Authors: Macy Beckett
Copyright © 2013 by Macy Beckett
Cover and internal design © 2013 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover design by Kristine Mills
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This one’s dedicated to you, reader.
Thanks for visiting Sultry Springs!
Bobbi Gallagher’s mama used to say men were like one-ply toilet paper: transparent, disposable, and only good for one thing. Ironically, it wasn’t until Mama overdosed and Bobbi went to live with two men that she finally understood what a healthy relationship looked like. And while she didn’t share her late mother’s hatred of the male sex, she couldn’t understand why young women—like the radiant bride in her viewfinder—were so eager to torch their freedom by getting married.
Grasping one cool, titanium tripod leg, Bobbi rotated her Sony Camcorder to capture the bride and her father as they swayed on the polished, twelve-by-twelve, parquet dance floor. Too bad the old guy didn’t teach his daughter there was a vast world beyond husbands and babies. She gradually zoomed in on the dad’s tear-streaked face, figuring she could edit the footage set to some cheesy background music, like that “Butterfly Kisses” song.
God, was this what her life had come to? Creating sappy video montages? She’d wanted to make a difference in the world—to let her films speak for those without a voice. If her friends from UCLA could see her now…
“Nice ceremony, dontcha think?”
Flinching to attention, Bobbi glanced over her shoulder at an elderly woman in a skintight, black spandex dress hemmed just above the knee. She looked like a cougar version of that little old lady from the Tweety Bird cartoons—right down to the wire-framed bifocals teetering on the tip of her nose.
“Beautiful,” Bobbi said with a manufactured grin. “I think they’ll be really happy together.” According to statistics, they’d be divorced within five years and fighting over who kept the dog, but she kept that to herself.
“Back in my day, folks didn’t bother with all this poppycock.” Granny-on-the-prowl raised her glass of gin toward the sea of white-draped tables that flanked an open bar. “They left church and drove straight to the motel.” Waggling her brown, penciled-on eyebrows, she whispered, “To bury the weasel.”
Don’t picture it! Don’t picture it!
Damn. Too late. “I should probably get back to—”
“Hey, you look kinda familiar.” Granny paused and wrinkled up her already wrinkled forehead. “Do I know you?”
Whirling back to the camera, Bobbi used her hair as a curtain and scratched her nose, an old nervous habit she’d never managed to break. “Nope. I’m from Inglewood, not LA.” Six months ago she’d been all over the local news like a bad rash, but she’d given herself a little makeover since then, bleaching the signature hot pink streaks from her blond hair, then asking Papa Bryan to dye everything red and give her the same boring, asymmetrical bob as all the suburban soccer moms.
“Hmmm. I know you from somewhere. Maybe—” Suddenly, Granny stopped and sniffed the air. “Hot diggety! The buffet’s open!” And then she was gone, shuffling through the crowd and elbowing anyone careless enough to get in her way.
Talk about saved by the smell. She’d have to do a better job staying out of sight, maybe back up and film from the room’s periphery. The daddy-daughter dance ended, and Bobbi tapped the pause button and then made her way to the ladies’ room while guests feasted on the artery-clogging buffet offerings.
Once inside the toilet stall, a handmade sign caught her attention:
don’t flush paper towel’s.
Oh, Judas Priest. Apostrophe abuse drove her nuts, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to relax until she rescued that poor sentence. Fortunately, she kept a bottle of Wite-Out in her purse for just such an occasion. After covering the errant marks with correction fluid, she smiled and released a quiet sigh of relief, then waited for the restroom to vacate before fixing all the other signs too.
She returned to her post to shoot some footage of the cake, especially the couple’s iced blue monogram and the delicate, pink, spun-sugar roses that adorned the top layer. The sweet scent of buttercream icing flooded her nostrils, causing her stomach to rumble in response.
“Taping weddings now?” said a man’s nasally voice. He laughed—an obnoxious ahr-ahr-ahr that sounded like a barking seal—and added, “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”
Bobbi froze and clenched her teeth. She didn’t have to turn around to know that thick Brooklyn accent belonged to Garry Goldblatt, trash-media mogul and creator of the sickening
series, where drunken college coeds with daddy issues bared their breasts and ditched their dignity for a few fleeting seconds of “fame.”
