"I loved this book! OMG, I laughed out loud too many times to count. And Ryder and Monica were just so perfect together." ~USA Today bestselling author Robin Bielman

"I adored it! Emotional and heartwarming reads, Betts is a cut above." ~New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde



Before you get serious about a cowboy, make sure he values you more than his truck.

Monica Blair stumbled into the reception hall, clutching the doorframe for balance. Tugging the train of her beaded gown behind her, she made her way unsteadily past milling guests and tables covered with smooth white linens. The band’s pathetic, slightly off-key version of “Endless Love” drifted over the sea of people, each note cutting into her brain like a chainsaw. When an empty chair came into view, she lurched toward it and fell onto the hard seat.

She shouldn’t have come. Before getting on the plane, she’d had a plan. A good one, too. At the moment, however, even the smallest detail of that strategy escaped her.

She’d also had a bottle of champagne with her. Looking around, lifting both hands and seeing them empty, she wondered where the expensive wine could have gone.

Probably left it in the cab.

She waved a hand in front of her, making an unconcerned gesture. This was a wedding reception; they were sure to have champagne. Suddenly thirsty, she glanced at the table in front of her and spotted several half-empty glasses. Grabbing the nearest one, she downed the now-warm liquid, then moved on to the next.

An elderly gentleman appeared at her elbow, and she blinked several times to clear her vision.

“Can I help you with something, young lady?”

His voice was polite, but his eyes looked suspicious. Or maybe it was her imagination. She was feeling a little tipsy at the moment.

“Are you in the right place?” he asked, touching her arm.

“This is a wedding, right?”


“Well, then, I’m in the right place,” she said. “I’m the bride.”

He gave her an odd look.

“The other bride,” she explained.

“The other bride?”

“The second one. The first one. The real one.” She launched to her feet, then clutched the corner of the table to steady herself.

“See my dress.” She shook the hem in front of him. “I bought this to marry that swine. That pig. That … that groom.

She pointed in the pig’s direction and then glanced down at her gown. Why was she wearing it? She remembered carrying it with her to the airport but didn’t recall putting it on.

“I’m sorry, but …”

A clinking sound broke through the chatter of the room, quieting the band, the older gentleman, and the other guests. A penguin at the head table stood, one side of his mouth cocked in a grin.

Monica couldn’t quite put her thoughts together, but he looked slightly out of place. Like he was uncomfortable being so dressed up. Of course, she could be wrong. At the moment, she’d consider herself lucky to be able to put her finger on her nose.

“I’d like to propose a toast to the newlyweds,” the penguin said into the small black microphone in his hand, giving the tight black tie of his tuxedo an unconscious tug. “To my sister and new brother-in-law. May you forever be as happy as you are at this moment.”

Monica’s eyes flooded with tears as he smiled down at the newly married couple. That should have been her toast. Even if she’d never seen the man before in her life, he should have been talking about her happiness, not theirs.

Everyone clapped, sipped briefly from their own champagne flutes, then went on with their conversations and revelry.

Grabbing another glass of room temperature bubbly from the table beside her, Monica made her way to the front of the room. No one paid her any attention. Even the older man who’d seemed genuinely concerned about her had forgotten she existed.

The wedding party’s table sat on a raised platform that came to Monica’s waist. Setting her glass aside, she tried hefting herself up butt first. When that didn’t work, she threw her stomach forward and climbed the rest of the way up with her knees. Quite an accomplishment, considering she was wearing a full-length wedding gown.

Once on her feet, she bent over to retrieve her champagne and nearly fell but managed to keep her balance by clutching at the edge of the table. Her hand came away covered with frosting, which she tasted before lifting her glass.

“I have a toast to make, too. Mmm, good cake,” she said to no one in particular and took another lick.

The bride and groom began muttering, but no one else seemed to be paying attention. Spotting a black cord stretched across the tabletop, Monica gave it a tug. The microphone the best man had used earlier slithered forward, making a horrendous, high-pitched shriek. It fell to the floor with a clunk and bounced across the platform as she pulled the wire closer. Once she had the mike in her hand, she blew into the black, foam-covered tip and pounded on the tabletop until heads began to turn.

She lifted the glass of champagne to her mouth and the microphone over her head.

“That’s better.” When the words came out no louder than her normal voice, she crossed her eyes and switched the position of her hands.

“There,” she said, pleased when her voice boomed from the surrounding speakers. “I have to make toast. A make to toast.” She waved her free hand, sloshing wine on her sleeve. “Whatever.”

Matt leaned across the table and grabbed her arm, trying to lower it. “Monica, what are you doing here?” he asked, recognition and shock etching his face.

She jerked away from him, spilling even more bubbly over the back of her hand and the cuff of his tuxedo jacket. “Don’t touch me, you rat.” Shaking a finger at him over the rim of the champagne flute and trying to keep his face in focus, she said, “You have some ‘splaining to do, Matt the Rat.”

