Texas Sunrise Excerpt
Trouble In Texas by Jodi Vaughn
“Give me another.” Shawn Collins shoved her shot glass across the counter toward Joe. He gave her a sad look and shook his head. She stepped closer to the worn oak bar as she ducked to avoid a dangling heart hanging overhead. Shawn glared at the offending object.
The Valentine’s Day garland of red and pink hearts hung in waves from the ceiling at the local bar, Everyday Joe’s. She’d damn near taken her eye out just trying to make her way across the small room.
She glanced around and snarled in disgust. Everything, including the waitresses, was decked out in Valentine colors of pink and red. Even the band was playing love songs as couples held each other close and gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes.
It was enough to make her stomach turn. Good thing she was well on her way to getting drunk. The last thing she needed was to be reminded that she was unlovable.
Joe, the bartender and proprietor of Everyday Joe’s, glanced at her empty shot glass and frowned his disapproval.
“Don’t even think about it, Joe.” She held up her hand to stop whatever lecture he was about to aim at her. She didn’t want any part of it. She was a grown-ass woman and had just had the shittiest year of her life. She was past listening to lectures. Hell, she was well past listening to anybody.
Someone once told her that things only can go up once you hit rock bottom. Shawn wondered what liar came up with that load of horse shit. Obviously some man who’d never had his heart ripped out of his chest.
“Shawn, take it easy with those. I’ve known you all my life, and I’ve never seen you shoot tequila. You’ve always stuck to wine.” Joe spoke softly. She didn’t miss the lingering pity in his blue eyes.
Pity and a lecture on Valentine’s Day.
“Yeah, well, I’m shaking things up a bit. And tonight I want tequila.” She glared the bartender until he finally relented and filled the shot glass with the amber-colored liquid.
He looked like he wanted to say more, but the waitress at the end of the counter waved her hand in a desperate attempt to catch his attention.
Joe shrugged and ambled down the bar to get back to work. He glanced up at the TV as the SportsCenter anchor came on with an announcement.
“And in basketball news tonight, a new national record has been set. Hamilton Kidd, who you may know as being the current top scorer in men’s college basketball, lit up the whole gymnasium down there in Somewhere, TX tonight. John C. McAdams University Highlanders, beat up on the Texas Baptist University Cyclones. The transfer from UCLA scored a whopping 141 of the Highlanders’ 162 points for the game, making it rank among the top ten highest-scoring games of all time.”
Big damn deal. But at least the sports announcement was distracting Joe so she could drink in peace.
She let out a sigh as she cradled her shot glass to her chest.
Tonight, tequila would be her relief from reality.
Tonight, tequila would be her date.
Tonight, tequila would drown her bad choices in men.
She downed the alcohol. The familiar sting of fire blazed a trail down her throat and warmed her body. She lifted her gaze to the mirror behind the bar to study her reflection.
Her emerald eyes stared back at her as she took in her perfectly applied makeup and upswept hair. She’d applied her armor in the form of smoky eyeshadow and red lipstick to shield her from the town gossips who were so interested in every detail of her life.
She’d grown up in Somewhere, Texas and had often wondered what it would be like to live anywhere else. The small town, despite its positives, held its negatives as well. The thing about small towns was that everyone knew your business, or at least thought they did.
It had been months since her divorce from the town’s loveable Dr. Frank Collins. Without knowing all the information, everyone had made up their own minds about what had caused the couple to go separate ways. The majority of the town believed that Shawn had done something to cause Frank to divorce her. Like usual, they were all wrong.
She tilted her head as she contemplated her appearance. Her silver hoops twinkled under the barroom lights like a Texas sky at night. She could imagine the whispers in the bar about why Shawn Collins was drinking alone on Valentine’s Day. Once again, they’d all be wrong. She wasn’t here because she was sad. She was here because she intended on getting on with her life and forgetting about her disastrous marriage.
Tonight was a new beginning. Tonight was her beginning.
* * *
Walker Hammett ambled into Everyday Joe’s and froze.
How had he forgotten that today was Valentine’s Day? Probably because he’d been so busy working dawn to dusk that he had no social life anymore.
