Hang tough, p.19
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       Hang Tough, p.19

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  house over lemonade and cherry crisp.” His angry gaze moved from Bernice, to Miz Maybelle, to Pearl, the ones who seemed to be the least apologetic. “And where in the hell did you get a lie detector machine anyway?”

  All eyes zoomed to Vivien.

  “I found it by the side of the road.”

  “Bullshit.”

  She shrugged. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

  Miz Maybelle smirked at Tobin. “Don’t you want to know what Jade said about you during the lie detector test?”

  “Why would you ask her about me?”

  Bernice snorted. “Because even before you showed up here, raging like an angry bull because you think we done your lady wrong, it’s obvious you have the hots for her.”

  “Jade said some pretty juicy stuff,” Miz Maybelle said slyly.

  Wrong. Your interference today ensured there’d be nothing juicy going on tonight.

  Vivien rolled her eyes. “It is not juicy, Maybelle. Jade said Tobin’s kisses were juicy.”

  “No, she admitted his body was juicy,” Pearl argued. “Like she drooled whenever he took his shirt off.”

  “Are you sure she didn’t say juicy when he took his pants off?” Tilda asked.

  All eyes swiveled to her.

  “What?” she asked indignantly. “I just wanted clarification since I wasn’t there.”

  Jesus. He oughta grab the fucking Taser and turn it on himself.

  “So why are you here?” Bernice asked. “To make sure we don’t spill the beans to Garnet that you’re sneaking around with Jade?”

  “I’m here to make sure you never mention this incident to Miz G, because it would break her heart.”

  They all nodded.

  “That’s it?” Pearl asked suspiciously.

  “No, that’s not it. You’re each gonna do something really fuckin’ nice and special for Jade. And yes, I’m mad enough that my language is warranted, so deal with it.”

  “What kind of special things are you expecting us to do?” Vivien asked.

  Dammit. Just as he started to berate himself for not thinking this through, an idea clicked. “You’re gonna talk to your buddy in Casper—the one who runs the music department, or the symphony or whatever it is—about the talented young woman living outside of Rawlins. A violinist with a degree from Columbia who is looking to connect with other musicians in the area.”

  Vivien’s eyes turned shrewd. “This is a serious favor, Tobin. “

  “Oh, I know. But trust me. When you hear Jade play? You’ll thank me for doin’ you the favor because the woman is an outstanding violinist.”

  “Since when is Jade going to be living here permanently?”

  Tobin flashed his teeth at her. “Since she and I became serious.”

  It might’ve been the first time he’d shocked them all into speechlessness.

  Vivien cleared her throat. “I’ll get right on it.”

  Next he leaned in front of Bernice. “If Jade wants a full salon treatment, you’ll give her the works. No charge.”

  Bernice squirmed. “How about at a reduced rate?”

  “How about if I tell your husband about the birthday spanking you got—onstage—at the Lumberjack Jamboree strip show in Casper two months ago?”

  “Does Garnet tell you everything?”

  “Just the blackmail stuff,” Pearl grumbled.

  Tobin faced her.

  She threw up her hands. “You got nothin’ on me, Hale.”

  “Not yet. But I have my suspicions about what you’ve been up to.”

  The woman all but looked at the ceiling and whistled innocently.

  “So, Pearl, I expect when I ask for your cooperation, in whatever capacity I need it, I won’t have to ask more than once?”

  “Yes, sir.”

  Smart-ass. Tobin eyed both Tilda and Miz Maybelle.

  Tilda smiled brightly. “Since Jade will be one of Wyoming’s newest residents, I’ll take her out to lunch and introduce her to my great-niece, Elise, who just moved to Rawlins herself last month from Oakmont. She’s a very lovely girl and she doesn’t know anyone around these parts either.”

  “Why’d she relocate to Rawlins?” he asked skeptically.

  “Oh, you know, change of scenery.”

  “Uh-huh. Try again.”

  “Good lord, Tobin. You are a hard man to please when you’re looking after your woman.”

  He raised a brow—and . . . Tilda cracked.

  “All right. Elise’s boyfriend is in prison, but she swears he was set up—”

  Tobin held up his hand. “Scratch that lunch date. The embroidery stuff you do,” he said to Tilda. “Make her something nice that she can frame and hang on the wall. Or better yet, offer to teach her how to do it. She really digs that kind of craft stuff but she’s never had a chance to learn.”

  “That is so sweet,” Tilda said.

  Tobin focused on Miz Maybelle.

