Page 2 t looks more like an upscale hunting lodge than a single family dwelling. ”
Ainsley raised her glass. “To the support of good friends. ”
They clinked glasses and knocked back a swallow.
“Wow, Rory, this has got to be your best drink ever,” Rielle said, sucking down another taste.
“Thank you, but I can’t take full credit. I tweaked the recipe from a guy who bartends at the hipster joint in Laramie. ”
“It’s fantastic. Damn potent, so I’ll only have one. ” Ainsley tipped back another swallow. “Unless you’re driving us into town?”
Rielle frowned. “Who’s going into town?”
“We all are. See, Rory and I got to chatting…about our discussion at your fortieth birthday party last week. ”
“I cannot be held responsible for anything I said since you all got me drunk. ” Her head had pounded so horrifically the next morning she’d literally taken a dirt nap in her garden.
“This spilled out when you were sober, darlin’,” Ainsley reminded her.
“You sound more like Ben every day with darlin’ this and darlin’ that,” Rielle retorted.
“I’ll take that as a compliment. ” She preened. “But it is what my loving—but clueless—husband said that caused your distress, so I feel the need to fix it. ”
Rielle drained her drink, hating the reminder of Ben’s comment when he’d jokingly guessed her age as fifty, not forty. “You’re not responsible for the dumb shit Ben says any more than you are responsible for the dumb shit all men say. ”
Rory refilled Rielle’s glass and sent Ainsley an insolent look. “I knew you’d take the wrong tack. ” She set her elbows on the counter. “Mom. You’re not old. And we’re gonna deal with your claim that you look like a crone, because it’s a seriously fucked-up self-image. ”
Her cheeks heated, but her tongue sharpened. “So where is your other cohort in crime, Doc Monroe? Has she set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon as her part of this embarrassing intervention?”
“Joely planned to be here but she had to deliver a baby. ” Ainsley got right in Rielle’s face. “Dial down the animosity, sister, and listen up. ”
“You still wearing your large-and-in-charge big-girl panties, Miz Bank Prez?”
“At least until I get home and Bennett makes me strip them off. ” She grinned cheekily. “And here’s the mushy, gushy stuff that makes you squirm…unless you’ve been knocking back tequila shooters. You’ve become one of my best friends since I moved in with Ben. You’re a wonderful person, funny, sweet, thoughtful and you work harder than anyone I know. You’re beautiful inside and out. I see it. Rory sees it. It’s a pity you don’t. We thought maybe if we helped you change your outer appearance, then you’d see it as well as feel it. ”
Rielle remained quiet and traced the sugared rim of her martini glass. Upbeat Ainsley didn’t pull any punches—and to think that was why she hadn’t initially liked the woman. They’d started out on the wrong foot when Ainsley had been sneaking around with Ben McKay. But after Ainsley stood up for Ben and bitch-slapped her for the shitty way she’d treated him, Rielle realized she’d wronged them both.
It’d taken a couple months for Rielle to swallow her pride and apologize. Luckily Ben and Ainsley were ready to let bygones be bygones. Now she and Ainsley were tight—much tighter than Rielle had ever been with Ben.
“Mom? Are you crying?” Rory asked with an edge of fear.
“No. ” She raised her head. “Just feeling idiotic for opening my mouth. It sucks dealing with this stupid female pride and age thing. ”
“But see, you don’t have to deal with it alone. ” Ainsley snagged a section of Rielle’s baby-fine long blond hair. “Rory. How long has your mom worn her hair this way?”
“As long as I can remember. ”
“That’s because it’s an easy style,” Rielle protested.
“No, it’s a dated style,” Ainsley corrected.
“Well, forgive me but I don’t have time to fuss with a fancy hairdo when I spend my days digging in the dirt or sweating in the kitchen. ”
“Which is exactly why you need a smart cut. Not every style is high-maintenance. ” Ainsley held onto Rielle’s chin, turning her face to the left and right. “You have amazing bone structure. You hide it instead of highlight it. We need to fix that. ”
“And how would we do that?”
Rory grinned. “By placing yourself in Nikki’s hands tonight. ”
“Nikki?” Rielle knew her eyes grew comically wide. “Isn’t that your friend who sported a purple and lime green Mohawk in tenth grade?”
