I have a sneak peak of the first three Chapters of A WILD RIDE!! I hope you all enjoy. 🙂
July, Rocky Mountain House
A rapid, intoxicating beat filled the air as country music echoed off the wooden walls of Traders Pub. Troy Thompson eased his hands around the young woman in his arms and guided her expertly across the floor in a madcap, whirling two-step.
The sweet young thing was wrapped around him tighter than necessary, pressing her breasts to his chest as her eyes flashed with desire. The dance floor was crowded, but they didn’t need to be rubbing together like two pieces of kindling.
Normally, he didn’t mind when a lady made it clear that after the dance floor, she’d be game for a little dancing of the more sexual nature, but Troy was currently off the market. Had been for the past six months, which was in some ways really strange since no one knew.
No one, except him and his secret lover.
He’d never had trouble finding female company, but Troy didn’t flip from bed to bed. Sticking with one woman at a time was fun enough, and made it easier to remember what things a girl liked and what she didn’t.
But since January he’d been having the time of his life fucking around with Nicole Adams. It wasn’t intended to be long-term or permanent on either of their parts, and the arrangement was working fine.
Nic had insisted no one else could know, especially not her twin brother, Mike. Who, coincidentally, was Troy’s best friend and roommate.
That was one conversation he was eager to avoid.
“You’re such a good dancer,” his partner announced loud enough to be heard above the music. “And so strong.” Her fingers squeezed his shoulder as she hummed her approval.
In answer, Troy twirled the woman faster, forcing her to cling for dear life instead of stroking him. The up-close-and-personal time with a woman who was not Nicole might help keep the gossips at bay, but he wasn’t going to do anything more than enjoy the young lady’s company on the dance floor.
He wouldn’t drop her on her ass, but he wasn’t going to get her hopes up, either.
He was already looking forward to slipping over to Nic’s place later that Friday night. It seemed nobody thought anything of him dropping in at strange hours. Not with the way their families had been good friends for years.
Thoughts of Nic made him ease his grip on the woman in his arms, guiding her toward the far side of the dance floor in anticipation of the music ending.
Once this dance was over he’d be that much closer to heading out so he could go find Nicole and fuck her senseless.
Near the doorway, a woman with painted-on jeans stood with her back to him, her heart-shaped ass drawing his eye as she spoke with some guy he didn’t recognize. Her flannel shirt was tucked in tight at the waist, hips flaring wider as her jeans lovingly caressed sweet, womanly curves.
Dark hair with rich golden highlights hung to her shoulders, swinging in a blunt cut that framed the sides of her face in the brief glimpses he caught.
The music changed, and the woman in his arms gave him a look.
Troy forced himself to focus even as his attention kept drifting toward the door. He tucked his fingers under his partner’s chin for a moment, tilting her head back. “Thanks for the dance, darlin’,” he said.
“You know where to find me for another round. Any time.”
Her lashes fluttered, lips pouting in invitation, but Troy just smiled good-naturedly then patted her on the ass and sent her back to the table where her girlfriends were eyeing him and giggling. Talking behind hands.
He took a quick glance toward the door, but the mysterious woman still had her back to him, leaning close to speak in her date’s ear. Troy made his way across the room back to the table where his friend Mike waited, an arm draped around a familiar redhead dressed head to toe in black leather. Tessa, one of the waitresses from the café.
“You two dancing some more?” he asked, leaning an arm on the table as he looked Tessa over. Just because she was with Mike didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy the view.
She eased back against Mike, jutting out one hip. “We’re heading home. You want to join us?”
Oh boy. Troy glanced at Mike, but his friend shrugged at the invitation, leaving it up to him to accept if he wanted. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d had a woman between them, but it wasn’t on Troy’s radar at the moment.
“I’ll leave you two to it,” he replied. “Though I’m honoured by the offer.”
“Your loss,” she returned with a wink. “If you change your mind, you know where to find us.”
“Hey, bro, who’s the fox by the back exit door?” Troy asked before his friend could run away.
Mike turned, peering toward the door with interest. “Which one? Blonde?”
“Brunette. Wearing the fuck-me boots and—”
A fist smashed into his shoulder. “Ass.”
“What?” Troy glanced again at the door. “I’m just saying I would—”
Damn. The woman turned to the dance floor, and Troy swallowed the words he was about to say which were something along the line of how hard he would hit that if he got a chance.
“You’re such a shit. Always joking around.” Mike laughed. “Yeah, I didn’t recognize her at first either. I guess the new hairstyle goes with my sister’s fancy job at the law office.”
“Nic looks good,” Troy said, wary but needing to be honest. “It suits her.”
“She’s my sister,” Mike replied, as if that fact made her one step away from a eunuch. He wrapped his fingers around Tessa’s hip and pulled her with him. “We’re off. Have fun.”
Troy was pretty positive he was going to have a blast. He turned to get a better view, taking in the full effect of Nicole’s new look.
The shorter hairstyle was seriously professional, the front cut into a heavy set of bangs that set off her high cheekbones and narrow chin to perfection. It was a big change from her usual ponytail or braid, and combined with the makeup she wore, her green eyes were mesmerizing. Deep-red lipstick accentuated her soft, kissable lips.
Oh yeah, he was going to have a good time dropping by her place later tonight. He checked his watch, resisting the urge to march across the dance floor and take her in his arms for a spin. Nothing dirty, just a casual dance between friends—at least as far as everybody else knew.
She was already headed for the door, slipping away before temptation made him do something stupid.
Casual. That’s what they’d promised each other, and that’s what he’d give her until this thing between them was over. Then they’d go back to being friends, no one the wiser. No hurt feelings, no harm done.
Troy checked his watch again, calculating how long he needed to wait before he could head to her house and make both their evenings.
“House rules?” her date asked.
