The Cowboy Lassos a Bride(2)

By: Cora Seton

She knew the perfect time, too. In a couple of weeks, bison season opened up. Cody had been blathering for days about a bison on some big game ranch out in the western part of the state he intended to go shoot. It sounded silly to her, but it would keep him busy, at least overnight. That was all the time she needed.

With the decision made and her course set, she felt somewhat better, as if she’d gone through a long winter and just seen the first signs of spring. It would be a relief to end this relationship that was heading nowhere. She would have done it sooner if living together hadn’t made things so complicated. But she wasn’t going to let that stop her now. She would un-complicate things, leave Cody, and then she would be free in a few short weeks. Hannah straightened her shoulders and focused on the ceremony again.

Two hours later, she fiddled with her glass of champagne and watched the couples on the dance floor, her resentment creeping back to depress her mood again. It killed her not to feel joyful when this was Bella’s wedding, but the fact that her best friend was leaving her behind kept tears pricking at her eyelids. She hadn’t expected the wedding to be so emotional in this way and she refused to let Bella know how she felt. Once again she pasted a bright smile on her face and surveyed the room. The night hadn’t been all bad. Ethan Cruz had danced with her once as a gesture of friendship. Married to her friend, Autumn, the tall cowboy had always been kind and considerate like that. Several other married men in her group of friends had taken her for a turn around the dance floor, too. That was nice of them, but she didn’t want pity-dances. She wanted something else—something more.

It was probably for the best there wasn’t anything more to have, she thought, since she hadn’t broken up officially with Cody yet. Still, in her mind it was over—and had been for a long time. She and Cody hadn’t acted like a couple in ages. She was lonely. She wanted a man’s arms around her. She wanted to be kissed.

She wanted to be loved.

“Care to dance?”

She glanced up with a start to find Jake Matheson, Morgan’s brother-in-law, standing beside her table. “Um… sure.” Too surprised to say more, she stood up and took his hand. As he led her to the dance floor, she allowed her gaze to trail over him in a way she hadn’t looked at any man in a long, long time. Jake was one of the handsomest cowboys she knew and she was shocked he’d deigned to issue her this invitation. Like all the Matheson men, he was tall, broad-shouldered, with blond hair and blue eyes. He was the oldest of four, and everyone knew he’d run the Double-Bar-K when his father stepped down from that job. Any woman who married Jake would enter one of the oldest, proudest ranching families in the county. But Jake seemed to have no notion of settling down.

At thirty-three, he was seven years older than her, so he’d graduated before she’d even entered high school. Their crowds hadn’t ever converged until this past summer when she began to work at the Cruz ranch from time to time, helping Autumn with her guest ranch business. Ethan was good friends with Rob Matheson, Jake’s youngest brother and Morgan’s husband, and she’d gotten to know the rest of the Mathesons in the intervening months, especially at Ethan and Autumn’s weekly poker nights.

Still, it was strange to feel Jake’s large hand curve around her own as he led her through the crowded tables, and when he pulled her close on the dance floor and put his hands on her waist to sway next to her to the slow dance now playing over the speakers, her breath caught. She’d never been so near to Jake. His dress shirt was smooth under her cheek as she rested her head against his chest. His hands were warm through the thin fabric of her dress. He smelled of soap and man and outdoors, a scent that filled her with an unnamed longing. She hoped he couldn’t hear her heart racing in her chest. Jake was so masculine, so utterly out of her league, she’d never even pictured a moment like this.

As her body came alive under his touch, Hannah realized just how bad things between her and Cody had become. He never made her feel like this—her heart thrumming, her pulse racing, her breath caught in her throat. Jake, on the other hand, made her senses reel. She tingled all over from his proximity.

“Enjoying the wedding?” he murmured. If he wanted, she knew he could easily rest his chin on top of her head. He held her carefully but firmly, and she felt safe in his arms. Protected. Valued in a way she wanted to be valued. She could tell by the way he moved with her that he was very aware of her too. Knowing his thoughts were on her—not just his hands—was as intoxicating as any glass of champagne. The play of his muscles under his shirt delighted her. She wished she could touch him. Run a hand over his chest. She tilted her head down so he wouldn’t be able to read her thoughts in her face. This was a man who could warm her through any long, cold Montana night.

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