Autumn Texas Bride

Read the Excerpt

“You from around here? You look familiar.”

Maverick Murdoch had hoped that sunglasses, a cowboy hat, and a week’s growth of beard would be enough of a disguise. Obviously not. He tried not to show any reaction as he looked back at the old guy who sat behind the counter of the gas station.

 “Nope. Just passing through.” He handed the man three twenties.

The old guy put the money in the drawer of the cash register and pulled out change. “Well, if you have time for lunch, you should stop by Lucy’s Place Diner. Carly’s pot roast is the best in Texas.” He turned and handed him the change. “And the Tender Heart Museum is sure worth taking a look at. Did you ever read the Tender Heart western series? The author, Lucy Arrington, lived right here in Bliss, Texas. Her family still does. Her great-nieces and nephews own some of the biggest ranches in the county, her great-grandson is soon to be elected our new mayor, and one of her great-granddaughters married our sheriff and the other is about to open up a bakery on Main Street.”

Maverick wasn’t interested in bakeries, old book series, or dusty museums. He was in Bliss for one reason and one reason only.

Intense, mind-blowing, tension-relieving sex.

He slid the change in the front pocket of his jeans. “Actually, I’m looking for a friend of mine. Do you know Summer Hadley?”

The old guy smiled, showing off a chipped front tooth. “I sure do. She’s the great-granddaughter who’s opening the bakery.”

Maverick was more than a little surprised. Summer had never mentioned being a relative of a famous writer. Nor had she ever mentioned liking to bake. Of course, in college all they’d talked about was sports, and recently . . . they hadn’t talked about much of anything. It was hard to talk when your lips were busy doing other things.

            “How do you know Summer?” the old guy asked.

“We’re college friends.” Friends with benefits. Really good benefits that Maverick couldn’t seem to get out of his mind.

The old guy grinned. “I bet those Hadley triplets were as hard to tell apart in school as they are now. If not for their haircuts, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

“I haven’t seen Autumn and Spring in a while, but in college the sisters were identical. I could only tell them apart by their personalities.” Summer was direct, driven, and outspoken. Spring was bright, vivacious, and personable. And Autumn was . . . weird. Or at least, that’s how she’d acted around him. Whenever he’d stopped by their dorm room to see Summer, all Autumn had done was stare at him. It made him feel creepy. Unlike Summer, who made him feel hot.

“Where is this bakery?” he asked.

“Just head south on Main Street and you’ll see it on your right.” The old guy’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure we haven’t met before? What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a . . . football coach.” It was a little too close to the truth to be a good lie. Although the old guy seemed to like it. A big smile lit his face, and he walked around the counter to heartily thump Maverick on the back.

“Well, why the hell didn’t you say so in the first place?” He held out a hand. “Emmett Daily. Folks will be happy as pigs in mud to hear that we’ve got us a candidate for the coaching job. Most of the town wanted to tar and feather Coach Wilson for taking that coaching job in Mississippi and leaving us high and dry right at the start of high school football season.”

“Sorry, but I’m not here for a coaching position. I just stopped by to say hi to Summer.”

Emmett’s face fell. “Well, that’s too bad. We sure could use a coach. Raff Arrington and Waylon Kendall have been trying to fill in at practice, but Raff has a baby on the way and ranch and house renovations to deal with, and Waylon is our sheriff and just got married. We need us a full-time coach.”

Maverick understood the town’s problem. Having grown up in Texas, he knew how important high school football was to the state. Everyone looked forward to Friday Night Lights and watching their gridiron heroes. He had been one of those heroes. One of the brightest stars in Texas . . . until he’d fallen. Now he was just a man looking to redeem himself.

And get laid.

He tipped his cowboy hat. “Thanks for the gas and the information, but I better get going if I want to catch Summer before the bakery closes.”

“It isn’t open. Blissful Bakery won’t open until Labor Day weekend. Of course, Summer will probably be there. That little gal has been working day and night to get things ready.”

Maverick had no problem finding the bakery. He could’ve thrown a football the length of Main Street. He parked next to the curb in front of the old brick building with the cloud-shaped sign that read Blissful Bakery. The large window was covered with brown paper, as was the door. It wasn’t locked, and when he stepped inside, the scent of something sweet and sugary was thick in the air. He didn’t eat refined sugar or flour. Both were the enemies of an athlete’s body. But damn did they smell good. He’d only had a protein shake for breakfast, and his stomach grumbled with hunger.

