Rough Trouble

The Roughnecks, 4

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Carla Wilkin knows that Happily Ever After isn’t in the cards for her. She’s okay with that, even if she’s surrounded by friends who have found theirs. She loves her job and the people in Apple Trail. Carla’s happy, and she’s satisfied.

Until Tom walks in.

Watching his baby sister get married was a gut-punch Tom Lange never saw coming. Now he’s forty-three, with no wife, no kids and the realization that life has gotten away from him. When work sends him hundreds of miles away to Apple Trail, Arkansas, he decides to start the Happily Ever After search as soon as he returns home.

Until he meets Carla.

Now he’s wondering if his search is over before it ever began. And she’s thinking that maybe he’s her ace in the hole. But long distance relationships don’t ever work. And being together means one of them has to sacrifice their home, job and friends. Doesn’t it?

Chapter One

Well hello, tall drink of water.

Carla Wilkin crossed the diner to wait for the handsome stranger at the door as he walked up from the parking lot. He easily topped six-four as he tipped his head to dodge a welcome flag waving in the wind. Short cropped hair. Muscles cording down his arms. He ticked all her hot-boxes in an instant. Best of all, she’d never seen him before in her life. It wasn’t often a new guy rolled into Apple Trail and even less often when one was a strapping sexy man.

Well, except for that one time when the four very attractive Iverson brothers moved into town, but other than that, it was a rare occurrence. Though judging by the muscles, hint of a tattoo curling under his sleeve, and just the overall worked hard and went to bed wet look about him, he was cut from the same cloth as the Iverson boys. Cousins? Other type of relative? Maybe friends? Possibly they didn’t know each other at all, but they all had that similar strong, capable, melt panties while sweat rolled down their back appearance.

The bell jingled over the door as he ducked the frame and walked in. She had to lift her chin a notch to stare into his eyes, which meant he was bigger than most of the Iverson boys. Carla stood eye-to-eye with them. “Welcome.”

A grin swished his lips that tucked a dimple at the corner of his smile. “I think I may be lost.”

No wedding band. Getting better, though in a typical outdoor work environment, it was a safety hazard to wear one. The lack of a band didn’t necessarily mean anything. She couldn’t help but check anyway. “You’re in Apple Trail, honey. Where are you trying to go?”

“That’s where I’m supposed to be, but I’m looking for an address.” He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his back pocket.

And then he’d leave and she wasn’t quite finished with him yet. In her opinion they were just getting started. “How about something to eat while we get you figured out?”

His lips parted for a moment then he shrugged into agreement. “That sounds great actually. I’ve been on the road since last night getting here and I’m early. You have anything for lunch?”

She could get him whatever he wanted. “You bet.” She saw him to a table where she plucked a menu from between the salt and pepper shakers and placed it in front of him with the lunch side facing up. “Where are you from?”

“North Carolina.” He eased onto a chair.

“You’re a long way from home.” She rested against the worn table. The chipped Formica top was at least as old as her, but like everything else in the old diner, heck in all of town, locals would lose their shit if the owner changed a single thing.

“I’m making a delivery for Trent Iverson. We’re old friends.”

Ooh, maybe the dreams of the single women in Apple Trail were finally coming true. The boys had friends visiting. “You stopped at the right place. Trent’s in the back.”

Tall, dark, and man of her dreams tonight blinked at her. “He’s here?”

“Yeah.” The guy practically moved into the diner the moment he set his eyes on the owner. Course, he’d deny it started that way, but he wasn’t fooling Carla. “His wife owns this place. He’s in here all the time. I’ll get him for you. Did you still want to order?”

He handed the menu up. “Just a cheeseburger and fries, please.”

“Everything on the burger?”

“Sure. Load it up.”

She wrote his order across the ticket. “And your name?”

“Tom Lange.”

“Mine is Carla. And I’m going to write my phone number on your receipt.”

His brows pulled together. “I’m not sure I’m going to be in town long enough for all that.”

That was a shame. She tapped him on the shoulder with the menu. “Then I won’t waste time making room for a toothbrush on my bathroom counter.”

