The Roughnecks, 3
Having her fiancé confess through email that he married another girl while away was humiliating enough. Telling the small town she lived the truth was something Tonya just couldn’t face. With her ex in the military, it seemed easy to let everyone think they were still together. Just for a little while. Except a little while snowballed into a huge lie she didn’t know how to get out of.
Fast-forward through time and Tonya’s restless, lonely, and unsure how to fix her lie. To add to that, she’s finding her best friend, Trent Iverson, more and more attractive.
When Tonya confesses the truth, Trent feels like his life is finally on the right path. The girl he’s admired and secretly wanted for so long is single. Just one problem. After a past filled with lies, Trent isn’t sure if he can look beyond Tonya’s deception so they can have a future.
Jealousy was an ugly thing. An ugly thing with bad hair. Tonya picked at the corner of her napkin. Maybe jealous was a strong word. Envy might be better.
She wasn’t upset her best friend was having the happiest day of her life. She couldn’t be happier for Gretchen. It was that Tonya wasn’t getting there. Hard to when her ‘boyfriend’ was as fake as the pearls sitting tight around her neck.
Being dedicated to her make-believe boyfriend who was shipped off to war didn’t leave a lot of guys asking her out. Not that she could accept, mind you, if they did ask her. Nice Tonya, real nice pickle you got yourself in. Not that the boyfriend had always been fake. Marc enlisted in the military and never bothered to come back home. At the time it seemed a far better idea to say he was shipped overseas than explain the email. Or, The Email of Dooooom as they called it after three pitchers of sangria.
Ha. If she knew then what she knew now….
But she didn’t. No amount of wishful thinking would change things. She ought to know. She’d done lots of wishing on pennies, quarters, fountains, eyelashes and yes, a couple Thanksgiving turkey bones.
No dice. Not even lucky seven ones.
She tucked the soft edges of her off-white bridesmaid dress under her thighs, rested her arm against the soft tablecloth and watched as the bride and groom spun around the room in a sweet dance.
The pale pink dress Gretchen wore was loose and soft around her knees. The rippled layers of flowing silk turned with her, twisting about her legs and then out again, making Gretchen an even more beautiful bride than she already was. A thin bit of scalloped white lace had been added to the bottom of the dress so that it peeked out from the waving pink silk.
This wasn’t Gretchen’s first marriage. She had refused to wear white and be tacky even though she had wanted the big white dress she never got in her quick first wedding. The simple added trim had caused a whole new round of happy tears because in the end they all knew the dress and the wedding didn’t mean a thing. Gretchen was happy.
Glowing even. She deserved to be happy. After being widowed far too soon in her first marriage, Gretchen was due for some major happy times ahead.
With her awesome man, Lane, who absolutely adored her. They didn’t even need s sunset to ride into, that’s how great they were together.
Jealousy, that ugly bitch, was crawling up her back again with long vicious claws digging in her spine and neck.
Tonya puffed hair out of her face, adjusted her seat once again like that was going to do something, and then drew in a deep breath. No, no. Envious. She had to remember that part.
She returned to the fun task of making fringe out of her napkin. Having a fake boyfriend had been a fantastic idea at the beginning. Not just because it saved her from telling the embarrassing truth, but The Email of Dooooom had pretty well put her off men for a while. Now that both of her friends had found awesome men, the fake boyfriend was less and less appealing.
It wasn’t that she didn’t see Gretchen and Flora anymore. They saw each other as much as ever, but they were always so freaking happy and moving on in their life. Talking about that next step. Taking that next step. Now here Gretchen was, married. Flora, bless her, had managed to make closet room for her man just a few months ago so they could live together. Slow and steady, those two.
Even still, a sad sigh slithered through Tonya and—wait no. No. She straightened and slapped that Envy Gal around. There, she finally remembered to call it what it was.
In the beginning it was easier to keep up the fake boyfriend. Even better with him ‘in the war’ people tended not to ask for updates on the guy. It wasn’t like he was on a business trip to New York. He was in the war.
Fighting for his life!
For our freedom, dear God!
And she was that sweet girl waiting at home for him, worrying herself sick that he could die at any moment.
