Big Sky Mountain - By Linda Lael Miller
A FINE SWEAT broke out between Hutch Carmody’s shoulders and his gut warned that he was fixing to stumble straight into the teeth of a screeching buzz saw. The rented tux itched against his hide and his collar seemed to be getting tighter with every flower-scented breath he drew.
The air was dense, weighted, cloying. The small church was overheated, especially for a sunny day in mid-June, and the pews were crammed with eager guests, a few weeping women and a fair number of skeptics.
Hutch’s best man, Boone Taylor, fidgeted beside him.
The organist sounded a jarring chord and then launched into a perky tune Hutch didn’t recognize. The first of three bridesmaids, all clad in silly-looking pink dresses more suited to little girls than grown women—in his opinion anyhow—drag-stepped her way up the aisle to stand beside the altar, across from him and Boone.
Hutch’s head reeled, but he quickly reminded himself, silently of course, that he had to live in this town—his ranch was just a few miles outside of it. If he passed out cold at his own wedding, he’d still be getting ribbed about it when he was ninety.
While the next bridesmaid started forward, he did his distracted best to avoid so much as glancing toward Brylee Parrish, his wife to be, who was standing at the back of the church beside her brother, Walker. He knew all too well how good she looked in that heirloom wedding gown of hers, with its billowing veil and dazzling sprinkle of rhinestones.
Brylee was beautiful, with cascades of red-brown hair that tumbled to her waist when she let it down. Her wide-set hazel eyes revealed passion, as well as formidable intelligence, humor and a country girl’s in-born practicality.
He was a lucky man.
Brylee, on the other hand, was not so fortunate, having hooked up with the likes of him. She deserved a husband who loved her.
Suddenly, Hutch’s gaze connected with that of his half brother, Slade Barlow. Seated near the front, next to his very pregnant wife, Joslyn, Slade slowly shook his head from side to side, his expression so solemn that a person would have thought somebody was about to be buried instead of hitched to one of the choicest women Parable County had ever produced.
Hutch’s insides churned, then coalesced into a quivering gob and did a slow, backward roll.
The last bridesmaid had arrived.
The minister was in place.
The smell of the flowers intensified, nearly overwhelming Hutch.
And then the first notes of “Here Comes the Bride” rang out.
Hutch felt the room—hell, the whole planet—sway again.
Brylee, beaming behind the thin fabric of her veil, nodded in response to something her brother whispered to her and they stepped forward.
“Hold it,” Hutch heard himself say loudly enough to be heard over the thundering joy of the organ. He held up both hands, like a referee about to call a foul in some fast-paced game. “Stop.”
Everything halted—with a sickening lurch.
The music died.
The bride and her brother seemed frozen in mid-stride.
Hutch would have sworn the universe itself had stopped expanding.
“This is all wrong,” he went on miserably, but with his back straight and his head up. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t broached the subject with Brylee before—he’d been trying to get out of this fix for weeks. Just the night before, in fact, he’d sat Brylee down in a vinyl upholstered booth at the Silver Lanes snack bar and told her straight out that he had serious misgivings about getting married and needed some breathing space.
Brylee had cried, her mascara smudging, her nose reddening at the tip.
“You don’t mean it,” she’d said, which was her standard response to any attempt he made to put on the brakes before they both plummeted over a matrimonial cliff. “You’re just nervous, that’s all. It’s entirely normal. But once the wedding is over and we’re on our honeymoon—”
Hutch couldn’t stand it when a woman cried, especially when he was the cause of her tears. Like every other time, he’d backed down, tried to convince himself that Brylee was right—he just had cold feet, that was all.
Now, though, “push” had run smack up against “shove.”
It was now or never.
He faced Brylee squarely.
The universe unfroze itself, like some big machine with rusted gears, and all hell broke loose.
Brylee threw down her bouquet, stomped on it once, whirled on one heel and rushed out of the church. Walker flung a beleaguered and not entirely friendly look in Hutch’s direction, then turned to go after his sister.
The guests, already on their feet in honor of