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Cowboy Friend
Zone for Christmas

Nash & Noelle's wedding from Lucy Lee's point of view...


Lucy flipped a handful of hair over her shoulder, anxiously watching for her older sister to make her appearance in the back of the church. Laura was serving as a bridesmaid in Nash Carson and Noelle Ward’s wedding party. She should’ve been a bride. One year ago today was supposed to have been her wedding day. It was one of those unfortunate coincidences in life. Very few people in the world even knew she’d once been engaged, and she’d begged her family to keep it that way.


Worrying about her sister wasn’t the only reason Lucy was wallowing in misery in the front pew of the sanctuary. Formal occasions like this always made her feel twitchy. She would’ve much rather spent her Saturday afternoon curled up on the couch with a good book and the tallest, steamiest cup of coffee, with nothing more than the sound of the mountain wind whistling through the evergreens outside her living room window.

She seriously couldn’t wait to return home and trade in her red velvet cocktail dress and high heels for a pair of comfy sweatpants. A quick glance at her cell phone told her that the start of the wedding had been delayed. That was weird. She hoped everything was okay with the wedding party. The pianist had been playing the same song for over five minutes.


Lucy sent up a silent prayer that her older sister wasn’t suffering some sort of meltdown in the back of the building. She’d tried to warn her that serving as a bridesmaid might trigger all sorts of distressful memories. However, Laura had insisted on having the bride’s back.


That’s what friends are for, she’d declared, lifting her chin stubbornly.


A flicker of movement in the back of the room caught Lucy’s eye. She twisted around in her seat to get a better look. The piano music paused, then resumed at a more energetic pace than before. It was as if the entire room was experiencing one big hiccup.


Then the wedding began.


Lucy watched wide-eyed as Noelle’s mother, Triss Ward, was escorted down the aisle first. The label-hunting, image-conscious, social climbing little snob was wearing a plain dove-gray pantsuit. But that wasn’t the most remarkable thing about her today. Her very presence was the real head scratcher. From what Lucy understood, the bride wasn’t on speaking terms with her mother, so her parents hadn't been expected to attend the wedding at all. Clearly, something had changed.


Unless Lucy was mistaken, there were tear stains on the Mrs. Ward’s cheeks. Yeah, definitely tear stains. As she drew closer, Lucy could tell her eyes were red-rimmed, too.


Flint Carson, the groom’s youngest brother, didn’t look overly thrilled about being the guy to escort the royal pain in the patoot to the front of the church. It was further proof that more family drama was afoot with his soon-to-be sister-in-law and her parents. Go figure.


Flint was the handsomest Carson brother, in Lucy’s opinion, not that she’d ever given him the satisfaction of knowing that. The world-renowned bronc riding champ was already way too cocky for his own good. Plus, she was having too much fun playing hard to get. The more she pretended to be unphased by his flirting, the harder he tried to impress her.


From beneath her lashes, she studied his tall, rangy frame. He looked good in his dark jeans, pale gray blazer, and white dress shirt. His collar was buttoned and cinched in with a silver bolo. His black boots and leather Stetson looked new. Total eye candy. Lucy suppressed a sigh.


He was forever being thronged by the single ladies in Pinetop, and he enjoyed every blasted minute of it. The guy was an attention hog. She wasn’t sure if he’d been born that way, or if it was a trait he’d developed on his way to the top of the charts on the rodeo circuit.


Without warning, a sharp sense of awareness slammed in to her. Unable to stop herself, she lifted her gaze and found Flint giving her a heavy-lidded look — the kind of look that said a guy liked what he was seeing. Really liked it.


He was so busy looking at her that he hardly gave Noelle’s mother a second glance as he deposited her in the front row beside Lucy and her parents.


Lucy gave him what she hoped was a nonchalant nod of acknowledgement. In response, his hard mouth quirked into a crooked smile that warmed her all the way to her toes. He followed it up with a slow, lazy wink that came just shy of making her blush.


To cover her confusion, she rolled her eyes at him.


Not looking the least bit perturbed by her reaction, he continued to smirk as he pivoted away to walk back up the aisle.


The next person who appeared at the back of the sanctuary was the one Lucy had been waiting for. She drew a deep breath of relief and let it out slowly.


There you are, sis. She scanned Laura from head to toe and found nothing amiss, other than the fact that her escort had changed. Originally, Flint had been assigned to escort her to the front of the church.


