In this luminous prequel to her beloved Cobbled Court Quilts series, New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick takes listeners into the heart of a small Texas town and the soul of a woman who discovers her destiny there…
Welcome to Too Much -- where the women are strong-willed and the men are handsome yet shiftless. Ever since Mary Dell Templeton and her twin sister Lydia Dale were children, their Aunt Velvet has warned them away from local boys. But it's well known that the females in Mary Dell's family have two traits in common-superior sewing skills and a fatal weakness for men.
While Lydia Dale grows up petite and pretty, Mary Dell just keeps growing. Tall, smart, and sassy, she is determined to one day turn her love of sewing into a business. Meanwhile, she'll settle for raising babies with her new husband, Donny. But that dream proves elusive too, until finally, Mary Dell gets the son she always wanted -- a child as different as he is wonderful. And as Mary Dell is forced to reconsider what truly matters in her family and her marriage, she begins to piece together a life that, like the colorful quilts she creates, will prove vibrant, rich, and absolutely unforgettable…
Release date: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 368
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Between Heaven and Texas
Nineteen-year-old Mary Dell Templeton pushed her white lace veil away from her face, knelt down in front of the toilet, and seriously considered vomiting.
She could hear the staccato tapping of her mother’s high heels coming down the hallway and reached up to click over the lock only a moment before Taffy tried the knob and then started hammering on the door.
“Mary Dell? Open the door. I will not put up with any of your nonsense today, young lady. Cousin Organza only knows three songs on the piano, and she’s played them through four times already. People are starting to notice. Do not embarrass me in front of half the town, young lady!”
Taffy Templeton paused, then rattled the knob again. “Mary Dell? Do you hear me? You unlock that door and come out here right now!”
Mary Dell closed her eyes and leaned down, resting her forehead on the cool curve of the porcelain seat. “I can’t. I feel sick.”
Taffy made an exasperated sound. “Well, of course you feel sick. It’s your wedding day. What did you expect?”
It was a fair question.
What in the world was she doing, marrying Donny Bebee? When he’d proposed, she’d immediately said yes, relieved that her problems had been so easily solved by uttering that one little word. But what if marrying Donny wasn’t the solution it seemed to be? What if she was just exchanging one set of problems for another? She barely knew Donny. Four months ago, she’d never even heard his name.
Another wave of nausea hit her as she realized that even now, she didn’t know his middle name. Or if he even had a middle name! How could she possibly promise to love, honor, and cherish until death did them part a man whose middle name was a mystery to her?
Before she’d met Donny, she was unattached and content to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Now she was engaged, nauseous, and crouched in front of the commode in a wedding dress, minutes away from either becoming Mrs. Donald Middle-Name-Unknown Bebee or busting through the bathroom door, knocking down her mother, and making a run for the nearest pickup truck and the Mexican border.
How had she gotten herself into this mess?
As Mary Dell’s maternal aunt, Miss Velvet Tudmore, the executive director of the Too Much Historical Society, would tell you, it is impossible to separate the present and future from the history that precedes it. So to understand how Mary Dell Templeton came to lock herself in the bathroom on her wedding day, you have to take a look back through her personal and family history and, more importantly, the history of the town.
Like a lot of towns in that part of the state, there appears to be no geographic or economic reason to explain the existence of Too Much, Texas. Ninety-five miles slightly southeast of Dallas, it simply rises out of the scrubby brown landscape as though someone of great stubbornness, fortitude, or both simply woke up one day and decided to build a town, like Moses striking a rock and summoning forth water in the desert. According to legend and Miss Velvet, that’s pretty much how it happened.
In October of 1962, Mary Dell Templeton and her twin sister, Lydia Dale, along with the rest of the fifth graders of Sam Houston Elementary, took a field trip to the historical society to learn about the origins of Too Much. It was an important rite of passage, one that the town’s youngest citizens had taken part in for many years.
The day began with a tour of the society’s collection of artifacts, housed in the basement of the courthouse, a mishmash of memorabilia that included a rusty hand plow; a menu from the Blue Bonnet Café signed by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who stopped in for banana cream pie before robbing the First Reliable Bank; the journal of Justine Tudmore Plank, Too Much’s most famous citizen, who wrote a series of children’s books in the 1920s; a pine pulpit that emerged unscathed from the flames when the First Baptist Church burned to the ground in 1912; a wheel and axle from a pioneer wagon; and the black leather bag filled with rusty surgical instruments and glass bottles bearing labels for sterile catgut and chloroform that once belonged to the town’s first licensed physician.
