“Likewise.” AJ tried not to stare at the headpiece Cord’s mom wore and wondered if Carolyn was trying not to stare at hers.


“Keely is gonna be so mad she missed this party. I think we oughta rub it in real good, don’t you?”


AJ grinned and clinked her mug against Carolyn’s. “I’ll drink to that.”


“How’s Flo?”


“Better. She’s anxious to get on with her life. We’re going to Billings in a couple days to find a place for her to live.”


“Why Billings?”


“The company Jenn works for had an opening. She can start in the next couple weeks, which will give the kids time to adjust before school starts.”


Carolyn placed her hand on AJ’s arm. “How are you adjusting, sweetheart?”


AJ shrugged. “We’ll see. I haven’t officially left here yet.”


“I know you’ve probably heard it from Keely, but you are welcome at our home anytime.”


“I appreciate that. And I know that Macie and Carter are looking forward to being around here more often. Exciting news about the baby, huh?”


“Very. Can you believe I’m gonna be a grandma again? Times three? I love my little Ky, but I’m beside myself about Channing and now Macie. Lord. Doesn’t seem that long ago I was sittin’ in a chair like that one, about to pledge my life to a wild McKay.” A wistful look crossed her face.


“Lots of people told me not to bother trying to love a man like Carson McKay. I knew he was gruff from the get-go. He holds a grudge. He’s set in his ways. Carson is a cowboy rancher to his very core. Not big on public displays of affection. But I never listened to what any of them said. In my heart I knew what kind of man he was and still is. It isn’t the public displays that matter. The important affection in a relationship is given in private anyway.”


Was that a hint that Carolyn knew the type of affection her son Cord was giving her in private?


“Good Lord that’s not very private, is it?”


AJ’s head swiveled to see what Carolyn was gawking at. Oh man. The stripper spread his legs wide and was doing the bump and grind—in Liza’s face. His butt was completely exposed and seemed to be covered in a sheen of oil. To discourage women from grabbing onto him?


“Hang in there, sweetie, it’s worth it in the long run,” Carolyn said, the penises on her head bobbed merrily as she returned to her seat up near the action.


Was that a warning her son was a chip off the old block? Or an encouragement AJ


should follow her instincts as far as Cord was concerned?


Problem was, AJ didn’t trust her instincts anymore. She’d started the quest to win Cord’s love weeks ago. Now she wasn’t sure what she’d do with it if she ever got it.


Not that Cord gave off any signals he was falling in love with her. In lust?


Definitely. They’d curl up to watch a movie or eat a meal together and rush to get naked together. Not that she was complaining—hello, world’s hottest cowboy rancher had it bad for her—where was the downside in as much nasty, raunchy sex as she could take?


Near, as she could figure, no downside. Except she still loved him. Not with the hero worship of a five-year-old girl, but with the eyes of a woman who knew a good man.


With the eyes of a woman who knew she’d need years to capture the heart of Cord McKay…and she had two weeks.


Tonight was the third night in a row she hadn’t been with him. Not to be churlish or to punish him. She spent her day fulfilling the needs of one person, only to race over to Cord’s place to fulfill his needs. What about her needs? The ones that didn’t have a blasted thing to do with family love or sexual gratification?


To cement the idea her personal needs and goals mattered, she’d driven by the Sandstone building in Sundance a couple of times. It was the perfect size for a start-up massage studio. Too bad she didn’t have the capital to remodel—not even after the sale of seven horses. With her young age and no land ties to the community, she’d have a devil of a time convincing the local banker to give her a loan.


Now that she thought about it, she and Keely hadn’t gone beyond the “wouldn’t it be great to run a massage parlor in Sundance” pipe dream. No planning. Which allowed her to figure out a plan to make her dream happen on her own.


She needed a patron. Maybe the economic development department for the state of Wyoming had business incentives to keep natives in the area. It’d be worth looking into.


The time had come for her to be assertive in all areas of her life.


As if on cue, her cell phone rang. Keely.


“What? No. I can’t hear you. Who? No. Haven’t seen him. But your mom is here.


Look, K, I’ll call you later with all the juicy details.”


“Where are the bridesmaids?” Liza’s sister Glenda barked in the microphone. Glenda scanned the room from the makeshift stage, grinning when she made eye contact with AJ.


“There’s one! Amy Jo Foster, come on down!”


Yippee. AJ wanted that skanky guy to rub his crotch in her face like she wanted to get gored by a bull.


