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Monday Puzzler > August 1, 2016--A Bit of A Misunderstanding

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message 1: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1923 comments Mod
Sometimes the hero and heroine get off on the wrong foot. This is definitely one of those times. Unfortunately, someone overhears the heroine misunderstanding the hero and it becomes a town-wide issue. This is one of those times...What I like about this is that it doesn't become a BIG FAT HAIRY DEAL. They talk about it and work it out. Like adults. Imagine that!
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“Dude . . .” COUSIN drew out the innocuous greeting, imbuing it with a wealth of questions. He took a seat across from HERO’s desk in the football pavilion and settled his hands on spread knees.

Christ, had COUSIN divined the confused, lustful thoughts HERO had entertained about his cousin? He’d seen HEROINE in the bleachers. Normally, he tuned out the buzz of female chatter and laughter during his practices. He lasered his attention on conditioning the team for their first game, but his gaze had darted to her more times than he cared to admit. Her swinging ponytail, T-shirt, and shorts were in sharp contrast to the rest of the bleacher babes.

His stoicism had turned him an unwilling challenge for every unattached female in SMALL TOWN—and even some of the married ones. Football practice had become a minefield of lipstick, short skirts, and cleavage.

COUSIN was his best friend—outside of DOG. Did he believe HERO had taken advantage of HEROINE? HERO’s anxiety grew to fill the silence. He broke. “Nothing happened with HEROINE last night. I didn’t touch her.”

Not for lack of wanting to, he failed to add.

“Obviously.” COUSIN chuffed and gestured from HERO’s head to his toes.

“She was buzzed, and I—wait, why ‘obviously’?” HERO held his hands up and stopped his excuses. “I’m not a troll living under a bridge.”

“You could have told me, you know. I’m open-minded and accepting.” COUSIN wagged his finger toward HERO. “But you’ve been with women, unless you were faking it. Are you bi?”

His blood picked up speed. Adrenaline, shock, incredulity hammered at his heart and disembodied his mind. All he could do was stare at COUSIN and blink.
“I’m not bi,” HERO finally said.

“Gay?”

“I’m not gay or bi. Where the hell did you get the idea I was? Did Shelia say something?”

COUSIN crossed his arms and slouched back in the chair. “Sheila said HEROINE outed you at practice.”

“Why would HEROINE think I’m gay? Last night . . .” HERO shuffled a hand through his hair to rub at his nape. A heGRANDMAche due to the heat and the late night throbbed at the base of his skull.

“You said nothing happened.” COUSIN’s voice turned hard, protective, as did his stance, elbows braced on knees.

“Nothing did happen . . . but I thought . . . I mean, she seemed . . . never mind.” She had been attracted to him, hadn’t she? Had he completely misread her signals? “Has she got something against me?”

COUSIN scratched at the stubble on his jaw. “I don’t know. She’s worried you’re being nice to GRANDMA to get all her land.”

The destructive rumors bordered on hateful. Maybe his first impression of her at the river was right. Maybe she was flighty and selfish. But last night she’d been funny and sweet. “Is she trying to get me run out of town?”

“If HEROINE said you were gay, she believed it.”

HERO grabbed his baseball cap and stood so forcefully the chair rocketed back into a whiteboard, scattering markers. “Where is she?”

“Back home with GRANDMA by now, I’d guess.”

Without another word, he whistled for DOG and walked out. Pulling his brim low, he ignored the sideways glances and whispers. He’d served side by side with gay men. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a farce to appease the political machine. You couldn’t live with a man, face the danger they faced, and not know. Never bothered him.

But his foothold in the town and with the football team was tenuous. Not everyone on the school board had wanted to hire an outsider. He still had to prove himself, and he wasn’t naïve. Rumors circulating about his sexual preference weren’t going to garner him fans in the generally conservative town.

By the time he slid into his truck, he recognized his anger had grown too hot. DOG licked his hand. HERO closed his eyes and caressed his dog’s soft ears while he breathed deep and counted. By the time he’d reached twenty, his boiling anger had reduced to a simmer.

The bouts of panic and anger he’d struggled with since childhood came less and less frequently and had become easier to control. He drove toward Miss GRANDMA’s with determination tensing his muscles. He’d fight to stay in SMALL TOWN.

His truck tossed gravel onto her little convertible in its skidding stop. With DOG on his heels, he hopped out, circled the porch to the kitchen by habit, and yanked the screen door open. DOG bounded inside, and HERO followed. The screen door hit hard, startling HEROINE like a quail ready to take flight, her hands braced on the counter. DOG fed on HERO’s agitation and barked at their cornered prey.

A black cotton T-shirt dress hung loosely but exposed miles of leg. Damp hair waved over her shoulders, and bare feet shifted on the dark-planked floor. Her face was makeup free and pale. Her teeth pulled on both lips, drawing the only color into her face. In contrast to the tension clouding the room, something smelled wonderful and comforting. Sweet and rich.

He skipped the pleasantries. “You announced to everyone I’m gay. Why?”

“I did not.” She pushed up straighter against the counter.

“None of those women got the idea I’m a homosexual from you?”

Her face dropped to her shoulder before popping back up to his. “Well”—she drew the word out—“one of the women eavesdropped on a private conversation I was having with Kat. It was certainly not my intention to wrongly out you to the town. I really thought you were gay, but now I know you’re not.”

He used his size to intimidate her, feeling like a jerk even though he couldn’t stop himself. She pressed farther back against the counter. DOG’s hackles rose, and the dog added a threatening throaty growl to the already dark undertones. Her gaze bounced between them.

