“Of all the places you could have ended up, why are you here? Why didn’t you go home?”
“This is home. I’d think you would be happy to see me here, establishing a business, putting down roots.”
“When your roots pull mine out, we have a problem.”
Leslie Baker, owner of Potter Lake’s original hometown beauty shop, the Curl & Dye, has a problem.
Her problem isn’t her dwindling customer base. And it’s not the shifty, shady Mayor of the idyllic lakeside town.
Her problem is a muscular, handsome, 6’4” former basketball superstar with a solid physique and colorful sleeve tattoos. Kade “KC” Cavanaugh is back in Potter Lake following his NBA retirement and the business he’s opened, a slick and shiny co-ed salon, directly competes with Curl & Dye.
KC is all too eager to to pick things up where they left off fifteen years ago, but Leslie can’t forget how he pushed her away after an intimate encounter, then dropped out of college and left her behind for the bright lights of professional ball.
Though she won’t admit it, time and maturity have eaten away at Leslie's anger and her long-buried attraction to Kade Cavanaugh has resurfaced.
With a vengeance.
Now there is a larger problem: Leslie and KC find themselves in the center of a city wide drama, and with both sides of Potter Lake at war and their livelihoods at stake, the two have to stop sniping at each other and start working together.
And maybe, in the process, forget the past and revive a budding romance that was very special...a very long time ago.
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I sensed movement at the door and opened my mouth to let the customer know that we were just about to close. To my surprise, Kade Cavanaugh stood in the doorway.
Earlier in the day he'd worn a pair of shorts that looked like he'd pulled them straight from the dryer and a misshapen t-shirt. Tonight, he wore khaki carpenter shorts and a form fitting black t-shirt that spread over his pecs and hugged his biceps and...whew.
I reached out to grip my chair since I was a little light headed. A lightning bolt of attraction punched me in my chest and rushed through my body so quickly, so fiercely, it took me by surprise.
I inhaled deeply, sucking in a steadying breath before I addressed him. "Evening, KC. I'd have thought your shop would be too busy for you to be over here, checking out your competition."
He smiled, quietly laughing while his eyes surveyed the salon, starting at the reception desk, a plain old desk from Caine Brothers Wood Works. Then he took in the mismatched leather chairs that comprised the waiting area; the salon chairs with peeling vinyl patched with black tape and the shampoo bowl that was a refurbished and redesigned laundry sink.
To the naked, and maybe the more upscale eye, the Curl & Dye wasn't much to look at. But people came to the Curl & Dye for the atmosphere.
"I mean, with all due respect, Leslie..." KC shrugged and gestured toward the small salon. "You're not my competition."
That lofty, lightheaded feeling was zapped as quickly as it came on. I felt like I landed face first on the pavement. There went my moment of attraction.
Tamera stood beside me, her arms crossed. "Look who decided to slum it over on the old side of Potter Lake."
"I’m not… slumming. I hadn't been over here since I moved back and— "
"And you decided to pop in and start some shit with us?"
KC's eyes narrowed and his brows formed "V" of irritation. The glare he gave Tamera gave me an uneasy feeling.
"Tam, why don't you close out the day for me? Pull the receipts and get the deposit ready." I led her to the front desk and pulled out the chair for her to sit.
As soon as she was settled, I grabbed KC's arm and guided him back out of the shop into the warm evening. I heard Tamera grumbling, not even under her breath, as she sat at the desk and began the daily closing ritual.
"What do you want?" I asked him, noticing the enormous black Escalade parked in front of the window. "We're about to close up."
He shrugged a shoulder, tossing his keys from one hand to the other. Back in college he used to do the same with a basketball. "I just... was around and— "
"Bullshit. You have no reason to be on this side of the lake except to be snooping around this shop. So... what? You wanted to gloat? To say some more shit about stealing my clients?"
"I'm not steal—" He heaved a deep sigh and shoved both hands into his pockets. "I felt bad. About earlier. You surprised me by showing up at the shop. I felt cornered and I get mouthy when I feel like that. Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot— "
"No, I think the foot we got off on was right. You came out here and opened a business in direct competition with mine— "
"That was not my intent, Leslie. I keep telling you, I didn't know this shop was here."
"Well, now you do."
I paused, giving a wide-eyed stare at ruggedly bushy eyebrows, at long, undeservedly lush lashes, at almond shaped eyes, at full lips and well-edged goatee.