Their paths had crossed several times since they’d first met six months ago at the Golden Calf awards…the night her work had won for best documentary. That was before she’d placed her trust in the wrong person and lost everything: career, reputation, spirit. Garry was right—she’d fallen from the stratosphere straight into the depths of wedding bell hell.
“Got a nephew with a bar mitzvah coming up,” he teased. “Want that gig? I can put in a good word with my sister.”
“I’m working, Garry.” What a lie. Bobbi would deliver the best damn wedding video anyone had ever seen, but it wasn’t work, not to her. “Go away.”
“Actually,” he said, ignoring her request, “I’m glad you’re here. I was gonna call you on Monday.”
Bobbi left the camera running and turned to face him, scanning his short, bulbous frame, bald head, and the bushy, black tufts peeking out from beneath his nostrils. Garry had always reminded her of Humpty Dumpty. After the fall. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she asked, “Why?”
“Got a proposition for you.”
“Don’t waste your time. I’m not taking off my top.”
He flicked a glance at her C-cups for a moment, appraising her like a jeweler might inspect a diamond through his loupe. “Pretty decent rack, but that’s not what I had in mind.”
earned me some serious coin, but reality TV’s trending now, and I’m getting in while it’s still hot. I started a new series called
Life, Real Love
. I wanna focus on what it’s like to be young and single today—playful, sexy stuff, but clean enough to air on my network before nine. Here’s the thing,” he whispered, leaning in and bathing her in his sour scotch-breath. “The competition’s focused on the metropolitan market, but they’re ignoring a huge demographic that I intend to swoop in and snag. The hicks.”
“Hicks, as in…”
“The rural community. My first project’s called
, and I want you to shoot it.”
“Are you serious?” Bobbi took a step back and tried to gauge whether Garry was jerking her around. She wouldn’t put it past him—the man had some serious brass berries and a moral compass that pointed due south.
“Serious as a tax audit. I don’t dick around when it comes to business, Gallagher.”
“I saw your piece on child migrant workers. A little long and boring—actually, it dragged worse than my grandpa’s balls—but you got a knack for getting people to spill their guts, and you catch raw emotion like nothing I’ve ever seen.
isn’t the respectable, politically correct shit that usually wets your panties, but it beats this”—he hooked his thumb toward the wedding cake—“don’t you think?”
Slimy bastard or not, the man had a point. Besides, it wasn’t as if she had other offers. Nobody—not even her closest “friends”—returned her calls these days. She ran her tongue over the smooth surface of her front teeth and began to take his proposition seriously. “What’s involved, exactly?”
“Simple. I’ll hire the crew, and I’ll front you a few months pay. Looks like you need it. Go to the middle of nowhere—we’re talking Podunk, cattle-rustling, bull-riding, sheep-fucking, redneck country—find a couple of sexy, single cowboys, and follow them around while they go looking for love in all the wrong places. At the end of the summer, edit the footage into four or five one-hour segments. If I like it, I’ll pay you twice your old salary to produce
Life, Real Love
Great leaping Buddha, that was six figures—curvy figures too—with enough cash up front to pay off the bills that had piled up since she’d been sacked. Working for Garry wouldn’t salvage her reputation within the industry, but it would get her foot back in the door. And with that kind of salary, she could squirrel away enough money to make an independent documentary in a couple of years—and do it right this time—which
bring her back from exile. Realizing her dream wasn’t dead, just dormant, made the inside of Bobbi’s chest bubble with effervescent hope. She even knew the perfect place to film
“It could work,” she said, careful not to betray her excitement and give him all the power, “if I stayed with my brother in Texas for the summer.”
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“Neither did I until a couple years ago.”
“Whatever.” Garry’s eyes followed a well-endowed bridesmaid as she swished past in her strapless taffeta gown. “I don’t care where you go as long as it’s remote.”
“Not to worry,” Bobbi said with a small laugh—the first to escape her lips in months. “I know just the place.”
A storm was coming. Trey Lewis felt it in his bones—literally. Ever since the accident two years ago, when he’d barely survived a twenty-foot nosedive off old Mr. Jenkins’s roof, Trey’s femur throbbed like a giant’s heart whenever a new weather system rolled in. He tipped his head back and shook a tiny waxed paper envelope of BC Powder onto his tongue. The bitter taste of crushed aspirin made him shiver, but nothing worked faster than this stuff.
