Dakota Lightning

Coming Soon!

Chapter One

Abigail Spencer never thought the day would come, but here she was, walking down the aisle beside the only man she’d ever loved—Matthew Christopher Evans.

Wedding guests were seated in the wooden pews, decked out in their best dresses, suits and ties. Matt’s parents were there, seated in the front pews of the church, as were hers. All their close friends were in attendance, more than likely hoping the vows went quickly so they could get their drink on at the reception. Like her and Matt, most of their friends had just graduated college last spring, and they hadn’t grown out of their kegger years quite yet.

The organist began to play. The deep, resounding chords blanketed the quiet guests, letting everyone know that vows were about to be said today in the tiny, dusty town of Garner, South Dakota.

With her hand resting on Matt’s offered forearm, Abby closed her eyes and took in a deep, calming breath.

Lord, he smells so good. Usually smelling of cattle and hay, dressed in dusty jeans and T-shirt, a threadbare ball cap pulled low over his forehead, he sure cleaned up nice. Abby sighed and leaned into him, wishing—

Matt jostled her with a quick shake of the arm, obliterating her fantasy and nearly causing her to chip one of her teeth. “Hey, you see Caroline Parker?” he whispered loudly. He leaned down closer to her ear, probably because the couple ahead of them turned and glared. “She’s wearing some nineteen eighties leopard-spotted dress that barely covers her ass. I thought my mom was going to slap the shit out of her in the vestibule.”

He half laughed, half snorted in her ear as they stood in the wedding party line just outside of the inner church doors in the vestibule. Instead of looking at Caroline, Abby looked up at Matt. He stood six foot one, so she needed to crane her head back, being five two herself. Man. Reality sucked. She’d been lost in a daydream, wishing this were their wedding.

His teal eyes were so light that most people who didn’t know him—and even a few who did—thought they were contacts, their color was that intense. He had dirty blond hair that could benefit from a few quick snips of scissors, but she’d always liked his hair long like that. The style went well with his playful personality. He’d trimmed it back for the wedding, but the ends would still curl out of the bottom of his baseball cap, just like they had since they’d been in elementary school.

She looked away from him and straightened, smoothing out her burgundy dress with a few swipes of her free hand. Unfortunately, this wasn’t their wedding. They were walking down the aisle by default—as friends. Very close friends. Friends with zero benefits. This was his twin sister’s wedding, and Abby was the maid of honor and Matt was the best man.

If their relationship ever made it out of the friend zone, Abby wouldn’t know what to do with herself. Hell, she didn’t need a happily ever after. At this point, she’d take a drunken tumble in the hay. She might not know what to do with herself if they ever became more than friends, but she sure knew what she’d do with him. Or better yet, to him.

Jesus, Abby, calm down.

As another groomsman and bridesmaid began their slow march down the aisle, she and Matt took a step forward in unison, closer to the double-door entrance of the main church. Only one more couple to go before they were up.

Matt leaned down to whisper in her ear again. “I went and did it.”

This time she looked up at him in confusion. He hadn’t yet moved away. Their mouths were a scant inch apart, but she doubted he’d be affected even if her lips had accidentally brushed against his. Having been friends all their lives, and close as thieves in college, more than just lips had touched a time or two. Not that he’d ever noticed. He’d never really shown an interest in her other than—suddenly it dawned on her what he was referring to. “You didn’t,” she said, even though she knew Matt would never tease about something like this. She’d had a good idea that he was going to do what he’d promised.

He gave her his trademark shit-eating grin. “Misty’s going to love it.”

Maybe after a few beers and a couple of Xanax. “She’s gonna tan your hide.”

He stood straighter when the couple ahead of them started walking down the aisle. She and Matt stepped into the frame of the double-doors of the church.

When Misty found out what her twin brother had done, shit was going to hit the fan. Abby thought Matt had come up with a great idea, and this kind of thing was why she and Matt were such good friends. They liked to have a good time. Always. They were the first to break out the beer pong and the last to call it a night. They were still the only two residents of Garner who’d managed to climb the water tower in town and rappel down. She still had a wicked scar from the rope burn on her right side. She’d been grounded a whole month for that one.

He looked down at her and she looked up at him again. This time their faces weren’t close, and her gaze was drawn to his lips.

“You bring your suit?” he asked, barely keeping his lips from twitching.

