Three Times the Swoon

I, Connie Manors, never thought I’d see them again.
Yet here they are, expecting me to pick up where we left off.
I’m one lucky lady!

About The Book

Rascal has a wicked smile, and he can charm me into almost anything.
Hank is tall, dark and deliciously mysterious. Yum!
Brad’s broad-shoulders and melting glance is what dreams are made of.

We had a country band when we were teens.
I was the lead singer.
Nothing much came of it, but some of that was my fault.

A recent video of me singing again has inspired them to revitalize our band.
I refuse to join, until they give me one of those can’t-refuse offers.
I’d dated each of them separately during our teen years.
They have different plans for me now, and I’m all in.
We spend our days practicing original melodies and writing new lyrics.
While our nights smolder with the kind of fun that leaves me breathless.

Can we make a success of our band and our crazy-hot relationship this time?
Or are we doomed to crash-and-burn once again?

Chapter 1

I really didn’t need to work at Sweetie Pies anymore. My cousin Shea paid me an amazing salary for helping her run her charity, but working at the pie shop made me happy, so why quit?

I’d cut my days down to two a week, Saturday and Sunday from seven to eleven, and I worked most other days with the accountants, advisors, and a couple other folks who helped us disperse funds for Betty’s Startup, named after Shea’s very generous grandmother. Mostly, we gave financial support to local entrepreneurs to get their businesses up and running. We also gave to the local schools and the hospital in Sweet Whiskey, the next town over. Shea had wanted to keep everything relatively local for as long as possible, and so far, we’d been successful. The folks who received the startup money didn’t know exactly where it came from, and we hoped to keep it that way.


Three Times The Swoon is a sizzling, small-town reverse harem romance. It’s rich with sexy single and multiple partner scenes all done with a touch of humor and a spark of heat that just might melt your Kindle. This book can be read as a stand-alone or as part of the Small Town Lovers Series. As with all my books, a HEA is always guaranteed… Thanks for reading!

Three Times the Swoon

Chapters 1-3

Click here to read: Chapter 1 - Connie

I really didn’t need to work at Sweetie Pies anymore. My cousin Shea paid me an amazing salary for helping her run her charity, but working at the pie shop made me happy, so why quit?

I’d cut my days down to two a week, Saturday and Sunday from seven to eleven, and I worked most other days with the accountants, advisors, and a couple other folks who helped us disperse funds for Betty’s Startup, named after Shea’s very generous grandmother. Mostly, we gave financial support to local entrepreneurs to get their businesses up and running. We also gave to the local schools and the hospital in Sweet Whiskey, the next town over. Shea had wanted to keep everything relatively local for as long as possible, and so far, we’d been successful. The folks who received the startup money didn’t know exactly where it came from, and we hoped to keep it that way.

Funny thing was hearing all the speculation on who this benevolent donor might be, which was everyone from Bill Gates to Cher, but never once did anyone guess it could be either Shea or I who did it.

Fortunately, the six employees we had also liked keeping it a secret and had signed non-disclosure agreements, so no one said a word about the foundation. Not that Shea or I ever thought it would stay this way, but for now, it felt more like a Secret Santa kind of fun thing with no pressure from the outside world, which was something we were trying our best to avoid.

Cricket was now completely back on its feet and thriving, thanks to my cousin’s generosity and the good people of the town who loved to pitch in and support and help each other. We had the best mayor on every level and hoped to keep him in office for as long as he wanted to stay. We were a different kind of small town, and we liked it that way.

So, when Luke Ansley, Josh Baron, and Rascal Skatts, three guys from my past who I’d not only crushed on but had been in a band with, waltzed into Sweetie Pies on a hazy Sunday morning, I about dropped the three mint-chocolate pies I carried over to the display case.

“Oh, my God,” I heard myself mumble under my breath, as goosebumps ran up and down my arms. Just seeing them again caused my stomach to clench, and I broke out in a light sweat. It didn’t help that they’d gotten even better looking and much more adorable in the time they’d been away.

My God, did they have to be so deliciously gorgeous?

Couldn’t at least one of them have returned looking worse than when they’d left? Did they all have to look like panty-dropping, ripped cover models? Didn’t we have enough over-the-top good-looking men in this town? Did we need three more… and three more that I’d already had some awkward attempts at sex with?

Those experiences still made me cringe. We were so inexperienced. Not that I could seriously upgrade myself to well-versed in that category, but I’d like to think I was a lot more knowledgeable now than I was back when we were first messing around.

Those memories alone were enough to make me want to run home and pull the covers over my head.

Still, there they stood, just inside the front door… the three boys, or rather men, I’d never truly gotten over, reminding me of what happened all those years ago that changed the course of my life.

It hadn’t just been awkward sex that drove us apart. That was merely a side effect of working together whenever we could.

I let out a heavy sigh and kept moving towards the display case in the front of the restaurant, mere feet from where they now stood.

I truly thought I’d never have to see them again… ever.

They’d gone off to college, while I stayed in town, licked my wounds, and found a new path for myself… several new paths. Recently, I’d gotten so busy with all my commitments, I could barely keep up, but that was something I’d have to work on.

Seeing these three again only added to my stress levels. I couldn’t imagine that they’d dropped into Cricket out of some nostalgic memory. Back then, they couldn’t wait to get out of this town. And yet here they were, back again and looking happy for it.