Nicole wasn’t sure how to answer. She hadn’t played Monopoly except for a few times with her family, and that had been ages ago. They hadn’t cared enough to make special rules. “Tell me what rules you play by,” she suggested.
Jason went into some long explanation about how no one was allowed to buy St. Charles, and if you owned two out of three properties you could put houses on them, but not hotels. Nicole nodded as he spoke, but she wasn’t really listening.
First dates? Sucked.
Dinner had been great, but then she’d taken him by the dance hall. He hadn’t wanted to stay at Traders for more than a few minutes, claiming it was too loud for them to talk. He’d been open to her suggestion that they should go back to her house, but…
She couldn’t believe they were going to play a board game. Then again, she didn’t know that much about serious dating, not with a professional guy like Jason.
She didn’t know much about serious dating, period.
Until now she’d been having fun with her friends, hanging out with groups and hooking up with guys she hit it off with. No one on a regular basis, though…
No one, except Troy Thompson. They’d been fooling around on the sly for a while, which was great and wonderful because, my God, the man could just about make her orgasm by looking at her.
She was no fool—hot freaky sex on the regular with a guy who looked like Troy and knew where to find a woman’s clit? Other than keeping it on the down-low from her family because Troy and Mike were BFFs, she’d had a blast.
Only the fling was over, and it was time to move on—
A loud crash sounded outside. They both glanced toward the back porch as another followed hard after it.
Drat—sounded as if she had unwelcome visitors.
Nicole interrupted Jason’s explanation. “Hold that thought. Bet it’s the neighbour’s dog in the garbage cans again.”
He rose halfway from his seat. “I’ll help.”
She waved him down. “Thanks, but I don’t want to spook Pookie. Go ahead and get the game ready.”
“Okay. I’ll set up the bank.”
She headed for the back door, a deep sigh escaping her. Obviously she needed to adjust her expectations now that she was playing the dating game. Slow and boring seemed to be the agenda.
Stop that. He’s a nice guy, her conscience poked, but all Nicole could think about was how different tonight had been compared to the last time she went out with a group of friends. They’d watched a movie then hung out. The evening had been full of laughter, lighthearted fun, and had ended with some spine-melting sex that had made both her and Troy damn happy, no strings attached…
Only she wasn’t fucking around anymore. It was time to get more serious about relationships. Thus the official date.
Thus the official boredom.
God, was she ever going to have sex again?
She opened the back door, ready to chase off whatever was on the porch, only to be trapped by a pair of dark-brown eyes set on smolder.
“Troy. What are you—?”
For a big guy, Troy moved like a panther. He had crossed the threshold in an instant, closing the distance between them and enveloping her in his arms. A second later his mouth was over hers as he took her lips in a blistering, pussy-clenching kiss.
Hot, possessive. Intense and demanding, and her reaction was instant and unstoppable. She softened under him, responding to his demands and, oh my God, soaking in every bit of pleasure he offered.
Her back hit the wall, and for the next few seconds, she was overwhelmed with lust. He kissed like he was craving her, and the most natural thing in the world was to kiss him back. Tongues tangling, she instinctively wrapped her legs around his strong hips as she dug her fingers into his muscular shoulders.
Time blurred, and sensation faded to the pleasure whipping through her like a runaway train. Except…there was some reason they shouldn’t be doing this. Some—
Shit. She was on a date with another guy. She should most definitely not be arching into the hand Troy had shoved under her shirt, squeezing her breast possessively as a hungry growl escaped him.
She shoved back, opening enough distance between them that she could speak, quiet but insistent. “Oh my God, Troy, stop.”
He adjusted his grip, catching hold of her hips and grinding them together, his thick cock rubbing her aching clit through two layers of jeans still setting off fireworks.
Desire flashed in his eyes. “Two choices. Here, against the wall, or on the kitchen table. Pick.”
“We’re not having sex,” she insisted, whispering the words.
Troy chuckled evilly. “Not yet, but give us thirty seconds and—”
“Nicole? Everything okay?”
Jason’s question broke through the sexual maelstrom in the kitchen, and finally Troy froze.
“Everything’s fine,” she called as she scrambled for an excuse to keep her date in the other room, because it would be impossible to explain why she was currently in a sexually suggestive position, pinned to the wall by a man the size of a gladiator. “My…friend stopped by. I’ll just be a second.”
Then her feet were back on the floor, Troy holding her steady until she found her balance. He tilted his head toward the front room. “Who the hell is that?” he demanded.
Nicole squared her shoulders. “My date.”
The confusion in his eyes was followed rapidly by anger. “What the fuck?”
Okay, that was too far. Annoyance replaced her temporary panic. What right did Troy have to be mad? She’d told him the fling was over. He was the one interrupting her evening. “A date? You’ve heard of those things?”
“Yeah, but you don’t date,” Troy said.
“I do now,” she said sharply, more irritated by the second as she wiggled to release herself from the cage of his arms. “Go away. I need to get back—”
“Who is he?” Troy took a step toward the living room.
Nicole grabbed him by the wrist and attempted to jerk him to a stop. “Don’t you dare go in there,” she whispered frantically. “Troy, no…”
Her weight didn’t slow him in the slightest as he dragged her after him down the short hallway. She recovered her footing and released him as they rounded the corner into the living room.
Jason turned toward them, surprise drifting over his features. “Oh. Hello.”
A second later she had to slam on the brakes to keep from smashing into Troy. He’d stopped right in her path, his massive shoulders and torso turning him into a dandy roadblock.
God, he was such a pain in the ass. Nicole planted both hands on his back and shoved as hard as she could, which meant the big lug shifted all of two inches to one side.
Barely enough space for her to squeeze past him and offer an apologetic smile to her date. “Sorry about that. This is Troy, my brother’s best friend. Troy, this is Jason.”
Her date frowned slightly as if confused, which he had every right to be, but he politely rose to his feet and held out a hand. “Jason Millette.”
