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The Cowboy Lassos a Bride

By:Cora Seton

The Cowboy Lassos a Bride
Cora Seton

       (Cowboys of Chance Creek)



Prologue




October


She was alone at a wedding. Again.

Hannah Ashton lifted a hand to her hair to make sure her elaborate updo  hadn't come tumbling down. Her white-blond waves had a tendency to defy  hairpins, but as Bella Chatham's maid of honor, she had corralled it  mercilessly into a sophisticated style. Her empire-waisted, China-blue  gown was flattering, at least. Some of the dresses she and Morgan  Matheson-Bella's other bridesmaid-had tried on at Ellie's Bridals had  sent them into fits of laughter.

Bella, her boss and one of her best friends, looked pretty as a picture  standing next to her dream man-Evan Mortimer, billionaire investor and  all around great guy. Hannah had engineered the circumstances under  which Bella and Evan met on the set of Can You Beat a Billionaire, after  Bella's tender heart had nearly bankrupted the Chance Creek Pet Clinic  and Shelter where Hannah worked. Bella didn't need to worry about money  anymore, and practical Evan would balance out her tendency to want to  save any and every animal around. They made a great couple.

Hannah wished she had a man like that. He didn't have to be a  billionaire. He just needed to care about her the way Evan obviously  cared about Bella. As the two exchanged their vows in the small chapel  presided over by the minister, Ed Halpern, they couldn't look away from  each other. They were so much in love.

Hannah wanted to be in love.

She wasn't. Not anymore. Today's desertion by Cody was the final nail in  the coffin of their relationship-a relationship she now had to admit  had been over for some time. He was never there when she needed him. He  liked her well enough when she was at home cooking him dinner or  listening to another of his endless diatribes against his employees or  customers or family, but when she asked him to take on a chore, he  refused. When it was her turn to talk, he became suddenly busy. When  there were parties or picnics or weddings to attend, he couldn't be  found. He disliked her friends, disliked her job, and certainly couldn't  be bothered to attend the nuptials of her boss. So here she was by  herself, for everyone to see. She'd have an empty seat beside her during  dinner at the bridal table since she'd responded to her invitation  saying the two of them would come. She'd have no one to dance with once  the music started, except for pity invitations from her friends'  husbands. And by the time she got home, Cody would be stretched out on  the couch in his boxers, too wrapped up in some late night Hollywood  western to even care that she was there.

Once she'd fancied herself in love with the man, but that was a long  time ago, before he'd let her down in a hundred and one ways. Before she  realized they had little in common except for a desire to be with  someone. She'd been all set to dump him when Bella and Evan's wedding  invitation arrived in the mail. In a moment of weakness, she'd asked  Cody to accompany her, placing the fate of their relationship in his  answer. If he said yes, she'd give it one more shot. If he said no,  she'd leave right away. He must have intuited her intentions-he'd said  yes, and she'd stuck with him for several more weeks.

She shouldn't have wasted her time. She'd gone to get her nails done  this morning and when she returned home, Cody was gone, his cryptic note  stating he'd been called in to work. Since he was self-employed, the  excuse bordered on insulting. She had her answer. Their relationship was  over.

Hannah sighed. She was sick of being alone. She wanted to find her life  partner like Bella had done. She wanted a wedding and a happily ever  after. She wanted to be swept off her feet. She was thrilled that things  had gone so well for Bella, but she couldn't help feeling a little  resentful, too. Just a little. If she hadn't coerced her boss to go on  the hit reality television show, Bella would still be broke and lonely.  Just like her. Instead, her friend was the happiest woman for miles  around. She had everything-a handsome, funny, loving husband, a career  she adored, all the money she could ever want …

And Hannah had nothing. She blinked back sudden tears of self-pity,  aware that she was on display up here for all her friends to see.  Hopefully they'd think she was overcome with happiness for Bella. Which  she was. Hannah dug her nails into the palms of her hands to get control  of her emotions. She had promised herself all this wallowing in  self-pity was over. Bella was her friend. Nothing would change that. And  she'd find a man sooner or later.

