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Authors: Rachel Gibson

Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Crazy on You
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The more time she spent with him, the more she discovered things about him. Like that Tucker recycled old wood. He made a coffee table out of an old door and a chair and his entertainment center out of wood he’d reclaimed from a demolished ranch house near Houston. She also learned that he ran five miles on a treadmill and lifted weights, which was good because he liked a big breakfast before he went to bed in the morning.

While he ate, she sipped coffee and answered questions he asked about her life. He himself gave up little about his own, though. He talked about his job and who he’d arrested and on what charge, and he talked about playing basketball with Pippen while she was at work. He talked a little about the men who’d served with him in the Army and his time in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that after he got out of the Army, he was closed off but wasn’t anymore. For a guy who didn’t consider himself “closed off,” he would only go so deep into his life, and when she asked about his family, he told her they were all dead. Case closed. End of story.

Conversely, he asked a lot of questions about her family, and like him, she only went so deep. She told him about growing up in such a small town and that she’d fallen for Rat Bastard Ronnie Darlington because Ronnie owned a truck and looked good in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. She talked about her low expectations and lower self-esteem. She talked about Ronnie leaving her with a two-year-old and a drained bank account, but didn’t mention the part about driving her car into his house.

On the third Monday they both had off, she told him about the time her sister Daisy had tried to kick Ronnie in the crotch outside the Minute Mart. Of course, she didn’t mention that she’d been involved in a hair-pulling fight with Kelly the Skank at the same time. Let him think Daisy, the responsible one, was the crazy sister.

They spent the next few hours in bed, and when she got up and dressed he stacked his hands behind his head and watched her.

“When are you going to come to my front door?” he asked.

She looked across her shoulder at him as she hooked her bra behind her back. “I can’t do that.” She’d been the subject of gossip and speculative gazes most of her life, but she hadn’t given the people of Lovett anything to talk about in a long time. She planned to keep it that way. “People will talk.”

“Who cares?”

She reached for her blouse and threaded her arms though the sleeves. “I do. I’m a single mother.” She pulled her hair from beneath the collar. “I have to be careful.” And if and when their relationship ended, no one would know about it. She’d probably be upset. It would be awkward, but the whole town wouldn’t know she’d been dumped again—this time by a younger man. She could hold her head up, and Pippen wouldn’t have to live it down.

Tucker sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed. He watched her button up the front and he stood and stepped into a pair of jeans. He loved opening his back door and seeing here there, but he wanted more. “There’s a difference between being careful and thinking we need to keep a dirty secret.”

She glanced up from her hands. “I don’t think we’re a dirty secret.” A secret, yes. Dirty, no.

“Have you told your sister about me?” He arranged his junk then zipped up his pants. “Your mother? Anyone?”

Her blond hair brushed her cheeks as she shook her head. “Why is it anyone’s business?”

“Because we’re sneaking around like we’re doing something wrong and we’re not.” He reached for a T-shirt and pulled it over his head. “I told you right up front I want all of you. I’m not going to treat you like you’re just a piece of ass.”

“I appreciate that, Tucker.” She stepped into a pair of black pants. “But I have a ten-year-old son and I have to be very careful.”

“I like Pippen. I’d play ball with him even if you weren’t in the picture. He’s a funny little kid, and I think he likes me.”

“He does.”

“I would never do anything to hurt him.”

She looked up at him as she buttoned her pants. “Kids are cruel. I don’t want our relationship to be something that Pippen has to hear about at school.”

More than anyone, he knew how mean kids could be. “Duly noted.” But it was more than Pippen. Tucker might be younger than Lily, but that didn’t mean he’d been born yesterday. For some reason, Lily wanted to keep their relationship a secret for reasons other than her son. Tucker wanted to get a megaphone and let the whole town know. This feeling was new to him. He’d been in love before, but never like this. Never fallen this hard—so hard he wanted to put his hands on her shoulders and shake her even as he wanted to pull her into his chest and keep her there forever.