Instead, his next older brother, Ames, was doing the honors. Lucy blinked, wondering how many other last-minute changes had been made to the wedding procession and why. Regardless, she liked the fact that Ames was the one at her sister’s side right now. If anyone could get Laura through the next few minutes, it was him. They were really good friends. He wanted to be more. So far, though, Laura hadn’t let him get any closer. She was still recovering from her big breakup that few people in the world even knew about.

Did Ames? For some reason, Lucy hadn’t yet been able to work up the courage to ask.


Though Ames looked a lot like his two brothers, he was the most serious one. Like them, he was a champion bronc rider. In addition to that, he’d managed to find the time to earn his pilot’s license somewhere along the way. It was a pretty cool certification to have.


Lucy’s gaze suddenly zeroed in on the way he had her sister tucked against his side. He was gazing down at her upturned face in such a fiercely protective way that Lucy caught her breath.


Yep, something had definitely happened in the back of the building before the wedding had begun — something that had left tear stains on Laura’s face as well.


To tamp down on the urge to run to her sister and demand an explanation, Lucy had to grip the edge of the pew on both sides of her. In the end, the only thing that kept her in her seat was the way Laura’s dark eyes were shining back at Ames.


Together, the two of them stepped through a shaft of sunlight pouring across the center aisle. For a split second, a shimmering halo formed around her head. Though she was wearing a red velvet bridesmaid dress that draped to the floor, she looked very much like the bride she was supposed to have been today.


In a different town.

With a different guy than Ames Carson.


As he guided her to the front of the church, Lucy’s heart constricted even further as she noticed the faint pink splotches on her sister’s cheeks. She’d been ugly crying over something.


Oh, sweetie!


Lucy was so busy worrying about what was going on with her sister that she didn’t hear much of what the minister said. The happy couple exchanged their vows. Then the wedding party moved back up the aisle after them.


As soon as she could move again without breaking protocol, Lucy bent to speak softly in her mother’s ear. “Something’s wrong with Laura. I’m gonna go check on her.”


Her mother nodded and wordlessly squeezed her hand.


Lucy moved to the side aisle against the wall since it was less crowded. She walked with her head down to avoid getting sidetracked by anyone wanting to chitchat. As soon as she reached the vestibule, she made a beeline for the side room that had been used as the bridal dressing room…and promptly ran into somebody.


“I’m so sorry!” She was mortified that she’d been too distracted to pay better attention to what was in front of her.


“It’s okay, darlin’. I got you.” Flint Carson’s cocky drawl filled her ears as his large hands curved around her shoulders.


“Flint?” Lucy blinked to bring his face into focus.


His smirk faded. “What’s wrong?”


She caught her lower lip between her teeth. “I need to find Laura. She looked like a wreck walking down the aisle.”


He snorted. “Call me a big, dumb cowboy, but I don’t think any woman would appreciate hearing you say that. Not even your sister.”


She shook off his hands. “I wasn’t going to tell her that, dork. I just want to make sure she’s okay.” She started to push past him, but he sidestepped to block her path.


“She’s with Ames. She’ll be fine.”


Lucy’s jaw dropped. “Seriously, Flint? Maybe if you’d lay aside your God’s-gift-to-women complex for just a few seconds, you could entertain the possibility that some situations are best handled by a sister.”


“Not this one.” He scowled at her. “Trust me. Ames has things under control. She was having a panic attack or something right before the wedding began, and he was the one who calmed her down. He’s got this,” he repeated firmly.


Someone bumped into Lucy from behind, making her pitch forward into Flint.


He caught her and cuddled her against his chest for a moment. “Can’t keep your hands off me today, huh?” he teased.


“Don’t flatter yourself.” She straightened and tried to take a step back, but someone else bumped into her in the crowded vestibule.


Flint neatly pivoted with her and drew her into the nearest open space. They ended up in the doorway of a storage room. The shelves lining the walls were filled with church hymnals, offering plates, Bibles, and a variety of informational brochures.


Awareness always seemed to be zinging between the two of them, but it suddenly grew to breathless levels. Lucy wrinkled her nose at him, hoping he wouldn’t guess how much his nearness affected her. “I’d say the shoe is on the other foot,” she accused in a lofty voice.


“I wish.” He slapped a hand on the door frame over her head, pinning her in. “But you’re always pushing me away.”


She lifted her chin, praying he couldn’t hear how hard her heart was pounding. “You have plenty of women chasing you, Flint. Your only interest in me is that I’m not one of them. Just admit it already.” She didn’t care how much charm he piled on; she deserved better than that. Every woman did. Though she and her sister didn’t exactly have good track records when it came to relationships, she secretly dreamed of someday finding what their parents had. True love. The sappy Christmas movie kind.


