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Colby Tucker had been in love with Ollie Rossi since the first day he’d pulled his battered pickup into the space next to hers and leaned out the window to introduce himself.
He had a square jaw that was more often than not covered in stubble, thick brownish hair that curled when he let it go too long without a haircut, which to be honest, he almost always did. He wore faded, worn blue jeans that hugged the curve of his butt and his long legs. His boots were quality but well used, and he always wore a straw cowboy hat on his head. He usually wore faded jeans and a T-shirt with one of his favorite bands—Coldplay or ZZ Top—and maybe it was her overactive libido, but those tees seemed to hug his muscled biceps and pecs like a second skin. He looked like her version of a cowboy wet dream whenever he walked toward her, and it was all she could do to pretend to be blasé.
He’d friend-zoned her after that first meeting and seeing how quickly the buckle bunnies rotated through his trailer weekend after weekend when they were on the road with the rodeo, she knew she should be happy about it. But she’d be lying if she said she was. She’d had more than her fair share of hot dreams about Ollie.
His real name was Olivier. Sort of hoity for a rodeo cowboy and she’d never seen him as anything other than Ollie. Shep barked and she glanced at her husky. He nudged his empty water bowl toward her. She nodded. That’s right she’d been filling up his food and water bowls when she’d gotten distracted by Ollie pulling in next to her in the large field that the rodeo participants used as a campground.
She filled Shep’s bowls, petting him before she put them down and then turned away from the window. She’d decided that this was the year she got over Ollie Rossi. To be fair, it had been one hell of a lot easier not to think about him when she’d been home in Georgetown over the winter months when the rodeo wasn’t in session but here it was March 1st and she realized she hadn’t made one damned inch of progress on getting over that man.
She heard the rap on her door, knew it was him. He always liked to have a catch-up after they’d been apart for a while. Truth was she loved it too. But honestly, she wished she could just see him as a friend the way he saw her. It would make her life so much easier. She needed to get over him and move on.
She opened the door with a smile and almost caught her breath at how handsome he was. His bright blue eyes in that olive tanned face with the thick curls on the top of his brown-black hair. His firm mouth lifted in an answering smile.
“Hey, Colby-girl, missed ya,” he said, stepping into her trailer and giving her a hug.
Sap that she was, she closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of his aftershave, something outdoorsy and sort of woodsy that she had never smelled on anyone else. His arms dropped and she stepped back still tingling form the body-to-body contact. Shep stopped eating to come over and greet one of his favorite people.
Even her dog was hung up on Ollie. She had to get herself sorted. She’d even let her mom set her up when she’d been home, hoping that maybe she would meet someone new who would distract her. But the truth was every guy she’d met didn’t measure up to Ollie. Her never-boyfriend.
“Missed ya too,” she said. “Want some coffee?”
“Love some. That drive was long,” he said as Shep trotted back to his food station.
Colby went to her pod machine and took out the dark roast pods she kept just for him and made him a cup. He sat down on the couch in the “living” area of her trailer. She brought his coffee over to him while he told her about a book he’d been reading. She chatted with him like they were friends. But in her heart she knew that this was slowly killing her.
Her mom had pointed out a few of the guys that she’d set Colby up with were her type or had been before this one-sided love affair she had with Ollie. She had to cut him out of her life. It would be hard of course, she thought as she listened to the soothing sound of his deep voice. She was a barrel racer, and he was a rodeo clown for the bull riders. They were going to run into each other a lot. But she had to do this.
“Sounds interesting,” she said when he stopped talking, not having heard a single thing he said.
“Really? I wouldn’t have thought that you were interested in that time period. But I’ll bring the book over later so you can borrow it,” he said. “Great coffee. Thanks.”
A sort of silence fell, and she took a breath. She’d just tell him they needed to have a little space.
They both spoke at the same time. She shook her head. “Sorry about that. What were you saying?”
He smiled at her and she saw that cracked front tooth of his, the one that she was always curious about but had never asked about. “Ladies first.”
And she chickened out. She wasn’t ready to tell him she didn’t want to hang out anymore. “Do you want a cookie with your coffee?”
“I’d love one,” he said. “But before you get up, I have something to ask you and I want you to know it’s okay to say no.”
Was it something serious? It had to be. Why else would he say it like that?
“What is it? You know I’d do anything for you,” she said, knowing no matter how much she wished it were otherwise that was the truth.
“I need you to be my fake fiancée at my brother’s wedding.”
Olivier only felt truly alive when he was back on the rodeo circuit. Here he wasn’t the youngest Rossi son who hadn’t lived up to expectations. Here he was just Ollie. A rodeo clown who was taken at face value. And no one made him feel more at home than Colby.
