“Me, too,” Natalie said, and went straight into Gage’s welcoming arms.
Travis smiled at Alex, thought how amazing it was that she’d married him, and drew her into a quiet corner.
“Nice,” he said softly.
She smiled back at him. “You, too, cowboy. I haven’t seen you in a tux in quite a while.”
They both smiled at the shared memory of their first meeting and then Travis cleared his throat.
“Actually,” he said, “it’s the, uh, the accessory I was referring to.”
“The accessory.” He smiled and touched the baby’s nose with his finger. Michael giggled, grabbed his uncle’s hand and dragged it into his mouth. “I was thinking…I was thinking how nice it might be if we had a baby.”
“Were you?” Alex blushed. “That’s good. That you were thinking it, I mean. Because I was thinking it, too.”
Travis bent his head and kissed his wife tenderly. “Sweetheart,” he whispered.
“Oh, yuck,” Caitlin said, laughing as she snatched her nephew from her sister-in-law’s arms. “Come on, Mikey. Let’s go find us a corner where everybody isn’t standing around being sappy.”
She carried the baby out into the garden and took him from guest to guest, smiling as he gurgled and enthralled them all. A little while later, when the chamber orchestra on the lowest level of the waterfall deck began playing, she followed her musical cue and fell into the wedding processional along with both her sisters-in-law.
At the altar, still holding Michael in her arms, surrounded now by her stepbrothers and Marta and Jonas, she felt a catch in her throat when she saw the look on Slade’s face as he watched Lara come toward him, radiant in a long, full gown of white lace, her strawberry-blond hair crowned by a coronet of white flowers.
After the ceremony ended and the wedding party had gone on to mingle with the guests, Caitlin put her mouth to Michael’s ear.
“You see, sweetie?” she whispered. “Your daddy and your mommy love each other so much that it makes me feel good just to look at them. It’s the same for your uncles and aunts.” Caitlin’s voice shook, ever so slightly. “They’re all happy, Mikey, because that’s what love does for some people. It makes them happy.”
“Brrrp,” Michael said, and blew a bubble.
“I agree with you, sweetie. Love—that man and woman stuff—is okay for them but it’s not for us. It’s just silly. The land. This land. That’s all that matters.”
She looked up. “Slade,” she said brightly. She kissed him, kissed her new sister-in-law and handed Michael to his father. “It was a beautiful ceremony, you two. Just beautiful.”
“Catie,” Slade said, “what’s wrong?”
“Yeah,” a chorus of male voices said. Travis, Gage and Jonas surrounded the little group. “What’s the matter with you, girl?” Jonas said gruffly. “Don’t tell me you’re blub-berin’ over the sight of two people givin’ up their freedom, the way all these other darned-fool women are doin’.”
Caitlin shook her head. “It’s the sun. It’s so bright, it just made my eyes tear, that’s all. I’m going to—to get a tissue…”
She rushed away before anyone could stop her.
“Now, what in blazes do you suppose that was all about?” Jonas said to his sons.
“Espada,” Gage said. Everyone looked at him. “Don’t look at me as if I’m nuts. She was talking to the baby and I overheard her.” He shot a pointed look at Jonas. “She loves this place, and she knows it’ll never be hers.”
Travis nodded. “Gage is right. That’s why Catie’s upset, Father.”
Jonas frowned. “I know that, dammit. I jes’ wish the girl was my own flesh and blood.”
Slade put his arm around Lara’s waist and drew her away. “Let them argue,” he said, and smiled at her. “I don’t give a hoot. Not today.” He kissed his son, riding in the crook of his arm, then kissed his bride. “I’m the happiest man alive, Mrs. Baron.”
Lara lay her head against her husband’s shoulder. “And I’m the happiest woman.” After a moment, she sighed. “It’s not Espada.”
“What’s not Espada?”
“The reason your stepsister was crying.”
Slade lifted an eyebrow. “What is it, then?”
“She needs someone,” she said softly. “Someone to make her complete.”
Slade frowned. “Little Catie?”
Lara smiled. “Little Catie,” she said, and kissed Slade who was, and always would be, her heart and her soul.
