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The band devolved into laughter, their guitarist ass-over-head drunk. The crowd hooted and shouted as the bassist tried to help him off the stage floor as feedback whined through the speakers. Tyler Dixon winced at the sharp sound. Why in the hell had he let his cousin talk him into coming out? What was he, a twenty-one-year old dumbass again?
Tyler shook his head at his cousin’s band making fools of themselves, nursed a sip from his longneck, slouched his forearm on the bar and crossed his boots at the ankle as the clapboard walls lined with aluminum beer signs rattled from the train rumbling by. He dug beneath his loose plaid shirttails and pulled his phone from his pocket to check the time. Only nine? Felt like midnight. But then again, some of us get up for J.O.B.s at the ass crack of dawn.
The band continued their frolic to the laughter of the crowd, a mix of young and middle-aged locals straight off the farm and college kids from nearby Stephen F. Austin University.
“Amateurs,” a nearby man chuckled at the band.
Naw, those guys weren’t amateurs; they were just immature kids who’d never grown up. Some were Tyler’s age, or thereabouts. T.R.—his cousin and foreman, the band’s front man who’d dragged him out tonight, who was flirting shamelessly with the ladies crowded around the stage in skimpy skirts—was several years younger than Tyler but still old enough to know how to hold his beer and at least check for an over-eighteen wristband before winking at a chick. No excuse for being so piss-faced, and yet, a sliver of Tyler’s subconscious envied T.R. At least he had the freedom Tyler had never had, to cut loose, have fun, be himself—
“He’s gonna need a minute, ladies!” T.R. laughed, flashing his megawatt smile as more ribbing, and this time, some booing, increased the cacophony. “Booing? Actually…” T.R. leaned out, shielding his eyes and scanning the room, pretty-boy blues squinted.
“Naw, man,” Tyler grumbled, knowing his cousin’s probing stare.
Tyler stepped back into the dark perimeter out of the dance lights’ reach—
“Ty!” his cousin shouted into the mic, his gaze honing in on him like a probation officer on an ankle monitor. The crowd silenced a degree.
“Nope,” Tyler muttered. He didn’t do “spotlight” of any variety, big or small. Didn’t do front and center, had some damn good reasons for it.
“No? Aw, don’t hide, man!” T.R. teased. “Come fill in a riff or two while our boy here takes a breather and gets another beer!”
Just what your guitarist needs. Another beer. Tyler chuckled wryly.
He was too old for this shit. It was like hanging out with Toby, his littlest bro, playing that super fun game where Tyler was always the babysitter and Toby the little troublemaker. Trav, their middle bro, didn’t play that game anymore, thankfully. He’d lost his innocence in the worst possible way in Afghanistan, but at least he’d grown the hell up.
“Come on, Ty! Won’t take no for an answer!” T.R. turned to the crowd, flashing lights distorting their shadowed faces. “You guys wanna hear some music!”
The dance floor pulsated, whooping. The sound grated on Tyler’s eardrums as horribly as the feedback had. There was a dangerous storm brewing on the weather Doppler, ready to hit tomorrow. He and T.R. ought to be back at the farm, preparing, before it swept across the county. That geophysical surveyor from the state would also be there tomorrow to check into Tyler’s guest cabin, and Tyler needed to be there ready to greet him and then follow him like a bloodhound to make sure the fucker didn’t nose around his property where he didn’t belong—
“Hear that, Ty? Get your ass up here!” T.R. cut through Tyler’s mental planning. Again, Tyler shook his head. “He’s shy, y’all!” Cue laughter. Cue Tyler’s exasperated eye roll and another sip of beer. “C’mon, man, it’s your, like, one night out of the decade! Get your ass outta your bubble and live a little!”
He grunted at the public shaming and ensuing cheering. He liked his bubble and frowned as eager patrons turned his way, searching for the guy T.R. was shouting at.
He nursed another lazy bottle tilt, slouching his hand on his work-worn denim, ignoring the ladies who’d spotted him, eyeing him up and down as if they wanted to climb him like a tree.