Troy stood rocklike, eyeing Jason as if he were a lump of leftovers forgotten in the fridge for too long.
“Troy dropped off some stuff for the family. He’s not staying,” Nicole announced, stepping in to push Troy toward the back door, herding him like a lost bull who’d wandered into the daisy patch.
Troy stood his ground, accepting Jason’s hand. “Troy Thompson.”
Nicole cringed, hoping he wasn’t going to do something rude like crush Jason’s hand, Troy released the other man after a sturdy handshake, but then the jerk settled in the easy chair to the side of the couch as if he had every intention of staying awhile.
“New in town?” he asked, his smile broadening. Turning on the charm.
“Just joined the law firm,” Jason admitted. “Newest junior partner. You?”
“Family runs the local garage. You need a summer tune-up, let me know. We get pretty full with tourists breaking down and RV repairs, but I’ll sneak you in.”
“Hey, thanks for the offer. I might take you up on that. I usually do my own maintenance, or get the dealership to take care of it, but it’s been pretty busy getting settled in at the new job.”
“I bet.” Troy leaned back comfortably, glancing at the coffee table. “Are you kidding me? Monopoly? I haven’t played that in years. God, it used to kill my brothers. I’d make their lives hell every time they tried to clear that third corner. I owned Kentucky to Marvin Gardens.”
Jason chuckled. “Best strategy around. Ignore the cheap properties and Park Place/Broadway, and knock their knees out with middle-income rent and utilities.”
“Ha—you can have the utilities, I get the railroads.” Troy was leaning forward now, elbows on his knees, eyes sparkling as if this was the most scintillating conversation he’d had in years.
Nicole was going to freaking kill him. “Well, nice of you to drop by, but we’re about to—”
“You want to play?” Jason offered. “Three is always better than two.”
Only if they were talking about fooling around, which Nicole doubted. Troy had never been interested in having anyone else participate while they’d fucked before, and it wasn’t likely he would start by suggesting a ménage with the newest junior member of the local law firm.
She turned and faced her annoyance directly, offering the evilest eye she could. “Troy can’t stay,” she announced firmly.
“Troy would love to stay,” he contradicted her, dragging his chair across the floor until he was within arm’s reach of the game. “I’m the race car.”
“Dibs on the top hat,” Jason flashed back.
Troy leaned back and winked. “Got any Coke, Nic?”
She was stuck. Complaining would only make her look like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum. But his ass was grass. “Sure, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal.”
“In the can,” he ordered. He stared at her, challenging her to argue.
They knew each other too well. Yeah, she probably would have spat in his glass.
She mouthed the words. You. Are. So. Dead.
The jerk just grinned before ignoring her and turning to discuss who should go first with Jason.
The game went on for nearly two hours, at which point Nicole was fighting to keep from straight-out yawning in their faces. She’d gone bankrupt a good forty-five minutes earlier.
The guys continued their cutthroat game, seemingly oblivious to her increasing ants in the pants.
“Ha!” Jason howled with delight. Troy’s final roll landed him on Jason’s most expensive lot. He thrust his fists in the air, roaring as if there were a crowd cheering in the distance before returning to position and offering a cocky grin. “And that, my friends, is how the game is played.”
Troy handed the last of his money across the board with a good-natured grin. “You got me. Well done.”
“And that was so much fun,” Nicole announced, perkiness dripping from every word.
Troy’s lips twitched, but Jason seemed to miss her sarcasm. “We’ll have to do it again sometime,” he suggested.
Right after my lobotomy, Nicole thought as she gathered up empty snack bowls and glasses and carried them into the kitchen, shoving everything into the dishwasher as she fought to regain her sense of humour.
It took a while.
By the time she got back, the guys had the game put away and were standing by the door, deep in discussion. The Monopoly box was tucked under Jason’s arm, his coat draped over it.
“I don’t think they got the timing belt quite right,” Jason complained.
“Bring it by tomorrow,” Troy offered, looking thoughtful for a moment. “After lunch. I should have time to look at it.”
Jason smacked a hand on his shoulder before turning to Nicole. “Thanks for an awesome evening. It was great.”
She stepped closer, waiting for Troy to leave so she could at least finish the date somewhat normally. A goodbye kiss would be better than nothing at all.
Troy didn’t budge. Just stood there, smiling innocently as if he didn’t know damn well that she wanted his ass out of the house.
“Awesome night, as always,” he said to Nic before bumping her date with a closed fist. “Oh, hey, Jason. You mentioned you were thinking about learning to fish.” He tilted his head toward the street. “I got my new rod and reel in the truck. Wanna see?”
“Definitely.” Jason followed him to the door, glancing over his shoulder with a final smile for Nicole. “Thanks, again. Great evening. I guess I’ll see you at the office.”
The jerks left.
She included both of them in that description because now Jason was in her bad books as well as Troy. She managed to wait until the door was closed and the guys were well away, standing by the tailgate of Troy’s truck. Then the words burst free.
“Son of a bitch.”
She wasn’t sure which of them she was yelling at.
A truly impressive jumble of frustration wrapped around her. Boredom mixed with the sexual tension Troy had flash-fire started and then let fizzle away, and…
What the freak had just happened?
Troy drove off right after Jason did, turning at the first corner and doubling back. He slipped into the parking spot behind Nicole’s place.
Time to find out what the hell was going on.
He stomped up the back stairs and yanked open the door. “Nic?”
He glanced around the kitchen before pacing into the living room. Empty—she’d vanished.
“Nic,” he shouted louder as he headed toward the back of the house and her bedroom.
No wonder she hadn’t answered. A faint light escaped from the bathroom where the shower was blasting at full volume. He marched forward, pausing at the door.
The clear shower curtain allowed enough light to shine through that her body was nicely showcased from top to bottom. He folded his arms and watched in appreciation as she rinsed the shampoo out of her hair, bubbles slipping over her face and down her curves. Her hands danced over her skin, just the places he’d like to be touching, and Troy eased his position to relieve some of the pressure on his rising cock.
