When Tucker Crawford returns to his small hometown, he expects to see the same old people, feel comfort in the same old things. He certainly doesn’t expect to see the nice pair of bare legs sticking out from under the hood of a broken-down car. Certainly doesn’t expect to feel his heart beat faster when he realizes they belong to one of his best friends.
If he convinces Addie to give him a chance, they could be electric…or their breakup could split their tight-knit group in two.
Hiding the way he feels from the guys through bachelor parties, cake tastings, and rehearsals is one thing. But just as Tucker realizes that Addie truly could be the perfect woman for himhe was just too stupid to realize itnow she’s leaving to follow her own dreams. He’s going to need to do a lot of compromising if he’s going to convince her to take a shot at forever with himon her terms this time.
Each book in the Getting Hitched series is STANDALONE:
* Just One of the Groomsmen
* Always a Bridesmaid
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About the Author
You can visit Cindi at: www.cindimadsen.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter to get all the up-to-date information on her books. Follow her on Twitter @cindimadsen.
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The houseboat came into view and Addie's excitement level went from its already high seven to a solid ten. An emergency meeting had been called, and all the guys were going to be in attendance. Every single one, including the guy she'd been dying to see for so long that she'd almost worried their sporadic phone calls, texts, and messages were the only way they'd ever communicate again.
Addie pulled up next to the sleek compact car she'd have to make fun of later — right now it meant that Tucker Crawford was here in the flesh, and within a few minutes, the rest of the gang would be as well.
She wasn't sure why Shep had called the meeting, but it took her back to high school, when so many of their evenings and weekends were spent here at the Crawfords' houseboat.
Lazy afternoons and countless poker games; impromptu parties that usually got them busted for one thing or another; and nights spent celebrating team wins or commiserating over losses, whether it was the high school team that the guys had all played for, War Eagle football, or the NFL, on which they were a house divided — it'd led to some of her and Tucker's most heated exchanges.
The scent of cypress trees, swampy lake water, and moss hit her as she climbed out of the beater truck she often drove, and since she was hoping for a minute or two with her very best and oldest friend before everyone else showed up, she rushed down the pathway. "Tucker?"
She heard his voice but didn't see him. Then she rounded the front of the boat, where the chairs and grill were set up, and there he was.
Even taller and wider than she remembered, his copper-brown hair styled shorter than he wore it in high school, although the wave in it meant there were always a couple of strands that did their own thing.
A laugh escaped as she took a few long strides and launched herself at him, her arms going around his neck. "I'll be damned, you actually made it this time."
Using the arm he'd wrapped around her lower back, he lifted her off her feet and squeezed tight enough to send her breath out over his shoulder. "I'm sorry for accidentally standing you up a few times. It's stupid how hard it's been to get away this past year."
"That's what happens when you go and become some big city lawyer."
Despite working at the law firm for nearly two years, he was still one of the junior attorneys, which meant he ended up doing all the time-consuming research for the partners, and even their calls and texts had slowed to a trickle. Before that, law school had kept him plenty busy, and while she wasn't usually the mushy hugger-type, she didn't want to release him yet, just in case she had to go another five or six months without seeing him.
She pulled back to get another look at him, taking in the familiar blue eyes, his strong, freshly shaven jawline, and — "Holy crap, dude. When did you get so jacked? Is lifting bulky legal files muscle building? If so, maybe I should start recommending it as part of my clients' therapy regimens."
His gaze ran over her as well, most likely assessing the ways she'd changed — or more likely hadn't. "Isn't it about time for a new sweatshirt?" He yanked one of the frayed, used-to-be-black strings. "That one's looked ratty since our first year of college."
She gasped and shoved him. "Hater. Just because my Falcons made it further in the playoffs than your Saints did last season. And don't even try to tell me you've thrown out your beat-up baseball cap that practically grafted itself to your head during high school. Or maybe you don't wear it anymore so you can show off your fancy-pants forty-dollar lawyer haircut."
She reached up and ran her hand through his hair, loosening the hold the gel had on it.
There was the boy who'd once landed her in detention because he'd dared her to put superglue on the teacher's whiteboard markers while he distracted him with a question. The boy who'd challenged her to a deviled- egg-eating competition at the town festival and then moped about her beating him — to this day, the sight or scent of a deviled egg still made her stomach roll.
He grinned, every inch the laid-back Tucker Crawford she'd grown up with once again, and just like that, all seemed right in Uncertainty, Alabama.
"Crawford? Where you at?" Shep's booming voice hit them a few seconds before he, Easton, and Ford rounded the corner and stepped onto the back deck.
"Murph!" they yelled when they saw her, and then they exchanged high fives, shoulder punches, and a few bro-hugs on their way to give Tucker the same treatment.
Addie saw the rest of the guys around town here and there, but it was harder to get together now that everyone had careers and other obligations.
Funny how in high school they couldn't wait to get older so they could do whatever they wanted, and instead they ended up having less free time than ever.
