Authors: Heather A Buchman
Volume 3 in the
Crested Butte Series
Copyright © 2014 by Heather A. Buchman
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Cover by Sparrow Marketing & Design
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
And Then You Kiss
is the third book the Crested Butte series.
Although you will enjoy this book on it’s own,
I highly recommend you read
And Then You Fall
And Then You Dance
the first and second books in the series,
before this one.
Coming soon…book four . . .
And Then You Fly
Thanks for reading!
Dance with her
And never stop
To the cowboys and cowgirls
who are brave enough
to chase their dreams.
Many thanks to my band of faithful beta readers. Each one of you are so different in how you read, how you comment, and the feedback you give me. I don’t know what I’d do without every one of you—Angelina, Cathy, Eileen, Erlinda, Jacki, Kym, Stacey and Vicki.
Special thanks to Paige Gregory, the real woman behind RodeoChat for your friendship, countless hours of chatting about cowboys and music and romance stories, and helping me find inspiration for what I write through the insightful Twitter chats you host every week.
Jace Rice was tired of being the nice guy. What in the hell was wrong with him anyway? He’d been in love, maybe for the first time in his life, and instead of fighting for her, he handed her over to another man. And worse? He was about to spend Thanksgiving with her.
Today would be the first time he saw her since he decided to be noble instead of smart. He and his twin brother, Tucker, were driving over Kebler Pass from Aspen to Crested Butte to spend the holiday with Ben Rice and his family. And she was Ben’s stepdaughter.
Jace worked at Black Mountain Ranch as a wrangler on and off since he turned eighteen, seven years ago. It provided an income, but he didn’t need the money. His grandparents had invested heavily in land development in Aspen back before Walter Paepcke founded the Aspen Skiing Company. Jace and his brother Tucker each received an income from the trusts his grandfather set up for them.
Jace worked at the ranch because he loved being around horses; and the guests too, to be honest. For many, coming to a dude ranch had been a lifelong dream, an item on their bucket list. Some rode their whole life; others had never been on a horse. The ranch embraced both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between.
The day he met Irene Fairchild, he was on his way to the barns, hoping to go for a long ride. Guests would begin arriv
ing the following week, and then there would be no time for afternoon pleasure rides.
When he saw the car come barreling down the dirt road, his first inclination was to yell to the driver to slow the hell down. But when the car came to a stop, and he saw her, he changed his mind.
Out stepped a very beautiful woman. She was putting her long blonde hair up into a ponytail. He wanted to tell her to leave it loose. He didn’t intend to walk over to her, but his feet took on a mind of their own.
“Hi,” he said, tipping his hat. “Welcome to the ranch. Can I help you with your bags?”
“Uh, sure. Thanks.”
“What’s your name cowgirl?”
“Irene Fairchild,” she answered.
“What cabin are you assigned to little lady?”
She pulled out her welcome letter. “Fourteen.”
It was one of the few single cabins. Jace wondered how a newbie scored it, but the thought of her sleeping alone every night made the temperature of his blood go up. The ranch management frowned on romances between employees, but as long as both parties were discreet, they looked the other way.
If anyone asked him, he would’ve said he had no interest in a summer romance with someone he worked side-by-side with, day in, day out. But Irene Fairchild made him change his mind. Something about her got under his skin. She was beautiful, but there was more to it.
Her blue eyes sparkled in the sun, and she had an easy laugh. He saw worry lines around her eyes though, which meant she might not be as shallow as a few of the cowgirls the ranch hired. They were after a good time. Irene came here for something else. He wondered what.
“Thinking about her isn’t going to help,” said Tucker.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re thinking about her. It’s over. Move on.”
“Not that easy.”
“It is that easy, quit dwelling on it.”
“Wait until you meet her. You’ll understand.”
“I don’t need to meet her to understand she’s engaged to another man. What else is there?”
Blythe Cochran and Irene Fairchild, who everyone called Renie, met in kindergarten, they stayed best friends ever since. The last few months had been rocky between them. Blythe hadn’t talked to her since January.