Cool as a cucumber, without even looking his direction, she gave him shit. “Are you going to stand there all night gawking, or you are going to tell me what the hell you were thinking, coming over here and messing up my date?”
Troy chuckled. “I like how you don’t even blink to find me in your bathroom.”
She stepped to the edge of the bath, jerking the shower curtain back a few inches so she could glare at him more easily, water dripping down her face, her bangs hanging in her eyes. “I knew you’d show up. Kind of expected you to wait till Jason drove off and then march right back so you could annoy me faster. Jerk.”
“I figured I should give at least the appearance of leaving.” Troy admired the view, his gaze lingering on her breasts. “What’re you so pissed off about? I had no idea some random guy was going to be here.”
“Bullshit.” Nic cut the water, shoving back the shower curtain with a strong sweep of her arm. She shoved her hand forward in a clear demand.
“No shit,” he insisted, grabbing the towel from beside his shoulder and shaking it out. Instead of stuffing it into her hand, he reached forward and draped it around her body, picking her up and placing her on the bathmat. “As far as I knew, we were on for the evening like usual.”
Nicole shrugged out of his grasp, escaping into her bedroom where she rubbed the towel vigorously over tempting, wet skin. “Good lord, Troy, don’t make me go through all this again. I sent you an email and explained everything. It’s been fun, but it’s time to move to the next thing, which means I need to date. So don’t stop by to hook up anymore, yada yada yada…”
Troy settled on her bed, confused as all get out. Watching her hadn’t made his aching cock any easier to ignore. And it didn’t help when, without a lick of embarrassment, she dropped the towel to the floor and reached into her dresser.
He dragged his gaze off her bare ass. “Well, that would have made a difference. If I’d gotten your email, but since I didn’t, I still don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She jerked a T-shirt over her head—one of his that she’d stolen at some point—then reached for her phone. “You’re so annoying. Fine. I’ll show you proof.”
She flipped through the screens then passed it over triumphantly.
He read through the message. “It’s been fun… Need to date… No more Netflix and chill…” Troy glanced up. “Number one, I’ve never seen this before in my life. You didn’t send it to me.”
“I know I did,” she insisted.
“Nope.” He shook his head. “I hope you didn’t send it to one of my brothers.”
Her eyes widened. “Fuck, I hope not.”
“Or my dad,” Troy deadpanned. “That would make things real awkward the next time—”
“Shut. Up.” She snatched the phone from him and checked frantically. “Oh my God, okay. It’s still in drafts. I guess I forgot to hit send.”
“Apology accepted.” Troy leaned back and blinked, offering his most innocent expression.
“And number two,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken, “I still don’t get it, this sudden urge to ‘date’. What does that even mean? You have some weird compulsion to be bored to tears? I mean, I can totally understand how hot you must have been for Jason. The dude was super-enticing, with that steamy move preempting Ventnor Avenue and all.”
She plopped onto the bed beside him, flinging her arms and legs out as her head hit the pillow with a thud. He held his amusement. Melodrama wasn’t usually her thing, but the flounce fit.
“What’s up, Nic?” he asked seriously.
Troy stretched beside her, years of familiarity between them easing the awkwardness. “Not usually. Unless you’ve decided to turn your love of unsolvable puzzles on your sex life, just to mix it up.”
“This isn’t about sex,” she insisted, a low unhappy sound following hard on the heels of the comment. “Dammit to hell, it can’t be about sex. If it were about sex then you and me would be bouncing the mattress right now, fucking our brains out.”
Troy rolled her under him, taking her lips and kissing her decisively. She’d sounded so confused and sad it seemed only right to give her something else to think about. Or not think about.
A good, hard tumble should do it.
Warm, soft curves filled his hands as he skimmed his palms up the sides of her body, their lips and tongues tangling enthusiastically.
She was on board at the start, wrapping her legs around his hips. Digging her fingers into his shoulders. Kissing him back hungrily.
Then her new agenda must have intervened. “We’re not supposed to do this. No more booty calls,” Nic murmured against his mouth even as she reached between their bodies, fighting to undo his top button. “I need to move on.”
Her lips skated over his jaw, then her teeth nipped his chin the instant before she moaned. Her hips rose as she rubbed against the hard length of his cock.
“Move on to what? God, Nic, that feels so fucking good.”
“Hmmm, yes, right there.” A low, needy sigh escaped her followed by a curse. “Dammit, Troy. We can’t do this.”
“We can.” He dipped his head and put his teeth to the hard point of her nipple, biting lightly through the thin cotton T-shirt. “We are.”
Another needy groan, but this time she let go of his shoulders, sliding her hands to his chest and pushing him away instead of holding him close. “Please. Help me stop…”
Troy rolled away, body throbbing with the need to continue, but he knew better than to keep going after a woman said stop. He stared at the ceiling for a moment and fought to steady his breathing, thinking of icy-cold things. Picturing the most boring engine tune-up ever to wipe away images of Nic naked, riding his cock.
It took a few minutes before he could speak without groaning in frustration. “It’s complicated?” he repeated.
“I have time to listen,” he offered, rolling to his side and staring at her flushed face. A chuckle escaped. “It’s not as if we’re doing anything else interesting at the moment.”
Nic crawled backward until she was propped against the headboard. “I…” She made a face. “This is super awkward.”
“More awkward than discovering we had sex too close to the motion sensor at the wetland reserve, and now there’re pictures of my ass floating around the forestry-service back rooms?”
She laughed. “That will only be awkward if anyone ever IDs your ass.”
“Which we both know will happen at the most inopportune moment possible.” Troy snickered. “I should run for mayor.”
Another burst of laughter escaped her, and something warmed inside. Maybe they weren’t fucking around like he’d hoped, but he’d still pulled her from her funky mood. He’d take any win he could, especially if it meant she was smiling instead of frustrated and upset.