After the tour, Miss Velvet shepherded the children into the town square, ordering them to form a half circle in front of a bronze statue of a slightly scowling woman dressed in pioneer garb with her arms crossed defiantly over her chest. Then she related the tale of Too Much’s founding mother, Flagadine Tudmore, just as she had learned it from her mother, who had heard it from her mother, and so on.
“When Texas was still a republic, George and Flagadine Tudmore and their four children set out from Arkansas to Austin with the intention of claiming the six hundred and forty acres of land that was being offered to new settlers. The journey was hard and long, and George, who never was much of a planner, didn’t start off until high summer. By the time the Tudmores reached the Texas border, the temperatures had been above one hundred for twenty-two days running, and the family’s water supply was dangerously low.
“On the seventeenth night of August, 1840, George picketed his two tired, lame horses out next to a little patch of scrub near Puny Wallow—”
Without raising his hand, Jack Benny Benton interrupted. “Don’t you mean Puny Pond?”
Miss Velvet’s flinty features became even sharper as she scowled at the boy. “No. If I’d meant Puny Pond, I’d have said so. Back then it was a wallow, little more than a mud pit with a couple of inches of brown water at the bottom. Flagadine sieved out the mud and boiled it to use for drinking, bathing, and doing laundry.
“When George was hitching up the horses the next morning, Flagadine, whose thinking had been cleared mightily by rehydration and clean undergarments, grabbed the reins of the bay horse and said, ‘It’s just too much, George. Too much sun. Too much wind. Too much heat. Besides, there’s something about this place, don’t you agree? But whether you do or you don’t, this is as far as I go.’
“And George,” the old woman went on with a proud tilt to her chin, “knowing the kind of woman she was—and being the kind of man he was—figured there wasn’t any point in fighting her. He unhitched the horses while Flagadine unpacked the wagon. And that, boys and girls, is how Too Much, Texas, got its start: on the conviction of a strong-willed woman and the indolence of a handsome but shiftless man. Which,” she concluded with a sorry shake of her head, “pretty well describes the makeup of our population to this day.”
Elbowing the boy next to him, Jack Benny Benton, whose father spent his days sitting on the porch at the Ice House, nursing a bottle of Lone Star and tying knots in a length of rope, asked the plain-featured old lady, “Is that why you never got married, Miss Velvet? Because the men in Too Much are too lazy?”
“Yes,” the old spinster said without a trace of irony. “Yes, it is, Jack Benny.”
When the children lined up for the walk back to school, Jack Benny Benton jockeyed for a spot behind Mary Dell and Lydia Dale. He was about to give one of Lydia Dale’s blond braids a tug when Miss Velvet’s voice rang out from behind.
“Lydia Dale! Mary Dell! Come back here for a minute.”
The two girls ran up to the old woman. “What is it, Aunt Velvet?”
Miss Velvet crouched down low and whispered urgently, “You steer clear of that Jack Benny Benton.”
“Why?” Lydia Dale asked. “He’s all right.”
“And Momma says the Bentons are richer than Midas,” Mary Dell added.
Mary Dell didn’t have a clear understanding of who Midas was, but she did understand that the Bentons, the largest and, aside from the Tudmores, oldest family in town, were rich—at least in comparison to everyone else. It wasn’t that the Bentons owned everything in Too Much, just everything that was worth owning: the Ice House, which sold more beer and whiskey than ice, the Tidee-Mart, the Texaco station, the Feed and Grain, and pretty nearly every commercial building in downtown Too Much, which gave them influence and garnered them a good income without engaging in much actual work.
It was a strange thing that in a town full of lazy men, it was the laziest line of them all that had accumulated the most wealth, but the key to the Benton fortune lay with the Benton women, who were shrewder and tougher than any of the menfolk, and not just the women who were born Bentons, but even the ones who’d married into the family. Jack Benny’s mother, Marlena, born a Pickens, was a case in point. It seemed to be part of their makeup, a trait that ran through their bloodlines. Every family has them. As a student of history, genealogy, and human relations, Velvet knew this for a fact.
