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Loving You

Loving You

The Bridesmaids Club, BOOK 2

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Synopsis

Annie O’Leary’s life ended the day her baby died. But then she moved to Montana and found a purpose, a reason for waking up each morning. There’s something about Bozeman, something about the friends she’s made that keeps her feet firmly anchored to the ground and her heart in one piece.

Dylan Bayliss is an Army veteran and security specialist. He’s lived his life on the edge and paid a higher price than most. He’s about to face his biggest fear and Annie is the only woman he trusts enough to help him.

Annie will do just about anything for anyone, but she doesn’t know if she has the courage to do the one thing that could change their lives forever.

Chapter One Look Inside

If you asked Annie O’Leary to choose between a good-looking man and a quiet night with her friends, she’d take her friends every time. Life had a funny way of working out, and sometimes it wasn’t all that funny.

Four years ago, she’d arrived in Bozeman with a heavy heart and no hope of ever being happy again. Now here she was, part-time baker, part-time receptionist, and part-time fairy godmother to brides in distress.

She stared through the window of Angel Wings Café, only half-listening to the conversation going on around her. Six weeks ago, Annie and three of her friends had started The Bridesmaids Club. They’d read a newspaper article about a bride who’d had her bridesmaids’ dresses stolen from her home. Within a few days, they’d gathered all of their old bridesmaids’ dresses together and offered four of them to the bride. With more twists and turns than should have been possible, their first bride and groom had enjoyed a beautiful wedding.

After the publicity their story generated, women from around the country sent them their bridesmaids’ dresses and bridal gowns. And they’d filled a box with letters from other women asking for help.

Tess Williams, her friend and the owner of Angel Wings Café, nudged her leg under the table. “Are you listening, Annie?” 

Molly and Sally, her other friends, looked through the window to see what she was staring at. 

“It’s Dylan.” Sally sighed. “Does he even know how drop-dead gorgeous he is?”

The first time Annie met Dylan Bayliss, she didn’t know what to make of him. He rarely smiled, almost never touched another person, and had a way of filling up a room without knowing it. She had to admit that six and a half feet of pure male testosterone would have an impact on any room. Add in wide shoulders, a chiseled jaw, and sapphire blue eyes, and you had the makings of a man who would turn a woman’s head every time.

Tess stuck her head around the edge of the window and smiled at Dylan. “Okay. We’ve all had our hormone fix for the day. Can we get back to our meeting? Annie and I have to get the next tray of meals ready for the Lighthouse Café.”

“It’s all right for you,” Sally moaned. “Your fiancé has been keeping your toes warm at night. We’re not all fortunate enough to have a man like Logan Allen in our lives.”

“And some of us don’t want one,” Molly stated. Her Irish accent softened the words, gave them a lyrical quality that covered the hurt behind them. Molly’s marriage had lasted a grand total of six months. The charming, romantic man she’d married had shared his charm with someone else, and Molly was still recovering.

Sally gave Molly a quick hug. “Where are we up to?” she asked.

Tess looked at her notes. “Julie’s arriving with her two bridesmaids tomorrow. She’s looked in the catalog and I’ve put the dresses she likes to one side.”

When they’d first started The Bridesmaids Club, their biggest challenge was showing the bridesmaids what the dresses looked like. So Molly, a professional photographer, had designed a catalog of the donated dresses. So far, it was working better than they’d imagined. 

“I talked to my bride,” Sally said. “Holly’s coming to see us next Saturday with her sisters.”

Annie stopped sipping her milkshake. “All six of them?”

Sally nodded. “I just hope they don’t bring any extra people.” Leaning her elbows on the table, she looked through the window again. “What do you think Dylan’s perfect woman would be like?”

Annie had been wondering the same thing, which scared the living daylights out of her. Unless you counted a disastrous tenpin bowling incident, she hadn’t dated anyone in more than six years. She hadn’t been interested in seeing anyone or getting to know another man. Until she’d met Dylan. He intrigued her, left her wondering what was behind the supercool exterior he showed the world.

Dylan didn’t seem to date much either, but that could have been because of his touching issue. He’d told Tess he was working on it, whatever that meant.

Annie grinned at the serious expression on Sally’s face. “I’d say Dylan’s perfect woman would be a five-foot-eight brunette. She’d have sparkling green eyes and a fondness for animals.”

Sally blushed. “I’m the worst person for Dylan. He’s too...” 

“Perfect?” Molly said.

“Complicated,” Annie added. 

All four heads around the table nodded. 

