Reunion Rancher Romance Series: Book 3 (Contemporary Cowboy Romance) Amelia Rose Visit www.ameliarose.info
Copyright © 2013 by Amelia Rose All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. First Printing, 2013
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Chapter One “So what exactly are we looking for?” Marshall asked as his truck bounced down the rutted driveway. “I’m not too sure. I’m hoping that I’ll know it when I see it,” Cole admitted defensively when Marshall shot him a look. “Emma said something about a cornucopia for the table and then she said something else about mantelpiece decoration and I didn’t have the first clue what she meant.” “You didn’t ask?” Marshall said reasonably. “Hell, asking made it worse!” Cole said. “She kept using words like “warm, fall color scheme” and “festive, but home-like feel” till finally I just nodded and smiled to keep her from smacking me for not getting it. She does that. I’m thinking of calling a hotline.” Marshall thought hard. “So she wants...” he said, trailing off. None of those words came together into something that they could buy. He wished that Justine didn’t have a cold, so that Emma could have handled this herself. “Here,” Darrell said from the backseat. “Emma wants something like this.”
He handed up some printed images that were only a little worse for the wear from being in his pocket and Marshall brought the truck to a stop to look. There wasn’t anyone else on the road anyway. “This is the cornucopia,” Darrell informed them, pointing to the cone shaped centerpiece on a fancy table. “We need some of these little pumpkins and some squash and corn and stuff to put in it, too. The next one is the mantelpiece stuff that she wants. Warm means red, yellow and orange. Festive means kind of like a party, but not too much since it’s just us family. That’s the home-like part.” “Oh, well that makes sense,” Cole admitted. “Good job, little brother.” “Meg emailed me the pictures and explained it to me,” Darrell said with a grin. “Guess I listen better than you do.” “Whatever. I guess Megan uses smaller words, that’s all,” Cole answered back as Marshall put the truck in gear again and headed once more for the town. He felt better now that they had a plan. “And pretty pictures,” Darrell agreed. “Maybe Emma doesn’t realize that you’re a visual learner.” “You should marry that girl before she realizes who she’s getting stuck with,” Marshall said with a smile. “Planning on it,” Darrell said. “I thought if we’ve got the time I’d look for a ring while we’re in town.” “Are you serious?” Cole asked, turning in his seat to look at his brother. “Yeah,” Darrel answered casually. “How long have you been planning this?” Marshall asked in surprise. “About a month,” Darrell answered. “And you didn’t say anything?” Marshall glanced in the rearview and saw Darrell shrug nonchalantly. “I went and talked to her dad last week,” he said. “How did that go?” Cole asked. “I know commitment isn’t really his thing.” “He asked me what I wanted to do that for. He said living together was committed enough.”
“What’d you say to that?” Marshall asked. “I said not for me it isn’t,” Darrell answered honestly. “And you left it at that, too, didn’t you?” Cole asked with a grin. Living with chatty Megan hadn’t made his brother much more wordy than he’d ever been. “Yeah. He called me later that night though and said that if his daughter wanted to be married there were worse guys and that he was okay with me asking her,” Darrell said, obviously proud of himself. “But you didn’t.” Marshall pointed out. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but he was finding it very hard to be happy for his brother right this second. Thirty one was a real pain in the neck year so far. He’d been killing himself on the ranch, working eighteen hour days since Darrell had lost his leg. Even though his brother was working more and more the stronger he got, he still couldn’t work as much as they’d needed to since Cole had moved over to Emma’s ranch. They couldn’t exactly afford to hire any hands either since they’d had to pay out so much for Darrell’s hospital bills. Decreased production and increased bills was going to spell disaster very soon if he couldn’t figure out a solution. He knew he couldn’t add hours to the workday, that was for sure. It wasn’t just that he was worried about the ranch though. It was more the fact that he really hadn’t planned on both of his younger brothers getting married before him, let alone when he was past thirty. He’d had a pretty clear picture of how his life was going to go and it hadn’t included dying alone. That might have been a little dramatic, but the worry crossed his mind as he listened to an empty farmhouse settle around him night after night. “I’m still trying to figure out the ring,” Darrell said defensively. “Why didn’t you just ask for pretty pictures?” Marshall asked. “Wanted it to be a surprise. All I’ve got this whole month is that Meg isn’t really that into diamonds.” Darrell chewed his thumbnail, clearly still thinking about it. “What kind of jewelry does she wear?” Cole asked practically. “She doesn’t really wear much of it,” Darrell said with a shake of his head. “She says it gets in the way when she’s working.” “So maybe you should get her an engagement pizza,” Marshall suggested. “Ha ha,” Darrell said dryly. “How about an engagement sweatshirt?” Cole offered. “Darrell and Megan sitting in a tree. You can handle the rest, right?”