She’d had a good idea he was going to pull his stunt today. She’d learned a long time ago to never underestimated Matthew Evans. “Got my itty-bitty black bikini on under this dress.”

The smile he gave her promised that they were going to have a blast at Misty’s reception, and not because of the free alcohol. Then again, when did they not have fun together? They’d been tearing it up circa two thousand four.

The last bridesmaid and groomsman reached the front of the church and took their place in the wedding line.

That was their cue.

She and Matt began walking at the exact same time, staying in sync to the heavy sound of the organ as they’d practiced at rehearsal last night, slowly gliding down the aisle. She recalled that the wedding photographer was going to be at the end of the aisle, taking pictures of each member of the wedding party as they made the slow hike to the front, and they’d been asked to put on their best smiles.

Everything was going smoothly until about halfway down the aisle. Abby caught sight of Caroline and most of her thigh in that ridiculous dress Matt had pointed out. It was impossible to miss her. Abby tried to stifle a laugh. It didn’t work. Especially when Caroline looked Abby up and down and sneered. Abby tried her best to keep from laughing, completely horrified when a distinct snort escaped her.

But everyone knew, once you got the giggles in church, it was a done deal. Had the organ music covered the snort? Damn.

Unfortunately, Matt knew exactly what she was laughing at, and he failed to control his own reaction. A flash of light let her know that the photographer chose that moment to take his shot of them coming down the aisle, their faces contorted from trying not to laugh so hard they pissed themselves.

She chanced a glance at the groom. David shook his head, looking more amused than disappointed.

Both she and Matt had been voted the class clowns of their graduating class—because you couldn’t have one without the other—so she doubted anyone seated in the church was surprised that the two of them couldn’t keep their shit together, even at his twin sister’s and her best friend’s wedding.

Seconds later, at the front of the church, she reluctantly let him go—story of her life.

She walked to stand where she was supposed to and turned to watch the flower girl bounce down the aisle. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Matt and David exchange a handshake and a rough slap on the upper arm just before Matt took his place behind his best friend.

The deep tone of the organ took an almost ominous turn as the Bridal March began to play. What was it about that song that made your pulse race and tears spring instantly to your eyes?

This was Abby’s third wedding this year. Her college friends were getting hitched left and right. Jane had just had a baby, for crying out loud. And now Abby’s best friend since kindergarten was slowly making her way down the aisle in a princess gown that cinched in at the waist with a silver belt. The bottom billowed out, but not obnoxiously. It was the dress Misty had always wanted. She looked absolutely breathtaking in it. Tall, blonde, tan…Abby had always wanted to look like Misty.

Would their relationship change? More than likely. Like Matt said yesterday at the rehearsal, things were going to change in their circle now. Soon David and Misty would be starting a family. Raising kids. Trading their rusty trucks in for a soccer-mom van, and their Saturday nights at the Longbranch for Sunday morning cartoons.

Sadly, she wouldn’t be raising kids with Misty like she’d always dreamed. Abby wanted to be exactly where Misty was, walking down the aisle. In fact, the two had dreamed about this for years. Abby could see herself moving into that phase of her life so easily. The only problem was, she couldn’t see that future with anyone other than Matt, and that simply wasn’t going to happen. The cows on her dad’s farm would sprout wings out of their ass and fly first.

Unlike David and Misty, she and Matt would always be in the friend zone, no matter where life took them.

With her gaze locked on Misty, who took her place next to David in front of the preacher, Abby realized at some point she had to be good with that.

***

Abby’s head ached something fierce.

The wedding reception held at the Evans’ Farm had been a blur of toasts, bell ringing for kisses, and Matt nudging her shoulder every time Carline walked by in her ridiculous leopard dress. Dinner plates hadn’t even been cleared before the country music beckoned everyone to the make-shift dance floor. You couldn’t hold country folk back from their beer and two-stepping for long.

The dance floor was crowded, but the weather had played nice, and a gentle breeze wiped away some of the heat that was gathering under the big white tent. Abby’s gaze lit on Jennifer Pierson and her eyes narrowed despite her best intentions.

Channeling an old, crabby lady in church, Abby slut-checked Jennifer as though the woman was working a street corner. Her dark blue cocktail dress was much too short for a wedding, and her boobs were about to make their own appearance on the dance floor. Her spray tan looked as fake as those mile-long eyelashes she’d glued to her face.

