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Bad Boys, Romance and Divas - Who doesn't love a good romance!
USA Today bestselling author Sylvia McDaniel has published more than thirty western historical romance, contemporary romance and even a few sci-fi novels. Known for her sweet, funny, family-oriented romances, Sylvia is the author of The Burnett Brides a historical western series, The Cuvier Widows, a Louisiana historical series, Lipstick and Lead, a western historical series and Return to Cupid, Texas a contemporary series.
“Laney Baxter, if you have reservations, back out now,” Ally, her best friend and bridesmaid said. “Your son doesn’t need a father that badly.”
Reaching up, Laney touched the gold heart necklace around her neck. Maybe not, but the boy was growing from toddler to little boy, and her son would do better with the influence of a strong man.
Deliberately, she kept her son’s father’s identity a secret. No one needed to know, not her family, her friends, or even her best friend. For one thing, it would lead to all kinds of questions she was too embarrassed to explain. Especially her parents.
“Not really reservations. Roger is just not who I envisioned marrying,” Laney admitted, not willing to concede she dreamed of walking down the aisle with Ally’s brother Chase.
“Do you love him? Please tell me you are not shackling yourself to a man you don’t care about.”
“Of course, I love Roger. He’s a good man. But I expected I would be more excited about tomorrow,” she confessed.
Roger was everything she could want. Patient and kind, he agreed to wait to consummate their relationship. After the pee stick changed color, she made the decision that until a ring graced her left finger and a license proclaimed her his wife they were not having sex. What was that old saying?
Once burned, twice shy.
“Don’t you think your lack of excitement is telling?”
Flipping her shoulder length brown hair back, she shook her head. “After being heartbroken by Trenton’s dad, the abandoned engagement with Jim, nothing about love excites me anymore. My lack of excitement is my attempt to guard my heart.”
After an unplanned pregnancy, an abandoned engagement, when it came to men, caution was best.
Ally tossed back her glass of wine. “In high school, you were always the life of the party. Creating more mischief than any of the other girls we hung with. And yet, here you are the night before your big day holed up with me in The Cupid Love Nest bed and breakfast. Not even a bachelorette night on the town. We should be down at Valentino’s bar drinking champagne and being toasted.”
With a shrug, she said, “I’m a parent now. My son is my first priority.”
The idea of getting drunk wasn’t appealing. She only planned on marrying once and a clear head was optimal when she took her vows. What if Trenton became sick or called for her? He didn’t need an out of control mother.
“Lord, I never realized how much having a child could change a person.”
A laugh came from Laney’s lips as she considered how her life had changed since Trenton arrived. At first, she’d been distraught over having a child. Now, Trenton was a blessing. When he grinned and held up his arms, her heart clenched with love for her little man. Forsaking her single lifestyle was easy.
Her only regret was his father.
Barely three years of age, his birth transformed her world for the better.
“Your mom is keeping him while you two go off on your honeymoon?”
“No honeymoon. We’re spending the night in Fort Worth, and Sunday, we’ll come back here. Monday, I move into his apartment,” she said, thinking how odd it would be to leave her family home.
Living with them for twenty-four years was longer than she planned. After her parents learned of her pregnancy, they encouraged and helped her go to college while watching their grandson.
Because of their generosity, she had her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Leaving Trenton with her mother every day while she attended school, eased her mind that her son was looked after and so very loved.
Now, the time had come to grow up and face her responsibilities with her new husband.
Sipping the last of her bubbly, she thought back to that one night, when minus her panties, she let down her guard.
The superstition of dancing naked around the Cupid statue in the town square said the next person you met should be your true love. The consequences of her jaunt around that piece of rock, appeared nine months later with the delivery of her beautiful baby boy.
Shame, his father didn’t have the courage to listen to her when she tried to tell him the results of their one night together. Instead, he’d been too busy going off to graduate school to learn they were expecting.
One day, when Trenton was old enough, they would have a long talk about his father. It would be hard to keep the bitterness from her voice and the anger from her words. His father followed his dreams while she had their child.
“If you decide against this wedding, you’re welcome to escape to the family cabin on the banks of the Leon River right outside Bride, Texas. That crazy little town started by the jilted bride.”
“A jilted bride started that hole in the wall?”
“Yes, she was stood up by her fiancé and she created a life for herself right there. A beautiful story to remind brides that sometimes there is something better coming along,” Ally said smiling. “It’s one of the reasons I like it there.”
“Thank you, but I won’t need a place. I’m getting married in twenty-four hours.”
“Well, here’s the key to the cabin,” Ally said, dangling the metal like a temptation. “I’ll carry it in my bouquet, just in case.”
Laney giggled. “Thanks, but next week, I’ll be moving into Roger’s apartment as his wife and he as Trenton’s father.”
