"To Tuck and Becca." Logan Hunt held the stem of the fluted glass between his thumb and forefinger and raised it in a toast.
The glass contained champagne when he'd much rather be drinking beer, but what could he do? It was a celebration, and celebrations traditionally called for bubbly. Tuck's mom had poured a glass for them all before she'd run off to the kitchen to check on something in the oven for tonight's party. Maybe Logan could refill his glass with beer. Who would notice? The two drinks basically looked the same. At least to him, they did.
The bride and groom raised their glasses to take a sip, but Logan wasn't quite done with his toast. "May your marriage be long and happy and far less tumultuous than the past ..." He frowned and glanced at the happy couple. "How long has it been since you two first met?"
"Ten months." Becca screwed up her face. "And it hasn't been tumultuous."
It seemed like far longer ago that Tuck had sprung the news on Logan that the new English professor at OSU had been his rodeo one-night stand.
"Maybe not for you, but for me it sure as hell has. Ten months? Really? That's all? Jeez." Logan laughed. As head of OSU's Military Sciences department, Logan could only turn a blind eye to Tuck and Becca flaunting the university's non-fraternization policy for so long, hence his stress. But that wouldn't be a concern any longer, once Tuck and Becca were married. "Anyway, I'll be more than happy when you officially tie the knot."
"So will I," Tuck agreed. Becca opened her mouth to say more, but Tuck silenced her with a kiss before he pulled back and tipped his glass toward Logan in salute. "And thank you, Logan."
A chime sounded and Becca glanced at the cell phone she held in one hand.
"That must be Emma getting back to me." She glanced down to check the text. "It is. She's still at the hotel and needs directions to the house. Of course she does. I knew she'd forget to print out the ones I e-mailed to her last week."
"Go on. Call your sister." Tuck gave Becca a pat on the bottom that would have earned any other man who tried that a black eye. "Logan and I have a lot to discuss anyway. You know, all the bachelor party plans for tonight after this family party is over."
"Bachelor party ..." She let out a humph.
Tuck grinned. "Yes, ma'am. Bachelor party."
"I'm still not sure I approve of that." Becca's blond brows furrowed.
"Too late to object now. It's already planned." Tuck hooked an arm around her neck, planted another hard kiss on her mouth, and then gave her a little push toward the door. "Go call. Emma's waiting. You know she gets pissy when you don't get right back to her."
Becca narrowed her eyes. "We're talking about this bachelor party thing more later."
As she left the room, Tuck shook his head and glanced at Logan. "I'm sure we will talk more about it later."
"No doubt." Logan commiserated with his friend.
How many times had he and Tuck stood together in this house in the past? It would be impossible to count the number. Logan had taught both Tuck and his own younger brother, Layne, how to pitch a fastball in the backyard here. All while he'd tried to occupy Tuck's little brother Tyler, who insisted on being in the middle, trying to keep up with the bigger boys. Being ten years older than Tuck and Layne, Logan had been the referee for many a scuffle between the boys.
Come to think of it, it wasn't just the boys he had to referee. Tuck's little sister Tara was always right in the mix, too. It didn't matter if they were digging worms to go fishing or playing war, Tara wanted to be with them.
It felt good to be back in his old hometown and here in the Jenkins' house for the happy occasion. Having grown up next door and being the oldest of the neighborhood kids, he had served as a built-in babysitter at times. But with the three Jenkins kids, he was more like an older brother.
A wave of nostalgia hit Logan hard, along with something else. Loneliness, maybe?
After their marriage, Tuck and Becca would be building a family. They'd have kids of their own, and it would be Tuck teaching them to throw a ball or bait a hook. For the first time, Logan felt his single, childless status. It left him feeling a little empty.
It was crazy for Logan to feel lonely, because he was almost always surrounded by people. He had his fellow faculty and cadets, and his family was just a couple of hours away. He could visit home anytime he wanted. Still, Logan hoped he'd be involved in some way with Tuck and Becca's kids, whenever the time came. Maybe he could be an honorary uncle. He'd fill whatever role they gave him.
Logan found himself a little choked up as he said, "I'm happy for you, Tuck."
"Thanks, man." Tuck put his champagne glass down on the table. "You ready to trade in these sissy bubbles for something with hops and barley in it?"
"Oh, yeah." Logan pushed his champagne flute toward Tuck's before he ended up tipping over the too tall, stemmed glass and breaking it. Give him a nice solid longneck bottle any day. Something he could wrap his fist around and not worry it would snap or get crushed. "So what's the plan for tonight?"
Besides Tuck's eventual, inevitable negotiations over the bachelor party with Becca.
