"It's so beautiful!" Chloe exclaimed.

Rebecca had to agree. When they'd first talked about their dresses, Rebecca had told Aggie her intention of wearing something simple. She'd been married before and didn't want to take away from the other woman's day. But Aggie told Rebecca in no uncertain terms that it was her day as well, proceeded to drag her future sister-in-law into the most prestigious dressmaker's in Stockton and informed Alva, the modiste, that Rebecca was to be outfitted for her wedding as befitted Jarrod Barkley's bride. Jarrod just chuckled when he heard the story and told Rebecca that she was to order whatever she desired and Rebecca finally gave in.

She still didn't want to detract from Aggie and wanted to choose a simpler dress than Nick's betrothed was going to wear. Rebecca enlisted Audra's help and they convinced Alva to let them look at the sketches and Aggie's unfinished gown before Rebecca decided on hers. Aggie's gown was breathtaking; a heavy white silk overdress covered a full skirt of delicate lace and the silk was embroidered with gold flowers. The bodice was topped off with a lace ruffled décolletage and puffed lace sleeves and the long train was trimmed with another lace flounce. The white and gold would set off Aggie's dusky complexion perfectly and Rebecca was content that all eyes would be on Nick's bride.

All eyes except the pair of brilliant blue that she was so in love with. Rebecca hoped she could be excused her vanity in wanting Jarrod's eyes only on her as she gazed at herself in the mirror. She wasn't going to wear white since this wasn't her first marriage, so the fabrics she'd chosen were complimenting shades of red-brown silk and coral satin. The darker silk was over top with slashes in the skirt to reveal the lighter fabric underneath. The skirt wasn't as full as Aggie's and had no train, but beautiful lace overlays covered the darker part of the bodice which was cut at an angle, again with the lighter satin at the top. The sleeves were short and trimmed with deep gold ribbons and Rebecca was sure Jarrod would love it.

"Daddy's going to love it," Chloe stated, echoing Rebecca's thoughts. "He's going to think you're the most beautiful thing in the whole world."

Rebecca smiled down on her soon-to-be stepdaughter. "I think that's your place, Chloe," and Chloe giggled as she twirled in her blue dress covered in lace and flounces and bows. "You'll be the prettiest flower girl ever."

"Really?" Chloe's eyes sparkled.

Alva came back into the dressing room. "Perfect," she told them. "I'll make sure they're at the church along with Miss Nikolas' gown in the morning. Now Mr. Barkley is here. He said it's time you were back at school, young miss, and that the train will be arriving soon."

Rebecca took one more look at her gown before she let Alva help her out of it and back into her everyday dress. As she helped Chloe with her buttons, Rebecca tried to calm her nervous stomach. She hadn't seen her parents in almost five years, ever since she'd left home after marrying Beau Ashburn. Rebecca hadn't asked for their approval then and she wasn't sure why she was so nervous now. But as they walked out to the front of the shop and she saw Chloe greet her father and the warm hug he gave his little girl, Rebecca realized that every daughter wanted her father's love and approval. She'd had precious little affection from her parents while growing up and knew that was why she'd married so hastily. This was different, she reminded herself as Jarrod handed her into the surrey and lifted Chloe up to sit beside her. There was no lack of affection in the Barkley home and how could anyone object to Jarrod as a husband for their daughter?

"You've been quiet," Jarrod observed after Chloe was dropped off at school. He didn't push her for an explanation as he guided the surrey to the train station, but Rebecca felt he deserved one nonetheless.

"Just thinking about my parents," she told him as he helped her down and offered his arm. They walked to the platform and a plume of steam could be seen in the distance. "I haven't seen them for a long time and I guess I'm nervous." She gave a tense smile and Jarrod leaned over to give her a quick kiss.

"They're your parents, Rebecca," he reminded her. "If anything, I won't be good enough for their little girl. I'm the one who should be nervous." Her smile was more heartfelt as he gave her a devilish wink.

