The Cowboy’s Bargain Bride
Boone hadn’t done much line dancing in his life. Especially in North Dakota. But the harvest crew he worked on had spent more than a little time in Texas. Sometimes rainy days could drag, especially when six or eight men were stuck in a camper together.
He had to say, though, he’d never line-danced to classical music.
Not in Texas. Not in North Dakota.
But his brother, Clay’s, wedding marked the first.
He hadn’t intended to get side-tracked. But his good friend Abner had been surrounded by pretty much all the kids in attendance, most of whom Boone knew, and as Boone walked across the gymnasium floor to find his mother, his niece, Gina, had stepped out of line and grabbed his hand.
What was a man to do?
Maybe another, different kind of man could ignore his niece’s pleading eyes. But he couldn’t. Not today. Not on this special day of all days when her mother and father were finally getting married. It was the happiest day of Gina’s little life so far. Boone couldn’t spoil it.
Abner’s eyes glinted as Boone stepped into line, dragged by Gina. Boone ignored him.
It might be Clay’s wedding, but neither Clay, nor his new wife, Reina, were pretentious, and Boone was dressed semi casually in new jeans and cowboy boots. A simple, dark blue button-up completed the outfit he’d worn as best man. Angel hadn’t made anyone in the bridal party wear anything fancy, and Clay hadn’t cared. He’d just wanted to be married.
Boone followed Abner’s moves. They weren’t quite the same as Boone remembered for this particular sequence, but, like everything else today, it was more about having some relaxed fun than about showing off. So, he turned, clapped and slid, more concerned about making Gina smile than about having the exact right moves.
If Gina’s giggles and happy smiles were any indication, she was just thrilled her uncle was beside her, making a fool out of himself.
Hey, for Gee Gee, Boone didn’t mind looking foolish.
The boy on the other side of him, maybe a little older than Gina, wasn’t quite as happy. He danced a little more stiffly. Of course with the monkey suit the kid was wearing – who else but a mother would dress her son that way – Boone couldn’t blame him. It made his neck itch just looking at that stiff collar and tie.
On the other side of that kid, Boone recognized Vinton Eastler, Nell Eastler’s, now Nell Peterson’s, brother.
He looked a lot more relaxed than the stiff boy in the monkey suit, even if he was about three moves behind the rest of the line. Boone knew Nell from growing up in Sweet Water. Nell lived a ways away, and had gone to a different school, but their schools had played each other at athletic events, and everyone pretty much knew everyone else.
Bonne’s mother, the person he’d been planning on talking to when he’d been kidnapped by Gee Gee, worked for a while on Sweet Valley Ranch, owned by the Petersons, although there was something about the inheritance where Ryder, Nell’s husband had gotten money and not the ranch when he married.
The ranch was going to the sister, whatever her name was. Actually, if the notice that Boone had just read on the door of the gymnasium was correct, it was going to the sister and the man who bought, and married, her at the auction that was slated to happen two weeks from now.
Boone slid, stomped and clapped, exaggerating the dip of his knee and shaking his hind end, making Gee Gee laugh, which had been his goal, but bumping the boy beside him, which had not. The boy mumbled a formal “excuse me” with a short glance at Boone’s eyes before continuing to dance.
“No problem, Bub. My fault. My rear got away from me.” Boone winked before turning with a stomp.
The kid blinked. Then he grinned and let out a small chortle.
Boone guessed the kid had never been to a wedding quite like this before. Or maybe he’d just never line danced to Beethoven before, either.
Boone had been on the Sweet Water Ranch more than a few times. He’d helped with harvest there, like he had with most of the ranches in the area. He’d helped move cattle there as well. Since his mother worked as secretary, he and his brothers were the first to get called when they were short a hand or two, although Clay had filled in more than anyone, and had actually acted as foreman over last winter.
The song ended and the kids laughed and clapped, surrounding Abner and begging for him to lead another. There were even some adults who clapped, and a few moseyed over, like they might dance the next one.
Boone didn’t know much about classical music, but he was pretty sure they weren’t going to get two songs in a row that would make country line dancing possible, but apparently some of the other guests were more optimistic.
He fist bumped Gina, and on the pull back and explosion, he elbowed someone behind him. “Sorry about that,” he said as he turned, expecting it to be the boy again, thinking to get something more than a stiff giggle out of him this time.
But the woman he’d elbowed, ignored him. “Come back to the table Spencer. You need to finish your meal.”
The slender lady had a cultured tone with just a hint of New York City.
Boone’s arm buzzed and his heart turned and stomped.
“But I want you to dance with me first, mom.”
Boone shoved his heart back where it belonged. Not interested in a married woman.
The woman snorted. “Hardly.”
Her hand, with long, tapered, perfectly polished fingers, was on the boy’s shoulder. She was wearing rings, but none on the finger that mattered.
The music had started and to his left the line had shifted. Boone glanced up, recognizing the particular steps that Abner was leading the kids, and adults in. On the other side, Vinton had pulled what Boone assumed to be his sister and her husband into the line. From the way they were stumbling around, Boone would guess neither one of them had ever spent time in a Texas roadhouse. But they were game, he could give them that.