“Naw, don’t gimme that indifference! Ladies and gents, my cousin is mean as hell on the guitar! He can play literally anything! Used to play at SXSW and Austin City Limits! And around the Boy Scout campfire, y’all!” More laughter. Tyler inhaled hard for patience. “C’mon, chant with me. We want Ty! We want Ty!”
What the hell? Did T.R. think he was some country music star plying millions of adoring fans instead of playing for tips in a dingy honky-tonk on the outskirts of Nacogdoches? Yet the room responded. The crowd crammed into this petri dish chanted. He scowled at T.R. who flashed that shit-eating grin and folded his arms smugly, glowing in his local stardom.
Tyler exhaled. Hard. Set down his beer and eyed it longingly, then swiped a bottle of water off the bar, climbing onto the plywood stage. The crowd erupted. He tilted his Stetson over his eyes. Why was he capitulating? To shut my cuz the hell up, that’s why.
He took the guitarist’s instrument from where the man sat swaying on a stool, slinging the strap over his shoulder as he yanked the man’s beer out of his hands. “Hey man, I was—”
“Sober the hell up,” Tyler grumbled, thrusting the water at him and jabbing the beer onto a 2 x 4 ledge in an unfinished portion of wall studs, strumming his fingers over the strings to familiarize himself with another man’s guitar and fine tuning the D string he could hear had been the tiniest degree flat, unnoticeable to most.
“Hell yeah, cuz!” T.R. crowed as he leaned against Tyler’s shoulder.
“Thanks a lot, Thaddeus,” Tyler grumbled through the side of his mouth.
T.R. laughed but pulled the mic away from his mouth. “Don’t ‘Thaddeus’ me, asshole. Just play and have fun for once in your life. Seth and Stevie are safe at summer camp. You’re a single dude with two weeks of freedom. Use ’em.”
Correction: divorced dad, not single dude. He ought to check on the boys again—
The drummer cracked his sticks together while Tyler deliberated on a reply, leading into a country cover. Tyler worked the frets, ad-libbing until he found the melody and his flow, keeping his head shadowed and averted from the crowd dancing as if he didn’t have a care in the world, when purplish waves, bouncing haphazardly flashed in his periphery. He side-eyed the girl to whom they belonged. Willowy, toned arms that she pumped over her head, sensual twists of her hips, tie-dyed tank top that had some sort of…dinosaur on it? His side-eye honed in. A tattoo flared across her shoulders. An over-twenty-one wristband dangled among a twining of leather bracelets. Completely in her element in her flirty skirt, sexy ankle boots… Okay, so he wasn’t side-eying her. He was full-on eye-screwing her expanse of bare skin, legs that didn’t stop, like she was some ethereal creature he couldn’t look away from. The platinum-blond woman she was dancing with, in equally mismatched clothes—like the two had robbed a thrift store—nudged her, eying him, having caught onto his staring.
His vision corrected itself, landing on a painted crack in the stage floor. He focused his attention on working the strings—Had her hair been purple? Or was it the artificial lighting? His eyes darted back to verify as T.R. led them into a cover of Luke Bryan’s “Kick the Dust Up.” The bass pulsated through the speakers near his ears, undulating energy of pretty women dressed to let loose and impress, and the purple-haired chick and her Baywatch-blond friend bounced up and down, laughing, wild and free, skirts fluttering up and down their miles of clothing-less thighs, tits bouncing—purple-haired chick’s rack was easy on the eyes. This time, he realized she stared back at him, grinning playfully, the brightest, gloriously wide eyes, color that was light and crystalline and most likely distorted by the dance floor lights, plushest lip pinched seductively between her teeth, making him wonder what they’d look like stretched around his—
Fuck, he’d clashed a chord!
T.R., mouth mashed upon the mic, turned his way, waggling his brows. He’d noticed the mistake and noticed to where Tyler’s eyes had wandered. Tyler didn’t make mistakes. The guitar was like a fifth appendage, even if he didn’t normally play in public, and he put his eyes right back where they damn well belonged: on the painted crack on the stage. Women. Distractions. The lot of ’em. “Knock, knock, knock goes the diesel, if you really wanna see the beautiful people,” shouted the crowd as some chick flashed her chest, followed by thunderous cheers.
