Taming the Country Star ONLY
a Hometown Heros novella by Margo Bond Collins
Country star Cole Grayson is in town, and Kylie Andrews is less than thrilled. As if months of changing the radio station and tearing down his posters weren’t bad enough, now she has to deal with a town of fans swarming toward the man who deceived her the year before. But when Kylie’s eyes meet Coles again, she cant deny the electric chemistry that drew her to him the first time around. Cole Grayson is on a mission. Ever since Kylie left him, he hasn’t been able to forget her sweet country smile.
After writing a song just for her, he sets off for her hometown to prove he’s not the player she thinks he is. But as much as Cole cant forget her, Kylie wonders if she can forgive him.
Previously released on the Bliss imprint – June 2014
Title: Taming the Country Star
Series: Hometown Heros, #1
Author: Margo Bond Collins
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 111 pages
Release Date: June 2014
Price listed is for the U.S. digital format. Please confirm pricing and availability with the retailer before downloading.
An Excerpt from:
Taming the Country Star
by Margo Bond Collins
Copyright © 2014 by Margo Bond Collins. 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.
Kylie Andrews’s Texas-themed gift shop, Cowbelles, sat on the very outer edge of Fort Worth’s Stockyards District, not far from Jimmy’s Honky Tonk. And much to her dismay, no matter how often she cleared it, the wall adjacent to her store remained covered with announcements for local events.
Like, for example, concerts.
She stared at the latest layer of advertisements.
From the topmost poster, Cole Grayson stared out at her, leaning against the edge of an old barn door, guitar at his feet. One booted foot was kicked up against the wooden wall behind him. His dark-blond hair curled around behind one ear and fell down across his eye on the other side. A cowboy hat rested on the ground next to the guitar.
Her hand drifted up toward the image, hovering several inches from the picture of his face. She glanced around. None of the other shopkeepers were outside. No one was watching.
“Bastard,” she whispered to herself, and ripped the poster off the wall.
At least, she tried to. It was thicker than she had expected, attached more firmly, and it resisted her pull.
Chewing on her lip, she took another look around, dropped her bag to the ground, and reached up to grasp the edge with both fists, jerking at it in opposite directions. A tiny tear opened up along the side, and she yanked harder. Finally, the poster ripped—right across Cole Grayson’s lying eyes.
She tugged at the image some more, glancing around surreptitiously every few moments and dropping ragged pieces of paper on the ground at her feet, until there was nothing left on the wall but a few fluttering strips.
Gathering the mutilated shreds together, she opened her bag and shoved them inside until they overflowed, bright ribbons of color in the morning light.
She shook her head and moved back into the store, trying not to think about the fact that Cole’s concert was only a few hours away, right here in the Stockyards, less than five blocks from Cowbelles.
He was probably already in town.
She would have nothing to do with Cole Grayson. He was a liar. And she didn’t care if he was going to be nearby for the first time since she had walked away from him in an airport in Mexico. She crumpled a shred of poster into her fist, then shoved it into the stockroom trash can. The rest of the narrow strips followed.
If only avoiding his likeness were that easy.
Heading to the back of the store, she flipped on the stereo system, tuning it to a country station. Cole’s voice sang out at her—something about lost love. She knew the song had been climbing the charts, but she had made a point of refusing to learn the lyrics. Snarling, she hit the switch. She could turn on her own playlist. Listening to country music didn’t have to mean listening to Cole.
She pulled a box out of the stockroom and started unpacking it. The turquoise necklaces were every bit as pretty as they had looked in the catalog. She spent the next half hour changing out the display. It was still early in the day. The tourists wouldn’t really hit until midmorning, but a few customers came in to browse.
Kylie wandered through the stands of merchandise, refolding T-shirts and straightening the Cowboy Cookbook display. Usually, being in the store made her feel calm. It might be small, but it was all hers, and finally, after three years, she was starting to see a real profit. She was even considering hiring someone to work weekends—it would be nice to have someone other than her friend LeeAnn to cover for her occasionally.