Jennifer had slithered her way under Abby’s skin back when they’d been in high school, gunning for Matt since freshman year as though he were a twelve-point and she was a hunter with something to prove. Problem was, she’d caught him more than once. With thick, light brown hair down to the middle of her back, a tiny waist, and an ass you could bounce a quarter off of, most men would mount themselves to her wall and never give the consequences a second thought.

Jennifer had everything Abby didn’t, and Matt was one of them.

At least they weren’t an official couple. Abby would rather be Matt’s best friend than his Friday night booty call. And that was the truth. Mostly. She took a healthy drink of her booze and tried not to sneer.

“You look like you want to kill her with your bare hands.”

Misty’s voice slapped Abby out of bitch mode, surprising her enough that she spilled a little champagne over the rim of her glass when she turned to face her. Abby’s pathetic crush on Misty’s twin brother wasn’t exactly a secret, but since their first year in college over four years ago, she’d pretended that she was pretty much over him just to save face.

She glanced over her shoulder and scanned the crowd, her gaze sliding over Jennifer as smoothly as the booze was going down her throat. Turning back to Misty she attempted an act of innocence. “Who?”

Misty cocked her head and raised a brow.

To hell with it. No matter how much she tried to pretend otherwise, Misty knew the deal. She always had. “Jennifer’s a slut, what can I say?” Actually, she wasn’t at all. Had Jennifer been clamoring after any guy other than Matt, they’d probably be pretty tight friends. They liked to do the same things—namely barrel race. And where Jennifer’s personality was the equivalent of a used dry eraser, her heart was triple the size of most people. Essentially Jennifer was a mix between the Scarecrow and the Tin Man. If she only had a brain…

Misty gave Abby a look that made her skin crawl. A shot of understanding mixed with a heavy dose of sympathy. Had it come from anyone else Abby might have slapped them.

“Have you ever told Matt how you feel?” Misty asked softly.

And get handed a rejection that would make her and Matt’s relationship awkward as hell? Never. It wasn’t as though he’d ever asked her on a date or made a move on her. Not when they’d hung out in high school, not when they’d partied in college—not even the several times she’d fallen asleep in his dorm room while watching movies. He just wasn’t into her that way. They were friends. Pals. Buddies.

She didn’t need to point that out to his sister.

Abby needed to move on from the bubbly and slip into the hard stuff. “Um, no. And before you go on and on about being a strong woman who could simply ask him out, just realize that I’m a chicken shit when it comes to him and I have no plans on pulling a Hallmark ending with your brother. Let’s just pretend you didn’t see my disgust for Matt’s sometimes booty call and move on.” Please drop it and let me get clumsy drunk so I don’t have to see Matt and Jennifer leave together.

Her chest tightened just thinking about it. How many times had she gone home completely numb, knowing those two were hanging out? And by hanging out she meant bumping uglies. At this point Abby was surprised she wasn’t on pills. The kind that made you happy despite the fact that you were watching your house burn down.

She downed the rest of her drink and her eyes misted instantly. At least now she could hit up the bar for some whiskey. She raised her empty glass. “So, you’re married now. Are you going to start popping out grandbabies for your mom? I’m sure that would cheer her up.”

Misty’s family had lost their house in a tornado last spring. Mrs. Evans had been beside herself, but she was slowly coming to terms with their loss and acting more and more like herself.

Misty shrugged. “She’s working with Shane to build her dream house, so all wasn’t lost.” Misty smiled and leaned toward her. “Speaking of Shane, he was totally checking you out earlier.”

Abby barely kept from scoffing. Shane checked everyone out. Literally every woman who was beyond puberty and still had a heartbeat, he’d give the once-over as though he were checking for their expiration date. He was only twenty-four, but she’d bet her next paycheck that he’d already checked out the forty-somethings who were running around in their snug dresses, fake tans and short, spiked hair. The same women who did Beachbody and constantly posted that shit on Instagram.

He owned the contracting business in town. Big guy, only a year older than them, though you wouldn’t know it by talking to him. For all his womanizing ways, he was actually quite mature and had already made it to the top. She had to admit; he’d be a great catch. He was hot as hell, rode bulls for fun, had a Harley and a fat bank account. Not to mention all the other toys he owned: RV, fishing boat, pontoon, jet skis, and snowmobiles. Yeah, he was loaded—especially for their age—but he’d never quite caught her eye that way. Besides that, he flirted with everyone. He’d flirted with her so many times she couldn’t keep count.