Damn, he was fine. Had always been fine but... damn, he was fine.
"Now I do," he acknowledged, with a head nod. "All I'm saying is that we should be able to co-exist."
I gestured toward the building that was The Curl & Dye, catching a glimpse of Evonne and Tamera standing in the middle of the shop watching us talk. I pulled him away from the window, toward the driver side door of his truck.
"It would be one thing if you were just a barbershop. Most of the men in this town do their own hair; they only come to me if they want something real nice. That cheap cut you offer is perfect for them."
He scoffed, but I ignored it. "We can't co-exist because women are going to your shop instead of mine, for services I offer, my mother offered, my Grandy offered for years. Your shop could lose a customer or three and it wouldn't hit your bottom line. I need every client I can get. Your shop is some kind of..."
I shrugged, shaking my head. "Get rich quick scheme, it seems. Except you're already rich, so now you're just being greedy. The Curl & Dye is my bread and butter. It keeps me and my parents in food and electricity and Grandy in good care at Primose Gardens. It's about more than a cheap haircut."
I began to back away from him and his truck and his intoxicatingly sexy smelling cologne. It was making me heady and I was feeling all kinds of really familiar feelings from being too close to him.
"I just want to run my shop, KC."
"And I want to run mine," he responded, a hand splayed across his chest. "What do you want me to do, Leslie? Close up, give up my business ‘cause you got first dibs?"
I sighed, lifting my face to the starry sky. "No," I finally answered, making my way toward the front door. "I want you to stay out of my way. You do your thing over on that side of the lake and I'll— "
"Leslieeeeee!" Gisela's high pitched wail made me whip around, my eyes wide in expectation. She tore through the shop from the back room out to the parking lot. "The pipe busted again! Hurry!"
"Shit!" I hissed, rushing back inside where water was gushing from the back room and quickly spreading through the shop and toward the front door.
"Where's your shut off valve?" I heard KC yell, hot on my heels.
"Behind the washer!" I yelled back. Tamera was already pulling the washer away from the wall. KC helped, easing the old monstrous machine out of its spot and reaching his long arms behind it to shut off the water at the valve. The busted pipe stopped gushing, now just trickling out what was left inside.
Gisela and Evonne grabbed the towels stacked on the shelf and began sopping up water. Tamera grabbed the mop and bucket and began swiping waves toward the drain under the sink.
KC was squatting in front of the pipe, inspecting it. "Looks like it's been soldered a couple of times. Not very well, though. This pipe needed to be replaced a long time ago, Leslie. It’s not to code."
"I know," I said, leaning against the doorjamb. "The last time Jessup was here, they said it was a temporary fix until I replace them." I waved a hand at the mess that was our plumbing system. "The whole place needs to be redone. I just haven't... yet."
"I could probably give you a better fix. At least replace this pipe. It'll buy you some time."
KC looked up at me from his squatting position. His eyes were earnest, his expression neutral. It was as if time had never passed and we'd never had that conversation where I gave him an ultimatum. And he didn't take it.
I chuckled, grabbing his arm, then laughed at the thought that I could pull him up. He was well over a hundred pounds heavier than me. "I don't need you to fix my pipes, KC."
Not those pipes, anyway.
Once he'd slowly made his way up, I urged him out of the shop and toward the front door. "I have a daddy and a granddaddy, and believe it or not, there's still a plumber or two over here. They'll come out and take care of it."
KC stood next to his truck and glanced back at the other girls working hard to clean up the mess, like he didn’t want to leave.
"Go on, get back to your shop. They must be helpless without you telling them exactly how to give that cheap ass haircut y'all do."
"You got jokes." KC chuckled, the sound of it a light rumble from his chest that hit me directly in mine. My feelings were all out of control and I needed this man and his eyes and his laughter and his chest and his cologne to get the hell off of my side of Potter Lake.
He opened the driver side door and climbed up into his truck, slamming the door shut. The truck roared to life a moment later, then I heard the quiet whirr of the window sliding down.
"Not for nothin, but you know my dad is a General Contractor. I learned the business inside and out, growing up. I know my way around a busted pipe and some plumbing, too. Let me know if you need some help. Aight?"
I rolled my eyes and turned to go back inside. I would have to be bleeding and on fire to ask that man for help.
Triena is alone, her rabbit stolen from her, and the Energy is behaving in unexpected ways making it difficult for her to predict the future. Her love for Braklen is strong and she sets out to find him, while trying to keep away from the Queens. With no other option she takes passage with Captain Ri who forces her to use the Energy for his own benefits.
