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Wicked: A Small Town Romance (Love in Lone Star Book 3) by Ashley Bostock (1)

Grace

On any other day in Lone Star, the sun would have been perfect. Welcomed, even. But on this particular Friday afternoon, sweltering heat never looked good on me, especially when I had somewhere to be. The humidity threatened to turn my straight blonde hair into a curly mess and I dreaded the fact that I was most likely getting sweat stains on my new white blouse.

Thank God, the school week was over. Thank God, summer was not too far away. Two weeks and thirteen hours, to be exact. I could break that down into minutes, but it seemed a little presumptuous, considering the principal of my school could keep us for two whole days after school got out. That was never a good thing.

If I didn’t have to decorate for my parents’ dinner party, I wouldn’t care about the curly hair or the sweat dripping down my back. But as it was, I was due to be at their place in an hour and it was almost a thirty-minute drive away.

Yap! Yap! I turned around at the high-pitched sound. Ohhh. A tiny dog. Maybe a Maltese? I couldn’t be sure. What I was sure of was that she was lost. Or homeless. Her white coat looked like she’d been through the ringer, all dusty and grimy. A matted clump of hair stuck out where both her ears flopped against her head. Poor thing.

I wanted to pick her up. I couldn’t, I didn’t have time. My father would blow a gasket if I was late. They were expecting me to help get everything decorated and set up and he’d chew me out if I wasn’t there on time. It didn’t matter if you were ten or twenty-seven or even thirty, whether you were his kid or not, when Walter Patterson got mad, he wasn’t afraid to let you know.

“I’m sorry little baby. I can’t help you. Go home.”

I turned back around, determined to ignore the pup, and it continued to follow me. Oh no. What was I going to do? The dog didn’t even have a collar and the way she looked led me to believe no one was looking for her. It tugged on my heart. I couldn’t ignore her and leave her out here. Even more so because when I stopped, she stopped. When I went, she went.

“Come here, puppy.”

I crouched down despite my skirt and heels and held my hand out for the little dog. Her dark little eyes assessed me, debating if I was on the right side of good or bad. She inched closer, sniffed my hand, then stepped back. Yap!

“Come here. I won’t hurt you.”

She did the same thing, sniffed me and stepped back. Only this time she didn’t bark. That was a good sign. I wiggled my fingers, hoping she’d come forward one more time and instead, she launched herself onto my legs and chest and I caught myself with the palm of my hand on the sidewalk, stopping myself from toppling over completely.

Her paws were soaked.

My white top was now covered with various blotches of brown…err, gray, muddy-type stuff all over the clothes I wasn’t going to change because I didn't have the time. But now what was I going to do? Inevitably, I knew I would be late and that wouldn’t give the apple pies I’d baked enough time to warm and what hell would my father bless me with this time?

Great. My day couldn’t get any worse

Or could it? The completely unnecessary roar of a motorcycle bellowed down the street, making my already squeamish insides rattle with something a lot less desirable. I had a good feeling I knew exactly who was driving that damn thing. Much to my dismay, the motorcycle slowed as it got closer to me, the driver not even glancing in my direction as he turned directly in front of where the pooch and I were half sprawled out on the sidewalk. Maverick Carter, one of my older brother’s best friends, slowly guided his metal beast up onto the curb and into the driveway of the house we sat in front of and I knew that my day really couldn’t get worse than this. My father be damned.

The obtrusive sound echoed out into oblivion as the pup and I watched his every move, as if she too couldn't fathom why something so noisy had to be in the near vicinity of us. Maverick’s leather-covered leg stretched out, the toe of his boot kicking down the bike’s kick stand. Once righted, he swiftly edged himself off the sleek black and chrome bike, and his eyes turned directly to me and my new-found friend.

Something uncomfortable and intriguing ran through my blood. I took him all in as he stood there watching us. The black, dirty boots and the worn leather, chaps - I think, he wore over his blue jeans and the black vest with its frayed edges and patches. That last one I knew because of the books I read. His face wasn't clean shaven like a man’s should be; slivers of gray and brown hair grew from his chin and along the line of his jaw. His menacing eyes watched me, too. He seemed to be assessing why I was on the ground, my palm scraped from trying to catch myself, my white top dirty and this little no name pup in my lap—well the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer me help, ask if I was okay, but I didn't think Maverick fell into that category.

