Taken Home (Lone Star Burn)(9)

By: Ruth Cardello

She looked over at Charles Dery, Melanie’s fiancé, and smiled at him sadly. I’m happy she found him. And that Sarah found Tony. Just because Mason Thorne didn’t want me doesn’t mean the right man isn’t right around the corner.

Who knows, maybe he’ll walk right through that door.

The side door of the reception hall opened, and Chelle held her breath. Fate had never been overly kind to her, but after the day she’d had, maybe it felt it owed her.

A woman walked in, decked out in a skintight silver dress and diamonds. Her hair was done up in a beautiful loose knot, and she carried herself like a princess arriving at a ball. “Who is that?” Chelle asked aloud.

Melanie turned and also gave the newcomer a once-over. “I have no idea, but she appears to be looking for someone.”

Flashy to the point of being gaudy. Beautiful in a plastic sort of way. The woman belonged in Hollywood, not some tiny town in Texas.


Could she be the woman Mason claimed he had lied to in an attempt to discourage her? Could she? If so, Chelle found it difficult to feel sympathy for her. The Gwyneth Paltrow blonde made a face as she looked around the room, as if she had entered an unclean area she couldn’t wait to leave. She wrinkled her nose at one of Chelle’s slightly overweight female cousins, who had squeezed herself into a dress that had probably fit her well at the last wedding she’d attended.

A protective shot of adrenaline coursed through Chelle. Oh no you don’t. I don’t care what they’re wearing—you do not look at my family like that. Chelle almost headed straight over to confront her, but stopped when a better option occurred to her.

She wasn’t sure if her motivation stemmed from feeling protective of her family or from not liking the idea of Mason with someone so obviously superficial. Either way, Mason had asked for help, whatever his reaction to her. Sending Barbie scurrying back to California felt like the right thing to do.

“Are you okay, Chelle?” Melanie asked when Chelle turned to walk away without saying anything.

“I will be.”

Mason rested his elbows on the banister of the balcony, trying to untangle his thoughts before returning to the wedding. He’d decided a long time ago that guilt was a wasted emotion. It didn’t change anything.

Still, he didn’t like how he felt each time he thought about Chelle. He’d been honest with her. Wasn’t that better than leading her on?

I could have let her down easier. She doesn’t know how badly I wanted to say yes to her.

David appeared beside him and mirrored his pensive pose. “I remember my first impression of you.”

Mason straightened, turned to lean back against the railing, and folded his arms across his chest. David sounded like a man about to give a stern lecture to a child, and frankly, Mason wasn’t in the mood. “I’m sure I don’t want to hear it.”

Without missing a beat, David continued, “I thought you were a self-serving, irreverent narcissist.”

Mason raised an eyebrow, refusing to rise to the very obvious bait. “My, my,” he said with thick sarcasm and a fake southern accent, “that must be what they call southern charm.”

“Consider it a dose of Texan honesty.”

Mason turned to meet David’s eyes. “Let me give you some Californian candor. I couldn’t care less what you think of me.”

David straightened, but kept both hands tight on the railing. “A wedding is no place for disagreements, but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t speak my mind. You need to stay away from Chelle Landon.”

Mason barked out a laugh. “You’re upset because you saw me talking to a woman?”

David’s hands clenched visibly. “Chelle is one of the sweetest, shyest women in these parts.”

Mason’s eyes rounded a bit in disbelief. During his very brief acquaintance with her, Chelle had both kissed him and belted him. David, however, didn’t look like a man who would appreciate Mason’s insights into her character. “I’m sure she is.”

“Someone like you would be better off steering clear of her.”

“Someone like me?” Some of Mason’s appreciation for the humor of the situation faded. “I’m a goddamned senator.”

“What you do for a living has no bearing on what I’m saying. I’m telling you to find your entertainment elsewhere tonight.”

Mason pushed off the banister and turned to face David. “Listen, David, I like you. I do. In fact, this whole small-town good-guy persona you have going is big-screen worthy. However, Chelle doesn’t need your protection, and I’m in no mood to humor you. This conversation is over.”