The walls of the bakery were painted sky blue with fluffy clouds in the shape of cookies, donuts, muffins, and cupcakes. Little round tables with spindly-looking chairs filled the space in front of the window and display cases and a counter stood in front of a partition that separated the customer area from the kitchen. A rainbow neon sign hung on one wall. Summer’s Blissful Bakery. But Summer didn’t look to be around.

“Hello?” he called.

A white-haired lady stepped out from the back. She wore a floral dress and a sky blue apron that had “Blissful Bakery” printed across the bib. She was small and fragile looking, but there was a steeliness in her piercing blue eyes.

“I’m sorry, but we’re not open for business yet.” She held out a plate of donuts. “But you’re welcome to a free sample.”

The yeasty, glazed donuts looked as good as they smelled, but he shook his head. “Thank you, but I’m on a strict diet.”

She placed the plate on the counter. “Me too. No sugar for me, I’m afraid. I’m a diabetic.”

“And you work in a bakery?”

She laughed. “That does seem strange, doesn’t it? But I love baking so much I couldn’t give it up just because my doctor thinks it would be easier on me.”

He understood that better than most. He had more than a few people telling him to take the easy way out and give up football. He refused to listen. Football was his life. He didn’t want to live without it. But occasionally he needed a break from it. He glanced at the doorway that led to the back. “Is Summer here?”

“She just went to the post office to pick up some flyers she ordered for the grand opening, but she should be back any second.” She held out a hand. “I’m Maybelline Marble. Retired school teacher and town baker. Although Summer is taking over as town baker.”

He took her hand and gave her his middle name. “I’m Matthew. Nice to meet you, Ms. Marble.”

Her eyebrows went up. “Matthew? I thought you went by Maverick.”

He was struck speechless. The football-loving guy at the gas station hadn’t recognized him, but this little old grandmother had. She must’ve read his alarm because she reached up and patted his shoulder.

“No need to worry. I’m not the gossiping kind. And I understand perfectly why you don’t want anyone to recognize you. I’m sure you’re tired of people talking.” She glanced at his cowboy hat, and then gave him a stern look. “But that’s no excuse for bad manners.”

He quickly took off his hat, followed by his sunglasses. “Sorry, ma’am. I guess I’ve spent so much time with football jocks in the last couple months that I’ve forgotten my manners.”

“Then you were picked up by another team?” The woman did know football. Or maybe she just followed his career. Everyone seemed to follow his career. Probably because it was such a disaster. But he was going to fix that.

“Not yet,” he said. “But I will be.”

She studied him with her piercing eyes. His meanest coaches hadn’t had stares as intense as Ms. Marble’s. “You remind me of Summer. She has the same kind of drive and stubbornness.”

Which was why he and Summer got along so well. They let very few things get in the way of their success. He glanced around. Although a small bakery in a Podunk town didn’t seem very successful to him. Especially when she’d owned a clothing store in Houston. Of course, she no longer owned the store. When he’d stopped by to see her there, it had been locked up tight with a “For Lease” sign in the window. Maybe that was why she was here. Like him, she was regrouping after life had sacked her.

He started to ask Ms. Marble about why Summer had closed the store when he heard the back door open.

“Sorry I took so long,” Summer said in a loud voice that carried all the way into the bakery. “I ran into Mrs. Crawley and the nosy woman wouldn’t let me get away. Ms. Marble?”

“I’m in the front, dear,” Ms. Marble called. “Visiting with your friend.”

“My friend? Did Carly stop by? She said she was going to stop by and sample the—” Summer stepped out from the back and froze. “Maverick?”

She looked different from the last time he’d seen her. She looked more like the girl he’d known in college. Her dark black hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail, and besides the smudge of flour on her cheek, her face was tanned like when she’d played softball. He didn’t like it as much as he’d liked the porcelain skin his lips had tasted every inch of. But tanned or not, he was happy to see her.

He smiled. “Surprise.”

While Summer stared at him, Ms. Marble picked up a straw hat and white gloves from the counter. “I think I’ll head on home and leave you two to visit. I glazed the donuts and they’re right there on the counter, Summer. And don’t forget the cookies in the oven. I think your new recipe for Cowboy Cookies is going to be a hit with the Tender Heart tourists.”

