Dreaming of Her Cowboy’s Kiss
Ruby Barclay fingered the delicate white veil she held in her hand.
In thirty minutes, it would be on her head, and she would be walking down the aisle of her adoptive father’s church, getting ready to pledge the rest of her life to Wesley Landry, fellow surgeon and her fiancé for the last five years.
Her stomach curled like strands of spaghetti in a strainer. Her parasympathetic nervous system was obviously on the fritz.
Her hands didn’t shake. As a surgeon, she couldn’t afford for them to, but her heart was definitely not pumping in the correct rhythm, the electrical impulses interrupted by the adrenaline that flowed freely in her bloodstream.
Her adopted mom, Penny, and her biological sisters had all been helping her get ready, but they’d tromped out just a few minutes ago to make sure everything else was going okay.
She had a few blissful moments to herself.
Maybe not blissful.
Because they were giving her a chance to think that maybe she was about to make a huge mistake.
She and Wesley were not a romantic love match, but they were a match that made sense, and that’s what she wanted.
After her parents had been killed in a car accident, she’d vowed to become the best surgeon she could. Maybe a better surgeon would have been able to save their lives.
After all of her training, she was no longer convinced that was true, but it hadn’t made her change her mind about what she wanted to do with her life.
She would get the best training she could, work as hard as she could, and do everything she could to save lives and help people.
Wesley came from a long line of surgeons, and he, his dad, and his grandfather, along with several other members of his family, operated in the biggest hospital in Los Angeles.
Marrying Wesley would open doors to her that she could have only dreamed about, and she would be joining the most prestigious family of surgeons in the world.
Together, they would be the most sought-after and skilled team anywhere.
It was most definitely everything she’d ever wanted.
Deep brown eyes set above a long straight nose swirled in her mind.
She blinked and turned to the lone window in the little prayer room at the back of her father’s church, looking out at the perfectly landscaped back area, and the covered pavilion where parishioners had dinner on the grounds twice a month, and the playground where the preschool children in the church’s daycare happily entertained themselves during the week.
It was bad enough that she was in a white gown. She wasn’t going to mess around with little-girl dreams of romance or be swept away by her feelings.
She was analytical. She was strong. She knew exactly what she wanted, and she was going to get it.
Falling in love with a dirt-poor cowboy and being his cook and washerwoman and bearing his kids didn’t even begin to realize her full potential. She wasn’t going to allow herself to even consider not going through with everything she had planned today.
She turned away from the window and saw the empty brown basket that was supposed to be filled with flower petals.
Maybe she should stand around and wait for someone to come back and help her, but she hadn’t been trained to stand around and wait; she’d been trained to take charge and deal with things.
Even flower petals.
Grabbing the basket, she opened the door to the small room in the back of the church and hurried down the hall to the Sunday school room where the florist’s assistant had been camped out, unboxing the live rose displays that would be set at every table in the reception hall.
Not wanting to take any more time than necessary and feeling a little exposed in the hall—it wouldn’t do for Wesley to see her; she might not be extremely romantic, but no point in pressing her luck and threatening that old adage that it was bad luck to see the bride before the wedding—she didn’t bother to knock but yanked the door open and rushed in, twisting so her train, which thankfully wasn’t very long, and made it through the door before slamming it behind her.
She knew exactly how fast electrical impulses traveled from the eyes to the brain. She also knew it took the brain slightly longer to process the information and the reactions that came after.
However, she knew before she turned that what she was seeing wasn’t what she was supposed to be seeing, and she also knew this changed everything.
With the basket held in front of her and her eyes on the floor, she took a breath.
Had she really seen what she thought she saw?
Shuffling sounds came from the worktable, and a familiar voice said, “This isn’t what it seems like. Really.”
She’d never hidden from the truth. She’d always faced it straight on. She was a fighter.
She jerked her head up and looked her fiancé in the eye. His crisp white shirt was buttoned the whole way up to his throat, and he wore the cummerbund and tie.