“Sit down, Monica,” he whispered harshly. His eyes drilled into hers, telling her not to make a fool of herself … or of him.

“Not until I toast you and your lovely new bitch. I mean, bride.” She turned back to the crowd and spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear. “I have a toast to propose to Matthew Castor and his new bride, what’s-her-name.”

A loud murmur broke across the room, stealing Monica’s concentration. “Shhhhhhh. Shut up! I have something to say, and I’m going to say it before anyone else has the chance to get married.”

She teetered a bit but remained standing. “To the gride and broom … bride and groom: I hope you’re both very happy with yourselves.”

She downed the wine in her hand, then slammed the glass onto the tabletop, surprised when the delicate crystal didn’t shatter from the impact.

“No, that’s not true,” she said, turning to face them with the microphone practically pressed to her lips. “I hope you’re both miserable. I hope you spend your honeymoon in Pago Pago during a monsoon and both come back with a social disease. I hope you go bald,” she cursed Matt, sparing a derisive glance for the head of thick, well-groomed hair he was so very proud of.

“And you” — she gestured to the flushed, embarrassed bride — “I hope you get fat and he leaves you for his secretary.”

The bride clutched the sleeve of the man beside her, the handsome one who’d made the first toast. “Ryder, please,” she begged frantically. “Do something.”

The man stood and made his way along the length of the dais. Monica watched him moving behind the others at the bridal table for a moment, then turned back to the horrified onlookers.

“This man …” Monica waved behind her. “This man was supposed to marry me. I devoted four years of my life to him. I bought this dress because he said he wanted to marry me. Me!” she said, thumping her chest. “And then he goes and marries this harlot. This … this … homewrecker.

A unified gasp filled the room.

“I don’t even know who she is. She might be a very nice person, but she’s not me, which means she’s not supposed to be the bride. I’m supposed to be the bride.”

A hand reached out to her, and she looked down to see the somewhat fuzzy face of the toast man.

“Let me help you down,” he offered.

“I don’t want down,” she said loudly, stepping back to avoid his grasp. “I want these people to know what a rat Matt is. Matt the Rat. Matt, the man who proposes to you, takes your money, then marries another woman behind your back.” Her arms fell to her sides, the microphone hanging limply by its cord as she clutched large handfuls of her gown. “What am I supposed to do now?” she asked, speaking solely to the man in front of her. “What am I supposed to do with the rest of my life now that the man I thought I loved is married to someone else?”

“For starters, you can give me your hand.”

He sounded so calm, so rational, when she felt as though her head was about to explode. She wanted to scream her betrayal for all the world to hear. She wanted to pound the table until she wasn’t furious, and then pound it some more.

“This really sucks, you know that?” she said, but made no move to accept his assistance.

“Sometimes life sucks, sugar.” And before she had time to gasp, he moved forward, stuck a shoulder beneath her midsection and pulled her off the platform.

She hung over his back like dry cleaning. The microphone slipped from her fingers and hit the floor with another amplified clunk.

For a moment, stunned into silence — and just a little afraid she’d toss her cookies — Monica did nothing. Hanging upside down and bouncing methodically as the man moved through the reception hall did nothing to settle her queasy stomach or throbbing head.

Matt quickly grabbed the abandoned mike and began making excuses to the confused, mumbling guests. “Sorry for the interruption, folks. Just a lost bride at the wrong reception.” He laughed nervously. “Is everyone ready to do the hokey-pokey?”

Hokey-pokey? I’ll give you hokey-pokey, Monica thought angrily as the startled band took their cue and began tapping out the first chords of the song.

“Put me down!” she ordered the man beneath her, giving his back a thump for good measure. Then she grabbed the sides of his tux jacket as she slipped, afraid she would fall from her precarious perch.

The man held her loosely with one arm across the backs of her knees, letting the bulk of her body dangle over his shoulder toward the ground.

She heard the sounds of female giggles and male guffaws as they passed through the crowd. “Put me down,” she repeated tightly.

“In a minute,” he said, still calm and assured. He pushed open one of the double doors leading outside and carried her into the bright sunlight.

Without giving a thought to where her teeth might land, she opened her mouth and bit down as hard as she could.

“Oow!” he bellowed and stopped in his tracks. His free hand curved behind his back to rub the opposite butt cheek.

She expected him to drop her. When he did, she’d run back to the reception and give the guests — and Matt — another piece of her mind. Instead, her self-appointed keeper simply shifted her from his shoulder to the crook of his arm, like a football player carries the ball down center field.

She hung at thigh level now and could easily have bitten him again, but the solid grip of his arm around her waist only made her more aware of her nausea.

“If you don’t put me down, I’m going to puke.”

“So puke,” he said, continuing his long, even stride.