Running his fingers through his damp, freshly washed hair, he escaped the scorching Texas sun and pushed open the door to Shooters Tavern. It was five o’clock on the button—respectable drinking time—and he needed a cold Bud like nobody’s business. And since his best friend, Luke Gallagher, owned the place, and Trey had helped him renovate it, all his drinks were on the house. For the next hour, at least. Trey was about to drop a bomb on Luke, and his free suds would be history after that.
For the last decade, Trey had supervised the construction crew for Helping Hands, Luke’s nonprofit group. They’d done some great work over the years, but having a best friend for a business partner—butting heads over everything from concrete to contracting—had started to affect their friendship, and it was time to move on. Besides, he’d applied to have his military record expunged in exchange for accepting a civilian contracting job in Dubai. He’d known a couple of guys who’d done it already, and it had opened up a world of opportunity for them. It might even get his dad speaking to him again.
The soothing scents of hops and sawdust and the sounds of laughter punctuated by clacking cue balls greeted Trey like an old lover, and even though his eyes hadn’t adjusted to the darkness yet, he made his way blindly to his favorite seat. He’d worn that path thin over the years, and he knew it by heart. Hoisting onto his bar stool—the one with his name carved on the underside—Trey smiled and sighed as his butt cheeks molded perfectly into the leather-covered cushion.
“Bud,” he told the bartender, a brand-new redheaded boy who didn’t look old enough to drink. Probably some college kid visiting his folks for the summer.
“Bottle or draft?” asked the boy in a voice that cracked on the last note.
“Draft. Always draft.” Trey shoved a couple of bucks tip across the polished bar and swiveled around to check out the place.
He could see now, all the way to the pool tables in the back where his buddy, Colton Bea, the county’s youngest deputy, was hustling a bearded, potbellied biker type. While the clueless mark bent over the pool table setting up a shot, Colton pretended to ride the guy’s ass from behind, pumping his hips, rolling his eyes in mock ecstasy, and making wild O-faces. Yep, that was Sultry’s finest, right there.
If Trey leaned a little to the left, he could see into the new room he’d helped Luke add on last summer, where a shiny, new mechanical bull had just taken up residency. It was all the buzz among folks in three counties, but Trey had no desire to straddle a piece of machinery designed to launch his
into his throat, so he returned his attention to the neglected Bud in front of him.
That first pull of ice-cold draft mingled with the leftover aspirin coating Trey’s tongue, and he grimaced before taking a few quick chugs to wash it down. “Hey, kid,” he said, wiping his forearm against his mouth and nodding toward the flat screen mounted on the wall. “Put on the Cubs game, will you?”
But the redhead wasn’t listening. Hell, he looked lobotomized the way he stared, slack-jawed, at something near the front door. When Trey darted a glance in that direction, he understood why.
“Hot damn,” he heard himself whisper.
“You ain’t kidding,” the bartender said.
But Trey wasn’t listening. His gaze fixed like carpenter’s glue on a different redhead, one curvier than the road to hell and twice as hot, who’d just wheeled a travel suitcase in the front door. She was a California girl—he’d bet his last brewski on it—big city, not beach. Coastal girls were laid back; they wore ponytails, denim cutoffs, and not much else. “Laid back” and this lady didn’t exist on the same plane.
Looking like she’d just stepped off some edgy designer’s runway, she planted her mile-long legs apart, standing ramrod straight and gripping her hips with manicured hands. A sleeveless pink top clung to the swell of her breasts—C-cups, Trey had a knack for these things—while a thin, white belt cinched her tiny waist. Her fiery-red hair was cut long in the front, short in the back, and not a single, pin-straight strand looked out of place. “California” paced a small circuit by the door and scanned the room, probably waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. Since she couldn’t see him ogling, Trey took in her strappy, high-heeled sandals, then worked his way up her long, tan legs to her black shorty-shorts, which encased the most delicious pair of thighs he’d ever seen in his life—thick and tight and so smooth he could almost feel her velvet skin against his palms.