The Adventurous Bride – Everly West

May was one of the most glorious times of the year in Laramie, Wyoming, if Tildie Masterson did say so herself. The sun was bright enough to take the mountain chill out of the air. Green grasses were peeking up through the dull brown of the prairie, giving the land a sense of life. Calves dotted every ranch around the town of Laramie, and at the Masterson ranch, lambs were everywhere. The world was brimming with promise once more. To top it all off, half of Laramie had gathered in their Sunday best, full of smiles to attend the wedding of Tildie’s brother, Brandon, to Miss Kelly Quincy. “She’s the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen,” Ellen, one of Tildie’s closest friends, said as she, Tildie, and another friend, Belinda, rushed to arrange the refreshment tables just before the wedding started. “She’s beautiful because her papa can afford to buy the prettiest wedding dress that’s ever come through Laramie,” Belinda laughed and shook her head. “Benny, don’t be so cynical,” Ellen said. “Kelly has always been pretty.” “She has,” Tildie agreed before Belinda could say anything else. “And she’s so nice too, in spite of all her father’s money. She was so helpful during the blizzard this past winter, and my little sisters love her.” Tildie had become good friends with Kelly too. She smiled at Kelly across the church yard as her mother fussed over her, making last-minute adjustments to her veil before Mr.

Quincy would escort her into the church and down the aisle. Kelly smiled back, looking over the moon with excitement. “You’re her bridesmaid, right?” Ellen asked as she continued setting up the table. “You’d better go with her. We can finish up here.” “Thanks.” Tildie sent a grateful smile to her friends before heading across the lawn to join Kelly. “I’m so nervous I think I’m going to pass out,” Kelly laughed when Tildie reached her and hugged her. “You’ll be fine,” Tildie assured her. “You and Brandon are in love and you’ll be happy together.

” “I just hope I’m up to the task of taking care of your sisters,” Kelly said. “You’ve done a great job so far,” Tildie shrugged. “They’re eager to have you around the house permanently. I am too.” It wasn’t a lie. Tildie really was looking forward to having another woman around. At least for a while. She was old enough and wise enough in the ways of the world to know that she would inevitably end up in the way when Kelly and Brandon wanted some time alone. That only reminded her of the things that she wanted in life. “We’re ready,” Mrs.

Collins said, stepping into the church’s doorway and gesturing for Kelly and Mr. Quincy to hurry inside. “This is it,” Kelly gasped as Tildie climbed the steps in front of her. “If it makes you feel better, my dear,” Mr. Quincy said, “you have my full support in this.” Tildie tried not to laugh. She knew full well Mr. Quincy hadn’t been keen on the marriage at first, and only when Brandon was able to secure some deals with other sheep ranchers in Wyoming that would make the Masterson ranch a success had he approved of the match. But that wasn’t what brought Tildie to a sudden stop as soon as she was inside the church. Her brother and little sisters were still rushing around, getting everything into place at the front of the church.

Clint Washington stood at her brother’s side as best man. He looked positively dashing in his best suit, freshly shaved, his hair combed back in the latest style. Tildie’s heart always fluttered when she was around Clint, but it turned somersaults as he looked straight at her and winked. “I predict another wedding in the Masterson family soon,” Kelly whispered behind Tildie. It was a prompt for Tildie to proceed down the aisle as Mr. Peterson struck up the wedding march on the piano. It also filled Tildie with a strange sense of anxiety as she took up her place at the front of the church across from where Clint stood. He smiled at her as though it was their wedding and not Brandon and Kelly’s. Tildie smiled back. She wanted nothing more than to marry Clint, and she was certain it would happen.

The problem was, that was all that would happen. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God and this congregation to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony,” the reverend began. Tildie did her best to focus on the sacred words of the ceremony and on the wedding vows. Weddings were beautiful and she’d always loved them, but there was something else under the joy now. Kelly was right, her turn was coming soon. She could tell as much by the look in Clint’s eyes as he watched her throughout the ceremony. But was she truly ready for marriage? Was she ready to settle down? “I saw the way you and Clint Washington made eyes at each other all through the ceremony,” Belinda teased her after everything was said and done, Brandon and Kelly were declared husband and wife, and the congregation had spilled out onto the lawn for the reception. “I saw it too,” Sybil Farnsworth said, rushing to join Tildie and her friends as they sipped punch in a sunny spot beside a tree. “You two look as much in love as Kelly and Brandon.” Tildie smiled at the comment.