The subtle scent that shifted past Boone’s nose reminded him of money and class, shimmering lights and expensive sheets.
Nothing that would normally interest him.
But he couldn’t seem to step away, and did something he normally never did.
He butted in.
“Come on, lady. It looks a little more complicated than what it is. Plus, the idea is to let loose and have a little fun.”
Her lips buttoned down tight. With her upswept hair and fancy dress that dipped in the front and flowed around her legs like a whisper, he doubted she’d planned on coming today, letting loose and having fun.
Man, for some strange reason, he hoped that bare finger meant exactly what it was supposed to, despite the boy beside her.
“If you dance with us, just once,” the boy glanced over at Boone, like they were two against one, “I’ll even eat the skunkages you wanted me to.”
“They’re Brussels sprouts,” the woman said, stiffly, shifting her nose up.
Boone snorted. The reception was pot-luck, not the first such reception he’d attended. Still, he’d never heard of anyone bringing Brussels sprouts to a wedding. But he’d really never heard of anyone calling them “skunkages.”
“Good name,” he told the boy. He looked back at the woman. “I’ll eat mine too, if you dance with us.”
Her lips twitched. Good. She had a sense of humor. He had to admit, a certain amount of reserve attracted him – he wasn’t going to think of Angela, and her wedding several weeks ago – even if he no longer believed any woman was exactly what she seemed.
“Whether you do, or whether you don’t, eat your Brussels sprouts, is none of my concern.” The lady raised her brow at him, before focusing back on her son. He was speaking before she could.
“Just one dance. Please, mom?” The boy took hold of the lady’s hand and bounced a little, making her dress shimmer.
That scent, elusive and expensive, drifted by again. Boone wanted to grab it, hold it and examine it. Funny how it twisted his brain and made him want to touch the fancy lady.
“It’s not as hard as it looks. I’ll help you.”
The boy gave him a grateful grin. Normally, Boone wouldn’t even consider doing what he did next, without even thinking about it.
He took the lady’s hand and spun her so she stood at his side.
He was pretty sure that line dances had names, but he didn’t have a clue what they were. He wasn’t that into it. But, thankfully, he and Abner had leaned together, and he recognized the sequence that Abner had started. One they’d done a million times and one of the easiest ones to learn.
He’d never done it backwards, though.
But he stepped and spun, snagging her other hand and starting the heel – toe sequence with the opposite foot he normally would.
Probably when someone was teaching another person to line dance, they did it side by side. That’s how he and the rest of the harvest crew he’d been on had learned. But he couldn’t resist the urge to touch the fancy lady, so, with both of her cool, slender hands in his much larger, much rougher ones, he danced backward, calling the moves, but doing the opposite.
“Heel, heel, toe, toe, heel, toe, heel, toe.”
He was half-way through before she even lifted her foot. He wasn’t sure if she was going to go along with him or not. Subconsciously he knew it would be embarrassing if she got angry and stormed away, dragging her son behind her. Or, maybe worse, slapping his face, like he probably deserved, then storming away.
But there had been something in him, or maybe a subtle sign from the lady, the slightly lifted mouth, or the little tightening around her eyes that bespoke of insecurity, that had told him she wanted to dance, but didn’t have the confidence to do it on her own.
Not that the lady wasn’t confident. She oozed it. But a lot of times, with people in general, the outside hid a softer, more vulnerable, inside.
He thought it was definitely true for the fancy lady.
They went through the sequence, with the grapevines and quarter turns six or seven times before the lady caught on – much faster than he had when he started, he had to admit.
He could be wrong, but he guessed the fancy lady could dance the kind of dance that was actually meant to go with the kind of music they were moving to.
He wouldn’t have a clue. But he could see why a man might be inspired to learn. Line dancing didn’t get them nearly close enough. He wanted some kind of dance where he pulled her waist to his and their hips moved in time while their breath mingled…
He missed a step. The fancy lady arched a slender brow at him and tilted her chin just so.
He grinned, imagining she wouldn’t be quite so cool if she’d known what he’d been thinking.
She didn’t smile back, but her look softened some. Her movements were becoming less robotic and more fluid. Another few songs to practice, and she’d be a good dancer, no doubt. Better than anyone he’d ever been on the floor with.
He forced himself to let go of one hand, but he kept hold of her left as he spun around in time, beside her where he belonged.
Boone had never danced while holding a woman’s hand. His little brother Mav was the flirt in the family. More than once he’d gone up to a complete stranger and offered his hand. Boone had never seen the point. On the harvest crew they moved around so much, and worked such long hours, the chance of seeing the same woman twice, let alone more, was almost non-existent. Why bother?
Plus, there was always Angela in the back of his head.
But as of three weeks ago, she was wearing another man’s ring. So, why not dance with the fancy lady with the swirly dress and the scent that made him feel like he could float.
He’d dance first. Then, he’d talk to his mother in a bit about the woman who was being auctioned off, along with her ranch, in two weeks.
Fancy lady or no, as long as the woman up for auction didn’t have a beard, or a six-shooter strapped to her hip, Boone was bidding on her. Not for the woman. One of those was pretty much like another. But for the ranch.