When her parents told her they were invited to spend Thanksgiving with Renie’s mother and her new husband, Blythe tried to beg off and stay home.
“I’m not speaking to Renie,” she told her mother.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she answered. “Once the two of you are together again, it will be as though no time has passed at all. The same way it is between Liv and me.”
Paige Cochran met Liv Rice the same day Blythe and Renie met. A single parent at the time, Liv became fast friends with both Paige and Blythe’s father, Mark. Their families always spent holidays together, along with Renie’s fiancé, Billy Patterson, and his parents, Dottie and Bill.
This year they were spending Thanksgiving at the Flying R Ranch. Liv moved to the ranch in Crested Butte when she married Ben Rice a year ago.
Renie’s fiancé was the main reason Blythe didn’t want to come. For the last couple of years, Blythe pestered Renie to fix her up with Billy. Renie made one excuse after another why she couldn’t, but none were the truth. Blythe recently discovered Renie was interested in him herself. More than interested, she was in love with him.
Blythe told Renie she was hurt more than angry. She thought they were best friends, but maybe she’d been wrong.
When Renie begged and pleaded with her to come for Thanksgiving, she knew she couldn’t say no. If she had, she would’ve spent it at home alone. Her parents told her they were going no matter what.
She noticed the change in Renie’s attitude immediately. And she didn’t like it. Instead of being her usual fun-loving self, she criticized her, non-stop.
The two went to Downtown Crested Butte for breakfast, and Renie started in on her almost immediately.
“Come on Blythe,” she said. “Are you going to be pouty all day? I said I’m sorry.”
As if that was enough. “I thought I was your best friend.”
“You are my best friend.”
If they were such good friends, why hadn’t Renie turned to Blythe when she needed her? Renie told her she hadn’t talked to anyone about Billy. She’d shut herself off.
“I’m working on being more honest and open about my feelings Blythe,” she said to her. “You might want to consider being less open and honest with yours.”
That stung. Instead of confiding in her, which is what Blythe wanted, Renie chose to use her newfound freedom of speech to criticize her. She’d had about enough. Why had she agreed to come in the first place?
Blythe might be a little outspoken, but wasn’t that what people loved about her?
She took after her dad. Her mother was far more diplomatic. Her father had retired years ago, but before he did, he toured with an internationally-known and very successful band. He found out he had cancer when she and her two older sisters were young. He immediately quit touring, and never went back.
The stage persona lived on, however. Her dad was hysterical; everyone said so. He was also outspoken; he didn’t always think before he spoke. It was part of his charm. More often than not, his humor leaned toward racy. He’d say the things everyone else thought, but would never say.
When Renie suggested she tone things down a little, Blythe’s own mother agreed.
“Bravo!” Paige said. “It’s about time you stood up for something Renie. I’ll enjoy finding out how you feel about things.”
Then she turned to her own daughter. “Don’t pout Blythe, it isn’t becoming,”
Now her mother was on her case too. She hadn’t been here twenty-four hours, but it felt like time to go home.
“Maybe I should leave. Would that make everyone happy?”
Renie’s mother walked over and hugged her. “I’m sorry Blythe,” she said. “We’re encouraging Renie to be less of a doormat, but it shouldn’t be at your expense.”
Liv turned to Renie. “You two make up. I don’t want the holiday ruined before it even starts.”
Renie extended the olive branch by asking Blythe to go for a ride. She agreed, mainly so she could get out of the house, and away from everyone else for a while. Maybe by the time they got back, “pick-on-Blythe day,” would be forgotten.
Renie let Blythe ride the horse she’d had since she was ten, a mare named Pooh. Pooh was gentle, and an easy ride. Blythe wasn’t as comfortable around horses as Renie. In fact, they scared her.
Renie’s mom barrel raced. Blythe couldn’t imagine being on the back of a horse going that fast, and getting as close to the barrels as they did.