Her gaze drifted over to Matt, like it usually did. He was twirling his mom around the dance floor, laughing as he guided her. He’d taken off his tux jacket and unbuttoned his white shirt just enough to show a little tanned skin. Because he was a dirty-blond, his chest was pretty void of hair. She hated men with a bunch of chest hair.

Speaking of, Shane had a damned rug on his chest. Naw. She didn’t want to date Shane.

Matt suddenly looked to where she was standing. Flustered, she turned to say something to Misty, but Misty had turned to talk to one of the guests, making Abby look like she’d just been staring at Matt, which she had been. She closed her eyes, let the pathetic feelings wash over her, and took a healthy lungful of air. Damn. She hated when that happened. Just for full disclosure, it happened much too often.

She sighed and started to head to the bar. Might as well drink away the millionth time he’d caught her staring at him.

Misty caught her by the arm before she could take two steps and leaned down to whisper, “Just ask him on a date. Like a real date. I know you two go out to the movies and go riding together, but make sure he knows you’re meaning a real date. I’m telling you, I see the way he looks at you, and it’s more than just a friendly glance.”

Abby had heard the song and dance routine before. Misty had good intentions, and they’d always secretly wished that Abby would marry Matt so they’d be sisters. Such a childish thing, and yet she’d never quite grown out of it.

Misty squeezed her arm and straightened just as Matt came jogging up.

God he was sexy. The dork had put on his ball cap, even while wearing what was left of his tux, and somehow he made it work.

“Come on, let’s dance,” he said, grabbing her by the hand. He took her champagne glass and set it on a nearby table as they passed it. She let him drag her out on the make-shift dance floor as she considered Misty’s words. She glanced back at Misty. Her best friend was smiling at her like a goofball and making that ‘see what I’m talking about’ gesture.

Yeah. Abby called it mixed signals. Matt was good at that.

The country song that was playing wasn’t slow or fast, so they ambled along and said nothing in the comfortable silence that stretched between them. Having gone from kindergarten to senior year in college together, they didn’t need to say much. There wasn’t a whole lot they didn’t know about each other.

Except, of course, her undying and unbreakable love for him.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. There was something else he didn’t know. Hell, no one knew. She hadn’t wanted to think about it herself. But with him being so close, she just wanted to reach out and maybe feel slightly better for getting it off her chest. She’d never tell Misty this, but talking to Matt about her problems had always felt better than when she shared her problems with her best friend—as though he really were her other half.

This particular bit of news had been sitting in her gut for too long. “So, uh, my parents are getting divorced.”

He came to a dead stop and she bumped into his chest. “What?”

“Matt, people are starting to stare.” Becky Mae Sorenson, for one. The plump old woman stared at them as though she’d never seen two people standing on a dance floor before.

“I don’t give a shit, let them stare.” He moved to block her view of Becky Mae, forcing her to look up at him. “When did this happen? Are they just fighting and you’re making a big deal about it? I just saw them sitting together in the church. I’m pretty sure they were holding hands.”

She could understand his disbelief. Her parents hadn’t fought a day in their lives, let alone given any indication whatsoever that they were headed for divorce. Her dad had probably taken her mother’s hand because he was still in love with her.

Unfortunately, her mom didn’t feel the same anymore.

She bet it was all her mother could do back at the church not to snatch her hand out of her husband’s grasp. Poor Dad. “Nope. She wants a divorce. She even called a lawyer a few weeks ago. They’re not exactly talking about it, but it’s not a secret, either. I think my dad is trying to talk her out of it.”

Matt started to move to the music again. She went with him. “I’m sorry to hear that. Guess it’s better that you’re older. You remember how Shane reacted to his parents’ divorce when he was in the eighth grade?”

Shane had stolen a whiskey bottle from his parents’ liquor cabinet and the P.E. teacher had found him passed out in the locker room at school. He’d grown up fast and hard after that, and he’d never quite been the same. “Yeah.”

He squeezed her hand. “If you need to talk, just drop by my place. Stay overnight if you want. David moved out of the guesthouse into the new place he bought with Misty. It’s just me there now.”

