A Night Worth Remembering
Originally published as: THE BRIDE SAID, "I DID?"
"What you need is a man," Jenna Lockhart teased.
"According to John and Lilah McCabe, we all need a man, "Dani Lockhart spouted back as she plucked the Sold sign off the front lawn and marched up the sidewalk leading to her century-old Victorian home.
Thanks to all four of the McCabe sons, who had finally found the loves of their lives and gotten married, wedding fever had swept the town of Laramie, Texas. Old family friends John and Lilah McCabe had swiftly decided that the four Lockhart girls should do the same. And, having more or else become surrogate parents to the girls since their parents' own death, had taken it upon themselves to lead the cheering campaign. Hence, Laramie residents were now looking to the four Lockhart daughters to pony up to the hitching post.
Unfortunately, Dani thought irritably as she watched the moving van drive away from the curb, it wasn't that simple. She and her three sisters had all returned to Laramie so they could once again be closer to each other, but none of them was intent on bringing a man into her life. All had been badly burned in the game of love. All were now determinedly, and she did mean determinedly, single.
"But that is not going to happen," Dani continued after a moment, speaking to all three of her sisters as they sat on the comfortable wicker furniture on the front porch. The furniture had been sold with the house, and it fitted the spacious veranda perfectly.
Jenna capped her pen, shut her sketchbook of dress designs and stood. "You know what I mean. Someone to help discourage Billy Carter once and for all." Jenna walked across the shady deck. "If you had a man around, showering you with attention, well, surely Billy would understand that at eighteen he's far too young for you. And then find someone closer to his own age to date."
Refusing to touch that suggestion with a ten-foot pole, Dani ran a hand through her cap of copper hair and sighed. She knew that part of this untoward situation was her fault. Billy Carter had gotten in touch with her three years ago when he'd interviewed her for his school newspaper. Since, Dani had mentored him via e-mai1, answering his questions about what it was like to work in the industry and encouraging his own interest in a film career. She'd known he looked up to her, but she'd had no idea he had a crush on her until the day they finally met in person, and by then, it was too late. She'd already hired him for the summer.
Dani sighed and set the Sold sign in a corner of the front porch, so the realtor could pick it up at her convenience. "I've tried to get Billy interested in girls his own age," Dani confessed. In the few weeks she'd been back, shopping for a house and settling in, she'd tried to fix him up several times.
"And?" Jenna asked with bated breath.
Dani frowned, remembering how her young protégé had turned up his nose at each and every one of them. "No go." Dani frowned and shook her head as she admitted reluctantly, "Billy has eyes only for me." The four Lockhart sisters exchanged troubled glances.
"Maybe if he wasn't going to be working for you the rest of the summer," Meg suggested gently as Dani held the door and she carried in the straw basket of housewarming goodies she'd brought, "your problem would be easier to resolve."
Threading her way through the dozens of moving boxes, Dani led her sisters to the spacious country kitchen at the rear of the house. She took the basket of goodies from Meg and slid it into the refrigerator. "I can't fire him now, not after just one day, especially when he did such a super job this morning making sure the movers put all my work boxes in the library. And with over two thousand videos to unpack, sort, catalog and put away, and several thousand more coming in the next few weeks... well, you can see where I'm in a bind."
Like her, Billy had a passion for movies. The kind of passion that was just not going to go away. The kind of passion the industry needed in this day and age if it was ever going to get back to the glory days of old, where the story-not the special effects-was the focus of the film.
"Billy is an excellent student, an incredible worker. He's just young and overly romantic. I don't think I should hold that against him," Dani continued. Surely his crush on her would fade with time, she told herself.
"Then maybe you should hire someone else, too. A third party to make things less intimate," Kelsey suggested practically as the four sisters headed back out to the much-cooler veranda, glasses of lemonade in hand, to enjoy what was left of the sultry summer afternoon.
"I only wish I could. But my budget has been sorely strained as it is," Dani said. She had moved from Los Angeles, bought one of the most expensive old houses in town: a charming Victorian on Spring Street-and then set about furnishing it. She'd depleted her savings, and until she received her book advance, in approximately another month, she was counting every penny. Her sisters, all having incurred similar expenses, were also strapped for cash.
