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“Grandmothers shouldn’t have favorites, but I have to admit Zane is mine,” Virginia Logan said to her friend, as they sat having coffee on Judy’s small apartment patio. Despite fall’s arrival on the calendar in Wishing, Texas, the temperature and the air remained warm.
“I don’t think having a favorite is a problem as long as you don’t treat anyone that way.”
Ginny nodded in agreement. “I’d never admit it to anyone else, and if anything, I’m tougher on Zane, but that boy always has been special to me.”
How could she not love Zane a bit more when he reminded her so much of her dear late husband? Her grandson possessed her husband’s crooked smile. The one that made women’s hearts turn over. Zane’s eyes were the same vivid green that sparkled when he turned on the charm. He’d also inherited his grandfather’s sense of humor that had made her laugh during the roughest of times.
“Bless him, Zane’s coming to stay for my surgery.”
“But not your son?”
Ginny shook her head. “He’s on a trip with Carla. Not that he’d be any help if he came.” Ginny’s hand tightened around her glass of iced tea. “I was so thankful to have that boy after all those miscarriages that I indulged him. If I had it to do again, I’d raise him differently. I wish Zane hadn’t paid the price for my mistakes.”
And blast her son and first daughter-in-law for failing to see what their fighting did to their child. But then her son had been too busy juggling his secret life with his girlfriend and their children, while her daughter-in-law had been bent on revenge. “I wish they could’ve loved Zane more than they hated each other. Thankfully, I didn’t make the same mistakes with Zane.”
When her son and daughter-in-law filed for divorce, they forced Zane to choose who to live with. Way too perceptive for his age, Zane had known why his parents pawned the decision off on him. They wanted to move on—her son with his new family and her former daughter-in-law with her new boyfriend. Zane was part of the old life they both wanted to erase. Rather than choose between his parents, Zane had asked to live with his grandparents.
“You did a great job raising Zane. He’s a fine man.”
“He is, but the older he gets the more he shuts himself off from everyone except his few close friends.”
Not that anyone would suspect the fact. Zane, the life of any party, could stroll into a room and within five minutes capture most everyone’s attention. The females because of his looks and charm, the men because they hoped his magnetism would rub off. But none of the connections were real or meant a thing to Zane. They were all hat and no cattle. It was as if he expected other people to disappoint him, so he never let them in. That way when they did let him down, it wouldn’t hurt as much.
An idea had been floating around in her head for a few days and a little voice inside said today was the day to act. “Would you mind taking a trip to the well today?”
“You needing to make a wish?” Judy asked.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking.”
Not fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the town’s historical park surrounding the wishing well and the tiny graveyard. They walked along the flagstone path toward the white picket fence. The tall grass in the surrounding field danced as the warm fall breeze brushed through it. At the gate, Ginny paused and traced the raised lettering on the iron plaque.
The gate creaked and squawked as she opened it and when they stood before the worn, old well, Ginny brushed her hand over the rough limestone. The stones remained as strong and vibrant as the day Alice stood here to make a wish for her sister, Anne.
Ginny adored this place. A sense of calm and love surrounded her here. Energy hummed in the air, vibrating with the memories of those who’d sought help for loved ones. Beyond the well with its weathered gray wooden roof stood four worn, chipped headstones. Such a simple place yet filled with such pure ardor and magic.
Though most young folks around town thought the legend was dreamed up by smart businessmen years ago as a marketing ploy, Ginny believed in Wishing’s famed well, along with fairies, leprechauns, and happily ever after. She always had.
According to the legend, Anne and Alice grew up as close as sisters could be until Anne moved to Texas with her husband Sam. Alice remained back east caring for their aged parents. Anne and Sam built a fine life on this land and were raising three children when the Civil War began. When Sam left for war, Anne found herself overwhelmed. She begged Alice to come to Texas to help, and her sister obliged. Together the two women held on to the land and kept the children fed and safe during those terrible years. When the war ended and the surviving men started coming home, Sam wasn’t among them. As more time passed without word on her husband, Anne became despondent and took to her bed.
Her heart heavy with worry for her sister, Alice stood at this very well one day, knowing her sister had given up. Not knowing what else to do, tears running down her face and falling into the well as she leaned over it, Alice tossed in a coin and wished for Sam’s safe return to the family that loved and needed him so desperately.
A few days later, her wish came true. Sam returned, along with the stranger who’d nursed him back to health after finding him near death beside the road.
The coin clutched in Ginny’s hand vibrated and heat raced through her. Please let this place work its magic for Zane. I don’t want him living the same superficial life his father has.
“Zane needs to learn there’s more to life.”
Ginny held her hand over the well and released the coin. It pinged off stones before splashing into the water. “I wish Zane would meet someone who turns the tables on him, makes him let go of the past, and helps him trust people again. And if he finds someone he could love, that would be an added bonus.”