Will she be able to find her beloved rabbit, and Braklen, before the Queens find and destroy her?
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Braklen looked down into the bowl full of gray something that was meant to be food.
“I wouldn’t eat that, man,” said a fellow evening-shift worker sitting opposite Braklen.
Despite the warning, Braklen dunked a spoon into the thick broth. “Can’t be too bad.” He spooned the greasy liquid with gray floating bits into his mouth. He choked.
The other man laughed, slapping his hand down on the metal table. “You’ll get used to it.”
Braklen coughed as the last of the liquid went down. “Tastes like jet fuel.”
“Wouldn’t put it past the cook to put some in. He probably thinks that it’d give us a boost to work harder.”
“How can you eat it?” Braklen’s spoon was poised above the liquid, but he couldn’t bring himself to take another mouthful. This was a long-haul flight and the bowl of slop was the only thing to eat. He’d just finished a twelve-hour shift in the engine room trying to repair the electronics in the backup system that were so worn out and old, it should’ve been thrown out instead. It was the first ship that accepted his qualifications as a mechanical engineer. He’d boarded, wanting to get as far away as possible from Triena.
His heart lurched, skipping beats, then contracting, causing pain to spread out across his chest. He knew he shouldn’t have boarded, or left her unconscious on the ground. But, since the chip had been deactivated, there was no point hanging around. She didn’t really want me there, not really.
The guy shrugged his shoulders, scrapping the last of the broth onto the spoon and delivered it into his mouth. “I’m already pretty thin. I’ll fade away if I don’t eat.”
Braklen laughed. “Hasn’t anyone complained?”
His men put up with a lot when he was in charge but he would’ve had an uprising if they’d ever had this food from the galley. Emptiness clawed at his gut at the reminder he didn’t command a unit of Peacekeepers anymore. Worse, he was now a wanted man.
He’d contemplated taking Triena with him, turning her in to the authorities and begging to be reinstated. But, much as he wanted his life back, that wasn’t an option. It was clear he’d been set up, a pawn for them to use to get to her. She’ll be better off without me. Safer without me.
School may be out, but class is still in session…
After a hectic school year with her classroom of first graders, Nova Grant is desperate for a break. So when her best friend invites her to spend the summer down in Miami, taking the vacation is a no-brainer. The only thing is, her best friend’s husband had the same idea, inviting his friend Guy Thompson to stay in the condo Nova was already guaranteed.
Set up or accidental… Fate or coincidental… the attraction between the two is undeniable from day one. But with their days under the sun numbered and plenty of lessons to learn between them, Guy and Nova still find themselves teetering the line of lust and love, even if it’s only for the summer…
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Rivals, enemies, lovers, Jenna and Drex are soon all three. She wants him, nearly as much as she resents him, so how can they ever hope to build a future together? Jenna has good reason to despise all Rodytes, but that doesn't keep her from longing for Drex, thinking of him night and day, and finding incredible pleasure every time they touch. Still, happily ever after is built on trust, and Jenna will never trust a Rodyte.
Drex is determined to prove to Jenna that he is different. He never expected to find a mate, so he refuses to let her slip away. He will court her with ruthless patience, wear down her emotional defenses until she understands that she is the most important person in the universe to him. But hostilities between humans and the battle born are rapidly escalating and the couple keeps getting caught in the middle. Can they overcome their pasts and focus on the future or will the conflict consume their love?
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Battle Born 13:
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright © 2017 Cyndi Friberg
Her easy dismissal of something so vital, unleashed his predatory instincts. She only shrugged away his interest because the pull hadn’t yet engaged in her. Once his taste spread through her mouth, her body would ache with need and her blood would sizzle through her veins, “pulling” her toward him. In ages past, any Rodyte male would have tossed her over his shoulder and escaped to some private location where they could fight this out in bed.
“This is about so much more than children.” Stalking toward her with obvious intent, he spoke in a low, almost menacing tone. “Once a Rodyte male has found his mate, she becomes the most important person in the universe. Protecting her, providing for her, and pleasuring her are all he can think about. Why should I ignore what every cell in my body is demanding?”
She backed up, fear flickering through her gaze. “If you touch me, I’ll scream.”
