Published by Forever on May 30th 2017
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo
The Spark of an Old Flame
Last time Lila Harris was in Happy, Texas, she was actively earning her reputation as the resident wild child. Now, a little older and wiser, she's back to run her mother's café for the summer. Except something about this town has her itching to get a little reckless and rowdy, especially when she sees her old partner-in-crime, Brody Dawson. Their chemistry is just as hot as ever. But he's still the town's golden boy-and she's still the wrong kind of girl.
Brody hasn't had much time lately for anything other than ranching. Running the biggest spread in the county and taking care of his family more than keeps him busy. All that responsibility has him longing for the carefree days of high school-and Lila. She may have grown up, but he still sees that spark of mischief in her eyes. Now he's dreaming about late-night skinny dipping and wondering how he can possibly resist the one woman he can never forget...
Brody sang along with the radio the whole way back to Hope Springs. Seeing Lila again brought back so many memories. Nothing had been the same after she’d left town. Happy, Texas, didn’t have a movie theater or a bowling alley or even a Dairy Queen, so they’d had to drive all the way to Tulia or Amarillo to have fun. Or they would stay in town and Lila would come up with some kind of crazy stunt that sent their adrenaline into high gear.
Like surfing in the back of my old pickup truck. It’s a wonder we weren’t all killed but the adrenaline rush was crazy wild. He chuckled as he remembered the two of them planting their feet on skateboards in the bed of the truck and then giving Jace the thumbs-up to take off. No big ocean waves could have been as exhilarating as riding on skateboards while Jace drove eighty miles an hour down a dirt road.
Blake Shelton’s “Boys ’Round Here” came on the radio and he turned up the volume. He rolled down the window, letting the hot air blow past him as he pushed the gas pedal to the floor.
Seventy miles an hour, the dust kicking up behind the truck just like the song said. At seventy-five, he checked the rearview and imagined that Lila was back there wearing a pair of cutoff denim shorts, cowboy boots, and a tank top that hugged her body like a glove. Her jet- black ponytail was flying out behind her, and that tall, well-toned curvy body kept balance on the imaginary skateboard every bit as well as it had back then.
At eighty, he tapped the brakes enough to make a sliding right-hand turn from the highway to the lane back to the ranch house. The house was a blur when he blew past it and the speedometer said he was going ninety miles an hour when he braked and came to a long greasy stop in front of the barn doors. Gravel pinged against the sheet metal and dust settled on everything inside his truck’s crew cab. He sucked in a lungful of it but it did nothing to slow down his racing heart, thumping hard enough to bust a rib. Gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his forearms ached, he checked the rearview mirror. The vision of Lila was gone, leaving only a cloud of dust in its wake.
You’re not eighteen, Brody Dawson. The voice in his head even had the same tone and inflection as his mother’s did. You’re a responsible rancher, not a kid who drives like a maniac with the music blaring loud enough they can hear it in Amarillo.
Blame it on Lila. She brought out the wild side in me back before I had to handle all the ranchin’ business, he argued, and felt a sudden rush of shame because he hadn’t stood up for her in those days. Then he had time and opportunities; now he barely had time for a glass of tea with all the sticky situations of Hope Springs falling on his shoulders.
His phone pinged with another text: Sundance is in a mud bog out on the north forty. Need help. Bring rope. Where the hell are you?
Just as he was about to get moving, his grandmother stepped out of the barn and made her way to his truck, shielding her green eyes against the hot afternoon sun. Gray haired and barely tall enough to reach Brody’s shoulder, she might look like a sweet little grandmother to strangers, but looks were definitely deceiving when it came to Hope Dalley. She had a backbone of steel and no- body messed with her.
“Did someone die? I heard you driving like a bat set loose from the bowels of hell. I bet you wore a year’s worth of rubber off them tires the way you skidded to a stop.”
“Everything is fine, but Sundance is in a mud lolly, so I’ve got to get some rope and go help Jace,” Brody said.
“Damned old bull. He got bad blood from his father when it comes to breakin’ out of pens, but he’s a damn fine breeder so we have to deal with his ornery ways,” Hope said. “I’ll go with you and help.”