Her eyes started rolling before she could catch them. Bad habit that, when she thought of her ‘man’. Because big ass problem she didn’t see coming when all this started: she couldn’t break up with her fake boyfriend without throwing herself under a bus. She knew this to be true as on more than one occasion she was told “So sweet that you wait for him. I bet it keeps him going, makes him fight harder knowing he’s got a good girl waiting for him at home.”
Her teeth were gritting and the neat napkin fringe she’d spent the last fifteen minutes creating was wadded in her palms.
“Glad to see you.” His voice relaxed her strangling grip on the napkin as he slid onto the folding chair next to her. Trent Iverson. The recent bright spot in her life. He had a big grin that dimpled the corner of his mouth. Short cropped hair that was a sliver off from being bald. Just a dark shadow cresting over his round head. Broad shoulders. Thick chest. Firm abs and muscular thighs.
That was just the start, believe it or not. Put that man in a pair of good fitting jeans with his back to her? Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was getting warm just thinking of it. Don’t even get her started with him being shirtless and his tattoos showing.
Swirls and turns of black art he’d sketched himself. Something very few knew about him, but he shared his art with her. She kept a drawing he’d tossed in the trash. A simple, almost flower, but not quite. It was twirly, swirly and loose, yet circular like the petal head of an artistic flower. One day when she quit being a chicken, maybe she’d find the guts to have it put on her…somewhere.
Trent Iverson. Passing his name through her head sent a shudder over her skin. As if she didn’t regret having her fake boyfriend enough, Trent made it horribly worse. Because if he knew she was single, she would be making passes, wearing lipstick, and even shaving her legs daily just in case.
On one level it was a little dorky and cliché. Two of his brothers were dating and marrying her best friends. Trent, Jacob and Lane. Triplets, not identical, but similar enough that if you looked fast enough, you had to slow down for a second glance. Not that it was much of a hardship to look twice at Trent. Or any of them.
Besides, how awesome would family events be since they were all so close?
Either way, she and Trent had gravitated to one another. When his brothers partnered off with her friends over a year ago, that left them finding things to do. Usually that was working in her diner in the evening. For some unknown reason, he hung out there, had even picked up how she ran the diner and pitched in when she was shorthanded.
It started with a friendly hello. Then somewhere along the way he became her dearest friend. Then one day, ideas for so much more between them formed. Especially when he was all cleaned up like this wearing that intoxicating cologne that made her body steam up like windows on a truck parked down a deserted road.
Not that she didn’t think about getting closer when he was just in from hard labor outdoors either. Oh my, get her a fan, because the guy was hot testosterone on a stick that was deep-fried when sweat was dripping down his throat. His t-shirts would get wet and practically sheer with black oil and grease stains across his chest from working. From lawn mowers to tractors to bulldozers, he knew how to fix it all because the man was good with his hands.
His broad hands with long fingers that were skilled whether he held some big clunky tool or used a pencil to make quick marks over some scrap of paper. She shook.
But, well, there was that whole issue of her boyfriend risking his life by fighting in the war. Not to mention, Trent hadn’t exactly shown any sort of interest in her either. Hard to with her boyfriend fighting in the war! And Trent was a good guy. A really, really good sweet guy who’d taken time to fix her ice machine in her diner and helped move heavy furniture across her trailer. Whatever she needed done, in the last year and a half or so, Trent had become her platonic go-to guy. Not once had he crossed that line with her, looked like he was thinking of crossing that line, or voiced anything that made her believe she could be more than a friend.
Straight up platonic.
Yay, good times. She mentally waved some pompoms.
He tugged at the knot of his tie, pulling it loose and unbuttoning those top buttons that had been hiding his tanned throat. “Thank God you were sitting alone.”
That was the brutally honest man she knew. “Glad I could help.”
“Jacob wants to tell Flora he loves her. I’ve been listening to my brother talk about his feelings for forty-five minutes. I was seconds from clawing my ears off when I saw you sitting here.”
She chuckled. “We just finished cutting the rest of the cake. Flora ran to the restroom, so she should have him occupied in a few minutes.”