“You have nothing to fear from me.” But he kept right on coming, only stopping when her back pressed against the wall. He placed his hands on either side of her head, caging her with his big body. “Breathe in my scent, let it wash over and sink into you.”
“This is pointless.” She sounded a bit more assertive now, but her lips trembled. “I don’t feel what you’re feeling.”
“Not yet,” he whispered as he lowered his head. She jerked her face aside, so he kissed her cheek and jawline. “Kiss me, Jenna. See if my taste excites you.”
“No,” she said firmly. “I don’t want to be excited by anyone right now. I—”
He turned her head and cut off her words with his mouth. Her lips pressed together, unmoving and unresponsive. His instincts demanded that he open her mouth and stake his claim with the thrust of his tongue, but she’d likely bite him if he forced this on her. Besides, he wanted her wild and willing, not resentful and resigned.
“What are you so afraid of?” he whispered the words against her stubbornly closed mouth. “Nothing is more natural, more fulfilling, than touching and being touched by your mate.”
Her hands came up and shoved against his chest. “Back off. Now!”
“Kiss me once, and I’ll let you go.” He brushed his lips over hers, coaxing, teasing.
“No means no, asshole.” She brought her knee up hard, barely missing his crotch as he quickly turned away.
With an exasperated sigh, he pushed off the wall and motioned toward the door through which they’d escaped. “Enjoy the party.”
Lorna Randolph is hired for the summer at Harrison Hall in Virginia, where Revolutionary-War reenactors provide guided tours of the elegant old home. She doesn't expect to receive a note and a kiss from a handsome young man who then vanishes into mist.
Harrison Hall itself has plans for Lorna – and for Hart Harrison, her momentary suitor and its 18th century heir. Past and present are bound by pledges of love, and modern science melds with old skills and history as Harrison Hall takes Lorna and Hart through time in a race to solve a mystery and save Hart's life before the Midsummer Ball.
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The god of war, Ares, had reached down to Hades and given Stephano another chance at life as one of his legendary fighters—Spartans. For centuries, he’d fought and survived more battles than he could recount. But the one fight he feared he might lose came in the form of one tiny, perfectly formed woman who was off-limits.
Yet, the longer he had with her, the more he realized she might be the one battle he would gladly lose.
Maeve was a Siren, one of only two remaining in her realm. When warriors arrived and offered her brother a way out of their realm, if only they led them to the gates between worlds, she knew she had to aid them. It was the only way to free her brother from the burden of caring for her. She would help them, lead them to the gates, then let her brother go so he could be free from her.
Only one warrior, one sexy, too-handsome rogue, might ruin her plan. Especially when he was clearly bent on seducing her. Worse, for the first time in her life, she was tempted to allow it, just to see if he could make her sing in his arms.
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New Orleans 1841 Ever since her parents died of yellow fever when she was a child, Charotte LeClerc has lived with her grandparents, who rarely speak of their son and his wife. They are on the verge of negotiating a marriage contract with a suitor, a man Charlotte loathes, when they discover that she enjoys the company of Gabriel Girod, a young Creole man. Her future hangs in the balance as her grandparents choose between keeping secrets or revealing a truth they've known since before her birth -- a truth that will make the difference between a life of obligation and a life of choice for Charlotte.
(PLEASE NOTE: This novel was originally published as Love Finds You in New Orleans)
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Available FREE The Five Wishes Series: Novellas about wishes that go terribly wrong…fortunately.
Five Wishes...A happy ending is just a coin toss away. Each novella is approximately 100 pages with NO cliffhanger.
Book 1: Going Down: Marion MacAlister wants to nail her audition, not get nailed. Truly. Honestly. All right...maybe she does want to get nailed, but that's just because her hottie landlord and local diner owner Mack Ryan is confusing her. Can friends become lovers? Especially friends who might not even be friends in the first place?
Book 2: Man Candy: Raine Harper is in love with Wade Gates. But Wade likes women who are model thin, and Raine is model thin plus a whole lot of pounds. Desperate to make him love her, she trains just a little too hard and passes out in the arms of superstar movie star Dirk Adams. Dirk thinks Raine’s junk in the trunk is perfect and proposes to make Wade jealous by becoming her pretend boyfriend. Pretend soon seems very real. Is Dirk a great actor, or is something really developing between Raine and the movie star?
