Authors: Rachel Gibson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
AT THE AGE
of twenty-three, Rebecca Ramsey had found her passion. Her love. Her creative calling. While some artists worked in oil or fabrics or clay, Becca worked in hair. While other girls her age were still in college trying to figure out what to do with their lives, Becca had mapped hers all out. Since graduating from the Milan (Texas, not Italy) Institute of Cosmetology a few years ago, she’d worked diligently perfecting her passion. Her love. Her art. Becca was good at cuts and blowouts, fabulous with highlights, ombres, peekaboos, and dip-dyes, but when it came to the updo, she was a true master. She excelled at creating everything from simple French knots to complicated runway hair, complete with twigs and birds and working fountains.
Of course, there wasn’t a lot of demand for runway hair in Amarillo, Texas, where she lived and worked, and absolutely none at all sixty miles north in the small town of Lovett where she’d been born and raised. But this
Texas, where special occasion hair was in high demand. “The bigger the hair the closer to God” was not just a saying in the northern panhandle, it was like the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt have big hair.
Proms, graduations, and Becca’s favorite, bridal hair, kept her elbow-deep in complicated chignons and styling product. She loved big occasions that called for big hair and had big plans to open her own salon in the future. She hadn’t quite settled on a name, but she had some time yet to think about it. She figured she could call it something catchy like Becca’s Bangz and Beauty, or Becca’s Flair for Hair. Or she could go for classy, like Salon B or Creative Hair Design. Or she could go for fun and funky like Fringe or Bouffant.
Beneath the bright June sun, Becca reached across the seat of her Volkswagen Beetle and grabbed her sunglasses out of her Coach bag sitting on top of several bridal magazines. She slid on her cat-eye sunglasses like she was Audrey Hepburn and adjusted the visor. Typical of a Sunday afternoon in the panhandle, traffic from Amarillo to Lovett was sparse except for the occasional truck pulling a bass fishing boat or a couple of four-wheelers.
Becca had driven this particular stretch of road so many times, she drove by rote, barely noticing the clumps of grasses and windmills stirred by the breeze. Her right front tire hit a dead armadillo as she recalled the salon name she’d thought up right before she’d fallen asleep the night before. Sometimes, her best inspiration happened just before sleep, like the Retro Cinderella or Crystal Chandelier updos she’d envisioned and then perfected for her portfolio.
Last night she’d thought Head House had seemed like a great name for a salon, but now in light of day and a clearer mind, it sounded more like a bordello.
Becca slowed and took the off ramp for Lovett. Just last week, local photographer Daisy Parrish had come into Lily Belle’s Salon and Day Spa where Becca worked to take photographs of Becca’s latest inspired wedding hairstyles. Because Daisy and the owner of the spa, Lily, were sisters, Daisy gave a big discount to everyone who worked at the salon. Both sisters were beautiful and talented in their own ways, Daisy with her camera and Lily with the spa. They were so classy and seemed so happy that it was hard to believe the old gossip about the two brawling at the Gas and Go years ago.
Becca didn’t have time for gossip and was much too busy to care about a beat-down over Lily’s cheating ex-husband and his slutty girlfriend at a convenience store. All that had happened when Becca was in middle school. She hadn’t heard any gossip about the sisters lately. Then again, she’d lived in Amarillo for a year now and didn’t hear hometown gossip every time she stopped to fill her car with gas or grabbed some breakfast at the Wild Coyote. She didn’t hear much at all unless her mother called to fill her in. Which was quite often, actually.
Right now, talk in Lovett revolved around the wedding of Sadie Hollowell and Vince Haven. It seemed the small town had its collective panties in a bunch because the couple had chosen to have the wedding at the JH Ranch—named after Sadie’s late father, Clive Hollowell—with only close friends and relatives in attendance.
There were a lot of people in town who thought Sadie owed them a “big doin’s” simply because the Hollowells had settled in the panhandle when Lovett had been nothing more than a stage stop and general store. The ranch was a deeply imbedded part of Texas history. Almost as much as the Alamo to the South, but without the revolution or siege or James Bowie.
Secretly, Becca wished the wedding was going to be a “big doin’s,” too. Not because she thought Sadie owed her anything, but she was styling the bridal hair. A big wedding would have been a great way for people to see her work.