The train stopped with a loud whoosh of steam and Rebecca forced herself not to fidget as the passengers disembarked. Finally, two familiar figures descended to the platform and she made herself let go of Jarrod's arm to go greet them.

"It's good to see you," she said. "How was the trip?"

Rebecca's mother gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. "Loud, hot and tiring," the older woman complained.

Rebecca's father looked beyond his daughter. "Is that him?" he asked.

"Yes, it is." Rebecca led them over where Jarrod was standing. "Father, Mother, I'd like to introduce Jarrod Barkley. Jarrod, these are my parents, William and Esther Marshall."

"Glad to meet you." Jarrod extended his hand and William took it to shake it firmly. "Ma'am," Jarrod said as he tipped his hat to Esther politely.

"Hmm," Esther said as she scrutinized Jarrod closely. "I suppose you'll do."

"Mother!" Rebecca exclaimed, but Jarrod set a calming hand on her arm and gave her mother a disarming smile.

"I'm very glad you think so," he told her graciously. "Why don't we collect your luggage? I have the surrey here and I can take you straight away to your hotel so you can rest after your tiring journey."

"And at least he's polite," Esther commented as she took Jarrod's offered arm.

Rebecca tried to hold in her mortification at her mother's off hand manner and took her father's arm as they went to collect the luggage.

"He looks to be a gentleman," William remarked as they followed a short distance behind. "I hope he's not misrepresenting himself like the last one."

"No, Father." Rebecca resigned herself to her parents' ill manners. "Jarrod's family has lived in Stockton for a long time and they're one of the most influential in the valley. Jarrod himself is a highly respected lawyer throughout the state." She didn't feel it necessary to relate his reputation for taking cases no one else would touch that sometimes angered the more conservative element in town. She admired Jarrod for that, but with his current attitude, she wasn't sure how her father would view it.

Rebecca was grateful to Jarrod for remaining his typically charming self in the face of her parents' not-so-polite comments. He helped them take their luggage to the Cattleman's Hotel where he had reserved the finest suite for their stay and informed them that he had arranged for one of the ranch hands to drive them and Rebecca to the ranch that night for dinner before the bellman saw them to their room.

"That went well," he told Rebecca as they stepped back outside.

Rebecca looked at him in askance. "Jarrod, they were horribly rude," she protested, but Jarrod only smiled as he walked her to her lodgings.

"Rebecca, they've just endured a two-day train trip," he reminded her. "That would test anyone's good humour, even travelling on a first class ticket."

"You," she told him with a brief kiss as they reach the door of the boarding house, "are too wonderful." Jarrod took the opportunity to bring her closer for a longer embrace before she pulled back and scolded him, "Jarrod!"

He only winked as he stole another kiss. "I'll see you tonight."

.

Rebecca's parents were in a better mood on the ride out to the ranch, for which she was grateful. Perhaps Jarrod was right and they just needed to recover from their journey. Her father asked a number of questions of Josh, their driver, and her mother chatted about the lovely hotel and inquired as to the details of the wedding. Rebecca's trepidation slowly vanished and she found herself looking forward to dinner.

Josh helped the ladies out of the surrey when the arrived at the ranch and Esther couldn't stop gushing.

"Oh it's so magnificent! Isn't it magnificent, William?"

"Yes, quite an impressive residence," William agreed. "This is where you'll be living after you're married?"

Rebecca nodded. "Nick, Jarrod's brother who's also getting married, is building a house just on the other side of the ranch buildings but we've decided to live here for the time being."

They walked onto the porch and Rebecca knocked on the large oak door. It was answered a moment later by Silas, impeccably dressed as always.

"Miz Rebecca, good to see you," he said as he stood aside to let them enter the foyer. "And welcome as well, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall. May I take your hat, sir?" Silas took William's felt hat and Rebecca led the way to over to where everyone was gathered in the parlour.

Jarrod rose to greet them. "Mr. and Mrs. Marshall, welcome to our home. I hope the hotel was to your satisfaction?"

