Prevue – DSK c1and2

A Dark & Stormy Knight

 

Chapter One

“Promise me.”

“I promise.” Even though her sister couldn’t see it, Georgia shifted the phone to her other hand, so she could sketch an X over her left breast. “We’re leaving in the morning.” Then she hedged. If the past eleven years of motherhood had taught her nothing else, life was never one hundred percent predictable. “Nothing short of a trip to the hospital for broken bones or copious bleeding will keep us inside Houston city limits one minute past eight o’clock. Eight thirty at the latest.”

“Broken bones. Bleeding.” Bethany made a snicking sound as though she was reluctantly considering. Not that she had much choice. As the mother of three, all of whom were more apt to suffer self-inflicted injuries than Georgia’s daughter, Eden, Bethany knew the realities as well as Georgia. “Okay. But those are the only acceptable excuses. And they only cover a delay.”

Georgia laughed. It was like negotiating a peace treaty in the Middle East. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there tomorrow to relieve you. You’ve done your duty this past month and earned your R&R.”

“Rest and relaxation, my ass. I’ve gotten so far behind at home, it’ll take me all summer to catch up. You have no idea how demanding Mama and Daddy are, but you will. If it weren’t for the comic relief Grams provides, I’d be going home in a straitjacket.”

While her sister talked, Georgia hiked her shoulder to hold her cell phone to her ear, freeing her hands to fold the shirt she was packing. It didn’t work of course. The phone slithered out of the not-so-effective vise and bounced on the bed. She snatched it up in time to hear Bethany say, “And you’ll have it worse because you’ll be here 24/7. At least I get to go home at night.”

The past month had been tough for Bethany. She was a stay-at-home mom, but when you were a rancher’s wife, that didn’t mean you got to sit on the couch eating bonbons. Top that with three kids, who were a handful on their best day, and Bethany’s life was tightly scheduled.

She’d gallantly stepped out of those daily routines two months ago after their mama’s stroke.

Taking care of Mama also meant taking care of Daddy since their parents had an old-fashioned marriage where the man brought home the bacon—and in this case, that meant everything from building the pig sty right up to slaughtering the pigs—and the woman did everything else.

And then there was Grams, who couldn’t be trusted to boil water without risking a house fire. Add Mama’s three-times-a-week therapies and all the emotional buttons their parents had at their disposal, and it was a wonder Bethany hadn’t chucked it all and run away from home.

Now summer had officially arrived, and Georgia was commitment free until school started in the fall. It was her turn to take care of their parents. Even without the husband and three kids waiting impatiently at home, Georgia was pretty sure she’d be dreaming of a white-sand beach in some faraway locale in about a week—maybe less.

“By the way, I ran into Sol’s mama yesterday,” Bethany said.

“How is Ruth?” Georgia opened the nightstand drawer and rummaged for her Bluetooth headset. It wasn’t there. Eden had probably swiped it again. No, wait. There it was. She put it on and went to the dresser for jeans.

“She’s good. She mentioned Sol’s riding at the Gladewater rodeo Friday night.”

“She just happened to mention that, did she?” Georgia wasn’t sure if the annoyance she felt was because he was riding or because Bethany was butting into things that didn’t concern her.

“Well, I did ask her what Sol was up to these days. That’s not an unreasonable question. He is Eden’s daddy after all.”

“Yes, you’re right.” But the suspicion her sister had an ulterior motive for mentioning this didn’t disappear.

“You know, you could go down to Gladewater and see him ride. Maybe go out to a honky-tonk afterwards.”

“Now why would I want to do that?”

“You did say you were going to ask him to take Eden out to the ranch for the summer. So maybe you should make nice before you ask him.”

Resenting someone for being right was childish, yet Georgia still resisted. “That doesn’t mean I have to go all the way to Gladewater.”

Bethany exhaled her exasperation. “It’s only an hour’s drive. Come on, Georgia. Show the man a little support. Go to his damned rodeo, cheer him on, have a drink with him afterward at the local watering hole before you ask him for a favor. I know you don’t like rodeos, but showing up would tell Sol you’re willing to meet him halfway.”

“I don’t dislike rodeos.” Liar. “In point of fact, I went to the Gladewater rodeo last year.”

“Really?” Bethany sounded surprise. Then her tone changed, becoming skeptical. “Why?”

Georgia sighed and confessed. “The daughter exchange.” Which was what they called it when Eden went back and forth between her and Sol.