He blinked at her, leaned back on the chair, and hooked an arm over the top of the one next to him. “Well, all right then.”

She wasn’t hearing a no and that kept a smile on her face. “I’ll tell Trent you’re here and get this started.”

Even his name was amazing. Tom Lange. He sounded like something fantastic. Probably didn’t have a single shortcoming about him. Aside from the fact he wasn’t sticking around town for very long. Not that she was in search of forever. Fairy tales didn’t happen for Carla, but a week would be nice. Maybe two. She glanced back and eyed his form lounged on the chair. All right fine, a month sounded about right. She headed to the back, pausing by the office first.

Her boss’s door was cracked, the official signal that it was okay to pop in, and Carla leaned in the doorway. Her boss was laughing. Tonya’s cheeks glowed pink and a sparkle lit Trent’s gaze as he stared at his wife. There was something undeniably attractive about watching the pair together. They were just so ridiculously in love that Carla was equally jealous and happy.

“There’s a Tom Lange here who said he’s looking for your house.”

Trent brightened. “Tommy’s here? I wasn’t expecting him for at least another hour.”

She didn’t see the Tom Lange she just met answering to Tommy. It was too child-like and there was nothing about the man who in any way resembled something of a child. Trent was up and practically skipped out the door, eliciting a groan from Tonya. “Boys and their toys.”

“What are they doing?”

“Restoring an old car. Tommy owns a junkyard and had “the bones” of the car that they wanted. AKA, it sounds like they found a car that’s not much more than a dented up frame. I know there’s no motor on it because Trent was researching motors on the computer last week.”

Carla chuckled. She knew that tone. “So probably a piece of junk?”

“More than likely, but they’re all ridiculously thrilled over it. Flora is in the middle of it too. On the upside, the boys are going to be so wrapped up in this they’re not going to be paying attention when we bring in goats, a dog, chickens, and a coop.”

Oh gosh. It was about to get interesting, not that Trent would ever deny Tonya a thing she really wanted, but he had been resisting the chickens. And the goats and other livestock suggestions. Carla flashed Tom’s ticket for lunch. “He wanted something to eat. Let me get this on.”

Carla tossed his burger on the grill, dropped the fries in the grease and failed at spying on Tom. The diner just wasn’t arranged so she could discreetly eavesdrop.

The kitchens were behind a closed set of double-doors with nothing more than a meager port-hole for a view into the room. The dining room was one large open room that was otherwise empty, leaving her no reason to linger around their table.

Seriously, was he dating anyone? Engaged? Unfortunately married? She pulled his burger together and trimmed it out. Unlikely that he would be talking about women with Trent anyway, but still this was a legit question here.

Was he single?

With a follow up, was he interested in company?

She grabbed his plate, glass of tea, and unloaded the items at their table. The boys never stopped talking the entire time she was there. It was idle chitchat of cars, trucks, and family. Apparently his sister just got married. Nothing juicy like she wanted to know.

She pushed back through the kitchen doors and found Tonya peeking through the small and cloudy round window overlooking the dining room. “What are they talking about?”

“Mostly trucks.” Carla swiped his meal ticket off the strip to take to the register. It also gave her an excuse to go back, but Tonya pointed at it.

“I’ll get that.”

Carla pulled the ticket protectively to her chest. “I can’t give him my number if I don’t give him a receipt.”

Tonya laughed. “Go ahead then.”

“Is he single?” Carla jotted her number across the bottom.

“No idea.” Tonya peeled herself away from the tiny window.

“How long is he in town for?”

“No idea on that one either.”

Carla collapsed with an exaggerated slump. “You’re not a very good source.”

“Best I can tell you is he’ll be around for the afternoon and Trent will have him at the house most of the evening. On the upside he’ll be mostly surrounded by married women if he stays the night.” Tonya’s grin broadened. “And once me and the girls have him cornered, I’ll get all the details you want.”

Carla grinned and barely resisted smothering her boss in a hug. “Have I ever told you that you’re my favorite boss ever?”