Nicole stroked a finger over his cheek, thankful he’d decided to be reasonable. “Okay, so here’s the thing. Cyndi’s expecting.”
He waited in silence for a moment before shaking his head. “If that was a clue, it wasn’t enough,” he said. “Congrats to her and Kevin, but I don’t know why your sister getting pregnant means we’re not having sex.”
Oops. Yeah, she’d missed a good half-dozen steps in there. “Sorry. It’s like…a chain reaction happened all of a sudden in my brain. Cyndi and Kevin already have two kids. Jodie and Dale have three, so I don’t know if they’re even going to have anymore, although they did mention four was possible. So if I want to have kids that are—”
“You want to have kids?” he interrupted, jerking upright to stare at her in shock. “Since when?”
“That’s what I’m explaining,” she said, the irritation in her tone noticeable even to herself. She took a deep breath and started over, more rational and calm. “Yes, I want to have babies. I’ve always been thinking ‘someday I’ll have a family’, but I’ve realized if I want to have kids that are around the same age as their cousins, I need to get rolling. Which means no more fucking around with you.”
“And it’s vital to base your baby production on when your sisters are popping out kids?” A frown creased his forehead. “Nope. Don’t get it.”
As confused as he sounded, he wasn’t being an ass, so Nicole tried again. “Family is important. I’ve always planned on having at least a couple kids. And yes, I want my kids to have cousins near the same age they can be friends with, so if I don’t want to miss out before my sisters hang up the baby-making gear, I need to move on to the next thing.”
“Mike’s not having kids yet,” Troy pointed out.
She made a face. “He’s not a kid person. He’ll probably have kids only because his wife wants them, if he gets married, which who knows how many eons from now that will be. I’m not holding my breath and waiting for either miracle to occur.”
Troy batted his fingers against his thigh, the way he did when he was thinking hard. Or annoyed. “You want to have kids, so you need to date.”
“Well, I’d kind of like to have them the old-fashioned way, yeah,” she said. “Which means I need to find a guy to have them with. Which means dating.”
“What? You don’t think they’ve come up with a Studs R Us app for baby-making yet? Swipe right for ‘impregnate me now’?”
She smacked him lightly on the arm. “Stop it. I’m not going to grab some random guy, you know. I’m also looking for someone I enjoy spending time with. Someone I want to be with forever.”
His entire attitude had grown unreadable. Nicole twisted to a sitting position to face him. “What’s wrong?”
Troy shook his head. “Nothing.”
Only he was on the edge of the bed now, straightening his clothes and grabbing his shoes from the floor.
Nicole watched as he put them on. “Are you mad at me?”
He made a noncommittal noise that could be a no. Or a yes. Or the result of a bad taco for supper.
She crawled closer and laid a hand on his arm. “You knew things weren’t serious between us.”
His fingers closed over hers, and he squeezed briefly before pulling himself free and rising to his feet. His devilish smile was back in place, eyes flashing as if he didn’t have a care in the world. “Of course I knew we weren’t serious. You just threw me for a loop, sweetheart. That’s a big change you’ve got going on, but if it’s what you want, no prob. I should get out of your hair and let you make plans, or whatever you need to do.”
“Sleep?” Nicole teased. “Since it’s late?”
“Right.” Troy nodded once then turned on his heel and marched from the room.
The temperature seemed to drop ten degrees when he left, and she sat back and stared at the empty doorframe, listening as his footsteps faded into the distance. The backdoor opened and closed firmly—but not firmly enough to be slammed shut.
He’d been reasonable. Understanding, really, yet…
It wasn’t as if she’d expected a goodbye kiss after sharing her decision, but his total lack of reaction left her feeling uncomfortable and disjointed.
If he’d ranted and called her a fool, it would have hurt. Or if he’d laughed and called her an idiot, it would have offended her, but either way she could’ve gotten blazing mad at him for daring to judge her.
Instead he’d pulled the wind from her sails and neither agreed with her, nor fought her, and she felt…
As if a piece of her wasn’t sitting in the right order anymore.
She should have expected it, though. Moving on affected both of them, and changes sucked.
But her sisters had gone from being wild party girls to finding great guys they’d fallen madly in love with. Guys who were now solid, dependable husbands and proud daddies of the families they were raising.
It was time for Nicole to step in a new direction, and that meant away from Troy Thompson. That was all.
But if her decision was that simple, she should have rolled over and gone to sleep. Instead, she found herself rushing into the kitchen a moment later, staring out the window at Troy’s monster truck as he backed into the alley. He glanced toward her, the yard light shining off his impenetrable expression before he focused away from her and drove off.
She wondered where he was going…
…and the fact she wondered at all annoyed her even more than his earlier lack of response.
A stiff drink. That’s what he needed. Maybe a double, and keep them coming. Liquor easing down his throat until he was numb and the conversation he’d just had was nothing but a blurred memory. Perfect. He’d go get a bottle and finish it off…
Except since he didn’t fucking drink, getting shit-faced oblivious was out of the bloody question.
He could go find a fight. Dangerous and violent. Fists and pain and a whole lot of shouting voices, loud enough to drown out the roaring in his ears.
Nicole Adams wanted babies.
Oh, right, and a guy to go with them. A guy who was not Troy, so thanks very much for all the fun fucking around we’ve had, but I need to move on to some perfectly boring asshole with willing sperm.
Suddenly Monopoly Man was so much more explainable. Jason must be considered a good donor candidate. Dude had a respectable job that paid well. Decent looking—heck, Troy wondered if Nic had done a genetic background check on the ass.
He turned so sharply at the next corner tires squealed and rubber burned.
To hell with going home yet. Mike was there with Tessa, and while there was no longer any reason to not join in for a threesome, he had zero desire to go that route. Not tonight.