I knew they were here to see me, and I didn’t like it… I didn’t like it one bit.

I’d disappointed them, and in many ways, myself. Unfortunately, they’d played into all that distress. Instead of helping me to get over the hurdle, they just left me to lick my massive wounds all on my own.

Who does that?

“Uncaring assholes, that’s who,” I mumbled under my breath.

I was happy with my life now. Happy with my work in this town, and I didn’t need them coming back to destroy all that I’d worked hard to achieve.

Even their parents had moved away right after the second flood decimated the town. No one could blame them. All their houses were on the river side of the town, the lowlands, and had taken the worst of the floods. Those homes weren’t there anymore. That land had all been transformed into a lovely Riverwalk that the people of Cricket loved.

Besides all that, they hadn’t even contacted me in all this time… not really.

Maybe there were a few text messages along the way, and a couple of phone calls that I never returned, but in all fairness, what would’ve been the point? I didn’t come through for them when they needed me most, and they abandoned me soon afterwards. No way to get past any of that… at least I didn’t think so.

Yet, there they stood in the front of the restaurant.

My restaurant.

Well not mine-mine, but it was where I loved to work. They seemed to be waiting for a table, as if nothing had ever happened. All they wanted was a breakfast pocket and a slice of pie.

“Right. Just breakfast. That’s why they’re here,” I muttered, as I reached inside the pie showcase and slid our various pies around. Our summer collection of pies was slowly making its way back on our menu. This year, our owner, Lexi Cardinal, had developed a creamy, fresh strawberry pie that was already a big seller, and the season hadn’t officially begun yet.

“Aren’t you going to seat them?” Lexi asked, as she stood beside me behind the display case that was next to the counter where she busied herself checking out a line of customers.

Lexi was one of my role models. She’d made this pie shop into something amazing, and she did it all on her own, with a new baby in tow. Now she had three kids, two of them twins, and three husbands, and yet somehow, she still managed to run a successful business and spend quality time with her family.

Never mind that she was beautiful on top of all of that, with her long, auburn hair and eyes the color of blue velvet.

“Oh, is somebody waiting?” I asked, trying to sound as if I hadn’t noticed anyone standing near the podium. “I’m adjusting the case for the new pies.”

“The case is fine. It doesn’t need adjusting. Is something wrong, Connie?”

When I gazed up at her from bended knee, trying to focus on the pies, she looked concerned for me. I should know better than to change my behavior. If anyone would notice, it would be Lexi. She and I had become good friends over the last couple of years, and we could read each other’s moods easily.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I told her, as I shifted the pies around, pies that didn’t need shifting.

“Someone will be right with you,” she told the guys, raising her voice a bit to carry over the sound of the enthusiastic morning customers already seated at the tables.

We were almost at capacity earlier than usual, and only had one four-top table left, and it was a pink booth. We had both pink and black booths, depending on their location. Somehow, seating these three hunks in a pink booth caused me to want to giggle, but the rest of the tables were two-tops along the wide, far, black-and-pink-striped wall, and even those were filling up fast. The other side of our restaurant wasn’t open yet. We usually kept that for the brunch crowd, which started to arrive around nine thirty. It was only a little after eight right now and from what I could remember about these three, that was way too early for them on a Sunday morning.

Now Lexi glared down at me. “If nothing’s wrong, Connie, could you please seat them? You can fiddle with the display case later.”

I had no choice. There were other folks waiting right behind them, so at least I wouldn’t have to linger at their table if these guys from my past wanted to make small talk. I had a job to do. People depended on me. I couldn’t be bothered with estranged friends who disappointed me at my most vulnerable time.

Also, I had short hair back then that I’d streaked with white blond and pink, so maybe I’d be lucky, and they wouldn’t recognize me.

I grabbed three menus and made my way towards them, greeting other customers who were already seated as I went, trying my best to not make eye contact with the men from my less-than-stellar past.

It didn’t work.

“Hey, Connie,” Rascal said, his voice sounding lower than I’d remembered it. “We were hoping to find you here.”

So much for thinking I looked any different.

I finally made eye contact with them. “Rascal. Wow. It’s been a while. Luke… Josh. We only have one table left, and it’s a booth. Will that be okay? I take it you’re all here for breakfast and not to buy a pie?”

I tried to sound as professional as possible.

“Sure, but we were also hoping to talk to you,” Rascal said. He appeared even taller than I remembered him. Back then, he was at least a full foot taller than me, now I’d have to add a few more inches on top of that. I was only a mere five feet two inches tall. A little squirt, as they used to call me. I liked it when I was a kid, not so much now.

“Um, it’s too busy for any chatting right now,” I told him, hoping that would be the end of it. “But I can certainly seat you for breakfast.”

“If that’s what it takes for some of your time, then yes. Breakfast sounds good,” Luke said, standing between Rascal and Josh. Luke was a good three or four inches shorter than the other two and because of that, and a few other reasons, he’d always been my favorite. As a group, we’d thought he would shoot up when we’d least expected it. His dad was about six foot five, but he’d taken after his mom, who was more my size. Probably why I’d identified with him more. We shorter folks had to stick together.

Not that five feet ten inches was short by any means but compared to Rascal and Josh, he was the runt of the litter, so to speak.

I gazed at the other people standing behind them in line and said, “I’ll be right with you.”