“Did you enjoy it?” Bethany asked, her tone clearly saying she expected a negative response.

“Parts of it,” Georgia admitted. It had helped that she’d run into a couple of friends from high school. Still, she’d made sure she was at the concession stand when Sol rode, so she wouldn’t have to watch.

“So what’s the problem?”

“Well, it’s not that much fun to go alone—”

“So call a friend to go with you.”

“And,” Georgia stressed the word, “if I’m going to a bar after the rodeo, I’d have to leave Eden alone with Mama and Daddy.”

“She can spend the evening with us. I’ll bring her home before the folks go to bed. I’ll even take care of Mama’s nighttime routine. Now what other excuses do you have?”

“Would you stop bullying me?” She could hardly believe Bethany wanted her to go badly enough to step back into the breach so soon.

Bethany laughed then, in her poor-dumb-bunny voice, the one Southern women used when they said, “Bless her heart, but she’s too stupid to breathe on her own,” she said, “Oh, honey. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The past month with Mama has honed my bullying skills to a fine edge.”

Great. “Okay, I’ll think about going to Gladewater. Does that make you happy?”

“For now,” Bethany said, smug now that she’d gotten her way.

Georgia heard the apartment door open followed immediately by the sound of muffled voices. “Eden’s home. I gotta go.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow. Before noon, God willing.”

Georgia hung up and went to greet her daughter. Eden was crouched at one end of the couch, peering behind it. At the other end, her BFF, Deanne, mirrored Eden. Deanne’s father, Daniel, watched the two girls, an amused smile on his face.

“Come on, Tink,” Eden cajoled.

Georgia smiled a greeting at Daniel. “Eden, there’s tuna salad in the fridge. I bet Tink will come out for that.”

As Eden went for the tuna, Georgia turned to Daniel. “That cat is too smart. She saw me get out the cat carrier this morning.”

“I told you, you should’ve gotten a dog,” he said.

“Dogs don’t purr,” Eden yelled from the kitchen.

Georgia and Daniel exchanged amused looks. Eden loved animals, but if the choice was between dogs and cats, she came down hard as being a cat person, but even that was a comedown from the horse of her own that she really wanted.

Georgia held her hands up in a what-can-you-do gesture. Then she tipped her head toward the kitchen, inviting him to accompany her. She turned sideways in the doorway as Eden came barreling out, a plastic tub of tuna in her hands. “Don’t give all of that to the cat,” Georgia said, “or your lunch will be a bread sandwich.”

Daniel followed her into the kitchen. “Everyone’s deserting me all at the same time,” he said mournfully. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.”

“I know.” She opened a cupboard and started pulling out cans of cat food. “I wish we didn’t have to go, but if I don’t relieve Bethany soon, I’m afraid she’ll be tempted to hold a pillow over Mama’s face while she sleeps.”

“Your mother can’t be that bad.”

She turned, cans of cat food in both hands, to look at him. Not quite six feet tall with light brown hair he kept cut short, he was a nice-looking man. In the past three years since their daughters had become joined at the hip, this divorced dad had also become Georgia’s best friend. For reasons he was totally unaware of, she would have given a lot to be able stay in Dallas with him this summer.

In her most innocent voice, she asked, “Have I mentioned how manipulative my mama is?”

Daniel smiled. “Maybe a time or two.”

“And how negative she can be?”

He chuckled. “Only every time you talk to her.”

“Good. You were listening.” She set the cans on the counter and pulled out several plastic grocery bags. “I know you’re going to miss Deanne, but it’s a good thing your ex has finally given up drinking and wants to see her daughter. Right?” She glanced at him, catching not just his nod of agreement but the grim cut of his mouth that told her how left out he felt. “Kids need both parents in their lives,” she reminded him as she bagged the cat food.

Generally true, she thought. Teaching third grade had tuned her in to how important involved parents were. While most of the children at the private school where she taught came from intact families, she’d gotten so she could tell pretty reliably by the end of the first week of school which kids had an absentee parent.

Whether the presence of Daniel’s ex would be a blessing for his daughter, Georgia wasn’t so sure. Parents could also do tremendous damage to their children. She recalled the conversation she’d had with the school nurse a couple of weeks earlier after a bullying incident in Georgia’s class. Repetition compulsion the nurse had called it after they’d met the bully’s father. Georgia had learned it as a child in Sunday school as a Bible verse. Exodus 34:7: And the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons and the son’s sons unto the third and fourth generation.