He glanced around. “I’m glad the weather held off for the wedding.”
“Me too.” Last she checked on her phone, the storm was still another three hours away.
They had plenty of time left to enjoy the reception. Not that she wouldn’t mind seeing him caught in the rain. Water streaking along his tanned and jutted jaw. Soaking that dress shirt. If silent lusty sighs could solve problems, she’d bottle hers and be the richest person on the world. Yeah, that would be awesome. So not going to happen. It was a miserable life for her as she had to remain hands off because he didn’t know the truth.
Just a few sentences though and she could change all that. If only they weren’t risky sentences to speak.
She plucked a honeysuckle from the decoration off the table, pulled the center out, sucked the sweet nectar off, and tossed the flower aside. Screw all her fuddydud thoughts. It was still beautiful outside. A happy day and she was going to enjoy it.
They’d spent hours wrapping honeysuckles and vines around every last surface they could squeeze, but that was only half the work. The boys had worked their asses off on this place and it was work well done. Iverson Manor not only looked refreshed and new, the grounds were fantastic. Trees were brought in. Landscaping done. Of course, the boys drilling in their backyard and hitting oil and natural gas was a massive help.
They were able to pay people in town to come out and work. Weekends, nights—the boys didn’t care so long as work was done. A lot of Christmases were made this year because of the Iverson boys being in Apple Trail putting money back into town from the wells they drilled.
While all the extra work was temporary, they weren’t done yet. Trent was about to start building his home just a couple acres away. By the prints she’d spent endless hours poring over with him, it was going to be every bit as impressive as the old manor they’d renovated.
He was building his roots. Making his spot. Moving on while she peddled in place. Stuck until she could fix her mess without coming out worse.
Her gaze strayed to Trent. Once again the truth was on the tip of her tongue and itched to come out. She didn’t let it. He was a fantastically awesome guy.
And she was deceiving him. Of all the people who were in and out of her life, he was the one who frequently asked about her “boyfriend”. Wanted to know if she’d heard from him. Where he was stationed? Was he okay? Was he on the front lines? Several times she’d been tempted to tell him the truth, but held back.
In the beginning the lie had slid easily off her tongue. She hadn’t know him then, the lie was only a few months old, the pain of the breakup still fresh. Even in the few months after, they were easy to keep. Then she learned more about Trent. Discovered how he loved his family, cared about his brothers. Time had taken care of the hurt in her chest.
There was that one time the truth had been on the tip of her tongue. He’d gone and sealed her fate.
It’s awesome that you’re faithful and waiting for him. He’s a lucky guy. She’d blown off his remark with something easy. “It’s nothing special. Any girl would wait.” Then he’d looked her right in the eye, no, not every girl would. It’s what I like about you the most. Her heart had broken for him right there. She didn’t know what had happened to him. He didn’t talk about it.
And he also didn’t date much, so whatever it was must have been rough.
He’d voiced what most others thought of her, but it was from him. And made her feel about two inches tall. How did she tell someone that his favorite part of her was a complete lie? Complicated 101. She could teach a class on it.
That’s why the truth was risky.
He poked her in the arm. “Let’s dance.”
Yes. Wrapped in his arms. Against the heat of his body. Close enough she could nearly feel everything she dreamed up. Um…maybe no would be a better answer? “You don’t like to dance.”
“I’ll dance with you.” He gestured with a flip of his hand toward something behind her. Not twenty feet away was Jacob and Flora headed toward them.
She laughed and allowed him to pull her up because the idea of refusing him was laughable. Not even a serious option. “You’re horrible.”
“I’m practical.” He spun her around to the edge of the floor, brought her in close against his chest in his completely friendly hold with his arm across her middle back in a respectable place. It was nice and polite. Didn’t stop her from noticing the firm mold of his bicep tucked against her side. His broad hand gently across her back. Those long, extra skilled fingers curved toward her waist.
She blinked. God, she had to get her head on straight. She needed a safe topic and went back to Flora and Jacob because nothing got him going off on a soapbox faster than those two. “I wouldn’t have minded watching them squirm. Flora has been stressing the I love you for weeks, too.”