He resisted another heavenward glance that he was in the thick of this Girls Gone Wild mess. Please, goddammit, no photos of me on this stage acting like my last brain cell died yesterday. He’d be disbarred in a hot minute. Or someone, somewhere, would recognize him…
Yet somehow, his stupid eyes had migrated back to Tie-Dye’s mouth, watching her shout the lyrics, as her friend and she dissolved into laughing, swigging their beers. From her angle now, which seemed suspiciously closer to the stage, to him, he could see the design of her shirt across her breasts, and how in the hell had he ended up staring at her again? Texas Paleontology is the Pits, with a dinosaur holding a shovel and a litany of sponsoring universities in fine print. Huh. College girl, maybe? Not his scene. He had no business imagining someone a decade or more younger than himself on her knees—
She was still watching him. A warning kick throbbed below the belt buckle. A twinkle in her eyes and a smile screwed those pretty lips sideways like a knowing secret that popped the most kissable divot at the corner of her mouth, like welcoming pillows he wanted to rest his lips upon to taste her honey for himself—pillows? Shit, I’m an idiot. Another kick in his Levi’s between his thighs. It had been a while since he’d hooked up. Dad-life came first. Farm next. Law practice after that. Libido last. But now that he was imagining her on her knees, her lips stretched around his pecker, imagining what those tousled waves would feel like sifting through the calluses on his fingertips as he gripped her and plowed home, he felt the familiar rush of blood away from his brain on a direct flight south to his less intelligent head, the head that had gotten him into more trouble on one painfully similar night so long ago…
He finished the song, passed off the guitar to T.R.’s guitarist, and hopped off the stage to retreat to his beer, if it was even still there. Naw, maybe he oughta jet right out the door—
A hand snagged his forearm. Skin tingling on skin where his shirt sleeves were rolled up shot electricity up his arm. Vanilla-almond deliciousness wafted around him, and on instinct, he drew in a satisfying breath, a sensual relief from the honky-tonk air perfumed with beer and stale cigarette residue embedded in the walls even though smoking had been banned inside for over a year.
It was her. He didn’t need to look to know it was the wild child from the dance floor with messy, purple—no, mahogany (?) hair, but he was looking nonetheless, like she was a drug and he was jonesing, eyes trailing over her classically beautiful face, her perfectly fistable tresses. Up close, he could see those eyes were light. And makeup-less. On stage he’d assumed she wore mascara, but no, her lashes were naturally dark and thick. Her lips seemed glossy, but it could also be the lingering sheen of beer he wanted to kiss off that flesh—no.
Her porcelain face was painted by the grace of nature’s paintbrush, not Dior. Not an ounce of foundation clogged her pores. She had a couple tiny freckles. An adorable nose that a man could litter kisses upon until the cows came home and probably never get tired of doing so. And bangly earrings that he wanted to tug with his teeth, and—
“You were good!” She grinned. He nodded his thanks at her obvious line, turning away. “The way you jumped all over the frets, barre chords to picking. Impressive, Ricky Scaggs. And also, thanks for tuning that D string because it was killing me!”
He eyed her openly. So, she wasn’t feeding him a line? She knew her music. Or played?
“Dance with me!” she shouted over the noise, a coy smile glinting those sparkly eyes.
His dick gave another warning throb. Feeling her skin on his was the hottest foreplay.
“Naw, I don’t dance.” Wait. He was walking out on the dance floor, letting a one-sided grin tug up the corner of his lips, playful tugs of her hands luring him.
T.R. grinned, the bastard, notched his chin toward the woman during a lyrical interlude, mouthed Guitarists always get laid, man. Tyler scratched his cheek with his middle finger, eliciting a laugh from T.R. at the surreptitious bird, who launched into a chorus again. And yet, just the mere suggestion of sex had his bronco buster below the belt ramrod straight and itching for a rodeo, growing uncomfortable trapped in the leg of his jeans.
He stood on the floor as undulations pushed and pulled around him, as this party girl with the not-purple hair and perfect cheekbones and magical eyes—were they brown?—who smelled like his favorite ice cream shimmied against him, lost in her own little world and soaking up the moment. He took her in, folded his arms, let her show him what she had as if she was his own personal dancer, eyed those legs, that nice ass as she twisted and dipped, her hair adorably in her eyes, those curves and that grabbable waist.
