The sentiment had humbled her. And honestly, it’d shocked her, too. Something had happened that day at the mine. And part of the credit was owed to Billy, who’d had her father pegged all along.
“You’re our baby,” her mother had added.
Dad agreed—and it’d been tantamount to an emotional outburst. “We rely on you. We already have one kid so far away.” His face had twisted up funny when he’d said that last bit. If it’d been any other man, the expression would’ve looked angry, but with her father, she knew, it was deep emotion he masked.
Even her mom was chiming in more than usual. She’d interrupted, saying, “What your father is trying to tell you is that we rely on you. How would we—how would I—have managed without you?” Mom gave Dad a chastising look. “I guess your father has held on to the past too tightly. Maybe he thought that a firm grip would keep you from running off like your siblings did.”
“I’m not running anywhere. I just want to be given credit. Given responsibility.”
Her father gave a gruff nod, visibly struggling with something. “It’s been hard. The stroke.”
“Oh, Daddy.” She reached for him then, and he wrapped her in his arms. “It must be hard. Just because you’re not out there chopping wood every morning doesn’t mean you’re not as strong, or as vital, or as important to us as before.”
He’d given her a pat on the shoulder as they parted, looking uncomfortable at the sudden roiling emotions. “Fine then. You run a tight kitchen. Now get to it. Lunch crowd will be coming soon.”
And that’d been that.
Sully’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Only makes good sense,” he was saying. “Nobody packs the tavern with hungry diners like Sorrow here.”
“And you taught her everything you know, didn’t you?” Marlene took his arm. “Though it’s a wonder Bear didn’t see what was going on under his own nose. What a shock about Dabney.”
“I guess Damien will get his shot at the helm of Simmons Timber sooner rather than later,” Sorrow said. “His dad can’t exactly run the company from prison, can he?”
“Just what we need,” Laura said, not bothering to conceal her scowl. “Another Simmons male sitting on the throne.”
Sorrow was quick to correct her. “Don’t count Damien out yet. There’s a good guy in there—he’ll find his way out.”
“Speaking of changes…” Marlene’s gaze drifted across the grass to her grandson as he spread out a picnic blanket for him and his date. “Did you hear the news? Craig is headed to Chicago after graduation. Decided to go Navy. Said he was tired of being landlocked.” She sighed.
“It’s a good life.” Sully tucked her arm more snugly in his, ignoring the scandalized glances Pearl and Ruby shot their way. “He’s ready, Marlene. He’s a man.”
Marlene patted his hand, gratitude in her eyes. Those two made a great couple.
She glanced at her big sister to share a look, but when she saw those wickedly narrowed eyes, she braced herself.
Boyfriend. Billy was so much more than just a boyfriend. He’d become her world. She’d have loved nothing more than to have him there for the entire day, but he was the sheriff, and his responsibilities never took a day off. And though they hadn’t been together long, their bond was a powerful one. It was as though she felt him out there, their two hearts connected, no matter where they were.
But instead of saying all that, she just gave a casual shrug. “Once he saw the booths were all up and running, he said he had some quick department business to attend to.”
It wasn’t until later that afternoon that Sorrow got a taste of just what that pressing business was.
He hated leaving Sorrow’s side on her big day. But it was just for a little while. And it was necessary.
Because Billy had a ring to pick up in Silver City.
He’d cut the timing close, but he wanted everything to be perfect—perfect size, perfect fit—when he presented it to Sorrow. And man, that ring was just right.
He’d known the moment he saw it in the jewelry store window. It was an antique, a diamond surrounded by tiny sapphires in an engraved platinum setting. It was delicate and exquisite, but strong and solid, too. Not over the top. Nothing pretentious or splashy—a classic.
As Sorrow Crabtree’s great-great-great-granddaughter and namesake, she’d been asked to join some of the other women in donning period dresses for the late afternoon supper show. A number of townsfolk had gotten into the spirit, dressing up like pioneers and prospectors from gold rush days. Everyone had migrated from the picnic grounds to the hall to enjoy the rousing music and saloon dance numbers just like the elder Sorrow might have performed.