“She’s toned down the shock factor. We’ve already discussed this and she’s come up with a cool cut for you. She swears this style is easy to manage and it’ll take ten years off your face. ”
“But I don’t think your face is the issue. It’s all this hippie hair. ” Ainsley knocked back her drink. “So let’s whisk you off to the beauty shop and transform you from a hippie-chick into a hip-chick. ”
“I don’t know if this is such a good idea…”
“Here’s where I’m playing hardball. ” Rory loomed over her. “You’ve always told me change is inevitable. Have you been putting expectations on me that you aren’t willing to apply to yourself?”
“No! I have been making changes in my life. ” Most were forced, not that she’d admit that.
“Then it shouldn’t be such an ordeal to add this change to the list. ”
“You know what?” Ainsley interrupted. “I think your mom is afraid to look hot and have men notice her. Once she’s no longer hidden behind all this scarecrow hair, she’ll hook herself a man. Just you watch. ”
“Scarecrow hair?” Rielle repeated. “Really, Ainsley?”
Ainsley’s eyes didn’t contain a bit of malice, just concern. “You need to do this. For you. We’ll be right there, every snip of the way. ”
Maybe the drinks bolstered her courage. Heaven knew if the decision was left up to her, she’d never do it. She slid off the barstool. “Fine. But if I end up looking like Carrot Top, there’s gonna be hell to pay. ”
Ainsley draped her arm around Rielle’s shoulder. “Darlin’, the truth is, even that might be an improvement. ”
Late Saturday afternoon Gavin pulled into the parking area of the former Sage Creek Bed and Breakfast.
The five-thousand-square-foot, two-story structure had large windows stretching along the main and upper floors. This time of day the sun reflected off the sections of glass in tones of amber and rosy-gold. The siding had been crafted out of rough-hewn lumber and applied vertically, horizontally, crossways, creating the impression of depth. A copper-colored tin roof covered a wide-planked porch that spanned the entire length of the front side. The porch supports were notched logs, worn into a smooth vanilla-hued patina in some places and left rough with chunks of bark in others. The concrete work at the base of the house was covered by round, grayish river rock, so the foundation appeared built from cobbled stone. The steps continued the western theme, constructed from old railroad ties, the centers shored up with marbled-looking concrete. Even the split-rail fence separating the parking lot from the porch resembled an old-fashioned hitching post. The overall impression of the place was rustic with western flair. Charming. Welcoming. Homey.
Homey. As Gavin listened to the engine cool, he had to remind himself this was his home. He’d owned it for almost two years, but he’d never cooked a meal in the kitchen. Never washed a load of clothes in the laundry room. Never flopped on the couch and watched a Cardinals football game. He’d always treated this place like a hotel.
He glanced at his daughter, gauging her reaction to their new home. “So, Sierra, what do you think?”
She peered over the top of her pink sunglasses. “It’s bigger than I thought. Rustic, but it works in this setting with the different types of trees as a backdrop. I
The kid knew the lingo after being around the real estate business her whole life.
“Holy crap. Who is that?”
Sierra pointed. “There. By the fence. ”
Gavin saw a shapely, jean-clad ass bent over a wheelbarrow. The woman stood and turned to grab the wheelbarrow’s handles, giving him a front-and-center view of her low-cut tank top. The full swells of her cleavage bounced nicely as she started downhill. Her face was hidden beneath the bill of a brown and gold University of Wyoming ball cap.
“You don’t know her?” Sierra asked. “Is she seasonal help or something?”
“Maybe. ” Where was Rielle? She always met him on the porch with her pack of dogs.
They climbed out of the Lexus. Gavin continued to stare from behind his sunglasses at the woman heading toward them, showing a lot of sun-kissed skin. When she removed her cap, revealing artfully tousled short blond hair, and smiled at him, Gavin’s jaw nearly hit the dirt. “Rielle?”
“You were expecting someone else?” She stepped closer, slipping off her glove before offering her hand. “You must be Sierra. I’m Rielle Wetzler. Your dad has talked about you nonstop. ”
“Most of it bad, I’m sure. ” Sierra smirked and Gavin held his breath, waiting for the snarky sixteen-year-old to emerge. “I’ll admit Dad said nothing to me about you. ”
Gavin was tempted to correct his daughter, but Rielle had already engaged his sometimes-prickly child in conversation.
Sierra started sharing her favorite parts of their tourist excursions. Rather than stand and gawk at this sexier version of Rielle, he returned to his car and began unloading luggage and tried to figure out how they were going to make this situation work.