Her studies had helped her to identify a Tudmore family trait, actually more of a weakness, that ran all the way back to Flagadine, and it was this: At some point, and sometimes at many points, nearly every woman in the Tudmore lineage, herself a notable exception, allowed lust and biology to trump morality and reason. Miss Velvet had dubbed this weakness the Fatal Flaw.
But at age nine, Mary Dell and Lydia Dale were too young to understand such things, so Miss Velvet just said, “You just stay away from Jack Benny. Stay away from any of the boys from Too Much. You hear me?”
Though impossible to prove scientifically, Miss Velvet’s theory of the Tudmore Fatal Flaw cannot be dismissed entirely. But even more than this, it was an unusual codicil in the will of Flagadine Tudmore that most profoundly influenced the history, character, and fortunes of her descendants.
Flagadine Tudmore outlived her husband by three decades. She spent those years raising children and buying more land, eventually accumulating twelve hundred acres. In that part of the country, depending on weather, the ratio of cattle to grazing acres may be eight, ten, even fifteen to one, so the F-Bar-T was not a huge spread by Texas standards. But it was some of the best grazing land in the county and enough to provide a modest but independent living for the Tudmore clan. Figuring her sons could fend for themselves, Flagadine willed the ranch in its entirety to her daughter, Calico, stipulating that Calico should pass it on to her daughter in turn.
And so the tradition began. Each succeeding generation of Tudmore women signed the title of the ranch over to her daughter upon the younger woman’s marriage, yielding the house and land to the newlyweds, with the understanding that the older woman’s financial needs would be met in her lifetime. It was an unusual arrangement for the times, and if challenged in a court of law, it’s doubtful that the wills of the Tudmore women would have been allowed to stand. However, no one ever did challenge those wills, perhaps because they had too much sense to try to separate a Tudmore from her land.
Most of the Tudmore women lived their entire lives within a tight radius of the ranch without a desire to roam farther. It was their Eden, their context, the lens through which they saw the world and themselves. A few did travel across the country and even the world, and enjoyed the scenes, scents, and sights of exotic lands, but in the end, the daughters of Flagadine never found a scene to match the beauty of the sun setting over the small ridge of hills on the western edge of the ranch, or a perfume as intoxicating as the scent that rose from the thirsty soil of the pasture and the leaves of the velvet mesquite trees after a rare hard rain, or a deeper sense of satisfaction than came from being granted temporary stewardship over the land that had nurtured and nourished them and eventually passing it intact to the next generation.
Mary Dell was not born with a complete appreciation of her inheritance or a full understanding of the honor and solemn responsibility that was her birthright, but it would come to her in time. There was no avoiding it. Like the Fatal Flaw, it was all part of being born a Tudmore and female.
Still, Mary Dell was her own brand of Tudmore. For one thing, she was the first of the line who, teetering on the brink of matrimony, actually stopped to ask herself if this was a good idea. There had never been a Tudmore quite like Mary Dell, though it took some time for people, her mother especially, to realize it.
When the twins were born, Taffy intended to carry on with the family custom of naming female children after fabric, in homage to the Tudmore tradition of producing women who were experts with a needle, even though she personally had no talent for sewing. But her husband, Dutch, objected.
“Hell, no!” he exclaimed. “You’re not doing it, Taffy. All the good names are gone. Your cousin got the last one—though I’m not crazy about Organza. But it’s sure better than Corduroy. Or Hopsack. Or Flannel! That’s about all that’s left.”
“I was thinking of naming them after Momma and Aunt Velvet,” Taffy countered.
“Silky and Velvet Templeton?” Dutch spread his boot-shod feet and crossed his arms over his chest, aping the bronze resolve of Flagadine Tudmore. “Do that and these will be the last babies you have a chance of getting off me. I mean it.”
Dutch was not a man inclined to making proclamations and even less inclined to follow through with them, but Taffy sensed that he was serious. Only hours before, in the agony of childbirth, she had sworn never to allow Dutch to touch her again. But now, as her eyes traveled from his handsome head, his sandy hair streaked with sunlight streaming through the hospital room window, to his wide shoulders, to his trim waist encircled by a dark leather belt and the largest of silver belt buckles, then down his long, lean legs, clad in jeans so tight they might have been denim skin, her resolve melted like ice on a hot skillet.
“All right, Dutch. You pick the names,” she said as she passed the pink bundles into her husband’s arms.
“I was thinking about Mary Dell and Lydia Dale. Should sound real good together, you know? Dell and Dale? But,” he said with a frown, “which name for which baby?”