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Seventeen-year-old Alexa Cross is desperate to get to Broadway, but when she receives a failing math grade, hopes of a scholarship disappear. Now she’ll need her father’s help to achieve her dream. The only problem is he doesn’t consider her choice of careers to be sensible and after the pain her family has suffered, Alexa can’t go against his wishes. Trapped between a family she loves and her love of the stage, Alexa will have to find another way to achieve her dream or settle for what her father wants.
West Howell does his best to keep his head down and go unnoticed. It’s easier to be cut off than to try to explain to people why he’s so screwed up. After all, he can’t afford to get into any more trouble. When he’s recruited to tutor the hot, prissy girl from math, he never expects to fall in love with her. Or that she might be the one person who can relate to him.
Together, they may find a way to heal each other and get what they both desperately need, as long as Alexa’s father doesn’t decide that the one thing worse than his daughter’s love of the stage is her love for West.
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Mr. Guin gave her a moment to adjust to the news and then continued. “Now, I know you’re capable of doing the work. You’re a smart girl, but you’re going to have to buckle down and put in some serious hours or you won’t have enough time to pull your overall grade up before the end of the semester.” He stood and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m afraid you need more help than I have time to give, and that’s why I’ve spoken with the person in the class with the highest average. He’s going to be tutoring you at my request.”
He. Please don’t let it be West Howell. Please don’t let it be West Howell. Of course, it wouldn’t be. He wasn’t smart. Or was he? The truth was she had no idea. She didn’t know anything about him.
A shadow filled the doorway, and she didn’t have to look up to know her worst nightmare had come true. She could sense his presence like a deer in the woods can sense a predator.
“Ah, here he is now. Miss Cross, I believe you know Mr. Howell?”
She swallowed the lump in her throat and sat up straighter. “Yes, sir.”
“West, I’ll leave it up to the two of you to work out your own schedule.”
West nodded, but remained quiet. Alexa was working hard not to stand up and pull her hair out like some sort of animated character in a cartoon while laughing hysterically. This could not be happening.
Mr. Guin continued on, unaware she was one step away from hysterics. “I’ll expect the two of you to work together four days a week.”
Alexa’s mouth dropped open, but no sound came out.
“I’ll evaluate your progress by the extra assignments you’ll be required to turn in at the end of each week. Also, if Mr. Howell feels you aren’t doing your absolute best to succeed or if he feels you aren’t taking this second chance seriously, he’s been told to report to me immediately. You will not fail this class because you weren’t given every opportunity to succeed. The only way to fail is to give up.” Mr. Guin leaned down toward her. “And we both know you’re not a quitter.”
While she appreciated the chance and his opinion of her work ethic, she was having a hard time concentrating on anything other than having to spend time outside of class with West four days a week. And now, he also knew she was an idiot. Perfect.
Andy may not have pipeline know-how, per se, but she’s got brains and every right to prove that she can do the job. Her estranged grandpa, Buck, believes she has what it takes to be his engineering assistant, and she’s not about to let him down.
Rooster isn’t a bad guy. He respects women, he was raised by one of the best. But that new girl is too small and… feminine. She’s a distraction, plain and simple, and she doesn’t belong on a pipeline. This job is his chance to impress Buck Brennan, a pipeline legend, and no girly greenhorn is going to ruin it for him.
Will Andy prove herself to her grandfather and forge a relationship with the old man, or will continuous disagreements and unexpected sexual tension between Andy and Rooster derail their hard work?
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Excerpt From Chapter 12, Love on the Line by Kirsten Fullmer
Craning her neck, Andy stared down the right-of-way, but there was no sign of Buck. Rooster was now nearly the only man left on site, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to ride back to the access road with him.
As if she’d conjured it, Rooster hollered at her from across the right-of-way.
“Hey, I’ll give you a ride back. Get in the truck.”
“So that’s how is now,” she muttered. Just a hey you, get in the truck. “No thanks.” She yelled back, motioning down the road. “Buck will be along soon, I’ll walk.” Grandpa wouldn’t forget her, she reasoned. She wasn’t being difficult, just…
Rooster hesitated for a second then pulled a sour face and finished loading his equipment on his truck.
“Whatever,” she sighed, turning her back to leave.
The steep slope of the right-of-way as it led down the hill was a problem, but added with the slick mud, Andy had to concentrate on each step to not slip and fall. She’d slogged about a hundred feet down the hill when a noise ahead drew her attention, and she stopped to watch one of the crew trucks slide sideways. Mud flew up behind the truck’s tires like a fantail before the rig straightened out and continued on.
