“What’s up, bro?” Braydon’s deep, rumbling voice echoed in the small bar, a shit-eating grin plastered on his smug face.
Sawyer stared at his younger brother, fighting the urge to smile. It was a trained response, something he’d perfected over the years. He even had a smart-ass comeback hovering on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it. Tonight he just wasn’t feeling it. He couldn’t pinpoint exactly why his mood was sour, either. Maybe it was due to so many things going on at once. Or possibly it was a small amount of jealousy that was eating at him after spending so much time over Thanksgiving watching his brothers and their significant others together. Whatever it was, he knew he had to shake it soon or he was opening himself up for harassment from the whole lot of them.
As much as he knew his lack of response would only invite Braydon to give him nine kinds of shit from that point forward, Sawyer kept his smile to himself as he stared back down at his beer.
“Never figured you for the type to pout.”
Jab number one.
Braydon’s well-placed dig would’ve caught Sawyer off guard had he not known his downturned mood was so out of the norm for him. That, and he knew just what to expect from every single one of his brothers. And because Sawyer was so damn perceptive, he’d been able to brace himself for the verbal punch. But, rather than giving Braydon the pleasure of seeing him get riled up, Sawyer opted to continue drowning himself in his beer. Alcohol was much more pleasant company at the moment, thank you very much.
“Ah, so you’re gonna play like that,” Braydon nagged, obviously wanting to get a rise out of him. “How ’bout I join you, then? We can wallow in your self-pity together.” Jab number two. “Got an extra Bud Light back there for me, Mack?” Braydon turned his attention to the big, burly bartender who’d been nicknamed for his likeness to the vehicle. He was as wide as he was tall, which was saying something, because Mack stood close to six feet. He had a barrel chest, but not an ounce of fat on his oversized frame.
Now that he thought about it, Sawyer wasn’t sure what Mack’s real name even was. Maybe it was Mack.
The bartender responded with a quick nod and then turned his broad back on the disgustingly happy Braydon. Sawyer knew he needed to say something to his brother or he’d invite all sorts of conversations he wasn’t up for. He couldn’t bring himself to do it though.
It’d been a long week already, and quite frankly, he knew he should’ve just stayed home and enjoyed some peace and quiet rather than invite attention he wasn’t up for. After the short week last week with Thanksgiving and all, there’d been a shit ton to catch up on. Instead of opting for a good night’s sleep, glutton for punishment that he was, he’d ventured out to Moonshiners, knowing full well he would run into one or more of his brothers, and likely a few others who were interested in giving him hell.
“Not the life of the party tonight, huh?” Braydon asked him when Mack flipped the cap off the icy bottle he held in his hand and then set Braydon’s beer down on the bar.
“He’s become quite the bar decoration tonight,” Mack added, slapping his beefy hand on the bar top and then turning away from them. Jab number three—by Mack, no less.
Sawyer grinned. He couldn’t help himself. He’d never been the type who could stay down for long. But he had to admit, the life-of-the-party persona he’d perfected wasn’t making its presence known tonight. Not that he was going to let anyone know that just yet. After all, he still enjoyed the shit out of getting people’s attention. He was just so damned good at it.
“What’s goin’ on over here?”
Well, hell. With two of them, there was no way Sawyer was going to be able to wallow in anything. When Braydon and Brendon got together—which, until recently, was about ninety-five percent of the time—there was no chance in hell of walking away unscathed.
“Just sittin’ here tryin’ to help Sawyer dry his tears,” Braydon said with a stern face, and Sawyer damn near choked on his beer. Jab number four.
That one got a rise out of him. “Fuck off,” Sawyer grumbled on a laugh.
“See, all dry. My job here is done.” With that, Braydon actually stood from his stool, slapped Sawyer on the back none too gently, and headed toward the back where the pool tables were.
Shit, if Sawyer had known it would be that easy . . .
“Is he here by himself?” Brendon asked, taking his place in the exact same spot his twin had just vacated and jerking his chin toward Braydon.
