Tangled up in christmas, p.1

Tangled Up in Christmas, page 1

 

Tangled Up in Christmas
 


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Tangled Up in Christmas


  Table of Contents

  Copyright

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  The Trouble with Christmas

  Just One of the Groomsmen

  The Aussie Next Door

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2019 by Lisa Renee Jones.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

  Entangled Publishing, LLC

  2614 South Timberline Road

  Suite 105, PMB 159

  Fort Collins, CO 80525

  rights@entangledpublishing.com

  Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.

  Amara is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

  Edited by Liz Pelletier

  Cover design by Elizabeth Turner Stokes

  Cover image by Wander Aguiar

  Interior design by Toni Kerr

  MMP ISBN 978-1-64063-762-7

  ebook ISBN 978-1-64063-763-4

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  First Edition November 2019

  Also by Lisa Renee Jones

  The Texas Heat series

  The Truth About Cowboys

  Tangled Up in Christmas

  The Inside Out series

  If I Were You

  Being Me

  Revealing Us

  No In Between

  I Belong to You

  All of Me

  The Careless Whispers series

  Denial

  Demand

  Surrender

  The Secret Life of Amy Bensen series

  Escaping Reality

  Infinite Possibilities

  Forsaken

  Unbroken

  The Dirty Money series

  Hard Rules

  Damage Control

  Bad Deeds

  End Game

  Chapter One

  Hannah…

  I sit next to “Joe from Houston” on my flight to Dallas. Joe, a midthirties guy who might be nice enough if he didn’t use the gap between his teeth as a resource to spew inappropriate remarks in my direction. In the hours since we boarded the same flight in Los Angeles, his efforts to acquire my phone number have gotten less and less restrained, his crude remarks making it quite clear that’s not all he wants. I’m not sure what that says about where I’m at in my life right now—probably not much—but starting over at twenty-eight, well, that’s another story. One I don’t wish to live, but I am.

  The wheels hit the runway, and I stare out the window, wondering if Texas still smells like queso, margaritas, and hot cowboys to me, as it once did. I fear not, though. I know not. The day I moved away to Los Angeles, I stepped beyond those distractions and others. Distractions like Roarke Frost, the man who ripped out my heart and shattered it, and did so at a time when I needed him more than ever.

  But I didn’t need him, I remind myself. I made it on my own and quite well, at least until now. Now my plane has just pulled up to the gate, and as soon as the pilot winds down the engines, I’m in knots, wishing I were back in Los Angeles. Maybe that makes me a coward, hiding from the past, but nevertheless, that’s what I feel. Only there’s nothing back there for me. My famous photographer boss is in trouble, and I’m blacklisted right along with him. My dream job is no more. And since the cost of living in L.A. is more nightmare than dream, and my studio apartment above his studio is now under siege by the bank, home sweet home is all there is for me.

  It’s time to deplane, and my heart thrums in my ears. Joe from Houston is speaking to me, but I don’t hear many of the words coming out of his mouth. “You make cowgirls look good,” Joe says, and yes, I heard that and what follows. “How about that number? I can show you how good over dinner.”

  This will be my first time on Texas soil in six years. I’m not spending one night with this man. “I’m on my way to Whataburger,” I say. “And that’s a religious experience that requires I go alone.”

  He blinks. “Religious experience?”

  “Joe from Houston, if you’re from Texas and don’t know that Whataburger is a religious experience, you and I should break up before we ever get together.” We’re now deplaning, and he stands up. I do the same, grab my purse, and dart forward in front of him, praying I can escape him as we exit.

  Nervous energy overtakes me, and I slide the strap of my purse across my chest because I do. Because it’s something to do as I wait my turn to exit. Soon, too soon, and somehow not soon enough, I’m walking up the ramp and darting in between people to avoid Joe from Houston. This mission actually aids in my mental state, keeping it focused on the task at hand, not the past, not the return to a home that is no longer home. I clear the waiting area and turn left with one goal: the bathroom, but I make it a few more steps and stop. My camera. Oh my God, I left my camera on the plane. A really expensive camera. My only really expensive camera. I can’t afford to launch an event-planning business, as I hope to, and replace that camera.

  Panic ensues, and I race back toward the plane, running right into Joe. “She came back. I knew she would.”

  “Move, Joe. Move now or I swear I will knee you for every woman who you ever talked to the way you talked to me on that plane, and I am so not joking right now.”

  His eyes go wide, and he quickly releases me. I take off running, rounding the corner, dashing through the gate seating area where I find myself bumped and cursed, but I’ve lived years in Los Angeles. Crowds don’t bother me. Bumps don’t bother me. Losing my camera, my way of earning income, that would destroy me right now. Finally, I manage to work my way to the entryway to the ramp. “My camera,” I announce at the door. “I left it on my seat.”