Dylan must have sensed the female interest on the other side of the window. He turned and looked at each of them. Annie scrunched down in her seat, too embarrassed to smile back like everyone else. 

He held out his wrist and tapped his watch. Annie knew they were running late, but some things were worth a few extra minutes. Especially if they involved girly talk about the man in front of them.

“Is there anything else we’ve forgotten?” Tess asked.

Everyone shook their heads. 

“Okay, so I guess that’s the end of our meeting.” Tess flipped her notebook closed. “We only went off-topic four times. It has to be a record for us.”

Molly laughed as they stood up. “We’ll have to come more prepared next time.”

Dylan must have realized their meeting was over. He walked into the café and met Tess at the front counter. “Are you ready for me to load the meals into my truck?”

His Texan drawl sent goose bumps down Annie’s spine. Not that she’d let Dylan know that. Since the first time she’d met him, he’d carefully avoided her. They’d barely spoken and never touched, except when he’d tripped over her feet in the middle of a chapel. 

“Half the meals are ready to go,” Tess said as she disappeared behind the kitchen door. 

Annie walked toward the counter. They’d already put twenty meals in aluminum trays and packed them in boxes. The people who ate at the Lighthouse Café appreciated the food they made. For some of them, it was the only meal they could count on each day.

Dylan cleared his throat as Annie opened the kitchen door. “Do you want to ride with me?”

She frowned, then looked over her shoulder. No one was there. “You’re talking to me?”

Dylan shrugged. “I was just wondering.”

“I can’t—leave, I mean. I’m looking after Angel Wings Café. And then I have bowling practice.”

Dylan nodded. “Maybe next time.”

Annie hurried into the kitchen and called herself every fool under the sun. Why was she always tongue-tied around Dylan? He was a man. A perfectly normal, gorgeous male, but a man nonetheless. And she was a confident, single woman, whose excuse for not going with him was bowling practice.

And that told her, beyond any reasonable doubt, there was something seriously wrong with her priorities.

* * *

Dylan parked outside Pastor Steven’s church and tried to figure out what he’d done wrong. Annie had looked as though she’d rather throw up than deliver the meals with him. 

He’d gone out on a limb, pushed his comfort zone and come up with zilch. 

“Are you going to sit there all day or help unload the boxes?” Logan stood on the sidewalk, hands on hips and looking too annoyed for a Saturday afternoon. 

Ever since Dylan moved to Bozeman, he’d been friends with Logan. They’d met eight months ago at a group session Pastor Steven organized for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. His first meeting had been a strange combination of sound advice and good-natured ribbing. The guys he’d met kept coming back, and so did he. 

Dylan opened his door. “What are you? The food police?”

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew what I’ve been through today. The Bozeman Police Department has two officers in the World Police and Fire Games. I’ve spent the last four hours writing a story about their training routine.”

Apart from being the closest friend Dylan had, Logan was a reporter for the Bozeman Chronicle. Before that, he was a war correspondent, syndicated to more newspapers than Dylan could remember.

He opened the back door of his truck and passed Logan a box. “Take this inside. Tess said Pastor Steven called. They have a full house tonight.”

“What else did my fiancée say?”

“You’d better ask her that. She seemed a bit put out that you were working today.”

“It’s better than unpacking more bridesmaids’ dresses.” Logan used his elbow to close the passenger door. “It’s like a disease. They find homes for half a dozen dresses and another ten arrive.”

Dylan didn’t bother locking his truck. They’d be back soon enough. If anyone was desperate enough to help themselves to the rest of the meals, they must need the food.

Logan followed a red brick path around the side of the church. “What have you been doing today?”

“I picked up a rare collection of Faberge eggs and delivered them to an auction house in Denver.”

“Riveting stuff.”

Dylan choked back a laugh. “It is when they’re worth millions. They were pretty enough, but you have to wonder about people’s sanity. I wouldn’t pay what the catalog said they’re worth.”

Logan used his hip to push open the back door. “That’s why you weren’t invited to the auction.”

Pastor Steven looked up from the kitchen counter, his wide smile welcoming them into the room. “I could smell Tess and Annie’s cooking from a mile away. Roast beef?”

Dylan left his box beside Pastor Steven. “You guessed right. Annie packed some dessert in a separate box. She said to tell you the cheesecakes should go straight in the refrigerator.”

Logan started emptying the foil-wrapped plates out of his box. “How many are you expecting tonight?” he asked Pastor Steven.