“Guess so,” Sawyer answered, tilting his bottle to his lips and twisting on his stool to study the rest of the room.
“Where’s Jess?” Brendon asked, referring to Braydon’s fiancée.
“Hmm,” Sawyer pretended to consider that for a moment. “I don’t think it’s my night to babysit her. Or did I miss a memo?”
“You missed a memo, bro,” Brendon retorted, smiling.
“Damn straight. The one that said you weren’t allowed to be a pussy.” Jab number five.
Sawyer laughed, staring at Brendon, trying to figure him out. For the last few months, Brendon had been a royal pain in the ass in every way possible. From his frequent shitty attitude to the accident that landed his ass in the hospital after he’d done the unthinkable and had too much to drink and then climbed behind the wheel of his truck, Brendon had been stirring up shit left and right.
Not that Sawyer had tried to get up in his business. He was more the type to watch things unfold. If his interference was necessary, he didn’t have any qualms about speaking his mind. But as far as Brendon went, Sawyer just wasn’t sure whether there was anything he could say to help him. Brendon was going to have to figure this out on his own.
“Me? You’re sayin’ I’m the one actin’ like a pussy? Sorry, I don’t think we’ve been introduced.” Sawyer held out his hand and watched Brendon stare at it. “Kettle. You must be pot.”
“Fuck off,” Brendon said with a strangled snort. The beer he inhaled probably hurt just a little.
Truth was, Sawyer actually felt a little better now that his brothers were there to give him a hard time. Especially Brendon. He’d missed the little twerp and his smart-ass mouth. Sawyer much preferred seeing him with a smile on his face rather than the damn frown he’d plastered there for months.
“Where’s Travis?” Brendon asked, taking the beer Mack delivered without his even having to request it.
“Shit,” Sawyer grumbled before downing the rest of his beer.
“I forgot to call everyone and find out where they were, what they were doing, and when they’d be here. Sorry, bro. Apparently, I’m fallin’ down on the job.”
Brendon’s lips tilted into a genuine grin. “Shut the fuck up.”
Sawyer returned the smile, and then slapped Brendon on the back. “Tell ya what. I’m gonna let you take attendance tonight. So, as of right now, don’t you dare ask me where anyone else is.”
“Fine, grumpy ass,” Brendon said with a snort before sauntering off to the back of the bar to join his twin.
Not that he was interested in figuring out the location of his six brothers tonight, four of whom had not started off their Thursday night by giving Sawyer a hard time. But now that Brendon mentioned it, Sawyer was a little surprised that Jessie wasn’t there with Braydon. Ever since the two had hooked up officially—and by official, Sawyer was referring to the proposal Braydon had sprung on an unsuspecting Jessie back in September at a family dinner—they’d rarely been seen apart.
That was just shy of two months ago. Then again, every guy needed a little alone time. However, in their case, Sawyer could very well see Jessie shoving Braydon out the door so she’d have a little peace and quiet. Especially since they’d all just spent quite a bit of time together over Thanksgiving. Any holiday was a big deal at the Walker house, but Thanksgiving and Christmas were all-hands-on-deck-type celebrations. With Christmas coming in just a few short weeks, there wouldn’t be much downtime for any of them.
“Haven’t seen Travis in recently,” Mack offered when he joined Sawyer at the end of the bar.
“Knowing him, the old fart’s probably at home hovering over his wife, his hands out as though waiting to receive a football.”
Mack grinned, probably imagining the scene the same way Sawyer was. “Kylie’s gettin’ close, huh?”
“Close? That’s an understatement. The girl’s ready to pop. Her due date’s comin’ up in less than a week.”
“Making Travis crazier than normal?” Mack asked.
“I hadn’t thought it possible, but yeah,” Sawyer agreed.
It actually made perfect sense for Travis and Gage to be home with their wife. Who knew when she would go into labor, and Sawyer couldn’t imagine Travis finding out she was having the baby on the kitchen floor without him there. The guy would likely be declared clinically insane at that point.
