“You’re kidding, right?” Eden Wilde dropped her fork on her plate and glanced around the dinner table. Had her parents lost their collective minds? “I’m afraid not.” Her father’s determined blue gaze, a mirror image of her own, met hers. “We signed the agreement this afternoon.”
Her mother reached over to pat her arm. “Think of it as an adventure.”
More like a nightmare.
“Grandpa, I can’t believe you agreed to this insanity?”
Jasper Wilde shrugged then dug into the pile of mashed potatoes on his plate. When he glanced up, his gray eyes twinkled beneath a thatch of snow-white hair. “Your dad says the ranch needs the income, and I think filming a movie here will be quite an experience. Maybe we’ll all get to be extras. Wouldn’t that be a kick?”
“Fun? Really?” Eden snorted. “From what you’ve told me, this isn’t some little documentary. It’s a major motion picture. Our lives will be in complete chaos for… How long?”
Her father laid down his steak knife as a frown knit his forehead. “The producer told me they hope to finish in four weeks. A huge chunk of the action is set outdoors, and the majority of those scenes will be shot on the ranch.”
She gripped the edge of the table. “A month?” The reality was worse than she’d imagined. “And you waited until now to tell me because…”
Her mom let out a worried sigh. “Nothing was finalized until today since the production company was considering several different ranches here in Wyoming, as well as a couple in Montana. There was no point in upsetting you if the deal for our property fell through.”
“So, you knew I wouldn’t be on board with the plan, but you still went ahead with such a major decision without discussing it with me?” Eden’s voice rose. “What am I, a child to be placated? I can’t believe this.”
“Honey, we aren’t ganging up on you. We’re just doing what needs to be done.” Her grandpa cleared his throat. “Boyd, what did that producer say he’d pay us?”
“Fifty grand.” Her dad took a swallow of his iced tea. “After two years of severe drought, we’ve dug into our reserves for cattle feed. The barn needs a coat of paint and there are a lot of costs associated with throwing a double wedding for your brothers. That check is going to help me sleep nights.” Eden opened her mouth then closed it. She didn’t have a reasonable counterargument that didn’t make her sound petty and selfish. She let out a slow breath. “I didn’t know the ranch was having cash flow problems.
I’m sure Griff and Sawyer would be happy to chip in for wedding expenses if they knew.”
“Your brothers already have.” Her mother tucked a strand of short brown hair behind one ear. “But we’d like to lay down new gravel on the driveway and put in an irrigation system for the back lawn where the ceremony will take place so the grass will be nice and green.” She waved a hand. “Generally spruce the place up so the ranch looks its best in June.” “Dahlia’s right.” Her grandpa forked up another bite of potatoes. “We want to impress the future in-laws.”
“Not to mention the barn is so faded it’s closer to pink than red.” Her dad winced. “We’ll have to paint it before they start shooting the movie. Our vintage barn is one of the main reasons the producers went with our spread.”
Eden let out a sigh as resignation set in. “Why’s that?”
Her grandpa reached for a roll from the basket in the center of the table. “Settlers painted their barns red, and this movie is an old-fashioned Western.” His smile stretched. “You know, the type John Wayne used to star in with cowboys and Indians.”
“Native Americans, Grandpa, not Indians.” When her parents exchanged a long moment of wordless communication, tension banded across Eden’s chest and squeezed. “Oh, now I get it. They want my wild horses.”
“They intend to use them in background shots.” Her father leaned forward to plant his elbows on the table. “I made sure the contract stipulates you have final say over anything to do with your horses.”
“Well, thank God for that.” “Within reason.”
She scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her mother let out a quick breath. “They can film the horses, but you’ll be a consultant for those scenes.”
Eden’s head throbbed, and she reached up to rub the nape of her neck. “Yet, you didn’t ask me first?”
“No one mentioned your horses would be part of the equation until today.” Her dad’s gaze held steady. “We tried to call, but you didn’t pick up your phone. The studio’s representative made it clear he couldn’t wait around an extra day to discuss a minor point with you. Your mother and I did our best to protect your interests.”
Eden gave a short nod. She wasn’t going to flip out…at least not until she read the fine print in the contract.
“They said they’d pay you for consulting services.” Her mother’s strained voice nudged aside her thoughts. “It may be a deal breaker if the horses aren’t part of the bargain, but if you really oppose this—”
“I’m not going to be a total jerk. While I’m not thrilled with the whole situation, I respect your decision. I’ll work with the movie people.”
“That’s our girl.” Her grandpa laid his calloused palm over the fist she’d clenched on the tabletop. “By the time they finish filming, you’ll have all those Hollywood types eating out of your hand…just like your horses do.” Eden couldn’t help responding to his smile. “Let’s hope so.” Her appetite gone, she pushed back her plate. “When will this three-ring circus start?” “Beginning of May.” Relief filled her mother’s green eyes. “They should finish filming well before your brothers’ double wedding at the end of June.” “Two weeks until all hell breaks loose. Ugh.” Eden pictured the peaceful solitude she so valued disrupted by production crews and prima donna actors and actresses. She straightened in her chair. “Who’s starring in the movie?”