"I need someone who knows movies as well as I do. And aside from Billy-" a film buff if ever there was one, Dani thought "-I don't know a single person in Laramie who would have the patience, never mind the know-how, for the job. I mean, I can just rattle off a title and Billy instantly knows whether it was a western or a comedy. Who's in it, who directed it, how it was received by moviegoers."
"Well, then, I guess you could try dressing badly," Jenna, a clothing designer and fashion plate in her own right, teased.
"Or smelling awful," Kelsey, a cowgirl and budding rancher who knew what it was to smell to high heaven after a day in the saddle, suggested with the same mirth as Jenna.
"Or just stop bathing," Meg, who'd just landed a job as nursing supervisor at Laramie Community Hospital, said. "That'll do it."
"You all are lots of help." Dani rolled her eyes at the good-natured ribbing.
Silence fell as Meg stood, stretched and peered around the crepe-myrtle bush at the corner of the house. Dani noted the stunned look on Meg's face.
"What?" Dani demanded.
Meg blinked, blinked again. "Uh…are you expecting company this afternoon?" she asked nervously. Which was odd, Dani thought. Meg was never nervous.
"No," Dani said slowly, almost afraid to find out what suddenly had her oldest sister on edge. "Why?"
Jenna joined Meg at the veranda railing. She, too, peered around the brilliant flowers on the leafy green bush. "Oh, boy," she said. "And we thought Billy was going to be trouble."
Kelsey leaped up to see what the fuss was about. "You aren't kidding," she muttered, looking ever more amused and skeptical.
Dani, who felt she'd already endured enough joking for the day, stayed where she was, remaining cool, calm, and collected. And curious. "Is Billy back?" Dani demanded when her three sisters continued to gape at whatever-whoever-was coming down the walk. She'd just sent the kid home for the day half an hour ago.
"You wish," Meg said.
"Billy, you can handle," Kelsey agreed.
"But this one…" Jenna shook her head in silent commiseration.
Surely her sisters were pulling her leg with their dramatics. Dani walked over to the corner of the porch where all three were congregated, fighting for a view.
She peered around them. Seeing who was coming up the walk, all the air left her lungs in one big whoosh. She would have known that tall broad-shouldered silhouette and ruggedly handsome face anywhere, even if he hadn't graced the romantic daydreams of millions of women the world over.
As usual, Beau Chamberlain was wearing snug, worn jeans, custom leather boots, a bone-colored Stetson hat, and a snowy white western shirt that had become his trademark both on and off the set. The only thing that alluded to his star status-aside from the knowing curl of his sensually carved lips and the exceedingly confident way he carried himself-was the movie-star sunglasses that shaded his bedroom eyes.
Already picking up her sketchbook of designs, Jenna turned back to Dani. "Should we stay or go?" Jenna asked, looking ready to bolt if so desired.
Dani frowned as Beau made a hard right and strode resolutely up the walk to her house. To her mounting dismay, he looked ready to kick some Texas butt. Namely, Dani realized on a beleaguered sigh, hers.
But that was not going to happen.
"Stay," Dani told her sisters firmly. Her heart beat slowly and heavily as she surveyed the straight black hair peeking out from beneath the brim of Beau' s hat, and remembered the way it had felt beneath her fingertips. Another shimmer of awareness sifted through her, weakening her knees. "It won't take me long to get rid of him," Dani promised. All she had to do was remind Beau of the acrimonious nature of their relationship for the past two years, and he'd be gone in a flash.
Ignoring the take-no-prisoners set of his broad shoulders and the determined flare of his nostrils, Dani crossed to the top of the porch steps. She folded her arms in front of her and glared down at him, determined not to forgive him for what had happened between them in Mexico. "I thought I'd seen the last of you," she said coolly, amazed he had the audacity to show up on her doorstep after the unforgivable stunt he'd pulled on her south of the border. Never mind stand in front of her so contentiously, his legs braced apart, every inch of him taut and ready for action.
"Dream on," Beau Chamberlain replied with a grim smile. He yanked off his sunglasses to reveal thick-lashed, midnight blue eyes that lasered into her very soul. "Wife."