This situation was new to him. She had a son. He had to be careful of Pippen’s feelings, but that didn’t mean he was going to hide like he was doing something wrong. As if Lily had to live like a nun and they had to sneak around like sinners. He’d be respectful, but he wasn’t anyone’s secret and sneaking around just wasn’t his style.

 

C
HAPTER
S
EVEN

 

“M
y mama worked at the Wild Coyote Diner until she retired last year,” Lily said as she painted vanilla crème and butterscotch highlights into her eleven-thirty appointment’s hair. For dimension, she added a caramel lowlight every third foil. With the tail of her brush, she sectioned off a thin line, wove the tail through the strands, then she slid a foil next to her client’s scalp. “And my brother-in-law owns Parrish American Classics.”

“I used to eat at the Wild Coyote all the time. Open-face sandwiches and pecan pie.” Wrapped in a black salon cape, her client, Sadie Hollowell, looked back at her through the mirror. “What’s your mama’s name?”

“Louella Brooks.”

“Of course, I remember her,” Sadie said. And Lily remembered Sadie Hollowell. Sadie was several years younger than Lily, but everyone knew the Hollowells. They owned the JH Ranch and had run cattle in the panhandle for generations. And if there was one person the people in town loved to talk about more than Lily, it was anyone with the last name Hollowell. Sadie had moved away from Lovett for a good number of years, but she was back now taking care of her sick daddy. Being that she was the very last Hollowell, Sadie was numero uno with the Lovett gossips. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone who was talking about Sadie.

Just yesterday, Lily had cut Winnie Stokes’s hair and heard that Sadie had left the Founder’s Day celebration last Saturday with Luraleen Jink’s nephew, Vince Haven. According to Winnie, Vince was the new owner of the Gas and Go and a former Navy SEAL. Supposedly, he was hotter than a pepper patch and his truck had been spotted at the Hollowell ranch house well into the wee hours of the morning. Evidently, Sadie didn’t care if people gossiped about her or she would have made Vince hide his truck in the barn. Lily envied Sadie that screw-you-all attitude. Maybe if she ever moved away like Sadie, she’d have it too.

A bell above the door chimed, and through the mirror a huge bouquet of red roses entered the salon, so big it hid the delivery man. “Oh, no.” He set the flowers on the front counter and one of the girls signed for them.

“Are those for you?” Sadie asked.

“I’m afraid so.” Yesterday Tucker had sent stargazer lilies. His way of letting her know that he would not sneak around. He wasn’t hiding.

“That’s sweet.”

“No, it’s not. He’s too young for me,” she said and felt a blush creep up her neck. Everyone in the salon knew about Tucker. After he’d showed up at the spa party, and locked the door to her office, there was little doubt what Lily Darlington was doing with the young Deputy Matthews. Adding to the intrigue and gossip was the fact that she arrived late sometimes to the salon. Before Tucker, she’d always been one of the first to arrive.

She painted strands of hair, then wrapped the foil. Salons filled with female employees were just a natural hotbed of gossip, and Lily’s salon was buzzing more than usual. She had to do something. Something to make it stop before it reached Lovett. But other than kicking Tucker out of her life, she didn’t know what to do about it. Telling everyone to shut the hell up would only confirm it.

“How old is he?”

She sectioned off another slice of hair. “Thirty.”

“That’s only eight years, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t want to be a cougar.” God, she hated even the thought of that word. So far the gossip had been contained to the salon here in Amarillo, but it was only a matter of time before it spread to Lovett. She shouldn’t have had sex with Tucker in her office. For a woman who cared about gossip, that had clearly been a mistake. One she should regret perhaps more than she did.

“You don’t look like a cougar.”

She didn’t feel like one either. “Thanks.” She slid a foil against Sadie’s scalp. “He looks about twenty-five.”

“I think he has to be young enough to be your son before it’s considered a cougar-cub relationship.”