"Oh, yes, it was lovely," Esther gushed. "Not what I expected to find at all out here in the Wild West."

Rebecca shot Jarrod an apologetic look, but he just smiled and made introductions. Rebecca had already met Aggie's brother Stavros and found him wonderfully charming, but she couldn't miss her parents disapproving frowns at the accent that proclaimed him not born in this country.

"And of course, this is my daughter, Chloe." As protocol dictated, Jarrod introduced the youngest member of the family last.

Chloe gave them a wide smile and a little curtsey as she said, "I'm very pleased to meet you."

Esther's brow furrowed and she and William exchanged a sharp look. "Rebecca, you didn't tell us your fiancé was a widower."

"That's because he's not," Rebecca told them. Her parents' attitudes were beginning to exasperate her. But at their shocked expressions, she realized she'd made a grave oversight in not providing them with more details sooner. She hadn't deliberately left out Jarrod's past; it made no difference to her and she honestly hadn't even thought to mention it.

Jarrod stepped up and put a hand on her arm. "What Rebecca means is I'm divorced from Chloe's mother."

Esther looked like she might faint as William bellowed, "Divorced? When you marry a woman, you marry her for life, until death do you part! Rebecca, there's no way you're going to have any part of a cad who's already married!"

"Now wait just a minute!" Nick strode over to defend his brother. "Jarrod's EX-wife was a no-good, self-centered witch who I'm happy to say is rotting in jail. And furthermore-"

"Nick…" Jarrod's warning cut him off as the elder brother gestured towards Chloe. Audra had her arm wrapped around her niece and Chloe's eyes glittered with tears.

Nick went over, knelt down in front of his niece and enfolded her in a fierce hug. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I just lost my temper." Chloe nodded, but she still clung to her uncle.

"Jarrod is NOT married, Father," Rebecca said firmly as she put her hand in Jarrod's, but William didn't listen.

"And the daughter of a felon?" He continued his rant. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know."

Rebecca had enough. "Chloe is the sweetest little girl I have ever known!" Her voice got louder as she continued. "You have been rude and obnoxious since you arrived and if you don't apologize this instant, I'll… I'll…"

"We'll all ask you to kindly leave." Victoria stepped up beside her son and his intended, her expression set in stone. "And I'm sure any of my sons will be happy to see you to the door."

"Well, I never," huffed Esther. "Rebecca, I thought you'd lost your senses when you married that awful gambler, but that was nothing compared to this. Now come along and we'll take you back to St. Louis with us."

"No, Mother." Rebecca maintained a forced calm in her expression. "I'm sorry you feel the way you do, but Jarrod and I will be married in the morning and I'm so thankful that I get the chance to be mother to such a wonderful little girl. I wish you could share that happiness with me, but since you can't, I'm sure you can exchange your train ticket for one that leaves early in the morning. Or better yet, you might find a train that takes you out of here tonight." She turned her back on her parents and walked over to Chloe. Taking her out of Nick's arms, she hugged Chloe tightly. "I'm going to freshen up before dinner, Chloe. Would you like to come with me?"

Chloe nodded and managed a smile. "I'd like that," she said softly.

Rebecca took her hand and she didn't acknowledge her parents she took Chloe past them and up the staircase. She didn't need to see what was going to happen next; she trusted Jarrod and left the matter in his capable hands.

"I'm so sorry, Chloe," she told the young girl after they went into Chloe's room. "I had no idea they'd act like that or be so cruel. Can you ever forgive me?"

Chloe threw her arms around Rebecca. "You didn't make them say those things. I'm sorry your daddy and mama were so mean, but I'm so glad you want to be my mama."

Rebecca held her tightly for a moment. "Thank you, sweetheart. I meant every word I said about you. Now let's wash off those tears, okay?" she suggested. "And I think we should stay up here until your father has made sure they've left."

"Okay," Chloe agreed.

