His Christmas Cowgirl(7)

By: Alissa Callen

“I know it’s the weekend but why’s it so busy?” Peta ate the last of her brownie. “Surely people aren’t starting their Christmas shopping? It’s only November.”

Ivy finished her hot chocolate. “No, I’m guessing everyone’s making the most of the mild weather and shopping for the ball.”

“A ball? I go away for a month and miss all the news. No wonder everyone’s out and about. Is it a Christmas one?”

“Yes, it’s being put on by the Daughters of Montana to raise money for the courthouse. They always do such a good job for the pancake breakfast on the rodeo weekend; I’ve no doubt it will be a fabulous night.”

Peta nodded. A night she wouldn’t be attending. Ivy and Rhett’s upcoming wedding would be enough of a social outing for her. She’d make a donation to the ball committee and spend a cozy evening at home.

She reached under the table to collect a floral gift bag. She’d already given Hal his gift when she’d paid a visit to the hospital earlier that morning and now it was Ivy’s turn. She handed the bag to Ivy with a smile.

“Before we leave and get busy with dresses, this is for you. Sorry I didn’t give it to you last night when you picked us up from the Bozeman airport but it was buried in my bag.”

Peta’s heart warmed as Ivy pulled out a blue and white apron decorated with pretty English cottages. Ivy was far more than a soon-to-be sister-in-law; she was also a dear friend. A year ago Ivy had come to Marietta to grieve for her grandparents and to bake up a Christmas storm using her grandmother’s cook book. This year Ivy was determined to do the same. The only difference was that this Christmas she wouldn’t be alone, she’d have Rhett by her side.

“Thank you,” Ivy said, her smile delighted.

“There’s more.”

Ivy dug deeper into the bag and pulled out a round wooden board with the engraved picture of a scotch thistle.

“It’s a shortbread mold,” Ivy said, tone awed. “I’ve always wanted one of these.” She came out of her seat and hugged Peta.

Peta returned her embrace.

Ivy remained standing and, as she carefully returned her gifts to the bag, she cast Peta a serious look.

“You know… now you’re back home, it doesn’t mean life has to go on like it did before.”

Peta swallowed. The insightful corporate analyst hadn’t missed her earlier sadness at still being alone.

“I know and it’s okay if it does. The ranch is my life and I intend to focus on what I have and not what I don’t have.” She stood. “Besides being under the Marietta microscope would do my head in. If I do ever find someone willing to put up with me, I’m planning to elope.”

Together they left the bustling café and stepped onto Main Street. As they strolled past Paradise Books their steps slowed. In the wide shop window, Lesley stood on a low stool as she created a new book display. Her grey curls awry, she peered over her heavy glasses and gave them a cheery wave.

Ivy waved back with a smile, her attention lingering on the piles of books beside the store owner. “Where has the past year gone? In less than a month Lesley will be replacing those craft books with Christmas ones ready for the Christmas Stroll.”

Peta smiled. It had been at last year’s Christmas Stroll she’d first met Ivy and realized how much her wilder younger brother had been tamed. “She will be. At least this year you’ll be on your honeymoon soaking up the sun and will be spared going to the stroll with us. Dad was such a grump last year.”

Ivy’s lips curved as they turned to head to Front Avenue. “He wasn’t that bad.”

Peta arched a brow. Even though her father had mellowed, the only person he took any notice of was Ivy. For the rest of them, getting their father to listen was almost as impossible as reaching the summit of the cloud-draped Copper Mountain that towered ahead of them.

The smell of pizza intensified as the Pizza Parlor beside the bridal salon prepared for the Saturday lunch time rush.

Ivy chuckled as they walked past. “Lisa having a pizza shop close to her store was a smart move. I made sure Rhett, Cordell, and Zane all had their suit fittings around lunch time. I also made sure they understood that if they complained, even once, there would be no pizza afterwards. I’ve never seen three cowboys get out of their Wranglers so quickly.”

Peta joined in with Ivy’s laughter. Rhett would always do anything for his favorite meat lovers and chili pizza.

Ivy squeezed her arm. “You and Kendall are the last bridesmaids to be fitted. I didn’t have the heart to tear Kendall away from Brent, so I’m sorry it’s just you this morning. Saul also needs a suit fitting, but he can’t be here until the morning of the wedding. I just wish I knew of someone his size so I could see what his suit looks like with your dress.”