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Second chances aren’t always easy.
Bruce Tannen is better known by his nickname, Brutal, because once upon a time, he was a monster on the football field.
A new family, new expectations, and even new friends. It’s all just fine by him until he runs into the one woman to ever hold his heart. The past comes back with a wallop of a tackle that even he can’t take.
Allyson left him a lifetime ago, but she’s the only thing that’s ever felt right… in his arms, in his heart, in his life.
Allyson Meyers knew who she was and where she was going, but a wrong turn years ago took her on a journey she never imagined. Not even in her worst nightmares.
It was ugly, but she’s stronger now for the one person who matters… her son, Cooper.
Bruce was the one she’d left behind, the path she should’ve taken. It’s too bad you can’t rewrite history. But if she’s brave enough, maybe they could create a new future?
Can Bruce open his heart to the one who shattered it?
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“Fuck, it’s hot!” I bark to no one as the screen door slams behind me, blocking out at least a portion of the August heat. The sweat rag I’m using to wipe my face down is about as useless as tits on a bull, already soaked through, wrung out, and soaked again.
But as I open my eyes to the coolness of the kitchen, it’s not the heat from outside that stops me in my tracks. It’s the one raised eyebrow and glaring eyes on the face of the otherwise sweet woman in front of me. “Language, son.”
Busted in my own damn house. How’s that even happen? “Uh, hey there, Mama Louise. Didn’t expect to see you over here.”
There’s a question in there somewhere, something along the lines of ‘what the fuck are you doing in my kitchen?’ but I don’t dare voice it out loud.
She ain’t my mama, and I damn sure ain’t her son, but as we’ve learned lately, sometimes, family is what you make of it, not what nature gives you. Mama Louise is the woman who has taken us Tannens on as fixer-upper projects. Me and my two brothers, Brody and Bobby, might as well be condemned buildings for all the work we need, but my little sister, Shayanne, seems to be doing okay with Mama Louise’s motherly influence.
Regardless, everyone in town and out of town and the globe over calls this tiny blonde woman who could intimidate the sun itself to bend to her will ‘Mama Louise’. She won’t have it any other way, unless you feel fit to drop the Louise and just call her Mama, which makes her cheeks pink up in joy. So I don’t do it. It doesn’t feel right to do that to my own mom, may she rest in peace.
The other eyebrow raises to match its partner and I realize my misstep. “Sorry,” I say simply, not really meaning it but willing to say it to keep her happy. It don’t take much, and it’s no skin off my back, so why not give her the little things? That way, she doesn’t dig too hard for the big ones.
Shayanne grins from Mama Louise’s side, enjoying seeing me put in my place, but she doesn’t dare let those giggles that are shaking her shoulders free or Mama Louise will get after her too. Mama Louise dips her chin once in acknowledgement of my apology and then goes on as if I didn’t just perform like some trained seal. Hell, if I’m doing tricks, where’s my treat? Shouldn’t I get a cookie or something?
I peek over Mama Louise’s shoulder, hoping that maybe she is actually making cookies, even though I know she’s neck deep in helping Shayanne. My sister is a force to be reckoned with, and one day, she’s going to grow up to be just like Mama Louise, who keeps a household full of mannerless cowboys from going feral.
Of course, Shayanne helps with that, as do the other Bennett boys’ wives. So maybe their work mostly consists of keeping us three Tannen boys in line. That’s a full-time job that requires overtime on the regular, so Shay could probably use the backup because she’s been doing it way too long on her own, even when she was barely a pipsqueak to us near-grown boys.
“What’s next?” I say, giving up on my cookie dreams.
“Shayanne has one more round of deliveries for you today. Think you’ve got time before dinner?”
Mama Louise eyes the sun, which is sitting midway down the western sky. The ball of fire’s position seems to light new urgency in her hands, and she pours the pink-tinted water through a strainer and into a big plastic jug.
They’re working on Shayanne’s latest creation . . . watermelon agua fresca. I’d teased her last spring that instead of people looking out for the milkman, they were going to be watching out their windows for the watermelon water woman. Which would be true, except that I swear I’m doing the bulk of her deliveries so she can keep up with the demand. At this point, I’m just glad she’s making something of the watermelons we grew in one of the fields out back. It’d seemed like a lot when we started harvesting, but summer’s not even two-thirds over and she’s damn near used every last one of them in her special concoction of watermelon, lime, and sugar water.
“Yep, I’ve got time,” I assure Mama Louise, starting to pick up the jugs for my first trip to the truck. Shayanne abandons her post to help me carry the load. She’s got a spring to her step and as many jugs of pink drink in her tiny hands as I do in my big paws. Shay’s a worker, down to the bone.
We step over Murphy, my old dog that doesn’t even move as I grumble at him, “Git, Murph.”