After dinner, Lacey stood up and gave a long and rambling toast, telling us stories I was pretty sure Marie didn’t appreciate. We heard about how she didn’t like to wear clothes when she was a toddler, and was always stripping down in the grocery store. We heard about the time she’d decided to ride the neighbor’s goat … wearing spurs.
We also heard about when Lacey first met Horse, which led to an interesting side-ramble about jail, cops, anger management, her husband, and engagement guns.
Clearly feeling outdone, Horse’s mother got into the spirit and we learned he’d refused to pee inside the house for the first five years of his life, something his father had found hysterically funny and encouraged.
Dancer’s toast put both of them to shame, though. She stood in front of everyone and called Marie up for a special presentation. Then she pulled out the little stuffed horse she’d told us about the first night we’d met, along with a small bedazzled harness and matching leash.
Maggs and Em supplemented it with a tiny, toy-sized Harley for the horse to ride.
Marie laughed so hard she almost choked on her champagne. Horse smiled grimly, wrapping an arm around Dancer’s neck and squeezing her shoulder in an almost-hug. It transitioned to a neck-lock and prolonged noogie. She screamed and cried and kicked, but he didn’t let her go until she admitted she’d made the whole thing up, which none of us believed for a minute.
Noah and I left around nine, just as things were starting to get interesting. Guests had been arriving all day, camping out behind the Armory, and they joined the party once the official dinner events had ended. I was exhausted and my whole body ached, so I was happy to leave. I still had bruises, although thankfully no broken ribs this time. I collapsed into bed alone, wishing Ruger was with me.
The morning of the wedding dawned warm and perfect.
They’d taken a risk, planning an outdoor event in early October. It paid off, because there are few things more beautiful than fall in northern Idaho. The evergreen-covered hills were spotted with bright yellow and orange patches. The air had a sharp feel that made me think of that first burst of flavor when you bite into a honeycrisp apple.
It took all I had to keep Noah inside while I got ready. I knew he’d be filthy by the end of the day, but I wanted to at least start things out with him clean. Ruger hadn’t come home last night. I assumed he’d been partying with Horse all night, and I wondered about what they’d been doing …
There had been tons of people at the party last night, and a lot of them were female. He’d told me after the kidnapping that he didn’t want anyone else but me, that he’d be faithful.
He’d even given me a soft kiss good night when he’d walked us to the car.
But I wasn’t quite sure what our new arrangement was supposed to be, or where the limits stood. We still hadn’t talked about it. We weren’t having sex. Did that mean he’d been sleeping with someone else? Multiple someone elses?
Thinking about it made me feel sick.
I could just ask him. There were things he wouldn’t tell me, but I didn’t think he’d lie. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer.
I pulled up to the Armory about an hour and a half before the ceremony was supposed to start. There were cars everywhere, and bikes, too. The girls had been busy that morning decorating. I saw Painter as I pulled up, and he raised a hand in a friendly wave. I walked around the Armory and let Noah join the pack of children running wild out there, because the courtyard was off bounds. They were busy setting up the reception in there.
Picnic leaned back against the wall, watching the kids with a thoughtful look on his face. Then he saw me and waved me over.
“How you doing?” he asked. I shrugged.
“Pretty good, I guess,” I said. Looking everywhere but his face, I managed to choke out something I’d meant to say the night before. “Thanks for helping me. I mean, last weekend.”
“No worries, never happened,” he said, cocking his head and studying my face. “But I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
“Sure,” I agreed, because I owed him in a big way.
“Do you know what happened between Em and Hunter?” he asked bluntly. “She’s not herself, and she won’t say shit to me. That’s not normal—she’s always been my girl, the one who’d tell me everything. Not her sister. Now she’s closed off.”
I sighed and looked into his face. His blue eyes held concern, and I saw how much it hurt him to ask.
“I don’t know,” I said. “She was alone with him the first night, and then again for an hour the next day. She never told me what happened, but I don’t think he raped her, if that’s what you’re after. She didn’t seem like a victim. Em was pissed at him—really pissed. That’s about all I can tell you.”
“More’n she’s said so far,” he replied. His mouth tightened. “She’s upstairs with Marie. You might as well go up, too. They’re like a bunch of f**kin’ harpies. I tried to go up and talk to Em earlier and they wouldn’t let me in the room.”
“I need to keep an eye on Noah.”
Picnic glanced toward the pack of kids running through the grass.
“He’s not goin’ anywhere,” he said. “Plenty of adults out here already. You should be with Marie.”
“I don’t even know her that well,” I protested. “I feel kind of strange …”
“Honey, you’re in this club as deep as any of us at this point,” he replied, his voice commanding. “Hard to get much deeper. Might as well have some of the fun, too.”
He smiled and I found myself struck once again at how handsome he was for an old guy.
“Okay, I’ll go see how they’re doing.”
“Have fun,” he told me. “And keep an eye on Em. If you can think of any way for me to help her, let me know.”
I found Marie up on the third floor in one of the bedrooms.
Maggs had discovered me in the kitchen and recruited me to help her haul up beer. Apparently Marie had decided that marrying Horse completely sober wasn’t the world’s greatest idea. As her girlfriends, we were required to join her, because that’s what friends do.
Let it never be said I’ve abandoned someone in their time of need.
We lugged the beer up the stairs, Maggs telling me that she’d never seen Marie more beautiful … or more stressed out. I heard her yelling before we reached the room, something about being a grown-up and wanting to make her own decisions. I swung the door open and dropped the beer on the floor with a clanking of bottles.