My voice broke as I spoke. Not only was I shaken about seeing them, but it was causing a physical reaction. They were so damn hot, that I knew if I lingered around them for too long, I’d be forgiving all their past deeds and jumping into bed with them… all three of them. A concept I never would’ve considered when we were younger, but I’d changed my opinion on group partners because of all the successful foursomes we had living in Cricket. Even my cousin and best friend was in a polyamorous relationship with three men… three adorable men… and she seemed happier than I’d ever known her to be.

But was it for me?

I didn’t know and wasn’t about to find out with these three deserters from my past, despite them being drop-dead gorgeous.

I turned on my heel then and walked to their table. Fortunately, I’d worn a stacked heeled bootie today, so it gave me a little more height. Being so much shorter than them only added to any intimidation I might be feeling.

Knowing they were following me seemed surreal. After all this time, after everything that had happened in this town, to its citizens and to me, now they walked back into my life.


That was the question of the moment. Why now after all this time?

I was hoping they were just passing through, like a tornado or a wild fire, and they’d be gone by tomorrow morning, leaving me to pick up the pieces in their wake. All they did was bring back memories of dreams I’d long ago forgotten.

“How’ve you been, Connie?” Josh asked, with his slight Southern drawl. It was barely noticeable. Probably because they’d all been immersed in LA’s city culture. It might not have been a smart move to hang onto any kind of accent if you wanted to get ahead in LA. All three of them had gone to UCLA. I didn’t know much else other than that, and frankly I’d tried, not to care.

Until now.

For some reason, I suddenly wanted to know everything and could barely stop the trainload of questions that swirled around in my head.

I hated to admit it, but the longer I was around them, the more I wanted to know about their lives.

What the heck?

Josh’s eyes caught mine. He always did have beautiful eyes, the color of polished stones, gray with flecks of light gray bursting from the center. I could still get lost in those eyes if I wasn’t careful. Especially now with how he looked. Black, longish hair, high cheekbones, a strong, prominent chin, and a body that strained against his gray t-shirt and jeans. He was all man… a big man… and combined with that silky, cool voice, I knew my inner resolve would easily collapse if we were ever alone together.

“Oh, I’ve been good, but I can’t stay and chat. I’ve got a few more people to seat,” I told them as I placed the last menu down on the table.

“They’ve all been seated,” Luke said, as he glanced over at the podium behind me. “You must be able to give us a few minutes after all this time.”

Luke liked to reason things out, probably why we’d always gotten along so well. He was more like me, while both Rascal and Josh shot from the hip, survived on their initial reaction to an event or a situation. Luke and I had to think things through, and chew on the pros and cons for a bit. Which was probably why I choked when the time came for me to go all in. Instead, I went all out.

Josh thought things through as well, and was much more cerebral, and quiet, while Rascal was totally transparent in his dealings with people.

Still, Luke and I had always just been better friends, so when the desertion happened, his loss of friendship proved to be the hardest to get past.

“Sure,” I said, grinning. “But why don’t I tell you about our specials first?”

“If that’s what you think you need to do, go right ahead,” Luke said, grinning.

“If you like coffee drinks, we make the best Nutella latté you’ll ever taste. And if you want breakfast, which I’m assuming you do, our egg scramble pockets are the bomb. Today we’re featuring an egg white, pepper jack cheese, and asparagus pocket. It’s amazing. Plus, we have a vegan pocket that’s the best thing you’ll ever taste. We’re featuring our fresh strawberry cream pie, but we have a wide selection. We also have breakfast pot pies and some amazing quiches. Basically, anything that can have a pie crust, we’ve made it.”

They all listened intently, then Rascal said, “Just bring us whatever you think we’d like, three large cups of regular coffee, and sparkling water all around, no ice. Now, are we done with all of that?”

I nodded. “I’ll get you the drinks right away.”

And I took off before they had a chance to ask me anything.

I didn’t get very far when Lexi stopped me, taking my hand in hers. “Are they friends of yours, Connie?”

She knew if she was touching me, I wouldn’t/couldn’t lie. It was a thing I had about contact with another person. I couldn’t explain it, but folks who knew me well, knew about it and used it whenever they wanted to hear the absolute truth. Why my answer was important to her, I didn’t know, but there we stood in front of the coffee station.

“They used to be,” I told her.

“And they aren’t anymore?” she asked, trying her best to get me to spill my story.

“This is the first time I’ve seen them in at least five years.”

“I can get somebody else to take the table if you’re uncomfortable with them.”

There it was, my out, but did I want it?

“I guess I’d like to find out why they’re here first. I’ll put in their order and get their drinks, then, depending on what they say, maybe another server might be a good idea.”

“Believe me, I get it. I’ll have Jen stand by,” she said and finally let go of my hand.

Jen Basely was one of our more recently hired waitstaff, but she was already like family with her friendly smile and her amazing efficiency. She was probably in her early thirties, had a couple of kids, and was working on opening her own sushi restaurant with her brother-in-law in the next few months. Jack Ono made possibly the best sushi rolls I’d ever tasted. Jen’s husband had died two years ago from heart disease, and she was just now trying to pull her life back together. The entire town anxiously awaited the grand opening of her restaurant. Betty’s Startup had already donated a nice chunk of money to get the idea off the ground, all due to the fabulous proposal she and Jack had submitted to Cricket’s entrepreneurial organization. We couldn’t possibly say no. Besides, most of the town loved Sushi and were chomping at the bit for their place to open.

