Montana Mistletoe

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Chapter One


“I’m going to have a new momma.”

Bree Yarbrough heard the softly murmured words spoken at her side, but she didn’t pull her gaze from the couple standing face-to-face, twenty feet in front of her hometown’s high school football bleachers. Her heart pounded as she watched. Her oldest sister and the man she hadn’t seen or spoken with in several weeks had finally quit kissing, yet they remained where they’d rushed to each other after the game. Gabe stood on one side of the chain-link fence, Erica on the other, and their foreheads were now tilted together. Wide smiles plastered their faces.

“One more, Coach.” Someone from behind Bree egged them on. “You can’t stop now. I’m taking notes on how it’s done.”

Bree grinned at the teasing and glanced around at the happiness greeting her from all corners of the stands. She blinked at the tears threatening in her eyes. Love had won. And everyone there knew it.

“They are going to get married, right?” The girl spoke at her side again, the words as soft as before, and Bree looked down at the seven-year-old who waited anxiously for an answer. “That’s what the kissing means, right?” Jenna persisted. “That Miss Erica loves my daddy now?”

Bree nodded, her heart growing for the child she’d only recently met. “That’s what the kissing means. And yes, I do suspect they’ll eventually get married.” At least, that was her sister’s intent. It’s why they’d cut their road trip short and shown up tonight where they knew Gabe would be.

“Well, if he doesn’t marry her”— Gabe’s father spoke from her other side—“I’ll be having a long talk with my oldest son, I can tell you that. This isn’t one to let slip away again.”

All attending Wilde family members nodded in agreement and began gathering their things for the long drive back to Birch Bay, and with sighs of longing whispering throughout the stands, the crowd finally began to disperse. Bree scooped up the blanket she’d snagged from her car as she’d hurried into the game and glanced around for her own family. Then she began weaving her way toward them.

“Hey, pipsqueak.” She bent to hug her youngest nephew when she reached them and faked a grunt as Ethan, the older sibling, rammed into her legs.

“You should have sat with us,” five-year-old Ethan complained. “Were you over there rooting for them?”

“Rooting for the other team?” Bree rounded her eyes in horror as she raised her hands in surrender. “Are you kidding me?” Her hometown took football seriously, and nothing was more serious than the Montana high school state championship. “I was for Silver Creek all the way.”

At least, for most of the way. Because she couldn’t say she’d have been too upset if Birch Bay, led by Erica’s beau Gabe—and Gabe’s oh-so-yummy brother Cord—had taken the win on this one.

“Then you should have sat with us.” Ethan refused to relent.

“You’re right.” She gave him a knowing nod before shooting a quick glance to the other side of the field. The team benches now sat empty. “I probably should have sat with you.” Her gaze roamed toward the concrete building housing the locker rooms, seeking out a tall, dark-haired former high school football champion, himself. All she caught sight of, though, was her sister and Gabe walking hand in hand. She brought her gaze back to her nephews. “But isn’t the more important issue at the moment the fact that your Aunt Erica is currently walking away with the coach of that very team?” She pointed to the evidence. “Don’t you think we should go rescue her before he tries to smuggle her away from here on the team bus?”

And maybe they’d catch sight of another Wilde while at it? Before he disappeared from town as well.

The three-year-old giggled at her words, while Ethan rolled his eyes as if to indicate she hadn’t changed the subject off her seeming disloyalty as cleverly as she’d hoped.

“Aunt Bree is right,” her mother said. She gathered up the pile of blankets the chilly night had called for. “Bree and Erica are in town at the same time for once, and Annalise will be arriving tomorrow as well. So, we’re having a long-awaited family dinner tomorrow night. And that means we can’t let Aunt Erica slip away.”

Ethan looked up at his grandmother. “Daddy said it’ll be kind of like Thanksgiving, but not.”

“Your dad is exactly right.” Her mom began herding them all down the bleachers. “Aunt Annalise and you boys and your mama and daddy won’t be here on Thanksgiving this year, so we’re having it a little early. But I might cook another turkey on the actual day of Thanksgiving if either of your other aunts stick around.”

Her mom shot Bree a look, but Bree ignored the message behind it.

Stay home for once, will you?

And she ignored it because she happened to know that for once, she might just be staying home. At least through Christmas. Only, she hadn’t informed her parents of that yet.

And she hadn’t informed her parents because in the back of her mind, she wanted to leave herself an out. Just in case she changed her mind at the last minute.