She loved her store.
But today, all she felt was restless.
She reminded herself that she liked her life. It was quiet and simple, and most of all, anonymous. Nothing at all like her childhood as the daughter of a local rodeo celebrity.
She stared up at the group of framed pictures hanging on the far wall. Grouping stock with images of her father and Cole under the heading “Talk of Texas” had seemed nicely ironic when Kylie had first created the display almost a year ago, right after she got home from her vacation in the Mexican Caribbean.
The center picture, enlarged to poster size, was of a cowboy on a bull—the camera had caught the man’s exhilarated grin, his left arm thrown up and his hat flying into the air as the animal’s feet left the ground.
Several of the other photos were of the same man, smiling into the cameras as he moved through crowds, into restaurants, around rodeo grounds. In about half of them, he carried a young girl, three or four years old, who stared up at him adoringly.
Kylie could barely remember a time when she thought her daddy was the most amazing man ever. She remembered the flashes as reporters had taken pictures of the national rodeo champion everywhere he went. She remembered the excitement of the rodeo arena, the cheers as he moved past the stands, the way he smiled and talked to everyone.
But Kylie also remembered the way the ink from the cheap tabloid print smeared across her mother’s fingers as she flipped through paper after paper, staring down at the pictures of Kylie’s dad with other women. The strained lines around her mouth deepened with every new picture, every new issue, but she never cried, not even after he packed a single suitcase and loaded it into his pickup to drive away from them for good.
Talk of Texas. Yeah, right.
The display worked, though. She sold more items from that single part of the store than almost anywhere else. Even the framed prints of her childhood sold like crazy—after the first few times people had asked about them, she had copies made to sell. And Cole’s concert was sure to bring in even more customers. She supposed that was its own irony.
She circled the display, moving items around. A reproduction of the cover of Cole’s latest album hung over the display of CDs, key chains, T-shirts, and coffee mugs, all featuring his smiling, lying face.
If Kylie couldn’t trust the men in her world, she could at least make money selling those men—in effigy, anyway. Selling a key chain with Cole Grayson’s image on it didn’t change her past. But if she sold enough of them, maybe it would change her future.
She ran a finger along a row of CDs, stopping to push one or two back into line. Cole’s eyes stared back at her from a dozen items. Picking up a mug, she returned the stare.
He certainly was beautiful. She fought back conflicting urges to smash the mug and to brush her thumb across his image, instead placing it down gently, back into the display.
Destroying the merchandise wouldn’t make her feel better.
Neither would caressing it, for that matter.
And as much as she might sometimes want to stop carrying Cole Grayson items entirely, customers snapped up the damned things almost as fast as she could stock them. She wasn’t willing to give up the revenue in order to get rid of his image. She never looked at the pictures of Cole longingly.
At least that’s what she told herself.
She turned her back on the photos.
A quiet life is so much better than all that.
She hefted the heavy box of jewelry onto the ceramic tile, then kicked it toward the rack for good measure.
Much, much better.
Cole Grayson stretched his arms over his head and gazed around his room in the Worthington Hotel. Nice enough, even if it was fairly typical. He pulled aside the curtain and stared out. Downtown Fort Worth, Texas.
The brick-paved streets crisscrossed through the historic Stockyards District before ending in a tangle of highways, the rest of the city stretching out past it.
Kylie Andrews was down there somewhere, probably tending the shop she had described to him. He could find her if he tried.
- That was a word he’d tried to ignore a lot in the last year.
If he hadn’t gone to Mexico in the first place.
If he hadn’t taken his manager’s suggestion to go totally incognito on his vacation.
If he hadn’t met Kylie.
If he had been honest from the moment he met her.
