“Well,” Jamie said, his grin getting even wider. “He set up a big, ol’ video camera on a tripod at the end of Rob’s bed, hung up this backdrop he’d painted on a bed sheet – what did you paint again?”
“A barn with a bunch of horses running around,” Ethan said. “The view from my back porch!”
More laughter all around.
“He hung up the backdrop by the bed, and set up these big old lamps all around with their shades topsy turvy like lights on a movie set,” Jamie broke off laughing and Autumn felt her own lips curl up with the beginnings of a smile – she knew exactly where this was going. “So when Rob brought that lovely lady of his home and eased her into the bedroom, she about nearly had a fit! You could have heard her screaming in Billings!”
“She thought I wanted to make a porno flick!” Rob said, the only one at the table not laughing. “She screamed bloody murder – I was afraid for my life!”
That only made the crowd laugh harder, Autumn right along with them. She knew from the seriousness with which Rose had told the story to her that her friend’s cousin had bought the ruse hook, line and sinker.
“She hightailed it out of there so fast I couldn’t explain anything, and she’s told everyone about it – every woman in a hundred mile radius thinks I’m a freak now. I haven’t had a date – or even a dance – in a month! It’s not funny!”
Even Autumn couldn’t keep the tears from rolling down her face, and normally she didn’t hold with practical jokes. The thought of this suave Lothario getting his comeuppance was too much to bear, though.
“Fine. Go ahead and laugh, see if I care.”
But as Autumn regained control she could see Rob did care. He sat back and played with his drink, but didn’t lift it to his mouth. He seemed lost in thought and whatever he was thinking wasn’t pleasant.
“Oh, come on, Rob – you sure got me back good,” Ethan said, then froze. Cab and Jamie froze, too. Rob looked from one to the other and straightened up.
“Yeah, that’s right – I did get you back good, didn’t I?”
Confused by the sudden tension around the table, Autumn said, “What? What did you do?”
There was a long moment of silence, then Rob smiled slowly. “That particular joke hasn’t had its run just yet, so I think I’ll let sleeping dogs lie. Right, Ethan? You think that’s a good call?”
“I think that’s a great call, Rob,” Ethan said in a tight voice. “And I think we should finish up here and get over to the Dancing Boot. Ladies, have pity on Rob here – the man needs a dance partner. Bad.”
The tension broken, people began to make their way toward the exit.
“What was that all about?” Autumn asked Ethan as she linked her arm through his and walked out to the Ford.
“Ignore Rob. He tried to get back at me and then found out the joke was on him again.”
* * * * *
Autumn managed to forget Rob’s strange behavior and the pregnancy test waiting at home for several hours after they moved the party over to the Dancing Boot. Ethan taught her the two-step and swung her around the room during song after song until she was dizzy and breathless and had to sit down. When the line dancing started she begged off, but had a great time watching the fancy footwork of the others. Jamie was particularly light on his feet and Claire wasn’t half bad, either. They made an interesting couple, she thought, now that Claire had lightened up a little.
Cab sat out the line dancing, too, but he’d taken his turn as her partner for a couple of other dances and she enjoyed his company, both on the dance floor and off. He told her a couple of stories about his exploits as a sheriff and she had to give it to him – he seemed entirely suited to the job.
Rob kept somewhat to himself, remaining at the table while the others came and went to the dance floor. After a while, Autumn began to worry that someone who so obviously had an axe to grind shouldn’t be drinking so much, so fast.
It was already past midnight when the topic of the wedding came up again.
“Who’s going to be your maid of honor?” Rose asked. She had joined the party when they reached the bar. Autumn took her aside when she arrived and explained all about the practical joke, which Rose found hilarious. She promised to pass the word on to her friend to pass on to her cousin, and told Autumn she’d do her best to spread the truth around to take the heat off of Rob. Not that Autumn cared if Rob ever dated again, but she didn’t like the anger she saw in him, or the direction it was aimed – at Ethan.
“My best friend, Becka. She’s flying in on Wednesday to help me get all the last minute details finished up.”
“There you go, Rob,” Jamie said with a wink. “New blood. This Becka girl won’t know anything about your wicked ways – she’ll dance with you at Ethan’s wedding.”
“Maybe she will,” Rob said, tossing back another drink. “Speaking of the wedding, who’s going to be the best man?”
Conversation died down as the group’s attention shifted to Ethan, who rubbed his jaw and looked a little uncomfortable. “Cab, Rob, Jamie – you’ve all been good friends to me over the years, so I hope you’ll all stand up with me, but seeing as how Jamie’s giving me the chance to keep the ranch and becoming my business partner, I thought it was only right to choose him to be my best man. Whattya say, Jamie? Will you do it?”
“Hell, yeah!” Jamie raised his glass. “To the groom!”
“Here, here!” Everyone clinked their glasses together except for Rob. He stood up unsteadily and waited for talk to die down.
“I might have known. Some friend you turned out to be, Ethan Cruz. You owe your present happiness to me and you know I could undo it in a minute if I cared to. Unlike you, I don’t care to ruin my friends’ love lives. Just remember I can.” He shoved his chair aside and stomped off across the bar, swaying a bit as he did so.
Autumn looked to Ethan in shock. “What does he mean?”
“You’d better go after him, Ethan, and smooth things over. Rob shouldn’t drive like that,” Claire said.
“Sorry, honey – I’ll be right back. Claire’s right – Rob’s in a bad way and I don’t want him behind the wheel.”
Ethan rushed off after him, leaving Autumn in a circle of sympathetic and definitely uncomfortable faces. More than ever she wished she and Ethan had spent the night home alone.