Growing up with three older brothers, Larissa "Riss" Thorpe defines the term tomboy—a moniker that never mattered to her until she crossed paths with sexy cowboy player Ike Palmer. Seeing him in action on the road, Riss can tell that Ike prefers his women soft-spoken and feminine. And since Riss is obviously not his type, it's unlikely that they'll mix business and pleasure when they're in close quarters together.
Former cattle broker Ike Palmer was ready for a new chapter in his life as a stock contractor when he started working with Riss, a sassy truck driver who gets under his skin at every turn. But Riss is unlike any woman he's ever met and her candor inflames him in the most unexpected ways.
After circumstances force a truce between them, Riss and Ike will have to choose to maintain the stubbornness that keeps them apart or take a chance on the fiery attraction that could lead to something more....
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Larissa Thorpe prided herself on the fact that she'd never cried at a wedding.
And her tomboy reputation had nothing to do with it.
Truthfully, she couldn't remember the last time she'd cried over anything. She wasn't prone to dramatic outbursts--unless she was pissed off--and yelling was more her style.
"For godsake, Riss, would you pay attention?" Ike hissed in her ear.
Speaking of pissing her off . . .
Riss ignored the impulse to jam her elbow into his ribs. They were on day sixty-one of their truce-the last day-and she wouldn't be the one to blow it.
Without making eye contact, she hissed back, "Shove a sock in it, Palmer. I am paying attention. The song is almost over."
She'd kept her focus on the bride and groom--although Jade and Tobin were so engrossed in each other that Riss doubted they'd notice when the soloist stopped warbling.
"Shove a sock in it?" Ike repeated. "Are you ending our truce?"
"Hell no. That was me being nice."
Ike mumbled something.
The singer finished.
Jade turned to Riss, handing over her bridal bouquet. As agreed, Riss and Ike stepped to the side, allowing the guests to watch the bride and groom repeat their vows.
There hadn't been a sneak peek at those vows at the rehearsal the night before. The minister's only advice was for them to speak loudly and clearly during the ceremony.
The first sign this wouldn't be the typical "'til death do us part" exchange was when Jade began to list the reasons why she fell in love with Tobin. Some funny. Some romantic. Some slyly dirty. Her words were such an intimate glimpse into the bond the couple shared as lovers, friends and life partners that Riss's nose began to itch.
A reaction she blamed on the flowers--gardenias always made her sneeze.
Then Tobin started his vows to Jade. Achingly sweet promises. Words of devotion that Tobin wasn't the least bit self-conscious about sharing in front of everyone. Inside jokes that had Jade laughing through her tears.
Riss kept it together until Tobin slipped the ring on Jade's finger. "I never believed in soul mates even when I secretly hoped for one of my own. When you came into my life . . . my head, my heart and my body went wild for you. And finally my soul was at peace. It was whole for the first time because you are my other half, Jade. And this love--who we are together, what we bring to each other, the life we're building--was so worth the wait."
At that point, Riss didn't bother to hide her tears. So much for her "not crying" record.
Not that anyone was paying attention to her anyway--as it should be.
Sniffles echoed behind her. She chanced a glance at Ike. The lump in her throat hardened as she silently willed him not to look at her.
Not when the preacher pronounced Jade and Tobin husband and wife.
Not when Tobin kissed Jade with a passion that was unnerving to witness.
Ike ignored her until Tobin yelled, "Hot damn! Me'n Mrs. Hale will be a little late for the reception, but y'all go ahead," and swept Jade into his arms, then raced out of the room.
No one said a word.
Even the minister seemed shocked.
Then Garnet Evans, wearing a sequined Grandmother of the Bride sash, stood up in the front row and addressed the wedding guests. "Well, you heard my new grandson. Let's get this party started."
The minister insisted that Ike and Riss dismiss the wedding guests one row at a time.
That's when they exchanged a "WTF?" look and Riss realized they were meant to employ a delaying tactic.
After the first row exited, Riss muttered through her smile, "You coulda warned me that Tobin planned to bolt with the bride as soon as the ceremony ended."
"I had no idea, but the minister knows what's up."
Riss nodded to Bran and Harper Turner. "Do you remember the last time he said they'd be 'a little late' to us?"
"They caught the final fifteen minutes of that shitty movie we didn't want to see." He dipped his chin to the Lawsons--Abe and Janie, and Hank and Lainie--as they shuffled out. "And the time before that-"
"We ended up watching the demolition derby by ourselves because they didn't show up at all." She nodded to Renner and Tierney Jackson. "They'd better not pull a no-show at their own wedding reception."
"We're already stuck delaying the guests. What else can we do?"
"Find them ASAP." Riss nudged him with her shoulder. "Bet you thought bein' best man meant just showing up in a suit and handing over the rings."
"I say we check the laundry room first. The vibrating machines only set Tobin back a couple of quarters. And who washes clothes at a resort on a Saturday night?" Since nearly all of the wedding guests were local, it'd been business as usual for the Split Rock Ranch and Resort, the wedding venue. Resort guests were being treated to a closed-door, catered dinner in the lounge during the short wedding ceremony in the main lodge.
"Nope. Too public for Tobin. I'd guess they're in one of the offices."
The last two rows of guests exited and the maintenance crew immediately started moving chairs.
"We would've seen him hoof it up the stairs." She faced him. "The barns are too dirty. The kitchen is filled with the catering staff. The bar is brimming with resort guests."
"It's freezin' outside so they ain't fogging up the windows in his truck."
They said, "The clothing store," at the same time.
Ike led the way at a quick clip with Riss right behind him.
