Read an Excerpt
Going Cowboy Crazy
By Lane, Katie
ForeverCopyright © 2011 Lane, Katie
All right reserved.
IF YOU THINK MY TRUCK IS BIG…
Faith Aldridge did a double take, but the bold black letters of the bumper sticker remained the same. Appalled, she read through the rest of the signs plastered on the tail end of the huge truck: DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS; REBEL BORN AND REBEL BRED AND WHEN I DIE I’LL BE REBEL DEAD; I LIVE BY THE THREE B’S: BEER, BRAWLS AND BROADS; CRUDE RUNS THROUGH MY VEINS.
She could agree with the last one. Whoever drove the mammoth-sized vehicle was crude. And arrogant. And chauvinistic. And a perfect example of the rednecks her aunt Jillian had warned her about. Not that her aunt Jillian had ever met a redneck, but she’d seen Jeff Foxworthy on television. And that was enough to make her fear for her niece’s safety when traveling in a state filled with punch lines for the statement—
You might be a redneck if…
You have a bumper sticker that refers to the size of your penis.
The front tire of her Volvo hit yet another pothole, pulling her attention away from the bumper stickers and back to her quest for an empty parking space. There was no defined parking in the small dirt lot but, even without painted lines, the occupants of the bar had formed fairly neat rows. All except for the crude redneck whose truck was blatantly parked on the sidewalk by the front door.
Someone should report him to the police.
Someone who wasn’t intimidated by law enforcement officers and didn’t worry about criminal retaliation.
Faith found an empty space at the very end of the lot and started to pull in when she noticed the beat-up door on the Ford Taurus next to her. Pulling back out, she inched closer to the cinder block wall, then turned off the car, unhooked her seat belt, and grabbed her purse from beneath her seat.
Ignoring the trembling in her hands, she pulled out the tube of lip gloss she’d purchased at a drugstore in Oklahoma City. But it was harder to ignore the apprehensive blue eyes that stared back at her from the tiny lit mirror on the visor. Harder, but not impossible. She liberally coated her lips with the glistening fuchsia of Passion Fruit, a color that didn’t match her plain brown turtleneck or her conservative beige pants. Or even the bright red high heels she’d gotten at a Payless ShoeSource in Amarillo when she’d stopped for lunch.
A strong gust of warm wind whipped the curls around Faith’s face as she stepped out of the car. She brushed back her hair and glanced up. Only a few wispy clouds marred the deep blue of the September sky. Still, it might be a good idea to get her jacket from the suitcase in the trunk, just in case it got colder when the sun went down. Of course, she didn’t plan on staying at the bar past dark. In fact, she didn’t plan on staying at the bar at all. Just long enough to get some answers.
After closing the door, she pushed the button on her keychain twice until the Volvo beeped. Then, a few feet away, she pushed it again just to be sure. One of her fellow computer programmers said she had OCD—Overly Cautious Disorder. Her coworker was probably right. Although there was nothing cautious about walking into a bar filled with men who paraded their egomaniacal thoughts on the bumpers of their trucks. But she didn’t have a choice. At seven o’clock on a Saturday night, this was the only place she’d found open in the small town.
As Faith walked past the truck parked by the door, she couldn’t help but stare. Up close it looked bigger… and much dirtier. Mud clung to the huge, deep-treaded tires, hung like stalactites from the fender wells, splattered over the faded red paint and blotchy gray primer of the door, and flecked the side window. A window her head barely reached. And in the heels, she was a good five-foot-five inches. Well, maybe not five inches. Maybe closer to four. But it was still mind-boggling that a vehicle could be jacked up to such heights.
What kind of a brute owned it, anyway? Obviously, the kind who thought it went with his large penis. The kind who didn’t think it was overkill to have not one, but two huge flags (one American and the other who knew) hanging limply from poles on either side of the back window. A back window that displayed a decal of a little cartoon boy peeing on the Toyota symbol, two blue-starred football helmet stickers, and a gun rack with one empty slot.