Flint’s scowl from earlier returned. “I don’t have to admit anything.”


Whatever. “We both know it’s true,” Lucy taunted recklessly.


“Not the second part.” He jutted his chin at her. “Yeah, a lot of chicks dig rodeo cowboys. No, my only interest in you isn’t what you claim. I’m a more complex guy than that.” His usual smirk worked its way through his scowl.


“Oh, really?” She tipped her head back against the doorway. “I’m all ears.”


“Not even close.” His dark gaze grew softer as he reached up to lightly tweak one of her earlobes. “Your ears are just the right size. So is the rest of you.” His gaze briefly dropped to her cocktail dress and lifted again. “In case no one’s ever told you, you look good in red, blondie.”


“Flattery, flattery,” she breezed, attempting to push away from the door frame. She was inwardly tickled to death by the lighthearted endearment he’d tossed her way. Though she wasn’t a natural blonde, he’d always acted as if he liked what she’d done to her hair — right down to the peekaboo pink swatches of hair in the back that only showed when she had her hair pulled into a ponytail.


He didn’t budge. “I’m not finished explaining the complexity of my feelings to you.”


“Oh?” Her heart pounded harder. “By all means, lay it on me, cowboy.”


“Number one.” He dipped his head closer to hers. “You’re not as uninterested in me as you pretend to be. Makes you a little harder to walk away from.” His eyes grew heavy lidded again. “Eh, maybe a lot harder to walk away from.”


Her insides felt like they were melting, but she resisted the urge to give in to his charm. “Is there a second reason?” Her voice came out a tad breathy and high pitched. “You kind of made it sound like there was.”


“Maybe I have no interest in walking away from you. Have you ever considered that?”


She caught her lower lip between her teeth. “You enjoy the thrill of the hunt. That’s all this is about.”


“Is it?” He dipped his head closer to hers.


“Don’t even think about it,” she hissed, feeling close to tears.

“Think about what?” His gaze felt like it was probing all the way to her soul.


“Kissing me.”


“Too late.” His voice was rough.


“I can’t do this right now, Flint.” She finally managed to duck away from him and step back into the vestibule. The crowd was finally thinning as folks made their way toward the reception on the other side of the building.


“Fine,” he called after her. The teasing tenor was back in his voice. “We can share our first kiss later.”


“In your dreams, cowboy,” she tossed over her shoulder.


“Every night, darlin’,” he shot back.


She didn’t turn around again, not wanting him to see that she was blushing. The guy was downright lethal when it came to flirting. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could hold out against him. If he wasn’t such a rolling stone, she might actually give him a chance.


But he would be gone from Pinetop soon. She’d be wise to remember that and keep her defenses up around her heart. She wasn’t interested in having it broken again.


Please, God. Help me stay strong where Flint Carson is concerned. She had a new life in Pinetop. New friends. A new future.


Nothing happened. It was as if her prayer had fallen on deaf ears. Her feelings for Flint remained in the same confused tangle. She sucked in a fortifying breath, wondering if it was one prayer that wasn’t going to get answered.


If that’s the case, I’m in so much trouble, Lord. Are you even listening?


The reception area was ahead. She caught a glimpse of the wedding cake through the double doors, which were propped open. Even more importantly, her sister was on the other side of the door. She was still standing beside Ames, smiling as the new bride and groom fed each other a bite of wedding cake.


She paused in the doorway as the crowd of guests broke into applause.


“See?” Flint’s voice sounded low in Lucy’s ear. He’d caught up to her. “Like I said, your sister is fine.”


She stifled a delicious shiver. Yep, she was in trouble where he was concerned. So much trouble. It was only a matter of time before he figured it out.


Then what? She didn’t quite succeed in stifling her next shiver.

“Cold?” Flint hastily shrugged out of his suit jacket and draped it around her shoulders.


His body heat surrounded her, rendering her lightheaded. She squared her shoulders, fighting it with everything in her. “Is that what you think of me?” She kept her voice light as she sailed into the room ahead of him.

Hope you enjoyed Lucy Lee's latest clash with the youngest and cockiest Carson brother. Find out if he's right about Ames' ability to shoulder Laura's troubles in
A Very Country Christmas Wish #8
Cowboy Stolen Kiss for Christmas
Available in ebook, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.


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