Spring was Waylon's favorite season, when the wildflowers painted the Palo Duro Canyon with their brilliant colors. That evening, the last rays of sun lit up the red Indian paintbrush, almost the same color as the dress Shiloh was wearing. The centers of the black-eyed Susans reminded him of her dark hair, and the blue bonnets scattered here and there were the color of her eyes.
"Wildflower Ranch," he whispered and liked the way it rolled off his tongue. He'd been looking for a brand for his new ranch ever since he bought it. "I like it. Wildflower Ranch," he said again with a nod, and just like that, he'd named his place.
Since most of his friends were married, Waylon had been to lots of weddings. Like always, he found a corner where he could watch the people without having to mingle with them. He wasn't really shy or backward, but though he didn't like crowds he did like watching people. And he liked to dance some leather off his boots at the Sugar Shack, the local watering hole, on Saturday nights.
Shiloh breezed in and out of the house, appearing under the porch light to talk to someone for a few minutes, and then disappearing for a little while, only to return again. She looked different from the way she did at Ezra's funeral not quite three months ago. That day Waylon had stood off to the side as the sisters arrived one by one. Abby Joy was the last one to get there, and she looked like she had just left a military exercise in her camouflage. Shiloh might have come from a rodeo in her western getup, and Bonnie could have been a biker's woman in black leather and sporting a nose ring and tattoo. At that time he had wondered if Ezra hadn't been right when he sent all of them away right after they were born.
But ever since that morning, he hadn't been able to get Shiloh out of his mind.
Now there were only two sisters in the running to inherit the Malloy Ranch—Shiloh and Bonnie. When the sisters first came to the canyon, Waylon would have sworn that Shiloh would be the first to leave. Bonnie would follow her within a week, and Abby Joy would be there until they buried her beside old Ezra in the Malloy family cemetery right there on the ranch.
He'd sure been wrong, because that very evening Abby Joy had married his good friend Cooper and moved off Malloy ranch and over to his place. It wasn't the first time Waylon had been wrong, and it most likely wouldn't be the last time, either. He watched the two remaining Malloy sisters out of the corner of his eye. Shiloh was the taller of the two and had long dark brown hair.
In her cowboy boots and tight jeans at her father's funeral, she had looked like she was the queen of Texas. Maybe that confidence and sass was what had drawn him to her from the beginning. Not that he'd act on the attraction, not when there was so much at stake for her. Ezra had left a will behind, saying that the three sisters had to live on the Malloy Ranch together for a year. If one of them left, then they received an inheritance, but they could never have the ranch. If none of them left, then they inherited the place jointly. If they all moved off Ezra's massive spread, then Rusty, his foreman, inherited it.
Waylon had always thought that deep down Ezra wanted Rusty to have the place anyway. He'd just brought the sisters together to satisfy his own conscience for sending them away at birth because they weren't sons.
Waylon was a patient man. He didn't mind sitting back in the shadows of the wide porch and waiting for another look at Shiloh in that dress that hugged her curves. When she came back again, he sat up a little straighter so he could get a better view of her. The full moon lit her eyes up that evening like beautiful sapphires. His pulse jacked up a few notches and his heart threw in an extra fast beat. He could only imagine what kissing her or holding her in his arms would feel like—but he sure liked the picture in his head when he did.
The reception had started in the house and then poured out onto the porch and yard. That's where Shiloh was headed right then. She met up with Bonnie, and the two of them talked with their hands, gesturing toward the house and then back at the piano under a big scrub oak.
Maybe they were trying to figure out how to get the piano back inside. Waylon would be glad to help them with that, just to be near Shiloh for a little while. The chairs that had been arranged in two rows for the wedding were now scattered here and there, and Shiloh picked up one with each hand and carried them from the yard to the porch.
"Need some help?" Waylon asked when she was close enough that the porch light lit up her beautiful eyes. Ezra Malloy's three daughters hadn't gotten a physical thing from him, except the color of his eyes, and even then they were all three slightly different shades of blue.
"Hey, what are you doing hiding back here?" Bonnie, the youngest Malloy sister, pulled up a chair and sat down beside him.
"Just watching the people," Waylon answered. "You look right pretty tonight, Bonnie. When I first saw you at Ezra's funeral, you looked like maybe you were into motorcycles."
"I might have been, but they cost way too much money for me to own one. My boyfriend had one back in Harlan." Bonnie sighed. "If I'd known Abby Joy was going to wear combat boots, I would have worn my comfortable lace-up biker boots." She kicked off her shoes. "He bought me the jacket and boots, and then we broke up. He didn't want me to come out here to Texas when Ezra died. He said I was too wild to live on a ranch. I'm proving him wrong." She stopped, as if waiting for him to say something, but she hadn't asked a question. After a few seconds she went on, "Have you ever been a groomsman before? This was my first time ever to be a bridesmaid."
"No," he answered. "I've been to a lot of weddings, but I'm not usually one for big crowds."
Shiloh pushed the front door open and motioned to her sister. "Bonnie, come on. Abby Joy is getting ready to throw the bouquet."
Bonnie got up, but Waylon stayed in his chair. Shiloh's high-heeled shoes made a clicking noise on the wooden porch as she crossed it, and she crooked a finger at Waylon. "You too, cowboy. Cooper is about to take Abby Joy's garter off, and he's calling for all single men."
"Oh, no!" Waylon held up both palms. "I don't want that thing."
"I'm not catching that bouquet either. I'm superstitious, and I refuse to be the next bride in the canyon," Bonnie said. "I'm going to own a ranch in nine months. I sure don't have time for romance."
