Ready, she hit the road. She didn’t need her GPS to find the closest bar—Buckeye Joe’s was the only one in town.
Inside, Tanna saw one familiar face—Kyle’s mom, Sherry.
The smiling redhead hugged her. “Tanna! I was hoping you’d come into the Buckeye for a drink. We didn’t get to chat much at the branding.”
“That’s understandable since you were busy running the chow line.”
Sherry smiled. “I appreciated everyone coming out and helping Kyle and Celia. The last two years I’ve seen firsthand how much hard work goes into running a ranch. So, what can I getcha tonight?”
“I don’t suppose you’ve got Lone Star?”
“I’ll take a Corona.”
Sherry reached into the cooler, then popped the top on the bottle and slid it over. “First one is on me.” She lowered her voice. “But keep that under your hat or the locals will think I’ve gone soft.”
Tanna grinned. “Thank you.” She took a sip of the icy brew. “You own this place?”
“Part owner. I bought in when I knew Kyle was settling here permanently. Owning a business has been more work than I’d imagined, but I love it.”
“Do you see much of Celia and Kyle?”
“As much as I can. They don’t go out much anymore and in a few months it’ll be even less.”
“This baby stuff is so exciting. They’ll make great parents.”
“And I’ll be one of those annoying grandmas who goes on and on about the precious grandchild.” Sherry wiped a spot down the bar. “How’s it going up at the Split Rock?”
“So far, so good.”
“And . . . here they come. That didn’t take long.” Sherry’s eyes twinkled. “Don’t turn around, sweetie, but a few guys are headed this way.”
Tanna groaned. “The ‘see a single woman in the bar and assume I want company’ type of guys?”
“No, they’re friends of Kyle and Celia’s you met at the branding.”
Butterflies took wing in her belly. Was Fletch with them?
Ike, the fast-talking cattle broker, sidled up and offered her a sly smile. “If it isn’t my favorite Texas transplant.”
The man was so easy on the eyes. Blond-haired. Tall and lanky. Dressed casually, but impeccably. Blue eyes, which wavered somewhere between devilish and intense. Tanna knew there’d be no leading this guy around by a string. “Ike, you slick operator.”
His eyebrows rose. “Alls I do is say hello and I’m slick?”
“Dude. You’re a salesman. You’re always selling something.”
“But I’m not,” came from behind her.
Tanna faced the darker-haired man. Shorter, stockier. More mellow. “Heya, Holt. You flying solo tonight? Or are you Ike’s wingman?”
“Both. Come sit with us. Max secured a table. Damn crying shame we didn’t get to talk to you much at the branding. But Devin, Fletch and Eli hogged our newest, most beautiful resident.”
“Lordy, lordy, darlin’ . . . You sure you’re not a salesman?” she asked Holt.
“If you’re buying it, then I’m a better salesman than I thought.”
“We’re your captive audience, hanging on every word that comes out of your mouth,” Ike said. “I could listen to you talk all night with that hot accent. But if you just wanna sit there and look pretty, that’s good too.”
She wasn’t immune to flattery from two attractive guys. She winked at Sherry and picked up her Corona. “Check on me in an hour to see if I’m drowning in their sweet bullshit.”
Fletch had intended to ignore Ike’s voice mail that asked if he was around Muddy Gap and had time for a beer. He’d had a long day. Two horse surgeries—one a major repair job on a colt that’d tangled with a mountain lion. All he wanted was to hit the road for home, jump in the shower and wear clothing that didn’t reek.
But he had neglected his friends lately. Most of the guys in their group had paired up and married off. Between his unpredictable schedule and the demands on his friends’ time, it was a rare night they were all in the same area at the same time, so Fletch agreed to meet them at the Buckeye if he finished his last call before eight o’clock.
Despite his buddies being used to his “fresh from the farm” scent, he scrubbed himself up as best as he could and switched out his sweaty, stained ball cap for a summer-weight cowboy hat.
More people crowded the bar than he’d anticipated—then he remembered it was a Friday night. Man, this week had been such a time suck he didn’t even remember what damn day it was. Kyle’s mom was busy mixing and pouring at the opposite end of the bar. He saw Ike, Max and Holt at their usual table.
His heart leapt at seeing Tanna sitting with them.
His sarcastic side pointed out that of course Miss Sexy Thang would be here on the night he looked like shit. His practical side reminded him that Tanna liked to have a good time and her bar-hopping choices were limited in Muddy Gap, so he should’ve expected to run into her. And guaranteed a beautiful woman like her would be surrounded by male admirers.
So why did he have an immediate flash of jealousy and the urge to rip her away from the guys who’d been his friends for years?
Rather than curbing that urge, he gave in to it. After the cocktail waitress brought him a beer, he sauntered over, taking note that Ike hung on her every word. Max’s attention was firmly focused on Tanna’s cle**age. Even Holt, a confirmed bachelor, seemed mesmerized by her.