Tonight he wanted to burn off steam, and he wasn’t even sure he could put a name to exactly why he was so fucking pissed off. He’d known the relationship was short term. He’d goddamn known at some point she’d say she’d had enough, but…
He jerked the wheel to the left and headed to his oldest brother’s place.
Since he wasn’t going to drink, fight or fuck, he might as well annoy the hell out of his family. Dropping in on Clay and Maggie would distract him from his foul mood nicely. He needed some mothering tonight.
He usually let his oldest brother do that.
Amusement snuck past his brewing discontent as he knocked on their back door. It was barely after ten. Maybe he could sweet talk Maggie into letting him raid their fridge.
Only, no one answered, not for the longest time. Troy was on the verge of walking in like he had at Nic’s when the door finally moved.
Clay wore nothing but a pair of sweatpants, low on his hips, and his expression was far from welcoming.
“Who’s dead?” his brother demanded.
Troy considered. “No one.”
“Anyone dying? Bleeding out?”
“Nope.” Troy folded his arms over his chest. “You’re in a gory state of mind.”
“Good night, Troy.”
Clay pushed the door, and it swung toward Troy. He shot out a hand to stop it before it could close entirely. “Hey. What the hell?”
His brother glared harder. “Go home.”
“But I thought—”
His words ground to a halt as he finally clued in. The yellow glow in the barely visible living room was caused by candlelight, and soft music played in the background. As tempting as it was to stand there and continue to annoy Clay, he liked Maggie too much to massacre the romantic evening he’d interrupted.
He backed away. “Sorry. I’ll see you at the shop on Monday.”
“Troy, wait.” Clay’s expression softened. “You okay?” he asked. “I mean, you’ve got shitty timing, but I’m not about to kick you to the curb if something’s wrong.”
“I’m fine.” Troy waved a hand. “Get back to what you’re doing.”
Clay didn’t bother to answer, just grinned as he closed the door and left Troy standing there.
Another rush of gut-twisting emotion tangled through him. So. Not only was he cut off from sex, he was cut off and his big brother was scoring.
Something was not right in the world.
Ten minutes later it was clear Fate was truly enjoying herself and having a good hard laugh at his expense. He pulled into the driveway at Mitch and Anna’s, dimming his headlights as he eyeballed the living room, not wanting to interrupt another date night at home.
There were no candles involved this time, at least. Troy jogged around the side of the house, jerking to a stop when he heard angry voices through the open living room window.
“You’re not being logical,” Mitch snapped.
“And you’re being a bossy bastard,” Anna retorted. “Like usual.”
“You like it when I’m bossy. Besides, I’m right, and you damn well know it.”
Troy backed away rapidly. He didn’t want to get in the middle of any fight, although he was disappointed to discover the two of them—
Something crashed, followed by a loud thump, and warning bells went off like crazy. Screw not getting involved in his brother’s affairs. Something was wrong. Troy ran toward the window…
For fuck’s sake.
Whatever they’d been arguing about was either forgotten or some screwed-up version of foreplay. Mitch had Anna up against the wall, and the two of them were kissing like fiends, clothes falling away in the split second before Troy turned his back and escaped.
He wasn’t even going to attempt his little sister’s place, because if Katy wasn’t making out with Gage, they’d be up with his year-old nephew, Tanner. He loved the kid, but no way in hell he was going anywhere near a rugrat tonight.
He hesitated before heading to Len and Janey’s then decided to take the risk. By now his inexplicable anger had cooled, but he was still hoping for a dose of family.
A slow drive past their backyard kept his tires rolling. His middle brother sat by the fire pit in their backyard, Janey in his lap, the two of them cuddled up and kissing.
Was everyone in the frickin’ world fooling around tonight except him?
Troy drove to the Thompson and Sons garage. He pulled on a coverall and headed to the first job lined up for the following morning. He wasn’t scheduled to work until Monday—Clay and Mitch were covering the weekend—but he might as well do something productive while he stewed.
He was lying on a mechanics creeper, slipping under the car to access the oil pan, when the lights by the far wall clicked on.
“Who’s there?” a deep, masculine voice demanded.
Troy rolled out and sat up to spot his dad stepping cautiously down the stairs.
“Over here. It’s—” He swore and dropped behind the hood of the car as his dad swung a shotgun toward him. “Jesus, Dad, put that damn thing away,” he shouted. “It’s Troy.”
Keith Thompson muttered under his breath, then stomped across the floor to the nearest workbench, laying the shotgun on the surface. “Damn fool. What’re you doing here so late, sneaking around in the dark?”
“An oil change,” Troy snapped.
“You can’t find anything better to do at this hour?” his dad demanded.
“No.” He was too pissed off to even attempt an excuse. “What the hell is wrong with you? Pulling a gun on me. You could hurt someone with that shit.”
Keith gazed at him for a moment before his face twitched. “That’s kind of the idea of a shotgun, you know. To shoot things.”
“Don’t fucking joke about this. Even if we have a freaking break-in, don’t you ever bring a gun in here again.” Troy stared his father down from a good extra four inches of height. “Let them steal everything in the goddamn shop if they want.”
His dad straightened, anger rising in his eyes. “Watch your language and don’t boss me around.”
“Well, someone has to, since you’ve obviously taken leave of your senses.”
“Of all my children, you’re the last one who gets to lecture me. You’re still wet behind the ears.” His dad turned his back and stomped away, shouting over his shoulder. “Want a drink?”
As if Keith hadn’t just threatened to shoot Troy then insulted him on top of it.
Troy dragged a hand through his hair and counted to ten. “No thanks,” he gritted through his teeth.
Keith disappeared into the staff area, but he was back a moment later, popping the top on a beer then offering it to Troy.
Troy shook his head. “No.”
His dad shrugged then took a drink, leaning back on the nearest bench, making himself comfortable. “Still don’t know what you’re doing here.”
Since Troy didn’t know himself, it wasn’t as if he had a ready answer. “Just needed to burn off some energy.”
