“Back to Dad…you’re a hundred-percent sure he doesn’t have dementia?”
“Positive,” she said apologetically. “Hey, you in a hurry to go home?”
“Good. Wanna hang out and watch a movie? I can make some popcorn.”
Any time Houston had a problem, Al tried to soothe his troubled mind with a diversion—like watching a movie. It was one of the many reasons he never wanted to lose her friendship.
“I don’t care. You pick,” she said, nodding toward the bookshelf containing her ridiculously huge DVD collection.
“You sure you wanna watch—”
“High drama with bullets, blood, and suspense?” she teased. “I live for it.”
“Liar.” He chuckled. “All right, but no covering your eyes at the bloody parts.”
“Hold your breath on that one,” she teased as she stood and headed toward the kitchen. “I’ll make the popcorn and grab some sodas if you want to set up the movie.”
As she disappeared around the corner, Houston caught himself smiling. Like always, she knew what to say or do to ease his worried mind.
I’m damn lucky to have a friend like her.
Houston shouldn’t have been shocked that Al offered to be his bride. She’d do anything for him…as he would her. They shared a unique bond filled with laughter, secrets, and even some tears. Al had been his rock, steady and strong, when his mom passed, just like he’d been hers—a year earlier—when her folks both died in a plane crash.
Like a life raft on stormy seas, they provided one another with safety and security and unconditional love. Though he didn’t love Al like a husband loved a wife, he definitely loved her like a brother loved a sister. That was the reason Houston would never put a ring on Al’s finger and trap her in some make-believe marriage. She deserved better than that…deserved someone to love her like a real husband should.
Searching for a movie, he grinned. Demonstrating the anal retentive and slight OCD librarian within, Al’s extensive DVD collection was sorted first by genre, then title. Her meticulous nature didn’t bother him a bit. If anything, it made finding an action flick to watch almost too easy.
“Yanno, I was thinking,” Al said, strolling from the kitchen, carrying a big bowl of popcorn and two cans of soda. “What about Gemma Macon? She might make a good wife.”
Houston arched his brows. Was she serious?
“Don’t look at me like that,” Al playfully chided, placing the bowl of popcorn between them before sitting on the couch. “She’s very pretty.”
“I’d rather wrangle a pissed-off bull. She’s too young; besides, she’s a wild child who’d be nothing but a pain in my ass.”
“You could handle her. All she needs is a tough cowboy with a firm hand to calm her down.”
“You think I’m tough?”
“You’re the toughest man I know.”
Al’s praise was a much-needed stroke to his ego, but still… “I’m not sure I want to play Dad’s game.”
“Why not? You afraid you’ll find the love of your life? Go on. Ask Gemma out. One date won’t kill ya.”
Instead of debating all the reasons he lacked any burning desire to date Gemma Macon or race his brothers to the altar, Houston picked up the remote and started the movie.
Forty-five minutes into the bloody spy-thriller, the popcorn was gone, and Al was curled up at the opposite end of the couch, sound asleep. Houston stood and quietly plucked the cotton blanket off the arm of the chair and covered her up.
“Sweet dreams, Al,” he whispered before placing a soft kiss to her head.
As the familiar tropical scent of her shampoo filled his nose, the fragments of disenchantment still lingering in his system disappeared.
Maybe asking Gemma out wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Pondering the possibility, he turned off the movie and the lights, then locked and closed the door behind him before climbing inside his truck. As he turned toward the ranch, the only vehicles left on Main Street were in front of the Hangover, Haven’s only bar.
“A cold brew doesn’t sound half bad,” he muttered to himself before pulling to a stop in a vacant parking spot.
When he strolled inside, Blake Shelton was blaring from the jukebox about God’s country. As Houston made his way across the hardwoods, he nodded in greeting to the people of Haven before climbing onto one of the stools at the bar.
“Hey, Houston,” greeted Gina Scott, the thirtysomething owner. The woman had a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush, but he didn’t mind. She was what his dad referred to as good people. “I haven’t seen you for a long while. Glad you stopped in. What can I get you?”
“Good to be here. I’ll have a draw, please.”
“Sure thing.” Gina nodded, then grabbed a mug and began filling it. “Where you been keeping yourself?”
“At the ranch, mostly. It’s been busy.”
“So I hear,” she replied, placing the frosty mug in front of him before jerking a nod toward the pool table in the rear of the bar.
Glancing toward the back of the bar, Houston watched youngest brother Beau ease in behind Gemma Macon before pressing himself against the back of her body. As he cupped his hands around hers, gripping the pool stick, she held him with a hungry stare. Beau dipped his head and whispered something in her ear. Something so lurid Gemma sucked in a deep breath and wiggled her backside against his crotch.
Why was Beau seducing a local girl? Had he changed his mind about making five million the hard way and decided to give up bull riding? Maybe, but doubtful. The prick was probably just horny and wanted to cop a nut before leaving Haven again.