I don't know what category he was in but from all the motorcycle club books I’d read, he definitely wasn't all chocolates and roses. He wore a black cap on his head, a do-rag that looked like a swimmer’s cap to me, except for the ties at the back. I couldn't fathom why my heart was racing as fast as it was. Probably because he was a little intimidating. Add to that, the fact that I had to be at my parents’ place, well yes, that was why I was a mess.

“Must be my lucky day. Finding a damsel in distress in my driveway. On her knees, even.”

I ignored his crude remark.

“This dog jumped on me,” I said in way of explanation, further inspecting my scraped palm as I tried to regain some sense of balance and order.

He burst with laughter and I wrinkled my brows at him. Seriously. What was so funny?

“You got knocked down by that little mutt?”

“She’s not a mutt. She’s a Maltese, I’m pretty sure. And no. I went down to pet her and she caught me off guard. I fell back-”

He cut me off, “Where’d you find her?”

“She started following me. I don't know who she belongs to. Do you?”

“How the hell would I know?”

“This is your neighborhood.”

“Do I look neighborly to you?” He folded his arms over his broad chest and, again, that weird little tremor of something swam through my veins. He sauntered the few steps from where he parked to where I stood clutching the dog.

I swallowed, “No, actually you don't. You look like a…bad neighbor.”

“Being neighborly is overrated.”

Yup. Bad neighbor. It was clear what kind of man he was. The kind who didn't help a female up off the curb. The kind who roared around a small town in a vehicle that could easily be compared to nails on a chalkboard.

“What are you going to do with the damn thing?” he asked.

“I don't know. My apartment building doesn't allow pets and I'm going to be late to my parents’ party. Thatcher’s too far away for me to take it there. I still have to change and I have apple pies that are going to be tepid.” I glanced down at the mess of me and the dog. “I need your help. You take the dog.”

I held the tiny creature out in front of me, her legs running air circles as she tried to get away.

“Hell no. Stay away from me with that thing.” He turned around and walked up his driveway toward his house.

I followed. I was desperate.

“Maverick, please.”

He turned so swiftly, I almost toppled into him. “It's Cap.”

“It's Maverick. I’m not calling you by your biker name. Please help me. You know how my dad can get. He’s going to kill me. I was already on a tight schedule and now, I’m in a major time crunch. Plus, I have to change now.”

His formidable eyes dropped to my blouse, assessing every paw print, every smear of dirt, as if he simply couldn't comprehend the trouble I was in. I felt exposed. Thankfully my top had a scalloped neck instead of being low cut. He would be the man who had no qualms about looking down it. My overly-large breasts were enough of a confidence issue, with the way I couldn’t find tops to fit properly, and men staring I didn't need to add a show with it.

“Maverick,” I pleaded.

His eyes met mine and for the first time in my life, standing this close to him—not a stranger as he was my brother’s good friend, yet someone I didn't know well—I noticed how vivid his brown eyes were—whiskey-colored, with pinpricks of gold and an even darker brown mixed into them and they were assessing me, reading into my soul. Something close to attraction brewed inside me.

He blinked, “How long do you have to be at your dad’s?”

Too long. “A while. It's a party. I have to set everything up.”

“My yard is fenced. You can put it back there. I’ll meet you here at ten for you to get it.”

None of that was going to work. Yet, I couldn't keep the dog at my apartment. There was simply no way. The rules said no pets. What was I going to do at ten once I picked her up? Maybe I could convince him to keep her overnight.

“Can we meet at 8:30?”

“No. I have plans. I’ll be here at ten.”

“I usually go to bed at 9:30 though.”

Once again Maverick’s head fell back in laughter and it annoyed me. He could be so rude at times.

“I thought you had a party?”

“I do. But I’ll be home by eight.”

He laughed again, “How old are you, Grace?”

“Twenty-seven. Why does that matter? What are you, forty-two?” The words tumbled out of my mouth. Seriously? Why did I even ask? This initiated conversation and I didn’t want conversation nor did I want to know. Not to mention the time crunch I was in.

“Thirty-nine. Old to you.”

Yes. Old to me. Twelve years older than me. I took in his lean body, covered in leather, and how the black shirt beneath his vest showcased the ridges of muscle along his chest – nothing I hadn’t seen before – yet was suddenly noticing in a completely different light. He didn't seem old. He seemed young. Wild. Free. Rough. His face, although covered in stubble, was fresh and free of any wrinkles. Yes, he seemed like a lot of things, but I would never use old to describe him. I didn't say this though. Instead I accepted defeat and held out the dog. It took her a second to smell him and even less than a second before she determined he was a friend. Traitor.

