Taken Home (Lone Star Burn)

By: Ruth Cardello

Chapter One

Don’t panic. It’s just a wedding. Chelle Landon held her bouquet of flowers tightly against the front of her ill-fitting bridesmaid dress. Her mother had suggested she get the bodice taken in, but Chelle was in denial. Who wants to go to the seamstress and say, “Smaller. Smaller. No, even smaller than that”? She might not be flat-chested, but she didn’t have what the strapless dress had been designed to cling to.

She turned away from the people who had filled Fort Mavis’s small church to the brim and tugged one side of the dress up. I should have worn that padded strapless bra my mother suggested. But no, I had to choose a lace demi because I wanted to feel sexy. She shifted again and tugged at the other side of the bodice. Instead, I feel like a five-year-old playing dress-up.

She was lucky to be part of this bridal party. Horse trainer Tony Carlton was famous in Texas, and his northerner soon-to-be wife, Sarah Dery, was a beloved addition to the area. As one of their closest neighbors, Chelle had been a natural choice of friend. She and Sarah went to lunch at least once a week. It was not only a privilege to be in the wedding, it was also a pleasure.

Or so she kept telling herself.

The wedding was making her face her love life—or lack of one. Chelle glanced around the small church. At the end of the ceremony, the pool of single men would officially be down another man.

Chelle looked the happy couple over again. It wasn’t that she wanted Tony or that she thought he belonged with someone else. Anyone who spent five minutes with the couple could see how happy they were. It was simply the idea of there being one less opportunity in a town that was beginning to suffocate her.

Beside Tony was the best man, Charles Dery: rich, gorgeous, and paired with his fiancée and the maid of honor, Melanie Hanna. Tony’s brother, Dean, was paired with Lucy, one of the bride’s friends from college. He was attractive and only a couple of years older than Chelle, but they had gone on one date when he’d moved to the area, and there hadn’t been a spark.

Height-wise, Chelle should have been paired with Dean, but that would have put David with Lucy, and no one wanted that. Not after Lucy had broken David’s heart and gotten engaged to someone else, or so the gossip mill claimed. Chelle hadn’t wanted to pin Sarah down on the subject so close to her wedding. Thus, David and Chelle rounded out the bridal party.

David Harmon. A respectable choice with a reputation for being a man of good character. Any woman would be lucky to land him. Sadly, Chelle had never felt anything for him, either.

Chelle snuck a look at the people in attendance again, and Bobby Mulner winked at her. She shot him a small smile and looked away. If she hadn’t grown up with him, he wouldn’t be a bad choice. He owned a trucking business and was slowly buying up land in the area in preparation for diversifying his company.

At least, that’s what he’d told her the last time he’d asked her out. It hadn’t changed her answer, though. All she could see when she looked at him was the snot collection he’d kept in his desk in fourth grade.

Chelle shuddered at the memory.

I need to get out of this town.

Men were out there. Single, wonderful men. Melanie was proof that leaving Fort Mavis brought new and wonderful opportunities.

I don’t even need a fiancé. At this point, I’d take one hot romp. Who knew that her decision to wait until her wedding night to have sex would have brought her here, to a place full of regret, not for what she had done but for what she hadn’t? She considered saying yes to Bobby, just to get it over with, but she wasn’t that desperate yet. Is it wrong to want more? To think I should feel something when I look into a man’s eyes?

I didn’t know virginity had an expiration date. Good until . . . oh my God, if I turn twenty-six and haven’t slept with anyone, the man I finally do have sex with will think I’m a freak.

After a certain age, having had sex, even too much, sounds better than trying to explain why you’ve never taken the plunge—so to speak. Men saw it as a problem, a symptom of something, rather than the culmination of a strict upbringing and a shallow pool of choices.

And it’s not an ailment I can discuss with anyone. Chronic chastity. The most blatant symptom? Envying Ava Edwards, who slept with half the guys in high school, because even she is married now.

Chelle felt a mild panic set in as the minister had Sarah and Tony repeat their vows. I am standing next to the only other women in my age group in Fort Mavis who are single, and they are both engaged.

Slow down, everyone. I need a little more time.

“If anyone here knows a reason why these two cannot wed, speak now or forever hold your peace,” the minister said, looking up from the couple for a moment.

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