  She folded her arms across her ample chest. “I don’t care how much trouble I’m in with you, Tobin Hale, or how much you love them; I am not divulging my prize recipe for molasses cookies to Jade or anyone else.”

  “I’ll give you her recipe,” Bernice offered. “It ain’t all that secret.”

  “Bernice!”

  “Well, hon, it’s not really a secret when you’re jotting it down on cocktail napkins at the Blue Lantern in exchange for free shots,” Vivien said gently.

  “Shoot. I’d hoped I’d dreamed that.” Maybelle looked at Tobin. “What’s my punishment?”

  “You used to fish with your husband, right?”

  “All the blasted time. Why?”

  “Do you still use your equipment?”

  She shook her head.

  “Jade’s never been fishing and I’d like to borrow your equipment to see if she likes dropping a line before I buy her rods and reels.”

  A long beat passed before Miz Maybelle said, “Fine. At least someone would be getting some use out of it. It’s just been gathering dust since Mr. L passed on.”

  Tobin might’ve missed it if Tilda hadn’t pointed at Maybelle, discreetly wiping her eyes with a tissue. He crouched down. “If it has sentimental value to you—”

  “It does.” She looked up with watery eyes and sniffled. “That’s why I’m so happy to let you use it.”

  “This is the last thing I need from all of you. I’m goin’ out of town for a couple of days. Please let me and Jade tell Miz G that we’re together on our own time frame.”

  “Don’t wait too long, sonny,” Pearl warned. “We’re old. We might forget it’s supposed to be a secret.”

  “Especially if we’re drinking,” Vivien pointed out.

  “And if you like it, you should put a ring on it,” Bernice said with a smirk.

  After a round of laughter and fist bumps, they started singing.

  Yep. He definitely should’ve Tasered himself.

  Chapter Sixteen

  “Jade!”

  She jumped and the can of coffee in her hands slipped and crashed to the floor.

  Vivien picked it up and eyed the dent in the can before swapping it out for a new canister and setting it in Jade’s cart. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

  Right. You already did that.

  “I’m used to dealing with my hard-of-hearing friends. I tend to speak loudly, or so I’ve been told.” Vivien studied the items in Jade’s cart.

  Coffee, a package of fudge-striped cookies, a small box of dishwashing detergent, the latest issue of Cosmo, a carton of yogurt and a small container of Nutella. Jade might as well have a neon sign on the front of the cart announcing THIS WOMAN IS SINGLE! The only clichéd items she was missing were a bottle of cheap white wine and bag of cat food.

  That’s when Jade noticed Vivien had nothing in her cart. “I’ll let you get started with your shopping.”

  When Jade moved forward, Vivien blocked her exit. “I’m happy I ran into you. Garnet’s order from the Beauty Barn came in.
You can swing by and pick it up from Bernice.”

  “I’ll let GG know. I’d hate to deprive her of a visit to town.” Fool me once . . . Although every one of the Mud Lilies had apologized for the “misunderstanding,” Jade wasn’t going anywhere near them without backup.

  “It’ll just take you an extra five minutes,” Vivien said breezily. “And Garnet will be so appreciative. I’ll just text her real quick and let her know you’re picking it up.”

  Jade watched as Vivien whipped out her phone, typed out a text and sent it.

  A ping sounded.

  “Garnet said thank you. So I’ll just wait up by the checkout counter and you can follow me to Bernice’s.”

  No manipulation there. But what could she say? More importantly . . . what could she do to get out of it?

  Make your own backup plan.

  Jade smiled. “I have a couple of other things to grab first.”

  Vivien said, “Take your time.”

  Jade rolled her cart to the next aisle, pretending to look for something as she pulled out her cell phone and sent a text.

  JE: Are you around?

  A couple of seconds later, a reply showed.

  Yes. What’s up?

  JE: How long would it take you to get to Bernice’s Beauty Barn?

  Why? Fair warning that I’m not the pedicure type.

  JE: Can you meet me there? You said if I needed anything just to ask . . . remember?

  Fine. Be there in 20.

  After checking out, Jade tossed her bags in her car and followed Vivien to Bernice’s Beauty Barn, secretly snickering that she’d driven a block.

  The scents of permanent wave solution and coffee hit her as soon as she walked inside. And what a coincidence; Miz Maybelle, Pearl and Tilda all just happened to be watching Bernice cut another woman’s hair. A gorgeous woman with flowing blond locks who could have had a starring role in shampoo commercials.