Just one of the many businesses we were helping to get up and running.

My life was full. I didn’t need these three guys from my past showing up to toss a grenade into my happiness.

I hoped they were merely passing through for old times’ sake.

I put in an order for just about everything we specialized in for breakfast, including three different slices of pie. If I remembered correctly, they all had a sweet tooth and could down enough food in one sitting to feed a family of six for an entire day.

I asked Jen to take over the table once I put in the breakfast order.

“You betcha,” she said, smiling. “Anything else you need, Connie?”

Jen was several inches taller than me, had bright-red, short hair, a slim figure, and liked to work in three-inch chunky heels which made her more in the realm of Luke’s height.

“I’ll deliver the coffee, but they also need three bottles of sparkling water, no ice. And please add sliced lemons and limes on a plate. I think they might like that.”

“Got it,” she said. I could tell she was happy to get the extra table.

By the time I delivered the coffee, I was feeling much more in control of my emotions.

“What brings you back to Cricket? I thought none of you ever wanted to see this place again?” I asked, as I put down the three mugs, then poured the steaming dark coffee. Our clients loved our coffee. It was a Hawaiian dark roast that we ground fresh every morning.

None of them drank their coffee black, as I watched them dump the half-and-half into their cups, adding at least two packets of sugar each.

Rascal pulled out his phone, found what he was looking for, placed his phone down in front of me on the table, and I watched myself harmonize with Booker Lasater from over in Sweet Whiskey. His grandfather’s favorite song was Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy. A strange song to sing at a memorial service, but this was in Sweet Whiskey, and there wasn’t anything normal about the down-home town. Especially when it came to memorial services for an old cowpoke like Dusty Lasater, Booker’s grandfather and one of the most colorful cowboys I’d ever had the pleasure of getting to know.

How Rascal got ahold of a video from that day was beyond me, but however it happened, I wanted no part of the conversation that was about to take place.

I plunked the coffee pot down on the table, turned on my boot heel, and marched right out of the restaurant, hoping these guys, these three members of my ex-band, would simply fade back into my past once again.

No matter what was on that video, I wasn’t that girl anymore and had no intention of ever reviving her again.

Click here to read: Chapter 2 - Connie

How the video happened… Two Weeks Ago, Sunday.


I’d met Dusty Lasater, a wily looking, rail-thin cowboy, with longish, wispy, gray hair, a black cowboy hat, jeans, black Western shirt, and a tan fringed jacket, when he strolled into Gio’s Repair Shop for the second time. He’d wanted a repair on one of his wife’s favorite Christmas tablecloths. I still sometimes helped at the shop whenever Gio needed a repair on something either knitted or crocheted. I knew how to do either one and could repair an item so well, you couldn’t tell there had ever been a slipped stitch.

Dusty’s wife had long since left this earth, but Dusty had kept up her Christmas tradition of a lavish Christmas Eve dinner, presented on her ripped and ragged tablecloth. Fortunately, the tablecloth had been created in intersecting crocheted squares, which made the repair relatively easy. The only problem was reverse engineering the stitches for the squares. That took me several tries, but once I got it, the repairs went quickly.

I’d gotten to know Dusty during that time, while I was making the repairs. Whenever he would wander into the shop to check on my progress, he’d always brighten my day. Every time I saw him, he made me smile with some wild story from his past. I loved listening to him, especially since he had a sweet gait to his conversation that reminded me of an old-time Western movie.

On one of those occasions, Dusty had somehow pried it out of me that I used to sing and that I’d actually made it all the way to the audition stage at American Idol, but then choked at the last minute and couldn’t perform. He’d gotten me to admit all the miserable details of that day, and even had me telling him about Rascal, Luke, and Josh, and how I’d let them down as well. After that disheartening day, I never wanted to sing again, so any thoughts they may have had for a record deal or for singing locally after we graduated from high school, were dashed on that American Idol stage.

Dusty had a way about him, a kind way, and a nurturing way that reminded me of my own grandfather who’d died when I was only seven. Not only did he get me to relive those days of utter defeat, but he made me realize that I was only human, a concept I could preach to other people, but couldn’t admit to myself.

Soon after that, Dusty had me harmonizing with him to his favorite song, something I’d long since decided to never do again. That was the thing about Dusty. He was so charming, he could get almost anyone to do all those things they’d loved but had tucked away and kept behind a wall.

“Oh, no. Thanks, but no thanks,” I told Booker for the second time as we made our way to Dusty’s gravesite. “I don’t sing in public. Besides, that song was written for a guy, not a girl. It would be way too weird if I sang it.”

“It’s one song. Joey Osborne, the other singer, will take the lead. All you have to do is the harmony, and I’ll be joining you on that part. He’ll be playing guitar, as well. It’s just one song. Everyone will be laughing over the absurdity of it, anyway. No one will notice who’s doing the actual singing. Besides, we’ll all be drinking a beer during the song, and with this rowdy group, we’ll be more interested in our beer than the song,” Booker said, trying his best to convince me. “And Dusty would’ve loved it.”

Booker looked like a younger version of Dusty, only with darker, thicker hair, sea-blue eyes, and the exact same smile.

