A Cowboy's Temptation(36)

By: Barbara Dunlop



 “I was thinking,” he continued softly, not reacting to her incredulous expression. “If you were to marry me, we could rebuild Sierra Hotel right here on the ranch.”

 Her jaw dropped.

 “What do you think?”

 “What?” she rasped, wondering if she could have possibly heard right. He was proposing? How could he possibly be proposing?

 “I think you heard me,” he said.

 “That is by far the craziest thing you’ve ever said.”

 “Which part is the craziest?” He turned her to face him. “Me offering to replace Sierra Hotel so that you’ll marry me? Or you agreeing to marry me so that I’ll replace Sierra Hotel?”

 “Seth, what is going on?”

 He took both her hands in his and gently squeezed, sending sparks of desire up her arms to her heart. “I’m in love with you, Darby. That’s what’s going on. I’m head over heels in love with you, and I can’t bear the thought of losing you. I can’t stand that I’ve hurt you.” His gaze went past her shoulder to the small homesite. “I know it’s second best. It’s not your aunt’s place. But I want you to carry on with Sierra Hotel. I want—”

 “Whoa,” Darby interrupted him, her mind reeling in amazement and confusion. “Go back.”

 His expression fell. “You want to leave?”

 “Go back to the part where you said you love me.”

 His shoulders sagged in relief, and the smile returned to his face. “I love you, Darby. Will you marry me?”

 “This is too fast,” she protested, her heart pounding and joy coming to life deep inside her.

 “I don’t know how to slow it down. I can’t let you leave. I can’t let you rejoin the army.”

 Logic told her to be cautious, but her emotions were already shouting from the rooftops.

 “It’s all too unbelievable,” she told him.

 “What can I do to make it more believable?”

 “I don’t know. Kiss me or something.”

 A wide smile brightened his face. He drew her gently into his arms, bringing his lips down on hers in an exquisitely tender kiss that went on and on.

 Darby’s heart sang with happiness. She clung tightly to him, every fiber of her being telling her this was where she belonged.

 “I love you,” she whispered against his mouth. “I’ll marry you, Seth.”

 He lifted her right up off the ground, twirling her in the air, kissing her all over again.

 “How soon?” he asked.





                       Epilogue

 Darby had never expected to have a big wedding. But when the mayor got married, there was a very long list of must-invite people. So they took their vows in the city’s largest church, then used every square inch of the mayor’s mansion’s public area for the reception, including a big, heated tent on the grounds for dancing.

 Darby met Seth’s parents, who welcomed her into the family with open arms. They seemed genuinely thrilled to learn about Sierra Hotel, and agreed that the old homesite was the perfect spot to build.

 Marta was maid of honor, while Travis was best man. Darby wore a simple, off the shoulder, white silk dress, with a slender, full-length skirt. Her neck was adorned with a diamond-and-sapphire necklace that Seth had presented her with the night before. It matched her custom-designed engagement ring.

 Sawyer hovered over the now very pregnant Abigail. Katrina was a vision in frills and lace, while Mandy had gone for a basic burgundy cocktail dress. Still, her husband Caleb had hungrily watched her every move.

 Travis gave a funny, heartfelt toast. And then he was the life of the dance, until Danielle slapped his face.

 Darby had wondered if they should step in and break up the fight. But Seth had just laughed and said his brother could take care of himself. It hadn’t been Travis whom Darby was worried about, but one look at Danielle’s expression told Darby nobody was going to mess with her.

 They’d gone with French vanilla cake and buttercream icing. It was eminently edible, and Darby had enjoyed every last bite. For a formal event, it had become very laid back and fun as the night wore on.

 Finally, Seth had escorted a very happy but tired Darby upstairs to the mayor’s private suite. He pushed open the door and lifted her into his arms.

 Darby couldn’t help but laugh. “I feel like a princess.”

 “You’re supposed to feel like a princess,” he rumbled in her ear.

 “I never expected to have anything remotely like this for a wedding.” Then her eyes focused on the living room, seeing the fire, the candles and a table set for two with a white linen cloth, flowers, hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of champagne. “Oh, Seth.”

 “For my bride,” he whispered, setting her down. “I thought you might be hungry.”

 “I am,” she agreed. “It’s been a long night.”

 “You want to slip into something more comfortable?”

 “I’d like that.” Her dress was beautiful, but a little tight, and the stays in the bodice were digging into her ribs.

 There was a glimmer in his eyes. “I put something out on the bed that I think you might like.”

 She grinned. “That I might like, or that you might like?”

 “Oh, I’ll like it a lot,” he admitted.

 She stroked his cheek with her palm. “One wedding-night ensemble, coming up.”

 “I’ll open the champagne,” he called as she walked away.

 Moving to the bedroom, she pulled the pins and flowers out of her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders. She reached around to the zipper, sighing as the tight bodice fell away. Then she stepped out of the dress and hung it in the closet.

 When she looked at the bed, she burst out laughing. She’d expected satin and lace, something short and naughty. What she got was a blue tank top and a pair of gray sweatpants.

 She returned to the living room and did a pirouette in front of Seth.

 “You opted for comfortable?” she asked.

 “Are you comfortable?” he returned.

 “Completely.”

 “Good.” He handed her a glass of champagne. He had stripped down to his slacks and dress shirt, rolling up the sleeves. “Tonight’s about you, not about me. I think you’re beautiful in anything.

 “Plus—” he clinked their two glasses together “—I’m planning to take it off you later, anyway.”

 “I love you, Seth,” she told him before sipping the sweet, bubbly liquid.

 “I adore you, Darby. Mrs. Jacobs.” His tone went husky, and his arm slipped around her waist. “My wife.”

 He gave her a kiss. “I have one more present for you.”

 She drew back. “What? Are you kidding? I didn’t get you anything.”

 “You’ve already given me everything. There’s nothing else I need.”

 “But that’s not fair,” she protested, even as he extracted a long, cardboard tube from the corner desk.

 He handed it to her with a flourish.

 “It’s not even wrapped,” she joked.

 “How soon you get spoiled.”

 She bopped him gently on the head with the tube, and he laughed. Then she pried off the plastic end and peered into the darkness. “What is it?”

 “Architectural drawings.” He pulled out several large sheets of paper. “Three options for Sierra Hotel. If you like one of them, we can break ground tomorrow.”

 “Seriously?” she asked, crossing to the desk where they could roll the plans out.

 “If we pour the foundation before freeze-up, the contractor can work all winter. By the time construction starts on the railway in the spring, you’ll have a whole new home.”

 She paged through the drawings, liking all of them.

 “You didn’t have to do this,” she told him in awe.

 “I did,” he responded, stroking her hair. “It’s my fault you lost your family home.”

 “I have a new family home. And a new family.”

 “You do.” He kissed the delicate spot beside her ear. “You’ll never be alone again.”

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