On second thought, maybe she wouldn’t ask questions at this bar. Maybe she would drive down the main street again and try to find some other place open. Someplace that didn’t serve alcohol to armed patrons. Someplace where she wouldn’t end up Rebel Dead. Not that she was even close to being a rebel. Standing in the parking lot of Bootlegger’s Bar in Bramble, Texas, was the most rebellious thing she’d ever done in her life. If she had a bumper sticker, it would read: CONFORMIST BORN, CONFORMIST BRED, AND WHEN SHE DIES SHE’LL BE CONFORMIST DEAD. But she just didn’t want to be Conformist Dead yet.
Unfortunately, before she could get back to the leather-upholstered security of her Volvo, the battered door of the bar opened and two men walked out. Not walked, exactly. More like strutted—in wide felt cowboy hats and tight jeans with large silver belt buckles as big as brunch plates.
Faith ducked back behind the monster truck, hoping they’d walk past without noticing her. Except the sidewalk was as uneven as the parking lot and one pointy toe of her high heel got caught in a crack, forcing her to grab on to the tailgate or end up with her nose planted in the pavement. And as soon as her fingers hit the cold metal, an alarm went off—a loud howling that raised the hairs on her arms and had her stumbling back, praying that at least one of the men was packing so he could shoot the thing that had just risen up from the bed of the truck.
“For cryin’ out loud, Buster. Shut up.” One of the men shouted over the earsplitting noise.
The howling stopped as quickly as it had started. Shaken, Faith could only stare at the large, four-legged creature. With its mouth closed, the dog didn’t look threatening as much as… cute. Soulful brown eyes looked back at her from a woolly face. While she recovered from her scare, it ambled over to the end of the truck and leaned its head out.
Faith stepped back. She wasn’t good with dogs. Or cats, gerbils, birds, hamsters, or fish. Pretty much anything living. She had a rabbit once, but after only three months in her care, it died of a nervous condition.
The name spoken by the tall, lean cowboy with the warm coffee-colored skin caused her stomach to drop, and she swiveled around to look behind her.
No one was there.
“Baby, is that you?” The man’s Texas twang was so thick that it seemed contrived.
Faith started to shake her head, but he let out a whoop and had her in his arms before she could accomplish it. She was whirled around in a circle against his wiry body before he tossed her over to his friend, who had a soft belly and a chest wide enough to land a 747.
“Welcome home, Little Bit.” The large man gave her a rough smack on the lips, the whiskers of his mustache and goatee tickling. He pulled back, and his blue eyes narrowed. “What the hell did you do to your hair?”
“She cut it, you idiot.” With a contagious grin, the lean cowboy reached out and ruffled her hair. “That’s what all them Hollywood types do. Cut off their crownin’ glory like it’s nothin’ more than tangled fishin’ line.” He cocked his head. “But I guess it don’t look so bad. It’s kinda cute in a short, ugly kinda way. And I like the color. What’s that called—streakin’?”
The man who still held her in his viselike grip grinned, tobacco juice seeping from the corner of his mouth. “No, Kenny, that’s what we did senior year.”
“Right.” Kenny’s dark eyes twinkled. “But it’s like streakin’. Tintin’? Stripin’? Highlightin’! That’s it!” He whacked her on the back so hard she wondered if he’d cracked a rib. “Shirlene did that. But it don’t look as good as yours. She looked a little like a polecat when it was all said and done. Does she know you’re back? Hot damn, she’s gonna shit a brick when she sees you. She’s missed you a lot.”
His eyes lost some of their twinkle. “Of course, we all have. But especially Slate.” He grabbed her arm and tugged her toward the door. “I can’t wait to see his face when he sees you. Of course, he ain’t real happy right now. The Dawgs lost last night—twenty-one to seven—but I’m sure you’ll put an end to his depression.”
Faith barely listened to the man’s constant chatter as he dragged her through the door and into the dark, smoky depths of the bar. She felt light-headed, and emotion crept up the back of her throat. Did they really look so much alike that these men couldn’t tell the difference? It made sense, but it was still hard to absorb. All this time, she thought she was an only child and to realize…
“Here.” Kenny slapped his black cowboy hat down on her head and tipped it forward. “We don’t want to start a stampede until Slate gets to see you. Not that anyone would recognize you in that getup.” He shook his head as his gaze slid down her body to the tips of her high heels. “Please don’t tell me you got rid of your boots, Hope. Gettin’ rid of all that gorgeous hair’s bad enough.”