“Stand down,” he said to DOG, accompanied by a hand signal. The dog sat, but the reverberating rumble continued. HERO switched his attention back to HEROINE. “Are you trying to get me fired?”

Her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly, drawing his eye. “Of course not. It was a total misunderstanding. COUSIN told me you were a ‘man’s man,’ and when I asked if DOG was your girlfriend, you said no. You talked about him like he’s your best friend or something. Like you love him.”

“I do love him. He is my best friend.” Christ, why had he admitted that? Next, she’d be telling everyone he was into bestiality.

“I’m so sorry. I’d had a bit too much to drink and wasn’t thinking . . . straight.” Her eyes widened, and she pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, but he couldn’t tell if the Freudian slip amused or embarrassed her. “It’s just that, normally someone like you wouldn’t, you know, be into someone like me. When I thought you were gay and being neighborly, everything made more sense.”

Her words dented his ego. “What? A dumb jock couldn’t be interested in an intelligent, beautiful woman?”

Her face shot to his on a quick, indrawn breath. She tucked hair behind an ear before rubbing the ends in a nervous gesture. “That’s not what I meant at all.”

He closed the distance between them, close enough to see every freckle dotting the bridge of her nose. “How are you going to make this right?”

“I made you a banana pudding,” she lilted, pointing to the casserole dish on the counter.

“A banana pudding? Seriously?”

Her hunched shoulders and the fingernail between her teeth transmitted her nerves in waves. Her gaze was stuck on DOG, and HERO realized the dog had stepped forward with him, his stance protective, teeth bared. A short whistle had DOG retreating to the door with a whine.

“I could tell everyone you were the best lay of my life and when you blew me off in the morning, I got jealous?” she suggested.

The uncertainty in her voice was in stark contrast to the woman he’d sparred with at the river or flirted with at The Tavern. He relaxed his stance and propped one hand on the counter, leaning in. She pulled back as if afraid. Finally, he had the upper hand. A smile wanted to curl his lips, but he forced his face to stay bland.

“Gee, that makes me sound like a real Boy Scout, doesn’t it? While there’s something appealing about your humiliation—unlike you, lying goes against what I stand for.”

“I didn’t lie exactly.”

He ignored her weak defense and wagged his finger in her face. “Not that I wouldn’t be the best lay of your life, I would. But still, as I didn’t close the deal—”

“Close the deal?” Her shoulders dropped, and her chin jutted forward. The fire he’d sensed yesterday flared between them. “You’re not recruiting me to your football team. And, if you wanted to ‘close the deal,’” she said with air quotes, “why didn’t you make a move?”

“Because you were blitzed, and excuse me for being gentlemanly, but I didn’t want you puking your guts up while I screwed you.” He kept his words intentionally crude.

“Yeah, you sound like a real gentleman.” Her drawl dripped sarcasm. “And, I wasn’t drunk enough for a one-night stand with you, Coach HERO. You overestimate your appeal.” With a flip of her hair and an exaggerated eye roll, she shoved his arm away and started to the hall door.

Honeysuckle shampoo assailed him on his huge, annoyed inhale. He circled her wrist with reflexes honed on football fields and battlefields and jerked her around, ignoring her huff of surprise.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

He kept her wrist in a vise, while his other hand settled on the small of her back. The same frisson of desire from the night before seeped into his fingers and gentled his touch. Her face tipped up, her mouth parted, and her blue eyes rounded with an emotion he couldn’t interpret. “Closing the deal.”


message 2: by Leigh-Ayn (last edited Jul 31, 2016 10:55PM) (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1206 comments OOOOOHHHHH I think I have read the Kindle sample for this book but haven't read the actual book! eeekkk!
can't wait for the reveal so I can actually read it as the name escapes me now!


message 3: by Dls (new)

Dls | 2101 comments Mod
Nope. I have not read this.


message 4: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (staceyissassy) | 1281 comments It doesn't seem familiar.


message 5: by Priya (new)

Priya (priyachennareddy) No idea.


message 6: by Janice (new)

Janice | 30 comments Wow, I'm on a role! I knew the one from last week and this one too. This is one of my favorite authors. Everything she writes is absolutely divine! Great voice.


message 7: by Irisheyes (new)

Irisheyes | 896 comments I don't think I've read this one.


message 8: by Janga (new)

Janga | 1070 comments Mod
I just recently read this full series--on your recommendation, Manda. :)


message 9: by Chocolatesoup (new)

Chocolatesoup | 397 comments no idea!


message 10: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1923 comments Mod
Janga wrote: "I just recently read this full series--on your recommendation, Manda. :)"

:)


message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan (susaninaz) | 1037 comments No idea, but the banter is great.


message 12: by Nicole (new)

Nicole (nikanne) | 222 comments Curious!


message 13: by Manda (new)

Manda Collins (manda_collins) | 1923 comments Mod
It's Slow and Steady Rush by Laura Trentham. The trilogy is sort of Friday Night Lights set in Alabama. I'm reading the first book in her latest series right now (Kiss Me That Way) and loving it.


message 14: by Janice (new)

Janice | 30 comments Seriously, she's an auto buy for me. Loved the football series. The Cottonbloom series is pure catnip.


message 15: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (staceyissassy) | 1281 comments Cool. I'll have to check it out. :-)


message 16: by Leigh-Ayn (new)

Leigh-Ayn | 1206 comments nice choice!
I have only read the sample! I best fix that immediately!


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