No matter how it was phrased, it meant the children learned by example. Whatever their parents did, whether bullying or marrying an abuser or having illegitimate babies, each generation repeated the pattern they saw.

Unless they made a conscious decision to change it, which was something Georgia had been thinking about a lot since her conversation with the school nurse.

“I know girls need a woman around,” Daniel said. “The easy years are almost over. Soon Deanne’s going to need advice on things I don’t know anything about—and don’t want to know about. I’m very happy with the finer points of bras and feminine hygiene products remaining a mystery.”

She laughed. Daniel was such a guy.

“Anyway,” he continued, “you’ve been doing such a good job as a stand-in mom, I was hoping I could ride your coattails for the next few years at least.”

“Anytime. Deanne’s a good kid.” Georgia had liked her from the first time she’d met her, back when Eden had invited Deanne for her birthday slumber party.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the compliment as an endorsement of his parenting skills.

Georgia smiled to herself. Single parents always hungered for assurances they weren’t screwing up their kids past the point of no return. “And the girls will turn buying their first bras together into an adventure. It’ll be fun.”

Daniel’s sigh sounded relieved, as if he’d sidestepped a minefield. “I wish you and Eden were going to be around after Deanne leaves. What am I going to do here all by myself?”

“You’ll be fine,” Georgia said. “You’ve got a week to enjoy your daughter before you send her off, and you’ve been griping that you need to work on your backstroke before your company golf tournament.”

“So that’ll eat up a few hours on the weekend.”

“You’ll think of something to keep yourself occupied.” Several loud thumps came from the living room followed by the sound of running feet. “If they ever catch her, you can always play with Tink.”

Daniel peeked into the living room, but whatever he saw didn’t create any parental angst because he let the door swing closed. “Your cat’s not that amusing. Plus, she thinks my leg’s a scratching post.” Then his voice dropped. “I’m going to feel like a bachelor again. Divorced father is bad enough, but I didn’t do bachelor all that well the first time around.”

“Well then.” Georgia took a breath before saying, “Maybe this is your chance to brush up on some of those bachelor skills.” Had he heard the pause while she’d worked up her courage to step onto that dangerous ground? Until two months earlier, their friendship had been one hundred percent platonic. Then, for the first time in four years, Daniel’s ex wanted to see her daughter. The girls had both gone to a group sleepover, so he’d come over to talk about it. They’d had a few beers. Then out of the blue there’d been kissing. And groping.

Thank God, there hadn’t been actual sex because the kissing and groping had been enough to make them both act stiff and awkward for a week. Lord only knew how much worse sex would have made it.

For her daughter’s sake, Georgia had forced herself to get past it. Daniel, too, had relaxed, and things went back to normal. At least on the surface. Under the surface, Georgia wasn’t sure what was going on. She almost wished they’d taken the next step that night, but she hadn’t known yet that the incident with the third-grade bully would have her thinking about the family patterns she was passing on to Eden.

The life she had wasn’t what she wanted for her daughter, and Daniel was her prime candidate to remedy that. He didn’t know it yet, of course, and whatever moves she needed to make to change their relationship would have to wait until she got back, which might not be until fall. That sucked, but the last thing in the world she needed was to get what her mama called “all stirred up” before she headed home to Hero Creek because “all stirred up” was too dangerous to put in the same room with her ex-husband.

Daniel sighed. “I’m going to miss you. We feel almost like a family when we do things together with the girls.”

Which was exactly what she wanted. It couldn’t be all that hard to turn “almost a family” into an actual family, could it?

Chapter Two

 

Lydia leaned in, bringing her lips close to Georgia’s ear. “Who’s that?” she asked in the same breathy voice Georgia remembered all too well from their junior college days. The one that meant she’d spotted a man she’d like to know better. Usually a lot better.

“Who’s what? Where?” Georgia asked, almost yelling to be heard over the rodeo announcer’s distorted voice. Why was it that rodeo producers seemed to think their fans were not only half deaf but hadn’t considered putting fresh batteries in their hearing aids?

“Him. There.” Lydia pointed over the arena railing. “Beside the bull chute. The black hat on the side of the chute, pulling on the bull rope.” She fanned her face. “Seriously hot. He could eat crackers in my bed any time his little ol’ heart desired.”

Georgia frowned. “That’s Sol McKnight.”