His hand snagged her hip on a primal instinct to claim, anchored her against his thigh as they began to move together. She flashed her eyes at him in pleased surprise. Definitely brown. And wide. The kind a guy lost himself within as he made lov—got off. Felt her tug his belt buckle as if to pull his thigh, wedged between hers as he dipped lower, harder against her. His hands slipped around her waist, up her back. Tight. Yet supple. Natural curves, lean muscle. Sexy as hell. Like a model. And didn’t he have historically poor taste when it came to models?
Somehow, he missed T.R. calling the set. Missed the recorded music transitioning onto the sound system, lost in this woman’s energy that pulled him in like the proverbial moth to the flame. He knew better; he’d been fried by this flame before. He buried his face in her neck sucking in lungfuls of her vanilla-almondness while her body rubbed mercilessly against his erection, mesmerized by her carefree laugh and singing, memorizing the shape of her curves with his palms inching dangerously close to the underswells of her tits as he stoked hormones up and down her body, as she did the same and unbuttoned his shirt over his T to let it hang loose, leaving trails of gunpowder ready to ignite all over his skin, felt himself…laughing?
What the hell? She popped his hat off and cocked it on her own like a cowboy’s fantasy. He felt her in his arms as they stumbled off of the dance floor and she snagged his hand and hurried them toward the bathroom where she dragged him inside a tiny unisex closet.
Her back fell to the door as his chest pinned her in and his hands braced her hips where he wanted them. She dragged him down to her lips when he stopped short. Fuck, he didn’t kiss. But her breath smelled like peppermint. His favorite candy. And IPA. Both favorites of his. He didn’t dare touch her lips, or he wouldn’t resurface for air until he’d gotten himself drunk on them and found himself begging for her number. Even lips like these that he’d been staring at for God knew how long now, that looked so bitable, that he was allowing to ghost gently against his as he fought for self-control, then relented to dusting his lips along the corner of her mouth to her cheeks.
He could hear her excited breath hitch in his ear as he nipped her jaw, her neck, that earring, her nails scoring his nape as she rolled against him, making a groan rumble up his throat as his pelvis rocked into her, satisfying his need for friction and yet, stoking his erection into frustration. He reached shamelessly down his jeans to readjust it.
“How many beers you had, Tie-Dye?” He forced the responsible question out.
“Tie-Dye? My name’s—”
He put a finger to her lips. This was one and done. He didn’t want a name. Thanks for that, Isabella. “If you’re three sheets, we’re done here.” No matter how much his dick would argue.
Her eyes landed on his, so close. In the dim single bulb with the chain pull cord, he drank in their beauty. Light brown, like honey. With a flicker of something he couldn’t peg. Surprise?
“A gentleman,” she murmured with that playful twist of the lips, pressing a kiss onto his fingertip shushing her. A rumble welled up his throat as he pressed his finger between those lips and she sucked on it, letting it pop out. Her fingers swirled contemplatively on his nape.
Naw, a gentleman wouldn’t lift her skirt in a honky-tonk piss pantry. Yet something about the contemplative way she’d said that… Was she not often treated with basic respect?
“What the hell sort of guys you been with that they don’t make sure you’re sober?” he grumbled, resuming his devouring of her neck and jaw and relishing the flutter of her pulse along the smooth flesh against his mouth. She was turned on. She was so earthy and soft in all the right places, a complement to his hard ridges.
She also didn’t answer his second question. “Just the one beer. I don’t like being drunk. Keeps me from fully enjoying the experience.” He felt her smirking against the rough stubble around his jaw as she returned the favor.
She wants her wits about her. Jokes aside, this girl had learned from reckless situations. He growled against her skin, nudging his shaft against her again as she pulled on his belt buckle like reins. Why did it both bother him and turn him on more to know he was only a notch on her belt?
“You old enough?”
He pulled back and eyed her with a sharp furrow. He was thirty-six. Not a decade younger after all.
“What? Want to check my I.D., Officer?” she smirked, biting that lip.
Yes. He snorted at her amused furrow.
“I’m def not jailbait if that’s what worries you. Want me to sign an affidavit?” she teased.