Shep placed two six-packs of Naked Pig Pale Ale, the best beer in all of Alabama, on top of a big planter that only held dirt, since the neglected plants had shriveled up and died long ago. "Before we get this party started, I guess I should let you know what we're celebrating."
The hint of worry Addie had felt since receiving the urgent text evaporated. The message had been so vague — typical guy, although her mom and sister accused her of the same thing.
Addie sat on the edge of the table, and when Tucker bumped her over with his hip, she scooted. The table wobbled, and Tucker's hand shot out and gripped her upper arm as she worked to rebalance herself.
He chuckled. "Guess we're heavier than we used to be."
She scowled at him. "Hey! Speak for yourself."
"Right. It must be all my jacked muscles."
Addie rolled her eyes. That's what she got for giving him an accidental compliment.
Every single one of her boys had egos the size of pickup trucks, and the many girls who'd fawned over them through the years didn't help any.
Shep raised his voice, speaking above the din. "So, you guys might recall I've been seeing Sexy Lexi, going on almost a year now."
"How could we forget?" Addie quipped. "You talk about her nonstop." She glanced at Tucker, who'd yet to meet Shep's girlfriend, thanks to busy schedules and his last canceled trip. "Seriously, we go to get a beer and watch the game, and it's Lexi this, Lexi that."
Shep didn't frown at her like she'd expected, grinning that twitterpated grin he often wore these days instead.
"She's actually very lovely," she added, then curled her hands around the table. While his Southern belle girlfriend worked to hold it at bay, Addie didn't think Lexi was her biggest fan.
She hated always having to downplay her friendship with the guys in order to not upset the balance of their relationships. Hopefully a little more time and getting to know each other, and Lexi would understand that Will Shepherd was more like a brother than anything.
All the guys were, and thanks to the fact they'd both stayed closer to home the past few years, she and Shep were even more sibling-like than the rest.
It wasn't the first time her friends' girlfriends were wary of her, and she doubted it'd be the last. Sometimes she worried she'd get left behind, just because she'd had the audacity to be born a girl.
Being the only girl in a group of guys was merely a technicality, though. It wasn't that she didn't have female friends or that she didn't know a lot of great women; it was that she'd grown up with these guys and forged memories and they liked to do the same things she did.
It was why she'd gone by "Murph" more often than Addison Murphy, or any other variation thereof. Thanks to her love of comfy, sporty clothes, she'd been voted "most likely to start her own sweatshirt line" in high school.
A title she was proud to have, by the way.
Easton had been voted "most likely to end up in jail," and ironically enough, he was now a cop, something they all teased him about.
Which reminded her ...
"Don't let me forget to make fun of your prissy car when this meeting is over," Addie whispered to Tucker.
He opened his mouth, assumedly to defend himself, and Shep cleared his throat.
"Anyway, last weekend I asked Lexi to marry me." A huge smile spread across his face. "And she said yes."
Not at all what Addie had been expecting.
Marriage was such a big step, and it took her a beat or two to process.
But happiness radiated off Shep in waves, the guy who'd once rolled his eyes over "whipped dudes" long gone.
She was glad he'd found someone, even as a tiny part of her wanted to press pause on this night while they were all together, before everything changed in their group yet again.
"You get to bang Sexy Lexi for the rest of your life?" Ford held up his hand for a high five. "Bro. I remember when you had to work your ass off to score her number at that bar in Opelika, and Easton and I had that bet about whether her amazing rack was real."
"Bro, that's gonna be his wife," Addie said.
"Yeah, have some respect," Shep said. Then he put a hand to the side of his mouth and stage-whispered, "They're one hundred percent real. I told you guys that, right?"
"Only, like, one hundred percent of the time you talk about her." Addie smiled.
This was the one downside of being the only girl. Sometimes things got a little too TMI about the women they were sleeping with or hoping to sleep with.
Everyone continued to offer their congratulations, and after a few claps on the back and obligatory jokes about balls and chains, Shep said, "I want you guys to be in my wedding. To be my groomsmen."
Addie's stomach dropped.
"You guys" usually included her, but she knew the word "groomsmen" didn't. "Ha! Y'all are gonna have to wear stuffy penguin suits and take hundreds of pictures. Have fun with that."
Shep looked at her, and a sense of foreboding pricked her skin. "Before you go celebrating too much, you're in the wedding party, too, Murph. I told Lexi I wanted you as one of my groomsmen."
While his girlfriend — make that fiancÉe — was pretty patient and understanding of Shep's crazy, out-there ideas, she was also extremely girly.
"I'm sure that went over about as well as coming out as a vegan in the middle of Sunday dinner."
"She understands you're just one of the guys," Shep said, and a hint of hope rose up.
She hated that she'd immediately felt left out, the same way she used to when a group of girls would show up at the bar and suddenly she'd be alone, no one to help with game commentary.
"But she's also more traditional, her family even more so," Shep continued.
"I understand," Addie said. "I don't think I'd look very good in a tux anyway, and my own mother would probably die twice over it."
