Wild Card: Boys of Fall

BOOK: Wild Card: Boys of Fall
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Wild Card
Boys of Fall
Mari Carr

C
opyright
© 2016 by Mari Carr

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

F
or Erin and Cari
, my writing sisters.

I’ve loved every single minute we’ve spent together in Quinn.

Prologue

October

L
orelie Carr stepped
out into the cool evening air and sucked in a deep breath. The temperature in the barn had risen steadily as more people took to the dance floor. The party wasn’t even halfway over and she was already declaring it a success. Quinn High School had done a special dedication at the Homecoming Game, naming the football stadium in honor of her dad. The fancy new sign for the Nicholas Carr Stadium had been revealed tonight.

Best. Thing. Ever.

Lorelie couldn’t recall the last time she’d seen her father so relaxed and cheerful. It made her happy…even if she couldn’t manage to accomplish the same feelings of contentment.

Drifting farther away from the party, she took the path that led to a small, meandering creek that ran through the ranch. The sky was crystal clear and the moon full, allowing her to find her way with ease. It was a beautiful night, and while she loved every minute of the party, she was fairly certain no one would notice her absence.

Unlike so many of her friends, she was here stag, one of the few people in attendance without a date or a significant other to dance with. That solitary state had never bothered her before, mostly because, up until a few months ago, all of her friends had been single as well. Slowly, that was changing—and Lorelie was struggling to keep up.

She was almost to the creek when she realized she wasn’t the only one who’d escaped the music and the heat. Someone was sitting in her usual grassy spot on the bank near the water. The end of a cigarette glowed. Though she couldn’t see the smoker through the shadows cast by the surrounding trees, there wasn’t anyone at the party she didn’t know, so she continued forward without hesitation.

“You shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for you,” she said.

“Yeah. I figured that out when I was twenty-six, which is when I quit.”

She recognized the voice, and realized there
was
one person here that she didn’t know all that well. This guy. Wade’s former bandmate, Glen.

Lorelie stepped closer, finally able to see his face.

He hit her with the full force of a sexy-as-sin grin, and she actually stumbled slightly. She’d noticed how attractive he was the moment he’d walked into the barn. However, along with the handsomeness, she recognized the cockiness in his stance and the look in his eyes that told her this man was no stranger to charming women out of their clothes and into his bed.

“Come join me,” he invited, patting the ground next to him.

She wasn’t interested in playing the groupie for some here-today, gone-tomorrow musician, but she had really been looking forward to tugging off her cowboy boots and wading through the cool creek water. Her feet were killing her.

So she dropped down next to him as he took another drag.

“You quit, huh?” she countered.

“This doesn’t count.”

The smell suddenly hit her and she glanced at his fingers. “Pot? Seriously?”

He took another drag, and then held it out to her. “Wanna hit?”

“You realize that’s illegal in Texas, right?”

“You a cop?”

She snickered. “Hardly.”

“Give it a couple of years. Laws are changing. Besides, I bought this in Colorado.”

“Which is where you were supposed to smoke it.”

God, when did I become such a prude?

He shrugged, unconcerned. “You ever smoked pot before?”

“Yeah. A few times.” She was no saint. In truth, she was tempted by his offer. She’d been stretched taut as a drum since her dad’s heart attack and marijuana wasn’t exactly rampant in Quinn. A year ago, she would have taken a hit. Or three. Or…

Now?

She couldn’t afford to let her guard down in case her dad overdid it tonight. For months, she’d put away the parts of her that felt as natural as her skin and pulling out this boring saint who spent every minute living in fear. She was worn out, and the idea of staying out here by this creek the rest of the night and getting stoned was more appealing than she wanted to admit.

Hell, she hadn’t even had more than a beer tonight. What would she give for a shot of tequila?

She leaned back on the bank, looking up at the sky.

Glen looked down at her and held out the joint. “Last chance.”

“In case you forgot, I’m currently hosting a party for my dad. Every single person in town, including our pastor and my fourth-grade teacher, is in that damn barn. You don’t seriously expect me to walk back into the room stoned, do you?”

“One hit might do you good, Butterfly. I’ve been watching you tonight, flitting here and there without ever landing. Do you ever relax?”