Faith opened her mouth with every intention of telling him she never owned a pair of western boots to get rid of, or had long gorgeous hair, for that matter. But before she could, he tucked her under his arm and dragged her past the long bar and around the crowded dance floor with his friend following obediently behind.
“So how’s Hollywood treatin’ ya?” Kenny yelled over the loud country music, then waved a hand at a group of women who called out his name. “It’s been way too long since you came for a visit. But I bet you’ve been busy knockin’ them Hollywood directors on their butts. Nobody can act like our little Hope. You flat killed me when you was Annie in Annie Get Your Gun. Of course, you did almost kill Colt—not that I blame you since he was the one who switched out that blank with live ammo. But the crowd sure went crazy when you shot out them stage lights. I still get chills just thinkin’ about it.”
Chills ran through Faith’s body as well. Hollywood? Actor? Live ammo? Her mind whirled with the information she’d received in such a short span of time.
“Yep, things sure ain’t been the same without you. I can barely go into Josephine’s Diner without gettin’ all misty-eyed. ’Course those onions Josie fries up will do that to a person. Still, nobody serves up chicken-fried steak as pretty as you did. Rachel Dean is a nice old gal, but them man hands of hers can sure kill an appetite.”
Kenny glanced down at her, then stopped so suddenly his friend ran into him from behind. From beneath the wide brim of her hat, she watched his dark brows slide together.
“Hey, what’s the matter with you, anyway? How come you’re lettin’ me haul you around without cussin’ me up one side and down the other?”
Probably because Faith didn’t cuss—up one side or down the other. And because she wasn’t a pretty waitress who was brave enough to get on stage and perform in front of a crowd of people. Or move away from the familiarity of home for the bright lights of Hollywood.
Hope was in Hollywood.
For a second, Faith felt an overwhelming surge of disappointment, but it was quickly followed by the realization that all the hundreds of miles traveled had not been in vain. This was where Hope had grown up. And where Faith would find answers to some of the questions that had plagued her for the last year.
Except once Kenny found out she wasn’t Hope, she probably wouldn’t get any more answers. She’d probably be tossed out of the bar without even a “y’all come back now, ya hear.” She’d become a stranger. An uppity easterner with a weird accent, chopped-off ugly hair, and not one pair of cowboy boots to her name. A person who was as far from the popular Hometown Hope he’d described as Faith’s Volvo was from the redneck’s truck.
But what choice did she have? She had never been good at lying. Besides, once she opened her mouth, the truth would be out. Unless… unless she didn’t open her mouth. Unless she kept her mouth shut and let everyone assume what they would. It wouldn’t be a lie exactly, more of a fib. And fibs were okay, as long as they didn’t hurt anyone. And who could possibly get hurt if she allowed these people to think she was someone else for just a little while longer?
Hope wasn’t there.
And Faith wouldn’t be, either, after tonight.
Swallowing down the last of her reservations, she tapped her throat and mouthed, “Laryngitis.”
Those deep eyes grew more puzzled. “Huh?”
“My throat,” she croaked in barely a whisper.
His brows lifted. “Oh! Your throat’s hoarse. Well, that explains it.” He gathered her back against his side and started moving again. “For a second, I thought I had someone else in my arms besides Miss Hog Caller of Haskins County five years runnin’.” He chuckled deep in his chest. “ ’Course, Slate’s gonna love this. He always said you talked too much.”
“Hey, Kenny! What ya got there?” A skinny man stepped off the dance floor with a young woman in a tight T-shirt with the words “Keepin’ It Country” stretched across her large breasts and an even tighter pair of jeans that pushed up a roll of white flesh over her tooled leather belt.
“None of your damned beeswax, Fletch.” Kenny winked at the young woman. “Hey, Twyla.”
She scowled. “I thought you was goin’ home, Kenny Gene.”
“I was, darlin’, but I have to take care of something first.”
“I got eyes, Kenny. And if this is the somethin’ you need to take care of, then don’t be callin’ me to go to the homecomin’ game with you. I got other plans.”