After turning the corner, they noticed the horny couple had left the glass door to Wild West Clothiers ajar.
In the hallway leading to the dressing rooms, Riss and Ike heard the thump thump thump of movement against a solid surface. Their eyes met for a moment when female moans and male grunts escalated.
Yay. They'd arrived in time to hear the big finish.
"Lucky us, huh?" Ike drawled.
For the briefest moment, Riss wondered if she'd ever experience that kind of devoted urgency. Sure, she'd had her share of lustful encounters, but that burning need never lasted beyond a night or two.
So it wasn't as if she didn't believe lust, love, respect and a lifelong commitment was possible with one man. She'd seen it happen to several of her friends; Riss just lacked faith that it'd happen to her.
"Hey," Ike yelled, pounding on the wall, scaring the crap out of her-and evidently the newlyweds, because Jade screamed. "Quit fucking around and get your horny asses to your damn wedding reception."
Then Tobin bellowed, "Did you follow us?"
"Someone had to," Riss chimed in. "Better us than-"
"Your mom and dad," Ike inserted. "Or your-"
"Grandma Garnet," Riss added, grinning at Ike. "Although, the Mud Lilies would get a huge kick out of finding you two cracking the plaster in the dressing room."
"They'd probably take pictures," Ike said. "Miss Maybelle does have that fancy new camera-"
"And it would add those juicy details everyone wants when she writes up the wedding announcement in the Muddy Gap Gazette."
Jade's gasp was soothed by Tobin's low, reassuring rumble. Then he said, "Come on, guys. Give us five more minutes."
"Five minutes and that's it," Riss shot back. "And Jade better not have sex hair, Tobin. I mean it."
"Fine! Now will you two just go?"
Riss dragged Ike out of the store.
Laughing, Ike held his fist out for a bump. "That went well."
"They are lucky we found them before anyone else did." Riss slumped against the wall. "We're through the easiest part. How many hours you reckon we have left?"
"Hell if I know." Ike looked at her curiously. "What do you mean we're through the easiest part?"
"The wedding itself. Now we gotta make sure no one monopolizes the bride and groom's time. Plus there's the toasts, cutting the cake, the first dance . . ."
"Stuff I haven't thought about, since I just showed up in a suit with the rings," he said drolly.
"Yep. Which is why if the Mud Lilies get out of hand, you're dealing with them. They tend to get liquored up at an open bar."
"So does someone else I know."
Riss shook her head. "No, sir. I promised Jade I'd be on my best behavior."
Ike looked skeptical.
That annoyed her. "I keep my promises, Palmer. Besides, there aren't any hookup possibilities. You, me, Tobin's brother Streeter and the Mud Lilies are the only singles here."
"Why are you discounting Streeter?"
"Beyond the fact he's a traumatized widower with an equally traumatized young daughter? That's a pass for me. A hard pass."
"Too much trouble?"
"The guys I pick know the score. Streeter doesn't. It wouldn't be fair to pretend I'm interested in more than one go-around just to get my hands on that banging body of his."
"You're not one of them women who wants to heal him?"
"Uh . . . no. I can't fix myself; I'd never be cocky enough to assume I understand what he needs. Especially when I doubt he knows himself."
When Ike didn't respond and she felt him staring at her, she snapped, "What?"
Ike shrugged. "Just surprises me when you prove you got a brain beneath them mean red curls."
She snorted. "A backhanded compliment skirts the borderline of a truce-breaking comment."
From the moment they'd crossed paths two and a half years ago, Riss and Ike had maintained an antagonistic relationship. It started after Ike had gotten her brother Lloyd fired from his first postmilitary job. The Thorpe family held the "all for one" mentality, so if all three of her brothers hated Ike, then Riss did too . . . even when she kind of suspected that Ike wasn't entirely responsible for Lloyd getting canned.
But Ike hadn't helped matters by acting toward her like the asshole that her brothers claimed he was. With everyone else, he personified cowboy charm, even earning the nickname Palmer the Charmer. So when Riss's BFF Jade got engaged to Ike's BFF Tobin, and they started seeing even more of each other--besides just occasionally working together--they decided to put their past behind them and forge a truce. Which turned out to be easier than Riss had imagined.
"Admit you can't wait to end this truce," Ike prompted.
"You admit it first, ass--I mean sassafras."
"Ooh. You almost blew sixty-one days of not-horrible behavior," Ike taunted her.
"Horrible behavior? Think they're talkin' about how rude and downright mean it was to interrupt us?" Tobin said behind them.
"They do seem a little smug, don't they?" Jade said.
Riss whirled around to give Jade a once-over. "You look spectacularly fucked, Mrs. Hale."
"I am." She kissed Tobin's jaw. "For now."
"Come on, tiger." Tobin's gaze flicked between them. "We owe you for that. Big-time."
Riss waited until the couple was out of earshot before she said, "Did that sound like a threat?"
"Vaguely. But it's not in the same league as the threats you've given me."
"Used to give you," she said sweetly. "Do you miss those threats?"
"Nope." He grinned. "But they were creative as hell. I will admit that much. So feel free to direct those insults at anyone else to keep me entertained tonight."
Riss pretended to wipe away a tear. "That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me."
As they reached the main lobby, Ike said, "Think Boy Scout and Sweetie Pie will ditch their wedding reception again?"
Her former nemesis had a sly sense of humor. Calling Tobin "Boy Scout" and Jade "Sweetie Pie" always made her laugh because his descriptions of their BFFs were dead-on. "They can try. It's up to us to stop them."
She patted his cheek. "Smile, cowboy. The night is all uphill from here."