Ally took a deep sigh and released it. “You realize you have the worst luck with guys. What makes you think marriage will be any better?”
“Yes, I agree I’m unlucky when it comes to men,” she said, her eyes blinking with unshed tears.
This was her second endeavor at standing before a preacher and saying vows. Not long after the birth of Trent, she met Jim who asked her to marry him, only six weeks before the ceremony, he walked away. Disappeared without a call, without a trace.
An unplanned pregnancy, a broken engagement, and now the night before her big day, she had jitters. Nothing more than nerves.
Ally shook her head. “Don’t know why, I always thought you would wed Chase. Ever since my brother picked you up that night we dared you to dance in the buff around Cupid, I pictured the two of you together.”
“Sometimes even Cupid gets it wrong,” she said, knowing she thought she would wed him as well.
Laney stood in the vestibule of the church, in her white satin dress and veil waiting for the wedding march to begin. Doubts assailed her like hail in a Texas thunderstorm. Just like Ally had the night before, she questioned if she should marry Roger.
A gorgeous, rock-solid man who had a great job, supported her, treated her special, kissed well…but not as earth moving like the man who broke your heart, her conscious reminded her.
Reaching up, she touched the gold heart necklace, still wondering who had sent her the jewelry. Not long after she did the Cupid dance, it arrived in an unmarked box. No return address, no name, nothing. Now, she considered it her lucky charm.
“Are you certain?” her father asked. “It’s not too late to back out.”
“Let’s go, Daddy,” she said, refusing to let her apprehension overcome her. “He’s a good man.”
“Yes, he is,” her father replied. “Is he the right man for my daughter?”
“Come on, Dad. They’re waiting,” she said, plastering a smile on her face, not answering. That would be a long discussion. One they didn’t have time for.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said and patted her on the hand.
Walking down the aisle, she barely glanced at the people who were seated, her eyes on the man she was about to commit her life to. Hoping she was making the right choice.
As she neared Roger, she noticed he appeared anxious. Sweat beaded on his forehead. Of course, he was nervous. They were making a lifetime commitment today. A major life event.
Smiling, she tried to reassure him as she approached the altar.
“Who gives this woman away?”
“Her mother and I,” her father said, handing her off to Roger, placing her hand in his, she gave a quick reassuring squeeze.
The pastor looked out at the people gathered for the ceremony. “Should there be anyone who has cause why this couple should not be united in holy matrimony, please say so now.”
There was a rustle and she watched as Roger’s eyes widened, his mouth flew open, and she knew. Like a bolt of lightning, she just knew…
The color faded from her fiancé’s face and his eyes grew large as he gasped, and her stomach tightened. Taking a deep breath, she fortified herself for the bad news. Unlucky again.
“Excuse me, but this man is married,” a shrill voice sounded as their friends and family gasped.
A short woman with bottled-blonde hair and a set of decorated designer boobs displayed down to the top of her nipples, stood waving a piece of paper, a hefty rock on her left hand. “This is a copy of the marriage license. I have a ring on my finger and our wedding photo.”
Reaching for her beacon of hope, her fingers flew to the golden heart necklace around her throat.
Relief seemed to flood Laney and the look of horror on Roger’s face made her burst out laughing. From the distress etched on his face, she grasped the woman’s claim was true. Anger flooded her body like a Texas downpour, racing through the streets. The man who supposedly loved her, let her make a complete fool of herself.
“You son of a bitch,” she said low enough for only his ears. “You’re married. When were you going to tell me?”
“No, no,” he cried as she turned and started walking back down the petal covered carpet, her satin skirt swishing, determination in every step to elude this fiasco.
“The marriage is not real. It happened in Vegas,” Roger howled. “Stop, Laney, stop.”
“Oh, yes, it did,” the woman said. “We met, spent the night together, and woke up the next morning in wedded bliss. After I went to get coffee, you left before we talked about where we’re going to live.”
“That was fake,” he exclaimed.
“Oh no, baby. This sealed document is as real as it gets. You belong to me.”
Nearing the heavily made-up woman, Laney sensed her parents, surrounding her, her precious son in her mother’s arms. The touch of her father’s hand at her elbow, guiding her around the circus she could see unfolding there in the church, was comforting.
Roger begged his new wife to stop as she shoved the paper that shackled him to the platinum bombshell in his face. “Honey, I’m so glad I showed up. Bigamy is against the law.”
“Right now, jail would be better than the hell I’m living.”
The vulgar woman laughed. “That’s not what you said in bed the other night.”
Hurrying past the unfolding chaos, a loud scuffling noise came from behind. Looking over her shoulder to see Roger sprawled in the aisle, a satisfied look of retaliation on her grandmother’s face.