“Now don’t be gettin’ all bent out of shape, honey,” Kenny yelled at the woman’s retreating back. “Man, that gal’s got a temper,” he chuckled. “Almost as bad as yours.”
Faith didn’t have a temper. At least not one anyone had witnessed.
“Now don’t go and ruin the surprise, Hope. Let me do all the talkin’.” He shot her a weak grin. “Sorry, I forgot about your voice. Man, is Slate gonna be surprised.”
For the first time since allowing this man to take charge of her life, Faith started to get worried. Surprises weren’t always well received. Her mother had dropped a surprise a few months before she passed away, a surprise Faith was still trying to recover from.
But this was different. It sounded like this Slate and Hope had been good friends. He would probably whoop like Kenny had done, give her a big hug and possibly a little more razor burn—and hopefully a lot more information before she made her excuses and slipped out the door.
And no one would be the wiser. Except maybe Hope, if she came home before Faith found her. But that wouldn’t happen. Faith had every intention of finding Hope as soon as possible. She might not be a rebel, but she was tenacious.
Tenacious but more than a little scared when Kenny pulled her inside a room with two pool tables, a gaggle of cowboy hats, and a sea of blue denim. The light in the room was better but the smoke thicker. The music softer but the conversation louder. They hesitated by the door for a few seconds as Kenny looked around; then Faith was hauled across the room to the far table where a man in a crumpled straw cowboy hat had just leaned over to take a shot.
Faith had barely taken note of the strong hand and lean forearm that stretched out of the rolled-up sleeve of the blue western shirt before Kenny whipped the hat off her head and pushed her forward.
“Lookie what the cat drug in, Slate!”
The loud conversation came to a dead halt, along with Faith’s breath as every eye turned to her. But she wasn’t overly concerned with the other occupants of the room. Only with the man who lifted his head, then froze with his fingers steepled over the skinny end of the pool cue. He remained that way for what seemed like hours. Or what seemed like hours to a woman whose knees had suddenly turned as limp as her hat hair.
Someone coughed, and slowly, he lifted his hand from the table and unfolded his body.
He was tall. At least, he looked tall to a woman who wasn’t over five foot four in heels. His chest wasn’t big enough to land a 747 on but it looked solid enough to hold up a weak-kneed woman. It tapered down to smooth flat cotton tucked into a leather belt minus the huge buckle. His jeans weren’t tight or pressed with a long crease like most of the men in the room; instead the soft well-worn denim molded to his body, defining his long legs, muscular thighs, and slim hips.
The hand that wasn’t holding the cue stick lifted to push the misshaped sweat-stained cowboy hat back on his high forehead, and a pair of hazel eyes stared back at her—a mixture of rich browns and deep greens. The eyes sat above a long, slim nose that boasted a tiny white scar across the bridge and a mouth that was almost too perfect to belong to a man. It wasn’t too wide or too small, the top lip peaking nicely over the full bottom.
The corners hitched up in a smile.
Her mind was still trying to deal with the raw sensuality of the man who stood before her; there was no way it could deal with the whole “hog” thing. Especially when the man leaned his pool cue against the edge of the table and took a step toward her.
She prepared herself for the loud whoop and the rough manhandling that would follow. But what she was not prepared for was the gentleness of the fingers that slid through her hair, or the coiled strength of the hand that pulled her closer, or the heat of the body that pressed up against hers. And she was definitely not prepared for the soft lips that swooped down to bestow a kiss.
It wasn’t a long kiss or even a deep one. It was merely a touch. A teasing brush. A sweep of sweet, moist flesh against startled gloss. But it was enough. Enough to cause Faith’s heart to bang against her ribs and her breath to leave her lungs.
Her hands came up and pressed against the hard wall of his chest in an effort to balance her suddenly tipsy world. Her eyelids, which she hadn’t even realized she’d closed, fluttered open. Unlike her, he didn’t look passion-drugged. Just cocky and confident.
“Don’t tell me I left you speechless, darlin’.” The words drizzled off his tongue like honey off a spoon, with very little twang and a whole lot of southern sizzle.
She swallowed hard as Kenny spoke.
“She can’t talk. She’s got that there lar-in-gitis, probably from all that actin’ she’s been doin’.”
