Big Sky Mountain - By Linda Lael Miller Page 0,1

the bride, all started talking at once, abuzz with shock and speculation.

Things like this might happen in books or movies, but they didn’t happen in Parable, Montana.

Until now, Hutch reflected dismally.

He started to follow Brylee out of the church, not an easy proposition with folks crowding the aisle. He didn’t have the first clue what he could say to her, but he figured he had to say something.

Before he’d taken two strides, though, Slade and Boone closed in on him from either side, each taking a firm grip on one of his arms.

“Let her go,” Boone said quietly.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Slade confirmed.

With that, they hustled him quickly out of the main chapel and into the small side room where the choir robes, hymnals and Communion gear were stored.

Hutch wondered if a lynch mob was forming back there in the sanctuary.

“You picked a fine time to change your mind about getting married,” Boone remarked, but his tone was light and his eyes twinkled with something that looked a lot like relief.

Hutch unfastened his fancy tie and shoved it into one coat pocket. Then he opened his collar halfway to his breastbone and sucked in a breath. “I tried to tell her,” he muttered. He knew it sounded lame, but the truth was the truth.

Although he and Slade shared a father, they had been at bloody-knuckled odds most of their lives. They’d made some progress toward getting along since the old man’s death and the upheaval that followed, but neither of them related to the other as a buddy, let alone a brother.

“Come on out to our place,” Slade said, surprising him. “You’d best lay low for a few hours. Give Brylee—and Walker—a little time to cool off.”

Hutch stiffened slightly, though he found the invitation oddly welcome. Home, being Whisper Creek Ranch, was a lonely outpost these days—which was probably why he’d talked himself into proposing to Brylee in the first place.

“I have to talk to Brylee,” he repeated.

“There’ll be time for that later on,” Slade reasoned.

“Slade’s right,” Boone agreed. Boone, being violently allergic to marriage himself, probably thought Hutch had just dodged a figurative bullet.

Or maybe he was remembering that Brylee was a crack shot with a pistol, a rifle, or a Civil War cannon.

Given what had just happened, she was probably leaning toward the cannon right about now.

Hutch sighed. “All right,” he said to Slade. “I’ll kick back at your place for a while—but I’ve got to stop off at home first, so I can change out of this monkey suit.”

“Fine,” Slade agreed. “I’ll round up the women and meet you at the Windfall in an hour or two.”

By “the women,” Slade meant his lovely wife, Joslyn, his teenage stepdaughter, Shea, and Opal Dennison, the force-of-nature who kept house for the Barlow outfit. Slade’s mother, Callie, had had the good grace to skip the ceremony—old scandals die hard in a town the size of Parable and recollections of her long-ago affair with Carmody Senior, from which Slade had famously resulted, were as sharp as ever.

Today’s escapade would put all that in the shade, of course. Tongues were wagging and jaws were flapping for sure—by now, various up-to-the-minute accounts were probably popping up on all the major social media sites. Before Slade and Boone had dragged Hutch out of the sanctuary, he’d seen several people whip out their cell phones and start texting. A few pictures had been taken, too, with those same ubiquitous devices.

The thought of all that amateur reporting made Hutch close his eyes for a moment. “Shit,” he murmured.

“Knee-deep and rising,” Slade confirmed, sounding resigned.

* * *

KENDRA SAT AT the antique table in her best friend Joslyn’s kitchen, with Callie Barlow in the chair directly across from hers. The ranch house was unusually quiet, with its usual occupants gone to town.

A glance over one shoulder assured Kendra that her recently adopted four-year-old daughter, Madison, was still napping on a padded window seat, her stuffed purple kangaroo, Rupert, clenched in her arms. The little girl’s gleaming hair, the color of a newly minted penny, lay in tousled curls around her cherubic face and Kendra felt the usual pang of hopeless devotion just looking at her.

This long-sought, hard-won, much-wanted child.

This miracle.

Not that every woman would have seen the situation from the same perspective as Kendra did—Madison was, after all, living proof that Jeffrey had been unfaithful, a constant reminder that it was dangerous to love, treacherous to trust, foolish to believe in another person too much. But none