shoved him away. His feet got tangled, he fell backward over a chair and went down, hitting his head on the way. And there he lay, motionless and unconscious.
"Help," she said. Then louder. "Help!"
She got far more attention than she wanted or expected. And of course, there were the questions. What happened? Are you hurt? Did he pass out? Is he dead?
"He grabbed at me," she said, waving a hand over the area of her breast without pointing or saying it. "I shoved him away and he fell and
I think he might've hit his head on the table."
There he lay in a heap, on his back, his legs twisted awkwardly.
In just seconds Peyton and Scott were there, Scott crouching and lifting the man's eyelids, looking at his pupils. "Well, they're equal, but damn
they're big. Does he take anything?" he asked his bride.
"Yes, wine," Peyton said. "He killed a full skin before the dancing."
Then Paco was pushing his way through the crowd, looking down. "I knew it would come to this," he said. "There was no slowing him down."
"I think we should call 911, get a head CT, make sure he didn't crack his skull," Scott said.
"His head is made of wood," Paco said. "It would serve him right to be carried out of his sister's wedding on one of those backboard things and spend the night in a hospital." Paco reached for the ice bucket on the table. Everyone scooted back immediately, as if they knew what was coming. Peyton pulled Scott away while Paco took a bottle of white wine out of the bucket, put it on the table and doused the man with the ice water.
He sputtered and coughed and sat up.
"See what I'm telling you? Wood. George! Sal! Mikie! Get Matthew from your sister's wedding! Hide his keys!" The men moved into action immediately. Paco looked at Ginger and said, "There's always one. I apologize." Then he took in the gathering crowd and clapped. "I think it's time I dance with my wife!"
Grace arrived, pushing her way through the crowd. "Ginger! Is everything all right?"
"I'm not sure," she said, looking as the men were leavingthree of them walking steadily and one weaving dangerously.
"My brother, Matt," Peyton said. "He has issues. Divorce issues. He was divorced a little over a year ago but it appears he's still very bitter. Weddings don't seem to bring out the best in him. He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"He didn't quite connect," Ginger said. "I was about to say good-night anyway. I'm going back to my folks' house in Portland for the night."
"I might kill Matt," Peyton said.
"Just enjoy the rest of your party," Ginger said. "No harm done. To me, anyway. God, I hope I didn't hurt him."
"You heard my fatherhis head is made of wood."
"I'll call you in the morning," Grace said. "Troy had some car trouble on the way up here and we'll have to see where that stands in the morning and figure out how we're all getting home. I've got the van, you take your father's car back to him."
Ginger turned to Peyton. "It was a wonderful reception. You look ravishing. And I was just thinking, the Basque people really know how to get married."
Ginger's parents, Dick and Sue, had waited up. That was definite evidence as to how concerned they were about herthey stayed up past ten when their usual bedtime was before nine. And when she walked in the front door, looking perfectly alive, they both stood from their recliners. They looked at her expectantly.
"Did you have a good time?" Sue asked hesitantly.
"I had a lovely time," she said. "The flowers were beautiful, the wedding party was gorgeous and the party was like something out of a fairy tale. You wouldn't believe the fun of Basque dancing and music! And the food? Oh, my God, the food was just amazing. And I'm exhaustedI'm going straight to bed."
comfortable in your room, Ginger?" Sue asked.
"Yes, of course. And thank you for making it so nice for me."
She kissed them both on their cheeks and went upstairs. Upstairs to the large bedroom and small adjacent nursery that had been renovated especially for her when she'd come home to her parents', pregnant and alone; to the room where she had cared for her little son for the four short months of his life.
Ginger had been staying with her father's cousin Ray Anne in Thunder Point for the last month. It was through Ray Anne that she'd gotten the job in Grace's flower shop, a job that was really saving her life, hour by hour. Before she came back to Portland with Grace for this wedding and weekend visit, Ray Anne had called Sue and asked her to pack up all those baby things that Ginger had been looking at since his death over nine months ago. The crib and mobile had been taken down, the clothes removed from the drawers, boxed up and stored, the necessary accoutrements like the car seat, bouncy chair, baby bean bag, bath items and changing table were all gone. She didn't think her parents had given them away, but they were out of sight. Probably stored in the attic or garage. There was only one framed picture of Ginger and Josh that she found in the top drawer.
She took it out, put it on the bedside table and changed into her pajamas.
When her father had suggested, rather emotionally, that Ginger go to Thunder Point and stay with Ray Anne for at least a few weeks, she had not wanted any part of it. But it was plain to see her parents needed a break from her grief. Now she was so glad she had gone. When she was in Thunder Point, she at least had the illusion of getting on with her life. She had a new, improved appearance, at Ray Anne's insistence. She had that lovely little job in the flower shop. She had slept well and had an appetite again. Oh, she'd longed for little Josh, like always. But she was marching on.