Keith chuckled. “You usually think of a better way to work it off than fighting with dirty oil pans. Getting into trouble, breaking hearts and all that.”
Troy stared firmly at the tool chest in front of him and worked to keep a positive mind-set instead of snapping back at his father. “Yeah, well, not tonight.”
“You coming down with something?” his dad asked, concern staining his voice. “Never known you to pick work over play.”
Fuck it all. Troy knew he shouldn’t ask. Knew it the instant the words hit his tongue, but it seemed tonight he was a glutton for punishment.
“What’re you saying? That I’m a slacker?”
“’Course not. I mean, not really. You’re young, having fun, sowing oats. The usual. You always have a good time. It’s what you do.”
And…that quickly, he’d had enough. Troy didn’t think he could keep a civil tongue in his head for much longer. “Gotta go. I’ll see you on Monday.”
He peeled off his overalls and tossed them over the nearest horizontal surface he could find before striding for the door. The fists he held clenched by his sides were shaking, he was so upset.
Pissed off again, but at least this time he knew why. What was that, three times in one night? Seems he was going for a new record.
Behind him, his dad laughed softly. “Always jumping from one thing to the next. Stay out of trouble, son. We’ll see you ’round.”
Troy slammed the truck door and fought to even his breathing. He would not race out of the lot like a speed demon and give his father a chance to mock him on Monday.
Then again, maybe Keith wouldn’t even notice, like he’d never fucking noticed that Troy didn’t drink. Not ever.
There were an awful lot of other things his father, and his siblings, had never noticed, because that was how Troy had wanted it, but tonight for some reason the secrets he was holding, and his lack of connection to them all burned.
He loved them. His family was his fucking everything, but sometimes he wanted to take the lot of them, sit them down, and make them open their bloody eyes and see.
And yet…them knowing his secrets was the exact opposite of what he’d always worked for, and the dilemma just made his blood boil and his brain ache.
What a shitty day.
“Can I get a favour?”
Nicole blinked as she changed her focus from the computer screen to the office receptionist. “What’s up?”
“I know Mondays you usually take a late lunch, but can you go now then mind the desk while I’m gone?” Kerry asked. “I have to head out, and I need someone to deal with drop-ins.”
Nicole glanced at her watch. A change of timing was no big deal. She saved her project then grabbed her purse. “Sure. I’ll be back as quick as I can.”
“Don’t rush.” Kerry pointed toward the partners who stood in a group by the coffee machine. “They’re heading into a meeting for the next hour, and I can’t leave until they’re done.”
Nicole glanced over, and Jason caught her eye. He offered a smile, but he hadn’t done more than simply say hello that morning. He must’ve been just as impressed with their Friday evening as she was.
She headed outdoors, thinking hard about the wisdom of dating someone where she worked. Not that she was jumping up and down to spend more time with the man. He was nice enough, she supposed, but there hadn’t been any sparks.
That’s because Troy burned through all the kindling, her brain taunted.
Nicole pushed through the doors of the café, telling her brain to kindly shut up.
The place was a madhouse. This was why she didn’t usually go for lunch at five minutes after twelve. There didn’t seem to be an empty chair anywhere. Nicole rotated slowly, debating if she should give up and settle for the granola bar she kept in her desk.
Her gaze met a pair of cool blue eyes and a welcoming smile set in a somewhat familiar face. The blonde patted the back of the empty seat next to her where she was tucked in the corner at a small table.
Nicole made her way across the floor, scrambling through her memories. The woman was familiar, but her name hovered on the tip of Nicole’s tongue. They must have gone to school together, but the blonde had to be at least a few years younger, so they wouldn’t have shared any classes.
Recall of the woman’s name and particulars arrived the moment Nicole reached the table, and there was no time to abandon ship without being really rude.
Her mystery woman had risen to her feet and was holding out a hand in welcome. “Laurel Sitko,” she offered as a reminder. “The place is packed, but I don’t mind if you join me.”
It wasn’t who she’d expected to share a meal with, but Nicole supposed she was safe enough. It’s not as if the pastor’s daughter was going to haul her over to the dark side in a mere thirty minutes.
“Where did all these people come from?” Nicole settled in the chair beside Laurel’s.
“Tour bus? I’m not sure.” Laurel wrinkled her nose as she gazed around the room. “I thought I knew everybody in Rocky, but I’ve been gone for three years. It’s possible some of them live here now.”
“Easy enough to tell,” Nicole grumbled. “Is there anyone under the age of forty, male, and moderately attractive? If so, they have to be visiting.”
Laurel laughed, a bright, light sound that brought smiles to the people at the tables next to them. Nicole found her lips twitching involuntarily as well.
Then Laurel leaned closer, whispering just loud enough for Nicole to hear, “We need to set up the modern equivalent of mail-order brides, only with sexy, eligible bachelors. They don’t even need to have jobs, as long as they’re very good with their hands.”
Nicole attempted to swallow the mouthful she’d just sipped from her water glass, but it was no use. Moisture dribbled down her chin, and she wiped at her face and choked for air as Laurel patted her soothingly on the shoulder.
When she could finally breathe, she gave Laurel a far more thorough once-over. “Am I mixed up?” she asked. “Am I confusing you with someone else?”
Laurel’s eyes sparkled. “Excuse me?”
“Pastor’s daughter? Class valedictorian?”
“Don’t forget the new label. Librarian technician.” The young woman nodded. “None of which are required to have stick in the mud in the definition the last time I checked, in case that’s what you were thinking.”
She was a smart cookie. Nicole’s smile widened. “Good to know.”
One of the harried café waitresses scurried up, took their orders then vanished in a whirlwind. Nicole glanced around, more for a chance to think than because she was curious about the customers in the cafe.
Laurel was younger than her, and definitely not a part of the crowd Nicole was used to hanging out with. Yet, considering all the changes she had planned, making a new friend who was a little less the wild party animal was probably a good thing.
