He would ask Elaine Denning to be his wife.
***
Dayne Matthews gripped the wooden railing of his back porch and stared out at the distant water. Even with the sorrow from earlier today, the sun sprayed a blanket of light across the surface of Lake Monroe. From inside the lake house he could hear the soft voice of his wife, Katy, talking to her agent again, trying to keep the conversation short.

This wasn’t a day for business deals.

He squinted against the shine of sparkling lake water and lifted his eyes to the deep blue sky. No matter how many Hollywood roles he’d played, regardless of all the emotion he’d conveyed and seen acted out across the big screen over the years, he’d never seen anything like the strength and faith of his sister Ashley.

The events from a few hours ago came to life again—the call from his father, John Baxter, asking them to come quickly, and the way he felt walking into Ashley’s hospital room. His family—Brooke, Kari, Erin, Luke, and their spouses and children, the people he’d missed out on all his life until recently—filled every possible space, circling Ashley’s bed.

Of course, Ashley and Landon had known for months that their unborn baby girl wouldn’t survive more than a few days. Anencephaly was merciless that way. The miracle everyone prayed for wasn’t an unexplained healing but rather what happened today in the few short hours of Sarah’s life.

The screen door sounded behind him, and he looked over his shoulder. Even on a day marked with so much sadness, his heart still found room for the familiar awe. Katy Hart had actually married him, agreed to put aside her private life in Bloomington, Indiana, and join him on his public journey of fame.

Now if only they could survive the ride.

He turned and held out his arms. “C’mere.”

Her steps were slow, measured, her expression lost and distant, as if the brief life and tender death of their niece Sarah had drained her. When she reached him, she eased her hands around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. For a long time the only sound was the cry of a lone hawk in a distant tree.

Finally Katy drew a shaky breath and stepped back so she could see his eyes. “We can do it … right, Dayne?”

He let himself get lost in her touch, in the sweet caress of her voice. “Do what?”

She sighed. Her expression held fear and determination in equal amounts. “Use the next four weeks to remember what matters. Before the world tries to tear us apart again.”

Four weeks. That’s all the time they had to savor a semblance of normalcy in Bloomington, to enjoy their lake house and remember the reasons they’d fallen in love. Just four weeks. Frustration built in a hurry and took the edge off his good feelings. He set his jaw, and for a moment he looked past her to the hills beyond their home. What had he been thinking, encouraging her to star in a movie opposite him? As if that weren’t enough fodder for the tabloids, in less than a month they faced the debut episode of the reality show based on their shared movie experience. Both the show and their upcoming movie had been moved from a January release to the upcoming fall debut. His agent had explained the schedule change best. “Right now, no one’s hotter than you two. The studios realize that.” Everyone with a dime to make was counting on the conflicts between Dayne and Katy, racy headlines that during the filming had brought them to the breaking point.

But that was before they returned home to Bloomington. Here, finding love was as natural as breathing. Amid the sprawling country fields and rolling hills and endless sky, love had returned like a summer breeze, washing over them and assuring them that everything would be okay. And how could it not, in the company of the Baxters, surrounded by more love than Dayne had known in all his life?