"Well, most of the guests we invited to the wedding are local, but the ones coming from any distance have arrived in town already and checked into the hotel. They should all be here within the next hour for this ... whatever this party is called." Tuck shook his head, looking as baffled as Logan as to why there was a smaller party tonight before tomorrow's big party—the wedding reception. "I guess we're supposed to spend a few hours eating and drinking here to welcome the out-of-towners, before we head out for the bachelor party. Then tomorrow—"
"Tomorrow your days as a free man are over." Logan finished Tuck's sentence. "You ready for that?"
It had hardly been two years since Tuck's divorce from his first wife.
"Yeah, I'm more than ready. If Becca didn't want the white dress, church wedding, and big reception, I would've dragged her off to Vegas and had Elvis marry us on Valentine's Day when I proposed to her."
"But then you couldn't have had the bachelor party." Logan laughed at Tuck's expression of dread at the reminder.
"I have a feeling that is going to come back to bite me in the ass. Becca doesn't look all that happy about the whole idea. I don't know if it's worth the hell I may have to go through. What in the devil did y'all plan anyway?"
"Me? Nothing. Jace and your brother did all the planning."
"Jace and Tyler together? Crap." Tuck cringed and took a swig out of his bottle.
"Aw, come on. What are you so worried about?" Logan grinned and took a sip of his own cold brew. It hadn't been a serious question. Logan knew very well Jace being involved was something to worry about in itself.
Tuck released a burst of air. "Jace ... Well, he's just Jace. Him alone planning this thing would be bad enough, but my brother's no better. Tyler's what, twenty-four now? And he's never had a girlfriend for longer than two weeks. He can't appreciate what Becca could put me through if she's unhappy about this party."
Logan laughed and enjoyed Tuck's torture. "Where are the two party planners, anyway?"
"Tyler drove to pick up my sister at college. Don't know where Jace is. He should be here soon, I guess."
Tuck glanced at the old grandfather clock that had stood in the corner of the Jenkins living room forever. Or at least for as long as Logan could remember.
"Maybe he's busy finalizing plans. You know, for the nekkid dancing girls and all." Logan couldn't resist a little more teasing.
"Oh, God, I hope not." Tuck hissed in a breath and glanced in the direction Becca had disappeared. "And don't even joke about that where she might hear you."
Seeing Tuck as a taken man again sure was making for some good entertainment for Logan in his own unencumbered state. It made a man happy to be free. He'd be even more grateful of that fact at the wedding when all of the available female guests were feeling romantic after the nuptials. Maybe some would be looking for someone to slow dance with or kiss. Logan could definitely oblige.
Becca, the woman responsible for Tuck being off the market again, came back into the room. Luckily she arrived well after the discussion about dancing girls was over. "Emma's on her way. She figured out her outfit so she's happy."
"Thank God for that. Nobody wants Emma unhappy about her outfit." Tuck rolled his eyes before glancing at Logan. "This'll be your first time meeting Bec's sister, won't it?"
Logan dipped his head in response to Tuck's question. "Yes, sir. It sure will be."
"I'm not worried about Emma fitting in. Everyone loves her. It's the rest of the relatives I'm concerned about." Becca screwed up her face into a scowl. "My father, Mr. Punctuality, is beside himself they're not here an hour early, and it sounded like my mother was already well into her sherry. She bought a bottle at the duty-free shop at the airport."
"A bottle? Sounds like a hell of a good start to a party," Jace said as he walked through the door.
Speak of the devil.
"Hey there, darlin'." Jace scooped Becca into a hug that lifted her feet right off the ground. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and set her back down. "You look great, as usual."
Becca laughed. "Thanks, Jace. But you'd better save a few compliments for later when my family is here and I'm tearing my hair out. I may need to hear them then."
"You got it. And just send me the signal and I'll sneak you some booze, too, if you want it." Jace winked at her and slid a flask partway out of his pocket.
"I'll keep that in mind. A visit with my parents might require some alcohol." Becca glanced at Tuck. "I'm going to go see if your mom needs any help in the kitchen."
"Sounds good, baby." Tuck nodded.
Jace watched Becca leave as he walked over to Tuck. He stuck out one arm to shake the groom's hand. "Hey, man. How you holding up? You ready to bolt yet? I got the truck filled up with diesel and coolers full of ice-cold beer. It's parked right outside, just in case."
Logan shook his head. Typical Jace, as changeable as the wind. He was sucking up to the bride with one breath and offering to help the groom escape with the next.
Tuck's gaze cut to the doorway Becca had gone through before he answered, "Not at all. I love every minute of this. Nothing more fun than planning a big ol' wedding. You want a beer? I'm getting myself another one."
Logan glanced at his bottle. He wasn't even halfway done with his own beer yet but Tuck's was empty. Tuck might pretend he was calm, cool, and collected about the wedding and all it entailed, but the empty bottle told another story.
Out-of-town relatives. Nervous brides. Crazy groomsmen. Saying I do for the rest of your life ... Yeah, Logan sure was happy he'd be on the ushers' side of the altar rather than directly in the line of fire like the groom.
