A Nice Day for a Cowboy Wedding

Mile High #4

August 28th, 2018

Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, rugged Gracely, Colorado, is famous for big-sky beauty and small-town community. It’s a perfect place to take a deep breath, start again—and even plunge into the kind of love that lasts a lifetime . . .
 
As the oldest of three brothers, Shane Tyler takes his responsibility to the family ranch seriously—and it’s clear to him that the younger man who wants to marry his widowed mother is only looking for a meal ticket. He’s determined to stop the nuptials whatever it takes, but the shy wedding planner his mom hired is harder to intimidate than he expected.

When Cora Preston worked up the nerve to leave her abusive ex and move with her young son to Gracely, it was a huge step. Accepting the position as wedding planner at brand-new Mile High Weddings took even more courage. But Cora’s biggest challenge is turning out to be the bride’s handsome—and stubborn—oldest son, Shane, and the way the strong-willed cowboy makes her feel.

Can the heat crackling between them warm two hearts suspicious of love?

Praise for the Mile High Romance series
 
“A classic small-town contemporary with extra angst, perfect for fans of Susan Mallery and Jill Shalvis.”
—Kirkus Reviews
 
 “A deeply moving contemporary. . . . The protagonists are refreshingly willing to be up front about their feelings and listen to each other, and readers will want to revisit their story often.”  
—Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

Buy Links:

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Other Books In the Series:

Book One
Book Two
Book Three
Book 4.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Excerpt

Chapter One

Cora Preston pulled her car to a stop at the open gates of the Tyler ranch. Despite having spent her entire life in Colorado, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

She had moved to the small mountain town of Gracely from Denver almost three years ago, but she’d spent most of her time in Gracely. Occasionally, she took the trek up to Mile High Adventures where her sister worked, and there was something soul cleansing about the views from up in the Rockies, looking down at the world below.

But this . . .

Green stretched out in waves beyond the sturdy wooden archway. Scattered across the expanse were little black dots she assumed were cattle, then the land covered in all that green began to roll, until far off in the distance gray, rocky, snow-capped peaks reached for the impossibly blue sky.

Cora breathed through the flutter of nerves. She wasn’t here to admire the surroundings. She was here to plan a wedding.

It seemed a crazy undertaking when she’d never had a wedding herself, a crazy undertaking when she knew her sister, Lilly, would be ten times better at it than she.

But Lilly had enough work at Mile High Adventures as PR specialist, plus mother of starting-to-be-mobile twins, and she’d given Cora this job because supposedly Cora had a “natural talent” for planning events.

Cora thought it was BS, but she wanted to make Lilly proud. She wanted to prove to everyone in her life that she’d grown up in these past few years. No more wallowing in all the ways life could be unfair, no more shrinking from being a hard-ass mother to her twelve-year-old. No more skating by.

She was reaching for the stars now, or maybe those snow-peaked mountains. Strong, immovable, and majestic.

She was ready to be majestic.

The gate was open, as Deb had said it would be. Cora had met the bride-to-be only once, at their initial consultation. Lilly had been there, so it had been much easier for Cora not to be nervous.

Deb was a sweet, older woman, all her children grown—some even older than Cora herself—who wanted to have the grand wedding she hadn’t had as a young woman. Cora had immediately liked Deb for her clear, no-nonsense strength mixed with her desire to have a whimsical, outdoor spectacle of a wedding.

“And you are going to be the one to give that to her,” Cora said aloud to herself, taking a deep breath in and out before pressing her foot on the accelerator again.

The narrow asphalt drive curved its way around, meandering along those green, fenced-in fields, cattle and horses happily grazing in different sections. Cora followed toward the mountains, and, when the house came into view, she could only stare wide-eyed.

It looked like a movie. The wood fairly gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, a golden brown, with dominant glass windows reflecting the blue of the sky. The house existed in a cove of sorts, pine trees tall and proud surrounding the house except for the front yard.

The Tylers had some serious cash.

But before she could make it to the house that looked more like a fancy mountain resort she’d never be able to afford than a home, she had to stop.

A man on a horse was blocking the drive, and a cluster of what appeared to be baby cows ambled across.

Another man on a horse made his way toward her. When she rolled down her window, he tipped his cowboy hat. An actual cowboy hat, like this was a movie or one of the romance novels she’d read that had finally gotten her to wake up about Stephen.