I didn’t have much time to make up my mind as we all made our way to the gravesite after the short memorial, which had taken place in the small colorful chapel. An ocean of cowboy hats, casual Western clothing, Western boots, and wide rodeo buckles crowded the paved path in front of me. Sweet Whiskey’s cemetery was like no other I’d ever seen. Cricket had its own cemetery with a little bit of color, but this one was right out of a fantasy movie. All the tombstones were either painted a bright color, or they’d been crafted with a colored marble or stone and mosaics created out of tiles. There were several mausoleums that were also colorful, with intricate, vibrant doors. And to tie it all together, flowers were the last things left at this cemetery. There were all sorts of wooden toys, plastic glasses filled with wine, beer and of course, whiskey. Small statues adorned some of the tombstones, with the occasional Elvis bust or ornament. I’d even spotted a Johnny Cash doll, complete with guitar, standing inside a small shrine.

My stomach clenched on the walk up the hill to the gravesite, as my throat tightened. Soon, I spotted the large aqua-blue, tiled mausoleum, with a horseshoe and an impressive set of longhorns crafted from metal hanging on the half-open door. Dusty’s bright green urn would be slipped in next to his wife’s urn on the wall of the dead, just inside.

When we reached our destination, a few beer kegs from Last Call in Cricket were opened. The beer was poured, and a couple hundred rowdy friends and family waited for the toast. The air buzzed with chatter and laughter.

There was nothing somber about this group or about this cemetery.

“This is for you,” Booker said, handing me a rectangular box as we stood in front of the open door.

I knew that box, knew it well. I’d carefully placed Dusty’s wife’s tablecloth in that box and given it to him once my repairs were complete. He’d gotten all choked up when he saw the contents. He’d told me that it looked just as beautiful as the first day she’d covered a table with it. I’d repaired the bright-red poinsettias, the green leaves, and the large deep-green wreath in the center. I was also able to get rid of the stains and made the whole thing bright again, as if it were brand new.

“Oh no. That should go to a family member.” I couldn’t possibly take the tablecloth. Besides, it was for a table that could seat at least ten or twelve people. My table sat two. My entire apartment couldn’t even hold twelve people. I didn’t know what Dusty was thinking by giving it to me, but I couldn’t possibly take it. I would never use it, and it was too beautiful to keep in a box.

“Nope. It was in his will. He wanted you to have it and I had to give it to you today, here in front of his final resting place, right before the toast.”

“You mean he planned it this way?”

“My granddad knew his days were numbered when he first came into the repair shop with the tablecloth. Meeting you and watching your progress gave him a reason to keep going. He made it crystal clear to me that he wanted you to have this, and he wanted you to sing today, and if you sing, the tablecloth comes with a bonus he thought you might need for the next phase of your life… whatever that might be. How can you possibly deny him one of his last wishes?”

I could barely speak, let alone sing. “A bonus? What kind of bonus?”

“A substantial bonus. You’ll have to sing to find out.”

I took the box, held it tight for a moment, then put it down on the table that held the red Solo cups and an assortment of Western crafts, a few toys, and trinkets that would be left for Dusty.

Little did I know, the toast would be the song. A few chords were played on an electric guitar that instantly brought a few cheers and whistles to this unusual sendoff. And when I heard a banjo and snare drums, I knew I was a goner. Not only that, but someone handed me a microphone, and before I could think why I shouldn’t do this, I was harmonizing the first couple lines of, Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.

As we sang, more and more people joined in, until we came to the chorus, and everyone held up their red beer-filled cups and sang along with us, dancing in place, as if it had all been orchestrated. The more I sang, the more fun I had, and the more fun I had, the more I just went with it.

There was a part of the song that talked about handing out one-hundred-dollar bills, and four cowboys did just that. When we sang the chorus again, everyone shouted out the words, “Save a horse, ride a cowboy.”

I didn’t know if I could call it pandemonium or just plain crazy, but the more we sang, the crazier everyone got. I’d heard that Sweet Whiskey’s funerals were like nothing else, but this one was truly like nothing I’d ever seen before. Booker had been right. No one cared who was doing the singing with a microphone; all they cared about was participating in sending Dusty off with a great big bang.

The more I sang, the more my apprehensions drifted away, and the more my apprehensions drifted away, the more I wanted to continue singing. It was the first time in years that I felt so free and so in the moment.

Then, as if on cue from the lyrics of the song, someone drove up behind all this dancing and singing in one of Dusty’s classic red convertible Cadillac Eldorados. It was the car he’d driven to Gio’s Repair Shop whenever he came in to check up on my progress. The car with the large set of horns on the grillwork. The car I’d told him on several occasions that it was impossibly big as it sat parked next to my Smart Car.

It only caused the mourners to sing louder and dance as if they’d seen the video of Big and Rich singing the song so many times, they knew all the dance moves.

Wild didn’t begin to describe what went on in front of me.

And before I could react to seeing that bright shiny monster car again, with the perfect white interior, and the white steering wheel, the cowboy, a tall, gorgeous black man, in a red-satin shirt, black jeans, and a black cowboy hat, much like Dusty would wear, parked, got out, and walked towards me, grinning as if he had a secret that he’d only share with me.

I kept right on singing, until the cowboy stopped in front of me and handed me the keys to the car. He tipped his hat, grinned, and danced out of my reach.

