Those lips curled into a sexy smile, “I was hoping you had other things in mind.”

They kissed again, until they were both breathless. He tugged at her hem. “Maybe we should take this off.”

“I think we should.” She sat up a little, leaning on to his body for support, trying to wrestle off her top. But as he helped if off, the sleeve tugged on her cast, and she grunted.

He froze. “Wait, are you sure?” His body raged for her, aching for release after knowing such fear for her safety, but he didn’t want to do anything she wasn’t ready for. “I can wait.”

“But I can’t.” She held his gaze, the firelight casting gold light along the side of her face. “Billy, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”

His heart was full as he smiled at her. “Then I know what we need to do.” He rolled onto his back, and she gave a little surprised chirp as he swept her above him. “How about this?”

She gave him a naughty smile as she sat astride him, nestling him into just the right spot between her legs. “Mm. This.” She leaned down to steal a kiss. “This is good,” she whispered against his mouth. “There’s just one problem.”

“Is your arm hurting?” He gripped her hips, ready to swoop her back onto the floor.

“What arm?” She laughed, shaking her head. “Don’t worry, I promise it’s not the arm.” She swayed her hips, grinding into him. “The problem is, too many pants.”

He had to suck in a breath—he would not accidentally lose it in his uniform trousers like a teenager. “We’d best take care of this whole pants situation.”

They made quick work of the rest of their clothes, and when he pulled her back atop him, he remained seated, keeping her straddled, facing him on his lap. The fire had warmed the room, and the afghan fell from her shoulders. He swept his fingers up her naked back, lacing them into her hair, luxuriating in the weight of it in his hands. “I need you closer.”

He let those silky blond waves slide from his fingers and cradled her lovely face in his hands. “I’ll keep you close forever, Sorrow. If you’ll have me.”

And she did.

It was a gorgeous day for a festival, the sky a cloudless, robin’s egg blue. Spring snowmelt had the falls rushing, visible in peekaboo glimpses from the picnic grounds.

Sorrow felt someone come and stand at her shoulder. She knew without looking that it was her sister. Tucking hands in pockets, she leaned back into her.

Despite all their sisterly bickering and rivalry, when the shift finally happened in their relationship, it’d been a quiet one. She saw clearly now how the lodge was Laura’s place, and that it was Sorrow’s turn to spread her wings.

It was a giddy day when she’d handed over her management duties. Her big sister’s first order of business was putting Sorrow in charge of revamping the tavern menu. Dad had grumbled, but there was no arguing with a united front. As for Sully, he was as thrilled with the change as she was, claiming if he never baked another Prospector’s Pie, it’d be too soon.

She and Laura had been a team ever since, and the festival was the latest thing to benefit. It was still early in the day yet, but the festivities were already an obvious, unabashed hit. For a few minutes, the two of them simply stood there, watching in contented silence. Between Laura’s marketing savvy and Sorrow’s talent with people and cooking, it was shaping up to be the most successful event the town had ever seen.

Laura wrapped an arm around her, giving her arm a squeeze. “You done good, baby sis.”

“Me?” She edged away to catch Laura’s eye. “You were the one doing all the work behind the scenes. This festival never would’ve happened without you.” Sorrow raised a hand, silencing her sister’s protests. “Seriously. This whole town wasn’t the same without you. I was stupid not to see it sooner.”

Their moment was broken by screams and laughter swelling in the distance. “That’d be the pie toss,” Laura said, looking toward the games at the far edge of the field.

They caught sight of Ruby and Pearl Kidd headed their way, with Marlene and Sully walking several paces behind. The two were holding hands.

“Wonder what the old aunties think about it?”

Sorrow chuckled. “They probably think Marlene has become a fast woman.”

“Well, good on her,” Laura said. “We fast girls need to stick together.”

As they watched Marlene’s elderly entourage make their approach across the festival grounds, Sorrow whispered, “I’ll regret to my dying day that I didn’t get to see them the day I fell down that mine.”

“You missed it all right,” Laura said, stifling a giggle. “Those two ladies showed up like the SWAT team. They were quite a sight, speeding in, bouncing up and down on the bench of Marlene’s old pickup, Ruby with a fistful of historical survey maps.”