Shit. He frowned. Not an amusing joke.
“You clean?” he breathed.
“As a whistle,” she exhaled, leaning in to kiss his stubble. “You?”
“As a whistle.” His lips quirked against her skin. “What’d’you want from me?” he murmured as she looked into his eyes, so close, as he brushed the callused pad of his thumb across her lip. God, she’d look hot on her knees.
She ran her hand onto the front of his jeans. He bucked into her touch, hissing.
“What’s with the twenty questions? If this is your one night out this decade”—screw T.R.—“why don’t you put this to good use?” Her hand made another sweep up his fly, causing him to pump helplessly like an eager virgin.
What was she, T.R.’s female clone?
Her teasing, the right kind of husky to make him think of sex, yet a definite soprano, soft and melodic and deceivingly sweet, twisted another rare smile out of him.
“My cousin’s full of shit,” he drawled, pulling the most musical laugh from her throat straight into his ear and down to his pecker. He’d seen her laughing, but he hadn’t heard it until now. Damn. “Just sex,” he murmured, resuming his nips to her neck. “I don’t date.”
One and done, sweetheart. They never fully agreed. Coyly, they all hinted at a number swap, forcing him into the awkward post-sex disentanglement.
“Good, because I sure as hell don’t need an attachment,” she replied, surprising him, making him furrow his brow. She’d been burned.
She planted a kiss straight to his lips.
Shocked by the sudden contact, he ripped away, eyed her hard. His lips tingled. Kisses were personal. Kisses required a name and number. She was full of surprises. And yet, that kiss felt like a shove off a cliff. He sank his mouth back to hers, sliding his palms over her cheeks, into her hair, breaking his rules for her, his hat knocking to the floor into God only knew what puddle as he yanked his wallet out, freed a foil square. She popped open his belt buckle, unzipped him, shucked his jeans down his ass, and he bobbed blessedly free, stabbing her in the belly with his anxious appendage. She plucked the condom from him, tore it open and discarded the wrapper as he devoured her lips, as she primed him with pumps until he groaned and buckled and yanked her skirt up unceremoniously.
His palms slid around her thighs, so blasted soft, lips and teeth gnashing lips and teeth.
“Legs. Around me.” He grunted the command, hoisting her up, and a thrill shot through him when she did exactly that, her sexy heeled ankle boots locking around his rear, rolling her sex against him as he pinned her to the wall with his weight. “You wanna stop, say the word.”
He might die if she did, but he’d grit his teeth and suffer. The lawyer in him needed to hear the words of agreement before he plunged balls deep.
“Something tells me I’d regret stopping,” she breathed. “Less talk, more rock, cowboy.”
Gauntlet thrown down. Music pulsed through the bathroom walls, vibrating the mirror, pounding bass matching the primal pulse pounding through his veins as he hooked her panties sideways and swept a finger across the seam between her thighs.
“Dammit, sweetheart, how does a guy say no to you?” he growled.
His words caught in his throat as she rocked herself upon his helm, lining herself up upon him, her eyes, so close, fluttering open to stare at him, lips still upon lips.
“Do your damnedest, Hercules,” she taunted, whispering, biting that lip as if she knew it turned him into a melting puddle of fantasies. “Ever since I saw you fingering that guitar, I knew I had to—”
Jeezus, he bucked, seated himself in one slick thrust, her words zapping him like a cattle prod. She cried out, gripped him, ground down upon him as he held her thighs and ass cheeks.
“Mouth on me.” Again, she responded to his gruff demand. She’d given him a taste of mouth-meshing and he was spiraling down that rabbit hole of intimacy.
He nipped her plush lips, swallowing her hitches of breath, soothing the stings with commanding laves of his tongue and matching thrusts. Mine. Damn she was wet. And tight. A perfect holster. And so bold and daring. She didn’t let herself be chased. She’d chased him. And her grin against his mouth as her nails bit into his nape with a delicious sting? She knew what she was doing to him.
He worked her harder, harder, building that avalanche within her with determined strokes.
“Get it, sweetheart,” he encouraged on a grin. Eyes hard on hers with their lips crashing back together. “You feel so good, I ain’t gonna last.”
