FIVE STARS FOR Vanishing Dreams
October 21, 2014
Devil’s Bend, 2
✔️ Country music superstar
✔️ Single mother
✔️ Keeping secrets
Dalton Calhoun hadn’t always planned on a life up on the big stage, beneath the bright lights, but that was where he found himself. A second chance of sorts. An opportunity that had come along after his real dreams vanished when he was eighteen years old. Although country music was more than he could’ve expected, he’d never dismissed the notion that there was still something missing.
When Dalton followed his buddy Cooper Krenshaw to Devil’s Bend, Texas, it didn’t take long before Dalton realized just what that was. But just because he has topped the country music charts, and made his fair share of women swoon, doesn’t mean that everything comes easy to him. And when he sets his sights on the black-haired, gray-eyed waitress at The Rusty Nail, Dalton realizes he might just have to work for what he wants.
Katie Clarren’s life has been a series of unfortunate events, starting from the time her mother left on her eighteenth birthday. Not exactly how she had planned to spend one of the major turning points in her young life. Nor had she planned to spend the next five years dealing with the fallout. Somewhere along the way, Katie adapted, doing exactly what she needed to do in order to survive. But Katie has secrets that even her closest friends don’t know. Secrets she has worked hard to protect.
Although she longs for handsome, charming, country music sensation, Dalton Calhoun, she knows that anything that starts between them can’t last. Too bad her heart doesn’t seem to be on the same page.
Can the two of them overcome the secrets and lies? Can they look to the future and stop living in the past? Or will they keep dwelling on the dreams that vanished, not seeing what is right in front of them? Each other.
Sitting on Cooper Krenshaw’s back porch, his girl by his side, Dalton Calhoun wasn’t sure anything could knock him from his perch on top of the world. This beat the best nights up on that stage that he loved so much. And that was saying something.
Not that he would call Katie his girl to her face. Knowing her, she’d adamantly deny anything between them.
Dalton would argue right back, but that was a moot point.
“Topless, I’m not kiddin’,” Eric said with a chuckle.
“Are you serious? What’d Tessa do?” Dalton asked The Rusty Nail’s bartender, who had befriended him in recent weeks.
“Oh, you know Tessa,” Eric said facetiously. “She was a good sport.”
Izzy’s sweet, full-belly laugh echoed out into the twilight. “Right. Tessa. Good sport. Yeah, if you consider throwing an apron at the woman before hustling her out of the bar a good sport.
“Where was Jack?” Dalton asked, referring to Tessa’s younger brother who helped manage The Rusty Nail, the small-town bar in Devil’s Bend that was owned by Tessa herself.
“He pretended not to notice,” Eric added, grinning. “But yeah, Tessa tossed the woman out of the bar and told her not to come back.”
“All because of Coop, huh?” Dalton glanced over at his good friend. The man who’d wandered from Tennessee to Texas on a whim and found himself caught up in the middle of what appeared to be a rocky little love fest.
“Don’t act like you don’t have women tossin’ their panties at you on a nightly basis,” Izzy accused Dalton directly.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ’bout, ma’am,” Dalton said deadpan.
The small group erupted in a fit of laughter.
There was no telling what would come flying at him on the nights he took the stage. He’d pretty much seen it all.
When Dalton’s good buddy, Coop, a fellow country musician, had mentioned they’d be having an impromptu cookout at his house in the small town he’d recently moved to, Dalton hadn’t been all that surprised. Even back in Nashville, Cooper was always putting together spur-of-the-moment meals just so he could get his friends together. And it looked like Coop had acquired a close little group of friends in the short time he’d been in town.
Since Dalton was staying in Coop’s guest room, he had inquired as to whether he could bring someone, namely the woman sitting beside him — Katie Clarren, a waitress at The Rusty Nail, who, from what Dalton could tell, Tessa considered a friend. As it would seem, Cooper wasn’t the only one who was a little smitten over a woman. However, Dalton wasn’t looking to announce that to anyone at the moment. Despite his lack of interest in a serious relationship, he’d found himself a little hung up on the black-haired beauty who’d caught his eye almost instantly.
Luckily for him, Katie had agreed to join him at tonight’s little soiree with relatively minimal coaxing. These days, it was somewhat iffy as to whether she was going to want to hang out. The woman seemed to be busy all the time, or at least that was the excuse she gave him whenever he tried to get her to go out with him.
But not tonight.
Tonight they were sitting on Cooper’s back porch, watching Tessa’s huskies, Havoc and Harmony, chase one another around the yard, yapping and growling as they fought over a tennis ball. The sun had recently settled beyond the horizon, and a string of white lights hanging haphazardly from one edge of the patio cover offered enough light to see by but not too much to attract the bugs. At least not yet.
Not that Dalton would’ve noticed. He was too busy trying to keep from staring at Katie in that little white sundress that accentuated all of her luscious curves along with the golden gleam of her tan skin. The woman stole his breath without even trying, and it took a tremendous amount of self-control to keep from making his intense interest known.
Dinner was finished and partially cleaned up, and now the beer was flowing, as was the conversation. Along with his notorious bar stories, Eric Lancaster, one of Tessa’s friends since childhood, was telling them about growing up in the small town of Devil’s Bend, Texas.