  The Mud Lilies stood up, one by one, and hugged Jade, as if they were the best of friends.

  Bernice removed the cape from her customer with a flourish and said, “All done, sweetheart. In and out in under an hour, as promised.”

  “Thanks, Bernice.” The blonde unfolded from the chair—of course her clothes were as gorgeous as the rest of her—and stopped in front of Jade, offering her a brilliant smile and her hand. “You’re Garnet’s granddaughter?”

  Not said in a snarky manner at all, so Jade’s hackles came down a notch. “Yes. I’m Jade Evans.”

  “So pleased to meet you, Jade. I’m Harper Turner. I used to have a nail studio in the back, so I’ve known your grandma for years.”

  “I’ll tell her I saw you. I’m here briefly”—she emphasized the word—“to pick up an order before my groceries melt.”

  “The only perishable thing you bought was yogurt. And honey, that stuff could go bad and who would know the difference? It already tastes like sour milk,” Vivien said. “Which is why we know you have time to chat with us for a bit. No need to run off.”

  Jade laughed. “I remember how our last chat went, so you’ll understand if I decline.”

  Harper’s eyes narrowed. First on Jade and then on each one of the Mud Lilies, who all managed to pull off we wouldn’t harm a fly smiles.

  “We’re damn proud of Harper,” Bernice said, putting an arm around Harper’s shoulder. “Hardest-working woman you’ll ever meet. She stuck around this tiny town at the expense of pursuing her own dreams to raise her youngest sister until she graduated from high school. Now Harper owns a clothing company up at the Split Rock—and whoo-ee does she have some nice stuff. So nice she ships it all over the world.”

  “And she hooked herself a hot cowboy,” Tilda added.

  “I remember when you couldn’t wait to get out of Muddy Gap. You said there was nothing here for you.”

  “Sounds like someone else I know,” Jade muttered. She thought her comment went unheard amid the chattering about Harper’s hot husband and even more adorable boys, but Harper looked at her quizzically.

  “How long are you visiting?” Harper asked.

  Silence as all eyes swiveled to Jade.

  “It’s up in the air at this point.”

  “You and Garnet should swing by the store. Between that, the ranch and our three sons, my husband Bran and I don’t get out at all anymore.”

  “I’m sure GG would love that.”

  Harper and Bernice walked to the register. Harper kept trying to sneak looks at her.

  Yes, I realize I don’t look like my grandmother or anyone else around here.

  But maybe her ethnicity wasn’t the curiosity. Maybe Tobin had mentioned Jade since it appeared he worked with Harper.

  As soon as Harper sailed out the door, Bernice rubbed her hands together. “So, Jade, to make up for the ‘misunderstanding’ the other day, I’m offering you a free makeover. Hop in the chair, sweetheart, and I’ll get started.”

  “It’s sweet of you to offer, but I have plans today so I’ll just grab GG’s order and be on my way.” Maybe it was ridiculous, but Jade’s gaze scanned the area for tie-down straps.

  “Nonsense. Every woman needs a pick-me-up now and then.”

  Jade started to back away. “Not me. I’m good. I had a style update before I left New York.”

  “Come on, it’ll be fun! We’ll stick around to offer our input,” Miz Maybelle said.

  “Input” from a woman who wore a muumuu and had added a fake bun to the back of her head complete with red lacquered chopsticks? Not a confidence booster.

  “Have you ever considered cutting your hair short?” Tilda asked. “That Twiggy looked so hip.”

  Who was Twiggy? It sounded like a dog. The one thing Jade had going for her was her hair, so a chop job definitely wasn’t happening. “I think—”

  “I’m in charge.” Bernice grabbed a new cape off the stack. “Don’t listen to them. Let’s get you situated in the chair.”

  “But—”

  “Lord, you’re looking at it like it’s an electric chair.”

  “Can you blame me?”

  The door slammed open and a voice boomed, “What in the hell is going on in here?”

  Jade practically did a herkey she was so happy to see Riss.

  “Riss. What are you doin’ here, girl?”

  “Hello, Aunt Bernice.”

  “Aunt?” Jade repeated.

  “Yep. Not that she claims me.” Riss put her hands on her hips. “Jade and I had plans today. She texted that she was stopping here for a minute and it’s been fifteen so I thought I’d see if you were trying to force her into a makeover or some damn thing.”

  Bernice bristled. “Just because you’ve never had a makeover doesn’t mean other women aren’t interested in one.”

  Riss rolled her eyes. “Jade is beautiful. The only thing she’s
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