“Well, I don’t want to date a man eight years younger.” She swiped color out of one of the bowls and continued painting Sadie’s hair. No, she didn’t want to date someone eight years younger, but she didn’t want to stop seeing Tucker either. Just the thought of him gave her that funny, scary feeling in her stomach and made her heart hurt in her chest. Her feelings for him scared her. Scared her in a way she hadn’t been scared in a long time. “But Lordy, he’s hot.” And smart and funny and nice. He’d built Pinky a cat condo, for goodness sakes.

“Just use him for his body.”

“I tried that.” She sighed, thinking about the flowers and his suggestion yesterday that they take Pippen to Showtime Pizza or bowling. He wanted more from her but that wasn’t a surprise. He’d told her what he wanted from beginning.
All of you,
he’d said, but she wasn’t real clear what that meant. All of her for now? Until she turned forty? “I have a ten-year-old son, and I’m trying to run my own business. I just want a peaceful, calm life and Tucker is complicated.” But
was
Tucker complicated? Maybe, but more accurately, their relationship was complicated. A better word to describe Tucker was
relentless
.

“How?”

“He was in the Army and he saw a lot. He says he used to be closed off but isn’t anymore.” There were things he was keeping to himself. She hadn’t a clue what those things were. Things that might have to do with his military experience or childhood or God knew what. “But for a man who says he isn’t closed off anymore, he doesn’t share a lot about himself.” But neither did she.

For another hour, she wove color through Sadie’s hair. They chatted about growing up in Lovett and Sadie’s daddy, who’d been kicked by a horse and was currently a patient at the rehab hospital a few blocks from Lily’s salon.

After she finished putting the color on Sadie’s hair, she sat her under the salon dryer for twenty minutes and went to her office. She moved behind her desk and reached for the phone. “Thanks for the flowers,” she said when Tucker’s voicemail picked up. “They’re gorgeous, but you really have to stop spending money on me.”

She had an enormous pile of paperwork in front of her, invoices and business accounts to be paid. The sink in the aesthetician’s room needed attention, and she called a plumber and scheduled an appointment. She finished Sadie Hollowell by trimming her straight hair and blowing it dry, giving it some texture and Texas sass.

After Sadie, her next appointment wanted a long, layered cut, preferred by most Texas women and Lily herself. The long, layered cut could be pulled back into a ponytail, loosely curled, or teased and stacked to Jesus. It was three o’clock when she finished, and she decided to grab all her paperwork and head home. It wasn’t often that she could pick Pippen up after school, and she told her assistant manager she was leaving before she walked out the back door. It was almost sixty degrees and she shoved all her work into the backseat of her Jeep. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she called her mother.

“I’m off early enough to pick Pippen up from school,” she said as she headed toward the highway.

“Okay. He’ll like that.” There was a pause and then her mother said, “He’s been spending a lot of time playing basketball with that Deputy Matthews.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea,” Louella said.

“He’s a nice man.” With her eyes on the road, she fished around in her console for her sunglasses.

“We don’t know that. We don’t know him at all.”

If her mother only knew how well Lily did know the deputy. Knew he was good with his hands and liked to be ridden like Buster, the coin-operated horse outside Petterson’s Drug. “He plays ball with Pippen in full view of everyone in the neighborhood, Ma. Pippen likes him, and let’s face it, Pip spends way too much time with women. Spending time with a man is good for him.”

“Huh.” There was another pause on the line and Lily expected a rambling story about so and so’s son who’d been molested by the Tastee Freeze man and had grown up to be a serial killer of biblical proportions. “Okay,” she said.

“Okay?” No story? No rambling tale of disaster?

“Okay. If he’s good to my grandson, then that’s good enough for me.”

Lily shoved her glasses on her face. Well, the world must have just officially ended. It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement from her mother, but at least she wasn’t accusing him of crimes against nature.

“Y
esterday, my mom told me it’s okay if you play with Pippen.”