  “Which seat, honey?” says the flight attendant, a nice Texas woman with a big b
londe hairdo and a vocabulary of “y’all” and “fixin’” that I know all too well.

  “11A,” I say. “Can I just go look?”

  “No, I’m sorry, it’s against regulations. But I’ll go check.” She retreats down the ramp as I’m left there to wait.

  I all but lose my patience, but thank God, the attendant returns, walking toward me with my camera. My relief flows out with appreciation, and it’s not long before I’m back on my way to baggage claim, wondering where my head is that I’d leave my precious camera, one that had taken me years in L.A. to afford, behind. “Back in L.A.” is the answer. I want to be back in L.A., working my way through and up the fashion world chain of command.

  But I’m not, so I refocus on an old mission that, minus Joe, is now one-dimensional. I hunt for a bathroom while my cellphone rings, and I don’t have to look at the number. I answer with a greeting. “Hey, Linda,” I say, knowing this will be my best friend from college who is now a rather accomplished photographer in her own right. She’s also my ride.

  “You’re here! I can’t believe you’re here. You’re home, honey, and just in time for the holidays to ramp up in three weeks. Though good gosh, it’s going to be a hot season. It’s still ninety outside today.”

  “Three weeks from now is Halloween, and yes, my birthday, neither of which is a holiday, and home is not Dallas, it’s Sweetwater. And just to be clear, it gets cold for about a day or two the week of Halloween every year in Texas, if you can call the first time it gets to fifty degrees for the season ‘cold.’”

  “You’re from Texas, which makes this home. Furthermore, your parents don’t own the ranch in Sweetwater anymore. They moved to Indianapolis, but you chose to return to Dallas because it’s familiar. Just another reason you’re home. End of topic. Next up. Your birthday most definitely is a holiday, as is Halloween. Good grief, woman. I have work to do on you. It’s a good thing you are home. I’m out front,” Linda continues, “and a really rude police officer just threatened to tow me, so you need to get here now.”

  “Oh God.” I hustle my pace. “You, woman, are always getting in a fight with someone.”

  “You don’t get in enough fights as far as I’m concerned, or you wouldn’t have been blacklisted along with your boss for his mistakes.”

  “He was blacklisted for something that didn’t happen.”

  “He should have protected you.”

  “He can’t even protect himself right now.” And, I add silently, reminding myself to stay focused, I have skills, not just with a camera. I coordinated many a huge event through him. I can put those skills to use.

  “Oh God,” Linda groans. “I have things to say about your boss, but the jerky officer is at me again.” There is the sound of what I believe to be knocking on her window. “I have to go. Hurry! Get to me quick!” She disconnects, and ugh, so much for the bathroom. I see the sign but pass it by. I can’t have Linda getting towed or, worse, spouting off like she does and getting in bigger trouble. Thankfully, Dallas Love Field is rather compact, and the walk is short—or it was, way back when. It’s remodeled, and nothing is as it was or where it was. I navigate here and there and pass through the security exit to find Linda standing there, her red hair piled haphazardly on top of her head.

  “He directed me to a parking spot,” she says, hoisting up her boobs, which might not be bigger than mine, but she bravely displays her assets today with a deep V of cleavage cut into her T-shirt. “These helped.”

  We burst into laughter and then launch ourselves at each other, hugging fiercely before she pulls back. “I only have ten minutes. Let’s get to baggage claim.” She tugs me forward, and I groan with how full my bladder is.

  “I have to pee, like, now. I have to. This is non-optional.”

  She grabs my arm and drags me forward. “This way. I know where a bathroom is.”

  This motivates me, so I step up my pace all too willingly, and it’s only a minute before her phone is ringing and she stops. “This is important. It’s about a job. I have to take it.”

  “Bathroom?”

  She points. “That entrance on the left. They just changed the signs, and they’re hard to see, but that’s the women’s restroom.”

  That entrance is not nearby, and I really can’t linger to wait on Linda. I hurry forward, and my phone rings now, too. Afraid it’s the real estate agent who’s supposed to show me rentals, I dig for my phone, grabbing it only to find it’s Linda calling. My brows furrow, and I look behind me to find her motioning wildly, but I don’t have time for this. I have to go to the bathroom. I round the wall to the entrance as she’d directed and smack hard into a body. A man’s body. A man in the women’s bathroom.

  “Wrong bathroom, woman,” the grumpy man snaps, giving my well-filled-out T-shirt a once-over.

  “Are you serious right now?” I demand.

  “Get out of the way.” The man literally grabs my arms and sets me against the wall.