His jacket was over the back of the nearest chair, directly underneath his pants and boxers.
The florist’s assistant—Ruby wondered if the girl was even out of high school—had managed to untangle herself from Ruby’s fiancé and was hunched on the other side of the table, frantically trying to pull on her leggings.
It just took a sweeping glance for Ruby to determine it was exactly what it seemed like. She’d had suspicions before, but she’d never walked in and caught Wesley in the act.
The very act.
She didn’t need to say anything. He could say all day long that it wasn’t what it seemed, but it was.
They both knew it. No question.
The question had become: what was she going to do about it?
She’d always scoffed at little-girl romantic dreams, and she’d never thought that she’d wanted those for her own.
She had wanted a husband of her own. That wasn’t something she ever thought she’d share.
But if she walked away from Wesley now, she wasn’t so naïve as to believe that the job she’d been offered in Los Angeles because of their association, being held in high regard, being able to help, being part of not just a power couple but a power family, everything she’d been working toward and thinking about for the last five years would still be hers to grasp.
But if she didn’t…she’d be spending the rest of her life wondering when she would be walking in on him and his latest flame.
She didn’t want love, had never wanted love, but she had expected fidelity. Loyalty. Respect.
If this was what he did on their wedding day, she could expect even less after they’d been married.
Seconds crawled by while all those thoughts ran through her head.
The florist’s assistant had managed to get her leggings on, although as she stood, Ruby kind of suspected they might be on backwards, and they were definitely wrong side out.
At least she was covered.
Wesley had struggled into his boxers, but now he stood, hands at his sides, not trying to insult her intelligence anymore, as though he knew that he wasn’t going to be able to bluff her.
She had a choice to make.
He watched her with intelligent eyes, calmly. He was a skilled surgeon after all and was not ruled by his emotions either.
He was ruled by something else apparently.
Did she want to be married to a man like that?
A negative answer to that question would change the trajectory of her life.
It probably hadn’t even been a minute that she’d stood there—since she’d walked in—but sometimes life changed just that fast.
Her experiences as a trauma surgeon had taught her that.
The door behind her burst open, and the florist said, “Oh! Ruby. I thought I saw you come in here…”
She’d gotten that much of her sentence out before her eyes had taken in what the room, and her brain, had told her mouth.
A few more seconds and the florist knew exactly what had been going on in this room before Ruby stepped in.
Since it was her wedding day, Ruby should be feeling more pain than what she was. Maybe that would come later, or maybe it wouldn’t come at all.
She hadn’t been in love with Wesley. But she’d thought of love as more of an action and not those girly-girl feelings she never allowed herself the luxury of feeling.
Right now, she was more embarrassed than anything. If Wesley was going to cheat on her, the least he could do was do it without getting caught.
The way he’d been doing it for the last five years.
Was this what she wanted the rest of her life to be? Never knowing when she was going to walk in on her husband messing around with whatever woman was cute and willing?
They’d decided they weren’t having children.
In the back of her head, she’d always thought they could change that decision if they wanted to.
She wasn’t bringing children into a marriage like that. She wanted her children to have the example of a marriage like her birth parents had. Like Penny and Race.
“Thank you, Ginny,” she said, her tone cultured and cool. “The flowers are beautiful.” She turned with a small smile, worthy of an ice princess. “Obviously, from what you can see in here, I won’t be enjoying them any longer. If Wesley doesn’t pay your bill, please send it to me. I’ll make sure it gets paid.”
Maybe that last bit was a little petty, but she could see Wesley saying since he didn’t use the flowers, he shouldn’t have to pay for them.
Turning regally, as regally as she could under the circumstances, Ruby lifted the front of her dress and stepped out of the room, starting off down the hall at a sedate, prideful pace.
But as soon as she turned the corner, she started walking faster, and by the time she reached the steps to the basement, she was running. Her only thought: to get out of there.
She needed to go somewhere where she could be alone.