She crawled into the bed at her parents' house, turned the picture of herself and her baby toward her, left the light on so she could see it and sobbed.
Troy Headly had missed the Lacoumette-Grant wedding ceremony and barely made it to the reception. His Jeep had broken down by the side of the road and AAA had to send a tow truck. At least the tow-truck driver had been willing to drop him off at the Lacoumette farm where the festivities were held, but it left him and Grace with her flower-delivery van to drive to a hotel in Portland. They left the valet to park the flower van so they could check in. The day was not going the way he'd hoped it would.
He had proposed, however. In the pear grove at the farm while the revelers had partied under a big tent beside the grove. And Grace had said yes.
When he finally had her alone in the hotel room, he kissed her senseless. "Do you really like the ring, Gracie? Because we could go together to the jeweler and get a better one."
"You're not taking my ring!" she said emphatically. She placed it on her finger. "You picked it out yourself and I love it! I love you! I couldn't wear it tonight and draw attention to myself like thatit's Peyton's day. But the second we get home, I'm going to be showing everyone." Then she was the one who grew serious. "Are you sure about this, Troy? Because you didn't want a wife so soon."
He laughed and whirled her around and swept her onto the bed. He pulled off her pumps and ran a hand up her thigh. "I didn't want children so soon, either, but guess what? We're starting right now." He covered her flat belly with his big hand. "We're going to have to get better at this birth-control thing or we'll end up with twenty."
"I don't think there's time for twenty," she said.
"Gracie," he said, his hand roaming, his voice a little breathless. "Is this a garter belt?"
She shrugged. "I think you bring out the slutty underwear in me."
"Oh, honey, you plan to drug me with sex and get at least ten babies out of me before I know what's hit me. Is that right? Huh? When are we getting married?"
"We have a little time. Maybe we should elope before my mother tries to plan a coronation from her sickbed."
"I don't want to elope," he said. "I want to party! Please, Gracie, take off this dress! Let's do it, then we can argue about the wedding. I always get my way after I make you feel good." He kissed her. "I know exactly how to get my way." He pulled down the zipper on the back of her dress and helped her shimmy out of it. "God," he said. "I'm going to make you very happy."
George Lacoumette and his wife, Lori, insisted on taking Matt to the hospital
with a bucket in his lap. They didn't really think he'd cracked his head open, they explained. They thought the likelihood of concussion was lower than alcohol poisoning. But there would be nothing as awkward as the untimely death of a member of the wedding party. In an effort to protect Peyton's happy memories of her special day, they forced Matt into their car and then into the emergency room.
Matt was pissed as hell. He knew he'd been out of line and regretted it, but he wanted to be taken home. He still lived in the apartment he'd shared with his ex-wife, Natalie, a woman he still loved, except that he hated her. It was Natalie's fault that he'd gotten smashed at the wedding. They'd been married on the farm and he was still in a state of anger and depression over the divorce, which had come much too soon after the wedding.
The ER doctor started an IV, then left the room as a bag of fluid ran into Matt. He sobered up fast.
The doctor returned after a while.
"Wow," Matt said. "I only see one of you!"
"Welcome back." The doctor laughed.
"I didn't know you could do that! One IV, instant sobriety! Instant shame!"
"Yeah, it's magic. So, you have a headache?"
"Right here," Matt said, pointing to the back of his head. "Am I injured?"
"Possible liver damage, but we didn't see any blood or bumps. Let's check the eyes." The doctor waved a light across his pupils. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest you bumped your head on the way to passing out. Sothis a problem for you?"
"Hitting my head and passing out?" he asked.
"No, drinking like a pig and falling down," the doctor clarified. "Are you an alcoholic?"
"Ah, shit." He rubbed his head. "I'm divorced. I got married in that same orchard a couple of years ago. It didn't last long. The marriage, that is. It was kind of
what's the word?"
"Painful? Embarrassing? Grievous? Lonely? Regrettable?" the doctor tried.
"Yeah, those are the words. I might've overdone it a little tonight."
"So you're not adjusting well?" he asked.
"My brothers and sisters have taken to calling me Mad Matt. Does that tell you anything?"
"You might want to consider some counseling. Before you really hurt yourself."
"Doc, I appreciate your help, but if there's one thing I don't ever want to talk about it's my ex-wife and my divorce."
"Brother, there is life after divorce. I am living proof."
"Me. According to my ex-wife I keep lousy hours, I'm inattentive off the job, I don't pitch in, I'm snarky and critical, a tightwad, insensitive, selfish, many negative things. The list is long."
"I didn't think anyone divorced a doctor," Matt said, sounding surprised.
"The divorce rate among doctors is high," he said. "I'm going to let you go home. If you have any problems or questions, call me. Don't sit and wonder if you're okay, just call me. And be done drinking for the day."
"Funny," Matt said, "the divorce rate among farmers is low. Yet."
"Even if you were given a reason, that's just one opinion," the doctor said. "You going to be okay now?"