Taffy shrugged. “Does it matter? They’re just as alike as two peas in a pod.”
Taffy’s observation was accurate, at least regarding the twins’ appearance. Though they were fraternal twins, knit together in the same womb but from two separate eggs, at birth Mary Dell and Lydia Dale were almost identical in appearance, sharing their mother’s bluebonnet eyes and their father’s full lips and blond hair. They were undeniably pretty, even a little bit beautiful. Taffy had been pretty too, once, prettier even than her daughters.
Taffy was one of the most popular girls in her high school—at least as popularity was measured among the boys. She was not loose, but she was a tremendous flirt, able to keep any number of boys angling for her attentions without them ever realizing that she was the one who had set the hook and held the line. It was all a game to her, one she relished and played recklessly, honing her skills through multiple readings of her favorite book, Gone with the Wind, as well as assiduous study and emulation of the heroine. In the process, she ended up repeating many of Scarlett’s mistakes. It was not until after her marriage that she realized that no one man, however handsome and doting he may be, can take the place of a brace of admirers. A married woman needs friends, and Taffy had none. Her careless antics had earned her the enmity of nearly every woman in town. And though she tried her best to make amends, it was too late. The ladies of Too Much, especially Marlena Benton, had long memories.
Marlena Benton, née Pickens, could not forget the humiliation of spending the night of the senior prom sobbing in her room because her date, Noodie Benton, canceled on her, enticed by a last-minute promise to serve as Taffy’s escort. Noodie was miffed when he got to the dance and realized that he was one of three young men who had been offered this privilege. But when Taffy chose him as her partner for the first slow dance, he forgave her. Marlena never would.
And though Noodie proposed to her not long after Dutch and Taffy’s wedding, Marlena never entirely forgave him either. Some in town posited (but never within Marlena’s hearing) that she married Noodie just so she could spend the rest of her life punishing him. That wasn’t wholly true, but the seed of resentment Marlena carried within her, coupled with an unhealthy devotion to their only child, Jack Benny, did nothing to help their marriage. And what is certain is that Marlena, who, by virtue of being a Benton as well as president of the Too Much Women’s Club and the Episcopal Church Altar Guild, was the most influential woman in town, and she was more than willing to use that influence to make sure Taffy Tudmore Templeton would live her life on the lower rungs of the town’s social ladder.
After years of trying and failing to work her way back into the good graces of the women of Too Much, Taffy started searching for satisfaction in other areas. She tried to join the Women’s Club but received no response to her application. And though she found the rite too formal and dry for her Methodist sensibilities, she visited the Episcopal church, thinking that if she transferred her membership, then Marlena would have to accept her, if only out of Christian duty. But though Father Winston greeted her warmly after the service, the ladies of the church were decidedly cool, and Marlena actually turned her back when Taffy approached, embarrassing her in front of everyone.
Deciding that if she could not achieve social success she would try to distinguish herself personally, she attempted to pick up the family mantle and take up needlecraft, but had little talent for it and less patience. She took up the culinary arts next, becoming a good cook and an outstanding baker, but became discouraged when, year after year, her entries in the county fair failed to earn ribbons. Taffy was a natural competitor, but it’s no fun competing when there’s no possibility of winning. As long as the game was being played in Too Much, Taffy knew she didn’t stand a chance.
But one day, when the twins were about ten, Taffy saw an advertisement for the Miss Goody Gumdrops Beauty Pageant to be held at a Holiday Inn outside of Waco. She filled out two forms, one for Mary Dell and another for Lydia Dale, sent in the entry fee, and got Silky to whip up some fancy dresses for the girls.
Lydia Dale placed first in her age group and was awarded a crown and a twenty-five-dollar savings bond. Mary Dell was named Miss Photogenic and placed third in the talent division for her energetic and mostly on-key rendition of “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
The thrill that ran through Taffy when she saw that rhinestone tiara placed on Lydia Dale’s head was electric. When she returned to Too Much, she bought an enormous glass display case and made Dutch move the television cabinet into a corner to make room for it.
“Don’t you think it’s sort of big to hold one little crown?” he asked after Taffy placed Lydia Dale’s tiara on one of the empty shelves. “It looks lonely sitting there all by itself.”
“It won’t be lonely for long,” Taffy said, her eyes glittering with conviction.