Then, as the chorus of enthusiastic voices echoed off the tombstones, I realized my bonus was Dusty’s monster Cadillac, a car that was so far out of my world of compact and small, that I burst out laughing, while I shouted the chorus to, Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy

Click here to read: Chapter 3 - Connie

Back to the present…


I didn’t get very far on my retreat, a few steps out the front door of the restaurant, when I heard Luke calling my name. I had no choice but to stop and talk to him.

“Come on, Connie. At least hear us out,” he said, when I turned back around.

He looked even more adorable outside with the morning sun dancing in his dark hair, and his muscled chest outlined against his light-blue t-shirt.

“There’s nothing to say. I’m a different person now. I’m not that hungry teen with a dream. I have a job, obligations… I knit!”

He raised an eyebrow. “You knit?”

“Yes, and I’m damn good at it. You would’ve known that if you paid any attention to my private life when we were kids. I’ve been knitting since… well, it doesn’t matter.”

“Sure, it does, and I think I already knew that about you. Didn’t you make me a vest or something?”

“A sweater,” I said, insulted that he didn’t even remember what it was when I’d spent so much time making it perfect and stressing over the color and the type of yarn. Another example of how silly I was during my awkward teen years. “A silver fox sweater, that you said you loved at the time.”

“And I’m sure I did. Whatever you take on, you always succeed.”

“That tactic’s not going to work. I know your game,” I told him, then turned and kept walking.

Luke had always been in my corner… well… until when it mattered most. I wasn’t about to fall for his crap this time, no matter how amazing he looked, or how much his smile turned me to absolute mush. I knew I had to be strong, had to be made of steel, and most important, I couldn’t let their charms get to me, and oh man, did these three ever have the charms.

“Can we go someplace and talk? Just you and me,” he shouted from behind me.

I wanted nothing to do with him or any of them, but I still held on for the exact opposite. They’d always had my heart, and I hated to admit how much I missed them and singing.

Damn it all, but I could already feel my resolve sliding away.

I had a feeling I knew what they wanted, which no doubt included my singing with them again or something close to that. Despite how much I’d enjoyed singing at Dusty’s funeral and had once again allowed myself to skirt the edges of that unattainable dream, I simply didn’t want to go there again… a dangerous threat to the comfy life I’d made for myself here in Cricket.

Still, something deep inside me couldn’t ignore those old dreams, so I decided to give Luke a chance, just to hear what he had to say. Besides, who could say no to that loveable smile of his? Yes, he’d been a shit… they all had… but I couldn’t allow any of that to color what he wanted to say.

I prided myself on being an accepting kind of person, and this situation I found myself in was no different.

I would try to listen with an open mind… at least until he said something outrageous… which could be at any moment. I was prepared to totally shut him down.

“Fine,” I told him. “We can sit on a bench for a few minutes, but then I have to get back to work.”

“You just walked out.”

“I’m taking a break.”

I quickly sent a text to Jen asking her to please take over my tables for a few minutes. I knew she’d do it without a problem. We covered for each other all the time.

“Okay, then let’s make the most of this time. A bench it is. There’s one right behind you in front of that amazing red Caddy. My dad would kill for that car.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Love the horns. They’re so… big.”

“Five feet, two inches from tip to tip.”

“Wait… isn’t that your height?”


“This looks like one of Dusty’s cars. Is it?”

I shrugged.

My phone buzzed with a text from Jen, telling me to take my time. She had it covered. I loved working with her. We always had each other’s backs, no matter what.

He gazed over at me. “Why is it parked here? Don’t tell me this is yours. That Dusty left this beauty to you.” He couldn’t seem to get the last word out. “What the hell, Connie?”

I shrugged. “He did, but I still haven’t decided to keep it. I have two more weeks to either give Dusty’s family the keys and title or claim it as my own.”

The paperwork had made it very clear; either I embraced the car, agreed to drive it, and take good care of it, or I could return it to Dusty’s son Tylor, who was more than willing to fold it back into the estate that he intended to sell. The good thing in all of this was that Jade Whitaker, the local lawyer who handled my cousin Shea’s estate, was also Dusty’s lawyer. Apparently, she also maintained an office in Sweet Whiskey. There was another lawyer in that office, but I hadn’t met that person, so I only dealt with Jade. I knew she wanted me to take everything that Dusty had left me, even though she hadn’t come out and said as much, but I wasn’t so sure it was a good idea.

So far, I’d been leaning towards giving it back even though the rebellious side of me wanted to keep it just because I knew Dusty would want me to. His grandson Booker was a sweetheart, but Booker’s dad was a son of a bitch that I didn’t much care for. I had a feeling Dusty wanted to keep this car away from his son who didn’t care about anything except all the money Dusty’s estate would bring him.

There was also a ranch, which Dusty had also apparently left me, but I didn’t want to know about it. Way too much responsibility compounded with everything else I had to do.

Dusty had one son and one grandchild. His son, the executor of the will, was a true shit, while Booker was more like Dusty. Too bad Tylor was the executor and not Booker, but I supposed that Dusty had his reasons.

Still, I didn’t know what Dusty could have been thinking by leaving his big-horned, Eldorado to me. The car represented everything I wasn’t.

Luke walked over to it, while I took a seat on the wooden park bench.

“Dusty left you his car,” he said, peaking in the windows. “You own this?”

“Horns and all. Yes, for now. And it’s only one of his cars. He had others.”