“It’s a good thing Gage is there to keep him in line,” Mack told him as he wiped down the bar in front of Sawyer.
“He seems to be the only one who can,” Sawyer replied.
To Mack’s point, it was good that Gage was there for Travis. He somehow worked magic over the man, keeping him as calm as was possible for Travis. Legally, Kylie was Travis’s wife, but for all intents and purposes, Gage was also Kylie’s husband, as well as Travis’s husband, although gay marriage wasn’t legalized in Texas.
Then again, neither was a three-way marriage.
No one said Texas was perfect.
When Mack headed down to help another customer, Sawyer twisted on his bar stool and glanced around the bar, taking stock of who was there now that his brother had so kindly pointed out who wasn’t. Not that Moonshiners could ever be considered busy, but tonight there were more people than he’d thought there would be. It was Thursday after all. Went to show how preoccupied he’d been because Sawyer had no idea that they’d started attracting the riffraff during the week, too.
Giving the faces he recognized a quick once-over, Sawyer stopped abruptly on the one face he had a love-hate relationship with.
The bane of his existence.
When the hell had she arrived? And how had he missed it?
Not that he was watching for her.
Okay, that was bullshit. He was watching for her.
Since the very day she stepped foot back in Coyote Ridge eight years ago after going off to college for that same number of years, the woman had gotten under his skin. Then again, the nerdy girl who’d gone off to college certainly wasn’t the same one who came back. Not only had she degreed up and shit while she’d been gone, the girl who’d left had grown up. And by that, Sawyer meant she’d gone from four-eyed and mousy to smoking fucking hot. And since that first day he realized who she was, no matter how damn hard he tried, Sawyer could not stop thinking about her. On top of that, it didn’t matter how many attempts he made to ignore her or the effect she had on him, he always came back to one conclusion . . .
He wanted the one damn woman who wouldn’t give him the time of day.
That was all there was to it.
Rather than getting up from his seat—that would require far too much energy—Sawyer waited until her soft charcoal gaze met his and he nodded in recognition. Just as he expected, she pretended she was bored as she stared at him for a fleeting second before turning away. As much as he wanted that to piss him off, it didn’t. It actually amused the fuck out of him. He liked that she had to actually put forth the effort to pretend she wasn’t affected by him. Lord knows he had the same problem when it came to her. Although he didn’t pretend.
Sawyer never pretended. He was who he was and if people didn’t like it, well, they could . . .
Maybe that hadn’t always been the case, but it certainly was now. There had been a time in his life—namely high school—that he looked back on and felt a strange pang of regret. It’d taken him some time to realize that he’d been a complete asshole in high school.
Shaking off the thought with a forced smile on his face, he returned his attention to his now empty beer bottle and contemplated ordering another one. If he were smart, he’d just march his happy ass right out the door and go home. Sleep was actually in high demand these days, although he was getting very little of it.
With Alluring Indulgence Resort open and handling an influx of guests over the last few months, he knew he wouldn’t be getting much shut-eye in the near future, either. But, he wasn’t going to go home. Not yet. Buster, his nine-month-old cocker spaniel, also known as the new love of Sawyer’s life according to his asshole brothers, would probably appreciate a little time to himself. As it was, Sawyer dragged that dog everywhere, including to the resort every day.
Other than Buster, there wasn’t a damn thing waiting at home for him, and as he stared at Kennedy, he had to wonder just when he’d started wanting someone to be there.
Shit. He was getting way too melancholy in his old age. Then again, he was thinking of himself as old, and at thirty-four, he had some time before senility actually kicked in. If he was lucky, anyway.
And yes, his brothers would have a field day torturing him if they knew his frame of mind right now. He was the happy-go-lucky guy, the one everyone expected a good time from, and right now, he was having to put forth a little effort just to muster a smile.
Maybe another beer would help.