“Why don’t ya’ll just drop me at the jewelry store and go pick out mantelpiece decor? I’ve got a feeling that anything you pick out is gonna get me a big, fat ‘no’,” Darrell said. “You’re the one who knows what we’re looking for, so you’re not getting out of it,” Cole replied firmly. “We’ll get your ring; you just sit tight.” They had to go outside of their small town to find the right kind of centerpiece items and Marshall knew that Darrell was happy to see several jewelry stores scattered around the bigger town. “Keep your eyes on the target,” Marshall ordered as they walked into a fancy looking little shop that Megan had suggested and given Darrell directions to. It smelled like cinnamon and there were useless things scattered everywhere. Marshall had to admit that they were pretty, but they were also definitely pointless. “What are you supposed to do with these?” Cole asked, picking up a small, softball sized object that appeared to be made of twigs. There were several more made of different materials that had sequins and even some that were silk wrapped and covered with glitter. Cole tossed it up into the air and then lobbed it at Darrell, who caught it gingerly, looking like they were going to get into trouble. “Put that back where it came from,” Marshall ordered. Darrell dropped it lightly back into the wicker basket it had rested in and shoved his hands into his pockets guiltily, his suspicions confirmed. Cole only laughed. “Now. We’ve got to find this stuff--” “Can I help you?” a woman’s voice asked from Marshall’s left. “You sure can,” Cole said with a friendly smile as he held out the papers Megan had given Darrell that morning. “We’re in the market for centerpieces and mantelpiece decor and we have no clue where to start.” “Did your wives send you in?” the woman asked with a grin. “Mine did,” Cole admitted. “One of the best things about her is that she overestimates my intelligence.” The saleswoman laughed and said, “Well, I’m here to help. My name is Elizabeth, by the way. And you are...” “I’m Cole,” Cole said, “And these are my brothers, Marshall, and Darrell.” “Nice to meet you both,” Elizabeth said. “Now, it might be better to start with the cornucopia. With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, we’re running low on stock.”
“Just one question before we go,” Marshall asked. “What do you do with those?” He pointed to the twig-ball. “It’s just a decorating element,” she said with a shrug. “It brings a rustic or exotic feel to a room depending on which one you choose.” Marshall glanced at Darrell as Cole and Elizabeth headed toward the centerpieces. “We really oughta start picking up some twigs when we’re working,” he said. “We’re sitting on a goldmine in the woods.” “Yeah,” Darrell agreed with a speculative glance at the table. “We’ve got rustic to spare.” It didn’t take long to pick out everything they needed for Emma’s Thanksgiving decorating, mainly because Elizabeth realized that none of them really knew what they were doing. With a few questions about what the house and dining area looked like, she picked out everything they needed and took it to a cash register. Cole’s eyebrows went up when she told them the price, but he paid it without saying anything to her. As they carried the bags of decorations to the truck they heard him mutter, “This better be the best looking Thanksgiving I’ve ever seen. And I hope she likes the decorations enough to use them for the next ten years.” “Now you know celebrations are Emma’s specialty,” Marshall said. “Megan’s still talking about that surprise birthday party ya’ll threw her, isn’t she Darrell?” “Yeah,” Darrell agreed as he tossed the cornucopia into the back floorboard. “Halloween was fun too. I almost never got Justine out of that corn maze.” “And she still thinks that it’s because she was having fun,” Cole said, giving Darrell a light punch in the shoulder. “Uncle Darrell does not get lost,” Darrell said firmly. “I had it under control.” “Sure. Just like Marshall back there,” Cole said. “What?” Marshall asked in surprise. “What did I do?” “Nothing. That’s my point.” When Marshall only looked baffled, Cole sighed heavily and said, “Elizabeth was pretty.” “Yeah?” Marshall asked, still not sure where his brother was going with this. “And she was new in town,” Cole added slyly. “Okay.”