“I suppose you think jumping a barbed wire fence naked is a good idea too.”
Zane Logan resisted the urge to cringe at his best friend Cooper’s comment as they stood in a corner of the Lucky Stars event barn at AJ and Grace’s engagement party.
For ten years since they met as freshmen in Squadron Twenty-One in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University it had been him, Coop, Ty, and AJ. Banding together, they’d survived that arduous freshman fish year and had a helluva good time in college. Since then, though they’d gone their separate ways, they’d kept in touch and gotten together a few times a year at Ty’s ranch. No matter what life threw their way, they were there for each other. But their lives were changing.
Ty was married and he and Cassie were raising her niece. AJ was engaged. But the biggest shock had hit Zane when he arrived at Cooper’s place last week. What he’d expected to find was Coop climbing the wall from small-town boredom. Instead, he’d walked in on a party with his best friend down on one knee proposing.
“Maybe managing Ginny’s business while she’s recovering isn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but what else could I do? I couldn’t let her trust an assistant she’s only known three months.”
Not only hadn’t he wanted to take over Ginny’s business while she recovered from hip replacement surgery, he’d had a helluva time convincing her to let him. But he should’ve expected unsolicited advice. Since he, Coop, and AJ had kept their apprehension about Lauren, Ty’s first fiancée, to themselves and she left him at the altar, they’d promised to share future concerns, no matter what the subject, how sensitive or painful. Still, Coop could’ve used a little tact.
“Why isn’t your old man helping out?”
“He’s in Europe trying to patch up marriage number three. Good thing, too, because he’d be a worse choice than her assistant.” How could folks as wonderful as his grandparents have raised such a shit for a son? Someone who would lead two completely separate lives with two families?
“I’m thinking a man who breaks out in hives when he hears the word wedding has no business managing a wedding planning company,” Cooper said. “If you ask me, that’s looking for trouble.”
Zane wouldn’t let Grandma Ginny, the one person who’d been there for him his entire life, loving him unconditionally and acting as a guiding force, put her future at risk. He’d do anything this side of legal for her.
Even run Lucky Stars Weddings.
As Zane scanned the barn built after his grandfather died, regret swept over him. The Lucky Stars Ranch had been his escape from his parents’ fighting long before he moved here in middle school. He preferred the original barn with its rough walls rather than this one’s sanded and sealed boards. His grandfather’s barn had smelled of hay and horses rather than fresh flowers. Horses nickering and Grandpa Paul’s cheerful whistling had filled that space rather than polite conversation, background music, and the ding of crystal clinking together during toasts. But when his grandfather died, running a cattle ranch had been too much for his grandma. Needing a way to provide for herself and being known for giving fabulous parties, she’d turned that love into a wedding planning business.
Zane smiled at his best friend. “I was at Ty’s wedding and didn’t need allergy meds.”
“Does that mean you’ll be at my wedding?” Coop asked.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else, but I’ll bring Benadryl in case.”
“Good thing, because I expect you to be my best man.”
Despite Zane’s quick he’d-be-honored response, concerns for Cooper churned in his gut. How could Coop know Cheyenne well enough to marry her after a couple months, especially when he was a lightweight in the experience department? He’d had only had one serious relationship before Cheyenne, and if Olivia hadn’t died, they’d be married now. While Cooper had dated a time or two since, calling them disasters would be an understatement. Now here he was engaged to the first female he’d dated more than twice.
Zane hoped his friend remembered their promise to be honest went both ways. “You sure about this, Coop? It’s awful sudden. You didn’t tell me you were dating Cheyenne.”
The fact stung. But what really tore him up was learning Ty and AJ had known Cooper intended to propose.
“I may not have your experience with women, but I know when it’s right. This is very right between me and Cheyenne,” Cooper said, his face lighting up in a dopey way.
Cooper told Zane how he’d met Cheyenne when she and Ty’s little sister Aubrey arrived at his front door asking for his assistance getting Cheyenne a service dog. “Next thing I knew, I was training a dog for her; she was helping me collect data for the SeizureReader and working in my animal clinic.”
“And I thought I moved fast.”
“After Olivia, I never thought I’d feel this way again.” Cooper shook his head. “Who would’ve thought Ty, AJ, and I would all fall in love with women we met in Wishing? You’d better watch out, buddy, or whatever’s in the water could get you, too.”
“Thanks for the warning. To be safe, I’ll stock up on bottled water.”
Not that Zane didn’t love women. He did. But because he wasn’t built for a one-on-one, long-term relationship, to avoid any misunderstandings, he spelled out his expectations when he asked a woman out.
Just so you know. I’m not interested in a long-term relationship. I’ll never put a ring on your finger. If you want a man to do those things, find someone else.
