Bedded Then Wed

By: Heidi Betts

T he last, slow strains of an old Tammy Wynette song spilled from a small portable radio set up on the steps of the park’s gazebo to replace the more elaborate sound system that had been used earlier that evening, and Emma Davis covered her mouth to hide another yawn.

Lord, she was exhausted. She’d spent all yesterday cooking and baking for today’s Fourth of July shindig, then most of the morning helping to decorate the town square.

The Gabriel’s Crossing holiday celebrations were legendary, and she was more than happy to lend a hand wherever she could. But now, at eleven o’clock at night, she was just plain exhausted. She wanted nothing more than to go home, fall into bed, and sleep for a week…or at least until noon the next day.

Unfortunately, it didn’t look like she would get to do any of those things for quite some time yet.

She cast a glance over her shoulder, to where her father and three of his cronies sat at a worn card table, playing what had to be their two-dozenth hand of poker. Unlike Emma—and everyone else, who had pretty much collected their things and headed home hours ago—her father didn’t seem anywhere near ready to leave.

With a soft groan, she lowered her head to where her arms rested atop the rough planks of the picnic table and closed her eyes. If she couldn’t get to her own bed, then she would sleep right here. At this point, she wasn’t particular.

“Need a ride home?”

The low, gravelly voice penetrated her tired brain and she lifted her head to stare up at her neighbor and one of her closest friends since childhood.

Closest friend and secret crush…or at least he had been in high school.

Oh, who was she kidding? Just looking at Mitch Ramsey, with his black-as-sin hair and gray, penetrating eyes, was enough to send the blood pumping through her veins.

A moment ago she’d been so tired she could barely put a single thought together, now she felt wide awake and ready to do the two-step…as long as Mitch was two-stepping right along with her.

When she didn’t answer right away, Mitch tapped his beat-up Stetson against the side of his muscular thigh and offered her a kind smile. “Your father seems to be pretty involved in his card game, but you look about ready to drop. Why don’t you let me take you home, and he can come along whenever he’s ready.”

My hero, she thought, and could have sworn her heart skipped a beat.

It had always been that way with Mitch…he smiled and her belly flip-flopped. He drawled her name, and she felt it all the way down to her toes.

This wasn’t the first time he’d come to her rescue, either. Mitch was a gentleman right down to his born-and-bred Texas roots.

“That would be great, thank you.” She pushed herself up from the bench seat of the picnic table and brushed her hands on the legs of her jeans. “Let me just go tell Pop I’m leaving.”

Mitch gave a small nod, staying where he was while she wandered over to the group of poker buddies.

“Hey, Pop,” she said, curling her hands over her father’s shoulders and leaning in to kiss his bearded cheek.

Wyatt Davis gave a chuckle, laid out his cards, and said, “Read ’em and weep, boys.” His full house clearly beat his friends’ hands, and he wasted no time dragging his winnings toward him across the table.

Once he had all the chips in front of him, he turned his head and tipped his face up to Emma. “Hey, there, baby girl. How are you doing?”

“I’m tired and ready to go home.” Before his mustachioed mouth could turn down in a frown, she added, “Mitch has offered to take me so you can stick around and play cards as long as you like.”

Wyatt glanced past her to where Mitch was standing, fitting his hat on his dark head. “That’s awfully nice of him. You sure you don’t mind?”

She smiled and gave his shoulders a squeeze. “Of course not. You have fun. No more drinking, though, or we’ll have to find someone to drive you home, too.”

Her father grinned and pointed to the brown bottle to his right. “Don’t worry about me, pumpkin, I’ll be nursing this one the rest of the night.”

“All right.” She leaned over and kissed the top of his head. “See you in the morning. Win big. Bye, guys,” she said, waving to her father’s friends as she made her way back to Mitch.

“Ready to go?”

She nodded, grabbing her purse from the picnic table and following Mitch to his dark blue truck, shining near-black in the moonlight. He held the door open while she climbed in, then slammed it behind her and walked around to the driver’s side. After he’d gotten in behind the wheel and started the engine, he adjusted the air-conditioning to cool the inside of the cab and turned on the radio so that a familiar country tune played in the background.