God he was so accessible, but so far out of reach. “Will do,” she said, her throat tight. He pulled her a little closer to comfort her in a completely platonic way. The friend-zone sucked. Being this close to him, smelling the cologne he usually didn’t wear, sent her hormones flying in every direction. Like a pop can that had been shaken and then opened, the explosion of desire and want and need was so intense it made her dizzy.

“Just ask him on a date. Like a real date.”

Maybe she should. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Now that she thought about it, her attraction to him couldn’t be very obvious considering she’d lived most of her life hiding her feelings for him. Practice made perfect. Perhaps Misty was right, and he felt something more than friendship for her as well, but didn’t want to cross that line because he feared their relationship would change and deteriorate. Even now, the way he’d held her tighter after hearing about her parents, she’d always felt his need to offer her comfort when she needed it.

But then there was Jennifer. The greedy little tick that had burrowed into Matt’s skin and was damn near impossible to remove.

Then again, if Matt was really into Jennifer, he’d have asked her to be his girlfriend by now. He’d be dancing with her—his almost girlfriend—and not Abby, one of his closest friends. Right?

Abby took a deep breath. She was twenty-two years old for Christ’s sake. A grown woman. A strong woman, capable of running a ranch and a school room full of second graders. She had a good job, just purchased a nice house…she could ask him out. The absolute worst that could happen was he could say no. He wouldn’t laugh at her. He’d never do that. Might get a little awkward though.

Coward. Just ask him, ask him, ask him— “So, uh…”

“Oh, before I forget,” he said, interrupting her. “Can you watch Max next weekend? David and Misty will still be in the Bahamas, and Jenn’s been bugging the ever-loving hell out of me to take her camping. I figure next weekend is the last weekend we can go, what with the cold snap likely on its way. I have to winterize my parents’ cabin, so I’m tryin’ to kill two birds with one stone. But I don’t want to take Max. He gets in too much shit out at the lake and I won’t be able to keep an eye on him.”

The words she’d held back all her life died in her throat. God she felt so stupid. An image of Jennifer lounging around the cabin in Matt’s T-shirt, long tanned legs kicked out while she relaxed on the back porch, hit Abby out of nowhere. Jenn laying out in the sand by the lake in her bikini. Laughing with Matt while they soaked in the hot tub. All that alone-time together.

And Matt wanted Abby to stay behind and take care of his new puppy.

Made sense. Friend-zone. Stay in your lane. Road work ahead. “Yeah, sure.”

He pulled back to look down at her. “If you want me to call the trip off, I will. Just say the word.”

She cleared her throat, realizing she’d forgotten to school her features. She’d probably looked something in the realm of devastated for him to consider calling off a weekend with his booty call. “What for? That’s silly,” she laughed, dismissing the pain tugging at her chest.

He shrugged. “To be around if you need me. I know you’re not a child, but I know your parents divorcing isn’t a trip in the park either. If you want me to stick around, I will. We can watch The Godfather, chow down on Pizza, and throw back enough beers to make you forget you even have parents.”

She laughed, because it was usually impossible not to when he said shit like that, then looked away and shook her head. Brush it off, like you always do. He was an amazing friend, but that was all. She knew damn well that if she and Jennifer were drowning in Garner Lake, and Matt could only save one of them, he’d bypass Jennifer without so much as a thought, and then save Abby. If Abby needed a new kidney to live, he’d give her one of his, no questions asked. But their relationship didn’t go beyond a hug or pat on the back.

“No. I’m a big girl.” You mean a big baby. “I can handle it.”

He kissed her on the side of the head in a completely platonic, teeth-grinding way, when the music changed. “Guess I better dance with my sister. She’s standing to the side with the photographer staring at us. We’re supposed to dance so he can get some pictures of us.”

Abby smiled and nodded, watching him walk away. When he reached his sister, Misty yanked his ball cap off and tossed it over her shoulder. Matt tried to get around her to get to his hat, but Misty grabbed his arm and led him to the dance floor.

Watch his dog. Damn. Abby turned and headed straight for the open bar. She ordered a whiskey sour, heavy on the whiskey, and stood off to the side of the festivities to sip it. Ha. Sip it. Right. She was going to down this bitch.

So, David and Misty were headed on their honeymoon tomorrow, Matt and Jennifer were going to go camping next weekend, and she was going to spend that time working on lesson plans and binge-watching Netflix or worse—the Hallmark Channel—while Matt’s puppy piddled on her carpet.