Tonya nodded. “Oh yeah. It’s been worse the last couple of days as we finished all these wedding details. She’s afraid he’s going to say it and she’s going to say it back and then it’s going to look like she only said it because he said it and then he’s not going to believe her. Repeat and repeat and repeat. No matter what we tell her, she still worries. I feel a little bit sorry for her. Then at the same time, not, because she’s so cute with her twisting wrists and nail biting.”
He looked a good bit horrified. “I’m counting us lucky for getting out of there.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“I know she’s your friend and all, but both of them are so messed up in the head when it comes to their thing.”
She swatted his arm as she chuckled. “Stop it. They’re not that bad. They’re both just….” She tsk’d, lost for thought. “They’re both just figuring each other out.”
“Last I heard, Jacob had their relationship defined.” He stared at the sky in thought. “God, what did he call it? Their occasionally together temporary thing.”
“You laugh, but I’m dead serious.” He shook his head. “It was a long time ago and I don’t think they’ve graduated past that.”
“Baby steps of a baby who doesn’t have any legs.”
And she was laughing again. So often he made her do that. He was the only one who could make her laugh this much outside of Flora and Gretchen. Another bonus for Trent, as if he didn’t have enough pluses about him.
They danced in silence a few moments, swaying easily around the other couples in the honeysuckle soaked breeze. His hand lightly held hers. His long fingers wrapped around the back of her hand with ease. Like that was normal. Like they fit.
Platonically, of course. Admittedly, he would be a big ass jerk if it was anything but platonic.
He treated her as one of the guys. If he knew the truth, how much would that change? If it changed at all. She bit her lip and knew to change her thoughts fast before saying something she really, really shouldn’t. Not in the middle of this dance floor where most of the town had showed up for the wedding—and primarily the after party with the open bar.
She looked up. Planning to talk about his house. It was the safest topic she had. Not that it was completely safe. Not with the way his face lit up. How his grin would broaden when he got to his favorite parts of the house. Then the best part. When he was frustrated. His brows would jerk down. Mouth form into a straight line. She should probably sympathize with him, but she silently chuckled instead. Couldn’t be helped. She knew all this about him. Countless things like that.
Nothing about his past. Maybe he had some deep dark secret he was hiding too and she could feel less like a shit.
Oh man, she cracked herself up sometimes. “Why haven’t you gotten married yet?”
His brows lifted as he met her gaze, then looked over her shoulder. “Haven’t had the chance.”
“Hmm, good looking, sweet. Takes care of his family. How have you not had the chance?”
He stopped their easy swaying and stared down at her. “You’re not going to start matchmaking me out, are you?”
She forced a chuckle and kept on digging. “Now that’s an idea.”
He started moving again and turned her around on the floor. “A bad one.”
She glanced across the people there while they danced. Oh, this hurt a little. To think about shopping him out, playing matchmaker, but she wanted to know if he was open to anything. What if she told him the truth, what if he was okay with her dumb little secret, and she made a pass at him? And what if he wasn’t at all interested in dating right now for whatever reason. Okay, lot of what ifs in there, but important ones. Seriously important ones. If she told him the truth, she would look stupid enough. No need to add more egg on her face by confusing their friendship into being something more that he didn’t feel. “What options do we have here?”
That delicious shiver went across her skin by the way he said her name. Seriously done, in his deadpan voice. No joking, no laughing. Just the deep tones of his voice saying her name. Ohhh.
It probably shouldn’t affect her that way, but he just did, in everything he did or said. Heat curled through her cheeks. Ack, safe topic, safe topic! Flowers. The bouquet. Heat pulled from her face and ideas about his breathy voice whispering in her ear cleared from her head. Sort of, anyway. “The bouquet toss would show off your best options in town.”
“You better be joking.”
“I’m undecided.” She winked at him. When he said nothing and the silence stretched, her mouth dried, forcing a swallow to get something going again to make words. “Have you thought about it though? Two of your brothers are married. Baby brother Grant has a kid. The other is…well, we’ll just leave that one at a serious relationship whether they like it or not.”