Becca stopped at a red light in the middle of town and touched up her pink lip gloss. After one quick stop to fetch the latest photos Daisy had left for her, Becca was heading to the JH and a final meeting with Sadie before the ceremony next Saturday.
Sadie was more than Becca’s latest bride client. She was engaged to Becca’s good friend Vince Haven, and had become Becca’s friend, too. So much so that Sadie had not only hired Becca to do her wedding hair, she’d included Becca in some of the planning. She’d sought her advice on flowers and the arbor and the maid of honor dress.
Vince had been no help at all. His favorite colors were brown and dark brown, and talk of flowers made him fold his arms over his big chest and scowl. Sadie’s sister, Stella, wasn’t much help, either. Stella was busy with her own life and own fiancé, and frankly, Stella wasn’t a Texan. Like Vince, she didn’t understand that a simple wedding was never simple, and Stella’s tastes ran more toward leather and combat boots than toward lace and satin pumps.
Bless her heart.
The light turned green and Becca took off. She changed lanes in front of an old pickup truck that moved too slow. She didn’t have time for slow. She had a client list to build, money to make, and a bride waiting to see the latest updo photos Daisy had taken for her portfolio.
It was a good thing Sadie had enlisted Becca’s help, because even though Becca would never say it out loud, Sadie wasn’t very good at special occasion planning, and neither was the local event planner she’d hired. Vince’s sister, Autumn, was a wedding planner, but Autumn lived in Seattle and could do little but offer advice from seventeen hundred miles away.
Becca slowed and turned her car into Parrish American Classics. The auto restoration business was closed and she pulled the Beetle in a slot near the front doors. Daisy and her family were boating at Lake Meredith for the weekend, but Daisy had volunteered to leave the portfolio in the mailbox at her husband’s business.
The afternoon sun glinted off the lenses of Becca’s sunglasses as she got out of the car and spotted the big mailbox nailed near the front doors. Most of the wedding guests were Sadie’s relatives and Vince’s military buddies. Becca had briefly met two of those buddies, twin brothers Blake and Beau Junger. The brothers were big and kind of scary and so identical it was freaky.
The sounds of vehicles passing on the street, and the distant stream of hard rock music, filled Becca’s ears as stuck her hand inside mailbox. She didn’t feel anything and rose onto the toes of her T-strap wedges and looked inside. It was empty.
So she tried the front doors of the business. They rattled but didn’t open. She knocked and yelled hello a few times, then followed the sound of the heavy metal music around the side of the building. The wooden heels of her crocheted sandals tapped across the concrete. She’d paid seventy bucks for the shoes, a big splurge for a girl on a tight budget, but she just hadn’t been able to resist the color: Scarlet Tango.
Her last boyfriend liked to say that women who wore red didn’t wear panties, but Toby Ray had said a lot of things like they were facts instead of something he’d made up in his own dumb head. No one had ever confused Toby Ray for a deep thinker, but then again, no girl dated that boy for his mind.
Bless his heart.
Becca’s shadow followed her as she rounded the building, and the warm June breeze ruffled the bottom of her white and red sundress. The slight wind tossed a few strands of her medium blond hair, brightened with perfectly placed level nine highlights. The heavy drumbeat and screeching vocals assaulted her ears, and from behind the lenses of her sunglasses, her gaze landed on a gleaming red convertible parked at an angle behind the garage. Tiny bursts of sunlight glistened in the cherry-colored paint, dancing along the front fenders to the tip of the pointed fins in back. The raised hood had a Cadillac emblem. This was Texas, where trucks and Cadillacs ruled, but other than a limo, or maybe the stretch hearse from Alden Funeral and Crematorium, it was the longest car Becca had ever seen. Some people might look at it and see a classic. Becca saw a pimp mobile, and if there was one car in which she never wanted to be seen, it was a shiny pimp mobile with tuck and roll leather seats.
A Beats speaker and an iPod rested on the ground by the front whitewall tire, and a pair of legs from the thighs down stuck out from beneath the chrome bumper and massive grille. Presumably the legs belonged to a male. A male wearing faded jeans on his legs and gray Vans on his feet. In Lovett, Texas, men wore Justin Boots. Not skater shoes. It was kind of startling. Like if someone stuck a Prius at Cadillac Ranch.