  “Are you crazy?” I demand, ready to call security, but he’s already walking away.

  I drop my bag that’s killing my arm, push off the wall, and face the bathroom, looking for a sign, certain that man was a jerk to hide his embarrassment for going into the women’s restroom. Instead, the sign reads Men, and I want to crawl into the hole my embarrassment is digging in the floor.

  I turn to make a rapid departure, grab my bag, and proceed to run into another hard body. “Oh God. I’m sorry. I—” My gaze lifts, and I gasp at the familiar man now holding my arms, touching me for the first time in six years. I’m touching him, too, my hands curled on the black tee that stretches over a chest that proves to be more impressive than ever. He’s a man now, but then Roarke Frost was always all man. “Roarke,” I whisper, as if the name in my mind isn’t enough confirmation. I need it on my lips, the way I once needed him on my lips.

  “Hannah,” he breathes out, his voice low and rough. His brown eyes are still that warm milk chocolate, but I was always the one who melted in the heat of any moment spent with this man.

  “Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” Linda gushes, appearing beside us, huffing and puffing. “I was stuck on the call, and I couldn’t reach you and, well, as you know, I directed you to the wrong bathroom.” She’s rambling, her attention turning to Roarke, who is still holding onto me. Who is still focused on me and me alone. “Sorry,” Linda repeats. “Sorry—she went the wrong way because I told her wrong.”

  “I’m not sorry at all,” Roarke says, his eyes warming with the words. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

  “In the men’s bathroom?” I joke, trying to get off the topic of why I’m in Dallas. “It’s a game we play in L.A.” I cringe at the stupid comment.

  His dark brows dip. “Game?”

  “That was a joke that’s going nowhere. There is no game.”

  The air thickens between us, memories pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling. I want to push him away. I want to hold on to him and pretend nothing ever went wrong. “You look good, Hannah,” he says finally. “Your hair is longer, and I swear your eyes are a little greener.”

  Anger bristles inside me. My hair. My eyes. That’s all he has to say after—well, everything that happened? “Why are you here?” I ask.

  “I’m on my way to Kentucky to work with a horse,” he says, which isn’t a surprise. His family always trained horses, but he’s taken that to a whole new level. He’s now a YouTube sensation, the Horse Wrangler. Which I know because I’ve been watching the videos that I will never admit to watching. “Are you home to visit?” he asks. “Aren’t your parents in Indianapolis now?”

  “I’m here for work,” I say, because it’s not a lie. I am here for work and for a place to live, but that’s beside the point. “A fast in-and-out trip.”

  A man clears his throat, and Roarke grabs my bag and motions me toward the wall, and when I nod, he catches my hand the way he u
sed to catch my hand. It’s familiar. He’s familiar. So is the heat rushing up my arm and across my chest. No one makes me feel what this man makes me feel, and this makes me angry. He betrayed me. He hurt me. He hurt me.

  “I get back Friday night,” he says. “We need to talk. We’ve needed to talk for a long time. Can I see you?”

  Of course he returns Friday, I think. Of course he wants to talk now when he hasn’t tried once in six years. “I leave Friday morning.”

  An announcement sounds for a flight, and he grimaces. “I’m late. That’s my flight, and I have to head through security. Damn it. We need more time.” He scrubs his jaw, a good three-day dark shadow there, dark like the hair on his chest where my fingers used to play often. But that was then and this is now. “There are things I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time.”

  “It wasn’t meant to be,” I say. “Let’s just leave it at that, Roarke.” And the truth is that there is nothing he can say that would change anything.

  His gaze lingers on mine and then lifts skyward before lowering. “I have to go. Hannah—”

  “Go, Roarke. That’s what you told me years ago. That’s what I’m telling you now. Go. Because it’s what’s right for you and me. And you’re holding my hand.”

  “Yes, I am, and I don’t want to let it go.”

  “But we both know you will. Just like you did before.” The words burn out of me, anger in their depths.

  His jaw clenches, and he lifts my hand, kissing my knuckles. “Goodbye, Hannah.” He turns and walks away, bypassing the bathroom by necessity, no doubt. He’s leaving. Even when I left, it was because he’d checked out. I lost him before I lost him, or what went down would not have gone down.

  Linda steps in front of me. “You know the Horse Wrangler? Oh my God, I need details.” She glances over her shoulder. “That man’s butt in jeans. That’s part of what makes him an internet sensation, you know? Women love him.”

  I grimace. Yes. Yes, they do. Just one of the reasons I’m not going to share details of a longtime crush on my next door neighbor that became a summer engagement gone wrong.

  “The way he was looking at you,” she continues. “Did you and he—” She joins two fingers. “Did you—”

 
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