“Not lately.” Tonya pushed the door open. “Better get that out there. If Trent sits any further on the edge of his seat he’s going to fall on the floor. It’s a wonder they haven’t already gone outside to look at the old car Tommy brought in.”

Carla grabbed a pitcher of tea to give him a refill and stalked for her prey. She placed the ticket down, allowing her fingers to linger over her number. As his gaze lifted to hers, she was held in his deep blue stare.

Her pulse throbbed between her ears and she stood there, completely trapped in the possibility of what could be. She could almost feel his mouth feathering against her throat and the heat of his skin pressing to hers.

Trent broke the moment. “Carla, I’ll take care of that.” He reached for the ticket.

Tom’s brow arched and he pulled the paper away. “I’ll hold on to this. My brothers don’t have to know I had an easy trip with my meal paid for.”
She tossed him a quick wink, topped off his tea, and left the men to it.

There wasn’t much else she could do now. If he wanted her, he could have her.

The whole gig with the happy and married and two-point-five kids with the dog didn’t exist for her, but that didn’t stop her from dreaming about someone rescuing her from the daily tolls of life. It was just, everyday existed in this continual routine of in and out. Work, sleep, work, sleep. Not a lot in between to break up the monotony of things. A vacation would be great, but something always came up. A part on her car needed fixing or a limb fell in a storm and broke a window at home. It just made it hard to get ahead when, as soon as the savings were there, they were drained.

Gaining a roommate helped. She at least had company and relief off her bills. But the kind of company Tom could provide created a shiver to skim along her spine with the imagination of it being his fingertips making the path. It had been a long time since she’d had company like that.

Small town living generally meant anyone she was interested in sleeping with had slept with half the other people she knew. Waiting tables while girlfriends spilled the beans on the men of Apple Trail left a lot to be desired about the gentlemen—and their bedroom skills— who lived here.

The men and their gossip wasn’t much better. Put it all together and Carla didn’t want a part of most of them, nor to have her personal life chit-chatted around town like the last accidental water pipe burst catastrophe at Apple Blossoms. Everyone hosed down and the hair shop closed for three days while water dried.

The final three hours of Carla’s shift dragged on more like three days. Carla finished her last fifteen minutes, gave one last gaze to the empty table where he’d sat, and she clocked out. She checked her phone before she left the parking lot and once again as she pulled up at home.

Nothing. Not a missed call or a text or anything.

It had only been a few hours, but opportunities like this didn’t come around often. The idea of having a night, or maybe even two, for physical intimacy left Carla warm all over. Women weren’t meant to go for long stretches of time and left untouched. On the upside as Tonya pointed out, he should be secluded with Trent on the Iverson property and away from the other single women in town. That left her hope that if he decided to stick around for a bit, she’d so far be the only woman who’d managed to slip him a phone number.

Carla slid her key into the lock and opened it. Her roommate was home, but Marie tended to work with headphones on so the door was always locked. Carla stepped in and paused in the doorway.

Marie stood in the living room, in a lunge and stretching. Bleach stains marked her black yoga pants. Her cotton shirt was worn thin and draped off a shoulder as she bent and hunched her shoulders to pull the muscles of her lower back. Her thick hair was barely contained in a knot on the top of her head and loose, deep brown strands dangled against her face and ears.

Carla dropped her keys on the table by the couch. “Going running?”

“God, no.” Hands on her waist, she deepened the stance. “What’s on your shirt?”

“What?” Carla pulled the fabric away and a large blob of yellow was smeared across her stomach. Ugh. Just how long had that been there? When she’d been throwing herself all over Tom? Such an attractive sight.

Marie gave a grouchy groan, straightened her legs, and reached for her toes. “I need to know if my leg is hiked up and my other foot is still on the ground, can we make sex work. I’m trying not to pull a muscle when I test this theory out.”

Carla toed off her shoes and eyed her friend warming up and loosening her muscles in the living room. Having a romantic suspense author for a roommate had been a little shocking for the first few months, but Carla had gotten used to what she affectionately called Marie’s quirks.

