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The Cowboy and the Girl in the Pink Party Dress

Written by Caro Carson

Chapter Twenty

In the safety of Clay Cooper’s arms, Peggy spilled the history of her love life. Confiding in him was a bittersweet comfort. She could have fallen in love with Clay so easily, only he wasn’t just a cowboy but also a rodeo man himself.

“Can I have your phone number?” he asked.

Hadn’t he just listened to her tale? Didn’t he understand that she wasn’t going to get involved with a man who lived that traveling lifestyle again?

“I wrote my number in your yearbook once, but you never called.” She softened her words with a smile.

“It took me all summer to work up the courage. By the time I called, it was too late. Your line was disconnected. I’m all grown up now, and not very shy. I promise I will call you every day.”

Peggy’s heart hurt at the temptation.

“Every day,” he repeated. “I came back to live with my uncle Joe this spring. He had a stroke and needed someone to be around. I’ve been working at the River Mack ranch for months now, not traveling to rodeos.”

But this wasn’t Peggy’s first rodeo—or rodeo man. She knew men like Clay. They swore they could settle down, but they never did. “And how long is left on the contract you signed with the River Mack?”

He looked away as they danced. “Three more weeks, but I’ve been thinking about giving up the rodeo.”

She stopped him with her palm on his tuxedo lapel. “Don’t, Clay. I appreciate the words, but I’ve learned the hard way that words aren’t the same thing as action.”

He looked her in the eye at that. “Three weeks, Peggy. Give me those three weeks to prove some cowboys still wear white hats.”

#

He called her every single day.

Peggy had already had one cowboy tell her all the right words, though. Clay threw himself into being the cowboy who had all the deeds to back them up.

He stopped by his mother’s house with Peggy, hoping that when he picked up tomatoes from his mother’s garden, Peggy would see that he had roots in Austin. When a client canceled its company Fourth of July party, he’d grilled steaks while Peggy and Janet had frantically tried to find a way to pay the bills, which meant he’d also been there when a bride had called the same day to ask if Precious Moments could turn the canceled party into a patriotic wedding instead. He’d popped the cork on the champagne when they’d found out the bride’s sister was a movie star. Their business would be in high demand after having a star of her caliber at their event.

Clay rode the elevator to the rooftop venue in downtown Austin, ready to surprise Peggy with the biggest changes of all. He adjusted his tie. No tuxedo—he was only here as a guest, but Peggy didn’t know that yet.

Perhaps he wasn’t a great guest, since he was skipping the ceremony to catch Peggy alone before the reception. Three weeks had been long enough—or rather, fifteen years and three weeks had been long enough—for him to know that he wanted to marry Peggy Winston, but Clay was nervous. He adjusted his tie again.

The elevator doors opened, and Clay walked onto the rooftop terrace of the high-rise, transformed now into a red, white and blue version of cowboy glamour. In the middle of it, with her arms full of white ribbons, stood a beautiful woman in pink. Hisbeautiful woman in pink.

“Oh, Clay!” She sounded more distressed than surprised to see him. “They were out of white ribbons. They sent me ivory and ecru instead. Which do you think will work best?”

All his grand gestures had to wait. Ivory and ecru were important to Peggy, and that meant they were important to him—and if Clay had needed any final proof that he’d found the right woman to marry, well, there it was.

Hours later, when the cake had been cut, the city of Austin filled the sky with fireworks. Clay carried two champagne flutes as he worked his way through the guests, looking for a pink dress. When he found Peggy, tears were running down her face.

He set the flutes down and wiped her cheek with his thumb. “What’s wrong?”

To his relief, she smiled. It was a wobbly smile, but a smile. “I met Travis, your ranch foreman. He said you’d just signed another six-month contract.”

“I did. That made you cry?”

“Not at all. But just now I overheard some of these Texas Rescue guys talking about how the vacancy on one of the firetrucks just got filled. By you.”

Clay wiped her last tear away. “The volunteer contract is for a full year.”

“And then what?”

Clay adjusted his tie. “That depends on other people.”

“Like Uncle Joe?”

“Well, that’s one of them. I’m staying until Uncle Joe doesn’t need me anymore. Whether that takes a month or a year or five years isn’t up to me.”

Fireworks lit the sky on the opposite side of the building, so as the guests moved that way, Clay walked Peggy to the opposite corner, a quiet spot with a view of the city. “The question, my beautiful Peggy, is where will you be in five years? Because that’s where I want to be.”

“Oh, Clay.” Her tears started again, but Clay couldn’t wipe them away this time, because he lowered himself to one knee.

“No other woman has ever felt so right. You’ve always had a little sacred piece of my heart, the one reserved for first love and boyhood dreams. But the rest of my heart could use you, too. You’re the woman I love.”

He pulled the little velvet box out of his pocket. “I know you’re not crazy about weddings. If you don’t want to plan a big wedding, that’s all right with me. It’s the marriage that I’m interested in. You’re the woman I want to build a forever with. Peggy Winston, will you marry me…in whatever kind of ceremony makes you happy?”

As Peggy said yes, fireworks lit up the city sky above their little corner of the roof.

Two weeks later, Peggy wore her favorite pink dress to a little chapel in Las Vegas. With her first love by her side, she watched fireworks once more fill the night sky, marking the beginning of her happily-ever-after as Mrs. Clay Cooper.

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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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