“Pardon us. Just separating some calves from their mamas,” the man said in a deep, swoon-worthy voice. “We’ll be out of your way in just a moment.” He smiled politely. At least it seemed polite. All she could really make out was his chin and his mouth because the brim of the hat shaded most of his face.

A real, honest-to-goodness cowboy hat. She knew nothing about cowboys or what they wore, but he might even be wearing chaps.

Chaps.

She wanted to giggle. Instead she forced herself to nod. She was a professional here on professional business after all.

“Can I help you with something?”

“Oh, I’m Cora Preston.” Which was a stupid thing to say. Why would some ranch hand know who she was? “I-I have a meeting with Deb Tyler.”

Then his expression did change, at least what she could see of it. His mouth firmed into a grim line. “I don’t suppose this is about the wedding,” he said flatly.

“Well, yes.” She smiled. She was the face of Mile High Weddings. It was her job to be as charming and professional as Lilly. No matter how intimidating it all seemed.

The man did not smile back. In fact, he made a noise and a movement, and then he and his horse moved away, going to converse with the man blocking the road.

Cora stared at them with a frown on her face, but when the one who hadn’t spoken to her looked over his shoulder in her direction, she smiled again. Smile, smile, smile.

Eventually the little herd of cows was across the road, and the one who hadn’t spoken rode his horse next to the group, seeming to lead them in the right direction. The one who had spoken to her moved his arm toward the house in a kind of follow me gesture.

Odd. She’d think whoever he was had better things to do than lead her to the house when it was clearly at the end of this long drive, but she inched along until she got to a large concrete pad in front of what she assumed was a garage that had to be bigger than her entire house back in Gracely.

Grabbing her bag, gripping the shoulder strap in an effort to center and focus herself, she got out of the car.

The man still sat on his horse, quite a few feet above her. Cora had to tip her head up and shade her eyes against the sun. She opened her mouth to speak, but the horse made an odd noise and Cora startled, which seemed to cause the horse to startle as well.

“Easy,” the man murmured in a low voice as his hand swept down the horse’s mane. It didn’t calm Cora down any, but it seemed to soothe the horse.

In a fluid movement Cora could only be mesmerized by, the man swung off the horse and onto his feet in front of her. Even with him on solid ground, she still had to tip her head back to look at him. He was very tall.

And broad.

And strong.

And—

Get ahold of yourself, Cora.

“I’ll take you to my mother,” he said gruffly, most of his face still shadowed by the hat.

“Your mother?” Cora echoed lamely.

“Deb Tyler. My mother.”

“Oh!” Oh. Oh. Deb had mentioned her sons were a little bent out of shape about their mother’s remarrying. She’d laughed it off, but Cora knew Deb wanted her son’s approval. Micah might only be twelve, but Cora couldn’t imagine not wanting him to like whomever she married.

Not that she thought that was in the cards for her, but it was a nice little fantasy to have.

With certain, ground-slapping strides, the man started walking toward the house. There was some kind of post next to the garage, and he paused briefly to tie his horse’s reins to it, before walking again.

In the cute heels she was wearing, on the intricate stone walkway with lots of little dips and crannies, it was hard to keep up with him.

When she reached the porch where he was waiting for her, he slid the cowboy hat off revealing a thick, brown head of hair that looked to have been recently trimmed. He had dark brown eyes, a sharp nose and cheekbones, one of those square-cut jaws. Broad shoulders. Tall. So dang tall.

Someone could put him in a Western movie, and she’d believe he was an A-list star.  She was downright ready to swoon.

Except she had a job to do. A really important one. Lilly had stepped into Mile High Adventures over a year ago and not swooned at the very swoon-worthy sight of Brandon Evans, so Cora could be just that calm and with-it.

The man raised his eyebrows, and Cora realized that while he’d opened the door and gestured her inside, she’d been standing there staring at him.

Calm and with-it were so not her wheelhouse. But, she stepped inside and let the amazing interior take her mind off Mr. Hot Cowboy.

Wood and forest green dominated everything in this entryway. A chandelier made up of lanterns and dark metal shaped like horses hung from the high, vaulted ceiling.

Holy. Moly.

“I’ll get my mother.”

Cora nodded, but as he started walking toward the hallway, she thought better of it. “Wait!”

He turned slowly, looking at her as if he couldn’t figure out what kind of species of bug she was.

She was the wedding coordinator, and Deb Tyler wanted the perfect wedding. Which included if not enthusiastic, at least cooperative sons. Which meant Cora had to do her best to win this man over.