“Hey, Mack. Get another?” Sawyer called down to the bartender currently flirting it up with one of the regulars. “And while you’re at it, can I get one for Kennedy? Another of whatever she’s havin’. I’ll deliver it.”
“Right on it, boy,” Mack said with a smile.
Boy. Right. Then again, Mack was in his early fifties, had been in Coyote Ridge his entire life, and probably remembered Sawyer and his brothers when they were in diapers. So, technically, the man had earned the right to call him boy.
He was one of the few.
“Thanks,” Sawyer told the bartender before turning back around. As if by radar, his gaze immediately landed on Kennedy once again. He took a second to admire her from afar. The woman was tall and curvy, just the way he liked his women. At six foot five inches, Sawyer couldn’t see himself with a petite woman, although his brothers didn’t seem to mind women like that. More power to them, but Sawyer preferred his women taller, and Kennedy was just perfect.
And the curves . . . damn, the woman could rock a pair of jeans and boots like no other. A picture of her ass should be classified as a modern marvel. Although he was pretty sure she wouldn’t be thrilled hearing that. Didn’t mean Sawyer wasn’t going to stare.
But what he liked most about the woman, aside from the fact that she was hot enough to keep his dick on red alert, was how she liked to play hard to get. After she left high school, she’d done a complete three-sixty, turning into one of those bombshells that drew male attention everywhere she went, but she pretended not to notice. Or maybe she wasn’t pretending, Sawyer didn’t really know.
Regardless, Sawyer saw the answering attraction in her eyes whenever she looked at him. She could deny it all she wanted, but it was there. According to her, she wasn’t interested, but Sawyer didn’t buy it. The heat in her gray eyes couldn’t be disguised, no matter how hard she tried.
Her gaze skimmed the room and he waited to see if she was going to stop on him again, and sure enough, he wasn’t disappointed. The immediate frown that tipped her pretty pink lips made him smile. With a wink and a nod, he turned to grab the beer Mack set down for him. When Kennedy’s drink was planted there a minute later, Sawyer decided to go pay her a visit.
What the hell, it wasn’t like his night could get much worse.
Kennedy had hoped he’d keep his ass at the bar, but apparently, Sawyer hadn’t changed that much since the last time she saw him, a week or two ago. He was still just as persistent as always, and she could already predict just how this conversation was going to go.
“Hey,” he would say.
“Hey,” she would say.
Yep, that’s the way their conversations generally went because Kennedy had no idea what to say to the man. Although they’d spent a few minutes together here and there over the last, oh, probably a full year, Kennedy still had no idea how to communicate with him. She’d humored him a couple of times, dancing with him and chatting. She was just trying to be polite, that was all.
Or so she told herself.
What she really wanted to do was to ignore him, but Sawyer Walker wasn’t an easy man to ignore. Even though she had every right to hate him, as well as all of the others who’d made her life a living hell in high school, she still found it difficult to do so.
Regardless of her reasons for indulging Sawyer, this conversation wasn’t going to be fun.
Then again, talking to Sawyer—or more accurately, evading his wayward advances—might not be her favorite thing to do, but looking at him was definitely a treat for the eyes. Kind of a no-win situation for her though.
There was no disputing the fact that Sawyer was a very attractive man. And by very, Kennedy meant incredibly hot. And by attractive, Kennedy meant incredibly sexy.
But that wasn’t anything new. Even in high school he’d been a good-looking guy, one that all the girls had flocked to. Not her. Then again, she’d been too busy focusing on school work and avoiding the jerks who treated her like she was second rate. And yes, Sawyer was part of that crowd.
Still, she had to admit that even then she’d thought he was cute.
Tall, leanly muscled, with seductive smoky blue eyes that were outlined by thick, dark lashes, there was no wonder the man was one of the most sought after bachelors in town. But even more impressive than his attractive features were the subtle laugh lines that reflected the carefree guy that he was. Today he was sporting a little extra stubble around his jaw and his short, dark hair was disheveled, like he’d been running his hands through it multiple times. Which she could only tell because he was missing his infamous cowboy hat—the one that made women fall at his feet and beg for . . . whatever.