She was a sad case indeed, figuring how excited she was now that the Hallmark Channel was playing Christmas movies. It wasn’t even Halloween yet.

And Max, Matt’s Golden Retriever puppy, was cute. She could take him on walks, since they were having an Indian summer. Pet him while crying on his furry little shoulder.

With a sigh and another chug of her drink—which was ridiculously strong—she decided she was done pining over Matthew Evans—this time for real. She doubted he’d end up with Jennifer, but Abby was dead-ass certain he wasn’t going to end up with her, so why did it matter which girl he was with right now?

She needed to start dating. Needed to put herself out there and meet new people, because constantly hanging out with Matt wasn’t doing anything but making her delusional and pathetic. She hadn’t changed since high school. Not one bit. Their five-year high school reunion was coming up next summer, and she’d likely go as Matt’s cute little sidekick. Not good enough to date, but boy could she make him laugh.

Who needed a new year to make a resolution? She glanced around the room, but she recognized every single available male. Small town problems.

Tucker Montgomery—a big knucklehead that hadn’t matured since they’d been in the fourth grade. She’d rather hang her underwear from the flag pole in front of the Legion Hall than date him. Her gaze skimmed the crowd until she saw Chris Taylor. An early thirty-something that had just graduated med school. Cute and obviously driven, but moving to Wisconsin next month. Since she wouldn’t live in the city to save her ass, he was off the list.

Shane Taggert. Hot bull rider who rode his Harley on the weekends and lived down the road from her. They were friends. Maybe they could add with benefits to the end of that? Hell, anything was better than standing there pining over a guy who was looking forward to a weekend away with his side chick.

She tossed back the rest of her whiskey sour and headed toward Shane.

***

Matt cheesed it for the camera, twirling his sister around the dance floor instead of heading to the bar with Abby like he wanted to do. She was a tough country woman. Not much tended to ruffle her chaps, but she was also a daddy’s girl. She hung on every word that left Roger’s mouth, and Matt had always been sure to stay on that man’s good side. It had always proved to make Abby happy. Her dad could do no wrong in her eyes. Matt wondered just how much this was all bothering her.

He glanced her way again. Looked like Abby had traded her champagne for something a little harder. He wished he could join her. He’d noticed something had been different about her these past few months, but he’d have never guessed that her parents were getting divorced.

“Matt? Can I tell you something that you’ll either take to your grave or act upon it with every ounce of determination you have?”

There wasn’t much Misty could say to surprise him, being her twin brother and all, so Matt just nodded and didn’t get riled up at her dramatics. She was always making too much out of nothing, and he was pretty sure she’d said that same spiel to him a dozen times just in the last month. “Sure,” he said, still looking at Abby over Misty’s shoulder. She looked so…depressed.

“Matt, I’m serious. Abby would kill me.”

Now that got his attention. He looked down at Misty. “What is it?”

Misty quickly shook her head, clearly chickening out of telling him whatever it was she was going to say. “Never mind.”

For a second he’d have given his left nut to know something that Abby was keeping from him, but then he remembered her confession. Guess it made sense that Abby had told Misty what was happening with her parents before she’d told him. Abby and Misty had been spending so much time together, planning the wedding and all, they’d probably talked about it often. “I already know. She told me on the dance floor just a few minutes ago. I honestly can’t believe it.”

He looked at Abby again, feeling a strong urge to end the dance with Misty and make sure Abby was okay. The photographer had to have gotten his shot by now.

While looking at her, Abby glanced his way and he smiled, hoping to make her feel like she wasn’t alone. Instead of smiling back at him, she quickly looked away and took a sip of her drink. He frowned.

Misty hit him in the shoulder. “Well? What did you say?” She looked to where Abby was standing and then back to him, her face a mask of overly-dramatic girl shock. “Oh, God, you didn’t crush her, did you? She’s been holding this in for so long.”

“Well, I didn’t give her any false hope. Why would I?” People divorced all the time. Everything would eventually work out, but there’d probably be a few rough patches in the process. He’d be there for her as much as he could.

Misty smacked her forehead dramatically, drawing several of the guests’ gazes. “Matthew, oh my God! What did you say?”

