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The name evoked a torrent of high school memoriesheavenly blue eyes, kissing in the bleachers, making out in his old pickup and a whole lot of regret.
Cisco Hardin shifted restlessly in his truck as he sped down the road in High Cotton, Texas. Everyone in school had called her Lucky, and they'd dubbed him Kid. Somehow he knew they'd meet again, but he never dreamed it would be like this.
In his mind their eyes would lock across a crowded room. She'd smile that smile that turned him inside out and all the promises he'd broken would be forgotten. Chickens wearing high heels might be a more likely scenario, he mused. Lucky wasn't going to forget what he'd done. It was time to roll the dice and see if twenty years had mellowed the cockles of Lucky's heart.
As he pulled into the parking area of the one beer joint in the small town, his cell jangled to the tune of "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)." Turning off the ignition, he reached for the phone on his belt.
"Hey, Cadde." His brother was the CEO of Shilah Oil. Kid and Chance, their other brother, had a vested interest in the company, too. The Hardin boys were in the oil business.
"Did you get Lucky to sign the lease?" Cadde always came straight to the point.
"I just reached The Joint."
"What took so long?"
"Well" he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel "I wanted to see Aunt Etta and Uncle Rufus and then I went to Chance's, but the baby was asleep so I stopped at your house to play with Jacob. He's crawling everywhere and pulling up to his feet by himself."
"He'll be walking soon. Jessie and I can hardly keep up with him." There was a long sigh. "Kid, you're stalling."
"Maybe." He had to admit this wasn't easy for him.
"You were only a boy when you promised to call and come back after you left for Lubbock and Texas Tech, but you didn't. That was years ago. You've both moved on."
"I know. I can't figure out what she's doing in High Cotton running her dad's bar."
"Don't worry about her life, just get the lease signed. I've already purchased our drilling contract from Anadarko and it didn't come cheap. Since Bud transferred the land and mineral rights to Lucky, we need her fifty acres to complete the desired acreage to drill the oil well. We have a personal stake in this because our property left to us by our parents is a major part of the tract."
"I'm well aware of that, big brother."
"Do you want me to talk to Lucky?"
"Hell, no. Leasing is my department and I'll handle it."
"You'll have to get out of your truck to do that."
Kid looked around. "Are you watching me?"
There was a laugh on the other end. "No, but I know you and, believe me, this is a firstKid Hardin afraid to talk to a woman."
"Lucky's not any woman."
"You might want to analyze that statement and why this is so hard for you."
He'd rather not. "You always said my past was going to come back and haunt me. I can feel the ol' Ghost-busters chomping at my butt."
"If you don't want to see her, Chance or I will do it."
"Then get out of your truck."
Kid clicked off before the curse words could leave his mouth. Grabbing his hat from the passenger's seat, he got out. The parking lot was graveled as it had been years ago and it crunched beneath his boots like cornflakes. The weatherworn siding and tin roof with the rusty spots were the same, too. An iron rail ran across the front. Bud had put it up after a drunk had plowed through his building one night. "The Beer Joint" blinked from a neon sign. Bud hadn't used much creativity in naming the place. Besides Kid's truck, three more were nosed up to the rail and it was only five o'clock on a hot September afternoon.
Opening the heavy door, he stepped into the dimly lit bar and just like that, twenty years smacked him in the face. They were seventeen years old and he'd fixed up an old Ford pickup to drive to school. After classes, The Beer Joint was the first place they'd stop. Lucky would go in the side door and sneak out two beers. Then they'd cruise the back roads, stopping at the old abandoned Potter place beneath an overgrown entrance. He'd drink his beer and then hers because she'd only take a couple of sips. The rest of the afternoon they'd spend making out when they should have been studying.
He was her first and he'd thought he would love her forever.