And it was partly for that reason that Kennedy had absolutely no interest in the guy. With a gaggle of women who couldn’t resist him, there was no room in Sawyer’s life for another. Especially for a woman like her. Because no matter what, although she might look different than she had in high school, no longer carrying a few too many pounds, or sporting glasses, she was still that girl. And it pissed her off to no end just how superficial Sawyer was, because he didn’t know a damn thing about her, other than that she wasn’t that nerdy little girl anymore. But she was still smart. And what Sawyer didn’t seem to realize was that Kennedy wasn’t looking for sloppy seconds. And Sawyer had sloppy written all over him.
She’d held to that vow she made to herself all those years ago. She would show this snotty little town just what she was made of. Which she’d done in spades when she’d come back from college with a degree, opened her own business, and successfully managed it all this time.
Granted, it didn’t help that she’d shed those awkward teen years, either.
However, she knew that Sawyer only saw what was on the outside because that was what Sawyer was interested in. Just like every single one of his brothers, Sawyer had been the talk of the town for the last, oh, say, twenty years. And while Sawyer’s brothers were slowly being snatched up right and left, he was still single, still a man whore.
No, thank you.
However, it didn’t seem to matter how much resistance she put up, either Sawyer didn’t get it, or he simply didn’t care that she wasn’t interested. Not that it affected her either way, because Kennedy had sworn a long time ago that she would not go down that road with any man. She had absolutely no desire to be cast aside by anyone, certainly not a playboy like Sawyer who handed out heartaches like they were in high demand.
The deep voice that cleared directly in front of her brought her to the present, and damn it all to hell, she blushed. Glancing up, she noticed Sawyer’s lopsided grin. Damn him.
“Kennedy,” he said almost formally.
“Sawyer,” she responded in a similar tone.
Just as she had come to expect, that was the extent of their conversation, but she had a feeling tonight he wasn’t going to be quite so easy to brush off.
Glancing down, Kennedy realized her glass was now empty. “If you’ll excuse me,” she told him as sweetly as she could muster, “I think I need more to drink.” Especially if she was going to have to deal with him.
“Let me,” he said in that sweet, gentlemanly tone that she hated. The one that contradicted everything she knew about the man, all of the memories she had of him from high school. She hated it even more because he sounded so damned perfect when he spoke like that. Almost as though he cherished women the way they should be and not just for one of those quick rolls in the hay that he favored.
“Thanks, but no thanks,” she said assuredly.
“Too late,” Sawyer replied, holding out a glass. “On me.”
She knew she should’ve refused his offer, but it wasn’t easy. Kennedy had to work hard on her bitchiness when it came to Sawyer. Although he’d been part of the group that bullied her in high school, she still had a hard time being mean to others, maybe because of how she’d been treated. That was a gene she hadn’t been blessed with, and truthfully, brushing Sawyer off was one of the most taxing things she’d done as of late.
“No thanks. I can get my own drink,” she finally stated, hating herself for being so rude.
“You know . . .” Sawyer began, and Kennedy heard the condescension in his tone, which of course, caused her to turn and look directly into those eyes that seemed to look deep into her soul.
Yes, she was playing right into his hands, she knew it the moment she turned to face him, but damn him, he did strange things to her. No matter how hard she tried to keep her distance, Sawyer was good at getting under her skin.
Oh no. No freaking way was he going to end this at never mind.
Doing her best to maintain her professional persona—after all, yes, she was a professional—Kennedy started counting backward from one hundred in her head.
Ninety-nine, ninety-eight, ninety-seven.
“While you count down, I’ll just put your drink here on the table.” Sawyer laughed as he set the drink down and grabbed her empty glass out of her hand before turning and walking away.
“Wait!” she called out, jumping to her feet and damn near plowing into him when he stopped abruptly. She somehow managed to compose herself and not touch him, all the while balling her hands at her sides to keep from doing something immature like yanking the empty glass out of his hands. That would be petty and childish.