See, this was why he liked Abby so much. She was a girl, but she wasn’t as dramatic as the other women in his life—namely his sister. “I told her I wouldn’t go on that camping trip with Jennifer if it made her happier. You know, if she needs me here. But mom wants me to go out to the cabin to clean it out and winterize it before the cold weather sets in. I don’t have to do it next weekend, but I’d rather get it done and over with.”

And he would stay. It wasn’t like he was looking forward to an entire weekend of just him and Jennifer, though what she lacked in personality, she surely made up for in that body of hers. But she was getting pushy lately, and that was something he didn’t like. He wasn’t looking to settle down anytime soon, and he’d made that pretty damned clear to her from the start.

Misty still had a pained look on her face. “What did she say?”

He shrugged. Why did Misty care? “She told me she could handle it and I left it at that. Misty, she’s not a two-year-old. She’ll be just fine. I mean, it’s been a damn long relationship, but it’s over. It’s sad, but—ouch!” he yelped, stepping back when Misty pinched him hard enough to leave a bruise. “What the hell was that for?”

“She laid her feelings out on the line and you basically told her she’s a big girl? What did you say exactly? Did you flat out tell her that you wouldn’t go on a date with her? Did you say you’d just stay friends?”

A date? Stay friends? What the shit was she talking about now? “Misty, like always, you’re speaking another language,” he said, barely refraining from pinching her back. If they were alone he’d done it in a heartbeat, but there were too many witnesses here on the dance floor. He couldn’t chance it. She’d probably wail like she’d done when they were growing up, drawing everyone’s attention and making him look like the bad guy. “What do you mean, a date? She told me her parents are getting divorced.”

Before the words had come out of his mouth, he hadn’t quite digested them yet, but having said them, his feet stopped moving on the dance floor. “A date?”

“Divorce?” Misty said at the same time.

“What are you talking about?” he asked. She wasn’t making a lick of sense. If Misty hadn’t known about Abby’s parents getting divorced, then what in the hell had she been referring to?

Misty cocked her head. “Her parents are getting divorced? She never said anything to me about a divorce.”

“Misty, pay attention,” he said, snapping a finger in front of her face. “What about a date? What are you talking about?”

Misty drug him back to the two-step they’d been dancing and they both smiled for the cameraman before they got back to chatting. “Nothing. Forget I said anything.”

“Think again.”

“I really shouldn’t say anything. It’s girl code.” Misty thinned her lips into a straight line and shook her head for emphasis. “Yeah, girl code. This conversation is over.”

Girl code?” All his mind could conjure up was that Abby had been planning on asking him out on a date. But that assumption didn’t quite register. He needed clarification. “Well, we’re under bro code right now, and as your twin brother, you have an obligation to tell me whatever the hell you were going to tell me.” Because he didn’t like where his mind was going. That route made no sense to him at all.

Misty took a deep breath. “Well, I guess I’ll just come out with it, since she won’t. She, uh…she’s got it bad for you. I mean bad. Always has. Probably as long as I crushed on David, which was solidly from the first day of kindergarten when you wouldn’t sit next to me on the school bus and he did. Not your best day as a protective brother.”

If he had to hear that story one more time he was going to have to go back to ripping the heads off her Barbie dolls. “Abby? Abigail Spencer? The woman I was just dancing with?”

He had to clarify before he became just as dramatic as his sister, and since he wasn’t about to lose his nuts out here on the dance floor, she’d better start explaining. Abby didn’t have a thing for him. Abby was his pizza-run pal, his favorite person to go fishing with, his first pick for when he wanted to close down a bar—especially now that David was wrapped around Misty’s little finger. Hell, not a week ago he’d crashed on Abby’s couch because they’d watched a marathon of The Godfather, their favorite movie.

They were…pals. He and Misty even had a running joke on who Abby considered her best friend—him or her. Personally he thought it was him and not Misty, since he and Abby had been incredibly close in college while Misty had been licking the emotional wounds that the man she’d just married had given her.

Abby had never expressed any interest in him. Ever. The were strictly in the friend-zone. She was like his second sister. His favorite sister, to be honest—heavy emphasis on the sister.

“Abby. You know, that chick you hang around with constantly. Your drinking buddy, your DD, your go-to when it comes to anything off this farm? That Abby.”

He shook his head. Stood a little straighter. It was almost as though his body had moved into the flight or fight response, and as sad as this made him sound, he actually thought about running. Misty was wrong. Just plain wrong.