Little did the audience know, they were about to get an even better show than they’d bargained for.
Unable to resist Sorrow and her enthusiasm in the days before the festival, he’d found an old-time sheriff’s costume online. And, he had to admit, he felt like quite the badass clinking around the festival in his new spurs.
They’d talked around marriage, so he had an inkling he’d find a willing partner. Lately, though, he’d been avoiding the subject. Not because he was no longer interested, but because he’d wanted to keep his surprise.
His smile was wide, watching her laugh and fake her way through the old-time dance hall moves. For someone whose sense of responsibility and commitment to hard work and family was so hardwired, Sorrow sure did know how to experience joy. And the pleasure she took in her cooking was just the start of it. She embraced life with an easy, natural immediacy that’d paved the way for him to engage in his own life once more.
The number ended, and for a moment he lost sight of her amidst the milling, cheering crowd. He searched for her, and he knew a funny spurt of discontent until his eyes found her again, standing at the edge of the stage.
The buzzing of the audience came to him as though through a tunnel. She was the reason he was there, happily wearing a silly getup with a diamond ring in his pocket.
He watched her, feeling calmed and contented by the very sight of her. Someone in the crowd had shouted something, and she was smiling down, one part of a three-way conversation that included June Harlan at the piano. Sorrow was openhearted, generous, thoughtful, down-to-earth, and quick to smile…everyone in town loved her. How he got to be the lucky man who got to keep her was beyond him.
And she was the one. His heart was clear of all doubts on that score. He wondered if, in the deepest part of his soul, he hadn’t known it all along. Sorrow had renewed that part of him he’d lost after Keri’s death—that inner wellspring that he’d thought had died had simply been temporarily dried out, now replenished by her presence in his life.
She was the gift he thought he’d never receive—a chance at a second chapter. And this time, it was a love more profound than any he’d ever known, because he understood now just how precious, how valuable was such a treasure.
He couldn’t stand it any longer. He went to her, parting the crowd as he made his way across the floor. The clink of his spurs amused him, widening the smile on his face.
He leapt up onto the stage and took her hand, distantly aware how the room had begun to hush.
She beamed. “Hey, stranger! There you are. I’ve been wondering—”
As he got down on one knee, the crowd gasped and the words froze on her lips.
An elderly voice exclaimed, “I knew it!” It’d been one of the Kidd sisters—Pearl maybe. Laughs followed. Other voices chimed in, cheering him on.
He didn’t give any of them a second thought. His eyes were only for his Sorrow. The silence became complete.
He smiled up at her, so pretty and flushed from her dancing. Tendrils of curling blond hair had sprung free, framing her face. She was a vision.
She met his eyes, looking a combination of bewildered and thrilled. He could see from the tight bodice of her old-fashioned dress how her breath stuttered, caught.
He sighed as something unclenched in his own chest—she would say yes. She would be his, forever.
Calm and sure, he gave her hands a squeeze. He cleared his throat. “Sorrow Ann Bailey, would you do me the honor of becoming my bride?”
Whoops and whistles exploded through the hall. He heard Bear somewhere in the crowd boasting how he had a lawman in the family now.
She laughed and cried, nodding away, her eyes serious but her expression light. She was radiant—joyful and tearful and so perfectly herself. “Yes, yes,” she repeated. “Yes.”
That one word reverberated through his soul. He’d thought to be discreet—he was the town sheriff after all—but he couldn’t help it. He stood and sealed it with a kiss.
His next words were whispered for her ears alone. He knew how she longed to see the world, and he had to let her know she was free to do just that. He wanted nothing more than for Sorrow to follow her heart, and he’d happily follow her till the ends of the earth. All he needed was home, and that was right by her side. “We can go anywhere,” he told her. “Live anywhere. I’d even go back to the city, if that’s what you wanted. You name it.”
She cupped a hand on his cheek, and her touch was electric, crackling straight to the core of him. Those blue-green eyes connected with his, and the last ache in his heart melted away. “We’ll travel,” she said. “But I always want to come home with you. To Sierra Falls.”