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“I need to plan a wedding,” Ruby Gallagher blurted into the phone without even a hello.
“Ruby, that’s fantastic!” Maddie Gallagher responded. “Arnie must be thrilled.”
“Arnie?” Ruby paused. Debated between a chuckle and a frown. These young ones needed to stay out of her love life. “Not you, too. I’m talking about Scarlett’s wedding, goose.”
“Oh.” But her great-nephew’s wife quickly recovered her enthusiasm. “Poor Arnie, but Ian will be happy, I know.”
“Heaven knows the boy has had to wait long enough. Don’t know what my granddaughter’s waiting on.”
Maddie snickered. “Pot, meet kettle. How many years has Arnie been waiting on you?”
“Don’t you get smart with me, young lady. There will be consequences.”
“Consider me duly terrified,” Maddie responded. “Given that my five-year-old is nearly as tall as you, my knees are quaking, I assure you.”
“Not fair the Gallagher men get all the height,” Ruby grumbled.
“You and Scarlett are the only pygmies, best I can tell.”
“Enough of that impertinence. Do you want to help me plan this wedding or not?”
“Are you kidding? Of course I do. I was just telling Boone we need a family get-together soon. What better excuse? When were you thinking? A spring wedding?”
“Not hardly. I was thinking Thanksgiving.”
“You don’t lack ambition, do you? How about Christmas instead? What does Scarlett want?”
“She wants to get the old courthouse renovated for her new restaurant. Then she’ll focus on getting that up and running. Then she’ll want lord knows…and Ian is too patient with her.”
“Is he complaining?”
“The man is goofy in love and too nice for his own good.”
“So…” Maddie began. “Basically, Scarlett’s grandmother wants Scarlett to hurry up and get married?” She paused. “That’s never worked with you, and Scarlett comes by her stubbornness honestly.”
“I’m hanging up now,” Ruby grumbled.
Maddie burst out laughing. “Okay, okay…but it’s late enough that Scarlett’s friends from New York would have a hard time booking tickets for the heaviest travel time of the year. How about early December?”
Ruby had never been on an airplane in her life. “I never thought of that. All right. So, you’re in?”
“Absolutely. And Perrie can do the cake. She’s turning into quite a pastry chef. My sister Lacey could help with flowers, I bet.”
“Veronica Butler owns a flower farm,” Ruby reminded Maddie. “She’ll handle the flowers.”
“Absolutely. Lacey has many other skills—she could organize the wedding of the century in a week, I swear. All that socialite training didn’t go to waste. She’s a whiz at planning social galas and charity functions. I’ll call her. We need to come down for a girls’ weekend.”
“If you show up here, Scarlett will get wind of it.”
“Ruby.” Another pause. “You cannot mean to say you’re planning her wedding as a complete surprise. Seriously?”
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to bring Ian in on it.”
“You are something else.” Her quick laugh hovered somewhere between horrified and intrigued. “You can’t do that to her.”
“Didn’t your little town of Morning Star pretty much put your wedding together?”
“Well, yes, but—”
“And wasn’t it wonderful?”
“It was, but nobody sprung it on me. Do you honestly want to incite Scarlett’s likely reaction? She’ll freak. At best, you’ll wake up and find yourself married one morning, you know you will. She’ll get Judge Porter to marry you in your nightgown, fast asleep.”
“Judge would never do that, unless he wants me to evict him from my boarding house. And there’s the little matter of my agreeing to it.”
“And your point would be…?”
Ruby sighed. “All right. I just…I want to see her settled while I’m still here.”
“You’re going to live forever, Ruby. We all insist on it. Sweetgrass can’t do without you, and neither can the family.”
“No wonder Boone is still crazy for you, sweet-talker.”
Maddie chuckled. “It’s true, though. But back to Scarlett—maybe if we could put a plan together to show her instead, so she’d see she wouldn’t have to start from scratch? That might make things more doable if lack of time is all that’s holding her up. Lacey and I could compile a timeline, and I know Perrie will be onboard. We’ll talk to Veronica and Scarlett’s cousin Rissa, as well. Since you can’t easily get away from Scarlett, operating the diner together, we can put a rough outline together, run it by you, then you let me be the bad guy and spring it on Scarlett.”
“I wasn’t planning to give her advance notice.”
“At all? Ruby, you can’t do that.”
“Of course I can. It’s my right. I’m old.”
Maddie burst out laughing. “What you are is incorrigible.”
Ruby barreled on. “Ian will help you with her when the time comes. He has a way with her.”
