A New Hope (Thunder Point #8)


by Robyn Carr

One

The Basque really know how to get married, Ginger Dysart thought. She hadn’t attended the wedding ceremony and she’d had doubts about attending this reception, given all the sadness she’d suffered over the past year. Her own marriage had barely begun when it ended in divorce. But she was so glad she’d come to the reception. It was an ethnic extravaganza—the Basque food, the music, the dancing. The bride and groom, Scott and Peyton Grant, had whirled around the dance floor a couple of times, then parted so Scott could dance with his mother and Peyton could dance with her father. And then there was a series of handsome dark-haired men who claimed the bride—brothers, cousins, uncles.

Paco Lacoumette presided over the party with all the aplomb of a king and was clearly in his element. The couples dancing would cease and the Basque men in their traditional dress of white with red vests and caps would take the floor and put on a show to the wild applause of the guests. Then more couples dancing. Even Ginger was dragged from her chair and pulled out to dance, despite her efforts to decline. She danced with men she knew—Cooper, Spencer, Mac, Scott—and men she didn’t know, those good-looking, dark Lacoumette relatives. At one point she spied Troy, Grace’s boyfriend, who must have just arrived. Grace, Ginger’s boss and owner of the flower shop in Thunder Point, thought Troy wasn’t going to make it and had been so disappointed, yet there he was, twirling Grace around with almost professional skill. And judging by the glowing look on Grace’s face, she was completely thrilled!

Wine flowed, food was constantly replenished, dancing and laughter filled the night. Ginger felt pretty for the first time in so long. She wore a new dress, cut to her slim figure. She’d lost a lot of weight in the past several months; men were looking at her in a way they hadn’t before, and she actually enjoyed the feel of their eyes on her. Those lusty, dark-haired Basque men did nothing to conceal their appreciative gazes.

The whole atmosphere was magical—teenagers were dancing or dashing about the grounds and orchard, sneaking behind trees for stolen kisses, children were riding on the shoulders of fathers, grandfathers and uncles, women were clapping in time to the music, laughing, singing, gossiping. Peyton and Scott were in much demand on the dance floor and in between songs many toasts were made. There were far too many Lacoumettes to remember all their names, but they made her feel welcome and appreciated, thanking her repeatedly for helping Grace bring the wedding flowers.

There was one darkly handsome man she’d noticed right away because he was the only one who seemed sulky and unhappy, and he was the one approaching her now as she stood beside her table. He had the swarthy good looks and fierce eyes of a pirate or maybe a serial killer. And with such precision timing, he had singled her out while everyone else from her table was dancing.

“Hey, pretty lady,” he said with a smile that was off-kilter. His words were slurred. That would at least partially account for the half-mast eyes and pouting expression—he was obviously drunk. Well, this happened at weddings with great regularity, especially weddings where the wine flowed so liberally.

“Time for a dance!” he said.

“Thank you, but I’m going to sit this one out,” she replied.

“Hmm,” he said, stroking his chin. “Then we should go straight to the hayloft!”

She was appalled. But she remained composed and confident. “I’m sitting that out, as well.”

“No, come with me,” he said. “You and me—let’s do this.” And then he reached for her. And grabbed her right breast.

She shrieked, shoved him away. His feet got tangled, he fell backward over a chair and went down, hitting his head on the way. And there he lay, motionless and unconscious.

“Help,” she said. Then louder. “Help!”

She got far more attention than she wanted or expected. And of course, there were the questions. What happened? Are you hurt? Did he pass out? Is he dead?

“He grabbed at me,” she said, waving a hand over the area of her breast without pointing or saying it. “I shoved him away and he fell and...I think he might’ve hit his head on the table.”

There he lay in a heap, on his back, his legs twisted awkwardly.

In just seconds Peyton and Scott were there, Scott crouching and lifting the man’s eyelids, looking at his pupils. “Well, they’re equal, but damn...they’re big. Does he take anything?” he asked his bride.

“Yes, wine,” Peyton said. “He killed a full skin before the dancing.”

Then Paco was pushing his way through the crowd, looking down. “I knew it would come to this,” he said. “There was no slowing him down.”

“I think we should call 911, get a head CT, make sure he didn’t crack his skull,” Scott said.

“His head is made of wood,” Paco said. “It would serve him right to be carried out of his sister’s wedding on one of those backboard things and spend the night in a hospital.” Paco reached for the ice bucket on the table. Everyone scooted back immediately, as if they knew what was coming. Peyton pulled Scott away while Paco took a bottle of white wine out of the bucket, put it on the table and doused the man with the ice water.

He sputtered and coughed and sat up.

“See what I’m telling you? Wood. George! Sal! Mikie! Get Matthew from your sister’s wedding! Hide his keys!” The men moved into action immediately. Paco looked at Ginger and said, “There’s always one. I apologize.” Then he took in the gathering crowd and clapped. “I think it’s time I dance with my wife!”

Grace arrived, pushing her way through the crowd. “Ginger! Is everything all right?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, looking as the men were leaving—three of them walking steadily and one weaving dangerously.

“My brother, Matt,” Peyton said. “He has issues. Divorce issues. He was divorced a little over a year ago but it appears he’s still very bitter. Weddings don’t seem to bring out the best in him. He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“He didn’t quite connect,” Ginger said. “I was about to say good-night anyway. I’m going back to my folks’ house in Portland for the night.”

“I might kill Matt,” Peyton said.

“Just enjoy the rest of your party,” Ginger said. “No harm done. To me, anyway. God, I hope I didn’t hurt him.”

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