There was nothing quite like watching an out-of-towner get their first taste of Shady Grove. It didn’t happen too often. In my experience, you were either from here or you’d never heard of the place.
The second I saw her walk through the door of What the Cluck, the local family-style restaurant, I knew she didn’t belong, and so did everyone else whose head turned in her direction. The ones who didn’t notice right away surely did when they heard her heels clicking across the worn wooden floors. Even the hum of the gossip mill couldn’t drown out the sound of stilettos on pine.
My first impression of her was lean curves, dark shiny hair, and a round peach of an ass that was begging to be grabbed, spanked, and bitten. Then my sister leaned over and whispered in my ear, causing my dirty mind to screech to an unwelcome halt.
“I heard her car broke down.”
I acknowledged Molly’s comment with a nod. Instead of focusing on the whispers of the people around me, I found myself more intrigued with the expression on the newcomer’s face. It was quite a face, after all. Her big blue eyes were wide with bewilderment, her pretty pink lips pursed as she tried to flag down one of the waitresses busily rushing by her. Her cute little nose wrinkled in confusion when a passing waitress finally called out, “Seat yourself, honey!”
I quickly dropped my attention when I realized the one open seat in the place was directly across from me.
So much for quiet observation.
I could certainly appreciate a beautiful woman, but the last thing I was interested in was getting mixed up with a passerby’s drama—despite how sexy her legs looked as she walked toward the table. This chick would be gone and forgotten before sundown, just like everyone else who didn’t belong here.
My twin brother was seated across from my sister, and about to be shoulder to shoulder with the newbie. Duke smirked when I looked up. The unspoken conversation we had during the time it took her to sit next to him was totally inappropriate for Sunday lunch. It basically consisted of my brother silently saying, I’m gonna try and hit that, and me replying, Don’t always think with your dick.
The connection between us was twenty-nine years strong. I didn’t need him to tell me what he was thinking. We’d been doing the same song and dance since we’d realized that our dicks could be used for more than just pissing. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about sex, just that Duke thought about it a whole lot more. And it had landed him in a few prickly situations over the years. Last thing I wanted was to clean up another mess of his.
Duke wasn’t the only curious one. I looked over at my sister and saw she was champing at the bit to find out about the stranger. There was no stopping Molly when she wanted to get to the bottom of something. She’d been the most inquisitive child I’d ever met, and at twenty-four, she hadn’t stopped with her quest for the truth. If she were a cat, she would have burned through all nine of her lives by now.
“Hi,” she said no sooner than the brunette was seated at our table and unfolding her napkin. “I’m Molly Wilder.” She reached across the table, practically shoving her hand in the poor girl’s face.
I watched as the awkwardness unfolded and tried hard not to laugh at it all.
“Oh,” the stranger said, staring at my sister’s hand for a moment. “We’re doing this.” She placed her hand in Molly’s and mustered up a smile. “I’m Charlotte.”
“Welcome. These are my brothers, Duke and Luke.” Molly didn’t wait to dive right into the interrogation. “What brings you to our fine little town?”
She released Charlotte’s hand when I elbowed her slightly in the ribs, a warning to tone it down. When she side-eyed me, I simply sat back in my chair and shook my head, then tugged my weathered A&M ball cap down a bit to shield me from it. There was no stopping Molly’s inquisition at this point, and Duke would probably hit on Charlotte before the biscuits were brought to the table. I knew I should have skipped today.
Like it was even an option.
Sunday lunch with my family was set in stone. Ever since our mother left when I was seven, the Wilder family had spent Sunday mornings at the Lutheran church and dined on fried chicken directly afterward. In fact, everything in this place was set in stone. Every day had a purpose, and every purpose had an end goal. There was routine and order, just the way I liked it.
What I didn’t like was a disruption. Much like the one sitting across the farmhouse table from me. No, the pretty brunette with Tourist practically stamped on her forehead was a disruption wrapped in distraction and dipped in temptation. She’d already hooked my brother with her good looks and my sister with her mystery. And there I was, caught in the middle.
“There’s something wrong with my car,” Charlotte told Molly. “And apparently, I have to wait until tomorrow to have it checked out.”
“That’s too bad.” Molly gave her a sympathetic look. “So, you’ll be here for a few days?”
“Oh, I hope not,” Charlotte said, as if spending time in Shady Grove, Texas, was the worst thing she’d ever heard of. “Hopefully, it’s a quick fix.”
“Duke’s pretty good with cars,” Molly said, casting a stare across the table. “Maybe he could take a look.”
“Yeah,” he said with a grin that bounced from Molly to Charlotte. “I could get up under that hood. Take a look.”
“I think I’ll pass,” Charlotte said without missing a beat or letting Duke’s charms get the better of her.
I couldn’t help the laugh that managed to break from between my pursed lips when she gave him the old thanks, but no thanks. I loved it when a woman gave my brother an ego check. Didn’t happen too often, so I let myself enjoy the moment.
“Your loss, sweetheart,” Duke said, clearly taken aback by her directness.
“I wasn’t trying to sound like a bitch or anything.” Charlotte gave him a tight smile. “I just . . . it’s an Audi. It’s probably really complicated, and a trained professional is probably better suited. I don’t know that you’d be able to help me.”
It was one thing for her to shoot a man down because she wasn’t interested romantically, but it was quite another to shoot down his mechanical skills. Duke, like every other guy in this town, knew how to fix a car. Even a fancy car like hers.
“So much for not sounding like a bitch,” I said.
“Excuse me?” She quickly looked at me.
“You heard me.” I sat up straight in my chair. “He could fix your car just fine,” I assured her.
“Well, excuse me for not wanting some cowboy to poke around under the hood of my hundred-thousand-dollar car.” She looked back at Duke. “No offense.”
“None taken.” A small smile played on his lips as he sat back and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You’re just going to take it?” I asked him, confused that Duke was bowing out so easily.
“You got this,” he said, giving me a nod.
I didn’t know what game he was playing, but if he wasn’t going to set this woman straight, I sure would. “Just because we live in Texas, we’re all cowboys?”
“I just assumed. But if the boot fits,” she said with a smirk, her agitation now clearly directed at me.
Which was fine. I could take it. “You know what they say about making assumptions. And you’re from where? Wait.”
I paused and took a second to turn my ball cap around. I wanted to make sure I was looking this snooty woman in the eye when I gave her the reality check she clearly needed. Her gaze flicked from me to Duke as the realization that we were twins sank in, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss just how much we looked alike.
“Let me guess,” I said. “LA?”
“Ah.” I nodded. “Makes complete sense. I’m surprised you can even sit there, what with the stick up your ass and all. You know, because everyone from New York has one up theirs.”
The oohs and aahs that came from the nearby patrons listening in on our conversation were deafening.
“Wow,” Charlotte replied with a look of complete calm.