The Maverick's Holiday Masquerade

By: Caro Carson

Chapter One

 Fourth of July

 “Do you see them?”

 Kristen Dalton shaded her eyes with one hand as she looked up the road, but she couldn’t see any hint of a horse-drawn carriage. “Sorry, sis. No sign of the bride and groom yet.”

 “I can’t wait to see her wedding dress. The rumors have been all over the place. I’ve heard everything from country casual to Kardashian craziness.”

 Anything could be true. Although Kristen and her sister lived in a small town surrounded by ranches, technology made the world itself a small place. Even to the far northern edge of Montana, a gown from glittering Hollywood could be shipped overnight. Since the wedding dress possibilities were endless, the speculation around town had been, as well. For weeks, Kristen had been patiently listening to her twin, Kayla, list the pros and cons of every type of gown. Although today was the Fourth of July, her twin’s excitement was closer to that of a kid on Christmas morning.

 Kristen handed her sister her paper cup, then hopped up to perch on the top log of the split-rail fence that bordered the town park. She held out her hands for her cup and Kayla’s. “Come sit with me. It could be a while. That photographer has to take pictures of a million Traub family members at the church.”

 Kayla climbed up to sit beside her on the railing, settling in for the wait. “What a beautiful day for their wedding.”

 Kristen thought it was a little too warm, nearly eighty degrees, which was as hot as things got this close to Glacier National Park. As she handed back Kayla’s cup, Kristen took a healthy drink of her ice-cold wedding punch.

 Thank goodness they’d decided to wear sundresses. They didn’t match, of course. She and Kayla looked as identical as two peas in a pod, a phrase Kristen had been hearing for as long as she could remember, but they hadn’t dressed like twins for as long as they’d been choosing their own clothes. From a distance, she supposed they looked like twins in blue dresses, but up close, they weren’t alike at all.

 Kayla’s dress had an all-over print of tiny flowers. Her spaghetti straps were delicate, and she wore their grandmother’s earrings. The shiny filigree drops were shown to their advantage on Kayla because she swept her hair up most of the time.

 No one would ever see those earrings if Kristen wore them, because her hair was nearly always down. And long. And wavy. And—okay, I’ll admit it, Mom—always blowing in the Montana breeze and getting tangled. Their mother had despaired of keeping it neat and had given up trying somewhere around kindergarten, when Kristen had become quite adept at removing barrettes and bows.

 Kristen could also admit that she’d deliberately worn blue because it made her eyes appear their bluest. Her denim halter dress always made her feel like she struck the right balance between sweet and sexy. She got smiles from the town’s mavens and mavericks both. Rather than sandals, she wore her western boots. Not the solid, broken-in ones that she wore to do chores around the family ranch, but the ones with the hand-scrolled swirls in the leather. These were the boots she wore for two-stepping, waltzing and square dancing, all of which she hoped to do before, during and after tonight’s fireworks.

 All she needed was the right cowboy to dance with.

 If only...

 If only there was a cowboy here in Rust Creek Falls that she didn’t already know—and already know wasn’t her type.

 “I really admire Braden and Jennifer for thinking up this carriage ride,” her sister said. “Their first experience as Mr. and Mrs. Traub will be private, just the two of them, as they start their journey together, figuratively, literally—”

 “Briefly.” Kristen nudged her in the shoulder. “The church is only two blocks away. Then we’ll be right here, ready to say hi while we’re really checking out the newest Mrs. Traub’s gown.”

 Kayla shot her a look. “We’re supposed to admire the bride’s gown. It’s expected.”

 “I know, I know. It’ll be worth the wait, I’m sure.”

 “They say the best things in life are.” Kayla sounded like she really meant that.

 Kristen kicked the heels of her boots against the lower log railing. Thunk, thunk. She polished off the rest of her punch, then lifted her heavy hair from the back of her warm neck again. Thunk, thunk. “I hope this carriage looks amazing, because it certainly isn’t a very fast way to travel.”

 Kayla nudged her shoulder. “I heard Sutter Traub located true white horses, and they went to someone’s place south of Kalispell to borrow a two-seater surrey. Paige and Lindsay bought miles of white ribbon for it and were making bows all week.”

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