Rooster’s truck started up behind her with a roar, riling her anger even more. Allowing room for him to pass, she moved to the side of the right-of-way, but what looked like a puddle turned out to be much deeper, and to her horror, one booted foot sunk nearly to her knee. Desperate to get her footing, Andy worked to plant her other foot on some sort of solid ground so she could pull her boot loose. Unfortunately, the ground was thoroughly soaked and churned, and every move made her sink further in the mud and mire. Soon both feet were stuck to the point that she couldn’t lift either foot.
Rooster’s truck chugged passed, and she seethed, glaring at his face through the mud-splattered window. Steam likely came out her ears, she thought, clenching her teeth in frustration. Could the day possibly get any worse? Depending how long it took Buck to find her, it certainly could, she supposed. She may have to stand there all night.
Frightened more than a bit by the thought, she tried again to loosen her feet from the mud, but to no avail. She was stuck, no ifs, ands or buts about it. “See what being stubborn gets you, Andy?” she huffed under her breath.
Twenty feet ahead, Rooster’s truck came to a stop and Andy could see him peer into the side mirror to watch her struggle. Humiliation settled like a boulder in her stomach and she froze. Sure enough, right on cue, the day had gotten worse.
“And… she’s stuck.” Rooster muttered.
Turning from the mirror, he leaned back in his seat, removed his safety glasses, and rubbed his hands over his face. As if trying to pretend she wasn’t driving him insane all day hadn’t been enough torture, now he had to rescue her. There was no doubt in his mind that she would not want to be saved, but he’d been stuck in the mud a few times himself and he knew what it felt like. Besides, she was Buck’s granddaughter, and the old man would not be pleased if Rooster left her out on the right-of-way alone. Not that he’d ever leave one of his crew, or anyone else out there alone, he reasoned. Buck had told him over the radio at lunch, that he’d be back for Andy, but he must have been delayed, which left Rooster to do his duty.
He’d known as he packed up, that he’d have to offer her a ride, but of course she’d told him to buzz off. Now he was just as stuck as she was, only this was a trap of his own making.
What a mess. This was supposed to be an epic job, he lamented, the one where he made his mark as a respected tie-in man. Now everything was going pear shaped. First he’d accidentally jumped the boss’ granddaughter, and then the relentless rain and mud had brought work to a stand still for nearly a week straight.
He took another glance in the mirror. She was still there, looking angry as a wet hen. He sighed. Would the memory of kissing the woman never let up? Every move she made reminded him of having her under him. When she was around, he could barely concentrate on the task at hand.
Andy hadn’t said a word to him since that night in his trailer, not that he blamed her. He’d been an idiot all the way around. She was the one woman within a hundred miles that he should stay away from, and he’d known it all along. Yet what had he done? Invited her right in and…
He pounded his fist on the dash. Fate was cruel. He was finally working with the one boss he wanted to impress more than anyone else on the planet, and all he could think about was getting the old man’s cherished granddaughter naked!
His red, tired eyes were drawn once more to the mirror. It was growing dark and Andy was obviously not going to get out of the mud without help. “Damn it all!” He cussed as he reached for the door handle.
“Well, here it is” Andy said with her shoulders slumped and her arms hanging limp at her sides. . “The moment I finally die of embarrassment…”
Unable to bear it, she turned her head and refused to look at Rooster as he approached, but she could see the scene play out in her mind’s eye. There they were, on the muddy right-of-way, his truck chugging where he’d left it with the door hanging open. He’d be stomping towards her with his fists clenched. Oh, and he’d be frowning for sure, likely more of a black scowl, she amended, adjusting the vision in her mind. He’d slosh up to her and say something snotty and condescending, like “Don’t you know better than to step in the mud after a week of rain?”
As he struggled up the hill toward Andy, Rooster had to admit that the walk was a treacherous one. He’d be lucky to make it to her without getting stuck himself. The afternoon sun had dried the mud to the thickness of wet cement, and since the crew’s trucks had passed, it was a damned disaster. If it rained tonight, they’d be lucky to make it up the hill in the morning.
He glanced up from his feet and his heart sank in his chest. The poor girl looked as if she wanted to cry. She was splattered with muck from head to foot, and two mud soaked gloves hung from each of her front pockets. She was sweaty and sunburned, and her face was turned away, as if she couldn’t bear to look at him.
He’d been a complete clod, he moaned. None of this was her fault. This wasn’t how he treated women. Especially women he liked.