She’d be an idiot to change her mind, though. She knew that. This was the type of opportunity budding artists didn’t pass up. Staying would mean working alongside Mrs. Cory to create a one-of-a-kind mural inside the town’s newly renovated office complex. A mural that, with Beverly Cory’s name attached, would receive attention. Which meant that she would receive attention. And a little attention could go a long way in the art world.

She had a meeting scheduled with both Mrs. Cory and the mayor of Silver Creek on Monday morning to sign the contract and discuss the final design.

Unless, of course, she decided not to do it.

“You are staying at the house tonight, correct?” Her mother’s look was back again, and Bree barely contained an eye roll.

“That’s the plan, Mother. Like I told you over the phone.”

“Good.” Her mom gave a decisive nod—as if her words had been the deciding factor in Bree’s decision—and as they headed through the gate exiting the field, her dad moved to her side and slipped an arm around her shoulders.

“We’ve missed you,” he whispered and followed it up with a wink.

She rested her head against his shoulder and sighed. “And I’ve missed you. I’ve missed home.”

Her dad gave her a squeeze.

It had been several months since she’d been home, and then only for a couple of days. And that had been her norm since graduating high school. But truth be told, Montana was home, and it always would be. It’s where her heart was drawn to and where she hoped to one day return permanently.

She just wasn’t sure Silver Creek would be where she would return to.

“There’s Aunt Ewica!” Ian, the younger of the two, shouted as he pointed toward the school bus in the parking lot. He bounced on his toes. “I miss Ewica. I haven’t seen her in fowever.”

He hadn’t seen Erica since she’d moved to Birch Bay three months before.

“Then run give her a hug,” Bree’s mother encouraged.

Ian looked up with eyes full of excitement, and then he and Ethan took off as one, both barreling toward the bus currently being loaded with slump-shouldered football players who’d come darned close to taking the championship.

Erica looked away from Gabe as if sensing the incoming tumble of arms and legs and laughed out loud as the boys plowed into her. Bree watched, her own smile on her face, as her oldest sister and her only nephews greeted each other. Her heart felt fuller tonight, and she wasn’t sure if it was the fact that Erica had made up with the man she hoped to spend the rest of her life with or if it was because she was back home and intended to stick around for a while.

She caught sight of Gabe’s brother coming around the back of the bus, his dark head bent in concentration and both hands seeming to be searching his jeans’ pockets, and she had the thought that there was one more way she could make her heart fuller still. Or, at least, a part of her would be fuller.

A giggle caught in the back of her throat at the thought. Did she dare?

Did she want to?

Deep down, wasn’t that what she’d hoped might happen when she’d texted him they’d be at the game tonight?

She looked down at the ground, not ready to make eye contact if Cord happened to look her way. Since their brief meeting in Birch Bay two months before, they’d been texting on and off. Just as friends, mostly. But recently . . . those texts had taken a decided turn from friendly to more. And she was so ready to see what more felt like.

Another giggle bubbled up, this one escaping as she blew out a deep breath, and she pressed a hand to her mouth to try to contain it. Because yes, as crazy as the idea was, she wanted to do this.

But where? And when?

Her palms began to itch. Was this the type of thing she could actually make happen tonight?

Cord didn’t live anywhere near Silver Creek—nor even Birch Bay. He lived hours from both cities and had been helping out with the team only as a favor to his brother. Which meant, if not tonight, then when?

She licked her suddenly parched lips. If not tonight, then she might lose her nerve.

Looking back, she realized that Cord no longer stood by the bus. He’d walked away and was heading to the locker room building. She glanced back to Erica, intent on telling her sister to catch a ride home with their parents, but Erica was the one now giving her “the look.”

“No,” Erica said, the word bitingly clear, even across the distance.

“No, what?” their mother chimed in.

Gabe even looked up from whomever he’d been speaking with, as if to see what had Erica practically shouting.

Bree gave her sister a hard stare, her eyes silently begging her to say nothing more, then turned and flashed her mom a smile. “Will you give Erica a ride home tonight, Mom?” She peered to the other side of their mother. “You have room in the car, right, Dad?”

“Of course we have room,” her dad replied.

Puzzlement crossed their mother’s face as she once again glanced in the direction of Erica, and Bree sensed that her sister was heading their way. “But where are you going?” Her mother turned back. “You said you were staying at the house.”

“And I will stay at the house.” Bree captured her mother’s hands and rushed to finish. “I promise. I’ll even stay until Christmas.” She brightened her smile. “How about that?”

“What?” Both her parents spoke at the same time.

“Until Christmas?” Surprise slackened her mother’s jaw.

