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Authors: Janet Tronstad

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BOOK: Small-Town Brides
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Chapter Ten

C
lay was putting on a navy tie. He didn't own a tie, but the minister had been kind enough to lend him one. Clay had been in Dry Creek a week already, and he was driving himself crazy wondering when he was going to have the nerve to talk to Rene about that list of hers.

Well, it wasn't just the list. It was his chances in general with her.

It was Saturday night and he'd asked her to dinner at the Dry Creek Café. It was a date and he'd made some special arrangements with the woman who owned the place. He wanted to grab as many points on that list of hers as he could tonight.

Clay knew it was too soon to ask Rene the big question, but he planned to ask some smaller ones just to give himself hope that there would be a time when he could ask her to marry him without leaving her dumbstruck because she'd had no idea it was even a remote possibility.

He didn't like the idea of shocking Rene with his question.

The tie wasn't knotting right. He scowled at himself in
his bathroom mirror. Maybe wearing a suit was a mistake. He'd had to borrow the suit, too, and he hoped Rene didn't recognize it since it, too, belonged to her uncle just like the tie did.

He wanted to show Rene that he was flexible, though. He had a feeling she'd put something on her list about the man being able to wear a suit. He looked at the clock on his wall. He had to hurry or he wouldn't be on time.

Ten minutes later, Clay was standing at the door, ringing the bell.

 

Rene heard the doorbell ring and she ran her fingers over her hair again. She'd gone through every item of clothing she owned and had finally given up and put on her long black skirt and the white lace blouse her cousin had given her last Christmas. Rene had just decided the combination made her look like she was waiting tables at a five-star restaurant. But it was too late. There was no time to change.

She picked up her purse and headed downstairs. She'd been anxious all day, except when she'd been terrified. This could be it. Clay had told her he was wearing a suit for dinner. Clay in a suit had to be something. She wondered if he was going to tell her he was leaving Dry Creek.

Whichever it was, she hoped he told her quickly and put her out of her misery. She hadn't been able to eat anything all day, and she wasn't sure she could eat tonight. She had her list in her purse for comfort.

“Oh,” Rene said when she opened the door. The porch light was on and she didn't even recognize Clay. “You look—good.”

Clay smiled. He wasn't wearing a hat and she could see
the warmth in his eyes. His smile curled her toes. “Here. These are for you.”

He held out a dozen pink roses. “They'll need water.”

Rene nodded. She could use a little water herself. “I'll just—I mean, come in and I'll put them in a vase before we go.”

Rene knew there were six other people in the house tonight, but they were all hidden away in their rooms, even her twin cousins.

“You look beautiful,” Clay said as they walked into the kitchen.

The lights were off in the kitchen and Rene turned on the small one over the sink. Her aunt kept the vases under the sink, and Rene bent down to get one. When she stood back up, Clay was close.

She wondered if he was going to kiss her. Hope that he would kept her rooted to where she stood. Clay hesitated for a minute, but he didn't lean down and kiss her. Instead, he stepped around her and started the water running in the sink. Then he slipped the vase under the water. “I'll have it all ready for you in a minute,”

Rene nodded. “Are the roses so I remember you?”

“Sure. I guess.”

Rene almost started to cry. If it was to remember him, that must mean he was going to tell her he was leaving. It made sense. Clay and her uncle had finished building the scaffolding. He'd done a few towing jobs for Conrad's garage, but someone else could do that. He probably thought it was time for him to go home.

Well, if this was their goodbye dinner, she wanted to be sure that he remembered her, too, and not because she'd spent the evening crying.

 

Clay opened the door to the café. The lights were dimmed just like he'd requested. And there was one table sitting in the middle of the eating area. Everything else had been pushed to the side.

“You're sure they're open,” Rene asked as she followed him inside.

Okay, so maybe he'd overdone the low lighting, but he didn't want Rene to see the table until they were closer.

“It's closed to everyone but us. Here, take my hand.”

Rene slipped her smooth hand into his. He wished he'd realized sooner that the darkness would give him an excuse to hold her hand.

“Careful,” Clay said. He could see the outline of the center table.

Clay led Rene to the table and pulled out her chair. Then he walked around and sat in his own chair.

“We're seated,” Clay said, loud enough to be heard by the people in the kitchen.

Right on cue, the door opened behind Clay and three young women holding tall candles came out singing. Clay had wanted to get a violin player, but the only person available to play an instrument had been a teenager on a trumpet. So Linda, the owner of the café, had suggested the trio from the church choir.

“Oh,” Rene said in awe.

Enough candlelight was shining out that Clay could see the delight on Rene's face. And she hadn't even looked down at the table yet.

“They're beautiful,” Rene whispered. “Their voices are magnificent.”

Clay suspected the trio might sound magnificent partly
because they were humming “Amazing Grace.” They hadn't had time to practice a love song for his dinner, so he told them the hymn would do fine.

The three young women brought their candles to a candelabra standing to the side of the table where Clay and Rene sat. When they put the candles in their place, they walked silently back to the kitchen.

“Oh, my,” Rene said. She had finally looked down at the table.

Clay had bought more pink roses when he went into Miles City earlier today. He'd put the best of them in the bouquet, but he had the petals from two dozen more strewn around the table.