After his eyes adjusted, he saw the inside was the same, too; the back wall had a row of red booths that now looked more orange than red. Wooden tables were scattered in the center, the old jukebox that probably held records from the 1980s occupied another wall, and to the left was the mahogany bar Bud had built. It shone like glass. A couple huddled together in a booth, two guys sat at a table and three cowboys were bellied up to the bar talking to a waitress.
He didn't see Lucky.
Straddling a faded red bar stool, he looked around, his eyes falling on the waitress. She made no move to serve him. One cowboy said something and she laughed. His mind reeled. Oh, my God! He knew that soft, seductive chuckle. It visited him often in his dreams. Could she be ?
His eyes roamed over her slim yet curvy figure dressed in tight jeans. Her breasts pushed against a blue fitted blouse and the first button was undone. That he noticed, but her hair drew his attention. Lucky's blond hair was long and flowing. This woman's was short, kind of chic, wobberjawed is what he'd call the style. It looked damn good on her, though. Lucky.
What have you done to your hair? Just when he was about to fall off his bar stool from shock, she turned and walked over to him. "Can I get you anything?"
The soft lilting voice was the same but there was no recognition in the blue eyesthe eyes that used to sparkle for him. Now they just stared at him with irritation.
He wanted to say, "It's me, Kid," but somehow the words got tangled up in the past of his misdeeds. What he said was, "Beer. Miller Lite."
"Can or bottle?" "Bottle."
Behind her was a large cooler filled with numerous kinds of beer. She opened the door and grabbed one. After placing it in front of him on a napkin, she laid a ticket on the bar. He pulled out his wallet and placed a five on top of it.
"Keep the change."
Without a word, she put the ticket and money in the cash register. She slammed it shut and went back to the cowboys, ignoring him as if he were invisible.
That was cold.
But she was beautiful and sexy, just like he'd remembered. The classic lines of her face were now mature as was her body. And her breastswere they always that full? They used to fit the palm of his hand perfectly.
She didn't recognize him! That took a moment to digest. Getting her to sign a lease was going to be so much easier now. He'd worried for nothing.
Looking down, he saw the bottle still had the cap on it. He knew it was a twist-off, but just to niggle her, he called, "Miss?"
She glanced his way.
"Aren't you supposed to remove the cap?" "Oh." She moved over to him, her blue eyes narrowed. "I thought you could flick it off with your thumb."
He frowned. Was she joshing him? He used to brag about that in high school. Not that he could, but it didn't keep him from boasting.
Taking the bottle, she gave it a quick twist and placed it in front of him on the napkin. Foam oozed from the top and spilled onto the side. Did she shake it?
Again, without a word she walked away.
He needed another napkin, but decided against asking. He took a cold sip.
A man came through the door on the right, carrying a case of beer. Bubba Joe Grisley. In school, he'd had a big head and his body had finally caught up. The man was huge. Did he work here? From the apron he wore, Kid figured he did. Bubba Joe used to have a crush on Lucky. Had they hooked up? Chance had said that Lucky wasn't married, but that didn't mean a thing.
Bubba Joe unloaded the case into the cooler and turned, his eyes catching Kid's. "Well, if it ain't Crisco Hardin."
Kid ran his thumb over the frosty bottle. "If you call me Crisco one more time, I'm going to jump across this bar and show you how strong I've gotten in twenty years."
Bubba Joe laughed, a sound that rumbled through his large chest. "Hey, Kid. I'm joking."
"I didn't like it when you called me that in third grade and I don't like it now."
"Hell, Kid, you got all the looks and charm and all I got was a big head. I had to have some fun." Bubba Joe rubbed his balding head. "I think I still have knots that you put there."
"I didn't hit you that hard."
"Life was good back then, huh?" Before Kid could answer, Bubba Joe shouted to Lucky. "Hey, Kid Har-din's back in town."
"I know. I served him a beer," she said without any emotion, and without looking his way.
That was even colder.
