Unbroken: Country Fever, Book 3

BOOK: Unbroken: Country Fever, Book 3
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Dedication

”Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”—Mahatma Gandhi

Chapter One

The bartender tucked a hand under the brim of his cowboy hat and peered across the dim space through the grimy window of The Hellion.

Christian Davis grunted. “You gonna hand over that six-pack of Budweiser before I hit middle age, Shady?”

A few sharp metallic
clinking
noises sounded from the parking lot. Shady’s thick white mustache twitched as he winced. Three more sharp raps and Christian turned to follow the bartender’s gaze.

“You drivin’ that big ass Ram truck, Davis?”

“Uh, yeah.” He ducked his head, trying to get out of the shadow of his Stetson and see what the hell was going on in the parking lot.

The grating sound of glass breaking filtered into Christian’s senses just as he spotted her.

“Looks as if you’ve got a jilted lover taking her frustrations out on your truck with a Louisville Slugger.”

Adrenaline surged to the tips of his boots. “That’s not my truck!” he managed as he swung out the door without a care for his beer.

The big red Ram truck Christian had borrowed from his best friend, Tucker, stood in the gravel lot, both headlights bashed out and so many divots in the hood and fender that it looked pocked.

A gush of air froze in his throat as a little gal in teeny cut-off shorts and cowgirl boots danced around the side of the truck. Swinging.

“Jeezus, lady!” Christian hollered as she landed the bat full force and smashed in the side mirror. He took off running, boots digging into gravel and heart thumping.
Tucker’s gonna wipe the floor with my ass.
He’d sent Christian on the beer run in his truck because it was parked in the way of Christian’s own vehicle.

Springy curls bobbed on the girl’s head as she cocked the bat for another blow. Christian caught the tip, ripping it from her hands before she swung.

She whirled on him, hands fisted, face pink with exertion. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

He gaped at her. “Are you batshit crazy, girl? Or don’t you realize that destroying a Ram will earn you three-to-five in these parts?”

With a growl, she lunged for the bat, but he flipped it behind his back, out of her reach.

“Not crazy and I don’t give a damn about jail sentences. I’m related to just about every man with a badge in Reedy. Now give me back my bat!”

He looked at her harder, noting the tears standing in her almond-shaped brown eyes and the way her lower lip trembled. What the hell was going on?

“You got a problem with this here truck?”

“No, I’ve got a problem with the owner of this truck.”

Ah. So Tucker had pissed her off and she was reaping revenge. Not surprising, since Tucker’s fuck-’em-and-walk-away creed had gotten him into more than one jam.

She circled to Christian’s side to make another steal for the bat. “Uh-uh,” he drawled. “Give me your name.”

Shifting her weight to one hip, she dug her knuckles into her upper thigh. “Who wants to know?”

“Christian Davis, driver of this truck.”

Her eyes widened. “But…it’s Tucker’s truck. I know by that cross he has dangling from the mirror.”

Christian raked his gaze over her, starting at the curly roots of her dark hair, down her upper chest exposed by a white tank top, past the Daisy Dukes, and then lingered on her round thighs. Lightly tanned. Smooth. Perfect for tucking around a man on a cold autumn night.

Fuck the Budweiser. He wanted to curl up with her. What the hell was wrong with Tucker that he’d walk away from this glorious little darlin’?

His fiancée’s what’s wrong with him.
Tucker’s fiancée had died in a car accident two years before and he couldn’t get past it. Couldn’t see the sun shining all around him because he walked in shadow.

Christian met her gaze, only to find a pained smirk twisting her pale pink lips.

“I can see you aren’t any better than Tucker,” she said.

Leaning against the door, still warm from the late afternoon sun, he clamped the bat under his arm. “That’s a broad statement from someone who doesn’t even know me.”

“Yeah, well, I see the way you’re looking at me, and it’s no different from your
friend.
” She dropped her gaze. “I thought he was the real thing.”

Christian scuffed a boot against the gravel and looked away.
Yeah, he does that to a lot of us.

Still, he’d like to believe he wasn’t as much of a hound as Tucker. And besides, this girl couldn’t very well run around looking like
that
and expect a red-blooded male to be immune.

A pickup bumped into the parking lot, spraying gravel and dust around them. Christian stole another look at the girl’s face. “Your name?” When she hesitated, he said, “So I can at least give you credit for your handiwork.”

Pivoting away, she started across the lot.

“Hey!”

“It’s Claire,” she tossed over her shoulder.

He watched her ass wiggle off, fighting the heavy ache in his groin. “Claire, you want your bat?”

“Give it to your friend as a souvenir.” With that, she yanked open the door of a midsize car that looked as if it belonged to an elderly person. The driver peeled out of the parking lot and lay rubber on the highway.

With a half sigh, half laugh, he tossed the bat into the truck bed and climbed behind the wheel.

Shaking his head, Christian pulled out and headed straight for the Quickie Mart. Two chili cheese dogs were in order. He wasn’t about to face an irate best friend on an empty stomach. And after shoveling gravel for eight solid hours on the road crew, he was starved.

Gathering up his dogs and a giant soda, he turned the truck back toward Tucker’s ranch. As he passed the wide open fields and the blue smudge of mountains on the horizon, all he could see were Claire’s eyes, bright with anger. Swimming with tears.

“Man,” he murmured and cranked the wheel to avoid two human-sized potholes in front of the driveway leading to the ranch.