Carla had always been fairly open about sex. There was nothing wrong with having it, though Carla didn’t do it near often enough. Marie’s thoughts were similar but curious in a practical usage kind of way. No question was off-limits, no discussion too awkward. Rather than dishing on a good time, Marie seemed more fascinated as if it was a science experiment and Carla had somehow become her variable.

From random historical tidbits about early dildos over spaghetti to Marie poking her head in during Carla’s shower to get an opinion about around the house options to use for nipple clamps. Marie didn’t even write sexually explicit enough to use toys, but her friends did. Carla was nearly afraid of a writer’s water cooler talk.

While the random sex talks had been shocking, Marie’s research for the suspense portions were equally bizarre. There were frequent discussions about dead bodies and Marie’s fascination with new ways to kill people. With the information Marie had shared over pancakes and bacon, Carla was fairly confident she could get away with murder these days. It wasn’t quite the break in everyday life Carla had been looking for when she’d searched for someone to move in, but it certainly improved things.

“I think most guys just pick the woman up and prop her against the wall.”

Marie frowned and shook her head. “She doesn’t like that. She had to jump out of a burning building when she was five so she has a thing about needing the ground. I either need to make her taller, let my hero be an incredible sexy beast to talk her into it, or let her argue with him and change my entire scene. But first I need to know the semantics of what body parts will align where.”

“Aren’t all your heroes incredibly sexy beasts?”

“True, but some apply extra effort when necessary. Can you help me? I need you to be the sexy beast.” Marie placed two hardback books against the wall. I need to be a little taller so our heights will be accurate to the characters.”

Marie got on the stack, then Carla stepped into position. Marie moaned. “You smell so good.”

Gross. Her roommate had the taste buds of a toddler in college. The smell coming off Carla’s clothes, hair, and skin had her itching for a shower. “Like fryer fat and old tater tots.”

“I know and I’m hungry. I could pour a can of chili over you, sprinkle in some cheese, and enjoy myself. I’m eating after this.” She hiked her knee up. “Lean in so I can see how close the body parts are.”

Carla pressed until her boobs were practically against Marie’s neck. Once she got past Marie’s quirks, Carla really couldn’t ask for anyone better to live with. They were friends, minus drama. Neither of them carried high maintenance issues about their living space or personal appearance. Just basic clean needs and they had developed a closeness that Carla imagined would be like sisters. “There’s a new guy in town. I’m not sure how long he’ll be here.”

Marie wiggled around, lifting on toes and adjusting her leg against Carla’s hip. “Good enough he’s worth leaving the house for?”


“Did you get his number?” She grabbed Carla by the hip and moved about some more. Her lips twisted and brows pulled together and she hummed.

“I gave him mine.”

“Good girl.” Marie huffed. “Dang. I’m still several inches too low for hips to line up.”

Carla eyed the space between them. “I can squat some and probably make it work.” She did and a spasm lit up the back of her calf. She hobbled for the couch.

“Or I’d catch a muscle cramp.”

Marie laughed. “If I need a comedy break, I’ll go that route. Thanks. Looks like she’s too short to keep a foot on the ground.” She collected her books. “Did you set up a date for later?”

“No. There wasn’t enough time for all that.” She explained the truck, Trent, and then Tonya’s potential assistance in the matter.

“His loss if he doesn’t call.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going to hammer this out.”

“What did you decide on? For your scene?”

“I think she’s either going to finally trust him or it’s going to cause an argument. I hope to know before the end of the night.”
In Marie-speak that could be six o’clock the next morning or the next evening. She started down the hall, but Carla sighed. “Marie.”

She leaned back in. “Yeah?”

“Eat something.”

“Oh, right.” She made a dash for the kitchen, then ran back with a jar of peanut butter, and a spoon.

Marie was obviously going to be head down working all night, so Carla was left to find her own entertainment. Surely there was something awesome stored on the DVR. She rolled off the couch and headed for a shower.

A ding from her cell phone signaling a text message had her running back to the living room.

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Look for the rest of the series!