He chuckled. The sound rumbled through his chest. Two inches closer and she could have felt it. If this was a slow dance so her head could have been on his shoulder, then maybe she’d have even felt it on her face. Except even if this was a slow dance, her face wouldn’t have been there because that was a little close-touchy for public.
He shook his head. “Have you thought about it?”
“I have,” she sighed. Every damn long day. At least once an hour probably. “Everyone around me is so happy.”
His fingers caressed her spine, and then lightly patted. “He’ll be home soon.”
“Yeah.” Sure. Uh-huh. Enough about her! Only thing that conversation would lead to were white lies that were starting to look gray. “You didn’t answer me though. Have you thought about it?”
Some. That was not an answer. That was an avoidance. His jaw wasn’t ticking yet, so she pushed for more. “Come on. Has to be more than that.”
“I’ve thought of it a lot, doesn’t mean it’ll happen anytime soon.”
She tapped his shoulder with her thumb as they danced. Like tapping on concrete warmed by a July sun. Nice. Sigh. “If I match-make you out, it could.”
“Don’t even try it.”
Not a chance in hell she’d be setting him up with anyone, but she kept that smile on her face. This could go somewhere. So long as his jaw didn’t start that flexing, tic thing when the corners of his eyes narrowed. “What qualities do you want in a woman?”
“Not going to happen.”
“If your only requirement is that she’s pretty, I won’t hold it against you.”
Damn. There went that thing on his cheek, by his temple. But he lifted an eyebrow and shrugged a shoulder. “I couldn’t give two shits about what she looks like on the outside.”
She should probably stop, but this was the closest she’d gotten to him on this subject.
They never talked about girls or dating. They covered his golf swing, hunting kills, favorite sports team. You name it, she knew about it. Everything except women and his past. “You’re being difficult.”
“I’m being difficult? You’re the one with the questions.”
She picked at him some more. “In the time I’ve known you, I don’t know your type of girl. I think I should know that.”
He wasn’t looking at her anymore. “I’m not sure how that’s important.”
“Because we’re best friends.”
There was that tick again. “Not if this conversation keeps going.”
“She’ll need a sense of humor then.”
He shook his head. “This is why I don’t like dancing, there’s no escaping the conversation.”
“And she’ll need patience.” It wasn’t escaping her that she so far had those qualities. Not that it mattered. That tick was still going strong. Time to get what she could before he shut this conversation down. “Anything else?”
“Fine.” He settled his gaze back on her. Piercing. All the way through her, if only he could read her secrets. “I expect her to be honest, intelligent, faithful, and trustworthy. Good enough to make you stop?”
Well, now that wasn’t so hard, but dang. Did any of those qualities fit her? Did honest in the gray areas count? What about honest with a good excuse? “Tall order.”
“And why I’m still single, apparently.”
Ouch. Her heart pinched and she caressed his shoulder with her thumb. Even though he probably couldn’t feel it through his coat anyway, she still soothed the spot. “I was joking. Anyone should have those qualities.”
“I wasn’t kidding about what I want.”
On a friendship level, she had come to love Trent. Impossible not to. He was a dear friend above all else. Just like when Gretchen and Flora were hurting, she did too. “Which one did she fail at?”
She wanted to walk in to him, put her head on his chest and hug him. But she couldn’t, not here with so many people around. “Whoever made you decide that those were important, I mean, any relationship should have those things. Which one did she screw up?”
He glanced over her shoulder for a bit and then looked at her. “All of them. Now can we please talk about something else?”
A knot squeezed hard in her stomach. Who in their right mind would ever want to hurt Trent? She’d pushed enough. Maybe in another year or so she could find out more. “They’re about to do the garter toss. Are you getting in on that?”
He laughed. “Sure. Right after you try for the bouquet.”
“Uh.” She looked around. The muscles straining in her neck relaxed as they moved back into what they were. Comfortable. Easy. Just friends smiling at one another. “I say we steal the chocolate fountain and run.”
An image struck. And then they could pour it over each other. Discover if he was as good at body painting with chocolate as he was with a pencil and paper. Definitely not what they were.
Best to keep that thought to herself.