Luke continued to peek in through the windows.

“It must be amazing to sit behind the wheel.”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t gotten in it yet.”

He swung around to face me. “What? Why not? It’s in perfect condition. Look at those seats and that dash. It’s stunning craftmanship. Plus, I have a feeling Dusty added his own bits of comfort.”

“I’m sure he did,” I said, agreeing.

I truly didn’t know why I hadn’t sat in it yet. Booker had driven it home for me and parked it right in front of my apartment, but I hadn’t even opened the doors since that day. I had someone detail it yesterday, and I knew it had a full tank of gas, but that was the extent of my interaction with the strange, showy car.

As I sat on the bench, nodding to anyone I knew as they passed by, while also glancing back at Luke as he continued to admire the car, I realized I didn’t have a valid reason why I hadn’t bothered to sit behind the wheel.

Was I somehow scared of the darn thing? What the hell was it?

Perhaps I needed to talk to Shea about this, or The Ladies Who Knit on Thursday night during our weekly knitting circle. I was usually a take charge kind of gal, so my reaction to this whole Dusty inheritance threw me, especially now when Luke questioned me about it.

“So, you somehow gave Dusty the idea you liked big, flashy Caddies with horns on the grill?” Luke stood in front of me now, grinning. “Since when?”

“I have no idea why he left me one of his cars. It’s crazy, but we don’t have time to talk about that now. What did you want to say?”

He couldn’t seem to let it slide. “I only met Dusty a few times. He was more friends with Rascal’s dad, but we all knew about Dusty. He was one of a kind. That’s how we came by your video. Rascal’s parents attended the funeral and couldn’t say enough good things about you.”

I knew I shouldn’t have sung that song at the funeral. But it had turned out to be so much fun!

“Damn small towns. They’re like incest on steroids.”

He chuckled. “Good analogy.” Then he sat next to me on the bench. “You look amazing, Connie, and you sound amazing. I mean, I thought you were great back when we were in our teens, but now… wow… you’re incredible. Not only is your voice outstanding, but that video showed a part of you none of us had ever seen before. You were having fun, loving it, and everyone seemed to love you right back. What’s even more crazy is this was a funeral. If that’s what you can do on a day like that, I can’t even imagine what you can do during an actual performance, on a stage, in front of fans. Folks will be lining up just to watch you.”

Once again, Luke weaved unattainable dreams, ones I’d given up a long time ago.

“That was a one-off. I sang for Dusty because I knew he would’ve liked me to. We’d gotten to know each other in his last few months of his life, and when Booker asked me to sing… well… I couldn’t refuse. I owed Dusty that much. We’d become friends.”

“A friend who left you his car,” Luke said. “A nice little inheritance.”

“One of his cars. As I said, he’d had several, and I didn’t know I was getting the car when I started singing. Apparently, this car has the biggest set of horns on the grill. He left the other cars to members of his family. I tried to make them take this one back, but Booker wouldn’t allow it. He insisted that I at least give it the allotted time.”

“A good man.”

I didn’t want to tell him any more details, but I had a feeling he’d find out the rest anyway. “Plus, it comes with a small ranch over in Sweet Whiskey. If I give back the car, I have to give back the ranch as well. It’s a two-for-one kind of deal.”

“He left you an entire ranch? What’s that like?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it.”

“You haven’t seen it? Someone leaves you a ranch, and you don’t take the time to drive over and see it? Why the hell not?”

I stood then, getting agitated at all his questions. “Because I don’t want a ranch in Sweet Whiskey! I don’t want a monster car with horns as big as I am. I like my life the way it is, right here, in Cricket. It’s where my friends live. I have a job here. My apartment is here. My life is here, not in Sweet Whiskey. That town is an hour away, and it’s nothing like Cricket. You think the folks in Cricket are quirky. Yeah, well, Sweet Whiskey’s citizens are way quirkier… is that a word? Whatever… Did you watch that video? That was a funeral… a funeral! What normal group of people has a funeral like that? Granted, that’s what Dusty wanted, but still, the fact that those kinds of funerals are the norm in Sweet Whiskey tells you a lot about that town and the people who live there.”

He grinned while I complained. Grinned, like what I said was to be dismissed.

Well, I meant every word and wasn’t about to allow this interloper to change my mind no matter how utterly breathtaking he looked when he smiled, or how he turned me on just sitting next to him. I didn’t know if I liked what was happening to me, but no way would I allow him or any of them to overpower my emotions.

No fucking way!

“That’s exactly why we’re here. Sweet Whiskey’s been crazy like that since we were kids. You know that. Nothing’s changed. Plus, the town’s bigger than Cricket now. And the folks there may have gotten a little crazier over the years, but in a good way. At least that’s what we think. Here’s the thing… there’s a new country dance hall opening in a few weeks. It’s going to hold at least three hundred people, maybe more when they finally finish it the way they want to. Anyway, the owners heard you sing at the funeral and well, one thing led to another, and now they want our band to open the place.”

I didn’t think I heard him correctly. “What? Could you please repeat that?”

“They want Hot Sugar to open their new dance hall.”

Hot Sugar had been the name of our band. I still liked that name, despite all the shit that went down between us.

“That’s ridiculous. We don’t have a band. We barely have a friendship!”

