It had only just begun.
Quite a crowd attended the party, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Adam and Cole stood near the bandstand watching the couples dance to the gyrating, foot-stomping sounds of Billie Bob and Joe Boy's Band. Isabelle and Douglas came twirling past, and right behind them were Travis and his wife, Emily. If their laughter was any indication, the four of them were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Mama Rose was delighted by all the commotion. She sat at one of the picnic tables, flanked by Dooley and Ghost, two family friends, and all three of them, Adam noticed, kept time to the music by clapping their hands and tapping their feet.
Cole nudged his brother in his side. "Isn't that Clarence riding down the hill?"
Adam squinted toward the mountain. "It looks like him."
"We invited him, but he turned us down because he had to work the telegraph office. Someone has to be on duty all the time. Maybe he's bringing a wire to someone."
"Maybe he got someone else to work for him," Adam suggested.
Douglas and Isabelle came dancing past again. Cole waved to them and then said, "I never thought Travis or Douglas would ever get married, and now look at them."
"They're happy and they found good women. What about you, Cole? Do you think you'll ever get married?"'
"No," he replied, his voice emphatic. "I'm not cut out for marriage. You are though. What happened with Genevieve? Did you have your talk with her?"
"I hope you let her down easy. She's a real sweetheart, and I'd hate to see her get hurt."
Adam shook his head. "If you're worried about her feelings, don't be. You've got it all backwards. She talked to me. She doesn't want to marry me either."
"Why the hell not?"
"Her circumstances have changed," Adam said. "Besides, we were never really engaged. That was just Mama Rose's dream. She's hell-bent on getting all of us married."
"You must have been happy Genevieve let you off the hook."
Adam shrugged. He thought about lying to his brother and then changed his mind. Cole would see right through him, and if anyone would understand, he would.
"I wasn't happy or relieved. My reaction was kind of strange."
He looked at his brother when he answered. "I got mad."
Cole shook his head. "You really got mad?"
"I just said I did. Genevieve didn't know it though."
"That doesn't make any sense at all. You've been avoiding the woman all week long, and now you're telling me you want to marry her?"
"No, that isn't what I'm telling you."
"Then why did you get mad?"
Adam let out a weary sigh. "I don't know."
Cole let the matter go. "Are you going to dance with her?"
"I hadn't thought about it. I don't even know where she is."
Cole motioned toward the porch. Mary Rose and Genevieve were carrying pies out to add to the dessert table. Both women had on white aprons over their dresses. Mary Rose was wearing her new store-bought blue skirt and blouse, and Genevieve was dressed in pale pink. Standing side by side, they were a handsome pair.
Adam couldn't take his gaze off of Genevieve. She was smiling over something Mary Rose had just said to her.
"Genevieve sure is pretty, isn't she?" Cole remarked.
"Yeah, she's pretty."
"You think so?"
Adam turned around to watch the band. Cole didn't take the hint. "Mary Rose has to look up at her."
"So what? Our sister has to look up at everybody."
"You don't have to get defensive. I'm not finding fault with Genevieve. I like tall women. Have you noticed how shapely she is?"
"Of course I noticed. What's your game, Cole? Are you trying to make me angry?"
"No, I'm trying to get you to realize women like Genevieve don't come along very often. She sure is sweet."
"Then you marry her," he snapped.
Cole laughed. "You want her, don't you?"
"Damn it, Cole…"
"All right," his brother said. "I won't hound you any longer."
Adam started to walk away, but Cole's next remark pulled him back.
"It looks like Clarence is headed for the house."
"Maybe he needs to talk to Harrison," Adam suggested as he watched their brother-in-law step forward to shake Clarence's hand.
"Guess again," Cole said when Clarence turned to Genevieve and tried to hand an envelope to her. She gave the pie she was holding to Harrison, wiped her hands on her apron, and then accepted the wire.
"It's got to be bad news," Cole said.
"Maybe not," Adam said, and even he realized how unconvinced he sounded.
"No one ever sends good news in a wire. It costs too much. It's bad all right. Someone must have died. You ought to go comfort her."
"I wasn't engaged to her; you were."
"For God's sake, there wasn't any engagement."
When Clarence turned to go down the steps, Adam saw his expression clearly.
"Clarence looks scared."
Cole nodded. "He sure is in a hurry to leave, isn't he?"
Adam turned back to Genevieve. "Why doesn't she open the envelope? What's she waiting for?"
"Maybe she wants to stare at it a little longer while she gets her courage up. No one's ever eager to get bad news."
"We shouldn't be watching her."
"Why not?" Cole asked.
"It's intrusive. She probably wants privacy."
He watched her tuck the unopened envelope into the pocket of her apron before taking the pie back from Harrison and hurrying down the steps. She put the dessert on the table with the other baked goods, then turned around and walked away from the crowd.
Adam forced himself to turn to the couples twirling about the dance floor, but he kept glancing back at Genevieve.
He saw her stop when she reached the far side of the corral near the barn. She pulled the envelope out, tore it open, and read the contents.
The news couldn't have been good. Even with the distance separating them, Adam could see how shaken she was. She couldn't stand up straight. She staggered back against the fence and turned away from him, but not before he saw the fear on her face.
"Maybe you ought to go find out what the trouble is," Cole suggested.
Adam shook his head. "She obviously wants to be alone. If she tells us what the news was and we can help, then we will. Quit giving me that look, Cole. I'm not going to intrude into her personal life again, and neither are you."
"Again? What are you talking about?"
Isabelle was suddenly standing in front of Adam, demanding that he dance with her. Emily grabbed hold of Cole's hand at the same time and pulled him onto the dance floor.
Adam tried to keep track of Genevieve. He saw her crumple up the wire and put it back in her apron, but then the music started and he lost her in the crowd.
After the dance ended, he went searching for her. Harrison intercepted him to tell him that Mama Rose was about to open her presents. Since the family was giving her a trip to Scotland, Harrison thought it would be a nice touch if he played the bagpipes. Adam couldn't talk him out of it. He joined his sister and his brothers on the side of the bandstand and tried to appear interested. He nudged Cole and asked him in a low voice if he'd seen Genevieve.
Cole shook his head. He was going to suggest that she was probably inside the house, but then Harrison began to play, and the piercing noise was so deafening, he knew Adam wouldn't hear him.
"He's getting better, isn't he?" Mary Rose shouted.
"No," all four brothers shouted back.
Their sister wasn't offended. She maintained her smile for her husband's benefit and gave Douglas a hard shove when he put his hands over his wife's ears.
Genevieve was standing in the center of the crowd on the opposite side of the bandstand, watching the Clayborne family-the four brothers side by side, Emily and Isabelle leaning back against their husbands. Their expressions were comical, but she thought Adam's was the most revealing. Like his brothers and his sister, he was smiling, yet every time Harrison tried to hit a high note and missed, Adam would visibly flinch.
They were all such good-hearted people and so very loyal to one another. They were united now in giving Harrison their encouragement and support, and though it was apparent from their forced smiles that they thought the music was terrible, she knew they would cheer him when he was finished and never admit to any outsider that the sound had been less than perfect. And that was what family was all about.
God, how she envied all of them. She longed to walk across the dance floor and stand in front of
Adam and lean back against him. She wanted to belong to his family, but most of all, she wanted to be loved by him.
It was a fool's dream, she told herself. She whispered a good-bye in Mama Rose's direction, and then turned and walked away.