Thanks to Lydia Dale, Taffy’s prophecy came true. More malleable than Mary Dell and blessed with poise her sibling lacked, Lydia Dale filled the display cabinet with tiaras, sashes, and scepters. The pageant costumes and gowns were stored in a closet lined with cedar paneling that Taffy had made especially for the purpose. It stretched the length of the girls’ bedroom wall and was stuffed to bursting with glittery, satiny, silky gowns, most belonging to Lydia Dale. Mary Dell’s pageant career was over before her thirteenth birthday.
Puberty hit Mary Dell early and hard. Almost overnight she grew up and out, towering over her sister by six inches and developing a figure that had, as they say in Texas, “more curves than a Coke bottle.” Mary Dell was as pretty as ever, but pageant judges preferred petite, perky little Lydia Dale. That, and Mary Dell’s unfortunate tendency to speak her mind in the question-and-answer portion of the competition, spelled her doom. She just wasn’t pageant material.
Mary Dell was not entirely sorry when her pageant days came to an end. Aside from the fancy costumes, she’d never cared for them and hated being away from home so much. However, she did miss her sister when Lydia Dale was off with Taffy at competitions, and she felt the lack of her mother’s attention, which was now focused like a laser beam on Lydia Dale and her future (Taffy would have said her destiny) as a beauty queen. Every other concern and responsibility, even those Taffy owed to her other child, came a distant second to her desire to see Lydia Dale win.
Another girl in similar circumstances might have resented her sister, but Mary Dell loved Lydia Dale too much for that. And another girl, desperate for her mother’s attention, might easily have turned rebellious and wild. But fortunately for Mary Dell, Taffy was not the only sun in her orbit.
When Taffy and Lydia Dale were off at pageants and Dutch was busy on the ranch, Mary Dell spent her weekends at the little house Silky and Velvet shared in town, adored but never coddled by those two worthy old women, especially Silky, who became her mother in all but biology. Silky was the one to whom Mary Dell turned for advice, encouragement, comfort, and womanly example. Mary Dell even adopted her grandmother’s colorful, countrified form of speech, replete with the old-time Texas sayings and exclamations that Taffy, who so wanted to be elegant, had expunged from her vocabulary. Silky loved Mary Dell with all her heart, and the feeling was mutual. That didn’t mean that Mary Dell, at some level, didn’t miss her mother’s affection and regard, but her grandmother’s love filled most of the gaps. And anyway, Mary Dell was never one to moan about things that couldn’t be helped. That was another thing she’d learned from her grandmother.
Mary Dell loved watching as Silky sat hunched over an ancient Singer Featherweight machine as she worked making dresses or doing alterations. Silky was a master seamstress. Taking in sewing kept her busy and was a supplement to the income she received from the ranch, which had shrunk since Dutch took over the running of the F-Bar-T.
In time, Mary Dell progressed from watching her grandmother to helping her. At the age of fifteen, she was designing and sewing her own clothes. At sixteen, her school guidance counselor asked if she’d given any thought to what she wanted to do after high school. Without a moment’s hesitation, Mary Dell answered.
“Oh, yes, ma’am. I’m going to open a dress boutique on the square. I’ll design and make everything myself. And I’m going to call it Mary Dell’s Too Cute Creations,” she said, lifting her hands and spreading them wide, as if she could already visualize the painted sign of her someday dress shop.
The counselor glanced at the girl’s transcript with its long list of Cs, the monotony broken by one B in algebra and one A in geometry. Mary Dell was a sweet girl but, the guidance counselor concluded, clearly not college material.
“Ambition is a fine thing to have. But it’s always good to leave yourself open to the possibilities. Why don’t you take a look at this?” She smiled and handed Mary Dell a brochure for a trade school that offered bookkeeping courses.
The counselor underestimated Mary Dell, but that’s understandable. Mary Dell had not yet bloomed into the full flower of her personality and grit. It would take another fifteen years for that to occur. Back then, Mary Dell was still just a girl, consumed by dreams, as easily distracted by fancies and flirtations as any other, perhaps more so. After all, other girls were not Tudmores. Other girls were not subject to the ungovernable influences of the Fatal Flaw.
Mary Dell met Donny Bebee at the county fair in August of 1970.
The fair was always an exciting time for the residents of Too Much, a week of leisure and entertainment for folks who could afford little of either. And for the Templetons, this year’s fair held special promise. Lydia Dale was competing for the title of Miss Limestone County. If she won, she would earn the right to go to Fort Worth and compete for the title of Miss Texas.
