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“So if you would raise a glass with me, let’s all wish Scott and Casey every kind of happiness as they start their new life together. To the happy couple.”
Ted Flint raised his glass, saluting his sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law as the rest of the room echoed, “To the happy couple.” A clink of glasses and swell of applause followed. Ted turned to smile at Casey and Scott, who blushed and beamed at the well-wishes. A warm knot formed in his chest. It was such a relief to see Casey happy after everything they’d been through in the past few years.
As the toasting crowd dispersed, returning to their conversation and sipping champagne, Ted stepped over to give his sister a hug and said, “Mom would be so proud of you.”
Casey squeezed him tight before stepping back, teary-eyed, and saying, “I know.”
“Thanks, man.” Scott thumped Ted on the shoulder, filled with emotion himself, but holding it in.
“It’s the least I could do.” Ted grinned at both of them. “It’s not every day your favorite sister gets engaged.”
“Ha! I’m your only sister.” Casey cuffed him on the arm. “And when are you going to find a girl and settle down anyhow?”
Ted rolled his eyes. He would have preferred the tears brought on by thoughts of their mother to the teasing glint in Casey’s eyes. Almost. He shrugged. “I haven’t found the right girl.”
“That’s what I used to say,” Scott laughed.
“There are plenty of girls here,” Casey added, nodding to the crowded ballroom of the Cattleman Hotel. They’d booked one of the smaller ballrooms for the engagement party, figuring only friends and family would come, but the event was so well-attended that guests spilled out into the hallways. The Cattleman’s staff had even opened the Haskell history gallery across the hall and moved some of the refreshments in there.
As much as Ted felt like he should make some sort of flippant comment about meeting someone, for a change, what came out of his mouth was, “Yeah, I’ll look around and see if the future Mrs. Ted Flint is in the room.”
Casey giggled. But then, everything seemed to make her giggle these days. Ted wasn’t going to complain about that. Casey and Scott were sidetracked by a couple of their friends coming up to give their congratulations, but Ted’s Dad, Roscoe, who had been standing silently to the side of the action, as usual, walked a few paces across the room by Ted’s side.
“Your sister is right, you know,” Roscoe said, adding a fond smile. “I’d love to see you find someone and settle down like she has. So would Mom. She’d nag you something fierce, if she were here.”
“I know, Dad.” Ted looped an arm around his dad’s shoulders and gave him a man-hug. “To tell you the truth, now that things have started to settle down with the ranch and with Casey, the idea of dating has crossed my mind.”
“Good boy.” Roscoe nodded.
“Don’t start planning a second wedding yet or anything.” Ted went on as they reached the door leading to the hallway. “All I want to do is date for now.”
“I didn’t say anything about another wedding.” Roscoe winked. “But now that the ranch’s mortgage is paid off, thanks to Scott, and we own the place outright, I’d love to see what a good woman could bring to the table.”
“Dad.” Ted rolled his eyes and chuckled. “This isn’t the nineteenth century, you know. We don’t marry women for their dowries anymore.”
“Just joshing.” Roscoe snorted. He pointed down the hall toward the restrooms, then sauntered off.
Ted hadn’t seen his dad so happy in…well, since his mom died a year and a half ago. He stood where he was in the hall, watching his dad walk away with a rare spring in his step. The whole world felt as though it were in the right place. Maybe it was time for him to think seriously about women. Heaven knew he’d thought not-seriously about them since he was in high school. He’d dated plenty of girls, even got halfway serious with a few. But he hadn’t met the one. And damned if he didn’t suddenly want to.
He headed across the hall into the Haskell history gallery. He’d visited the long room with its display cases of photographs, artifacts, and newspaper clippings dozens of times before, starting when he was a kid on a class trip. What interested him now were the tables of food laid out along one wall. Standish Catering had outdone themselves yet again. He grabbed a plate and started piling it high with fresh homemade salsa, chips, cocktail shrimp and sauce, and a single broccoli floret in tribute to all the times his mom told him to eat his veggies. He avoided the fancier puff pastries and pates. Who knew what they contained. He’d stick to the things he knew.
He reached the end of the table and was about to go back to the main room when he spotted a woman with long, dark hair staring intently at one of the cases. Laura Kincade. He knew her by sight, but that was about it. She worked on Scott’s team at Paradise Space Flight, and had become friends with his sister in the past few months. They’d gotten close enough that Casey had asked Laura to be a bridesmaid. But that was where his knowledge of her ended.
Laura Kincade. Hmm. Why not?
Plate in one hand, flute of champagne from the toast still in the other, he ambled over to Laura, doing his best to exude cool.
“You know, the first manager of this hotel was a spy in two different wars,” he began.
Laura blinked at the card she’d been reading inside the display—one about the area’s prehistoric origins—then slowly straightened. She took one look at Ted and blinked even more. “What?”
Ted put on his most charming smile. “Yeah. Theophilus Gunn. He worked as a valet for an English gentleman in the 1850s. The two went off to fight in the Crimean War, where the gentleman was killed. They were both spies. And then, when he came back to America, he was a spy for the Union in the Civil War.”
“Oh.” Laura continued to blink. “That’s interesting.”
“I’ve always thought so.” Ted’s suave smile started to slip. He wasn’t sure he was playing this right. Usually girls went giddy over the story of Theophilus Gunn, international spy and man of mystery. “Someone wrote a book about him a couple years back, The Secret Life of Theophilus Gunn.”
“Neat.” She stood there, bristling with awkwardness.
Yep, Ted had definitely lost his mojo. Or else Laura wasn’t the kind of girl those sorts of stories worked on. Which was interesting. She was different. He shifted his weight and studied her.
“I was just reading about the Lower Paleolithic Era in this area.” She gestured to the case with her thumb. “Trying to figure out if there’ve been any big fossil finds nearby, like there have been up in Montana. I’m sort of a dinosaur nut.” She spoke fast, ending by clamping her mouth shut.
Ted caught himself grinning even before he was aware of how fun her comment was. “Really? I haven’t met a lot of women who like dinosaurs.”
“Oh, I love them.” She was still nervous, but her eyes lit up with excitement. Blue eyes. They were a pretty contrast to her dark hair. “Last year, before coming to Haskell to take the job at PSF, I traveled to South Africa to help with an excavation being led by Dr. Heinrich Heller. We managed to find the hindquarters and skull of a Massospondylus too, although it may or may not be some other species. A lot of times fossils end up reclassified after analysis and…and I’m boring you. Sorry.” She laughed. An attractive pink blush came to her cheeks.
“You’re not boring me at all,” Ted said, in spite of the fact that he only had half a clue what she’d said. She was pretty. He wondered why he hadn’t noticed before. Granted, there was nothing special in the way she dressed. She wore a simple green knit dress that came to her knees and boots with it. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she wasn’t wearing makeup. The only word Ted could think of to describe the impact she made on him was “charming.”
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