A smirk a mile wide spread across Slate’s devastating, handsome face. “Is that so? Well now, ain’t that an interesting state of affairs.”
“Who cares if she can talk, Coach.” A man behind him yelled. “You call that a welcome-home kiss?”
Two other men joined in.
“Yeah, Slate, I kiss my cousin better than that.”
“That’s ’cause you’re married to her.”
“And you got a problem with that?”
“Shut up, you two,” Kenny said. “Come on, Slate, remind her of what she’s been missin’ out on. Give her the good stuff.”
A look of resignation entered those hazel eyes, a strange bedfellow for the dazzling grin. “Sorry, Hog,” he whispered, right before he dipped his head for another taste. Except, this time, his lips were slightly parted, and the soft kiss brought with it the promise of wet heat.
If it hadn’t been a year since she’d been kissed, she probably could’ve ignored the tremor that raced through her body and the zing that almost incinerated her panties. But it had been a year, a year filled with loss, pain, and revelation. A year that made a cautious conformist want to be something different. Something more like an arrogant rebel, Miss Hog Caller of Haskins County, or Annie Oakley with a loaded gun.
Or just a woman who gave a handsome cowboy a kiss he wouldn’t forget anytime soon.
With a moan, she threw her arms around his neck, knocking off his cowboy hat and forcing him to stumble back a step. A chorus of whoops and whistles erupted, but didn’t faze her one-track mind. Not when his lips opened wider, offering up all the good stuff. Teetering on the tiptoes of her high heels, she drove her fingers up into the silky waves of his hair, encasing his head and angling it so she had better access to the wet heat of his mouth. She dipped her tongue inside and sipped and tasted. But it still wasn’t enough.
She wanted to consume this man. Wanted to slide her fingers over every square inch of fevered skin and sculptured muscles. Wanted to press her nose into the spot between his neck and shoulder and fill her lungs to capacity with the smoky laundry-detergent scent of him. But most of all, she wanted to stare into the rich fertile earth and endless sea of his eyes and see a reflection of her own desires—her own wants and needs.
Slowly, her eyes drifted open.
But it wasn’t desire she saw in the hazel depths. And it wasn’t cocky satisfaction. This time, it looked more like stunned disbelief. Obviously, Slate’s relationship with Hope didn’t involve sexual assault.
Stunned by her uncharacteristic behavior, Faith pulled away from his lips and dropped back down to her heels. What had she been thinking? Had she lost her mind? How could she throw herself at a complete stranger? And not just any complete stranger, but Hope’s close friend? Her gaze settled on those perfect lips—lips that were slightly parted, wet, and smeared with glittery Passion Fruit—and it became crystal clear why she had lost her mind. The man was beyond hot. He was one sizzling stick of yummy, and she was a deprived child with a sweet tooth.
“Thatta way, Hope,” a man on the other side of the pool table yelled. “You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl!”
“Ooooo—wee, Coach! It looks like you was missed,” someone else joined in.
“Does this mean you’re stayin’, Little Bit?” Kenny’s friend stepped closer.
“Stayin’?” A voice came from the back. “With enthusiasm like that, I wouldn’t let that woman out of my sight!”
“Is that true, Slate?” Kenny asked. “You gonna let Hope go back to Hollywood after that kind of greetin’?”
Slate blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. Slowly, the shock receded from his eyes, but his shoulders remained tense. He cleared his throat twice before he spoke, but it still didn’t sound as smooth or confident as it had.
“Well, I guess that depends.”
“Depends on what?” someone asked.
“On whether or not she still likes me after she finds out I let The Plainsville Panthers whup our butts.”
The room erupted in laughter, followed quickly with grumbled comments about hometown refs. Then a man with a huge belly and an even bigger handlebar mustache pushed his way over.
“All right, you’ve had your turn, Slate. Give someone else a chance to welcome our girl home.”
For a fraction of a second, those hazel eyes narrowed, and the hands at her waist tightened. But then he released her and she was passed from one big bear hug to the next, accompanied with the greeting “Welcome home, Hope.”
She wasn’t Hope.
But, strangely enough, it felt like home.
Excerpted from Going Cowboy Crazy by Lane, Katie Copyright © 2011 by Lane, Katie. Excerpted by permission.
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