She turned back to her seatmate. “Librarian?”
“Technician,” Laurel emphasized. “I’ve only completed two years so far, but it’s enough to qualify for a practicum position.”
“You’ll be around for the summer?”
“Longer than that, depending on what happens at the library.”
Nicole nodded. “Are you living back at home?”
Laurel shuddered before looking sheepish. “Definitely not. I found a one-bedroom to rent. I wanted to come back to Rocky, but that doesn’t mean I want to go back to being under my parents’ roof.”
“I hear you.” Nicole patted Laurel sympathetically on the hand. “I felt the same way last year when I finished school. All my family is here, and I think I want to stay, but I’m not twelve anymore.”
“Tell me it gets easier,” Laurel begged earnestly. “I’m still getting the you know your old bedroom is open suggestion every time I visit them, and I’m ready to scream.”
“Just think how much you’d save if you lived at home,” Nicole deadpanned. “You don’t need to deal with all that yard work. Are you stopping by for dinner tonight?”
Laurel groaned, hanging her head in her hands.
Nicole laughed softly. “Buck up. I guess that means they love us.”
The other woman nodded, a wistful expression in her eyes. “They could love us from a distance, couldn’t they? That would be far more convenient.”
They exchanged another laugh before the conversation dove off into books they liked, and music, and by the time their meals were just about done, Nicole was pretty sure she’d found a new BFF.
It was a little shocking to discover since Laurel was one of the last people she would’ve imagined to have been a kindred spirit.
“Nic, baby. You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Nicole glanced up to discover one of her guy friends standing over the table, another man at his side. “Glenn. Hey, it’s been a long time.”
“Ages. At least a month or two.” He offered a wink before tilting his head to indicate his buddy. “Meet Darrell. Cousin of mine. He’s thinking about moving to Rocky.”
Miracles would never cease. Under the age of forty, male, and moderately attractive. Maybe Laurel was giving off heavenly vibes and prayers were being answered.
“Nice to meet you,” Nicole said with complete honesty.
Darrell nodded, meeting her eyes for just a moment before glancing away.
Shy, or extremely shy, one of the two.
Glenn more than made up for his cousin. “He’s an accountant. Business stuff, kind of like you, only he works for himself.”
Nicole tried to catch Darrell’s gaze. “That’s great.”
“Yeah, he’s obsessive about numbers. Fits him to a T.” Glenn elbowed his cousin in the side. “Anyway, there’s a party happening Friday night at the Blackstones’. Wondered if you’re going.”
Maybe Nicole should take it as a good sign that she hadn’t even known about the house party. Maybe she was already becoming grownup, responsible and respectable.
Boring. Boring and no sex, her brain shouted.
Shut up, she told her brain.
Before she could answer, Darrell shifted uncomfortably then offered a timid smile. “If you don’t have a date yet, I’d love to go with you.”
Awwww. How sweet. The party hadn’t tempted her, but his invitation was more in line with her current requirements, and the setting would be a safe place to get to know someone new.
“Sounds like fun. I’d love to.” She offered a wide smile, and Darrell’s eyes lit up, before he looked away. “You want to meet there?” Nicole asked.
Darrell nodded wordlessly.
Nicole turned to Laurel. “You going?”
Laurel blinked hard, shock on her face as if Nicole had just asked if the other woman wanted to strip naked and dance on the table. “Going where?”
The guys seemed to notice Laurel for the first time.
“Oh. Sure, whatever. You’re welcome to come too, I guess,” Glenn offered, although he didn’t seem very excited about it.
“Thanks so much.” Laurel’s lips twitched. “It sounds peachy.”
Nicole stopped from snorting. Just.
“Awesome. Eight o’clock then.” Without waiting for a response, Glenn flicked his fingers in a mock salute then bumped his shoulder into his cousin. “Let’s go.”
Nicole watched until they left the café, feeling a little as if she’d entered the Twilight Zone. “That was weird.”
She glanced over at Laurel who was primly eating the last of her french fries, staring out the window with amusement in her eyes.
“What’s so funny?” Nicole asked. “And please don’t say ‘Golly gee, I don’t know what you’re talking about’, because I’ll hurl.”
Laurel snickered. “Don’t worry, your lunch is safe.”
“I’m thinking how much fun I can have freaking people out. I’ll wear white, and wander around with my hands like this…” she clasped them together as if she were praying “…and every chance I get I’ll open back rooms and wander in on people—”
“You’re evil,” Nicole said with a grin. “Truly inspiringly evil.”
“Thank you, I try.” Laurel fluttered her lashes, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. That lasted for all of ten seconds before her smile widened. “I have to say this has been one of the most entertaining lunch breaks I’ve had in a long time. Thank you for sharing my table, Nicole Adams.”
“Thanks for not being a stick in the mud,” Nicole tossed back.
They made arrangements for Friday evening before heading back to work, Nicole pondering the results of her incredibly productive lunch hour.
A new friend. Maybe this changing to be a better, more responsible person was going to work out all right, if it meant having people like Laurel join her life.
Oh, and she had a date. Hurrah.
Her sheer lack of enthusiasm at the idea of spending time with Darrell was frustrating. She needed to get her head back into the game, and soon. It wasn’t his fault he wasn’t Tr—
Alert. Alert. Here be monsters.
No, that line of thinking was not where she needed to go. Darrell might be a wonderful date. They’d have a great time, and maybe they’d hit it off, and even if they didn’t it was good for her to spend time with her new attitude.
Everything now needed to move toward having a family of her own. It was a damn worthwhile goal, and she was going to do everything she could to reach it.
Shut up, brain, she ordered before the thought had fully formed.
She rolled her eyes at herself then started plotting for the party.
She was going to have a good time if it killed her. And thoughts of the fun she could be having with Troy would not interfere.
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