It wasn't long before they heard a tap on the door and Jarrod poked his head in. "How are my beautiful girls doing?" he asked as he entered the room. He swung Chloe into his arms, kissed her cheek and held out a hand to Rebecca. Rebecca took it and he pulled her into the hug as well.

"I'm so sorry, Jarrod," Rebecca said regretfully.

"Nothing to be sorry for, darling," he assured her. "You are not responsible for others' attitudes."

"But I should have said something before…"

Jarrod cut her off with a gentle kiss. "It's all right, Rebecca."

Chloe made sure she had an arm around both of them and hugged tight. "I love you, Daddy. And I love you too, Rebecca. I can't wait to call you Mama tomorrow."

Rebecca held back the tear that threatened. "I love you back. Both of you," she said with a grateful smile to Jarrod.

"Now Silas has a wonderful dinner ready and since Aggie's brother was a baker back in the old country, he has a wonderful treat for dessert," Jarrod announced. He set Chloe on her feet. "Why don't you go see if either of them need any help and tell Grandma that Rebecca and I will be right down?"

"Okay, Daddy," Chloe agreed and, with the resilience of youth, skipped out of the room.

Jarrod turned back to Rebecca. "One of the ranch hands drove your parents back to town. They wanted to stay and continue to malign everyone and everything, but when Nick threatened to throw your mother over his shoulder and toss her in the back of the wagon like a sack of wheat, she left without much protest." Rebecca had to smile at the image. Holding her hand, Jarrod steered her to the bed and sat them down. "Are you all right?"

Rebecca managed to smile again. "As long as you're not scared off by the baggage that comes with me."

"Never." Jarrod pulled her close and kissed her long and tenderly. "Somehow, this apple did fall far the tree and I think it's the sweetest one I've ever tasted."

Rebecca leaned against his chest. "I don't know how I got so lucky to find someone like you."

Jarrod held her close. "It goes both ways, Rebecca. Now I think we should go downstairs before someone comes looking for us." They stood and Jarrod kissed her again. "I can't believe we're going to be married tomorrow, darling. I think I'm the luckiest man in the world."

.

.

Dear Ruth,

I hope my letter finds you well and recovered from the fall that prevented you from attending Jarrod and Nick's wedding.

You should be glad, however, that you missed the scene Jarrod's bride's parents caused when they found out he was previously married, but thankfully they decided to leave before the ceremony. I simply cannot understand the attitudes of some people and I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am that Jarrod has finally found a woman worthy of him and Chloe.

Oh, Ruth, it was beautiful. Nick's bride Aggie was breathtaking in her gold embroidered gown and Jarrod's Rebecca looked simply elegant in the darker colour that she chose. Neither of my sons could tear their eyes away from their brides and I think I went through at least three handkerchiefs from dabbing at the tears of happiness that I just could not control.

But, Ruth, I must tell you that Jarrod's Chloe was the belle of ball. Rebecca had no attendants other than her future stepdaughter and Chloe bestowed Rebecca and her father with the widest smile that I have ever seen. You know how they say brides glow? Chloe was glowing even more than both of them together. I am so happy for her to have a mother in her life and from what I have seen of them together, I am certain that Jarrod and Chloe are more than blessed to have Rebecca complete their little family.

Nick took Aggie to the lodge we have in the mountains right after the wedding. Since it is not a terribly busy time, Heath has assured his brother that he can handle the work around the ranch on his own, so I believe they are going to extend their honeymoon for the better part of a month.

Rebecca stated she has always wanted to see San Francisco, so she and Jarrod have gone there for their honeymoon. Even though I know they wish some time alone, they have asked me to bring Chloe to join them next week. I recall reading somewhere that even though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a new ending and I see that happy ending for my son and granddaughter who deserve it so much.

I do hope you can make the journey to visit soon, Ruth. I know the children would love to have you here and you know I would dearly love to see you again and catch up in person, to show you the wedding photographs and hopefully even introduce you to a new grandchild sometime in the not too far off future.

With fondest regards,

your sister

Victoria

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." ~Marcus Aurelius~