Her gaze drifted across the lawn as she sipped her punch to where Clint was talking to a group of his friends and some of Laramie’s younger ranchers. He must have sensed her watching him because he turned her way in the middle of talking and beamed at her. “So, when’s your wedding?” Ellen asked. Tildie sighed. “It’ll probably be too soon.” The other three gasped and protested. Tildie shook her head and explained. “Don’t misunderstand. I want to marry Clint more than anything. I want to be his wife and the mother of his children.

But that’s all we women have to look forward to in this life, isn’t it?” “I don’t know,” Belinda said, glancing across the milling congregation in another direction to where several of the older women in town, the ones known as the Ladies Club, were talking with their heads together. Those women studied the young people in the crowd, looking as though they were trying to match everyone up. “We could always turn into busybodies and matchmakers,” Belinda went on. The others laughed. “I think the Ladies Club does much more than that,” Sybil said. “But they’re still fastened firmly to Laramie,” Tildie said. “I don’t think I’ve heard about any married woman going anywhere or doing anything remotely excited.” “That’s not true,” Ellen said. “Married women do all sorts of exciting things.” “Yes,” Belinda agreed.

“Didn’t Cora O’Brian travel way out into the wilderness to live when they got married?” “She did,” Tildie admitted. “But I’m not about to marry the governor’s son. Clint has a business right here in Laramie. And we all know how it goes. Women get married, they have children, and as happy as that life can be, they don’t go anywhere or do anything adventurous. They raise a family. They build a home. They support their husband in everything he seeks to do.” “You make that sound like a bad thing,” Ellen said, shaking her head. “I would give anything to marry a man as handsome and clever as Clint.

” “Then you need to talk to the Ladies Club,” Belinda teased her. “I’m not saying I don’t want that,” Tildie went on. “Only that I want to have some sort of adventure first. I want to have something wildly exciting that I can look back on when I’m surrounded by children, keeping house, and up to my elbows in work.” “If you ask me, adventure is overrated,” Sybil said. “I’m not so sure.” Tildie hugged herself and bit her lip as she watched Clint across the distance. “I think one big adventure would be all I need to feel content for the rest of my life.” “So when are we going to see you standing up at the front of the church?” Mason Mayfield asked Clint with a slap to his back. “The way you and Brandon’s sister were looking at each other was almost enough to distract me from the main event.

” Clint laughed, but Brandon said, “Watch it. That’s my sister you’re talking about.” “And she’s a fine catch,” Mason said with a harmless grin. “She certainly is,” Jay Lehmann said, glancing over to where Tildie was talking to her friends. Clint didn’t like the way Jay looked at Tildie. He didn’t consider Jay to be competition. Jay might have been young and cocky and intent on staking some sort of claim in the business world of Laramie, but he didn’t have a chance where Tildie was concerned. Maybe he was overconfident, but Clint knew how Tildie felt about him. He knew how he felt about her too. “I wish I could marry her tomorrow,” he said aloud.

“But?” Simon Guthrie, another new arrival to Laramie and a man Clint had quickly become friends with, asked. Clint sighed. “I can’t very well go ahead and marry a woman when business is so unstable.” “Are things really that bad?” Brandon asked, crossing his arms and studying Clint as if he were assessing whether to let Tildie continue to see him. Clint shoved a hand through his hair. “A livery is a tricky thing to run,” he said. “On the one hand, I have a bit of income from boarding other people’s horses and taking care of them. I can only do so much on my own, though.” “Have you thought of hiring help?” Simon asked. “I pay some of the James boys for a few hours a week after school, but I can’t afford much more than that,” Clint said.

“What about renting out horses and wagons to the townsfolk who don’t own any of their own?” Jay asked. “That’s what I’m hoping to build my business on,” Clint said. “It’s what I intended to do from the very start. Not everyone can afford to own and keep a horse, after all, and as the town gets bigger, not everyone will have a place to house them.” “It’s a smart business plan,” Brandon admitted. “It’s supposed to be,” Clint said with a shade of doubt. “I sunk every last penny I have into this business. I took out loans too.” “Are you in danger of defaulting on the loans?” Jay asked. There was a hint of light in his eyes that Clint didn’t like, especially when he glanced over at Tildie again.