His father hadn’t shown his mother that courtesy. Nope, he’d stood in front of a justice of the peace, recited vows to love and honor, and broke every single one of them having a second family on the side. Zane vowed he wouldn’t lie to a woman the way his father had.
Shaking off the memories, Zane prayed his friends had better luck in the marriage department than his parents.
“If the plan is to protect your grandmother’s interests and not run her business into the ground, you need to keep the antimarriage attitude to yourself,” Cooper said.
“What business is Zane running into the ground?” Ty asked as he joined them.
Before Zane could answer, AJ walked up. “Hide me. You’d think folks wouldn’t talk shop at my engagement party, but they are.”
“That’s what you get for inviting half the town,” Ty said.
“I wanted to keep the party little, but Grace worried people would get offended and think she was being New York City snooty.”
“I told you living in a small town would drive you crazy,” Zane said, his voice filled with good-natured ribbing.
“Better watch what you say, Zane, since these folks will be your clients.”
Zane glared at his best friend. For the supposedly quiet, thoughtful one, Cooper had a lot to say tonight.
“Clients? Did I miss something?” AJ asked.
Coop hooked his thumb toward Zane. “You’ll never guess what he’s done.” Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “He’s agreed to manage Lucky Stars Weddings while his grandmother’s recovering.”
His buddies stared at him as if he’d agreed to run naked through the streets.
“And you said my job would drive me nuts,” AJ said. “You’re going to realize there’s a whole different definition of the word when a woman is planning her wedding.”
“Now that’s funny, right there,” Ty said and slapped Zane on the back. “Mr. Confirmed Bachelor helping brides pick out invitations and flowers.”
Guffaws erupted around Zane.
“I won’t be doing any bride or event crap. Ginny’s assistant will handle that. I’m managing the administrative and financial work,” Zane said.
Not that he was thrilled with those tasks either. He’d discovered that the hard way when he and a coworker Cody started their video game design company, Big Stake Games. They’d imagined a workday filled with creative freedom to design games like the one their company had rejected, Cowboys and Zombies set on a ranch based on the Lucky Stars. Then reality set in. Payroll, taxes, human resources, and endless other details they discovered neither of them enjoyed needed attention. Lacking the funds to hire a financial exec, they’d divided those duties. As the company grew, Cody talked him into adding designers and programmers instead of an administrator, and his owner responsibilities multiplied.
Lately, Zane spent more time in meetings discussing budgets, staffing, productivity, marketing and sales projections than he spent creating games, further removing him from what he loved doing. Not exactly what he had in mind or wanted when he and Cody started the company.
Hoping to dispel his gloomy thoughts and have fun, Zane scanned the room searching for a diversion. His gaze landed on two women. The first, a tall, stunning blonde wore skinny jeans and a tight shirt with a low-cut V-neck, laces holding it in place over her ample breasts. Standing with her was a somewhat familiar, pretty brunette dressed in low-rise, tight jeans and an off-the-shoulder floral number.
“Zane? Want to come back to earth?” AJ said as he waved his hand in front of his face.
“Who’s the blonde in the navy lace top?”
“That’s Susannah Timmons,” Ty said.
“That’s huge-overbite, Coke-bottle glasses Susannah?” Zane asked. Contact lenses, and a couple surgeries—nose and boobs—unless he missed his guess, had done wonders for her appearance.
“Put your eyes back in your head. She’s engaged.”
“She’s having her wedding here. I bet she’s one scary bridezilla,” AJ said, shuddering in exaggerated horror.
“That’s for sure. She brought her cat to see me. Talk about having pretty girl syndrome,” Cooper said, using their term for a woman who felt the world should overlook her mistakes, help her whenever necessary, and give her endless chances because of her looks.
“Unless she’s getting married in the next six weeks, and the countdown started after Ginny’s surgery last Thursday, it won’t be my problem.” Zane glanced at the women again. “Who’s her friend?”
“I’m surprised you don’t recognize her. That’s Campbell Alverez.”
No wonder she looked familiar. He and Campbell had dated on and off during high school and college summer breaks. “She still lives here?”
“She moved in with her folks six months ago,” AJ said.
“I might give her a call if I get bored,” Zane said.
“Word is she went through a nasty divorce.”
The news made Zane pause. After a divorce, women went one of two ways. One, they loosened up, went a little wild, and made up for lost time. Or, they grew bitter and subconsciously punished men for their ex’s actions. If Campbell chose the first, great. They could have fun, but if memory served, she possessed a temper, making the second option more likely.
AJ thumped him on the arm. “Did you hear me, Zane?”
“Sorry. What did you say?”
“I asked what Cody thinks of you taking off six weeks?” AJ asked referring to Zane’s business partner.
“That’s the great thing about the gaming industry. I’m not chained to the office. We have a lot of people working remotely. I’ll simply be more remote than most.”
“You’re going to juggle your company and your grandmother’s? Are you crazy?”