“Of course I do.” It was a lie.

She used to be a champ when it came to taking it easy, but since her dad’s heart attack, she’d been living life in constant motion. For some reason she couldn’t explain, part of her felt that if she stopped,
he
might stop. And she couldn’t imagine one single day without Dad.

Glen stubbed out the joint on a rock and put what was left into a bag he tossed next to the cowboy hat resting on the ground. Then he laid back too, the two of them looking up at the night sky.

“So what do you do for fun around here, Lori?”

The only person who ever called her Lori—and got away with it—was her dad. “Lorelie,” she corrected. “And I do the same thing most people do for entertainment in a small town.”

He waited for her to elaborate and she wondered if he didn’t really know.

“I hang out at Pitchers or by the lake. Occasionally, I go to weddings or yard parties at the fire hall or celebrations like tonight. I go to high school football games in the fall, baseball in the spring, rodeo year round. Then there are trail rides, camping. But more often than not, I just stay in and play games or watch movies with my dad or some friends, and consume a lot of wine and margaritas.”

Glen’s brows furrowed, completely unimpressed. “Sounds dull as dirt.”

“I guess you think it’s more fun to be in a different city every night, hanging out with a bunch of strangers, club hopping, getting drunk and stoned and…”

She didn’t finish her statement. She had intended to say something about him getting laid by a bunch of groupies, but she realized that would be a rude thing to say to someone she didn’t know very well. She wasn’t sure why she assumed Glen was a playboy. The guy was a stranger. His wild lifestyle meant nothing to her.

“And?”

“You know,” she added. “The usual.”

“I assume you meant to add something about my sex life. After all, you hit the other biggies. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Sort of all go hand in hand, don’t they?”

“You play country music.”

He chuckled. “Guitar-playing cowboys get laid too.”

“Spare me the details.”

“You got a boyfriend, Butterfly?”

Lorelie pretended she hated the nickname. In truth, no one had ever given her a pet name. It made her feel kind of warm and squishy inside.

Dammit.

“Nope. I’m footloose and fancy free.”

“That seems like a waste. What’s wrong with the guys around here?”

She shrugged. “Nothing. I’m just not that easy to get to.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean my dad is one of the most respected men in the community, and he used his position as head football coach to ensure that I had a legion of big-ass protectors surrounding me at all times.”

Glen turned his head and studied her. “Please tell me you’re not a virgin.”

She huffed out an amused breath. She had never indulged in such an oddly personal conversation with a complete stranger before. And honestly, she didn’t want it to end. Talking to Glen was refreshing, a challenge. Something different.

She’d spent her entire life in Quinn, Texas. There was precious little she didn’t know about every single man, woman and child who resided there.

“No. I’m not a virgin. I’ve had plenty of lovers, thank you very much.”

“Define ‘plenty’.”

She couldn’t tell if Glen was teasing her or sincere. “None of your business.”

“Tell me anyway,” he urged.

The devil had her spilling all her secrets. Part of her was curious to see how he’d respond if she gave him the truth. “Six.”

Glen’s brows lifted. “Butterfly, when you get home tonight, look up ‘plenty’ in the dictionary. Then flip back to F and check out the definition of the word ‘few’.”

“Six was plenty for me,” she said, wishing she’d managed to temper her tone a bit. As it was, she suspected she might’ve made it obvious she hadn’t really enjoyed her encounters—few, plenty or otherwise.

“Is that right?”

She sat up. “That wasn’t a dare.”

Glen chuckled, not bothering to rise. “I didn’t take it as one. Until you said it wasn’t.”

Lorelie considered pulling off her boots. Then she reconsidered. She needed to get back to the party.

“Shouldn’t you be playing?”

Glen sat up slowly. “Wade wanted to dance with his new wife. Nobody seemed to mind the recorded music, so I figured I’d take a break.”

“It was nice of you to come tonight to perform for my dad’s party.”

He gave her that damn lethal grin that had her insides fluttering uncontrollably. There were deep laugh lines around his eyes that betrayed his older age…and his love of laughter.

“Wade thinks the world of your dad. Quoted the guy at least a million times when we used to tour together. I always wanted to meet the famous Coach.”