“I didn’t get your name.”

His tight-lipped expression turned into a frown. “Shane,” he said simply.

“It’s nice to meet you, Shane. I’m so excited to help plan your mother’s special day.” She smiled brightly.

His mouth went full-on scowl, and he merely grunted before turning back toward the hallway.

Well, grunting, irritable men was something Cora Preston had learned how to deal with in the past year and a half, and it looked like she was going to be putting that experience to good use.

***

Shane walked down the main hall toward the back room his mother used as an office. He did his best to get his simmering irritation under wraps, because so far his disapproval of all this nonsense had only served to make Mom dig her heels in harder.

When she wasn’t in her office, he headed through the back hallway toward the kitchen. “Mom?”

“Deb, the voice of doom is calling,” Grandma’s wavery voice said from somewhere in the vicinity of the kitchen.

He stepped into the kitchen to find Mom and Grandma at the small table they never actually ate meals at. Bridal magazines were spread everywhere. Shane tried not to scowl.

“Your wedding planner is here,” he said as pleasantly as he could manage.

“Oh, shoot.” Mom glanced at her watch. “I lost track of time. Poor girl. Didn’t scare her off, did you?”

“Why would I do a thing like that?” he asked innocently.

Grandma gave her raspy laugh, and Mom rolled her eyes as she got to her feet. “Why indeed,” she murmured loftily. “Where’d you leave her?”

“In the entryway.”

Mom started toward the front of the house, and Shane trailed after her, trying to come up with some way to change her mind that wasn’t antagonistic.

So far everything he’d tried had failed. He’d told her all his suspicions about Ben—that there was no record of his supposed ex-wife, that the man was the laziest ranch hand they’d ever had, that he’d lied about his references, and, most of all, that four months was not enough damn time to know someone and marry him.

Then there’d been the very foolish conversation where Shane had outright forbidden his mother to get married.

At every instance Mom went on as if he hadn’t spoken at all.

His mother was too damn smart for this, and Shane didn’t understand her insistence on forgetting that. No one in the family thought Ben Donahue was anything other than a hustling no-account. Except the two people who most needed to: Mom and Grandma.

“Where’s Ben? Was he working the fence line today?” Mom asked, working her way toward the front of the house.

“I don’t know where he is. Ben made it very clear I wasn’t in charge of him.”

“Oh, you two.” Mom flung a hand into the air. “Acting like dicks doesn’t make yours any bigger.”

“Christ, Mom.”

He’d lived with his mother and grandmother for thirty-two years and still wasn’t used to the frank way they discussed some things a mother and son or grandmother and grandson should never discuss or even be in the same house while discussing.

Mom approached where he’d left the wedding planner, and Shane felt the same wave of desperation he’d been feeling since Mom had announced her engagement to scheming, lying, thieving Ben Donahue.

“She’s skittish around horses,” he blurted. “The wedding planner, that is.” If he could stall this whole insane charade, maybe he could prove Ben was only using his mother.

Mom didn’t even stop. “Good thing I’m not paying her to work my horses.” Mom patted him on the head like he was a little kid, not her thirty-two-year-old son almost a foot taller than her. “Will you unload all that dirt in my truck and take it down to the garden before you head back to the cows?” Then, without waiting for a response, she swept into the entry with grand greetings and apologies for being late.

Shane sighed. Maybe moving the dirt would give him a few minutes of thinking to figure out how to nip this in the bud.

His siblings weren’t too keen on the wedding either, but Gavin’s solutions were all too violent and illegal. Lindsay and Molly had both insisted that, even if they didn’t approve, they should mind their own business, and Boone wasn’t around to voice an opinion at all.

Shane was the oldest, though, and, after Dad had died, the reins of this family had fallen to him. Not that he’d ever say that in front of Mom or Grandma. Still, he couldn’t wait around, twiddling his thumbs, hoping his mother didn’t make the biggest mistake of her life. He had to act—without getting thrown in jail, as Gavin’s plans would surely get them.

Shane walked out the back and around the house to the garage and keyed in the code. He hung his hat on the hook, then went over to Mom’s truck. He hefted two sacks of dirt out of the trunk and over his shoulder, relaxing as his body got into manual-labor mode.

Maybe he could tell the wedding planner they didn’t have any money. That every last cent was tied up in the ranch and any checks written to her would inevitably bounce. Stall this nonsense.

He walked passed MacGregor with the bags of dirt on his shoulder. The horse eyed him.

