Mountain Country Courtship

By: Glynna Kaye


The honor of your presence is requested

at the marriage of

Corrine Elizabeth Anton


Victor Andersen Gyles

Two o’clock in the afternoon

Saturday, October…

With an exasperated shake of his head, Hayden “Denny” Hunter crammed the summons and RSVP back into the envelope, then tossed it into an open briefcase sitting on the parked Porsche’s leather passenger seat. When packing for an unavoidable business trip to “hometown” Hunter Ridge in mountain country Arizona, he’d come across the invitation he’d ignored a few days earlier. So why had he brought it along with him, let alone opened it once he arrived at his destination?

He’d like to believe he was inadvertently added to the invitation list by someone not comprehending the complexity of the situation—that his older stepbrother’s betrothed had only in June left Denny standing at the altar, and that after a prolonged absence from the family hotel business, that same stepbrother had also swooped in to carry off a promotion Denny had worked long and hard for.

“At least I hope,” he said aloud in the confines of his vehicle, “neither Corrine nor Vic chose to be deliberately insensitive.”

With a low growl, Denny exited the sports car he’d driven from San Francisco and slammed the door more firmly than necessary. It was a crazy long drive. But although the purpose of this trip on behalf of his mother, Charlotte Gyles, was to have a face-to-face meeting with the manager of an inn she owned, it also gave him a chance to blow the cobwebs out of his brain with a road trip. In particular, it provided uninterrupted time to strategize how to get back in the good graces of his stepfather, hotelier Elden Gyles.

He would fulfill his assignment here—how could he refuse, given his mother’s recent car accident?—and tie it to an obligatory visit with his father’s side of the family. But he hoped not to linger long in the town he’d set foot in only once since his mother took off with his two-year-old self at the time of his parents’ divorce thirty years ago.

He gazed resentfully at the two-story natural stone structure, three guest rooms wide, that had brought him back to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere—the Pinewood Inn. Nor could he help noticing the two vacant buildings his mother owned that abutted it on either side, their boarded-up windows appearing as unseeing eyes that faced the winding, ponderosa pine–lined main road through town.

That had creeped him out as a kid two decades ago. Kind of did now, too.

“Hey, Mister.” A soft, childish voice came from the shadowed recesses of the inn’s broad porch. “Do you want to buy a ticket to the Hunter’s Hideaway Labor Day charity barbecue?”

No, he did not. He wanted to take care of business and get himself back home before his stepbrother—five years his senior—commandeered more than what he’d already laid claim to.

The child who’d delivered the sales pitch jumped up from a rocking chair where she’d been sitting and cautiously moved to the railing, a brown envelope clutched to her chest. Slanting rays of a late August sun illuminated a blond-haired, freckle-faced girl not much older than seven or eight. She wore jeans and a turquoise knit top, and her solemn eyes reflected a wariness that belied the courage it must have taken for her to speak to a stranger.

He offered the girl a reassuring smile. “Sure, I’ll buy one.”

Her eyes widened. “You will?”

He must be her first customer. “How much?”

“Twenty dollars.”

Giving a low whistle, he pulled out his wallet, remembering the five dollars his dad had grudgingly forked over for a similar event the first—and only—time a then-twelve-year-old Denny had come for a visit. Inflation had hit even here in the backwoods, but no doubt it was for a worthy cause—and there was no obligation to attend. He’d be long gone by the weekend.

“Here you go.” He held out the requested amount as the girl joined him on the sidewalk.

Brows lowered in sober concentration, the youngster tucked the bill into the envelope, then carefully extracted a printed ticket and handed it to him. “See that number? You can win a prize.”

“Can’t beat a deal like that, can I?”


“What else do you say, Taylor?” a pleasant female voice called from behind them.

He and the miniature charmer looked to where a woman in her late twenties approached, dark waves of collar-length hair glinting in the sunlight and her high-heeled pumps tapping rhythmically on the sidewalk. Her black pencil skirt that hit just above the knees, pink top and gray blazer seemed out of place for a Monday afternoon in this laid-back little town. Nevertheless, she was an eye-catcher.

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