“I’m hoping, or rather, we’re all hoping, we can fix both of those things. And it’s not ridiculous. The new owners were friends of Dusty’s, and apparently, Dusty told them all about us, all about you. They contacted Rascal and gave him a stellar offer. The money is amazing, but what’s even better is we get to perform together again, the four of us. Just like we did when we were kids, only on a real stage, in front of a hell of a lot of fun people.”

My throat threatened to slam shut just listening to him. Sure, I sang at Dusty’s funeral, but that was different. Singing in front of a real audience gave me a stomach ache.

I couldn’t do it.

Wouldn’t do it.

“And how is this better? We didn’t do so well the last time we tried to perform in front of a large group. Well, maybe you guys did, but I choked, and you walked. Not a good combination.”

I’d have to have rocks for brains to think of hooking up with them again. They abandoned me when I’d needed them most. I had no doubt that if I choked again, which I knew I would, they’d abandon me once more; only this time, I didn’t know if I could ever recover. The blow would be too hard.

And there you had it. My real reason. My authentic self, taking center stage, and I had no idea if I could face any of it.



“ARE THEY EVER going to leave?” Jen asked when she approached me as I stood in front of the pie case.

“You’ll have to ask them,” I told her, trying my best to avoid the issue with anyone who asked. And so far, the entire waitstaff, which included five of us, and several of our more frequent customers had already asked me about the guys who didn’t seem to want to ever leave.

Luke, Rascal, and Josh had been sitting in the same booth all morning. They’d ordered a couple of fancy coffee drinks, several more pie slices and were now looking over our lunch menu. It was going on noon, and except for a few trips to the bathroom, they hadn’t moved.

My shift was almost over, so they weren’t my problem anymore. I liked to take Sunday afternoons off and lounge around my apartment, reading a book or watching something on one of the streaming channels. Sunday afternoons were mine, and I didn’t intend to allow anyone or anything to disrupt that ongoing plan.

“Tell me, are the guys on table six stalking you or what?” Lexi asked as she approached. “They’ve been sitting there for almost four hours. What gives?”

“I think they want to order lunch,” I told her.

“Why are they here, Connie? What do they want? You’ve been on edge ever since they arrived. Do I have to go over there and kick them out or what?” she asked, her hand on her hip. Every table in the place was occupied, and the waiting list reflected all the people mulling around out in front. Despite us having opened the other side, the wait list was still at least a half-hour long.

I knew I had to do something.

“I’ll take care of it,” I told her, hating having no choice but to confront them.

“If you have any problems, I can do it,” Jen offered. “Or I can join you, if you want me to.”

“That’s okay. They’re nice guys. It’s just that… well… they’re here for a reason, and I don’t have time, nor do I want to participate in their… reason. It’s complicated, but I’ll settle it before I leave,” I said, then squared my shoulders and marched over to their table.

When I arrived, ready for battle, Rascal cut me off. “I’m sorry if we came on strong, Connie. We were merely happy to see you again. It’s been way too long, and each of us wants to tell you how sorry we are that everything ended the way it did. We’d love to talk to you about it more if you have the time. If you don’t and want to tell us to all go to hell, that’s fine too. It’s what we deserve. This is your call, Connie. We’ll do whatever you want us to do.”

Well, that took the damn air out of my fighting sails.

Rascal had singlehandedly ripped my anger and my hurt right out of my chest, tossed it on the floor, and stomped on it until that damn world of hurt was on life support. After all this time, all I’d ever wanted was an apology, and now that I had it, I didn’t want to be angry anymore.

Anger wasn’t a vice I liked carrying around. It only weighed me down.

“Look,” I began. “I’m getting off now, so unless you guys want to order a sizeable lunch… which I can’t see how any of you could be the slightest bit hungry… we can go back to my place… and talk.”

“We’d like that,” Josh said. “Thanks.”

“That would be great,” Luke offered, looking apologetic.

“It’s just up the street. Let me grab my bag, and I’ll meet you out front,” I told them, trying to convince myself this was a good idea.

As soon as the last word tumbled from my mouth, my stomach clenched, and a wave of fear rocked me to my core.

“What have I done?” I mumbled as I grabbed my purse from my small locker in the backroom.

The reality of being alone with them, in my tiny apartment, having to rehash all that shit from back when I was a teen, scared me silly.

I didn’t want to do it, didn’t want any part of it, especially not on a Sunday afternoon… my Sunday afternoon.

I stopped in the ladies room to freshen up a bit, but when I looked in the mirror, I realized there was little I could do other than maybe removing the mascara from under my eyes and adding some lip gloss. Or I could simply disappear out the back door, so I didn’t have to face any of them.

Apology or not, they probably wanted to know why I’d choked all those years ago, and why I hadn’t sung since then… well, except for Dusty’s funeral.

I washed my hands, dried them on paper towels, and left, knowing damn well that I had loved singing at the funeral… loved it more than I wanted to admit, even to myself… and I told myself everything!!

The whole thing frightened me. It brought up such mixed emotions that I could hardly breathe and walk at the same time.

Still, I made my way through the restaurant, smiling at folks as I went, as if everything was rosy bright with my world… which it very much was not.

Just breathe… in… out… in… out…

When I opened the front door to the restaurant and felt the warm sun on my skin, then spotted all three of my past heartthrobs and would-be band members admiring Dusty’s bright-red Eldorado, I suddenly flashed on another perfectly scandalous idea.