THE HILLS OF TEXAS
Her thermostat was set to frosty, until her Christmas cowboy cranks up the heat.
Ashley Hughes would love to cancel Christmas this year. Instead of holiday plans, she’s back in her Texas hometown planning her twin sister’s wedding — to her ex! Nothing like small town speculation to make her life cheery and bright. No one believes that she’s over the groom, until a certain cowboy secret crush steps in to be her plus one. Ashley’s tried to friend zone Jennings since high school, because she’s always known kissing the casual charmer would lead to a love she’d never forget.
Jennings Hill would be the first to admit that his feelings for his ex-best friend are more likely to land him on the naughty list. When he sees Ashley again, he only wants to help but then a rumor links them romantically and that’s when their lives get complicated.
The more time they spend together, the more Jennings worries she’s not over her ex, but Ashley starts wishing Jennings was her present wrapped under the Christmas tree.
Tule Publishing | 10.8.19
* All books in this series can be read as stand alone and out of order.
In short order, they downed their shots and men appeared and took each girl away for a dance. After pretending to enjoy a turn around the floor with one of them, Ashley checked their booth, which stood empty, their shot glasses littering the tabletop. Rather than sit there by herself as cowboy bait, she headed to the bar. “Hey, Bud. Can I have an IPA?”
“You got it.”
“Ashley Hughes?” a female voice squealed from her right.
Here it comes. “Mandy Walker!” Ashley could do the bubbly girl thing when required. “It’s been ages. How are you?”
The blonde valedictorian of their senior class held up her left hand sporting an obnoxiously large diamond. “Married.”
“Let me guess? Jason Hubbard?” The two had been high school sweethearts, so figuring that one out didn’t exactly require a PhD.
Mandy laughed. “Who else?”
“You look fantastic. Marriage must agree with you.”
“You look great, too.” Mandy sobered and Ashley braced herself for what she suspected was coming. “Although I expected this to be your bachelorette party.” A concerned light dulled Mandy’s green eyes and her pouty pink lips turned down. “How are you handling Taylor marrying Eric?”
I’m fine with the marriage thing. It’s the rest of my life thing that’s still a mystery.
Ashley pretended not to notice the downshift in mood, holding on to her bubbly facade. “I’m thrilled for them. They make each other so happy.” Both were true statements. The problem was no one seemed inclined to believe her about the first bit, likely made worse by her conspicuous absence all this time. Her own fault. That and a nasty bout of bronchitis.
Mandy, sweet but not the brightest bulb in the box with social cues, didn’t take the hint. “But you must be disappointed. Everyone expected you and Eric to marry. When they announced their engagement last summer, it was such a shock.”
To everyone except Ashley.
“Things were over between me and Eric long before then.” A glance across the room revealed a glowing Taylor. She’d never seen her sister so incandescently happy.
Mandy patted her arm. “Of course, honey. Way to stay strong.”
Ashley idly wondered if a bullhorn might get the message through. But, while the mental image of blowing back Mandy’s over-teased hairdo with the sound filled Ashley with wicked satisfaction, she decided against it.
Where would she find a bullhorn in a bar anyway?
Besides, a long time ago, she’d come to the conclusion that the louder one defended themselves against small-town gossip, the more people talked. Luckily, Bud chose that moment to hand her an ice-cold glass of beer. She tipped it toward the other woman. “See you around, Mandy.”
Seeking a quick escape, she spun away only to smack into a wall of muscle, her beer sloshing all over her hand.
“Sorry.” Ashley stumbled back into the bar. Muttering, she shook off her hand, and checked her outfit hadn’t suffered any damage. Satisfied she’d survived, she directed her gaze up, way up, into amused instantly recognizable blue eyes bracketed by laugh lines. Familiar eyes. The Hill family were practically identified by their eyes.
“Oh, no. Not you.” She groaned. Apparently, Lady Luck had completely abandoned her tonight.
She could deal with the stares, the pretend sympathy, and the unavoidable small-town speculation from nearly everyone else, but not from Jennings Hill. He saw too much and pushed too hard, and she wasn’t ready for that.
If anything, his teasing grin grew, casting her a careless kind of challenge she’d always found irresistible, even when they were kids. “Nice to see you too, Hughes.”