He explained how with the time difference between California and Texas, he could knock out Ginny’s business first thing in the morning. When his office opened in LA, he’d have some juggling to do, but after five Texas time, he’d have a couple hours with the Big Stake Games office still open.
“I hope it goes that way for you, pal,” Ty said.
“Sounds like you’ve thought this through, and it should be simple,” Cooper said, rubbing his knuckles along his jaw line. “But that would make me nervous because it’s usually the simple things that catch us.”
“Especially when women are involved, and the wedding industry is full of ’em,” AJ added.
“Apparently you weren’t listening when I said I’m the behind the scenes man. I won’t be dealing with brides, mothers of the brides, or bridesmaids.” As long as Ginny’s assistant proved capable. “Speaking of the business, how’s McKenna doing handling tonight, AJ?”
“McKenna gets things done,” AJ said. “Grace and I told her what we wanted, picked out the food, and she took it from there. All we had to do was show up. She’s definitely a type A personality.”
“Good. That’s exactly who I need so I can steer clear of receptions and clients,” Zane said.
“What did McKenna say when she found out you were taking over?” Ty asked.
“She doesn’t know yet.”
“I only got here a day before Ginny’s surgery. I couldn’t get her to change her mind about putting me in charge until we were on the way to the hospital. Then with her being in the hospital for a couple days, and this party, I figured it best to save the news for the office on Tuesday.”
“Boy is your first day going to be rocky.”
“I don’t see why,” Zane said.
Ty clapped him on the shoulder. “You say that now but working with a strong-willed woman when it’s just the two of you is different than managing geeky gamers.”
Cooper nodded. “I found that out when I hired Cheyenne.”
His friends had lost their minds if they thought he couldn’t manage one woman. Supervising staff was the same no matter what the company, and he appreciated strong, driven employees, female or male. “If she does her job, we won’t have a problem. You can’t think I’ll have trouble dealing with a woman?”
AJ tilted his head toward the bar across the room. “See that woman coming out of the back toting a bucket of ice?”
When Zane turned, a tall woman dressed in a full denim skirt stopping at her cowboy boots, a long-sleeved white blouse with a red bandana and a baggy denim vest stalked toward the bar. He cringed. His grandma showed more skin than this woman.
Between the way she dressed, her no-nonsense stride, and wearing her mousy brown hair in a tight spinster bun, she looked like she’d stepped out of Little House on the Prairie. The woman had no fun written all over her. “That’s McKenna?”
Ty nodded. “You still want to stick with the you-won’t-have-trouble-with-her answer?”
“Absolutely. She’s a woman, and I haven’t met one I can’t charm with a little sweet talk and a smile.”
His friends glanced back and forth between each other, shaking their heads, grinning and looking at him like he was too dumb to know what day it was.
“You want to put money on it? Say ten bucks, because I say you’re wrong,” AJ said.
Zane chuckled. “You’re on.”
“What’s the specific criteria? How do we judge being able to ‘charm her’ or ‘not having trouble’ with her?” Cooper asked, his brows furrowed in thought.
“Ask her for a date? If she says yes, you win. If she turns you down, we do,” AJ said.
“No way.” Zane shook his head. Dates indicated a man was interested in a woman romantically. Afterward came expectations of a call and a second date, neither of which would happen. “Asking her out would give the wrong impression.”
“Ask her to dance,” Cooper suggested.
Zane smiled. Dancing was harmless, lasted less than four minutes, and wouldn’t leave her with the wrong impression. Perfect. “By the end of the night I’ll have gotten McKenna to dance. Everyone in?”
His friends nodded.
“Watching you go down in flames is going to be more fun than we’ve had in a long time,” Cooper said.
“All right, enough of you men being holed up in the corner,” Grace said, cutting off Cooper’s comment when she, Cassie, and Cheyenne joined them.
“I was fixin’ to come find you to dance,” AJ said as he linked hands with Grace and kissed his fiancée’s cheek. “But none of this line dancing. I want a slow song so I can hold you.”
Zane rolled his eyes at his friend’s besotted voice and lovestruck look.
“Great idea,” Cooper said, wearing a similarly enamored grin, as he slid his arm around Cheyenne’s shoulder.
Cooper dancing? Mr. Two Left Feet? In the ten-plus years Zane had known his best friend, he’d never seen him dance. Not even to a slow ballad. Zane shook his head. He’d known men to do ridiculous things when in love, but he never thought his best friend would act that way.
“You should join us on the dance floor,” Cassie said.
“The three of us dancing would be a little awkward.”
Ty’s beautiful blonde wife laughed.
“Get your own girl. This one’s taken,” Ty said.
“From the looks you’ve gotten since you arrived, that shouldn’t be difficult. You’ve caused quite a stir,” Cassie said.
Zane smiled. “And I’m fixin’ to cause more.”
End of Excerpt