She opened her mouth, intending to do just that on as much of his leg as she could hit, when he suddenly stopped, set her feet on the ground, and straightened her upper body for her.

She groaned, wishing he hadn’t done that. Now she was sure to lose her lunch.

He brushed the chin-length curtain of hair out of her face and hunched down a bit to fix her with a steady, blue-eyed gaze. “Okay?”

“I don’t think so,” she answered honestly.

He opened the door of a sparkling clean but well-dented and slightly rusty black pickup truck, swept a pile of papers and what looked like unopened mail out of the way, and lifted her onto the bench seat. Leaving her sideways, he tucked the hem of her dress around her legs and pulled her head forward.

“If you’re going to throw up, do it outside my truck.”

Letting her upper body fall between her knees, she gulped in huge breaths of air, waiting for the sick feeling to pass. Her gaze fell to the ground at his feet and then …

Is he wearing cowboy boots? With a tux?

She lifted her head a fraction to see if she’d accidentally fallen into the hands of the Lone Ranger.

“Better?” he asked when he saw her studying him.

No mask. No Tonto. She glanced at the black vinyl seat of the truck, dirty white padding sticking out of several rips and tears. Definitely no Silver.

She watched him leaning against the bed of the truck, broad shoulders, narrow hips, and all. His sandy blond hair fell across the side of his forehead, nearly covering one of those beautiful, ocean-blue eyes.

If he wasn’t the Lone Ranger, he could definitely double for Clint Eastwood’s character in that old TV western she used to love watching with her grandfather. What was his name again?

“Good,” he said, taking her silence for assent. He swung her legs into the cab, moved the folds of her dress out of the way, and slammed the door.

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

Now that stupid theme song was rumbling through her brain. As if she didn’t have enough useless information wrestling for attention up there. She pulled the plug on the soundtrack in her head and tried to focus on her present predicament.

The Rawhide Man rounded the truck and climbed in the driver’s side as though she weren’t even there. The only thing missing from his ensemble was a dusty old cowboy hat. Correction, she thought, as she noticed a well-worn Stetson on the dashboard. There was nothing missing.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Away from the party, darlin’. Where you can’t make any more trouble.”

He started the engine and a roar of throbbingly loud honky-tonk music blasted from the speakers. Her eyes nearly bugged out of her head, and she knew her already quivering gray matter was close behind.

She caught something about thanking Mama for the cookin’ and Daddy for the whuppin’ just before the Lone Ranger leaned forward to flip off the volume. The song’s rhythm echoed through her mind for several more seconds.

He checked for traffic and pulled onto the narrow, practically deserted asphalt road. “Where do you live?” “Chicago,” she answered automatically. “And I wouldn’t have made trouble if Matt hadn’t gone and married that floozy in there.”

“That ‘floozy’ happens to be my sister.” He didn’t sound angry, but his voice held an edge she hadn’t noticed before.

“Oh, no,” she groaned, resting the side of her face against the sun-hot window.

“What?” He took his foot off the gas, tossing her a panicked glance. “Are you going to be sick?”

“I’m already sick. Do you have any idea how it feels to be traded in for a newer model? I didn’t even get left at the altar — I got left at home.”

“Look, I don’t know what Matt told you, but I’m sure he didn’t marry Josie after leading you to believe he’d marry you.”

She sat up like a shot. “He didn’t lead me to believe anything! He asked me to marry him. He told me we should plan a fall wedding. And then he just up and marries her.”



Her head fell to the side again, and she closed her eyes against the pain in both her head and her heart.

“So you came all the way from Chicago to stop the wedding,” he said.

She started to shake her head, then thought better of it when the black behind her eyes began to swirl. “I knew I’d be too late for the wedding, but I had to let Matt know I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“That he was getting married without me.” Her companion didn’t respond to that, and she didn’t have the strength to look at him. “I was going to confront him. Throw my wedding gown in his face and conk him over the head with a nice, cold bottle of bubbly. But I must have drunk all the champagne and put the dress on in the airport restroom.”

Or on the plane, she thought, as the image of struggling with thick folds of fabric in a bathroom the size of a high school gym locker sprang to mind.

Her companion looked at her like she’d just lost her mind while he watched it fly out the window. Then he turned away and asked, “Is there somewhere I can take you? The airport? A hotel?”

She ignored his suggestions, focusing on her own thoughts. “I have to do something to get back at Matt.”

“Haven’t you done enough already?”

“No. He has to know how much he hurt me. He has to know he made a mistake and regret it for the rest of his life.” Matt had betrayed her. He’d ruined everything, and he couldn’t be allowed to get away with it. She wasn’t just going to make him pay her back for the money he’d stolen; she was going to make … him … pay. Then she’d make sure the entire world knew what a rat he truly was.

She opened her eyes then and turned to face the man who had prematurely ended her revenge. “You have to help me.”