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The Cowboy and the Girl in the Pink Party Dress

Written by Caro Carson

Rodeo cowboy Clay Cooper has been a groomsmen dozens of times, so he doesn’t think much of it when an old high school friend asks him to be in his wedding. What he didn’t expect was to spot an eye-catching blonde in a pink dress that has him thinking of his old Uncle Joe’s advice to “go out and find yourself a nice girl to marry…”

Peggy Winston has sworn off cowboys after a long line of romantic disasters culminated in a called-off wedding. But when the first cowboy to ever break her heart shows up as a groomsman in the wedding she’s working, Peggy must decide if she’ll take a second chance on forever.

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Chapter One

“Always the groomsman, never the groom.”

The cluster of cowboys in tuxedos chuckled as they waited for their cue to enter the church.

Clay Cooper nodded in polite agreement. The saying fit him as well as anyone. He’d been a groomsman every single June since high school graduation. Now here he was, a full ten years since that first stint in a rented tuxedo, waiting again for the same old ceremony that never started on time.

If he’d learned anything in ten years of standing up for his friends, it was that brides had fixed ideas about how their weddings should look. Today’s bride had apparently envisioned cowboys for her Austin wedding, despite the fact that her groom knew electronics, not horses. Crisp black cowboy hats had been delivered with the tuxes. Since the wedding was inside a church, the men wouldn’t be wearing them. The hats were just a decoration, something to be held in one hand during the ceremony, a nonsensical prop to satisfy the whim of a bride.

Brides and their whims. Last June, Clay had served as the groomsman for a friend who’d seriously supported his bride’s objection that a ribbon was ecru instead of ivory. Clay couldn’t fathom the kind of love that made a man agree that something nonsensical was necessary—which, of course, was the reason Clay was always the groomsman and never the groom.

The wedding planner lined up the men in height order as they waited in the minister’s office. They’d entered the office through one door from the parking lot. They’d leave through a door that led directly into the front of the sanctuary, following the groom like ducklings to take their place in front of the altar with useless hats in hand.

The groom, Alvan, stood obediently by the sanctuary door with his brother. They weren’t cowboys, but they had been born and raised here in Austin, Texas. Still, they held their Stetsons with white knuckles.

Clay, as the tallest, came next. Given that he’d spent every day of his twenty-eight years either on a ranch or working a rodeo, he couldn’t be called anything but a cowboy. He tapped the black Stetson against his thigh impatiently.

Beside him, the second-tallest groomsman was the most hungover of the bunch, which didn’t keep the idiot quiet.

“Never the groom,” the hungover man repeated. “Thank God for that. Amen, boys. Am I right?”

Perhaps he wasn’t hungover as much as he was still drunk. Either way, he was oblivious to the minister’s glare. Clay clapped his free hand briefly on the groomsman’s shoulder, a silent but friendly enough warning to stay cool.

They’d been assigned to share a hotel room this wedding weekend. Clay knew the groom from high school. This groomsman, Brad Something-or-Other, was Alvan’s friend from somewhere else. Judging by the way he’d put his Stetson on backward at the hotel, good ol’ Brad was from somewhere that was a long way from any ranch.

Brad punched Clay on the arm. “Better to be the groomsman. All that fine bridesmaid action and none of the lifelong commitment. Lifelong, man. Lifelong. Even after the divorce, there’s alimony. My God, no woman is worth that.”

Clay clamped his hand on Brad’s shoulder again, hard this time, and kept it there. Hungover or drunk, cowboy or city slicker, there was no excuse for being an ass at another man’s wedding. Poor Alvan already looked about as stressed out as a groom could look.

Clay turned to the wedding planner, who was glued to her cell phone. “Is the bride at the church yet?”

She smiled up at him brightly. “The limo is just a few minutes away.”

Yeah, this wasn’t Clay’s first rodeo. They had at least fifteen minutes.

“Brad and I are going to catch some fresh air. We’ll be just outside.”

Clay pushed the second-tallest groomsman out of the minister’s office and into the blinding sun of Texas in June.

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I think few people would have predicted that I’d become an autho...

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Caro Carson

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