auspicious occasion, one Jake had plannedover the past two days, once he’d decided it was time to announce his wedding plans.
    “Should we do this together?” Alicia had asked, and been promptly given a firm shake of Jake’s head.
    “I think I need to be alone with him. Cord’s going to think it’s a spur-of-the-moment idea, and I’ll probably catch hell from him. You’d think he was nurse-maid or something, the way he tries to look after me. I can almost guarantee he’ll be upset because I didn’t discuss this whole thing with him first.”
    “I think he wants to protect you, Jake. Maybe he thinks I’m after your money and looking for a soft place to land. And so far as this being a spur-of-the-moment idea…well, it is, you know,” she’d conceded.
    “There are many reasons why I might consider you as a wife, Alicia,” he’d said tartly. “I think you’re intelligent, quite attractive and certainly you’ll be a good mother to Jason.”
    “I’m attractive?”
    He’d grinned. “Yeah, sometimes you’re downright pretty, in fact.”
    “Well, that’s a switch,” she’d said curtly.
    “I’m serious,” he’d said quietly. “You have lovely skin, beautiful eyes and we’ve talked before about your hair.” She felt his scrutiny warm her through her clothing. She drew in a quick breath when he touched her hand. “I find you an attractive woman, Alicia.”
    She’d felt the heat of his body, knew a moment of confusion as his hand lent the warmth of his body to hers. She’d tried to shake off the sudden attraction she felt for him.
    “What are they talking about?” Rachel asked, bringing Alicia back to the present. “Do you know?”
    Alicia nodded, then pointed to a chair. “You might want to sit down while you hear this,” she said with a wry grin. Rachel did as she was bid, and Alicia drew in a deep breath. “Jake and I are going to be married next Saturday. We’ve already asked the minister to have the ceremony here, and Jake wants you and Cord to join us.”
    “Married.” The single word fell from Rachel’s lips like a stone. She sat up straighter. “You’re going to be married? When did you decide this? I wasn’t even aware that you and Jake were acquainted until yesterday when we got the invitation to come to town today for supper.” She looked askance at Alicia. “Are you really sure this is a good idea? Jake is a wonderful man, of course, but he’s awfully temperamental, you know.”
    “I know,” Alicia said serenely. “I’ve felt the full force of his temper more than once. He’s also moody and stubborn.”
    “Well, it sounds as if we’re talking about the same man,” Rachel said agreeably.
    A rumble of voices came from behind the closedparlor doors. It seemed the two men were at least holding things down to a dull roar, Alicia thought with a smile. That Jake would triumph in this was not in doubt. If he couldn’t persuade Cord to accept his marriage, he’d just go on without the other man’s approval.
    “You’re sure?” Rachel asked quietly.
    Alicia allowed her feelings to show, not entirely, but she knew her smile gave a clue to the other woman that this was a choice she had made gladly. “I have the chance to raise Jason as my own,” she said. “I’d thought never to be married, Rachel. I’m outspoken and independent and…different than most of the other ladies in town. I’m far from you, as well.”
    “Well, you’ve certainly figured it all out, haven’t you?” Rachel said sharply. “In the first place, you have lovely eyes, beautiful hair, smooth skin and a smile that would make any man sit up and take notice. I’d say you have all the right parts. In fact, you have a bosom many women would die to own. You’re not what I’d call petite, but you’re tall, so you carry your weight well.”
    Alicia laughed with delight. “You’re a cheering section all by yourself, Rachel. I think I’m going to enjoy having you around.”
    “Well, let’s

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