But she’d know if Abby liked you that way. That’s what chicks always talk about. The guys they’re interested in.

Naw, screw that. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it and he didn’t want to try. “You’re high, and I mean it this time. You’re smoking something.” Abby had never made a move—never even hinted around that she was interested in him that way. And from his experience with women, once they were interested, they clung like a soaking wet sheet to bare skin. The though of Abby being like that around him, and not the fun-loving girl he’d grown up with…it would be like losing a limb. An important limb like a leg or his right arm. He might get by with losing the left, but—

Misty pinched him again, snapping him out of his morbid comparison. “Matt, she told me. Hell, she’s been telling me since we were in elementary school. When I was scribbling Buchanan behind my name, she was writing Evans behind hers. Listen, I’m only telling you because I’m hoping she’s going to ask you out, and you better—”

“Sorry, Misty,” he said, cutting her off, that image of a severed arm taking over his thoughts. That flight or fight response was getting stronger by the second. What she was saying was almost physically painful to listen to. “That’s just not going to happen. Ever. Not Abby. She’s ah…” What was she? Important to him, that’s what she was. His closest friend. A relationship between them would ruin that. Girls were clingy. Had he mentioned clingy?

Besides, he just wasn’t attracted to her like that.

To prove that to himself he looked around under the white tent until he found her again. She was standing by the dance floor, next to Shane Taggert, her bare feet poking out from under that maroon dress, the top of her head barely reaching Shane’s shoulder. She was smiling up at Shane, and if Matt was a betting man, he’d bet that she was flirting with him.

He stopped to consider if he were jealous. Nope. Not even a little. Shane flirted with everyone, and even if those two hooked up, Matt really wouldn’t be jealous.

Her long, dark hair was swept up in several little curls and sparkly hair thingies, and she’d worn more makeup than usual. She was definitely pretty. In college she’d been hit on every time they’d gone out. Her eyes were hazel, almost green when the sun was shining in her face. Average body.

Actually…he looked a little closer at her petite frame than he usually did. Well, maybe average wasn’t entirely true. She didn’t have legs that went on for miles, like Jennifer, but she had a killer waist and generous hips—“Ow, what are you pinching me for now?”

“You’re looking at her like you’re sizing up a bull on the selling block.”

He made a face. Well…not exactly like that. He shook his head. This was just surreal. Sure, Abby was a good-looking woman, but she was Abby. They’d played together as children. “Sorry Misty. I just don’t see her like that.”

“That’s because you’re shallow. You see her as one of the boys, and she doesn’t exactly help because she acts like one of them. Maybe if you stopped looking at her as one of your pals you’d see what a great catch she’d be. She’s intelligent, funny, slightly more mature than me—”

“That’s not saying much,” he interrupted.

way more mature than you,”

“Hey.”

“—and she puts up with you for extended amounts of time and still loves you, so she’s kind of Wonder Woman.”

The song changed to something slower. The cameraman jogged up to them. “Can you dance slowly and face me a little, so I can get a few shots? I promise it’ll be quick.”

Nothing about this cameraman had been quick, but Matt nodded and positioned them on the dance floor so the guy could get a few more pictures, but his brain was stuck on only one thing: his relationship with Abby. He didn’t want it to change. Everything in his life fit into place. “Alright. I get that you’re all caught up in a cloud of forever,” he said, waving his hand at their surroundings. He spoke louder to be heard over the music. “But I’m just not interested in Abby in that way, so don’t encourage her. She’s not my type.” He’d never want to lose their friendship. In fact, he’d choose to lose one of his limbs over losing Abby—even if that meant his right arm.

Someone bumped into him and he moved to make room on the dance floor. He turned to say excuse me and saw Shane, who looked a little sick to his stomach, and then Matt’s gaze settled on Abby, who looked as though she wanted to fall through the dance floor. She wouldn’t look at him.

A rush of adrenaline made him lightheaded. She’d heard what he’d said. There was no way in hell she hadn’t. A strange sensation hit him straight in the chest at the devastation etched on Abby’s face. “Abby—”

“Sorry, this dance is Shane’s,” she said tightly, with a forced smile on her face. She then managed to move Shane, who outweighed her by at least a hundred pounds, in the opposite direction, two-stepping their getaway as though they’d practiced the retreat.

The cameraman came up to them, a big smile on his oblivious face. “I think I got it.”