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 Irene Cawley stood at the front of the little chapel in the woods, pleased with her handiwork. Asa hadn't wanted any fuss, but she'd never met a space that wouldn't benefit from her designer's touch. She wasn't about to let her brother be married in some generic shack that had nothing much going for it besides rustic charm.

"You are shameless."

Irene smiled triumphantly at her North Star Theatre partner. Cheryl Hudson was a talented actress and a gifted teacher, comfortable in her own skin in a way that people found magnetic. You could count on one hand the guys in Shadoe Lake who hadn't hit on her.

"Okay, so I'm proud. I did a helluva job."

"Careful with that pride thing, honey. People will talk." Cheryl planted a quick kiss on Irene's lips, winking as her mate glanced around nervously.

"Relax. Nobody's here yet."

"You've got a lot of nerve, calling me shameless." Irene swatted Cheryl's wandering hand away. "Stop it. This is a chapel, for Chrissakes."

"Where we can't get married," Cheryl pointed out. "Your loser brother can waltz in here, make a public commitment he won't keep in private, and feel entitled to everybody's blessing. We've been together twenty years, and can't even celebrate out in the open."

"Asa's not a loser. This one's different. He really loves Mary. And she's good for him. She's tough, she's --"

"Smarter than the ones he usually picks. Yeah. And you're changing the subject."

"You like the way my lighting matches the flowers? The Reverend was nervous about it, but I promised him no strobes, no motel neon, nothing I'll be using in our spring production of Hair."

"Now that is a shame."

Back in town, the cursor blinked on the laptop screen. Ordinarily the words came easily. Usually it was a kick to tattle on the townies and expose the shenanigans going on out at the lake, but every once in a while, anger got in the way of fun. Like today.

Damn them all.

But the column was a responsibility; it had to get posted. HearSay was predictably popular -- just the kind of titillating crap that made the hit counter spin at the web site. On its surface it was harmlessly entertaining, done in a tongue-in-cheek style that spoofed old fashioned gossip columns. No names were named, and the guilty were protected by just enough detail changes to avoid lawsuits.

Fans had grown so ravenous about their Friday morning fix of freaks, cheaters, and rabble-rousers, an update posted late brought snippy e-mails to the webmaster. A cursor allowed to blink too long could actually spoil people's days.

Such power.

Who's been providing services to local ladies that aren't part of his job description but -- we hear -- keep this handy man's tools in demand?

Which rodeo hotshot is risking the wrong bull's wrath in private bucking sessions with the jealous longhorn's Missus?

Which rodeo hotshots AREN'T?

What mild-mannered barfly -- we hear -- has a taste for kinky fun and games involving leather, chains, and rubber? Eeeuuuwww . . . it's always the quiet ones . . .

The fingers tapped on the hubcap sitting on the desk.  Thought you could use this the sticky note attached to it read.

Whazzup with the mysterious hubcap missile? Contest time, people. Match the cap to the correct vehicle, and win $100 in pull tabs at The Guzzery.

The cursor blinked. Anger burned. The need for vengeance sweetened.

What chronic two-timer is already stepping out on his alleged soul mate?

We hear he picked the wrong woman to scorn this time. We say it couldn't happen to a nicer rat.

Mary Weber checked her lipstick in the bathroom mirror, ran her fingers through her hair, and smiled as Asa appeared behind her.

"Suppose it's double bad luck if we not only see each other before the wedding, but in the mirror?"

He smiled. "Only if the mirror cracks. Which, by the way, you alone are preventing from happening."

"I'll give you thirty years or so to quit BS-ing me like that."

She turned and kissed him. It was still hard for her to believe they were finally, after so many years and detours, winding up together. She'd never married before, pursuing a long and demanding career as an army nurse. He'd been divorced for years before looking her up again. Now they'd bought this cabin on the lake and were planning a shared future, just that easily. It was fate.

Meant to be.

She believed she'd changed. It had been long in coming, but now that she was retired, she wanted those things she'd thought weren't her style: marriage, monogamy, settling down in one place for longer than a year or two, a man to take care of her. Why not?

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather wait to have a summer wedding? Skitch Telford and his whole crazy bunch would love an excuse to fire up the sauna and declare clothes optional."

She shot him a look. "Now, that would be romantic. Getting cold feet?"

"No, but that's just one thing my mother'll complain about all day."

Maybe the old buzzard will catch pneumonia, Mary thought. "No time of year will be right for your mother to see you married to me."

The ceremony was lovely. It even looked lovely through the rifle sight -- so lovely, the finger on the trigger hesitated. The eye lining up the crosshairs blinked.

The son of a bitch deserved to have his pride and joy shot off. This was no time to remember how skilled he was at using it.

Wedding Shadoe Lake
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