Prequel to The Trouble with Tomboys
Contemporary Adult Romance
Orginally published December 2012
93,879 words, 306 pages
2-Flame Sensuality Rating
Ten years ago, an oil tycoon's daughter and a farmer's son shared a moment neither would ever forget. When she left town in disgrace, a piece of her stayed locked deep within his soul. And like the ground he tended, his emotions lay fallow for years.
Cooper Gerhardt's deeply buried feelings for Jo Ellen Rawlings grew more fertile over time, just waiting for the day she would return to release his deepest desires.
When she strolls back into Tommy Creek, Texas for her ten-year class reunion, Cooper shows her farm boy style exactly what she missed by leaving. Starting a short-term affair is simply unavoidable.
But when the week is over, can either of them let go of the responsibilities and apprehensions keeping them apart? Or will their fallow hearts learn to flourish together?
(2nd Edition - Republished from 2012 Secret Cravings Publishing version in January 2016)
Ten Years Ago
On a typical night around the concrete rim of Bose Eden's livestock tank, a symphony of bullfrogs and crickets would serenade the quiet pool. A blistering breeze would brush the liquid surface, causing soothing ripples and lending a serene ambiance to the area. A full moon would decorate the cattle-beaten dirt paths leading up to it with a dim, quixotic glow.
But the night Cooper Gerhardt's life changed forever was anything but typical.
That night, fifty-plus teens flooded the edges of the hole, some of them letting their bare feet dangle into the warm water as they drowned out the tranquil echo of nature with boisterous conversation, screams of rowdy laughter, and the new subs Milo Hendricks had recently installed in his Chevy Silverado.
Eighteen-year-old Cooper stood back a ways from the crowded tank with his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his ragged blue jeans as he argued what the best muscle car ever invented was. All the while, he kept a censorious eye on the group of drunks who'd decided to go frog gigging.
"I still say nothing beats the sixty-nine Mustang Boss," he contended, wincing when he saw one idiot brandish his gig pole like a dueling sword.
"Dude," his buddy lifted his hands in a what-the-hell-ever manner. "Have you even ridden in a Hemi Cuda. I'm telling you, they are badass. Best muscle car ever."
Coop shook his head. His father was a Ford man, and he was a Ford man. Nothing could sway him from the Boss. He opened his mouth to argue his position when he barely heard a voice call his name over the hubbub of a lively Keith Urban song.
"Coop! Hey, Coop!"
Frowning, he cocked his ear until it came again. After he pushed his shaggy blond bangs out of his eyes and squinted through the beam of car headlights and people, he found the source. Emma Leigh Rawlings grinned and waved as she lifted her longneck bottle above her head and turned sideways in order to squeeze through a gap in the horde to reach him.
"Hey," Emma muttered, scowling and stealing her bottle back, though in doing so, she sloshed foam over the top, making it gush over her fingers and dribble down her arm. "Go find your own. I had to pay Bose three bucks for this shit." Contorting her slender limb, she attempted to lick the dribbles off her elbow, no doubt hoping to taste every penny's worth.
"Coop!" she yelled again once she was a foot away. She swayed and grasped his arm, steadying herself. Though she did nothing to soften her tone, he still had trouble hearing her over the roar of music and conversation as she added on a shout, "Wild party, huh?"
He filched her beer and tipped it up for a hearty slug. "Kinda boring." With a teasing grin, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth.
Cooper crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. Rawlings was the richest kid at the party, and yet she was such a miser, she didn't want to waste one drop. "Hendricks is selling cans of Coors for a dollar over by his tailgate."
Emma gasped, lifting her face from her arm. "No freaking way. Seriously?"
Laughing over the outrage on her expression, Cooper nodded.
"Bose Eden!" She shouted, already whirling away and dismissing Cooper. "You dirty rotten bastard. I want a refund."
Chuckling to himself as she disappeared between a crack in the crowd, Cooper glanced around for the guy he'd been talking cars with before Rawlings had approached. But he was long gone.
Cooper couldn't remember a gathering this out-of- control before. But the weather had been so nice these last few days; everyone must've loathed saying goodbye to it as much as he did. The good youth of Tommy Creek decided their last hurrah before the summer break ended and school began needed to be a dandy.
And what a dandy it was.
