By: Mary Calmes

“Stef, no one can get things done like you can. Getting buy-ins from all parties is your strong suit. You close like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

“I don’t close; it’s not closing. It’s getting signatures.”

I would have had to be stupid not to realize that I had a way with people, but still, I had no idea what that had to do with what we were talking about. I had not done any research, so I had no way of knowing what was best for the community, and I didn’t want to lie and act like I did. I always operated from the premise that what I was doing was actually in the buyers’ and sellers’ best interest, but in this case, I couldn’t honestly make that claim.


“I really don’t think this is a good idea.”

Knox’s smile was wide as he sighed heavily. “I promise you that it’s possibly the best idea I’ve ever had.”

I stared at him.

He waggled his eyebrows at me.

“I really hate you.”

“No,” he said, leaning back in the chair to look at me. “You’d take a bullet for me if it came down to it. You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever met in my life.”

I groaned, letting my head fall back, raking my fingers through my hair. “You don’t think sending a gay man to Texas is suicide?”

“You were going already, which is why I thought of you. It was like the answer to my prayers.”

“I’m going for a wedding, not to talk to ranchers.”

“You said your friend’s brother was a rancher.”

“Yeah, and we don’t talk. In fact, he hates me, and I hate him right back.”

“Well, un-hate him, because you might need his help,” Knox suggested.

I groaned loudly. “That’s not even possible.”

Knox grinned at me. “Sounds like maybe you like him.”

“That’s it, I’m not going. Fire me, but I’m not going.”

“You people are so dramatic.”

“‘You people’?” I repeated, aghast.

He sighed loudly.

I gave him a look, and he snorted out a laugh.

“Gay in Texas is an oxymoron.”

“Just don’t have a pride parade or anything.”

“Oh God.”

“And make sure you don’t take your rainbow flag.”

“I don’t own a rainbow flag,” I growled at him.

Knox started laughing.

“Shit, don’t they have the Klan there or something?”

More laughter that was harder and louder.

“I don’t have the wardrobe for the country.”

Knox’s head fell back, and he laughed so hard he could barely breathe. At least one of us thought it was funny. I was not amused at all.

Chapter 2

I ENJOYED the afternoon visiting before my best friend’s four-day wedding extravaganza weekend for a full ten minutes before I saw her brother leaning against the bar, looking out of place and uncomfortable, talking with the groom-to-be.

“Oh my God, Char,” Tina Jacobs said from the other side of me. “How did you get your brother off that ranch of his on a Tuesday?”

I turned slowly to look at my friend Charlotte Holloway.

“Oh look.” She forced a smile. “Rand’s here. Isn’t that great, Stef?”

I just stared at her.

She smiled wider.

I scowled.

“Okay, fine,” she said sharply, because she felt guilty, and we both knew it. “I lied. My brother will in fact be at my wedding.” She grabbed my bicep tightly, making sure I couldn’t go anywhere. “But this weekend isn’t about you, it’s about me and Ben. You’re not here for fun; you’re here to keep us both sane.”

I shot her a look.

“Stefan Michael Joss,” she snapped, using my whole name, which she never did. “You will stop being annoyed this instant! This is my wedding, for crissakes!”

But she had sworn up, down, and sideways that her brother and I would not cross paths. If she had never brought it up, I would have prepared myself, but as it was, I thought he had to stay home and brand something or round something up or shoot something.

“Like I was really going to get married without Rand. How is that even possible? He’s the head of my family, Stef.”