“We can get it done, Granny. What are you doin’ out here in this hot sun anyway?”
“Bossin’ the boys about how to stack the hay. I can’t just sit around in an air-conditioned house and do nothin’. I’d die of boredom,” she said.
“Long as you’re supervisin’ and not stackin’, that’s fine, but I’d rather see you in the house with Kasey and the kids,” he said.
“I’m not ready to be put out to pasture yet, boy. Kasey don’t need my help. She has the toughest job on the ranch, taking care of those three kids as well as all the household stuff and the book work. That’s a hell of a lot more exhausting and tougher than stacking hay. And she’s doin’ a fine job of it. Now go take care of that blasted bull.” She waved him away.
Fun and excitement were over. It was time to man up and not expect to relive the glory days when Lila had lived in Happy and everything had been fun and exciting.
You can follow the Happy, Texas series on Goodreads.
~~Reviewed by Amy~~
In a good small-town romance, it’s not just the main characters that are memorable. It’s the relationships between families, neighbors, and communities. Quirky townspeople who all seem to know each other, good and bad. And the idea of love blossoming in such a town is delightful. In Carolyn Brown’s Toughest Cowboy in Texas, Happy, Texas is a place you’ll want to stay a while.
Lila Harris had grown up in Happy, Texas known as the resident wild child. The girl with the worst reputation in Happy for all her crazy, daredevil antics. She’d had her heart broken there years ago. She’d had a crush on Brody Dawson since kindergarten. Had spent her youth trying to impress him, hoping someday he’d go against his family and the whole town and just ask her out. When he finally had, he never showed and Lila had cried for weeks. Now, she was a teacher who worked hard to subdue that inner wild child, trying to change who she was so the heartache wouldn’t hurt so bad. She’d moved around a lot in the last 12 years, but was never happy anywhere. She’d left a part of her heart in Happy and found she couldn’t get it back anywhere else. Now at 30, she was returning to Happy to work in her mom’s café for the summer. As soon as she crossed that county line though, she could hear her inner wild child screaming to come out.
Brody Dawson had grown up as Happy’s golden boy. His family owned the biggest spread in the whole county. Lila had been his best friend and secret girlfriend, but Brody’s family didn’t approve. They thought Lila was a bad influence. So, Brody and Lila had snuck around. He’d gotten the courage to ask her out once before she moved. But the fear of facing her tears and his parents’ wrath led to him standing her up. Now memories and regrets haunted him. He was ashamed he hadn’t stood up for her back then. She’d never left his mind. It wasn’t easy to shake the memories or the yearnings he still felt, so he tried to bury them and focus on his responsibilities to his family and the ranch. That would be suitable punishment for not recognizing the best thing in the world when she was standing right in front of him.
It only took one look at each other for Brody and Lila to know the chemistry was still there. So much for time, distance, and a broken heart erasing all the old feelings. Lila’s inner wild child wanted to grab Brody and kiss him but she wasn’t that girl anymore. She was responsible now. This wasn’t high school. She wanted something lasting. Something real. But Brody wasn’t that high school kid anymore either. He means business this time and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks. He’s doing what he should’ve done years ago. He knows they can’t go back to the way it was before, but they can go forward.
What an awesome introduction for me to a new author. Living in a small town myself, I could identify so much with Happy. I even found myself visualizing people I know in some of the characters. Lila and Brody were wonderful characters with great chemistry. Part of me hated that they’d been apart for 12 years but I think they needed the time to grow and mature. Brody had to learn to stand up to his family, and Lila had to learn that she could still be responsible but hold on to the wild child too. They needed the opportunity to grow.
The secondary characters were delightful as well. I loved both Brody and Lila’s families. I’m intrigued by the family histories there and hope some of these characters get their own stories. The people of Happy were hysterical. Everybody knows everybody’s business. Rumors were nurtured and fed at the diner, and I found it hilarious that the men were every bit the gossips that the women were. I think my favorite scenes occurred at the church though. I can tell Carolyn Brown has spent some time in small town churches because she portrayed them perfectly. I’m so excited to get in on the start of this new series. It’s the perfect blend of teary eyed moments and chuckles. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Happy, Texas and can’t wait to visit again.