A pair of unruly boys jostled Cooper, beginning a playful wrestling match, each fighting for possession of a package of fireworks.
"Hey, watch out guys." Coop snagged the bottle rockets from them, dangling the bundle out of their reach. "You could poke someone's eye out with these things." Not to mention all the havoc they would cause if they actually lit the fuses.
"Coop! Coop man, give 'em here." The two clamored toward him, their arms outstretched. "Pass 'em to me."
Cooper shook his head and tossed the bottle rockets off to someone else who decided this was an entertaining game and threw the fireworks on to another. The two morons scurried after their prizes, disappearing into the throng, and Coop turned away to seek his own one-dollar draft.
Though unseasonably cool for this time of year, summer was still summer. The night remained tepid and muggy, making sweat plaster his snug shirt to his skin. After purchasing his Coors, he lifted his forearm to wipe moisture from his brow. Being in such close proximity to so many people only made the heat more unbearable than it already was. Craving some fresher air, he waded through the press of warm bodies until he reached the edge of the party. There, he wandered on for a ways before he found a thick cluster of trees that was yet unoccupied.
Letting out a contented sigh, he leaned against the trunk of an aging Chinkapin Oak and closed his eyes, soaking in the delightful solitude. Muffled by the timbers, the activity over at the tank sounded subdued and less vigorous.
This right here was nice. Peaceful. Relaxing.
He reached for the tab of his can, but before he could hear that satisfying hiss, a muffled moan interrupted his moment.
Eyes popping open, he pushed away from the tree.
Someone was in pain.
Not one to ignore a soul in need, he glanced to the right, then the left, before he found a stooped over figure, clutching its stomach.
Hurrying forward, he squinted in an effort to see who occupied the dark nest of trees with him. Long hair, slight frame, though curved enough to provide an undeniably feminine outline, her silhouette made a distinct, familiar impression as he rushed to her side.
"Rawlings?" He grabbed her arm to balance her when she swayed, unable to trust his eyes. "Hey, are you okay?"
He couldn't believe Emma Leigh had stumbled out here, sick to her stomach. First of all, he'd just seen her, and yeah, she'd been imbibing, but she hadn't been that far gone. Secondly, he'd played one too many drinking games with her in the past to think alcohol would ever make her this ill. She could out-drink him to the point where he'd puke up a lung before she even looked affected. The girl could seriously hold her liquor.
"Em?" He tightened his fingers around her elbow as she continued to clutch her abdomen and bend over as if 9prepared to heave the contents of her stomach all over the summer foliage.
>Hand still full of his unopened beer, Coop used the back of his palm to smooth her long, streaming hair away from her face and feel her forehead, though he wasn't sure why he checked for a temperature when it appeared as if all she suffered from was the three-two flu.
She lifted her head, her face sallow, eyes rimmed with dark rings, and cheeks reflecting the white from the moon. "Cooper?"
Before he could stop himself, he jerked back, releasing his grip from her suddenly potent skin as if she'd stung him.
Not Emma Leigh after all.
Em had never called him Cooper in her life. Just Coop.
Oxygen rushed from his lungs. "Jo Ellen." Her name came out sounding a little rusty from the old voice box, probably because he rarely spoke it aloud and his vocal chords weren't used to its cadence.
Though Emma Leigh's twin looked identical to her, Coop had never confused the two before. He considered Emma Leigh a friend, someone to hang out with and laugh with when he wanted to have a good time. She was one of the guys. He could relax around her and tell her just about anything.
Em was comfortable.
Her sister, Jo Ellen, made him decidedly uncomfortable.
Maybe it was because he'd developed a raging crush on her in the third grade when their teacher had assigned him to sit behind her in class, and he'd yet to shake that feeling of complete adoration. But the strawberry scent of her shampoo, the dulcet tone of her voice, the aura surrounding her, they had all embedded themselves on his soul. He was just so fascinated by her.
Or maybe he grew nervous in her company because she wasn't as loud and obnoxious as Emma Leigh.
Jo Ellen Rawlings exuded a prim and proper manner, making her twin seem especially rowdy. She typically kept her expression guarded and polite while Emma Leigh was only too eager to communicate everything on her mind, be it an appropriate time and place for such declarations or not. Jo Ellen's quiet way made him antsy, always wondering what she thought of him.
She was a lady, and he was infinitely aware of her… as a male.