Cole tilted his head ever so slightly as if trying to impart his obvious implication onto Marshall. “She mentioned that she didn’t really know anybody yet.” “Oh.” Cole’s message was finally dawning on Marshall. “You think that I should have asked her out.” “Yeah,” Cole said flatly, shaking his head slowly. “You barely even said two words to her.” “Maybe she’s not my type,” Marshall defended himself. “That’s what dates are for!” Cole said in exasperation. “To find out if the woman is your type! I swear Marshall, you’re going to turn into a crazy old hermit if I you don’t do something soon!” “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Marshall muttered. “Now,” he went on, turning to Darrell, “Where do you want to start for the ring?” Cole sighed in frustrating annoyance, but he accepted the change of subject. “I got Emma’s over there,” he said, pointing to a store on the corner when Darrell shrugged in helpless confusion. “Okay,” he said in relief. “We’ll go look in there.” They walked down the sidewalk and into the brightly decorated jewelry store. Darrell immediately looked intimidated by all the sparkling objects. “Umm,” he said as he looked around. “There’s a lot of stuff here.” “Well, you don’t want a diamond,” Marshall said, coming to his rescue. “So that means that we don’t need to look at most of this.” He steered his younger brother over to the gemstone selection and saw some of the tension go out of Darrell’s shoulders. “Okay. That’s better.” Darrell said, taking a breath. Darrel glanced around the contents of the first case until his eyes settled on one in particular. “This one is kind of cool.” Marshall looked where Darrell was tapping the case and shook his head. “She might not want a diamond, but she probably also doesn’t want black onyx, either.” “I guess you’ve got a point,” Darrell admitted, obviously The owner of the store was on the phone so they all stared into the case for several long moments. “What about a ruby?” Cole suggested. “Or maybe a sapphire?” Marshall asked.
Darrell shook his head at each of those options, still looking into the case intently. Just when Cole was about to make another suggestion, topaz this time, Darrell leaned closer to the case. “That’s it,” he said firmly. “This is the right one.” Marshall and Cole leaned over his shoulders and looked down at the ring. It was a single emerald set in white gold. The band on either side of the brilliant green stone had been shaped into a Celtic knot. “That’s pretty perfect,” Cole agreed. “She wears a lot of green now that I think about it. And the Celtic knots are awesome. I wish I’d thought of that for Emma’s ring.” Darrell nodded, clearly already picturing it on her finger. Marshall turned casually away. It was only that moment of confused jealousy that allowed him to witness what happened next. The shop owner hung up the phone, but before he could walk over to where Darrell and Cole stood at the case, a woman walked in. Her head was down as she dug through her purse, but when she approached the shop owner and shook her long brown hair back over her slim shoulders, Marshall’s jaw dropped. She didn’t notice him because he was standing off to the side. “Hi,” the brunette said. “I don’t know if you remember me...I called earlier about selling some gold?” “Yes,” the man said. “I’ll be right with you after I get these gentlemen taken care of.” “Oh, of course!” She turned to them with a polite smile. “I didn’t see--” Her mouth fell open as well from the shock. “Marshall?” “Yeah,” Marshall said. “How’ve you been, Claire?” “Claire?” Cole asked suddenly, looking up from the case. “Yeah,” she said. “Hi, Cole.” “Hey,” he answered as the jewelry store owner stepped over and began talking to Darrell. Claire looked down, digging aimlessly through her purse. Marshall recognized the gesture as a way to look busy without being busy in order to side-step an uncomfortable situation. He wished he had something to look at. Too bad he’d left his cell phone in the truck. “How long have you been back?” Cole asked. “A few weeks now,” Claire replied. “Do you like the big city?” Cole pressed on. “It’s not bad, but I don’t live here,” she answered him.
“Where--” Cole began, but he stopped when Darrell stepped up beside him, startling him. “What?” “I’m done,” Darrell said simply. “Already?” Marshall asked, glad of the distraction. He wasn’t really surprised. Darrell rarely had trouble making his mind up and he didn’t tend to change it once he had. “Yeah,” he answered as he glanced at Claire and then back at his brothers. “Darrell?” Claire asked. “Yeah.” Darrell was confused, but he gave her a smile. “Hey. Sorry, but I didn’t hear your name.” “You don’t remember me,” Claire said, a sad type of smile playing over her features for a split second. “I’m Claire. The last time I saw you, you were trying to sneak into a rodeo.” “Last week?” Darrell asked in mock confusion, making her smile. “Last week plus about 12 years, right?” Cole said pointedly. “Something like that, I guess,” Claire answered softly, her smile fading. “Let it go, Cole,” Marshall said sharply. The jeweler came over and handed Darrell a receipt, which he shoved into Cole’s jacket pocket so Megan wouldn’t find it.
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Published on Aug 11, 2013