Her grandpa rubbed his hands together. “Blake Benedict. Can you believe a huge star like Benedict will be here on our ranch?”
An image of the actor’s laser blue stare beneath pale blond hair flashed through her mind, and her pulse thrummed a little faster. The man was so hot he should come with a warning label. Not that she was going to share that particular insight with her family… Anyway, the man probably had an ego the size of their barn.
“I thought he only starred in action movies. You know, the kind with lots of car chases and gunfire.”
Her dad wiped his hands on the napkin he dropped on his plate. “The producer we talked to said he was looking for something different, a role with more depth. This film digs into the atrocities between the settlers and the Native Americans.”
“Hmm. I wonder if Benedict has the skill for a role like that.”
Her mother met Eden’s skeptical glance and smiled. “One thing’s certain, the man is extremely easy on the eyes.”
“And probably expects to be treated like royalty since the female masses fawn all over him.”
“Not according to Sawyer and Griff.”
Eden turned to stare at her father. “How the heck would my brothers know anything about him?”
“They filmed a few white water rafting sequences for his next blockbuster, Raging Waters, on the Colorado River last summer. Sawyer organized the trip, and Griff helped him out for a few days. They both said Benedict is a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy.”
“Huh, quite a coincidence he’d show up on the Wilde radar a second time.” “Not really. Benedict is the one who suggested our ranch when they were looking for the perfect place to film. Sawyer had talked about our place when they were on the river together.” Her father pushed back his chair and eyed Eden’s half-full plate. “If you don’t intend to finish your meal, I need to make a few phone calls.”
She rose to her feet. “Go ahead. I’m not very hungry. I plan to do the dishes then head out to the barn. I have a couple orders for belts I need to finish tonight.”
Her mother stood then dropped a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll clean up in the kitchen. It’ll only take me a few minutes. You go ahead and work on those orders.”
Eden forced a smile. “If you don’t mind, I’ll take you up on your offer. It’s been a long day, and I don’t want to stay up too late.”
“Go.” Her mother shooed her toward the doorway. “Enjoy yourself. I know working with leather relaxes you.”
“Thanks.” Eden headed down the hall and out the back door onto the patio then crossed the yard toward the barn.
Stars were beginning to shine in the late evening sky, and nothing but a gentle breeze stirred on the vast Wyoming prairie. From the bunkhouse where their three ranch hands were probably finishing dinner, the clink of dishes and murmur of male voices drifted in her direction. On a Friday night, the men would no doubt head into Cody, leaving the spread still and silent.
I’d better enjoy the peace while I can.
In a couple of weeks, the place would be overrun with city people who had little use and less appreciation for open space and solitude.
Eden stopped to lean against the corral railing as two wild Appaloosa mares lifted their heads to stare back at her from the other side of the fence. A spurt of satisfaction shot through her when neither edged further away.
This most recent group was just about ready to adopt out to families who would give them good homes.
With a sigh, she turned away to enter the barn. Too bad she had plans to acquire half a dozen new horses when the Bureau of Land Management thinned the wild herds to the south in early May. They’d arrive about the same time as the Hollywood contingent. All the activity they brought with them would only make taming the horses that much more difficult.
She pressed her lips together as she walked through the steamy confines of the barn and drew in a long breath. The air was redolent with the scent of hay, horses and leather. A smile curved her lips as she hurried to her work area in the back.
Long strips of cured cowhide lay on the table, already sewn into the correct lengths for the custom belts she sold online. All she had left to do was attach the buckles and carve the designs she’d drawn on the pieces earlier. The fun part. Dropping down onto the stool, she picked up a swivel knife then paused as one of the barn cats strolled over to twine around her ankles. After petting the cat, she cut into the leather with the sharp tip of the blade, tracing the line with precision and purpose.
But her mind wasn’t on the job at hand as she pictured the chaos to ensue. She squared her shoulders and clamped her teeth together. Since she really didn’t have much choice, she might as well make the best of the situation. Maybe turning the ranch into a movie set wouldn’t be as awful as she feared.
Just last month, she’d told her best friend she needed to shake up her life and add a little excitement. However, she’d been thinking more along the lines of a short vacation to someplace relaxing and tropical where the possibility of meeting a man she hadn’t known since kindergarten existed. The enticing vision of palm trees and white sand beaches faded. No way would she leave the ranch and her horses while the filming was in progress. A memory of a dark movie theater where Blake Benedict’s mesmerizing blue gaze and charismatic smile filled the silver screen sent a quiver through her. Why jump ship when all the action is coming to me? Not that she was interested in getting in line with Benedict’s legion of groupies, but talking to members of the crew might be fun. Definitely a change of pace.
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