"Definite yes on the beer." After he answered Tuck, Jace turned to extend a hand toward Logan. "Lieutenant Colonel Hunt, sir. What's the status of the Oklahoma State ROTC program?"
Logan laughed at how Jace lowered his tone of voice and spoke more like a battalion commander than a bull rider. "A little slow right now since we're on break between semesters, but thanks for asking. How you been, Jace?"
"Good. Rodeoing quite a bit now that it's summer. Dragging Tuck with me when I can get him away from Becca and convince him to ride."
"Just don't break him, please. Tuck may be a bull rider part of the time, but he's one of my soldiers full time, and one of my department's best military science instructors. I need him with two functioning legs when we go back to PT with the cadets. Got it?"
"Sure thing. Let's just hope Becca doesn't break anything on him during the honeymoon." Jace waggled his eyebrows. "As for rodeo, he usually ends up breaking his ribs when he wrecks, not his legs, so we're good. Broken ribs hurt like a son of a bitch, but he can still run with 'em."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jace. And I only broke my ribs once or twice, thank you very much." Tuck scowled.
Jace grinned and accepted the bottle Tuck handed him. "Once or twice, my sweet ass. You can't seem to keep yourself out from under hoof. You're too tall for a bull rider, if you ask me. You need to be small and quick like me. You should have stuck with team roping."
Watching the two men bicker, Logan sipped his beer and stayed out of the fray. He wasn't about to enter that debate. Bull riders were insane.
Sure, Logan had joined the army knowing there'd be times during his career he was going to be up against an enemy who wanted him dead, but to get on the back of a bucking bull knowing you were going to be thrown in the dirt every damn time? Even when you won? Nope. Not for him.
While Jace and Tuck continued to banter—something about which bull Jace drew last time he rode—motion out in the driveway caught Logan's eye. He turned to watch through the window. A hot-as-hell woman in a short, black dress reached one long leg out of the car and stepped from behind the open passenger door. Even doing nothing but standing in the driveway, she was sexy enough to make a man take notice. Her blond hair and the family resemblance told him this must be Becca's sister, Emma.
Logan glanced at Tuck and wondered how bad a friend he was that Tuck's soon-to-be sister-in-law was giving him a hard-on. Just from his thinking about how the curves that dress accentuated so nicely would feel beneath his touch.
Imagine if he ever got his hands on her ...
An older woman and man exited the front doors of the sedan and joined the blonde. They had to be Tuck's new in-laws. Their presence should have diminished Logan's amorous fantasies about Emma. It didn't.
It seemed Emma had captured his attention and she wasn't letting go. He managed to block her parents right out as he wondered what her hair would feel like against his cheek while he ran his tongue down her throat.
"Hey, Tuck. It looks like Emma's here." Jace came to stand next to Logan at the window. He blew a slow whistle. "Boy oh boy, is she looking good."
The tone of Jace's voice made Logan turn to get a good look at him. The man had a knowing expression on his face that didn't sit well with him at all. "You know her?" "Oh, yeah." Jace dragged the two short words out to be suggestively long.
What the hell was that about? Logan's brows rose. He turned to glance at Tuck.
"Emma was here with Becca the first time she came to Oklahoma for the job interview at OSU. You know, the night Becca and I met at the rodeo."
Tuck had answered without Logan's having to ask, but that sure as hell didn't explain the rest. Such as why Jace was acting as if he and Emma had done more than just meet that night.
Those were details Logan was more than interested in having.
"Yeah, I remember you telling me about the rodeo." But not that Jace and Becca's hot sister from New York had had a little one-night rodeo of their own.
Of course, Jace liked to exaggerate. It didn't matter if it was about conquering a bull or a woman. Logan had known the man for years through Tuck. Ever since the two had ridden on the rodeo circuit together before Tuck had enlisted in the army. If nothing else, he knew Jace could throw the shit with the best of them. It was very possible nothing at all had happened between Jace and Emma, except in Jace's own overactive imagination.
Logan decided to run with that theory and see how things progressed. It was far better than the alternative—assuming Jace had a prior claim on this woman and having to back off. A lot could happen over a short period of time. Look at how one night between Tuck and Becca had changed both of their lives. Logan had an entire weekend and a wedding reception to work with. There'd be sentimental speeches and tears, music, and a fully stocked bar. Everything to put the partygoers—and Emma—in the mood for romance.
Not to mention Logan had Tuck on his side, pulling for him, putting in a good word. At least Tuck had better be on his side. Jace was Tuck's friend, yes, but Logan was like a brother. Not to mention his boss and commanding officer. If it came right down to it, Logan would pull rank. Hell, he could order Tuck to put in a good word for him with Emma or else.
Excerpted from Two Times as Hot by CAT JOHNSON. Copyright © 2013 Cat Johnson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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