Chapter One

Lincoln Martin saluted the bride and groom with his half-empty bottle...then he downed the rest of the beer in a series of hasty gulps.  He’d much rather pump the alcohol straight into his veins -- saving all that time and energy it took to absorb it through the stomach -- but that would ruin Wil’s wedding and Sally would get pissed at him if he did anything stupid, and his new sister-in-law got pissed at him three weeks ago when he mentioned that she’d better stop with the fudge brownies or she wouldn’t fit into that pricey wedding dress.  She threw her muddy boot at him and then broke down crying in the middle of the kitchen floor in a flood of pregnancy hormones because he'd unintentionaly called her fat.  Wil had gotten upset with him over that, too.  It wasn’t Linc’s best moment.  In fact, he’d not had any best moments for a while.  So instead doing something stupid -- like ranting and raving that this should be his wedding and that should be him out there dancing with Macie, the woman he loved to the ends of time -- Linc drank his beer in peace in a dark corner of the stable, his butt nearly sliding out of the old kitchen chair as he stretched out his long legs in front of him.  

The wedding reception was in full swing, though the sun had only passed it’s zenith about two hours ago.  There was a lot of daylight still to come, and a lot of pleasantries that Linc would prefer not to stomach through, but Sally insisted, and Wil backed her up, so Linc was only obliged to force a smile and keep as much sourness out of his tone as possible.  Of course, at this point, the ceremony was done with, the cake had been cut, and pictures had been snapped.  Linc’s job was done.  As Best Man, he stood next to Wil all day, but now Sally’s got her hooks in her new husband, and Lincoln was allowed to sulk in his corner without bother.

The newlyweds slow danced in the middle of the stable floor, oblivious to everything.  Fast-paced two-steppers twirled and waltzed in circles around the bride and groom, but Wilson and Sally only saw each other.  Linc watched as his brother lovingly caressed Sally’s cheek, bending to softly kiss her on the lips.  Wil’s other hand slid down to run over Sally’s gently blooming stomach, which only reminded Linc of a memory he'd much rather forget, and he decided he couldn’t stand to watch the celebration any longer.  He’d been a gracious host long enough.

Grabbing two more longnecks from an ice-filled metal trough, he slipped out the side door of his horse-training stable, escaping the wedding reception that looked as though it would last all afternoon and into the night.  Wilson and Sally were happy, and Lincoln was happy for them, but he didn’t handle weddings very well...or anniversaries or Valentine’s Day or anything related to marriage, couples or love.

In fact, he’d not been with a woman -- romantically, socially, sexually, or otherwise -- in almost four years now.  But he passed the forty mark on his last birthday, and since the woman he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with was no

Don’t think about her...

Linc uncapped a bottle and guzzled the amber liquid.  It hit his empty stomach like a flash-flood of cold fizzies.  He hung his head, letting the pain in his chest subside and the beer take over, numbing him as the smooth draw of a violin bowed out a slow rhythm inside the stable.  

Forty.  Too old to be out skirt-chasing, and too young to spend the rest of his years alone.  But he really didn’t have a choice at this point.  He didn’t choose to be alone, yet he can’t change the past either.  Linc raised his eyes to glance around what was left of his land.  After selling the majority of the ranch last autumn, he maintained a fraction of a fraction of the original spread located outside of Kansas City, but it was enough.  He had his house and his stable and enough acreage to keep a few horses of his own.  Not to mention the hefty bank account that would see him into retirement.