Granny could be deadly with her cane, buying Laney time to escape the auditorium. Smiling at the woman she loved, she gave her a thumbs up.
Laney hurried out the chapel. Funny, she wasn’t crying. She wasn’t even sad. Actually, she felt at peace. As they reached the vestibule, she turned to her mother and took her son from her arms.
“What are you doing?” her mother asked, emerald eyes filled with tears.
“I’m leaving town for a little while,” she said, knowing instinctively this was what she should do. Hide out from the drama swirling around her and Roger. Getting away was the only reason she would have any serenity. Moving as swift as her taffeta skirt would allow, she made her way past the stunned wedding planner.
“Let me keep Trenton,” her mother said, running after her.
“Thank you, Mom, but I need my son. Give me a chance to get away and I promise, I’ll call you later. At the moment, I must leave.”
The impulse to race as fast as she could from the scene of her latest disaster sped through her like the adrenaline of running. The fight or flight urge was all flight. The flaxen-haired sex kitten could have Roger.
In a fog, she entered the bride’s room, picked up the overnight bag. Trenton would need more clothes in a few days or a washing machine would work, but she didn’t care. Thank goodness, her suitcase was already in the trunk of her car.
Soon as she could grab the rest of her stuff, she would run out the building, though she had no plan where she would go.
Following behind her into the suite, her mother’s face was streaked with tears. A distressed frown crinkled her father’s forehead as he tried to comfort her mother while he scrutinized his daughter.
“Mom, I’m all right. Let me slip away so Roger can’t reach me. The wedding was ruined by his lovely new wife and I hope they’re very unhappy together.”
“Your mother stopped me from punching him,” her father said. “I wanted to deck him.”
“Thank you,” she said, her heart aching for the hurt her parents were feeling as she reached over and kissed them each on the cheek. Just then she heard Roger’s voice yelling for her at the top of his lungs.
“Mom, Dad, I’m sorry, I’ve got to get out of here. Trust me, I’m okay, but I don’t want to speak to him.”
Reaching into his pocket, her father pulled out a wad of cash. “In case you need something. Don’t forget to call. We’ll be waiting to hear from you.”
“As soon as we arrive,” she said and squeezed her mother’s arm.
“Be careful,” her mother said and her father wrapped her in his arms.
Picking up her bags, Laney rushed down the hall to the chapel exit, her wedding dress swishing. If only she had time to change clothes. At the door, she saw Ally leaning against the frame, twirling a key.
“Told you so,” she said and handed her the shining metal.
“I don’t…” The cabin was the perfect place. A small little house tucked on the river, away from town, away from everyone until the melodramatics died down. The kind of place to disappear for a while. Soak up the sun and rest.
“The weather is supposed to become nasty later today, so be watchful. Call me if you have any trouble,” Ally said. “Even if you want a little company.”
Laney gave her an awkward hug. “This is why I love you. Trenton and I will enjoy the solitude and the quiet.”
When the dust settled, she would tell Ally how right she was about her luck with men, but right now, she had to leave or face Roger.
“Now, go. A reporter is wanting to do a story on the Unlucky Bride. An interview you don’t want to give.”
A sarcastic laugh bubbled up from within her. “Why do I have the worst luck when it comes to men?” A glance at her son and her heart swelled with love. “Except that one time I got you, buddy.”
“Go,” Ally commanded. “And be careful of the—“
Suddenly a flash bulb went off in her face. Ducking her son’s head, she ran to her car – all decorated with streamers announcing they were man and wife.
A curse slipped from her lips.
“No, Mommy, bad word,” Trenton told her.
“You’re right, son. Mommy won’t say it again,” she promised.
“Where’s Roger?” he asked.
“Gone for good,” she said and buckled him in his seat.
Starting the car, she drove out of the parking lot, prophylactics flying from her grill, tin cans bouncing behind her, streamers proclaiming just married. More like, publicly dumped.
Thunder rumbled, the house shuddering as Chase Hamilton stared out the window at the rain streaming from the sky. Why in the hell had he come here to this little cabin in the middle of godforsaken nowhere.
Growing up in Cupid, Texas, where people danced naked around a boy in a diaper sculpture to find their true love, he was shocked to learn how a jilted woman started this beautiful community. His parents’ weekend getaway sat about a hundred feet from the Leon River, right outside Bride, Texas – where jilted women sought answers to their love life.
What about cheated on men? Where did they go?
To a home along the Leon River to heal. Two broken ribs, a black eye and a bruised heart. In an irresponsible act of rage, he threw the first punch, creating a scene and barely escaping arrest. All because Cissy, who he enjoyed dating, didn’t believe in monogamy. Now, he asked himself, had she been worth all the pain and anger.