Every now and then, Katie would chime in with stories of where she grew up; her soft, reserved voice slid right along Dalton’s much too sensitive skin, making his hair prickle with awareness. Much to his dismay, Katie wasn’t speaking nearly as much as Dalton would’ve preferred. But damn, he loved to listen to her talk. Although she seemed engrossed in the conversation, she wasn’t making a lot of reference to herself, which was something Dalton had grown accustomed to since the very first time she’d agreed to go out with him. He was incredibly curious about what made the woman tick, yet he never seemed to get much out of her.
His attention turned to Tessa, who was sitting on one of the steps that led down to the yard while everyone else sat up on the porch behind her. She seemed a little introspective at the moment, and Dalton wondered what she was thinking about. Whatever it was, she clearly felt as though she needed to keep her distance because of it.
Cooper, on the other hand, was brimming with pride, not to mention slightly oblivious to Tessa’s distance-keeping maneuver. Regardless, it was good to see the man so damned happy these days. What with all the shit he’d endured recently with his crazy fuck of a manager, Marcus Evergreen, Dalton was hoping the guy would get a moment’s peace. Took running off to Texas to find it, but from the looks of it, Cooper had found it.
Dalton thought Texas looked good on Cooper. So much so that he was personally thinking about making the move as well. When Cooper had presented his plan of opening up an equestrian center in the backwoods town, Dalton had been on board almost from the beginning. Now that he was here, he couldn’t see any reason not to follow through with it.
It wasn’t that his music career wasn’t in full swing, but this was the sort of peace he had been searching for, one he couldn’t seem to find in the bright lights of the stage. The sweet smell of the country was the yin to the country music yang, something that would balance him and offer him a little downtime from all the chaos.
Speaking of chaos, there were three news vans sitting out front, probably full of reporters chomping at the bit to figure out just what Cooper was doing down here. Dalton knew it hadn’t helped when he’d stepped into the picture, drawing even more attention to the situation, and because of that, he’d kept his mouth shut. They damn sure weren’t getting any juicy details from him. What Cooper did with his life was his own business. On a good day, Dalton avoided them like the plague, and in the event he was cornered by one of them, he merely graced them with a smile and a nod. No comment, no sir.
This was the life; that was for damned sure.
“How long have you two been married?” Dalton asked Eric and Izzy when there was a lag in Eric’s latest story.
“Almost six years,” Eric answered easily. “We got married a few months after Tessa and… Oomph!”
Izzy’s well-placed elbow to Eric’s ribs effectively shut the man up, but Dalton wanted to know just where he had been going with that statement. Before he could inquire or Izzy could offer an apology, Tessa spoke up.
“It’s okay, Izzy,” Tessa called out, her focus still on the two dogs trampling across the yard.
“Sorry, Tess,” Eric said, his tone chock full of sincerity.
Tessa waved him off before she said, “Eric and Izzy got married two months after Richie and I did. The only reason they waited was because high maintenance over there insisted on this huge wedding.”
Dalton laughed, looking over at Izzy, who was blushing profusely. Richie? As he watched the pretty young woman turn beet-red, he attempted to tie the pieces of Tessa’s statement together. It took him a second, but then he remembered. Katie had mentioned Richie, Tessa’s late husband. The guy had been killed in the line of duty, from what he recalled.
“So not true,” Izzy stated a little defensively, her wide eyes turning to her husband. “He’s the one who wanted a big wedding.”
“Okay, so that was mostly true,” Tessa added with a laugh.
“Do you guys have kids?” Dalton asked, watching the two of them as they sat side by side, their arms and knees touching, almost as though they couldn’t stand to be too far away from one another. Clearly in love.
Dalton admired the pair. At thirty-one, he’d hit a point in his life when he wished he could find what they had, although he truly wasn’t quite to that permanent, happily-ever-after place just yet. But he was getting there. The thought had him glancing sideways at Katie. She was smiling, but she didn’t seem all that engaged in the conversation.
“No kids. Not yet. We’ve been talking about it, though.”
Dalton saw Tessa flinch, and the way she jerked her head back, looking up at Izzy, had probably hurt. Her mouth opened, then closed, and if he wasn’t mistaken, the maneuver had effectively cut off something she had wanted to say before she settled with, “It’s about time. I’ve wondered if you two would ever get with the program.”
That clearly didn’t sound like what she’d originally intended to say, at least not based on her facial expression.
Dalton continued to watch the interaction, noticing the way Izzy’s face fell. There was a story there; even he could figure that out. “Do you want to try to have kids again?” Dalton asked, the inquiry directed at Tessa this time.
A slight elbow from Katie was a subtle hint that he’d gone and done it now. Aww, hell. That clearly wasn’t the right question to ask, and Dalton felt as though he’d been punched in the gut the moment Tessa pushed to her feet and took off around the side of the house, disappearing from sight.
“Shit, man, I’m…” He was sorry, but right then, the man he was trying to apologize to obviously wasn’t interested in hearing it, because Cooper was on his feet and flying down the stairs in quick pursuit of Tessa.
Way to go, Calhoun!
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Nicole Edwards Limited
Cover Design : Nicole Edwards Limited