“There are already twenty people in the dining room. I wouldn’t be surprised if another twenty arrive in the next half hour.”

A young boy with bright red hair and neon freckles walked into the kitchen. 

He stopped and frowned when he saw Dylan. “You haven’t been here for ages. Dad thought you must have gone somewhere else to work.”

Dylan held out his hand and the boy raced across the room. They did the same secret handshake they’d done for the last six months. “I’m not going anywhere, squirt. Do you want to help me set the tables?”

“Dad’s already got me on knife and fork duty,” the little boy said.

“You’ll need spoons, too. Annie and Tess made cheesecake.” Dylan watched a smile shoot across Franky’s face. 

“You should come back for dinner more often.” 

Before Dylan said another word, Franky grabbed a handful of utensils and went back into the dining room.

“How’s Franky’s dad doing?” Dylan asked.

“He’s working at the gas station on Gallatin Road. It’s helping with a few of their bills, but it isn’t easy.”

“Did Franky get the Little League uniform?”

Pastor Steven smiled. “I gave it to him last week. He was so excited he didn’t know what to do with himself. It was thoughtful of you to do that for him.”

Dylan shrugged his shoulders. “He shouldn’t have to pull out of baseball because his dad can’t afford a new uniform.”

Logan put another box on the counter and glanced at Dylan. “There’s a disturbing pattern emerging here. You’re talking and I’m doing all the work.”

“It’s called working smarter, not harder,” Dylan said. “Besides, writing a story about sweaty police officers isn’t exactly body-breaking work.”

Logan emptied the box and put some of the dinners in the large commercial oven. “Beats hauling eggs to Denver.”

Pastor Steven looked around the kitchen. “We’ll need the rest of the boxes brought inside. Dinner should be ready in ten minutes.” 

Logan held the door open for Dylan. “After you.”

“You trying to impress me with your manners?”

“I’m making sure you go to your truck and don’t disappear into the dining room. Franky won’t let you out of his sight when you get in there.” Logan shut the door and walked down the path. “Why were you staring into space when you arrived?”

“I’m not telling you.”

Logan grinned. “The strong silent type doesn’t impress me. You’ll have to leave that for the ladies.”

A blush worked its way up Dylan’s neck. 

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me a woman had you contemplating the meaning of life?”

He opened the canopy on the back of his truck. “We probably should have taken out the cheesecakes first. If they’ve melted everywhere, I’ll tell Tess it was your fault.” 

Logan didn’t seem worried about the cheesecake issue. He seemed more worried about Dylan, and that was something Dylan didn’t need. 

“Who is she?”

He put the biggest box in Logan’s arms. “No one you know.”

“You wanna bet? I know most people in Bozeman, or someone who knows someone else. Tell me a name and I’ll let you know if their dossier has passed across my desk.”

“You sound like James Bond,” he grumbled.

“Frivolous compliments won’t distract me. Who is she?”

He was saved from answering by the toot of a car horn.

Logan gave him an evil glare. “You’ve bought yourself time.”

Dylan would take whatever was on offer.

Tess, Logan’s fiancée, parked her car and walked toward them. “Have you taken the cheesecakes inside?” She looked at the box in Logan’s hands. “I hope that’s not what I think it is?”

Dylan watched Logan plaster a besotted smile on his face. It usually worked its magic on Tess, but it wasn’t working today. 

She looked inside the canopy and tutted. “The only thing in here are the cheesecakes. What were you thinking?”

“About how good they’ll taste,” Dylan said as he took another box out of his truck.

Tess lifted the last box into her arms and followed Logan along the path. “Lock your truck, Dylan. There are lots of people waiting for their dinner.”

He did as he was told. It didn’t pay to mess with his best friend’s fiancée, especially when the same woman was Annie’s boss and friend.

Fans of Netflix’s Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!

Annie O’Leary’s life ended the day her baby died. But then she moved to Montana and found a purpose, a reason for waking up each morning. There’s something about Bozeman, something about the friends she’s made that keeps her feet firmly anchored to the ground and her heart in one piece.

Dylan Bayliss is an Army veteran and security specialist. He’s lived his life on the edge and paid a higher price than most. He’s about to face his biggest fear and Annie is the only woman he trusts enough to help him.

Annie will do just about anything for anyone, but she doesn’t know if she has the courage to do the one thing that could change their lives forever.

     “My favorite kind of books! I enjoyed each story, the characters, and the happy endings.”

     "I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was reading. So uplifting!"

     "A real gem! The romance is tender, and the small-town life is beautifully depicted."

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