If he didn’t have the kind of career that required him to be on the road much of the time—a career that was doing well, that left little room for anything more serious than the kinds of flings that ended after only a few days, at most. The kind of fling he had with Kylie, but hadn’t had since.
He sighed and flicked the curtains closed again.
If he tried to explain again, she might decide he was a stalker, and wouldn’t that be great for his career? He laughed bitterly.
Actually, it might be good for his career.
And that was the whole problem. As soon as Kylie had found out who he really was, she cut off all contact.
No, he corrected himself. She cut off all contact when she saw pictures of herself with him in the tabloids. That just happened to correspond with figuring out who Cole really was.
He could find her. But he didn’t want to hurt her again. He never again wanted to hear the kind of catch in her voice she’d had when she told him good-bye.
And it’s not like he could offer anything new—his career still took up the bulk of his time. All he had ever wanted was to make it as a musician. His latest album, Call Me Tomorrow, was set to go platinum soon. He was still on the road, still followed by photographers everywhere he went.
Besides, she had walked away from him. There were plenty of women who wouldn’t walk away, who would love the flashy life he could offer.
But Cole didn’t want any of those women.
He wanted Kylie.
A knock on the door interrupted his circling thoughts, and he moved to open it.
“Hey,” said Billie, his manager. “Ready to check out the venue?”
“Sure,” Cole said, grateful for the distraction.
Focus on the work. Ignore how close he was to Kylie.
Kylie was sitting on a stool behind the register eating a chicken fajita salad when her best friend LeeAnn rushed in at lunchtime. Her face glowed with excitement.
“You are never going to believe what I won.” LeeAnn spun around in a circle, her blond hair twirling out around her. She grinned and slapped her hand down on the counter in front of Kylie. “Check it out.”
Kylie’s answering grin faded. Under LeeAnn’s palm were two tickets to Cole’s show. Kylie set her fork down and slid the salad away, no longer hungry.
“Were you listening to the radio yesterday? Did you hear? They played the song, and I called in, and I was the fifteenth caller, and I won. Two front-row tickets. I went and picked them up after class last night. You know you want to go with me.” She scooped the tickets up and spun around again. “Ooh, that Cole Grayson is a hottie.”
Kylie’s stomach clenched. “Cole Grayson?” she asked. She stalled, trying to come up with an excuse not to go. “Um. When is it?”
A frown appeared between LeeAnn’s eyebrows. “What do you mean, when is it? There are posters all over the wall outside. It’s tonight.” She finally seemed to notice Kylie’s reluctance. “You okay? I thought…” Her voice trailed off.
“Don’t you want to take Darrell?” LeeAnn’s boyfriend might not be Kylie’s favorite person, but at least if he went with LeeAnn, she wouldn’t have to.
Her friend pulled a face. “Nope. He was supposed to go, but now he has to work late. Again.” She paused. “So does that mean you don’t want to go with me?”
“No, no,” Kylie said quickly. She couldn’t stand the disappointment threatening to take over LeeAnn’s face. “Of course I want to go.”
Her friend’s sunny smile returned. “I knew you would,” she sang out, dancing across the hardwood floor toward the door. She stopped halfway there, took a deep breath, and stood up straight. She closed her eyes and tented her fingers in front of her, the concert tickets between them.
“I am calm and centered,” she intoned after a moment. She glanced up at Kylie. “I’m covering my yoga instructor’s class at two,” she said in her normal voice. “I’m hoping they’ll hire me for real.” She grinned. “I’ll come back when I’m done and we can figure out what to wear tonight. See you later.” She waved the tickets in the air.
Kylie forced a smile and returned a halfhearted wave as LeeAnn swung out past the doorframe.
“Crap,” Kylie whispered. She couldn’t even stand to listen to Cole’s new hit on the radio. How was she going to get through a whole concert?
Still in her yoga pants and tank top after her class that afternoon, LeeAnn hitched herself up on top of the counter beside the cash register and crossed her legs lotus style. She stared off into the distance for a moment, then flicked her gaze back toward Kylie.