“McKnight? You’re related to him?”

“He’s Eden’s daddy.”

That’s your ex-husband?” Lydia stared at her open-mouthed.

Georgia nodded. “Yeah.” Her tone was dry.

“You let a hunk like that get away?” Lydia’s gaze was locked on Sol again. “What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking I didn’t want the door to hit me in the ass on the way out.” And she’d been almost fast enough to get away unscathed.

“Good heavens! Why? He’s grade A prime.”

Yeah, well . . . Looks aren’t everything.” And if looks were all Sol McKnight had to offer, Georgia would long ago have relegated him to lessons learned.

Unfortunately, in the twelve years since their divorce, she had, on rare occasion, not been averse to letting him eat crackers and a few other delectables in her bed—something she always regretted afterward.

“Would it be too weird if I checked that out for myself? I mean, since you don’t want him and all.”

Weird? No. Tacky? Yes. Their friendship had been little more than superficial in recent years. It had grown out of convenience and shared classes in their junior college days, back when Georgia had set her sights on earning her teaching certificate. For some unfathomable reason, Lydia had made the effort to stay in touch. She’d also gotten her certification three years before Georgia and landed a job a couple of towns over from Hero Creek. Close enough that Georgia had felt compelled to call her, asking Lydia to meet her at the rodeo, when she’d succumbed to Bethany’s persuasion. Coming to the rodeo alone had just felt too pathetic.

Not wanting to examine why Lydia’s request sowed a seed of anger in her chest, Georgia kept her eyes on the action in the arena and forced a casual response to Lydia’s question. “Sure. Why not?”

“Could you introduce me to him?”

Georgia did glance at her then. Lydia didn’t see it; her gaze was locked greedily on Sol as he bent over the chute to steady the cowboy on the restless bull’s back.

The seed of anger threatened to sprout. Forcing herself to ignore it, Georgia said, “Later. I’ve got a favor I need to ask of him first.” Which was the only reason she was there at all. God Almighty, but she hated watching Sol ride.

She shifted her gaze to the action at the chute where the rider who was about to give the nod for the gate to open. Sol’s jeans stretched tight across his behind as he reached into the chute, and Georgia had to admit Lydia at least had good taste. With that lean build typical of rodeo cowboys, her ex-husband was still a hunk. Georgia shook her head. Such thoughts could cause a girl to make stupid decisions. Lord knew she’d already made too many of those where he was concerned.

The bull rider’s hat bobbed, the gate swung away, and the bull shot into the arena.

Even to Georgia’s less-than-discerning eye, the bull under this cowboy seemed to buck in an easy rhythmic pattern. She glanced back to the chute, but Sol had dropped out of sight. Ignoring the eight-second buzzer, she scanned the men hanging on the rails.

The crowd’s collective gasp jerked back to the arena. The rider had made his ride, but his gloved hand had hung up in the bull rope during his dismount. His feet bounced over the ground as the bull continued to buck. The flopping cowboy at his side energized the bull, and he bucked harder and more erratically than he had for the ride.

Bull fighters in their clown makeup and bright clothes rushed in to distract the bull. Other cowboys jumped off the railings. They crowded around the bull, reaching over the bull’s back, trying to release the taut rope that had the cowboy’s hand trapped. Seeing Sol in their midst had Georgia’s heart pounding like a sledgehammer against her ribs. She’d hoped the injury that had taken him out of the PBR cup tour two years ago would convince him to quit the bulls, but that had proved an empty fantasy because there he was, risking his life, crowding a disgruntled bull, to save a fellow rider.

It seemed to take forever to get the cowboy loose. In reality, it probably wasn’t even ten seconds, but that was a long damned time to be flopping around beside an unhappy bull. Miraculously, no one looked damaged except the rider, who cradled his abused arm close to his body as he hobbled out of the arena to find the rodeo doctor.

The extra adrenaline was still rushing through her system a few minutes later when she realized Sol was in the chute, mounted on a bull. On those rare occasions when she sat in the stands, she usually discovered a desperate thirst just before he rode. She was about to make her excuse to go to the concession stand when Lydia grabbed her hand. In her excitement—and maybe the fear that if something bad happened she wouldn’t get to meet him—Lydia squeezed Georgia’s hand too tightly.