“No,” Clint answered firmly, both about the loan and about whatever thoughts Jay might have had as he studied Tildie. “I’m holding things together, but that’s all I’m doing.” “What would it take to move ahead?” Simon asked. “Yeah,” Brandon added with a hint of a grin. “What would it take for you to have enough money to support my sister in a way she deserves?” “I thought you didn’t want Tildie running off and getting married too young,” Mason teased Brandon. Brandon’s face went red before he said, “She’s old enough now. Old enough to catch me and Kelly kissing when it’s inconvenient.” The other men chuckled, Clint along with them. In fact, Tildie had told him a time or two about how embarrassing it was to find her brother and Kelly when they wanted to be alone and how she was ready to give them all the space they needed. She wanted to marry him and he wanted to marry her.

Money was the only problem. “I’m working my fingers to the bone, trying to save up for another horse,” he said. “The business is there, I just need more means to take advantage of it.” “Hold up there,” Mason said, an excited light coming to his eyes. “Are you saying that the only thing you need to expand your business and marry the woman you love is another horse?” “Among other things,” Clint said, nodding slowly. “But another horse would be a big step forward.” “In that case, I might have a deal for you,” Mason went on. Clint’s gut filled with hope. “Oh yeah? What kind of deal?” Mason shifted and stroked his chin. “I was up in Montana not too long ago, up near Billings.

I know a man up there, a Mr. Younge. He has one of the best horse breeding outfits west of the Mississippi. I made arrangements to buy five horses from him.” “You’d go that far for horses?” Jay asked. “These aren’t just any horses,” Mason went on. “They’re top breeding stock. Some of the hardest-working, most well put-together horses I’ve ever seen. They could revolutionize what I’m able to breed and sell down here.” “That’s great, Mason, but where do I come in?” Clint asked.

“Well, the horses are all the way up near Billings. They aren’t going to walk themselves down here. I need someone who can go up there and fetch them for me,” Mason said. “You don’t want to go up and get them yourself?” Brandon asked. A grin spread across Mason’s face. “I’m a bit busy with other things at the moment.” He glanced across the yard to where his new wife stood talking to some of the Ladies Club members. Sammie turned toward him, saw Mason staring, and promptly dropped the cup of punch she’d been drinking on Mrs. Peterson’s dress. A flurry of activity followed, and Mason sighed and shook his head.

“I see,” Clint said with a grin. “Then you can see why it would be in my interest to hire someone else to go up to Billings to fetch those horses and bring them back for me,” Mason said. “I’d be happy to do it, provided I can find someone to look out for the livery while I’m away,” Clint said. “I can manage it,” Brandon said. “I can think of a few people who could help too.” “You’d do that?” Clint asked. “Right after getting married?” Brandon shrugged. “We’re about to be family, aren’t we?” Clint met his question with a grin. He hadn’t even asked Tildie to marry him yet, but everyone pretty much assumed it was a done deal. Except maybe Jay, who still eyed Tildie when he thought Clint wasn’t looking.

“As long as this errand of yours would pay me enough to buy a horse of my own,” Clint said to Mason while keeping an eye on Jay, “I’d be happy to do it.” “I can do you better than that,” Mason said. “If you go up and fetch those horses for me, I’ll give you one of the mares, provided you let me breed her a couple times first.” Clint’s brow shot up. It was an excellent deal, when all was said and done. Horses were expensive and the possibility of getting one for free, even if she would be out of commission with a foal for a while, was a good one. “I’ll do it,” he said, extending his hand to Mason. Mason grasped it and shook. “It’ll need to be done soon, and you’ll probably want to take a few men with you to bring the lot back. Two stallions and three mares will take a lot of looking after on the trail.

” “I’ll go with you,” Simon said. “Me too,” Jay piped in. “And I’m sure Joe Morgan would be interested in coming along too.” Clint tried to hide his frown. He didn’t know Joe Morgan well at all, only that he and Jay were friends. Still, he needed all the help he could get. “Tildie isn’t going to like this,” Brandon said with a teasing grin. “Why not?” Clint asked, surprised. “This’ll mean we can marry sooner.” “She won’t like sitting at home while you go off and have an adventure,” Brandon said.

“Mark my words.” “I’m sure it will be fine,” Clint said with a smile. “Especially considering what this means.” “If you say so,” Brandon said doubtfully. Clint glanced across the church yard to Tildie, wondering if Brandon knew his sister better than he did.

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