It just wasn't Cody.

Taking a deep breath, she made a vow right then and there. She would  split up with Cody, and she would manage to do it without having a  fight. It was hunting season right now-a perfect time to end the  relationship. If she was smart, she'd wait until just before he left on  one of his hunting trips to let him know, and then she could remove all  her things from his house while he was gone. A cowardly trick, but one  that would make things easier for both of them.                       
       
           



       

She knew the perfect time, too. In a couple of weeks, bison season  opened up. Cody had been blathering for days about a bison on some big  game ranch out in the western part of the state he intended to go shoot.  It sounded silly to her, but it would keep him busy, at least  overnight. That was all the time she needed.

With the decision made and her course set, she felt somewhat better, as  if she'd gone through a long winter and just seen the first signs of  spring. It would be a relief to end this relationship that was heading  nowhere. She would have done it sooner if living together hadn't made  things so complicated. But she wasn't going to let that stop her now.  She would un-complicate things, leave Cody, and then she would be free  in a few short weeks. Hannah straightened her shoulders and focused on  the ceremony again.

Two hours later, she fiddled with her glass of champagne and watched the  couples on the dance floor, her resentment creeping back to depress her  mood again. It killed her not to feel joyful when this was Bella's  wedding, but the fact that her best friend was leaving her behind kept  tears pricking at her eyelids. She hadn't expected the wedding to be so  emotional in this way and she refused to let Bella know how she felt.  Once again she pasted a bright smile on her face and surveyed the room.  The night hadn't been all bad. Ethan Cruz had danced with her once as a  gesture of friendship. Married to her friend, Autumn, the tall cowboy  had always been kind and considerate like that. Several other married  men in her group of friends had taken her for a turn around the dance  floor, too. That was nice of them, but she didn't want pity-dances. She  wanted something else-something more.

It was probably for the best there wasn't anything more to have, she  thought, since she hadn't broken up officially with Cody yet. Still, in  her mind it was over-and had been for a long time. She and Cody hadn't  acted like a couple in ages. She was lonely. She wanted a man's arms  around her. She wanted to be kissed.

She wanted to be loved.

"Care to dance?"

She glanced up with a start to find Jake Matheson, Morgan's  brother-in-law, standing beside her table. "Um …  sure." Too surprised to  say more, she stood up and took his hand. As he led her to the dance  floor, she allowed her gaze to trail over him in a way she hadn't looked  at any man in a long, long time. Jake was one of the handsomest cowboys  she knew and she was shocked he'd deigned to issue her this invitation.  Like all the Matheson men, he was tall, broad-shouldered, with blond  hair and blue eyes. He was the oldest of four, and everyone knew he'd  run the Double-Bar-K when his father stepped down from that job. Any  woman who married Jake would enter one of the oldest, proudest ranching  families in the county. But Jake seemed to have no notion of settling  down.

At thirty-three, he was seven years older than her, so he'd graduated  before she'd even entered high school. Their crowds hadn't ever  converged until this past summer when she began to work at the Cruz  ranch from time to time, helping Autumn with her guest ranch business.  Ethan was good friends with Rob Matheson, Jake's youngest brother and  Morgan's husband, and she'd gotten to know the rest of the Mathesons in  the intervening months, especially at Ethan and Autumn's weekly poker  nights.

Still, it was strange to feel Jake's large hand curve around her own as  he led her through the crowded tables, and when he pulled her close on  the dance floor and put his hands on her waist to sway next to her to  the slow dance now playing over the speakers, her breath caught. She'd  never been so near to Jake. His dress shirt was smooth under her cheek  as she rested her head against his chest. His hands were warm through  the thin fabric of her dress. He smelled of soap and man and outdoors, a  scent that filled her with an unnamed longing. She hoped he couldn't  hear her heart racing in her chest. Jake was so masculine, so utterly  out of her league, she'd never even pictured a moment like this.

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