The waitress dropped off the beer and Tierney paid. But Celia ordered two shots of whiskey. “I assume both those shots are for you?”

“Nope,” Celia answered.

“But I don’t drink whiskey.”

“You do when you’re with me.”

Tierney laughed. “And since we’re trading off rounds, that means I have to buy shots?”

“Yep.” Celia grinned. “We’re gonna have some fun tonight.”

Tierney managed to knock back the shot without coughing or gagging.

A couple of hot guys moseyed over and chatted with Celia, who flirted shamelessly. After they left, Celia said, “I hope we won’t be kicking ourselves for not taking them up on their offer.”

“Renner might frown on me sneaking off to a private hot tub party with two cowboys. Wouldn’t the guy you’re seeing have an issue with it?”

“Breck?” She shrugged. “Nah. We’re keeping it casual. That works best for us.”

“But didn’t this Breck guy whisk you off to an island getaway for Christmas?” Tierney had caught the end of a conversation between Harper, Lainie and Janie at the New Year’s party about why Celia hadn’t come home for Christmas.

“He took me to Jamaica for two glorious weeks. But Breck is loaded and he didn’t wanna go home for Christmas any more than I did.” Celia smiled tightly. “I’m sure that sounds horrible. Don’t get me wrong. I adore my brothers. But Hank and Lainie were spending their first Christmas in their new house. With Lainie bein’ pregnant and all, I didn’t want to impose, although both of them would’ve assured me it wasn’t an imposition. And Abe, well, he and Janie need to figure some stuff out. I’d just be in the way again. Harper and Bran have room for me in that huge freakin’ house, but it’s their first Christmas as a married couple and I’d be a third wheel. So it was better that I packed a half-dozen bikinis and spent my Christmas vacation lounging on the beach drinking mai tais.”

“I see your point.” The music was cranked a little louder. Trying to hold a conversation without yelling became tough so they drank and watched people pour into the bar.

Time came for Tierney to buy a round of shots. She held her glass to Celia’s. “To smooth whiskey and rough men.”

Celia tossed back her shot. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

Another round of beer meant a trip to the ladies’ room. When Tierney returned, she was surprised to see a familiar face from Muddy Gap. The man Celia had referred to as the bane of her existence. He’d shoved a barstool at the head of the elevated four-top table right next to Celia—not that she paid any attention to him.

When he noticed her, he stood. “You must be Tierney. I’m Kyle Gilchrist.”

“Good to meet you, Kyle.”

“Now that you’re back to save our table, I’m gonna pop over and say hi to some folks,” Celia announced.

“Celia,” Kyle said sharply, “you’re not listening. I said Breck is lookin’ for you.”

“And I said so what.” She drained her beer, signaling the waitress for another. “It’s not like it’s a secret where I am. I’m where I’ve been all f**kin’ week.”

Kyle glanced at Tierney. “How much has she been drinkin’?”

“She can answer for herself, and the answer is none of your goddamned business. I’m not drivin’, I’m not doin’ a striptease on the bar, so f**k off. I don’t want you here, Kyle, because you’re a buzzkill.”

“That right?” He invaded her space and whispered directly in her ear.

Tierney noticed that while Celia’s hand on the table curled into an angry fist, she also closed her eyes and went very still when Kyle’s mouth was so close.

“There you are, Kyle. Thanks for tracking her down for me.” The guy glanced at Tierney and smiled as he sat next to Celia. “You saved us seats.” He thrust his hand across the table. “Breck Christianson.”

“Tierney Pratt.”

“Tierney. A beautiful name.” His eyes swept her face and chest with frank male appreciation. “For a beautiful woman.”

Talk about good-looking. Breck had curly coal-black hair, which he wore longer than the short cut most cowboys preferred. His dark blue eyes were fringed with thick black eyelashes and his dimpled smile hinted at sinful devilry. Broad across the shoulders and chest, with heavily muscled arms, he resembled a comic book superhero more than a rodeo cowboy. “It’s nice to meet you, Breck.”

“I’m so very pleased to meet you, Tierney,” he drawled seductively.

“Stop dripping testosterone all over her,” Celia snapped. “You’re a man’s man who loves the ladies. We get it.”

Breck laughed and curled his hand around Celia’s neck, bringing her in for a thorough kiss. “I love it when you get all mouthy on me, sugar pie.”

Tierney looked elsewhere and expected her discomfort to be mirrored in Kyle’s eyes, but Kyle’s entire posture was closed off. His face was a blank mask.

Chairs scraped and the table wobbled.

“Tierney, meet my buddies, Skeeter, Davy and Michael,” Breck said. The men dragged over extra chairs and joined them.

She murmured hello and half feared she’d revert to her former wallflower persona. But she’d come a long way in the last few months and there was no awkwardness at all. She found herself engaged in conversation with the guys as Breck and Celia argued in low tones and Kyle drank.


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