Horrified, he took in the red and pink hearts floating above his head like a unicorn’s fart. The waitresses— all dressed up like little cupids, complete with angel wings, red booty shorts, and a quiver of heart-shaped arrows strapped to their backs like fierce love warriors—busied themselves around the bar. Hell, it even reeked of romance.
Danger. He was single, and he knew immediately that he was in dangerous territory.
His scalp prickled. This was not where he needed to be. No way was he getting roped into being someone’s Valentine tonight. He had enough shit to deal with already without getting involved with some clingy woman.
He turned, ready to make his escape before anyone saw him. He’d gripped the cool metal of the doorknob in his palm when a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
He turned around slowly. He relaxed a little when he saw it was only Joe standing there with a shit-eating grin, holding a tray of some kind of fruity-looking drinks with heart toothpicks sticking out of the top.
“Walker. Haven’t seen you in forever.” Joe’s smile grew a little wider. “Where have you been, man?”
“I’ve been busy working.” That part wasn’t a lie. He’d always worked like a dog at the Double D Ranch. But his work wasn’t over at the end of his shift. After he’d put in a full day, he had to come home to face something more exhausting than ranching.
“You sure you don’t have a girlfriend that’s keeping you away?” Joe set the drinks down in front of a group of giggling ladies at a nearby table then turned his attention back to Walker. “You seem to be keeping yourself scarce these days. There’s only one thing that makes a man stop hanging out with his friends. And that’s a woman.”
“I assure you. There is no woman.” He scowled.
Joe narrowed his eyes on him for a second as if trying to decide if Walker was telling the truth.
“Whatever you say, man.” Joe looked around his fine establishment before turning back to him. “I don’t have any seats open, except for the bar.”
“Bar’s fine. I didn’t come to eat. Just to drink.” Walker nodded and made his way to the bar, dodging to keep from getting his eye poked out by an arrow in a waitress’s quiver.
Sighing, he straddled the bar stool next to a beautiful blonde. A smiled stretched across his lips as he recognized the familiar woman.
“I see you’re here celebrating Valentine’s Day along with the rest of Somewhere.” He chuckled. Shawn Collins was one of the most beautiful women in Somewhere. She also screamed trouble.
“I’m not here celebrating. I’m here to get drunk.” She threw back a shot of what appeared to be tequila and shot him a devastating smile.
His heart stuttered in his chest. He rarely saw Shawn smile, and when she did it was never leveled at him.
“Is that right?” He cocked his head as Joe took up his position behind the bar and slid him a beer.
She laughed, the sexy sound coming from deep in her throat. She spun on the bar stool to give him her full attention. It caught him off guard because for years, Shawn Collins had barely acknowledged he was alive. Probably because he was way out of her elite social circle.
“Tell me, Walker.” She leaned in close and ran a finger down the buttons of his shirt. “Why are you here? Are you looking for love?”
“Hell, no. I don’t believe in love, and I sure don’t have time for it.” He barely had time for a beer tonight. It was his first night out in weeks, and he wasn’t planning on staying very long. He just needed to get out of the house for an hour or so. He just needed an hour of escape.
“You and me both.” Shawn waved her shot glass in the air toward Joe. The bartender scowled.
“Where are your keys, Shawn?” Joe arched his brow as he gripped the tequila bottle in one hand and motioned with his free hand for her keys.
“I’m not drunk.” Shawn rolled her eyes.
“Yet,” Joe corrected “You’re not drunk yet.”
Walker spoke up. “I’ll make sure she gets home safely.” He wasn’t sure why he volunteered. Maybe all those damn hearts floating in midair had gotten to him. Maybe it was the atmosphere of all those couples in love. More than likely it was Shawn’s low-cut black blouse and tight jeans that showed off every single curve.
He took a drink of his beer and rubbed his hand across his face.
“Take care of her.” Joe refilled her shot glass.
She took the glass and knocked it back in one drink.
“Easy, tiger. You might want to pace yourself.” Walker nodded at the empty shot glass. “How many of those have you had?”
“Enough to get a buzz.” She slid him a smile as her full lips slid upward.
His blood warmed a few degrees, and his pants grew a tad tighter in the crotch.