“Fine. Ten o’clock. Don't be late.”

“Thank you, Maverick,” he sing-songed behind me.

“I’ll thank you tonight if you still have her and she’s still alive. Please, get her some water.”

Once I'd managed to clean up and get to my parents, I did everything that was required of me. I set fourteen table settings, which I'd mimicked from an article out of Country Times Magazine – no table cloth, burgundy napkins with cream colored napkin rings, and matching placeholders on my parents’ rustic oak dining table – it was perfect. For centerpieces, I used short, round vases that were almost a foot in diameter and found the largest roses I could, discarding the stems to let them float in the water. For an extra effect, I added a wide, single birch branch to each vase. Voila.

I wasn’t staying for dinner. I wasn’t technically invited. I couldn’t mess up the table by adding an odd number of table settings. My parents had still been MIA as I’d quickly hauled all the decorations out of the butler’s pantry and began to decorate. Now, I stood in their expansive kitchen watching Mabel create dinner. She wore a long flowy brown dress that hid her slender figure and she’d put a flower pin in her gray hair. My parents must have invited someone important over for Mabel to put on her pretty dress and matching hairpin!

Whatever she was creating smelled amazing and even though I wanted to stand by her at the stove and peek, I knew she wouldn’t let me. It was a task that had me breathless. She was amazing. I could decorate but I couldn’t cook like Mabel. I liked it, but my passion was baking. Mabel had worked for my parents since I was four-years-old and for as long as I’ve known her, she’s never brought up her family. If she was getting dolled-up for someone, did that mean she wasn’t married? Mabel wasn’t one to talk a whole lot and I never questioned her. Shame on me.

“What are doing, Grace? Don’t you have somewhere to be instead of in here watching an old lady cook? I thought you’d be baking for the auction.”

“I have plenty of time. Besides, I’ve made more apple pies than I can count. I’m not worried.” Lone Star’s annual Founder’s Day Picnic in the Park was a week away and I had been picked as an entrant for their pie auction. The competition allowed for only ten entrants, making it Lone Star’s most-coveted competition. People would bid on a pie and the pie with the highest bid would win the annual ribbon, “Lone Star’s Pie Champion.” Then, the person who bid the highest bid out of all ten pies, got to choose which charity all the raised money would go to.

“Good luck. I hope your pie gets the highest bid.”

“Me, too. Do you have family, Mabel?”

“Of course, child. Why are you asking such a ridiculous question?”

“It just occurred to me that I’ve known you my whole life and I’ve never known whether you have family. Are you married?”

“I was a long time ago. My Gerard is in Heaven now. Now, child, don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

Setting thoughts of Mabel and her husband aside, I thought of Maverick and my newly found dog and the hassle of what I was going to do with both of them, especially when all I could think about was going home and getting back to my book. My sweatpants cried out to me from their spot in my drawer and my boobs begged me to toss my bra.

“No. I found a dog today. My apartment doesn’t allow pets though. I’ve been racking my brain all night trying to come up with a plan for her.”

“Where is the dog now?”

“With,” I almost said my friend but that wasn’t accurate. What was Maverick to me? My older brother’s much older best friend. Even though I’ve known him for a long time, I wouldn’t say we were on a completely friendly basis. More than acquaintances but less than best buds. Mabel knew him. I wasn’t sure what her opinion of him was exactly. I decided it was in my best interest not to ask. When I glanced at her standing at the stove, she had her neck turned toward me waiting for my answer. I cleared my throat, “With Maverick Carter.”

“He’s always been a nice man. The dog can’t stay with him until you’re able to take it to a shelter?”

“What? A shelter? I can’t do that. I could never do that, Mabel.”

“Do you have much of a choice?” she asked.

“Not if I stay in my apartment,” I sighed.

“Why don’t you see if Maverick will keep the dog. Then you could take care of it there.”

“What do you mean? Like, go over there and feed it and let it out? That kind of thing?”

“Why, yes. The dog could live with Maverick and you could take care of it. Of course, this is while you try to find the owner, right?”

The owner. Right. “I don’t know if anyone wanted her. Her coat was matted and dirty. She was scared of me at first.”

“Did you feed her?” Mabel asked curiously.

Oh, my gosh! “No,” I exclaimed. “I better go so I can find some puppy food for her. What if she’s starving?”