She glanced around, then continued past the long car and the skater shoes and toward the two-story house several hundred feet behind the garage. The house looked newly painted, white with green trim and yellow window boxes. The window boxes were empty and the front door was open.
Becca knocked on the screen door several times, but like the front of the business, no one answered. She peered through the screen and into the dark interior and at the outline of a sofa, a comfy-looking recliner, and a big-screen television. “Is anyone home?” When she still got no answer, she retraced her steps to the front fender of the Cadillac.
“Hello,” she called out over the horrible music.
Instead of an answer, a deep male voice rose from beneath the car and sang along with the music, if it could be called music. It was more a pounding assault of guitars and drums and motherfuck this and motherfuck that. The voice beneath the car was worse than the lead singer/screecher, which Becca would have thought impossible. She unplugged the iPod, then leaned under the raised hood. She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Hello!”
A hollow thud like someone thumped a watermelon came from beneath the car. A loud “Shit” mingled with the sound of tools hitting concrete.
Becca wrinkled her nose and whispered, “Ouch.” She straightened to the sound of a painful moan and a few “goddamn its.” Then two greasy hands reached from beneath and grabbed the shiny bumper. Under the smudges of grease, the head of a Chinese dragon breathed fire across the back of his hand. Squeaky little wheels rolled the rest of him from under the car. Long legs and a spiky belt led to a dirt-smudged white T-shirt over a flat belly. Next came hard forearms and balls of muscular shoulders. The rest of the dragon tattoo wrapped up his arm, and the tail disappeared under the T-shirt sleeve. His square chin and jaw were covered in dark stubble, and a frown pulled at the corners of his mouth. Then eyes the color of a clear Texas sky slid into view and stared up at her. Angry blue eyes beneath dark slashes of brows and surrounded by dark lashes. An even angrier red mark on his forehead seemed to turn redder by the second.
Despite the furious scowl and horrible welt, hideous spiky belt and tacky tattoo, he was so ridiculously hot, Becca felt her insides melt. “You’re not at the lake,” she managed past her suddenly dry throat.
“Obviously.” He rubbed a greasy hand across the welt on his forehead. “Can I do something for you?”
“Yes.” She’d met guys like him before. Guys who looked good in anything from tight T-shirts and jeans to a Sunday suit and tie. Guys who looked at a girl and took her breath away. She’d always been a sucker for guys like him. Hot guys with cool names like Tucker or Slade or Toby Ray. Or, in this case, Nathan Parrish.
“Are you going to share with the rest of the class?”
“What?” She’d never
met Nate. He’d graduated high school three years before her, but she didn’t have to know him personally to know his personal history. Everyone in Lovett knew it.
“What do you need?” He sat up and she took a step back.
Oh! “Photographs. I’m supposed to pick up my photographs.”
He rose to his feet and pulled a dirty blue shop towel from the back pocket of his jeans. “My mother isn’t here,” he said as he wiped his hands.
Even in her heels, he was a good head taller than she, and she took another step back. He smelled like oil and sweat. She should be repulsed. “I know. She said she’d leave them in the mailbox.” Yeah, she should be repulsed, but she’d always been a sucker for guys like him. Good-looking guys who were good with their hands. Guys who borrowed money from nice girls like her for gas or rent or food. Or to take tramps like Lexie Jane Johnson to Rowdy’s Roadhouse for twofer night.
He wiped the web between his long fingers as a clear bead of sweat slid from his scruffy jaw and down his neck. “Did you check the box before you walked back here and ripped the cord out of my iPod?”
“Yes I checked.” His hair was so dark and thick that one bead of sweat probably contained enough intoxicating pheromones to turn the heads of every female from Dalhart to Abilene. “And I didn’t rip anything. I unplugged it.” After her last breakup, she’d sworn off hot guys with hot toxic pheromones. “Sorry I scared you.”
He slowly lifted his gaze up her chest and throat to her mouth. His eyes, a cool, clear blue surrounded by those black lashes, looked into hers and sent tingles to the backs of her knees. “I wasn’t scared. Girls in big red shoes and Texas hair don’t scare me.” He tossed the towel on the car’s engine. “I was startled. There’s a difference.”
Her feet were only a six and a half. “If you say so.”
“You nearly gave me a concussion.”