“What’s wrong with you tonight, Walker? Every time I come into Joe’s, I see you with a different girl. Except tonight.” She arched her brow as if trying to figure him out. He wanted to tell her not to bother. He was an open book.
“Really?” He held her gaze, amazed that she wasn’t even slurring her words after what he figured was her third or fifth shot of alcohol.
“That’s right.” She leaned closer, and her warm breath tickled his cheek. The scent of her perfume curled around him, making his stomach tighten with lust.
“What’s your angle, Shawn?” She’d never shown him this much attention in his life. He was shocked that she even knew his name, let alone his bar habits.
“Honey, I don’t have an angle. What you see is what you get.” She eased off the bar stool and stood between his legs. His blood spiked as she rested her palms on both his thighs.
He covered her hands with his and looked into her green eyes, searching for any signs she might be drunk. Her gaze was lucid, her speech clear, and her balance steady on her four-inch black heels. Either she hadn’t drunk as much tequila as he’d thought, or she was a woman who could handle her alcohol.
“Dance with me.” He wasn’t even sure why he asked. He could dance. He just preferred to do other things when he had a woman in his arms, things that involved much less clothing.
“Can you keep up?” Her beautiful lips twitched in amusement.
“The question is, can you?” He grabbed her hand and led her onto the crowded dance floor. Laughter bubbled out of her as she followed behind.
He spun her around into his arms as the band began to play another slow love song. He held her hand as he slid his free hand to her waist and pulled her snug against his body.
She stared up at him, not pulling away at their tight embrace. He could feel every curve of her slender body against the hard line of his own. As his body pulsed with arousal, he began to wonder if dancing with Shawn was a smart idea.
She didn’t give him a chance to change his mind.
She slipped her hand from his shoulder to his neck as they moved to the beat of the music. She followed his lead, and not once did she step on his toes, a something that happened too often when he danced with a woman who didn’t have any rhythm.
Shawn was a woman who knew how to move her body.
“Shawn, what are you doing?” he whispered against the pink shell of her ear.
“I mean with me. You are going to ruin your reputation by being seen with a ranch hand.”
“Do you think I care what people think?” She narrowed her emerald eyes.
“I’m beginning to think no.” He cleared his throat. The room had suddenly gotten way hotter with her in his arms, and it was getting hard to concentrate on keeping his body from reacting to hers. “What do you want, Shawn?”
“I want a night with a man who will make me feel like a woman and not a possession.” She continued to hold his gaze.
His blood heated a thousand degrees as his dick hardened to the point of pain.
“I’m not looking for a relationship.” She needed to know that straight up. He’d never lied to a woman, and he wasn’t about to start now. Especially with her.
“I didn’t say I was looking for a relationship. I said I was looking for one night of feeling good. If you’re not interested, just say so.” Hurt flashed in her eyes as she tried to take a step back.
His fingers tightened on her waist. He couldn’t let her go, not yet. She felt too good in his arms.
His ran his hands down her back and nudged her into his embrace as he studied her expression. He didn’t know a woman alive who wasn’t looking for a shining knight on a white horse to swoop in and romance her off her feet.
For some reason, he almost believed Shawn was the exception.
“Prove it. Kiss me.”
Surprise flickered through her expression. Her eyes narrowed at his dare. She slid her hands up his shoulders, laced her fingers together behind his neck, and pulled him down to her mouth.
They were in the middle of the dance floor, with half the town of Somewhere looking on. He’d expected a friendly peck on the lips. What he got was an open-mouthed kiss that almost knocked him on his ass.
She flicked her tongue along the seam of his lips. His lips parted, and he held her tight as he deepened the kiss.
He felt her moan against his lips as their tongues tangled in desire. She tasted sweet, like strawberries drenched in tequila.
He wanted more. A lot more.
He forced himself to pull away before things got out of hand.
“Not what you expected?” She smirked.
“No.” Nothing about Shawn Collins was expected. She was a constant surprise.
“What are you doing, Shawn?”
“Trying to have a little fun. Don’t you feel like having a little fun, Walker?”
“If you don’t want this, tell me now. If we leave through that door, we are going to finish what we started.”