Vanilla-almond assaulted his nose. He tore his mouth away and buried his face into her hair to ground himself as she moaned and clawed at him and her heels banged his rear as if commanding a stallion to gallop. Women always smelled so damn good. He missed this yin to his yang. His hands running wild beneath her tank top spanned her waist, his thumbs settling on a welt…an incision? Mindlessly, he caressed the scar.
“What happened here, baby?” he husked against her—
She released a death grip and yanked her tank top down, bearing down harder on his lips. “God, oh God,” she whined, a mashed sound, voice jolting hotly with each demanding thrust. “Don’t stop.”
“Attagirl,” he growled, wishing he could lay her out and engulf her slim body within his bulk and hold her as he worked her up instead of fucking her against a dingy bathroom door.
The familiar sensation tingled at the base of his spine as he pistoned faster, his lips back on hers, tongue plying hers. Peppermint. The door banged its latch with each demand of his hips.
“Yes,” she breathed shakily, “God, yes…” She crashed over the edge, squeezing him like a lifeline. He swallowed her cry, drinking it with pure male satisfaction to deliver, galloping himself toward the finish line and drawing out her moans. She clenched upon him. A near roar tore from his mouth and he buried his face into her neck again, tasted her skin, and released a year’s worth of pent-up lust in overwhelming jets until he was drained.
His legs trembled, aftershocks still twitching through him, realizing he’d managed to engulf her anyway in a tangle of limbs around her back and snaking up to palm her head to him as if she were a prize to covet, felt her idle spirals at his neck bring him slowly back to reality and the lazy kisses she was trailing over his face.
“Hey! Some of us need to take a piss!” someone shouted, thumping the door. Maybe it hadn’t just been them rattling it.
He thumped his boot into the door right back. They could wait until she was decent.
He could still feel the report of that explosive orgasm echoing through him like a shotgun blast in a canyon. Her boots unraveling from his hips, even though his body screamed out to hold on a moment longer. Eased free of their union, hissing at how sensitive he was. Immediately missing her warmth as she smoothed down her rumpled skirt. Didn’t look in her eyes as he swiped his hat off the floor and inspected it. Dry. He plopped it on his head, pulled free the loaded condom and disposed of it, rinsing his hands in the sink. Buckled his jeans. Chewed his cheek as he resisted watching her straighten her twisted tank. He didn’t dare glance at her earthy beauty, for fear the freshly bedded look on her face would stay with him after this.
“Need me to call you a cab or something?” he said, voice gravelly and fogged by that adrenaline spike as the blue light of her phone shone upon her while she texted.
“Nope. All good,” she replied gently. She was looking at him, he could feel it. Her fingers clicked the door lock open.
Don’t leave yet. “Got a way to get home?”
“I don’t live here. Passing through for work,” she said softly.
“Your friend still here for you?” he pressed, still unable to look at her, yet holding on just a second longer, staving off that empty feeling that always chased empty sex—
Her palm cupped his cheek as he tucked his wallet in his jeans. His eyes finally flitted to hers. Beautiful amber brown stared up at him. Thoughtful. Aw damn, was she going to get sappy, hint at that number exchange—
“You used to be dimpled,” she smiled. Her thumb brushed the crease in his cheek affectionately. Goose bumps pin-pricked his arms. “What happened in your life to steal it?”
What the hell kind of question was that? He cleared his throat. Didn’t talk.
“This was fun and you were perfect.” Her eyes dipped fondly to his lips as if memories were stamped upon him. Lingered. Then bounced back up to his eyes.
Fleetingly, he thought about kissing her goodbye. Nope. Rip the Band-Aid off, man. You got kids to protect. Got a life. Got a lot on your plate. Got off. Done.
“That was a helluva welcome to Nacogdoches,” she grinned cryptically on a wink, turned, flashing that tattoo—butterfly wings? Then slipped out the door, out of his life, leaving him standing alone like he’d just let something slip through his fingers.
“Don’t close yourself off, Tyler Jake. You’ll let the best things in life slip through your fingers if you do.”
The memory snaked through his mind, shaming him with the familiar guilt he wore like an oxen yoke. But hell if this random woman had just reminded him all too painfully why he’d closed himself off in the first place.
End of Excerpt