Before she could pull free, Sol’s hat bobbed and the gate opened. Her throat closed up. The announcer’s voice blurred into a loud buzzing in her ears. She looked at the announcer’s box perched above the fans at the end of the arena then at the crowd below him. If the sound system had developed a problem, no one else seemed aware of it. Her gaze flickered to the clock with its large digital numbers. It changed from 3.2 to 3.3 as she watched. Ten seconds later, it read 3.4. Dear God. The clock’s broken.

She made the mistake of looking into the arena as the bull spun hard to the right. Sol’s right arm swung through the air, counterbalancing the bull’s forward lunge. Georgia’s free hand clenched the railing while her knees threatened to buckle.

She looked back at the clock: 5.2. At tenth-of-a-second intervals that seemed to last minutes, it clicked over a number. 5.3 . . . 5.4 . . . 5.5.

She locked her jaw, trying to convince her supper to stay in her stomach. The bull switched directions, but Sol stayed with him.

At last, the whistle blared. The bull’s front hooves hit the ground, its rear hooves rising to the apex of a kick as Sol jumped from its back. It was as clean a dismount as Georgia had ever seen, but his momentum still pushed Sol to one knee. She took a shaky breath as he scrambled away from the still bucking bull.

The bull quickly calmed and trotted placidly toward the exit gate. The buzz in her ears faded, the announcer’s voice, only slightly garbled now, rose through it. “. . . and that’s a good eight-second ride for Sol McKnight on Thunder Alley!”

~***~

The bars always filled up after the rodeo. The cowboys walked in, looking to make up for lost time, followed closely by the buckle bunnies. It wasn’t hard for Georgia to find Sol’s truck at a local watering hole.

A sea of cowboy hats filled the room. She scanned the space around her while Lydia waited at the bar for their drinks. Finally, she spotted Sol near the pool tables.

“Hey, Sol,” she said as she came up behind him.

He turned, his face registering surprise. “Georgia.”

She hadn’t been able to tell from across the arena, but she saw with astonishment he was sporting a neatly trimmed mustache. Very Tom Selleck, she thought.

Someone bumped Georgia from behind. The small step forward she took to keep her balance brought her close enough to feel the heat from Sol’s body. Had he changed his aftershave, too? She liked the unfamiliar, musky scent.

Sol took her arm. “C’mon. Let’s find a less crowded spot.”

She let him steer her to a corner where the bar had shoved extra tables to open up the dance floor. He settled one butt cheek on the corner of a table and leaned back. An Ace bandage was wrapped around his left hand. Bull riders rode hurt more often than not, so that might not be new. He hadn’t been injured on Thunder Alley, but it could have happened in the short round; she’d gone to the concession stand rather than watch him ride again.

“I was sorry to hear about your mama,” Sol said. “How’s she doing?”

Ensuring she’d keep her hands to herself, Georgia tucked her fingers into the rear pockets of her jeans. “It’s tough. The doctor says the stroke could have done a lot more damage, but if she works at the therapy, we should see a full recovery.” Georgia stopped there. She didn’t want to share her frustrations with Sol. Her mother’s verbal skills had taken a bad hit. She seemed to know what she wanted to say, but the right words eluded her. Even when she found them, they came out garbled. Communicating with her mama had turned into a not-very-amusing game of charades—a game Georgia had never been good at.

Sol seemed to know she was holding back; his gray eyes grew sympathetic. “How’s your daddy doing?”

It was nice of him to ask. Her parents had never liked Sol—a fact not lost on him. “Not well. You know how Mama always does everything for him.”

Sol’s eyes lightened and a smile tugged at his lips. “I bet your poor daddy wanders around the kitchen, trying to figure out how to feed hisself.” He grinned widely and chuckled. “And I can just picture him trying to do his own laundry.”

Georgia couldn’t hold back the airy pfft of disbelief. “Then you’re the only one who can picture it. I’ve come for the summer to help out—”

“You have?”

His attention sharpened but Georgia didn’t like the look in his eyes. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have called it a “what’s in this for me” look.

She took a deep breath and plowed ahead. “I need a favor, Sol. You know there are no kids near my folks’ place for Eden to hang out with. She really wants to come out to the ranch.”

Sol’s body stiffened and his eyes darkened again; Georgia had to fight the instinct to flinch. In spite of how difficult it was asking him for a favor, she’d thought he’d be happy to have the standard six weeks he had his daughter turn into the whole summer. Unless having his daughter for so long was going to create problems with his love life.