A year ago, Liv had an accident while racing and was in a coma. A few months later, she started racing again. Blythe thought she was crazy, but her mother explained that it was something Liv had wanted to do her whole life. Liv would have been miserable if she hadn’t pursued her dream.
Blythe understood what that meant on a philosophical level, but there wasn’t anything she’d personally felt strong enough about to call a dream.
She had been in nursing school, but quit. She hadn’t liked it as much as she expected. Truthfully, she hated it.
Right around the same time Blythe quit, Renie transferred from Dartmouth, where she was studying biomedicine, to the Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She’d planned to become a large animal vet, but dropped out of that program last year. She was talking about going back again after she and Billy got married.
Renie and Billy were getting married.
It would take some time for that to sink in. Especially since Billy, eleven years older than they were, discovered he had a daughter he hadn’t known about, and the baby’s mother had passed away.
Renie broke up with Billy over it, and for a long while, Blythe didn’t think they’d ever speak again. Not that Blythe heard any of this first hand. It all happened during the time Renie refused to talk to her.
Her mother had been the one to tell her they were back together and getting married.
Tucker drove, he almost always did. Born thirteen minutes before Jace, he was the oldest. Being so, he believed he was entitled to decide who would drive, where they would eat, and what they would do. Most of the time, Jace didn’t care. But when he did, he never hesitated to tell Tucker what he could do with his demanding self.
Today was one of those days Jace definitely didn’t care. He hadn’t wanted to drive. He had too much on his mind. The last time he saw Irene he told her that their relationship needed to change. He wanted to be her friend. His head agreed; his heart did not.
“Come on Blythe, let’s stop arguing and start riding,” Renie motioned toward the barn. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and maybe, if she got lucky, she’d meet a cowboy when they rode out. There were plenty who worked the Flying R Ranch.
They were almost to the barn when someone pulled up in a truck and honked the horn. Blythe turned to see two of the hottest-looking men she’d ever seen, climbing out of it. And not only were they hot, they were twins.
Oh my God,
she’d died and gone to heaven.
She watched as one of them picked Renie up and swung her around in a circle. The other stood back.
“Who this?” the sullen one asked.
“This is Irene,” Jace introduced her. “Irene, meet Tucker. And this is…I don’t know who this is.”
“This is Blythe Cochran,” answered Renie. “Her mom and my mom are best friends. We are too. Have been since we were five years old.”
Blythe shook each man’s hand, hoping her palms weren’t as sweaty as they felt to her.
The one named Jace hung on a little longer than necessary, and looked into her eyes. “Nice to meet you,” he said softly.
Blythe didn’t know what to make of the situation playing out in front of her. Jace knew Renie, well enough to pick her up and hug her. Tucker, the brother, didn’t appear to know her at all. And by the look on his face, he didn’t want to.
“We were headed out for a ride,” Renie said to them.
“We’ll let you be on your way,” Tucker answered.
Jace scowled at him, and then turned and smiled at the girls. “We aren’t goin’ anywhere though, at least not for a few hours. We’ll be here when you get back.”
Jace turned to Blythe. “How ’bout you? You goin’ anywhere after your ride?”
The way he looked at her, she felt his eyes boring right into hers.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she answered. “Why?”
He laughed. “Because I’d like to get to know you better, that’s why.”
“We’ll see about that,” she smirked.
She looked over to see Renie shooting daggers at her. What did she do wrong now? This was get
ting old quickly. Once they got out on the trail, Blythe intended to give Renie a piece of her mind. Just because she’d decided to alter her personality, did not give her
to suggest Blythe do the same. If she wanted Renie’s opinion about how she led her life, she would ask. And she hadn’t asked.
Once she confirmed they were far enough away from the house for anyone to overhear their conversation, she said, “What the hell is your problem?”
Renie didn’t answer.
“Seriously? You won’t answer me? What happened to the Renie who promised to tell me how’s she’s feeling?”
“That’s Jace,” Renie answered.
“Yes, I know. You introduced me to him, remember?”