“Now settle down. Go out onto the back patio and inside the blue bin is some dog food. Take some for tonight and see if she’ll take it.”

“You’re a life-saver. I can’t believe I didn’t think about feeding her. I was in such a hurry to get here to set up and she got me dirty, I had to change-”

“Grace, the dog food.” She handed me a plastic bag and I hustled out of the kitchen and onto the patio, quickly finding the blue bin, where I filled the bag she gave me.

“You’ll be sure to take the apple pies out of the warmers, right? They’ll get dry if you leave them in too long.”

“Child, yes. I have it covered.”

“Thanks, Mabel.” I kissed her cheek and headed toward town.

I could ask Maverick if the puppy could stay with him. I don’t think he would like it. He’d probably laugh at me again for suggesting such a ludicrous idea. I had no other choice. I could ask Thatcher to help. Since Maverick lived closer to me than Thatcher did, I’d use my brother as a last option. My gut told me no one wanted the little dog and I could keep her if I wanted. I’d rather convince Maverick – even if that meant having to deal with his rudeness – that way, I could potentially see the puppy as often as possible.

I slowed to a stop along the curb near Maverick’s house. Even though he said he wouldn’t be home until ten, I figured I could go into his backyard and at least feed the dog. Surely, he wouldn’t mind that. I shut off the car lights, took the plastic bag Mabel had given me, and made my way up his driveway.

His porch light was on but the rest of the house looked dark, giving me comfort that I could quickly let myself into his yard and feed her. What was I going to call her? Even if someone came forward in the next few days with ownership, I felt like I still needed to call her something.

I opened the metal gate, grateful it didn’t squeak as I pushed it open. One of his neighbors calling the police on me for trying to break into his house was the last thing I needed.

His backyard was mostly dark, save for a light glowing from a curtained window. I didn’t immediately see the dog as I entered the back yard. Had he let her stay inside?

“Puppy,” I whispered.

I found her on his back porch, lying on the concrete next to a big, black grill. I was strangely happy at the little plastic bowl filled with water that he’d set out. When she saw me approach she jumped up and came toward me letting out her high-pitched bark.

“Hey, little girl.”

I swooped her up and sat on a metal chair that was off to the side of the porch. The faint glow of light from the window allowed for me to see her face. She was adorable. A part of me hoped no one was looking for her, despite how neglected she looked, and it was a long shot, but I hoped there would be a way I could keep her. I was already falling madly in love with her.

“Are you hungry? I brought you some food.”

She smelled the bag, her tail wagging incessantly as I opened it up and poured a few pieces of kibble into my hand. My heart skipped as I heard a murmur of voices, sure that they were coming from inside Maverick’s house. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Just as I was getting ready to stand, loud moaning started coming from the bedroom window.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I stilled, unable to believe my ears. Maverick was home? Not alone, by the sounds of it. The puppy stared at me and I realized she was waiting for more food. The right thing to do would be to get out of here before he realized there was a third wheel to his sex game. How horrifying would that be to have him know I not only overheard him having sex, but I stayed and listened?

However, the sounds kept coming and even though my mind told me to move, my butt stayed glued to the chair. That same unrecognizable feeling from earlier when I was watching him get off his motorcycle flooded my blood again.

I poured more dog food into my hand as a way to keep the puppy busy while I sat there, listening to the faint moans as they got louder. Something happened to my insides as I envisioned the scene going on in there. Maverick’s sweaty body as he pounded into her. Thinking of the romance novels I’d somehow gotten hooked on, I couldn’t help imagining the way he did things. In bed. And by the sounds of it, he must do it pretty damn well. Is that what Maverick liked? Hearing the exaggerated sounds of a woman as he fucked her? I don’t know why I was even questioning what he liked.

“You can’t tell anyone about this,” I whispered to the dog.

So many things were going through my mind right now, the least of which was getting caught. Not if I sat here and stayed quiet. No. My biggest concern was how hearing the sounds of this woman moaning and – oh my gosh, was that the bed? – thumping sounds were now coming from the window too and my concern in all of this, was how turned on I was getting. Not getting caught, but listening as Maverick fucked this woman into oblivion. I wasn’t about to address the small part of me that was wishing it were me in there. No. Never happening.

Maverick was too…rough. Too bad boy for me. Even if my insides were getting overheated at the thought of how he looked naked and how he did what he was doing in there. The way he must look beneath those sinful clothes he wore. How those steely eyes of his must look as he watched a woman orgasm. He wasn’t my type.