For the previous eight years, all of Taffy’s maternal energies had been focused on bringing Lydia Dale to this moment. Taffy was in a tizzy, and who could blame her? On the long list of things that Texans revere—the Alamo, quarterbacks, good barbecue, and the Lone Star flag—beauty queens figure right near the top. And the girl who wins the Miss Texas crown is more than a conqueror, more than a beauty queen, for though her claim to the title lasts only a year, from the moment that tiara touches her head, the woman christened Miss Texas is transformed for life, a monarch for the ages, Rio Grande royalty.
Mary Dell was excited for her twin, as well, and proud that Lydia Dale had asked her to sew her dress for the evening gown competition. The full-skirted, starlight-white-satin gown, with a scoop neckline and 150 turquoise bugle beads hand-stitched to the smooth bodice, was made up according to her sister’s exact instructions.
Mary Dell worried that the gown was too sedate to catch the judge’s eye, but she was certain that no other contestant’s dress would be better made, just as she was sure that no dress in the Homemade Fashions competition could possibly outshine her entry. Mary Dell had labored over every detail of the design and construction of her entry and couldn’t wait to model her creation at the 4-H fashion show later that afternoon.
Mary Dell had been praying about this day for weeks—that His Will Be Done, of course, but humbly pointing out to the Almighty how perfectly perfect it would be if His plans meshed with hers. There was no harm in making a suggestion, was there? And if everything went the way Mary Dell prayed, she and Lydia Dale would haul home the top honors from the fair—honors that could launch them into enchanted futures. Lydia Dale might end up in Fort Worth at the Miss Texas pageant and then on to real foreign realms like Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the Miss America Pageant. And for Mary Dell, a place she could visualize more clearly than ever—a shop on Main Street with a big picture window. And around the block she could see the line of women who had traveled hundreds of miles, from all over Texas, and were willing to stand patiently for hours for the chance to buy a Mary Dell original. It could happen, couldn’t it? Good things had to happen to somebody, after all. Why not her?
Taffy and Lydia Dale hauled four suitcases filled with clothes, high heels, every sort of undergarment known to womankind, makeup, tweezers, eyelash curlers, blow-dryers, curling irons, hairbrushes, teasing combs, and six cans of Aqua Net hair spray into the auditorium. Dutch was off to the midway in search of deep-fried food and a shooting range. Mary Dell, with the garment bag containing her dress held high so it wouldn’t wrinkle, headed to the 4-H pavilion.
As she passed the rodeo ring, a voice coming through a crackling loudspeaker was announcing the preliminary rounds of the bull riding competition. In a hurry and with her vision partially blocked by the garment bag, she didn’t see the stray horseshoe on the path. She tripped, accidentally knocking the hat off a cowboy who was walking by, and landed in a heap in the dirt. Before she could get to her feet, a big, calloused hand reached down to help her.
Mary Dell’s eyes traveled from the hand, down to a pair of black Justin boots, well-worn but polished, and up again to a pair of long legs in denim, past a shiny silver belt buckle as big as a pack of cards, to a slim torso clad in a clean white Western shirt, to a pair of broad shoulders and a handsome head topped with thick dark hair.
In truth, she couldn’t tell if the cowboy was handsome, not at first. When she looked up, the sun was so bright in her eyes that she couldn’t make out his features. Sunbeams radiated out from his dark halo of hair, leaving his face in silhouette, but from the sound of his voice and the way her heart was pounding in her chest, she figured he must be handsome. And when he reached down to pick up his black Stetson from where it had fallen, then put it back on his head, blocking out the sunlight, she saw it was true.
“Oh, my . . .” she said weakly.
The cowboy frowned, his dark eyes concerned. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” Mary Dell blushed. “Clumsy but fine.”
“One of the farriers must have dropped that horseshoe. They should be more careful.”
He picked up the garment bag, smiled, and handed it to her. His teeth were as straight as pickets in a new fence. And so white! She’d never seen a grown man with teeth so white.
The voice of the rodeo announcer came crackling through the loudspeaker. “Oh, my! That one hurt! But it was a good try by J. D. Hooper from Corpus Christi. Let’s give him a hand, folks. Up next, we’ll have young Graydon Bebee from Lubbock . . .”
The cowboy’s hea. . .
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