She hopped up on the stage next to Liza, who didn’t look the least bit humiliated.


She was absolutely in her glory. AJ wouldn’t do a damn thing to dim the gigantic grin on her friend’s face—she’d play along and pretend she was having the best time in the world.


The only other bridesmaid besides Glenda was Darby Van Zandt and she was shier than AJ and Liza combined.


“Now, ladies. We’re gonna have a little contest. Yes, there is a prize.” Glenda waved a clear plastic purple phallus with pearl looking things inside. “This vibrator, as seen on Sex and the City, is called the rabbit. It spins.” She hit a switch and the vibrator started to make a buzzing noise as the tip circled.


The women in the crowd went nuts.


“It has three speeds, even reverse. It’s waterproof. And this little do-hickey on the front? It vibrates in all the right places. I guarantee it won’t move on you at the moment of truth. It stays exactly where you want it. For as long as you want it. This here is a girl’s best friend because it can go all night without complaint…or until the batteries run out.


And you don’t need a man with this bad boy around.”


Half the women cheered; half booed.


“Anyway, this fabulous prize will be awarded to one of these lucky ladies upon completion of a simple task.” She paused for effect. “The most creative placement of a rolled up twenty dollar tip someplace in Mr. Angel’s G-string with only her mouth. No hands allowed.”


The room erupted in fits of laughter, clapping, wolf whistles and boot stomping.


“Who wants to go first? Our lovely bride?”


Amidst the cries of Liza, Liza, Liza, AJ heard the sound of glass breaking. Dear Lord, were these normally prim and proper ladies throwing…beer bottles? Or was that outside in the main part of the bar?


Glenda placed a rolled up bill in Liza’s mouth. Mr. Angel—what a stupid name—


sashayed over and turned Liza’s chair sideways so no one would miss out on the action.


Liza hammed it up. When she attempted to shove the money dead center in the pouch, it dropped to the floor. The stripper quickly picked it up.


A chorus of disappointed aw’s arose…followed by the sound of shattering glass and heavy thumps that no one but AJ seemed to notice.


Darby scarcely raised her head when Glenda placed a fresh twenty between her tight lips. Mr. Angel did his bump and grind routine, taking extra time working the crowd since it didn’t appear Darby was much of a sport.


Lord. Was this almost over?


Darby’s half-hearted attempt to insert the money in his belly button fell short and the bill hit the ground. Mr. Angel scooped it up.


Where was he putting that cash? Wasn’t like he had pockets.


A rowdier chorus of boos and whoops boomed. At the back table by the punchbowl, drinks were raised in a toast—then the members of the Ladies Guild of First Methodist Church…had a chugging contest.


Whoa. Getting out of hand in here.


AJ’s focus returned to Glenda calling for order after a fistfight broke out. Carolyn McKay stepped in to stop it. No doubt she had plenty of experience breaking up fights with her brawling bunch.


“We’re down to our final contestant.” Glenda slipped a rolled bill between AJ’s teeth. “Amy Jo, shown ’em how it’s done, girl.”


Drunken bellows of encouragement floated from the church ladies’ table.


Mr. Angel spun sideways and performed his cheesy lounge singer dance. When he gyrated in front of her, she said, “Turn around. We need to distract them before they riot.” It finally clicked what she meant and he straddled her lap with his butt in her face instead of his bulge. She waited while he dry-humped the air in front of her.


Good God. This was horrid. Women liked this?


And what the heck was that noise? Like splintering wood?


“Settle down, ladies, we’re getting to the good part. Go, Amy Jo.”


Amidst shouts of Amy Jo, Amy Jo, Amy Jo, AJ inhaled a deep breath when the stripper turned around. She slid the twenty beneath the G-string above his right hipbone.


She’d almost made the corner of the fabric to tuck the money into the pouch, when the outer door to the bar burst open.


Curious men poured in, including Cord McKay.


Their eyes locked. And her mouth was dangerously close to a stripper’s…pole.


Rage flared in his dark blue eyes.


For the first time in her life AJ felt the urge to be contrary. Cord was already pissed, how much madder could he get? So amidst the confusion, keeping her gaze firmly on Cord’s, she dropped the cash in the man’s banana hammock and used her teeth to snap the stripper’s G-string like a rubber band.


Cord was infuriated.


The stripper yelled, “Ouch!” When he caught sight of the deputy’s arrival, the stripper snatched his duffel bag and slunk out the back door half-naked.


Glenda shouted, “Amy Jo wins!”

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