Tucker’s brows pulled together and he handed Lily a plate he’d just rinsed. “You told her about us?”

Lily took the plate and set it in the dishwasher. “Not exactly, but she knows that sometimes you play ball with Pip when he gets home from school.”

He reached for a kitchen towel and dried his hands. “What does ‘not exactly’ mean?”

Lily shut the door to the dishwasher. “It means I’ll tell her. Just not now.”

“Why?”

“Because she’ll want to know everything about you,” which was just
one
reason, but not the biggest one. “And you keep things to yourself. It makes me wonder what you’re not telling me.” There were things she had to figure out, like her feelings for him, and if she could trust the feelings he said he had for her. And if it all went south, could she handle it? “What deep dark secrets are you keeping from me? Did something happen in the military?”

He shook his head. “Being in the military saved my life.”

“Tucker!” She pushed his shoulder but he didn’t budge. “You were shot five times.”

“I was shot
at
more than that.” He smiled like it was no big deal. “That was just the last time. If not for the Army, I’d be dead or doing time in prison.”

Prison?
She took the towel from him and slowly dried her own hands. She looked closer at his smile, and a felt a somber blanketing of her heart. “Why do you say that?”

He turned away and reached into the refrigerator. “Before I enlisted, I was going nowhere and had nothing. I’d already done several years locked up in juvenile detention and was living in a youth home.” He pulled out a half gallon of milk and moved toward the back door. “They kick you out at eighteen, but I was ready to leave anyway.”

He knelt and poured milk into the empty cat dish. He wouldn’t look at her so she moved to him and knelt beside him. “Where was your mother?”

“Dead,” he said without emotion, but he wouldn’t look at her. “Died of a drug overdose when I was a baby.”

“Tucker.” She put her hand on his shoulder, but he stood and moved to the refrigerator.

“Your daddy?” She rose and followed him.

“Never knew who he was. She probably didn’t know either. I’m sure he was some crackhead like her.”

“Who took care of you?”

“My grandmother, but she died when I was five.” He put the milk inside and shut the door. “Then various aunts, but mostly the state of Michigan.”

She thought of Pippen and her heart caved in her chest. “Tucker.” She grabbed hold of his arm and made him look at her. “Every baby should be born into a living family. I’m sorry you weren’t. That’s horrible.”

“It was fucked up, to be sure.” He looked at the floor. “I lived in eleven different foster homes, but they were all the same: people just taking in kids to get money from the state. They were just a stopover to someplace else.”

Honest to God, she didn’t know what to say. She’d thought his secrets had something to do with . . . Well she hadn’t known, but not this. Though it did explain some of his rough edges and why he might be relentless. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“People look at you differently when they find out no one wanted you as a kid. They look at you like something must be wrong with you. Like it’s your fault.”

She wanted to cry for this big, strong man who’d once been a lost boy, but felt she should be strong like him. The backs of her eyes stung and she blinked back her tears.

“I especially didn’t want you to know.”

“Why?”

“When people find out you’ve spent time in the juvenile jail, they look at you like you might steal the family heirlooms. No matter what else you do in your life.”

She cupped his face in her hands and looked into his eyes. “I would never think that. I’m proud of you, Tucker. You should be proud of yourself. Look at you. You’ve overcome so much. It would have been easy and understandable if you’d gone bad, but you didn’t.”

“For a while I did. I stole everything I could get my hands on.”

“Well, I don’t have family heirlooms.” She ran her hands across his shoulders, comforting him. “But maybe I should search you the next time you leave my house.”

He flushed and cut his gaze to the side. “I would never steal from—”

“I’m going to like searching you too. Maybe I’ll search you when you enter, just for good measure. Maybe I should search you right now.”

He looked back at her, relief in his eyes. “But this is my house.”

She shrugged. “I just don’t think I should pass up a good opportunity to search you. Never know what I might find.”

BOOK: Crazy on You
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