He pushed himself upright. “You’re asking if Eden can stay at the ranch, and you call it a favor?” He shoved his cowboy hat back on his head and hit her with a scowl of disgust. “Dammit, Georgia. She ain’t no shirttail relation no one wants to own up to. She’s my daughter. Anything she needs from me she can have without asking.”

Georgia squared her shoulders. “Well, pardon me for not wanting to sound like a demanding ex-wife.”

“Where Eden’s concerned, there ain’t no demands. When have I ever not been there for her?”

Lydia’s voice behind her saved Georgia from having to admit he never said no when the subject was Eden. Never. Not even when he should.

“There you are! I was wondering where you’d high-tailed it off to.”

Georgia turned as Lydia came up beside her. Her friend had two longneck beers and fresh lipstick on her mouth.

“Hiding in a corner with the best-looking man in the place.” Lydia tsked as she handed Georgia a beer. “I thought friends were supposed to share.”

“Sol, this is Lydia.” Georgia sounded sulky even in her own ears.

Sol turned off his anger to acknowledge the introduction. “Hey, Lydia.”

“I was so impressed when you rode that big ol’ bull. I swear I nearly stopped breathing when he busted outta that gate.”

It was all Georgia could do not to roll her eyes.

“Some folks see bull riding as irresponsible.”

Georgia didn’t miss the flick of his eyes toward her. Her mouth dropped open. She had never called it irresponsible. Not exactly. What she’d said was it was hard to explain to Eden why her daddy risked life and limb for something that didn’t pay squat.

Before she could defend herself, Lydia closed the distance between herself and Sol and slipped her hand around his arm. He bent his elbow so her fingers lay lightly inside the crook of his elbow.

“You shouldn’t pay attention to folks like that. They’re just jealous.” Lydia flipped a wave of chestnut hair over her shoulder and looked up at Sol. Her voice dropped into a sultry register. “I think it’s brave. How do you ever find the courage to get on those bulls?”

Sol’s eyebrows rose as though he was surprised to discover a buckle bunny among Georgia’s friends. Georgia could have told him Lydia didn’t give a damn about championship buckles; she was into tight male asses and always had been.

“Sol.” His name came out of Georgia’s mouth harsh and demanding.

He lifted his gaze to meet hers, but he looked dazed as though he couldn’t see her through the image of himself Lydia imprinted on his mind.

“Can I bring Eden out to the ranch tomorrow?”

His response came slowly as though he’d had to process the question one word at a time. “Yeah. Sure. Bring her out. Mama will want you to stay to supper.”

“Well, I—”

But Lydia was tugging Sol away, chattering once more about how impressed she was by his courage.

Whoever said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach had never tried flattery. “Oh, you’re so brave,” Georgia simpered sarcastically but not loud enough for anyone to hear.

God, men were such fools.

~***~

Lydia was one of those smooth women, Sol decided, who could be a lot of fun until you went up against them. Instinct told him he was no match for her; ten minutes in her company proved it. He wasn’t quite sure how she roped him into shooting partners pool with her, but rope him she did, no less capably than a champion bulldogger.

She played helpless until somehow he found himself leaning over her back, his hands on hers, showing her how to line up a shot, her denim-covered backside pressed, to any bystander’s eyes, innocently against his groin. What he carried in his pants didn’t care that she wasn’t who he would have chosen to have pressed up against him. She shifted her feet, resetting her stance, her bottom wiggling against his loins in short, quick motions that had him all but swallowing his tongue.

He didn’t think for a minute it was anything but intentional. He backed off as if she were a hot branding iron, snatching his cowboy hat off his head to hold casually in front of his groin.

Lydia shot and the ball slammed into the corner pocket. She let out a delighted yelp, spun on the ball of one foot, wrapped her free arm around his neck, and kissed him, oh so spontaneously. Once more, Sol suspected her of feminine guile, but his mouth responded without asking his brain’s permission.

A white cowboy hat floated past the end of the pool table. Under the hat, Georgia scowled at him.

What the hell had he done wrong now? Sol’s gut twisted the way it always did when she got mad at him. She was the one who’d introduced him to her predatory girlfriend, yet somehow he was the one in the wrong. Screw her, he thought. Trying to please her never had paid off. Maybe this time, he’d push the memory of her aside and focus on the girl who did want him.

It would serve Georgia right if he took Lydia home with him. Let her see how she liked that.

He basked in his bravado until she walked out the door. In the end, he knew he wouldn’t do it. He had never been that big a fool.