I wasn’t a virgin but come on, the way he was able to keep going, was a little exaggerated. The exaggeration could be summed up to the novels I’d managed to get hooked on. The perfect-looking guy—great hair, great body, well-endowed and wonderful personality—who was miraculously great in bed, too. Maverick was hot in a rugged way – his piercing whiskey colored eyes and what I could ever see of his blondish brownish hair. Of course, his bad boy persona probably made the women swoon. Obviously, I didn’t know what size of a cock he had, but I could attest to the fact that his personality needed work. More like his socialization skills.

More pounding.

Mmmm, maybe his socialization skills were fine, if the woman calling out “Cap” in the room was anything to go by. And judging from her praise, my guess was that he was sized just right. Cap ran his rough hands along the woman’s thighs as she smiled in approval. He forced her legs open as he growled, “I’m taking what’s mine.” The woman threw her head back as his large fingers trailed along her panty line.

“Tell me you fucking want it,” Cap demanded.

“I want it, Cap. Not your fingers. Your big cock.”

Cap unbuckled his belt, unzipped his jeans and his large manhood sprang out. He didn’t wear underwear. He pushed the woman’s panties to the side exposing her wet lips as he stroked himself.

“What are you waiting for?” the woman asked him.

“Turn around,” he told her. In one swift movement the woman was on her knees, her ass high in the air.

Cap slipped himself along the woman’s wet folds, coating himself with her juices. Holding the panties to the side with one hand, he gripped her hips and shoved himself into her. The woman let out a cry as Cap relentlessly pounded into her.

The dog nudged my hand, bringing me back to reality. What was I doing? Imagining Cap in my very own romance novel. My heart thundered in my chest amidst the extravagant moaning and I poured more kibble into my trembling hand. My panties were drenched and I casually brushed a palm over my nipple confirming my suspicion that they were hard as rocks.

I shouldn’t be here. I couldn’t tear myself away. I squinted at my watch. I’d been here exactly nine minutes. How long could this go on? My sexual experiences – the sex act itself – had ever only lasted a few minutes. Excluding Owen, of course, who lasted a good ninety-five seconds. Not long enough for me to even try to have an orgasm while having sex. I’d only slept with four men in my life and not one of them had given me an orgasm through intercourse.

It takes me a long time. They couldn’t last long enough for me and how could I blame them? It wasn’t their fault I couldn’t come timely. I don’t know what was wrong with me in that department but that was a whole other story in and of itself. Deep down I suspected it was my insecurity with my boobs that made me uptight once I was naked in the bedroom.

Seriously though, nine minutes? Ten and counting. Was this even normal? I bet he took Viagra. I’ve never even heard of anyone lasting this long.

I set the puppy down and she immediately went over to the water bowl and got her fill. I was seriously on the verge of satisfying the throbbing pain between my legs when the thumping sound and moaning stopped and I felt myself straining toward the window in the hopes that I would be able to hear more.

This was disgusting. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Spying. Being a voyeur. What was it called when you listened to someone having sex? With Maverick Carter, nonetheless!

As my body, all achy and hot, pleaded for more, all I heard was more mumbling and I glanced at my watch. Fourteen minutes. Oh, boy. My clit throbbed, an ache so painfully good I looked forward to taking care of myself later. That, I could do with no problem. Being naked and under pressure, that seemed to create the problem.

I didn’t hear anything more and the puppy pawed at my leg, clearly wanting to be held. Sorry, puppy, I had more pressing matters there for a moment. I picked her up just as the bedroom light shut off and not much longer after that, I heard a car start and drive away. I still had another thirty minutes before I was supposed to be back here to meet Maverick and get the dog – which still had no name. I should name her voyeur or peepshow. Did those terms cover listening to someone have sex, too? Peeper. Little Bo Peep.

I needed to get out of here. No other lights came on inside his house so I took that as a good sign to sneak back out the gate and leave. It wouldn’t do me any good to sit around and get caught. I could only imagine Maverick’s reaction at finding me in his backyard, no doubt putting two and two together that I heard him having sex with some woman.

“Okay, Little Bo Peep. Remember, this has to be kept between you and me. I’ll come back soon.”

I set the puppy back down and made my way out the gate, still oddly turned on and in shock at what transpired. I unlocked my car and slid into the cool leather seat, trying to steady my heavy breathing as images of Maverick fucking a woman that, oddly enough, looked just like me flitted through my head.

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