“Yes.” Bree silently cursed the impulse that made her blurt that out. “But I might be late tonight, that’s all. I saw someone I want to say hi to.” She motioned back toward the empty stands as half the stadium lights above them went out. “We might hang out a while. You know . . . catch up a little.”

Her mother’s features once again shifted. “Are you talking about—”

“Excuse us, Mother.” Erica’s words bit into their conversation at the same time the tips of her fingers dug into Bree’s upper arm. “I need to talk to my sister. Alone.

Erica dragged Bree off to the side without giving their parents a chance to protest, but instead of turning to face her busybody sister, Bree trained her gaze on the now-closing door that led to the locker rooms for both teams. Cord had just slipped inside.

“Whatever thoughts are going through your head”—Erica gritted the words out, pulling Bree in closer as she spoke—“stop them right now.”

When Bree didn’t respond, Erica shook her arm.

“We’ve had this discussion, Bree,” she hissed out. “He’s ten years older than you. He’s been with all kinds of women.”

Bree finally quit ignoring the glare of her sister’s gaze and brought her own around to meet it. “And maybe I’ve been with all kinds of men.”

“Yes,”—Erica paused, her lips turning down at the corners—“maybe you have. And I know that’s your business and not mine. But Bree,” she whispered, “I just don’t want to see you hurt. And no, before you ask, I don’t think Cord would hurt you intentionally. If I did, I’d have a talk with him myself. I’d have Gabe talk to him. But honey”—she squeezed Bree’s hand, her eyes imploring now—“you’re too young. You don’t—”

Bree covered her sister’s mouth, stopping the flow of words. They’d had this conversation more than once in the last week. Ever since she’d admitted that she and Cord had been texting. And no matter what Erica said, it wasn’t going to change Bree’s mind.

Yes, he was ten years older.

And yes, he’d no doubt been with all sorts of women. He was a total catch, and she knew he liked to play. So what? That only meant he had experience.

Why couldn’t she play, too?

Why couldn’t she gain experience?

It wasn’t like she was looking for love and commitment. Geez. She knew she was too young for that. She wasn’t even looking for anything beyond tonight.

But being back here in Silver Creek . . . and ignoring thoughts of what happened the night before she’d left . . . All of that made her want to get lost in someone else for a night.

It made her want to be someone else.

And anyway, wasn’t it time she did this?

She slowly lowered her fingers from Erica’s mouth. “He is not going to break my heart, if that’s what has you so worried.” She didn’t take her eyes off her sister’s. “And I promise to keep it light. Whatever happens will not affect how we behave whenever we both have to be at yours and Gabe’s wedding.”

The mention of Erica’s biggest hope softened her eyes a fraction.

“But Erica . . .” Bree looked toward the concrete building once again, and she replayed the last few minutes of the night of her eighteenth birthday. She needed a new memory associated with Silver Creek to get her through the next six weeks. Even if the star player of her old memory no longer lived in this town.

She closed her eyes so her sister couldn’t read the truth inside her then reopened them once she had herself under control.

“I know what I’m doing.” She squeezed her sister’s fingers, same as Erica had done to her, and let the confidence she’d spent the last three years honing shine through. “So, go home with Mom and Dad. And do not wait up for me.”

Erica’s lips parted, but Bree continued before she could speak.

“Or I swear on our grandmother’s Montana State beauty crown, if you give me so much as one more second of grief about this,”—she narrowed her eyes, a spark burning inside them—“the first thing I’ll do when I get home tomorrow morning, I’ll tie you to a chair and force you to listen to all the dirty details of everything we do tonight.”

The words snapped Erica’s mouth shut. She stared wordlessly for a few seconds, then let out a dry, humorless chuckle. “Fine. I’ll shut up and let you do you. But please”—she pulled Bree in for a tight hug—“promise me that you’ll be careful.”

Bree turned her mouth to her sister’s ear. “I’m always careful.”



Chapter Two


The truth was, she really was always careful. Not that most people believed that—nor had she given them reason to. She’d ignored her parents’ wishes for college and hightailed it out of town practically the minute she’d turned eighteen. Since then, she’d routinely bounced from city to city or even continent to continent, whichever struck her fancy or caught her attention next. And she often took random jobs—no matter how odd—to support her travels and her art supplies. But as free-spirited as she may be, she never “jumped” when it was something that might hurt her on a more personal level. Been there, done that.

Would be more than a few years before considering it again.

And sitting atop the visiting team’s office desk now, her coat and jeans tossed over the back of a chair and her unbuttoned blouse showcasing generous cleavage, a flat stomach, and a naughty hint of her pale-pink panties, posed no threat of hurting her in any fashion. She’d seen Cord exit another door of the building as she’d been coming in, so she’d hurried to find the perfect location and had texted him to come back. She knew what she was and what she was not getting into. And Cord Wilde, the uber sexy doctor who liked to change up women as often as he changed lab coats, did not pose a threat to her psyche.