Hold up a minute . . . “How’d you know I was counting?”
“Because you do it every time I talk to you.”
That grin of his told Kennedy that he didn’t mind one bit that she was trying to blow him off. “And how do you know this?”
Kennedy received a wink and a cocky grin in response before Sawyer turned his attention to the bar. That was when she realized he’d resumed his seat and now she looked like she was the one pursuing him.
Turning, she glanced at the door that would lead her outside into the fresh night air and away from this arrogant ass whom she should definitely be staying far, far away from. When her feet didn’t budge, Kennedy glanced back at him as she crossed her arms over her chest. The movement drew his intense blue-gray eyes downward and she immediately regretted the movement.
“Eyes up here, cowboy,” she scolded him firmly. When his gaze met hers, she could see the laughter swirling, and damn it all to hell, she couldn’t stop the smile that formed. “Damn you, Walker,” she muttered under her breath as she turned away from him again. This time, Sawyer drew her up short, his strong hand on her arm was like a shot of pure adrenaline being pumped into her veins.
“Come on, girl. Talk to me,” Sawyer said, that deep, velvety voice sending another bolt of unwelcomed lust penetrating her bloodstream.
“No can do,” she answered, trying to wrench free from his grip. “I’ll take my drink, but as for talking, I’m actually waiting for someone.”
Okay, so that was a total lie, but Kennedy knew that as soon as someone she recognized came through the door, she’d be able to fake it like a pro. Unfortunately, no one she knew personally had arrived, unless, of course, she was interested in hanging with another one of the Walkers.
“Liar,” he said without heat, getting to his feet again before pulling her toward the booth she’d been sitting at. The one that still had the drink he’d brought her sitting all by its lonesome.
“I don’t want to sit with you,” she stated firmly, acknowledging that yes, she did sound juvenile.
Again, Sawyer’s only answer was that mischievous smirk that really pissed her off. Because it was sexy as crap.
When he slid into the booth across from where her butt had been planted only moments ago, Kennedy tried to convince herself to stand firm. She wasn’t going to do this. Not here. Not now. Not ever. Sawyer Walker was bad for her health and for years she’d been focused on ensuring she ate healthy, drank plenty of water, exercised regularly, and avoided men like him at all costs. Until now, it had worked like a charm.
The demand in his tone had her immediately planting her butt back on the seat before she realized just what she’d done. When she went to stand up, completely ashamed at how easily she’d let him tell her what to do, his hand came down on her forearm gently, causing her to pause.
Sawyer leaned forward, his voice low and smooth. “I’m not gonna strip you naked right here, darlin’, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Hmmpphh,” she grunted, feeling foolish and silly for her reaction to him.
“Well, not unless you want me to.”
The blush that infused her face was so hot, she worried she actually had a fever.
Leaning forward, mirroring his position, Kennedy whispered, “Only in your dreams.”
“Tell me about it,” he answered easily before leaning back, that sinful smile once again tilting his full, firm lips. “I see you’re still blushin’ like a schoolgirl.”
Kennedy ignored his comment. Or at least she tried.
Resisting this man’s charm was something Kennedy had been working on for a while now. Unfortunately, she was much stronger when he wasn’t within five feet of her, like now. Even with her Midori Sour and three extra cherries—because Mack was the sweetest bartender she knew—her mouth was still dry and her palms were not. Sawyer had an uncanny ability to undo her with that grin, or the glint in those hypnotic smoky eyes.
Kennedy considered herself a smart woman. After all, she had a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Texas A&M. So what the hell was her problem when she looked at this man? Why was her vocabulary reduced to single-word sentences and grunts? Sure, he was handsome, if you liked leanly muscled, towering cowboys with a naughty sense of humor and that down-home country-boy charm. Which she didn’t particularly like all that much.
Time to stop listening to her subconscious and get back to reality. Sitting here with Sawyer was definitely not in her best interest.