She remembered. On that thought came another. After all these years she was still pissed and madder than a bear caught in a trap. He knew Lucky and her stubborn pride. She wasn't ever going to forgive him. Forgiveness wasn't something he neededtoo many years had passed for that. But he was sorry he'd hurt her.
After his parents' tragic deaths, his mind was all messed up and Lucky was there to comfort him in a way no one else could. They were friends a long time before their relationship had become intimate.
"Are you moving back to High Cotton like your brothers?" Bubba Joe asked, leaning on the bar.
"Nah." Kid took a swallow. "I'm staying in Houston. I've gotten used to the bright lights."
"Yeah. I bet." Bubba Joe snickered in that I-know-what-you-mean sort of way.
Kid just drank his beer, but every now and then he could feel Lucky's heavenly baby blues on him. But now there was nothing divine about them. Instead, they gave off more of a fire and brimstone feel.
"Chance built a huge roping pen back of his house. I see him out there roping most weekends. His little girl, too. Sometimes Tyler Jakes ropes with him. He's a roping champion."
Kid brought his attention back to Bubba Joe. "Tyler's a rodeo guy and he and Chance will always be cowboys." Tyler was younger than the Hardin boys but his rodeo success was well-known.
"Chance's wife just had a baby."
"Yeah." Kid twisted the bottle. "A little boy named Cody."
"His wife teaches at the school. My cousin has her for a teacher and he has a big crush on hera beautiful blonde. Who wouldn't?"
"Shay's a real nice lady and Chance is lucky to have met her." But the relationship almost disintegrated on its own when Chance had found out the truth about Shay's past.
Chance had been asleep in the backseat the night their parents had crashed into a tree and died. Loud voices had awakened him. Seemed their father was leaving his family for another woman. That was the horrible secret Chance had kept, never telling anyone until about three years ago when he'd finally told his brothers.
No one knew who the other woman was until Shay literally crashed into Chance's life. The other woman was her mother.
Kid gulped the cold beer. That news had been hard to take, but they'd gotten through it as brothers. Their father had been a big part of their lives, so much so they'd followed him into the oil business. Chuck Hardin had roughnecked most of his life. He'd told his sons that they'd do better than him. They'd get an education and move up the ladder into a position of power. Everything their father had taught them felt tarnished by his betrayal.
"We all knew Cadde was going to succeed," Bubba Joe was saying. "He had that drive, even back then. Who knew he'd marry the boss's daughter."
"Yeah, who knew?" Kid swirled the beer around in the bottle. The marriage of convenience had turned into something special. Nothing much distracted Cadde from the oil business, except Jessie. When they'd lost their first child, Kid feared Cadde was never going to make it back from the edge. But he'd heard love had the power to heal. Kid didn't know much about that, though.
"I see his wife every now and then at Walker's General Store. She pushes the baby around in a stroller looking at everything in there like she's at Neiman Marcus. Her dog is in the stroller, too. It's a weird thing without any ears and if you get anywhere near that baby it growls and barks. Jessie, I think her name is, always apologizes. Man, she's a looker, and pregnant again. You Hardin boys are going to keep the name alive."
"Yeah," was all he said. His brothers had found something rare and he was happy for them. But he would always be the uncle and he was comfortable in that role.
"How about you, Kid. You married?"
"Nah. How about you?" Kid drained his beer.
"I still live with my momma. Every time I try to leave she gets sick."
Kid wanted to laugh. "Big-headed momma's boy" is what they used to call Bubba Joe. He didn't quite understand why kids had to be so cruel. In third grade Billy Ray Tarvel couldn't say "Cisco" so he'd called Kid "Crisco" because that's what his mom used to make pies. Kid had to forcibly hold Billy Ray down one day to make him say "Kid." After that no one but Bubba Joe called him that twice. Bubba Joe never did it in a cruel way. It was fun and he wanted to be Kid's buddy. Kid put knots on his head anyway.
Mostly, he had good memories about school, especially high school, and Lucky was a big part of that.