“I just bet he does,” Maddie responded drily. “There’s something about those good-lookin’ cowboys…”
“It’s not that she doesn’t want to marry him. She just has this notion that she has to get the events center running first, as if I’ll kick the bucket next week and she has to assure me Sweetgrass will be taken care of beforehand.”
“She’s hungry for family, Ruby. She adores you.”
“She’s the blessing of my life.” Ruby’s throat went tight. “I thought I would never have a family again after my daughter Georgia ran away.”
“You have all of us, Ruby. And everyone in Sweetgrass considers you family.”
“Do I hear a sniffle, young lady?” Maddie was a soft touch, with a heart as big as the world.
“Of course not. Would I dare get weepy in front of you?”
“Are you breeding again, Maddie Rose?”
“What a sexist thing to say.” But the smile was there in her voice. “Yep. Knocked up bigger ‘n’ Dallas, but only Boone knows. As if those hellions of ours aren’t plenty already.”
“You talk a good game. I’m happy for you, sweetheart.” Ruby knew Maddie had been all alone until she’d inherited Boone’s ranch out from under him. She, like Scarlett, had been hungry for family. If not for her, the existence of Boone and Mitch’s half-sister would never have been discovered. Lacey and her husband Devlin were now deeply ingrained in the Gallagher family.
“Thank you. So, see, I won’t be dragging my heels on this wedding because I have an ulterior motive. I want to be a bridesmaid while I’m still hot. Pregnancy boobs without the belly.”
Ruby had to laugh. “You are a caution, honey. Boone needed some shaking up. Boy was always too serious.” His career in the SEAL Teams had not been a joyride, nor had his life with his father, after his mother had died.
“He doesn’t have that problem now, I promise.” Free-spirited Maddie had blown into Boone’s life like a spring storm, and the man was crazy about her.
“So we’re set, right?”
“I will start calling as soon as we hang up. But you should still tell her.”
Maddie sighed. “I’ll get back with you in a few days, okay?”
“Thank you, honey. You’re a good girl.”
“Practically a saint, I tell Boone every day. Talk soon, Ruby.” With another bawdy laugh, Maddie disconnected.
“What are you plotting, Maddie Rose?” Boone Gallagher’s blue eyes saw too much.
“Me?” She smiled sweetly at him.
“Yes, you. Was that Ruby you were talking to? Only woman I know better at Machiavellian maneuvers.”
“Ooh, handsome, you know it makes me hot when you use big words.” She cocked her head and sidled closer, walking two fingers up his hard-muscled, very distracting bare chest. “Big ole cowboy, throwing around ten-dollar words…”
Boone laughed. Grabbed her hand in his big one and reeled her in. “So who’s the poor sap about to be caught in your evil clutches?”
“It’s for her own good, really.”
Maddie shook her head. “Scarlett. Ruby wants help planning her wedding.”
Both eyebrows winged upward. “I didn’t know they’d set a date.” When Maddie didn’t meet his gaze, he cocked his head and peered closer. “You were serious that she doesn’t know? A little high-handed, don’t you think? You’d be madder than hell if someone tried to pull that on you.”
“As if I had much say in our wedding.”
“Hey, we had one. I had to wait weeks for you…and locked out of my bed, too. It was hell.”
“You weren’t locked out of your own bed, only mine. It made the wedding night…spicier.”
He yanked her into him. Bent to place his mouth on her throat. “Every damn time with you is spicy-hot, babe.”
Maddie’s head fell back with a sigh. “You’ve already knocked me up again, Boone.”
His head rose swiftly. “Your appetite only increases when you’re pregnant.” He ran a hand over her curves. “As do all kinds of…other things.” He waggled a leer.
“Always.” His voice was a growl. “Forever.” He was already walking her backwards to the bed.
“Daddy! Dalton not share!”
Boone rolled his eyes. “We wanted more of these demon spawn?”
Maddie rubbed herself against him, arms twined around his neck. “Honey, Daddy can’t come right now,” she called out.
Boone’s forehead thunked against hers. “No kidding.”
“But, Daddy,” the voice of their precocious toddler daughter Lilah Rose went sweet and soft. “Need you.”
With a hefty sigh he straightened. Pointed a finger at Maddie. “You. Don’t move a muscle. I will be right back.”
She winked lasciviously. “I’ll be right here, big boy.” She licked her lips slowly.
“Evil. Woman, you are pure evil.” But he was grinning as he left.
He wouldn’t be back anytime soon, Maddie would bet the farm—okay, ranch.
Even if he was, she still had time for one little call as an idea occurred to her. She picked up the phone and punched in numbers she knew by heart.
“Hi, Scarlett. Listen, you ever think Ruby’s been stringing Arnie on too long? I have an idea.”
Scarlett laughed. “I’m listening.”