* * * * *
Now, read on for a tantalizing excerpt of Dani Collins’ next book,
CLAIMING HIS CHRISTMAS WIFE
After their marriage ends in heartbreak, Travis never wants to see Imogen again. But to avoid a scandal they must agree to a temporary reconciliation—leaving Travis tempted to reclaim his wife…for good!
Read on for a glimpse of
CLAIMING HIS CHRISTMAS WIFE
“MR. TRAVIS SANDERS?”
“YES,” he confirmed shortly, willing the woman to hurry to the point. His PA had interrupted a high-level meeting with this “extremely important” call. “What is this about?”
“Imogen Gantry. She’s your wife?”
Memory washed through him in a rush of heat and hunger. He tensed against it and glanced around, lowering his voice. That broken teacup had been swept firmly under the rug four years ago.
“We’re divorced. Are you a reporter?”
“I’m trying to locate her next of kin. I’m at…” She mentioned the name of one of New York’s most beleaguered public hospitals.
Whatever old anger had sent him soaring at the mention of his ex-wife exploded in a percussive flash. He was blind. Falling. Wind whistling in his ears. Air moving too fast for him to catch a gulp.
“What happened?” he managed to grit out. He was dimly aware his eyes were closed, but she was right there in front of him, laughing. Her green eyes glimmered with mischief. Her hair was a halo of flames licking at her snowy complexion. She swerved her lashes to cut him a glance. So enchantingly beautiful. Gaze clouding with arousal. Sparking with anger. Looking so wounded and vulnerable that last time he’d seen her, his heart still dipped thinking of it.
He’d quickly learned it was a lie, but that didn’t make any of this easier to accept.
Gone? He couldn’t make it fit in his head. He had told her he never wanted to see her again, but discovered he had secretly believed he would.
From far away, he heard the woman say, “She collapsed on the street. She’s feverish and unconscious. Do you know of any medication we should be aware of? She’s awaiting treatment, but—”
“She’s not dead?”
He heard how that sounded, as if that was the outcome he would have preferred, but leave it to Imogen to set him up to believe one thing, contort his emotions to unbearable degrees, then send him flying in another direction. That betraying, manipulative—if he could get his hands on her,
he’d kill her himself.
“And she was taken to that hospital? Why?”
“I believe we were closest. She doesn’t seem to have a phone and yours is the only name I’ve been able to find in her bag. We need guidance on treatment and insurance. Are you able to provide that?”
“Contact her father.” He walked back toward the door to his office, saying to his PA behind her desk, “Look up Imogen Gantry’s father. He’s in publishing. Maybe starts with a W. William?” He hadn’t met the man, only heard her mention him once or twice. Hell, they’d only been married fifteen minutes. He knew next to nothing about her.
“Wallace Gantry?” His PA turned her screen. “He appears to have died a few months ago.” She pointed to the obit notice that said he was predeceased by his wife and eldest daughter, survived by his youngest daughter, Imogen.
He knew better than to let himself get sucked back into her orbit, but what else could he say except, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
* * *
Imogen remembered sitting down on the curb. It hadn’t been a nice, rain-washed boulevard of freshly mown grass beneath century-old elms with a stripe of sidewalk, then an empty canvas of manicured lawn to her mother’s rose garden, ending at the wide stairs to the double-door entrance of her childhood home.
No, it had been a freezing, filthy inner-city curb where the piles of snow had turned to a layer of lumpy muck atop a century’s worth of chewing gum and other disgusting things. The damp chill on the air hadn’t squelched any of the terrible smells coming off the grate at her feet. She shouldn’t have touched the post she had braced herself against and she had thought a car would likely run over her legs as she sank down. At the very least, one would drown her with a tsunami of melt from the puddles.
She hadn’t cared. The side of her head had felt like it was twice as big as the rest. Her ear, plugged and aching, had begun screaming so loud the sound had been trying to come out her mouth.
She had tried to pretend she didn’t have an ear infection because those were for children. Her sister had got them, not her. She hadn’t gone swimming recently. She hadn’t known how it could have happened, but there she’d been like a damned toddler, nearly fainting with the agony of it, dizzy and hot and sick.