“Don’t judge me,” Shane muttered. Sometimes the ends justified the slightly sketchy means.

He’d given up swaying Grandma to his side, and he knew telling his siblings they needed to interfere would only ensure they thought otherwise. They never cared for his telling them what to do.

A Tyler family trait, which made it a good thing they ran their own ranch. None of them could probably stay gainfully employed somewhere else without thumbing their noses at the boss.

Well, except Boone. But since his job was trying to stay a few seconds on an angry bull, Shane didn’t count that much for listening to a boss.

Shane unloaded all the bags of dirt, then arranged it around Mom’s garden plot in a way that it would be easy for her to put the dirt where it needed to go. On an oath, he pulled his Swiss army knife out of his pocket.

He knew exactly where Mom would want all the dirt, and it’d take him less time to do it. So, he went about cutting bags open and dumping the extra dirt in the newly turned plot she’d start planting in soon.

Once that was done, he figured he might as well go ahead and get some fertilizer from the stables while he was at it. It would give Mom the time to plant rather than fiddle with the hefting and hauling part of the garden.

He headed back for the garage. Better ride over to Gavin and tell him he was fooling with the garden at Mom’s request so Gavin could get on with things with the cattle.

He grabbed his hat, but before he could walk over to MacGregor, a female voice interrupted him

“Oh, hi. Excuse me?”

When he turned, the wedding planner was making a beeline for him. Shane scowled, but manners had been drummed into him too hard for that to last. It wasn’t her fault his mother was falling for a lying piece of trash. He forced himself to smile. Well, not scowl anyway.

“Hello, again,” she greeted, peering up at him. “May I have a moment? Real quick. I promise.” She smiled broadly. What had she said her name was? Cora?

“Sure,” he muttered, slightly taken off guard by the way the sun glinted off her hair, showing off every possible shade from golden blond to reddish brown. He’d never seen a hair color like it.

“I do hope you’ll be cooperative,” she began as he chastised himself for thinking about someone’s hair color. “Your mother is hoping you’ll walk her down the aisle, and she thinks you’ll refuse and—”

“Damn right I’ll refuse,” he interrupted. He was not giving his mother away to a lying son of a bitch. Not even to spare her feelings.

“But . . .  Surely . . . ” She opened her mouth, then closed it. There was some kind of calculation going on in that head of hers.

“Nice to meet you and all, but I’ve got work to do.” He took a step toward his horse, but she jumped in front of him, blocking his way. He didn’t worry about manners now. He glared down at her.

“You love your mother, don’t you?” she asked, clearly unaffected by his glare.

“You think I don’t approve because I don’t? That woman raised three boys, two girls, and ran a ranch with only my grandma for help for the past twenty years. She deserves all the happiness in the world, and I’d be jumping up and down for joy and offering to carry her down the aisle in a damn . . . whatever those things are they carried Cleopatra around in. I’d do anything for her.”

Cora blinked up at him, dark blue eyes wide. She had the lightest freckles dusted across her nose, and her pretty pink mouth twisted in confusion. She wasn’t short by any means, but something about her gave off an aura of smallness. Not frail exactly, but not exactly hardy. He was used to hardy.

“I disapprove,” he continued, because what did it matter what this woman looked like? “Because that sleazeball she’s marrying is after this ranch and this ranch alone, and I won’t let her be swindled out of this spread because she’s blinded by lust.”

“Lust,” Cora echoed, a faint pink blotching across her cheeks.

“He’s forty-two. My mother is fifty-two. You’ll have to pardon my skepticism.”

Cora blinked, then smiled at him, much the way his mother smiled at him when she thought he was being unreasonable. “I think maybe, just maybe, you might be letting your protective instincts as a son blind you to your mother’s feelings. It’s even noble, I think,” she said gently. Almost sympathetically. “If you’d only—”

“This wedding can’t happen. I’m going to make sure of it.” Maybe that was too blunt, but he wasn’t going to pretend he felt any differently to some stranger planning a wedding.

“Over my dead body,” the woman muttered, then blushed when she seemed to realize she’d said it out loud.

Shane held her blue gaze that seemed to match the sky above them. Regardless. “We’ll see about that,” he returned. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He didn’t wait for her response. He slipped the hat on his head and marched for MacGregor.

One way or another, this wedding would not happen. Even if he had to fight the determined, pretty wedding planner on top of his mother and grandmother and Ben Donahue.

Shane would do anything to protect his family. And that was that.