Summer pulled her gaze away from Maverick to give Ms. Marble a hug. “Thanks for helping me. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Autumn hasn’t exactly turned out to be the best baking assistant. I sent her to the Walmart in Fredericksburg to get more flour and sugar, even though I ordered plenty from my supplier—anything to keep her out of the kitchen. She can’t seem to follow a recipe to save her soul, and she either forgets to preheat the oven or turns it up too high. I’m starting to wonder if she’ll ever get the knack of baking. Which is weird since she’s good at everything else.”

“No one can be good at everything.” Ms. Marble smiled at Maverick. “It was nice meeting you, Maverick.” She gave him a hug as if she’d known him all her life before she spoke to Summer. “Do you want me to lock the front door after I leave?”

“No. I’ll get it.” Summer picked up a set of keys from the counter, then shot a sassy look at Maverick. “There’s no telling what kind of riffraff will walk right in if we don’t.”

When Ms. Marble was gone and the door locked, Summer walked back over to the counter where he was standing. She wore athletic wear and running shoes. He preferred the sexy dress and heels she’d worn the last time she’d come to his hotel room. A sexy dress with no panties underneath. The spandex sports tank and pants would be much harder to get off. But he would manage.

“So what brings you to Bliss, Mav?” she asked.

“Guess.” He tossed his cowboy hat onto a nearby table before he stepped closer. “You want to play cheerleader and football player like last time? Or how about donut maker and sugar addict?” He pulled her into his arms and kissed her. But before he could get more than a taste of her lips, she kneed him right in the family jewels.

He released her with a groan and bent over, shielding his manhood from any more abuse. “What the hell, Summer?”

“What the hell is right!” she yelled. “What the hell do you think you’re doing waltzing in here and acting like some sex fiend?”

He struggled to catch his breath. “I thought that’s what you wanted. You seemed to like it the other times.”

“Other times? What other times? Did you lose it after you screwed up in the NFL? That would certainly explain you drunk dialing me that one time and showing up here acting crazy?”

He stared at her in confusion for a moment before the truth dawned. “Oh, I get it. This is one of your new sex games. Well, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not liking it much. I was willing to play naughty pony and horse trainer. But innocent amnesia patient and town drunk isn’t my cup of tea.” He reached for his hat and pulled it on. “I think our friends with benefits is at an end.”

“Friends with benefits?”

Maverick turned to find a man standing in the doorway that led to the back. A man who didn’t look very happy. In fact, he looked flat-out pissed. Maverick got a bad feeling. A really bad feeling.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

Summer jumped in. “This is Maverick Murdoch, Ryker. I told you that I was friends with him in college.”

Ryker’s eyes narrowed on Maverick. “You didn’t mention ‘with benefits.’”

“Because there were no benefits. I haven’t seen him for years and was completely shocked when he walked in here out of the blue and tried to kiss me.”

Maverick knew what was coming and braced himself before Ryker’s fist connected with his jaw. It still snapped his head back and knocked off his hat.

Ryker shoved a finger in his face. “Don’t you ever touch my wife again, do you hear me?”

Wife? Shit. He just kept making one mistake after another.

He held up his hands. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize Summer was married.” He scooped his hat up from the floor. “I’ll just let y’all get back to your . . . donuts.” He turned and headed for the door, not remembering it was locked until it wouldn’t open. Fortunately, before he had to turn back around and ask for the key, the lock turned and the door opened.

He recognized the inky black hair immediately. It was one of Summer’s sisters. She was using her butt to push open the door so he couldn’t see her face. Not that seeing her features would’ve told him which sister it was.

He held the door and moved out of the way as she stepped inside with her arms loaded down with grocery totes. One tote slipped, and Maverick grabbed the handles before it could hit the floor and gave it back to her.

“Thank—” Her face lifted to his, and she abruptly cut off as her eyes widened.

The hard punch of recognition made Maverick realize that he’d been wrong. The Hadley triplets weren’t identical. There was only one triplet who had alabaster skin that tasted like vanilla ice cream. One triplet with dark curls that framed her face. One triplet with a tiny heart-shaped birthmark at the corner of her right eye.

And one triplet who liked to play games. (Autumn Texas Bride by Katie Lane)