Limping away from the window, he sank back onto the couch, placing the ice pack on his bruised body. Staring at the blank screen of the television, he pondered his life, taking stock of where to go from here.
“Fighting is for losers,” he said out loud, his brain agreeing with him. His heart saying come on, you’d punch the jerk again.
You don’t hit women, children, or animals and the man had done two out of three in front of Chase causing him to lose his meager self-control.
Sadly, Cissy’s dramatics outweighted the positives and left him reeling. In the end, she’d chosen the muscled brute over Chase, regardless that the wrestler kicked her dog and slapped her beautiful face.
That kind of crazy, he didn’t need – though until then, she seemed so perfect.
Headlights flashed through the darkened room and slowly he rose to his feet. Who could be driving out here in this awful weather. No one knew he had escaped here to lick his wounds and mend in private.
A small Honda splashed on the dirt drive leading to the house. What were they doing coming out here now?
The car stopped and a woman opened the car door and stepped out. Her head bent down to avoid the slashing rain drops as she reached inside the backseat of the car. As the woman turned and faced him, his chest tightened, his stomach churned and he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Laney Baxter in a long, lace wedding dress dashed through the puddles running toward the cabin a little boy in her arms. The memory of their one night together slammed into his gut, wrenching his very soul and he groaned. Not what his recovery needed.
Stepping under the awning, she set the child down and he heard the key in the lock. Chase yanked the door open and she jumped back, her eyes wide with fright.
“Chase,” she said in shock, her emerald eyes widening. How he loved gazing into her eyes, feeling like he’d come home.
Shaking his head, he confirmed his eyes weren’t betraying him, she was indeed wearing a wedding gown.
“Where’s the groom?”
“Left him at church,” she said, emptying water out of her shoes.
“What the hell are you doing here? Where did you get a key?”
“Ally told me I could use the cabin for a while.”
“Well, she’s wrong. You’ve got to leave.”
Laney reached up and ran her hand through her wet hair and glanced down at her son who stared up at her in confusion. “Momma?”
“Ally didn’t tell me you would be here. I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought I would be alone.”
“She doesn’t know I’m here. No one knows and I want to keep it that way.”
“Little late for that,” she said. “When I return, she’s going to want to know why.”
The little boy tugged on the tulle of her gown and Chase wondered what happened that she came here and not on her fabulous honeymoon.
“Momma,” he said a little louder.
How could a man or a woman hit a child or an animal? Yes, he’d been wrong to stoop to the man’s level, and yes, he was paying the price for his rage. When his fist connected with the tough wrestler’s cheek, the explosion of flesh and bone felt good, until his retaliation shot landed in Chase’s ribs.
Never one to wrestle and throw a punch quickly, he had been no match against the professional.
Glancing down at the child, the vision of a screaming toddler invading his personal space made his decision. They had to leave.
“Tell her you couldn’t reach the house. Tell her anything. But you can’t stay here.”
“You’re going to send us back out into the storm,” she said her eyes narrowing.
The two of them shared one magical night of being together, and right now, his heart was dealing with his latest love disaster, leaving him vulnerable. Too vulnerable to the charms of Laney. Even in her wet, muddied, now ruined, wedding dress, her mahogany hair falling around her shoulders, she looked stunning.
Whatever happened, the man had been a fool to let her go, and Chase couldn’t be around her. Not now, not even with a downpour raging outside. She was hurricane force winds of danger compared to cold front Cissy.
“Momma, I need to go potty,” the little boy said impatiently. “Now.”
“Can my son at least use your restroom, before we go back out into the storm?”
A twinge of guilt gripped him and his logical side reminded him of the dangers.
“Of course,” he said. He wasn’t a complete monster. Just a man confused and hurt and trying to recover.
Taking the boy by the hand, she led him into the living area and straight to the bathroom. In fewer than five minutes, they returned.
“Come on son, let’s go.”
“We’re not staying?”
“No, we’re not,” she said defiantly and walked out the door without saying goodbye. “Men are such dicks.”
Peering out at the pouring rain, he watched from the door as she loaded the little boy into the child seat in the back of the car. Regret ate at his insides, he should stop her. The thought of a kid running through the house, making noise and the constant presence of Laney kept his lips shut.
Climbing into the car, she started the vehicle and backed away.
Chase closed the door, the silence eating at him. He should have let her stay. Frustrated, but thinking he’d been heartless, he yanked open the door to stop her. Running out into the rain after her, to keep her from going. All he saw were tail lights going down the long drive.
One minute, he was trying to save someone and getting injured in the process, and the next he was sending a woman and child out in a storm. Maybe she was right, maybe he was just as much of a dick as Cissy’s new love.