He wasn’t the prep school kid with the wealthy parents, famous, successful brothers…he was just himself. A simple cowboy who had nothing other than his pickup truck and trailer. That’s all he needed.
He wasn’t going to front, Colby was hot. The kind of woman that a different man would have gone after hard and fast, making her his from the moment they’d met. But she was a complication he didn’t want. He genuinely liked her and didn’t want to add her to the list of people he’d let down. He wouldn’t allow himself that.
He’d tried to be what everyone wanted once and it had backfired. The simple truth was he liked Colby and didn’t want to ruin the friendship they had.
He needed her. Or at least what she would represent to his mama, who was bound and determined to see all of her sons married and settled in Whiskey River. He had been beyond pissed at his parents when they’d bought a ranch in the Texas Hill Country and moved there. He had liked Texas being his. But it no longer was.
Jock had opened a restaurant in Last Stand and then Nico had gotten engaged to a local girl from Whiskey River and the place where he could be himself and not have to face his family’s understated expectations and disappointment was gone.
And now that his parents were closer, they wanted more of his time and as much as he wished it were otherwise, he’d always tried to be a dutiful son. But every time, he’d fallen short. He knew he had to show up to Nico’s wedding. He also knew that unless he brought a date—a serious date—his mom was going to have a string of single women to set him up with when he returned.
His mom was cagey and determined to fix the broken part inside of him—he’d give her that. He knew she was doing it out of love, which was why he’d indulged her at Christmas, but he wasn’t going to fall for some small-town girl and fall into line the way his brothers had.
The dates would be couched as a favor for a friend whose daughter needed someone to move a sofa or coffee with a friend’s daughter who had just come off a bad breakup…actually that one hadn’t been too bad. She had been as uninterested in being set up as he’d been.
But being home for the entire month of December had confirmed that his mom was in serious match-making mode. There was no two ways about it. Both of his elder brothers settling down hadn’t soothed her need for grandchildren, it had simply magnified it.
“I’m sorry, what?” Colby asked.
He shook his head, putting his coffee mug on the table. “I know it’s preposterous to think in the twenty-first century that I’d be asking you to be my fake fiancée but the truth is my mom is on overload matchmaking mode right now. If I don’t do something to divert her, I’m going to be ‘accidentally’ set up on a first date every night I’m home.”
She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest, looking at him from under those long, thick eyelashes of hers. She wasn’t amused, and for the first time since they’d met he had the feeling he’d made her mad.
“Why not just find a real girlfriend? You don’t seem to have much trouble with the ladies,” she said.
“I don’t. But Mom will know I’m not serious about any of them.”
“And she’ll think you’re serious about me?” she asked.
He wasn’t sure how to answer that. The fact of the matter was that Colby had this girl-next-door quality to her and an innate kindness that would appeal to his mom. Hell, it appealed to him and if he were interested at all in settling down, he would have asked her out.
But he wasn’t.
And given the fact that she didn’t seem inclined to go the domestic route, he thought Colby might be the right choice, but her reaction was giving him signs that were all pointing to wrong.
“Yes. You’re not a casual sort of woman, Colby. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new,” he said.
“You’re right, I’m not,” she admitted. “But that’s even more reason for us not to play games.”
“Why? It’s clear to me that there’s something standing in the way of you getting serious. It seems to me you’re as averse to it as I am.”
“I’m not averse,” she said, stiffly.
“Then what? I can’t imagine you would be single if you didn’t want to be,” he said. This conversation was getting away from him. He hadn’t meant to discuss her dating life at all. He’d sort of figured she’d just say yes and then they’d go for a ride with Shep.
“I like someone I can’t have,” she said.
He looked over at her. Who could she like that wouldn’t want her back? What man would be that dumb? “Maybe this will be a good distraction for you.”
She turned away from him and then stood up and paced to the small window over the sink and looked out. He had no idea what she was thinking. He seemed to be off his game today, which wasn’t like him.
This was all a mistake. Colby was one of the few people on the planet that he could count on. She had always just accepted him as he was. He didn’t want to fuck this up.
He got up and walked over to her, putting his hand on her shoulder. She turned, and her long braid brushed the back of his hand. It was soft and sent a tingle up his arm. Her lips were parted and, when her eyes met his, he realized perhaps for the first time just how pretty she was. He had the urge to kiss her and stepped back, realizing he had lost all his damned sense.
“Sorry. I’m an idiot, which I know you already knew. That was a dumb thing to ask. I’ll figure it out.”