“Promise?” Her brow arched up as if daring him
“Shawn.” He literally growled. “I’m serious.”
She stepped closer, invading his space, and swiped her pink tongue across her bottom lip. “Just one night. That’s it. No strings attached. I promise.” She held up fingers in a Boy Scout sign.
That was all the encouragement he needed.
He grabbed her hand and headed for the door.
His mind screamed that this was a bad idea, but his body didn’t seem to think so. His body seemed to think this was the best damn idea he’d had in years.
He edged his way through the crowd toward the bar. He shoved her expensive-looking purse at her and peeled off some bills to cover their tab. He didn’t even get offended when she laughed at his eagerness to leave.
Ignoring Joe’s scowl, they were out the door within seconds. The cold blast of winter wind hit him square in the face, and she shivered against his side.
“Here, take my coat.” He shrugged off the leather jacket and draped it around her slender shoulders. She smiled up at him. He couldn’t help himself and pulled her in for another kiss. He nearly groaned at the taste of her sweet mouth.
He pressed his lips to the corner of her jaw and trailed kisses down her neck along her silky skin.
“Yes,” she murmured and dug her fingers into his hair as she clung to him. “Don’t stop doing that.”
“Princess, we got all night to do this.” He forced himself to stop and pull away. The sooner they got to her place, the sooner they could get out of their clothes.
He grabbed her hand and headed for his old white Ford truck.
She stumbled across the uneven pavement as they hurried into the parking lot. He caught her before she could fall.
“Those shoes are not conducive to walking.” He shot her a grin.
“But they’re cute. That’s what matters.”
Excitement fluttered in his stomach once he reached his truck. He unlocked the passenger’s door and helped her climb up before hurrying around to the driver’s side.
He turned the key and the engine growled to life. Shawn slid across the bench seat and straddled his lap. She took his face between her palms and kissed him deep.
Her butt bumped against the horn on the steering wheel as she tried to get closer.
“Oopsey.” She grinned and cast a look over her shoulder before going back in for another kiss.
“Princess, we need to get home first.” He glanced around the parking lot to check for anyone standing around, gawking at their make-out session, but the parking lot was empty. Apparently everyone else was smart enough to be inside, where it was warm and cozy.
The interior of the cab heated as he sucked in a ragged breath and took her mouth in a hot kiss. He couldn’t seem to get enough of her taste.
He groaned as she ground down against his erection. She slipped her fingers between the buttons of his black button-up shirt and tugged. Buttons flew in all directions in the cab as his shirt split into two halves.
“I liked that shirt.” He groaned, dizzy on her taste and not really caring about the stupid shirt. If they kept this up, they were both going to end up naked and having sex in his truck in the parking lot of Everyday Joe’s.
Not exactly how he’d envisioned this night going.
She licked his neck.
He threaded his fingers through her silky hair and loosened the pins that held it up into some kind of elegant knot. One by one, he tugged them out until those gorgeous blonde locks fell across her shoulders.
She gazed down at him with a dreamy look in her eyes.
God, she was stunning, like a model in a magazine who looked like she’d just rolled out of bed. Or like she was trying to climb her way into one.
Captivated, he watched as her eyes drifted shut, lost in ecstasy.
Finally, something was going his way. He was going to spend the night with the town’s hottest woman. And best of all, she didn’t want anything from him.
Could life get any better?
He frowned as she rested her head against his shoulder.
“We need to get to your place before this goes any further,” he whispered against her neck. “What’s your address?”
She didn’t reply.
He gently nudged her.
She didn’t budge. A soft snore rolled out from deep within her throat.
His gut tightened.
“This is not happening.”
He lifted Shawn’s head off his shoulder and stared into her sleeping face. She had passed out.
Now what the hell was he going to do? He reached for her purse and dug around for her wallet. With one hand he pulled out small leather case. Flipping it open, he held tilted her driver’s license toward the illumination from the security light. His gut stumbled.
It was her old address. She hadn’t gotten her license updated since the divorce.
He couldn’t leave her here, and he had no idea where she lived.
“Shit,” he murmured.
He had no other option.
He was about to break the one rule he always followed.
He had to take Shawn Collins to his house.