As he bumped up the lane, he horked down the second chili dog and slurped the remainder of the soda. Tucker was gonna be pissed. Not only had he returned his truck with three thousand dollars’ worth of damage, he’d left The Hellion without the six-pack.

Dammit, he couldn’t help but think Tucker deserved it.

Leaving his trash for his friend to take care of, Christian mounted the three solid wood porch steps to the front door. The ranch was picturesque against the satiny blue sky. Dark wood with real working shutters and a glass door, the old homestead of the Langley family had been restored by Tucker’s own hand. He’d spilled a lot of blood and sweat on this land, making his ranch one of the finest horse farms in the county.

Christian pushed open the door and clomped across the mudroom. In the living area, Tucker was kicked back in the recliner with the remote in hand.

Christian’s cock stirred at the sight of his friend in this position. How many times had they sat in this same space, watching porn and jacking off together?

For two years, they’d been enjoying this intimacy. Watching, urging on the other. But their rule was hands off, and Christian wanted nothing more than to jump that gap from friends fucking around to more.

He was work boots over hard hat in love with this guy.

Tucker met his gaze. The shoulder-length hair that Christian longed to run his hands through covered one smoldering eye. “Got the beer? I’ve got the movie.”

Christian’s cock reacted instantly, stretching, battering his fly. Last night they’d shared a woman, not a self-love session. Actually, Tucker hadn’t participated, just stood at the bedside with his cock in his fist, watching Christian love on the woman. And now that he thought of it, he realized this was most likely the reason for Claire’s fury.

The scent of pine woods and strong coffee filled Christian’s head as he drew a deep breath. He sank to the edge of the couch. “Not exactly.”

“What’s that mean? You get the beer or not?”

Christian raked his fingers through his short hair. “I paid for it but left without it.”

Confusion creased Tucker’s brow. “Not followin’, friend.”

Plow on.
“I ran into someone at The Hellion.”

“Yeah?” That rough, drink-nails-for-breakfast voice ripped through Christian’s senses. The same voice drove him wild as Tucker pumped out his pleasure.

“Yeah, a hot little number by the name of Claire.” He drew her name out on his tongue, testing its flavor. Hell, it even tasted like her. Decadent with a hint of quirkiness.

And violence.

The corner of his mouth tipped up.

Tucker stared at him hard. “What the hell happened, man?”

Was that jealousy he read on Tucker’s face? “It seems Claire was mighty upset by something. So upset, in fact, that she beat the living fuck out of your truck.”

At that, Tucker laughed out loud. “She weighs a hundred and ten pounds dripping wet. How much damage could she have done?”

Christian scraped his fingers over his scalp. “Quite a bit with a baseball bat.”

Tucker’s eyes bugged out, and in a flash, he was on his feet and storming out the door. Christian didn’t budge from his spot, one ear cocked, waiting.

A howl of rage drifted in. A few seconds later, Tucker’s violent footfalls preceded the man.

“Holy—”

“I know,” Christian cut him off. “Question is what did you do to her?”

Tucker dropped abruptly to the sofa arm and buried his head in his hands. “I stood her up last night.”

Just as Christian had suspected. Instead of staying with one girl who he might fall for, Tucker ran out and found one to share with Christian.

“You’re runnin’ again.”

Tucker snapped his head up and he leveled his glare at Christian. Gaining his feet, Christian stared him down. Dammit, it was time to intervene. If Tucker wouldn’t come around and accept a relationship with Christian, he needed to at least set up house with a sweet little gal and have a string of horse-riding babies.

His friend clenched his hands into fists. “And you’re crossin’ a line.”

“Man, you can’t keep doing this. Running from these girls who might change your world.”

Christian’s stomach bottomed out at the memory of Claire’s words.
I thought he was the real thing.

“Shut up, Davis. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and it’s none of your goddamn business.”

None of my business that you didn’t join in last night because your heart is in a relationship, even if your hard head won’t allow it?

“Yeah,” Christian said, brushing past Tucker on the way out, “it’s never my business.”

 

 

Still fighting the trembles of rage, Claire sank to the stool at the kitchen counter and watched her Aunt Letty flit from stove to refrigerator to microwave like a chickadee bouncing from branch to branch. It was impossible for Claire to see the woman who’d raised her any other way. But the tiny frame of her aunt hid a strong spirit.

Letty assessed Claire out of the corner of her eye as she pulled a steaming bowl of buttered corn from the microwave. “Everything okay? You look a might flushed.”

Claire knotted her hands in her lap. She’d cried all the way home from The Hellion and gained calm just as she reached the big old house where she’d grown up. She should have known that Letty would spot her red eyes.

When she didn’t answer, Letty went on. “Man trouble.” Her dark, knowing gaze pinned Claire to the oak stool. She shifted, and the wood creaked, a wail that she couldn’t bring herself to make.

Letty turned to mashing a small pot of potatoes. Though there were only two of them, her aunt insisted on making a big, home-cooked meal, especially on nights when Claire had a midnight shift at the diner.

“I daresay that man went and screwed up with you,” Letty said.

“Yes,” Claire responded to her hands.

“Well, I’ve seen plenty of men practically begging to put a ring on your finger and his boots under your bed. Your pa has been spared all these years from having to scare them off at gunpoint, as he’s rattled across the country in that semi-truck of his. But I’ve watched more than one man fall for Jake Mickelson’s little girl.”

BOOK: Unbroken: Country Fever, Book 3
2.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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