"You'll own the Malloy ranch over my dead body." Shiloh did a head wiggle. "The best you'll ever do is share it with me."
"Wanna bet?" Bonnie stopped at the door.
Shiloh stuck out her hand. "Twenty bucks?"
"How about a hundred and a bottle of good Kentucky bourbon?" Bonnie asked.
"Deal!" Shiloh shook with her.
Waylon didn't have a doubt in his mind that Bonnie would be forking over money and bourbon. Next to Abby Joy, he'd never met a woman as determined as Shiloh—or as sassy for that matter.
Shiloh surprised him when she grabbed his hand and tugged. "Come on. You can put your hands in your pockets, but you're one of the wedding party. It wouldn't be right for you not to be in on the garter toss."
He stood up, thinking she'd drop his hand, but she didn't. Sparks flittered around the porch like fireflies on a summer night. Sure, Waylon had been attracted to Shiloh since the first time he laid eyes on her, but this tingly feeling was something he'd never felt before.
She led him into the foyer, where the men were gathered over toward one end. Abby Joy was sitting about halfway up the stairs, and Cooper had begun to run his hand up her leg, searching for the garter. When he found the blue satin and white lace thing, he slipped it slowly down to her ankle. Whoops and hollers filled the room from the guys who were gathered up in a corner with their hands up. They were putting on quite a show for the lady who was filming, but then the garter wouldn't stretch far enough to go over Abby Joy's combat boot. The noise died down slightly as Cooper slowly untied the strings, pulled her boot off, and then slowly removed the garter from her foot. It got loud again when Cooper turned around backward and threw it over his shoulder. Several of the young unmarried men did their best to catch it, but it flew right past them and floated down to settle onto the top of Waylon's black cowboy hat.
"Guess you're next in line, buddy." Cooper laughed.
There was no doubt that Cooper was talking to him, and all the guys around him were laughing and pointing. He brought his hands out of his pockets and held them up to show that he had nothing. "Can't be me," Waylon said. "Which one of y'all is hiding it and teasing me?"
Shiloh reached up, removed Waylon's hat, and showed him the garter, lying there in the creases. He wanted to pick the thing up and toss it to one of the other guys, but he was mesmerized by her beautiful blue eyes, which were staring right into his.
"Fate says that you're next," she said.
"Not damn likely," he drawled.
She picked up the garter and handed him back his hat. "Give me your arm. The photographer will want a picture of you and Cooper, since you caught the garter."
He held out his arm and she stretched the blue lace garter up past his elbow. Then she held up his arm like he'd just won the trophy at a wrestling tournament. "The winner and the next groom in the canyon is Waylon Stephens!"
He played along, more to get to be near Shiloh than anything else. There was no way he'd be the next married man in the area. The only woman he was vaguely interested in was Shiloh, and he'd never knock her out of getting her share of Ezra Malloy's ranch. Maybe after she'd secured the deed, he'd ask her for a date, but not before. She'd never forgive herself—or him—if she lost her part of the ranch, and besides, as pretty as she was, she was way out of his league.
"And now the bouquet," Abby Joy said. "All you ladies get your hands up and"— she turned around backward—"here it comes." She let it fly, and it landed smack in Bonnie's hands.
"Someone take this thing from me, right now. I can't get married or leave the ranch. It would cost me a hundred dollars and a bottle of Kentucky bourbon." Bonnie tried to hand it off to the other girls, but none of them would touch it.
After the photographer took a few pictures, Waylon took a few steps back and disappeared outside again into the shadows on the porch. He'd prove them all wrong about being the next man to get married, but Bonnie wouldn't. Shiloh was going to own that ranch. Bonnie might as well face it.
The hinges on the gate into the old cemetery creaked as Shiloh opened it. She crossed over to the place where the father she had never known was buried and sat down on a concrete bench in front of his grave. A full moon lit up the lettering on her father's gray tombstone. Ezra Malloy had died less than three months ago on the first day of the year. It seemed like it had been a lot longer since she and her two sisters had sat through his graveside service. She remembered looking over at her soldier sister and thinking that she had some balls, wearing camouflage and combat boots to a funeral. Then she'd glanced to her other side to see the younger sister. She was dressed in jeans and a biker jacket and had a little diamond stud in the side of her nose. Her blond hair was limp, and what wasn't stringing down to her shoulder had a thin braid complete with beads that hung down one side of her face. In her skintight jeans and biker books, she looked like she'd dropped right out of either a hippie colony or motorcycle convention.
Shiloh had given Sister Hippie a week at the most before she'd go running back to whatever strange world she'd come from, and Sister Soldier less than a month before she was bored to death. Shiloh was going to be the last one standing at the end of a year, by damn, and nothing or no one was going to sweet-talk her off that ranch. The only thing she ever owned was the Chevy SUV that she drove. She wanted that ranch—first, to prove to the father she never knew that she could learn the business. The second reason had to do with her being so competitive. She was determined to show her two half-sisters that she couldn't be run off. They'd both eyed her that first day like she would be the weakling of the trio. Neither of them looked like they could possibly be her sister, but she'd been wrong. Not only were they sisters, but they'd also become best friends by spring.
Shiloh brushed a dead leaf from the skirt of the bright red satin dress she'd worn to her older sister's wedding that evening. The canyon was alive with wildflowers of every color and description, but the night was chilly, so she'd worn a long sweater over her dress for her walk from the house to the cemetery.