Since Addie hadn't been on a date in a depressing amount of time, Mom had also recently given her this whole spiel about dressing up once in a while, and how men wanted to feel needed, so to make sure not to act so assertive and dominant all the time.
Like she didn't want to feel needed?
She'd just prefer a possible significant other want her the way she was, not because she donned a dress and acted helpless.
"Which is why ..." Shep straightened, his hazel eyes locking on to her. "Lexi and I came up with a compromise. You'll be a groomsman in name and when it comes to all the usual pre-wedding stuff, but in order to be part of the wedding party, you're gonna have to wear the same dress and shoes as the bridesmaids." The rest of the words came out in a fast blur, like he hoped if he talked fast enough she might miss them. "And you might have to dress up one or two other times."
The guys burst out laughing.
"Murph in a dress and heels," Easton said. "That'll be the day."
Addie picked up the nearest object she could find — a weather- warped coaster — and chucked it at his head. It bounced off, and, if anything, only made him laugh harder.
The table shook, and when she glanced at Tucker, he had a fist over his mouth in an attempt to smother his laughter.
"You too?" Was karma punishing her? Was this what she got for being comfortable for most of her twenty-seven years?
"Please, Addie," Shep said. "I know it's not your thing, but I can't imagine you not being part of this." He shot a challenging glare at the group of them. "And spare me the jokes about actually caring about my wedding. I never thought I'd be this happy, but I am, and I need you guys with me on this."
This time, the "you guys" definitely included her.
Which made it that much easier to say, "I'm in. I'll do whatever you need me to."
* * *
Man, it was good to be back in town, even if only for a quick weekend.
Tucker had been working hours and hours on end, thinking that eventually he'd have enough experience and clout to slow down a bit. It never slowed down, though, his workload multiplying at an impossible-to-keep-up- with pace.
Now that he was seated around the poker table with his friends, though, all felt right with the world.
"You're bluffin'," Addie said when Easton threw several chips into the pot. She matched his bet, and then they laid down their cards, her full house easily beating his pair of aces. "Read 'em and weep, sucker."
She shoved the sleeves of her two-sizes-too-big hoodie up her arms as she leaned over the table to gather her winnings. Her familiar movements were nearly second nature, as much to him as her. She flopped back in her chair and reached into the bag of Lay's for a different kind of chip.
Her knee came up to rest against the table, rattling everything on top and boosting the time-machine effect, and she wiped her fingertips on her frayed jeans before reaching for the newly dealt cards. Her neon-colored gel sneakers, the one new item in her outfit, reminded him of all her lectures on how important the right shoes and changing them often were for your joints.
He cracked a smile again at the thought of her in a dress and heels, bouquet in hand. The image still didn't compute. It was kind of like animals wearing human clothes.
It just wasn't right.
It wasn't that they'd never seen Addie wear a dress; it was that she loathed them with a hatred he withheld for things like paperwork and blind refs who ruined games.
She'd once slugged him in the shoulder for even mentioning her dress- wearing at her sister's wedding. The skirt had been long and baggy, and the real tragedy was that she couldn't toss around the pigskin.
So then they'd both had to sit there with their hands folded in their laps for what seemed like forever and it was boring as hell, an emotion he'd rarely experienced around her.
"Your poker face is crap, Crawford. I know you're thinking about how funny it is that I just agreed to wear a freaking bridesmaid's dress, and if you don't want me to jam that beer you're drinking where the sun don't shine, I suggest you wipe the smirk off your face." She pointed her finger around the table. "That goes for all of you."
"I appreciate you going along with it," Shep said. "I told Lexi that you'd probably slug me just for suggesting it."
"Lucky for you, you were too far away and wearing that lovestruck grin that makes me take pity on you."
"When someone basically says thank you, maybe don't follow that up by insulting them." Shep placed three cards, face up, in the center of the table. "Just a suggestion."
"This is why so many guys in town are scared of you," Easton said with a laugh.
She clucked her tongue. "They are not."
The other half of the table nodded.
Tucker found himself nodding even though he hadn't lived in town for the better part of two years. It'd been like that since high school, with Addie intimidating anyone who dared cross her path, and the selfish part of him was glad no one had come in and swept her off her feet.
Not that she would ever let some guy do the sweeping. A few had probably tried, with her completely oblivious. With her dark-brown hair that was forever in a ponytail, the smattering of freckles across her nose, her big brown eyes, and the fact that she was cool as hell, it was surprising she'd stayed mostly single.
Ford pinned her with a look. "Addie, when dudes come in to see you for physical therapy, you tell them to stop crying over something your grandma could do."
"Well, she could! My nonna is tougher than most of the crybabies who come in and whine about having to put in the work it takes to get over their injuries. Telling them my grandma could do it is motivating."
"Not to ask you out," Ford said, and snickers went around the table.
"Very funny. Being scared of me and being undateable are two different things."
"You're hardly undateable," Tucker said, the words similar to exchanges they'd had before.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Just One of the Groomsmen"
Copyright © 2019 Cindi Madsen.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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