He turned to walk away but she caught his hand in hers. He turned back, his gaze going to her mouth, which now that he’d thought about kissing her, he couldn’t tear his eyes from.
“I didn’t say no.”
He was offering her the worst sort of temptation. Any other man and she’d just say no. But this was Ollie. And maybe this was what she needed to get over him. For the first time since they’d met, he’d ticked her off with his casual assumption that she’d do it because she had no one else. And it had made her realize that she’d always seen him through the lens of this man she wanted and couldn’t have.
Perhaps Ollie in real life was a man she wouldn’t want. If she did this…she’d either finally be free of him, or… She shook her head. This would work out. Plus, if he was her fake fiancé, he wouldn’t be bringing home buckle bunnies all season long…would he? No, he wouldn’t. She was going to have to establish some rules to make this situation work for her. And just to be clear, her subconscious reiterated, she was doing this to get over him for good.
“Are you saying yes?”
She shrugged and dropped his hand. “I’m not sure. When is the wedding?”
“June? That’s months away,” she said.
“I know. But my family purchased a table for Boots & Bangles, which is next weekend—March 19. So if I’m going to convince my mom that you and I are a couple, it would be good to start now. She’s already got a friend’s daughter lined up for me. She doesn’t want any odd numbers at the table,” he said, shoving his hands through his thick hair, which just mussed it and made him look sexy as hell.
She stepped back and shook her head. Snap out of it, Colby. “Okay. If I’m going to be your fiancée even for just a short time, you can’t bring women back to your trailer while we are on the circuit,” she said.
“Fair enough. But you have to go out with me after the rodeo on Saturday nights—that way I won’t be tempted to pick someone up,” he said.
“Do you really have so little self-control?” she asked.
“Are you really afraid to go to a bar with me after the rodeo?” he countered.
Yes, totally yes. Tequila and Ollie didn’t sound like a good combo to her. Of course, she could just order beer or club soda…she’d cross that bridge when she came to it.
“I’m not really good at lying,” she admitted.
“I know. That’s why I have a ring in my pocket, and I’m prepared to actually propose to you with the understanding that after Nico’s wedding you break it off with me and go back to your regular life.”
He was going to propose? She knew it was fake, but she still felt a thrill deep inside of her and she knew this had to end. Did she end it right now or take the next few months…March until June…to be with him, hope that she’d discover he wasn’t the male fantasy she’d made him into in her head. He was already sort of doing it. Her ideal Ollie would never ask her to fake-marry him.
“Okay.” The words came out without her really thinking about it. But she knew she’d regret it forever if she didn’t play this game. Who knew, he might fall for her.
She couldn’t entertain that notion. This was a strict getting-over-Olivier-Rossi plan. Look for his warts, shortcomings and weaknesses. Find the real man behind the sexy ass, easy smile and get the f—over him.
“Really?” he asked, sounding a little surprised.
“Yes. I’ll do it,” she said.
“Great. You’re the best, Colby-girl,” he said, hugging her and she put her arms around him. His hug still felt as great as it always did, but it didn’t hurt as much as it usually did because she knew that in June, she wouldn’t be hugging him like this. She’d be over him and moving on.
“I think you should probably stop calling me Colby-girl,” she said. “It makes me sound like your pal instead of your girlfriend.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to stop doing it.”
She knew it. She’d miss it. But this was how she was going to extricate him from her heart. One tiny piece at a time.
“So, do you want to go for a ride? Now that we’ve gotten my craziness out of the way,” he asked.
She looked at her watch and realized they had the rest of the afternoon free. The rodeo practice and events didn’t begin until the next day. “I’d like that. Meet you by the corral in fifteen minutes?”
“Sure,” he said, starting to walk out of the trailer, but he stopped suddenly. “I really appreciate this.”
He reached for her, touching the tail of her braid when it rested on her shoulder. She stood there looking over at him, unsure what he was doing. He leaned in, lowering his head and she realized he was going to kiss her.
She put her hand up and blocked him. “Not that.”
“If we are going to expect everyone to believe we are engaged, we’ll have to kiss.”
“No one is here,” she pointed out.
“What if we suck at it?” he asked. “Better to find out in private than in front of an audience.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I can’t do this right now. Can we put it off until after our ride?”
He nodded and stepped back from her. “You’re right. So far, I’ve made our reunion all about me and what I want. I’m sorry. Let’s go for our ride and I’ll try to be the man you’ve come to expect.”
He walked out of the trailer and she watched him go, realizing that the real side she’d just glimpsed wasn’t making her hate him. In fact, his understanding just made her like him more. But she knew she’d find things she didn’t like. She was determined to. It was the only way she was going to get over him.
End of Excerpt