CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
"How about this one?" Lisa pulled a creamy satin gown from the rack where Ellie Donaldson was hanging the dresses she picked from all over her store for Morgan to try on. The minute she’d walked into Ellie’s Bridals, the white-haired woman had looked her over and bustled off to find just the thing. She’d laden the rack outside her dressing room with gowns and Morgan was having the time of her life climbing into each one, then coming out to stand on the pedestal in the center of the store and model for Lisa, Autumn and Claire.
"Don’t you think that’s too fancy for the wedding I’m having?"
Lisa frowned, and Morgan wanted to kick herself for the way she’d phrased that. Holt hadn’t been discharged from the hospital yet after his operation. Lisa had explained that normally he would have already been sent home, but he had other health complications, and he would need to remain in the hospital for several more weeks.
Accordingly, they’d decided to forego the fancy wedding Lisa had wanted to put on at the Matheson ranch. Instead, the ceremony and reception would be held in one of the meeting rooms at the hospital, so Holt could take part. The Cruzes and Mathesons would all be there, plus as many friends and relatives as they could fit in the medium-sized room. Morgan squelched another pang of disappointment. After all, she was hardly contributing to the guest list. Even her father had been non-committal so far about whether or not he could make the wedding.
She lifted her chin. None of that mattered. What did matter was she was marrying the man she loved and creating the life she wanted with him right here in Chance Creek. There would be other occasions to celebrate at the ranch.
"I like this one." Autumn pulled out an elegant, slim gown. Morgan reached for it and went into the changing room. As soon as she stepped into the dress, she knew it was the one. The fitted bodice plumped her breasts up high, and the skirt draped and clung to her legs. It was the most sensual piece of clothing she’d ever worn, without being immodest in any way. Almost devoid of decoration, the dress was a masterpiece, and she felt as lush and radiant wearing it as she did when she made love to Rob.
A smile curved her lips at the thought. Soon she’d have the right to make love to him for the rest of their lives. What a gift that was. The thought of all those nights ahead of her made her tingle all over.
"Come on out and show us," Claire called, breaking into her reverie. She turned and exited the small room, her smile widening when the others’ gasps told her all she needed to know.
"That’s definitely the one," Autumn said.
"No doubt about it," Lisa agreed.
Ellie nodded as if she’d known it all along.
* * * * *
Thursday evening, Rob was at Carl’s to put the final touches on Lacey’s garden. The walls were up, the pathways paved with stones, the beds built and planted and the fountain and statuary installed. Claire and Autumn had searched every garden store for miles finding shrubs, perennials and annuals, and they’d filled the boxes and borders as best they could given the time of year. Cab had promised to give everything a good dousing with water and make sure the pathways were swept before Carl’s final inspection.
Once Carl gave him his check, he’d head straight to the bank the minute it opened in the morning to deposit it so he could give Morgan her wedding gift. He was overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity. The garden had come together beautifully with so many hands ready to help. He couldn’t believe how many friends and neighbors – even acquaintances – had pulled together to get the job done when Claire put out the call.
He smiled over at Morgan who was picking fallen leaves out of a flower bed. The whole gang had decided to meet at Carl’s garden for the grand unveiling, as Autumn had started to call it. He hoped Carl didn’t mind. Since everyone had pitched in to work on it, they all felt invested in the outcome. Already people were spilling into the garden, and Carl’s driveway was full of cars.
Autumn and Ethan, Jamie and Claire, Cab, Jake, Ned and Luke. Even Rose and Tracey, and Bella and Hannah from the pet clinic had shown up. He went to greet them happily, until he caught sight of Claire’s face.
Uh-oh. Something was wrong.
"You won’t believe it," she said, hurrying up to him. "Lacey’s home early. Carl texted me to say he’s picking her up from the airport and they’ll be here in fifteen minutes."
"Thank goodness we got the garden done," Morgan said, coming up beside Rob and taking his hand.
"But the house isn’t done," Claire said. "Most of it is, but half of the furniture isn’t here and all the extra little touches. It’ll be like walking through an empty showhouse. Damn it, I worked so hard on that!"
"I’m sure she won’t mind," Morgan said.
"You don’t know Lacey," Claire and Rob said at the same time.
"I’m going to make sure everything’s as good as it can possibly be," Claire said, hurrying off.
"What do we do?" Morgan asked him.
"Wait, I guess."
* * * * *
So that was the infamous Lacey Taylor, Morgan thought as she watched Carl open the door to his luxury truck and offer his hand to a tall, thin, fashionable woman. She seemed dazed to find a whole group of people in her driveway – including her ex-fiancé – but Carl took things into hand.
"Folks, I appreciate you coming out, but I’d like to show Lacey around the house first before we head out to the garden. If you all will give us a few minutes, we’ll join you there shortly."
Claire hovered at the periphery of the crowd. Morgan thought she wasn’t sure whether to join Carl and Lacey or leave them alone. Carl spotted her, though, and seemed to realize her predicament.
"Lacey," he said, "I used Claire’s services for the interior design of our new home. Nothing but the best for my girl, eh?" He gave her a squeeze. "Would you like Claire to tour the house with us?"
"It’s not complete," Claire rushed to say, her normal confident tones weak with nerves. Morgan’s heart squeezed for her sister. She knew this particular contract meant a lot to her. "We thought we had a few more days – most of the furniture hasn’t been delivered."
"I’m sure it’s lovely," Lacey said. "If you don’t mind, I’d like to see it first alone with Carl. I didn’t expect company."
"Oh…that’s fine. I understand," Claire said. "I’ll wait in the garden."
"Thank you," Lacey said, took Carl’s outstretched hand and followed him into the house.
"Well, she’s changed," Rose said. There were murmured assents all around.
"Really?" Morgan said to Claire. "How?"