Resolved to handle her with more consideration, he reached for her arm. Just as his hand made contact with her elbow, she whipped toward him, her expression angry as all holy hell.
“Yes, I know better than to step in the mud!” she snapped, jerking her arm away.
“I never said you didn’t,” he returned, stung by her response.
She sputtered momentarily, then continued, crossing her arms across her chest. “Maybe not, but I’m sure you thought something along those lines!”
He scowled. That hadn’t been his thought, but it could be…
“Just help me out of this, and I’ll be on my way.” she snapped.
“There’s no need—” he started, but she cut him off.
“Don’t bother to pretend you care.”
He tossed his hands in the air. “I’m not pretending—”
Eager to have the whole confrontation finished, Andy reached for his safety vest and grabbed hold, tugging hard in an attempt to gain leverage.
Startled, Rooster swayed, braced himself, and grabbed her arms. “Hold on a minute, don’t—”
Andy felt one of her boots move in the mud. Excited, she grappled her way up Rooster’s shirt and safety vest. “I’ve almost got it…just…”
Struggling to brace one foot behind him to keep his balance, Rooster shifted, right as Andy’s boot came loose. Barely managing to keep his footing, he glared down at her.
“I’m just about out!” she cried excitedly, clasping one hand around his neck to pull at her other foot with all her might.
“Wait, wait… don’t—” He stuttered, working to get his own footing secure.
Not listening to anything or anyone, Andy continued to tug at her boot. A sucking noise was heard seconds before her muddy, stocking-clad, foot slipped completely from her laced boot. Andy flew forward, hurling directly into Rooster’s chest.
He grasped her, knowing for sure that he could not stay upright, but he was determined to break their fall the best he could. His concern was needless, however, because they fell directly back into a giant pool of goo, with Rooster on the bottom and Andy riding on top. An enormous splash enveloped the couple, and neither could do much beyond sputter and blindly paddle at the mud. Rooster got the worst of it, by far, but Andy managed to get a mouthful of mud as they went down.
He knew she was okay when he heard her spitting. Beyond angry, he shoved her off his chest and grappled to stand, rubbing mud out his eyes. He made it to his feet first, still unable to comprehend the sheer amount of mud that covered him. Unfortunately, Andy’s similar attempt to stand resulted in her slipping and falling backward, causing another huge splash.
She pushed to a sitting position, looking up at Rooster exactly like a furious wet cat. Nearly every inch of her was soaked and most of her was covered in mud, even her face and her hair. It was like she’d been dipped in dirty chocolate. Mud was in her eyes and her ears. Bugs and bits of branches and leaves, rocks and gravel, stuck in the mud as well. Rooster couldn’t help himself, and laughter rang out into the twilight. Able to see humor in the situation, he reached out to help her up, only to be shocked when she gave his hand a solid jerk, sending him headlong into the mud at her side.
Spitting sludge, Rooster surfaced to see Andy grinning wickedly behind the mud covering her face, so he swung one arm around her waist and swung her over him and back into the mud. Laughing and screaming, she clutched at his clothing, struggling to get a grip so she could drag him down with her.
“What have we here?” a loud voice boomed over the couple’s heads and both froze. Rooster worked to swipe mud out of his eyes as Andy caught sight of Buck standing beside his truck with his arms crossed over his chest.
Paddling and splashing, Rooster hurried to stand, then offered a hand to Andy. She pulled herself silently to her feet, by his side. He bent to collect his hard hat and plopped it on his head, mud and all. Silence settled on the right-of-way, then Andy cleared her throat.
“I lost my boot…” She muttered, holding up one unrecognizable bootless foot.
Buck was silent for a moment, then one brow arched. “You’re either riding home with him,” Buck tossed his head toward Rooster, “Or in the back of the truck…”
The younger man took a step forward. “Sir, I...”
With a blush burning under the mud, Andy collected her hard had, turned it over to dump mud and water from it, then headed toward Rooster’s truck.
“Don’t forget your boot,” Buck reminded her, “You can’t come out here barefooted tomorrow.”
Andy did an about face, feeling like a naughty child, and gingerly picked her way back to the mud hole to search for her boot.
Buck and Rooster stood with their gazes locked, like stags in battle.
Rooster spoke first. “I’ll take her home, Sir.”
Finally a grin played at the corner of buck’s mouth, and he nodded at the young tie-in foreman. “See that you do…” He said with a wink.