The man who showed up at the office door just now, however?


“Justin!” Bree screeched and reached for her blouse, knocking over a cup of pencils in her haste. She’d have sworn the building was empty.

“Bree?” The man who’d once been one of her best friends—as well as her biggest crush—gawked at her. Once recognition settled, though, his look went from shock to flatlining. His eyes traveled over her. “Well, isn’t this a familiar scene?”

Fury sliced through her. “It’s a scene that is not for you.” She pointed with her free hand. “Get out.”

Instead of doing as she commanded, however, Justin looked her up and down. Again. Then the man had the audacity to step into the room.

“I don’t think so,” he murmured. He bypassed a runaway pencil, eyed the rolling desk chair that held the majority of her clothes, then leaned back against the wall directly in front of her. “I mean . . . a guy walks into a room and finds a girl half dressed like this . . .”

He shrugged instead of finishing his sentence, his gaze remaining passive, and fire erupted inside her.

“I’m warning you, Justin Cory.” Dammit, why had she thought this was a good idea? She clutched harder at her shirt. “Get. Out!

She jabbed a finger toward the door again. The blasted man had had his chance.

And anyway, what was he doing here?

“Bree?” Her name came from Cord that time, his voice, as well as his footsteps, echoing through the empty hallway. She opened her mouth, her gaze going from the open doorway back to Justin, as horror filled her.

Justin quirked a brow.

“I got your text,” Cord continued. She heard the jangle of his keys. “I came in looking for my keys earlier, but I found them already,” he called out before his tone became teasing. “But if there’s something else I should . . .”

His words died out as he appeared in the doorway and caught sight of her sitting practically naked on the scratched laminate.

Then he took in Justin.

“Oh.” Cord’s mouth formed a perfect O with the word, and Bree closed her eyes.

Christ almighty, this was not how she’d seen this going.

“I take it I’m interrupting something,” Cord began, “unless”—she peeked back out at his pause, and he lifted his chin, his eyes taking on a look she couldn’t decipher—“you texted both of us to meet you here?”

Cord’s meaning rang clear.

“No!” Her eyes went wide. Of course she hadn’t texted both of them! A threesome?


“I only texted you.” She flapped a hand at Justin. “He wasn’t invited.”

“Yet, here he is.” Justin’s words were spoken softly, and he hadn’t moved from his reclined position. He was, however, disgusted. She could read the emotion clearly with one glimpse into his icy gray eyes.

The air in the room suddenly felt chillier, and she wished she were wearing her clothes.

She tugged at the material of her blouse until the sides overlapped.

“I think maybe I should go.” Cord made the statement, but he didn’t move to leave. Instead, he turned his full attention on Bree. “If everything is all right here?”

Of course everything wasn’t all right here! The wrong man had shown up for her seduction!

She couldn’t manage any words, though. Shame had too tight a hold on her.

“Bree?” Cord said the word carefully, as if inching out onto a pond he wasn’t certain had frozen over yet, and this time she managed to shake her head. She lowered her gaze so she didn’t have to look at either of them.

“It’s okay.” Justin spoke when it became obvious she had no plans to. “Bree and I go way back.”

Bree continued staring at the floor.

“In what way?” The tone in Cord’s question had Bree closing her eyes once again. Cord might be a flirt—and exceptional at it when he wanted to be—but she’d seen his true colors the night she’d met him. He liked women, yes. And he slept with a lot of them. But he did not get involved if they didn’t know the score, which also meant he did his best not to hurt them.

Apparently, that white knight part of him didn’t allow him to walk away from a situation if he thought someone else might do the hurting, either. He was asking if Bree would be safe left alone with Justin.

“He’s fine,” Bree finally croaked out. She stared at the scuffed toes of Cord’s cowboy boots. “He won’t take advantage of me. He was a friend once. We lived next door to each other.”

Still, Cord didn’t move. “Friends can change.”

She shook her head again. “He hasn’t. Trust me.”

He didn’t want her then . . .

He wouldn’t want her now.

After another impenetrable moment of silence, Cord stepped forward and lifted her chin. She sensed Justin stiffening at the contact, but he didn’t move from the wall.

“Text me later tonight?” Cord said.

She nodded mutely. He wasn’t asking to hook up with her later. She had a feeling any chance of that had just fallen through. He only wanted to make sure she made it home okay.


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