ill and Jasper sat on the front porch, listening to the sound of the cool rain drizzling off the eaves. They were waiting for Beau and Natalie's wedding, which would take place in the family parlor as soon as Sky arrived with Lauren and Reverend Sykes, who suffered from a mild narcolepsy that kept him from driving safely.
Will glanced at his watch. “Damnation, where are they? I need to get out of this blasted suit and get back to work on the bunkhouse.”
Jasper's mouth twisted in a half smile. “Stop your gripin', Will Tyler. Look around you. The rain's fallin', the grass is growin', the barn's got a new roof, and your brother's gettin' hitched to a fine woman. For Pete's sake, relax and enjoy the day!”
Will exhaled and shifted his legs. True, he had plenty to be happy about. The fire had spared the house and the duplex, and only damaged the long barn. The machine sheds and their contents had been saved, as well as the four bungalows for the married hands a half mile away. With the rains, the land was greening fast, both here and up on the caprock. Soon there'd be plenty of feed for horses and cattle. Meanwhile, Sky had opened up his untouched acreage to the Rimrock for grazing.
And Beau would be stayingâthat alone was enough to celebrate. He and Natalie would live in one of the bungalows until their new house on the ranch was finished. Natalie would work part time in partnership with the new vet who was renting her house and clinic.
There was another house going up, this one on Sky's land. Proud as always, he'd insisted on putting off his wedding to Lauren until he could offer her a suitable home. For now she'd found a small apartment in town, where she was working to grow her accounting business. But the two were already spending most of their nights together.
“Did Abner ever figure out what happened to start that fire?” Jasper asked, making conversation.
“Not Abner,” Will said. “As you know, we all figured that the fire came from that burned SUV down by the east property line. But when the deputies found a body in it, the FBI got involved. We didn't hear anything for a while, but Beau made some calls. They'd traced the rented vehicle to a hit man for the Dallas mob, and the DNA was a match. But nobody seems to know how it caught fire in the first place.”
“What about Sky's cousin, that woman who shot me? Maybe she got burnt up in the fire, too. It'd serve her right!”
“The FBI didn't find any sign of her or her motorcycle. A clerk at a truck stop in Wichita Falls remembered selling cigarettes to a woman matching her descriptionâhard to forget, with that scar. But she's in the windâuntil she gets caught, which is bound to happen sooner or later.”
Jasper spat off the porch. “Never mind. We all know who was behind this mess.”
“We do.” Will thought of Stella, like a black widow spider with a network of webs, too crafty and too dangerous to get caught. “Her day will come, Jasper. And when it does, Blanco County will be a better place.”
“Hope I live to see it.” Jasper peered through the rain at the new dark blue truck that had turned the corner onto the long, graveled lane. “Well, I'll be damned. Here they come, and right on time.” He glanced at Will. “Sky and Lauren make a right handsome couple, don't they? And those looks they give each otherâ” The old man gave a low whistle. “I'm guessin' there'll be another wedding before long, maybe sooner than we think.”
“And I'm guessing there'll soon be more little Tyler cousins to run around the ranch.” Will let the words hang, fully aware of what he'd just said.
Jasper's jaw dropped. He stared at Will. “How long have you known?”
“I've suspected all alongâthose blue eyes, the little mannerisms, the way my dad treated him. But I didn't know for sure until Sky got shot and we had to give him blood. How many people have AB negative? Sky knows, doesn't he?”
“He didn't for a long time. I finally told him, but he'd never say anything to you or Beau.”
“He wouldn't, of course,” Will said. “I do plan to tell him, but in my own time, whenever that is. Maybe on his wedding day.”
Jasper grinned. “Remind me. When you've got time to listen, I'll tell you the whole story.”
The pickup stopped at the foot of the porch. The reverend got out of the backseat and hurried up the steps through the rain. Sky climbed out of the truck and went around to Lauren's side. She handed him an umbrella, which he held over her until they reached the cover of the porch.
The two of them were so much in love. Will remembered when things had been like that between him and Tori, before his world crashed and he'd lost her. What he wouldn't give to have that feeling back. But as Jasper would put it, there'd been too much water under the bridge. Too much time. Too little forgiveness on both sides.
The front door opened. Tori and Erin came out onto the porch. Erin looked heartbreakingly grown-up in her simple blue sheath dress, her hair twisted up and pinned with a silk flower. At some point she'd gotten her ears piercedâhow could he have missed those little pearl studs? And was that lip gloss she was wearing? Now that was a shock.
Tori had put aside her black court suit for a flowing, flowered dress that made her look like a young girl. Her golden hair was loose, falling over her shoulders, and she wore gold gypsy hoops in her ears. She looked deliciousâand so sexy that Will felt that old, familiar stirring. He forced himself to ignore it.
“Come on inside,” she said. “Everybody's ready. Beau's just waiting for his best man. Isn't that you, Will?”
Will followed his ex-wife and daughter into the house, where the wedding was about to begin. As the vows were spoken, he would stand with his two brothers and the women they loved.
And he would ache for what he'd lost.