His words pleased Lorelie, though they didn’t surprise her. She’d heard the same sentiment expressed countless times throughout her life. “My dad is the greatest man I’ve ever known. He raised me all alone and I’ve never—not one single day—felt as if I wasn’t completely loved.”

Glen reached out and took her hand, holding it. The touch felt friendly, comforting. “You strike me as the type who’s damn easy to love, Lori.”

She blushed and dismissed the praise. “Lorelie. And I’m an opinionated, stubborn pain in the ass.”

He chuckled and squeezed her hand. “Just part of the charm. Gotta admit it though, I’m not so sure it’s the football team keeping the guys away from you, so much as what you just said.”

“What do you mean?”

“Coach sounds like a pretty hard act for a man to follow.”

Lorelie had never considered that until Glen spoke the words. “I…” She wasn’t sure how to respond to something she realized might be true.

Glen read her sudden distress. “Well, I didn’t mean for that to upset you. Kind of intended it as a compliment for your dad, but I obviously missed the mark. So let’s change the subject.”

“Okay.” She’d have plenty of time to fret over that tomorrow. And the day after. And…

“The reason I’m here is because I had a rare weekend off from playing with the band, so I thought I’d take advantage of the time to come meet Charlene, since I missed Wade’s wedding.”

Since Wade’s retirement from music, Glen had moved on and was now lead guitarist for Trent Maxwell, the hottest thing to hit country music since Garth Brooks. According to Wade, Glen spent at least fifty weeks of the year on the road, so she couldn’t imagine why he’d want to travel to Quinn on his weekend off.

“If I was you, I think I would have spent my downtime at home, sleeping in, binge-watching Netflix and doing a whole lot of nothing.”

Glen shrugged. “Guess I’m too used to moving to sit still for long. In fact, I think I just hit my limit on relaxation, so,” he put his hat back on, stood up, and then reached down to help her rise as well, “I think it’s time we got back to the party.”

She agreed. She’d been gone too long. The food platters would probably need refilling and she wanted to make sure her dad wasn’t overdoing it.

They walked back to the barn in silence, but it didn’t feel awkward. Typically, Lorelie was the type to fill all the quiet times with the sound of her own voice. She knew perfectly well she talked too much. Her friends teased her about it enough, but tonight she was happy to just listen to the breeze rustling the leaves on the trees and the crickets and the distant strains of music and laughter coming from the barn.

When they reached the entrance, Glen stopped and looked at her. “I’m going to sing you a song, Lori.”

“Lorelie,” she corrected, though now, like earlier, Glen pretended not to hear her. “And that would be really nice.”

They returned to the party, both of them instantly enclosed in the hubbub. Glen returned to the makeshift stage to play with Wade, while Lorelie toured the room, stopping to converse with the guests, making sure they all had enough to eat and drink.

Later, as the evening began to wind down, Glen stepped up to the mic and kept his promise to sing her a song as he traded places with Wade.

He strummed a few bars of a song. “This song is dedicated to tonight’s hostess, Miss Lorelie Carr. Let’s give her a hand, folks. She’s thrown one hell of a party.”

Everyone clapped and she felt herself blush. Not because of the crowd’s attention, but because of his.

Glen’s.

He looked directly at her as he began to sing. The entire night, he’d sung backup, so it was the first time she’d gotten to really hear his voice. It was deep and rich and so clear, it almost moved her to tears.

She smiled as she listened to the words of the song, “Butterfly Fly Away.” She recognized it as an old Miley Cyrus one, but Glen changed the words from first to third person as he sang about her relationship with her dad.

As if on cue, her father crossed the room and took her hand. “Dance with me, Lori.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat as her dad led her to the floor, the two of them moving in time to Glen’s guitar.

“We haven’t danced together like this since you were a little girl. Remember?”

She nodded. “I do.”

“You’d put your feet on top of mine and we’d shuffle around the kitchen.”

Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. “And you’d sing along to the radio at the same time.”

Her dad placed his forehead against hers. “Didn’t sound anywhere as good as this young buck, did I?”

“You sang just fine.”

“Tonight was perfect, Lori.”

She couldn’t speak, her throat clogged with tears, so she just nodded.

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