Sorrow had to dab tears of laughter from her eyes. “I think if Billy and Dad hadn’t found me, Pearl and Ruby would’ve tracked down the mine and rescued me themselves.”

“Don’t you know it. You should’ve seen Mom’s face. ‘Good Lord, it’s the Kidd ladies,’” Laura mimicked, her voice a high-pitched exclamation that made Sorrow laugh even harder. “The way they peeled into the driveway, I thought for sure they were going to take out the porch.”

“Shhh…” Sorrow said, trying to stop her convulsive laughter. They were headed their way. “They’ll hear you.”

“Congratulations to us!” Pearl exclaimed as they neared. “It’s a smash!”

Ruby nodded enthusiastically—she and her sister were practically beaming. “There’s record attendance, with both tourists and historians, too, from as far away as the Bay Area. I just wish Emerald were here to see it.”

Marlene greeted the Bailey sisters with kisses on cheeks. “How right you are. Ma would’ve loved this.”

Pearl interrupted with an impatient hand on Laura’s arm. “Did you know, I heard a reporter from the Sacramento Bee is here.”

“A reporter indeed,” Marlene said. She faced Laura. “That has you written all over it.”

“Could be.” Laura shrugged, but couldn’t conceal her smile. “I might’ve known someone who knew someone.”

Sorrow chimed in, “The biggest news seems to be how our ‘Buck Larsen Festival’ turned into the first annual Sierra Falls Gold Rush Women’s Festival instead.”

Laura met her eye. “Can’t hold a festival for someone who was a jerk.”

Sorrow gave her a knowing smile. “Thanks for seeing the light. I like the new theme we came up with.” At first, Laura had wanted to push the Buck Larsen affair, but in the end had trusted the youngest Bailey sister’s opinion on the matter.

Laura nudged her shoulder. “What man in his right mind leaves a woman named Sorrow anyway?”

The comment made her feel a little shyly self-conscious, and not in a bad way. Only now was she realizing how loved she was in Sierra Falls, and it was Billy who’d opened her eyes to it. Seeing the community from an outsider’s perspective, she recognized just how precious Sierra Falls was. And with its snowcapped peaks on the horizon, the lakes and the wildlife, the rush of the falls in spring, and those fragrant pines so thick all around, she saw with new eyes just how glorious her home was.

The mountains were in her blood. She wasn’t trapped in the town, rather she carried the town inside her, in her heart. She felt connected to Sierra Falls, just as she felt connected to her thrice-great-grandmother. Sorrow Crabtree had been a woman, just like her, trying to find love and go her own way.

She held Laura’s gaze a moment, before telling her, “It was a stroke of genius dedicating this to pioneer women.”

“Except”—Sully spoke up, nodding toward one of the booths—“your father is over there complaining that you didn’t bake enough for the cakewalk.”

Everyone laughed, and Laura clapped her on the shoulder. “Dad’s become her biggest fan.”

She shrugged, no longer bothering to temper her smile. “Go figure.”

“So Bear finally saw the light,” Marlene said. “It’s about time.”

“And more power to her,” Sully said. He looked at Sorrow with pride in his eyes. “The new head chef of the Thirsty Bear Tavern—it’s about time, girl.”

Their regular diners had all heard the news, too. It was hard to miss, seeing as Dad had taken to swaggering around the place, bragging about his youngest daughter’s cooking and how folk better make a reservation now because they’re booked solid through the month with her installed as their new head chef—and he always stressed the word chef, as though he were actually speaking French or something.

“I’m all too happy to say good-bye to burgers for a while.” Sully nestled Marlene closer. “The Harley is already in the shop getting tuned. Me and Marlene, we’re going to take a tour come June. Maybe ride up to Oregon.”

“You’ll be too busy to miss us,” Marlene said with a wink, implying more than just her kitchen duties.

Sorrow would never forget the day her parents announced their intentions to her. “You’re going to cook,” Dad had told her. “Every day of the week, if you want.”

It was such an abrupt attitude shift, she didn’t entirely believe it. “I thought you were upset, you know, thinking the oven got ruined on my watch.”

“The oven? Aw hell, girl. Everyone knows the fire was that damned Dabney’s fault. Screw the oven.” His gruff voice had turned ragged with emotion. “I could’ve lost you in that fire.”