Clay figured that, between the roses and the candles, he was doing all he could to set the mood for the kind of floaty love Rene was partial to. Her eyes were glistening in delight and he was satisfied.

“Linda said we have our choice of steak or salmon,” Clay noted.

Everything was timed just right.

“I'm not sure I could eat a steak,” Rene whispered. “Maybe the salmon.”

“Two salmons then,” Clay said, again loud enough for people to hear in the kitchen.

Clay congratulated himself. Everything was going better than he would have thought. Now if he could just get his piece said.

“There's something I want to tell you,” Clay began.

Rene looked at him and he noticed that the shine in her eyes was not excitement; it was tears.

“What's wrong?” he asked softly.

“Noth-thing,” she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. “Please go on.”

He reached across the table and wiped the tear off her cheek. He didn't know what he had done, but he had obviously made a bad step somewhere.

“I'm sorry,” she choked out. Then she took a long, shuddering breath. “I didn't want to cry. I wanted you to remember me smiling.”

Clay felt his heart stop. For a moment, he couldn't speak.

“I don't want to remember you smiling,” he said. “I want to see you doing it as often as I can.”

“But Mule Hollow is too far away for that,” Rene wailed.

“I thought you were staying here. At least until your aunt's mural is done.”

Rene lifted her head and looked at him. “Aren't you heading back to Mule Hollow?”

Clay shook his head. “Not anytime soon.”

“Well then what am I supposed to remember?”

“Apparently me making a fool of myself,” Clay said.

Rene stopped crying and just looked at him for a moment. “Maybe I'm a little bit of a fool, too.”

Clay had to admit the candlelight had been a good idea. He could always talk to Rene more easily when they were in the shadows. It reminded him of being in the truck with her. “I guess it's what I get for trying to make it onto your husband list.”

“What?” Rene said.

“I know you're not taking applications or anything. But that list you're making. I wanted to hit at least a few of the things on it. We have a flaming dessert later, too.”

Rene was smiling now. “Let me show you my list.”

She reached down and opened her purse, pulling out a piece of paper.

“Here.” She handed him her list.

At first, Clay wondered if the dim light was tricking his eyes.

“Horses. He has to be good with horses,” Clay said as he looked up from the list. “And cowboy boots. I have those. And kind eyes, I—” He looked across the table at Rene.

She nodded.

Clay looked back down at the list. He met everything on the list.

“I know it's too soon,” he said, staring into her eyes, “but when some time has passed, and I finish the studies your uncle has set out for me, I plan to ask you to marry me, Rene Mitchell.”

Clay felt a little dizzy. He was looking at Rene and she was smiling at him.

“I feel funny,” Clay muttered. “Not bad, just—”

“Floaty?” Rene asked.

He nodded. “And a little like—well, like the rest of the world isn't here.”

He stood up thinking it might clear his head. It didn't. Fortunately, Rene stood, too, and walked around the edge of the table to steady him. A good thirty seconds passed before everything became clear for Clay. “I'm falling in love. It's not just love, it's the ‘falling into' kind.”

“It's the good stuff,” Rene ended for him.

Clay grinned down at her. “It sure is.”

Then he bent his head to kiss her.

Epilogue

A
month and a half later, Rene twirled around in her wedding dress, her great-grandmother's veil flowing with her. Splashes of blue forget-me-knots shone in the mirror in the midst of all the white netting.

“It's time,” her cousin, Paisley, announced from the doorway with a wide grin.

Rene had used her uncle's study to change into her clothes for the wedding. She couldn't believe she was really getting married. “I'm coming.”

“You're a beautiful bride,” Paisley whispered as they walked out of the study.

They both peeked around the corner to the sanctuary and saw the church filled with roses. Pink ones. Red ones. And a few white ones. Clusters of the flowers were tied with ribbons to the pews. Two big bouquets graced the front where Clay stood in his tuxedo and waited for Rene. His Uncle Prudy stood next to him as his best man. And the people of Dry Creek filled the pews with their support and good wishes. Mandy and Davy and their new baby boy sat in the front row.

“You're next,” Rene said to her cousin. “Someday soon love will just hit you and it'll all be over except for the wedding ceremony. Just give me a call and I'll send this veil back to Mule Hollow when that happens.”

“I won't need it any time soon.”

“You'll want more than a teaching career some day,” Rene said as she leaned over and kissed her cousin on the cheek.

Just then the organ music started and Paisley began her walk down the aisle as the bridesmaid. Rene took a deep breath and enjoyed the fragrance of the roses. Every time she smelled a rose now she thought of Clay.

It was time. She stepped out to the aisle and saw Clay's face. She hadn't wanted anyone to walk her down the aisle, but she was grateful for Clay's steady gaze pulling her to him.

Clay took her hand when she walked up to him and they turned to her uncle.

The vows went all too quickly. Before she knew it, Paisley had stepped up to pin back her veil.

“I now pronounce you man and wife,” Rene heard her uncle say. “You may kiss the bride.”

Clay wasn't rushing. Rene watched his eyes as he slowly traced her jaw with his thumb. She trembled as his eyes told her she was precious to him. Only then did he dip his head and kiss her. She felt his love completely.

A MULE HOLLOW MATCH

Debra Clopton

 

 

This book is dedicated to Chase, Kris
and Heidi with much love

 

 

In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered
me; I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

—
Jonah
2:2

BOOK: Small-Town Brides
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