“You had sex with Cole Grayson?” she finally asked. “As in the Cole Grayson?”
Kylie nodded. “Yes.”
“The ‘Call Me Tomorrow’ Cole Grayson?” she paused and then broke into enthusiastic, if discordant, song. “Go ahead and leave me tonight…just call me tomorrow.” Her voice wobbled a bit on the last word. “That Cole Grayson?”
Kylie ran her fingers through her light-brown hair, pulling it back into a ponytail for a moment, then dropping it to fan out around her shoulders. “That Cole Grayson.”
“The one we’re going to see tonight?”
“Yes. The one we’re going to see tonight.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” She narrowed her eyes.
“I didn’t tell you,” Kylie said.
LeeAnn shook her head. “I don’t believe you.” She pulled her leg up and dropped her foot behind her head. “You’re lying.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stretched the other leg straight out in front of her.
“Quit doing yoga,” Kylie said. “I’m serious.”
LeeAnn opened one eye. “Liar.” She closed it again and began lifting the other leg. She breathed in through her nose, then blew it out through her mouth. “You should join me. Clear your chakras. You’ll feel better. And then you’ll be able to go with me tonight without whining.”
“I’m not trying to get out of going to the concert. And I’m not whining.”
“So this fling-with-the-famous-dude was last year after you and Tom split up?”
Kylie shrugged. “The honeymoon was paid for. I didn’t see any reason not to go. And a pile of reasons to get out of town.”
“Hmm.” LeeAnn closed her eyes and blew out a breath. “So why didn’t you tell me this before? Why didn’t I know?”
“Because you don’t read tabloids. Because I didn’t want anyone to know. Because it was bad enough that I’d been dumped, practically at the altar.” Stepping away from the counter, Kylie began refolding T-shirts stacked on the nearest table. “Finding out that I’d been lied to by another man? Not high on my list of ‘secrets to share.’ Not even with you.”
“And you didn’t recognize him?”
“No. He was all hot-suntanned-surfer-dude, not blue jeans and cowboy hat.” A frustrated sound escaped her. “Besides, no one had started plastering his face all over my building back then. And he was out of context. I wasn’t expecting some famous guy to hit on me. I’d like to see how many famous people you recognize when you’re not expecting them. And…” Her voice trailed off.
“And?” her friend prompted.
“And I wouldn’t let him tell me his last name.” She covered her eyes and hunched her shoulders around her ears, waiting for the response.
She didn’t have to wait long. “You what?” LeeAnn practically shrieked, somewhere between outrage and laughter.
“I didn’t want to know. It was supposed to be my honeymoon and I was there all alone. So when some beautiful man offered to be my rebound guy, I said yes.”
LeeAnn cocked an eyebrow at her. “And yes, and yes, and yes, from the looks of the photos.” She paused, stretching both arms up to pull her shin toward her nose. “You realize, of course, that he didn’t lie to you. He just didn’t tell you who he was.”
“He might as well have lied. He didn’t warn me that there might be photographers.”
“Nope. This one’s your own damn fault, sweetie.” LeeAnn raised both her arms toward the ceiling, then dropped them down beside her. “Does anyone else know?”
“Not that I’m sure of.” With a shrug, Kylie dropped the last of the T-shirts back onto the pile. “Anyone who reads tabloids, I guess. It’s not like I asked, and no one told me if they did.”
“This really explains a lot, you know. I never could figure out why you came back feeling so wretched—it clearly wasn’t because of Tom calling off the wedding. We both know you were done with him before he ended it, but you’ve been moping around here ever since you got back from the un-honeymoon. That’s almost a whole year of moping. Do you even know how miserable you’ve been?”
“Great. Thanks. You’re a real friend,” Kylie said, rolling her eyes.
“You had hot beach sex with one of the biggest names in country music and then came home to swan about looking all pinched and sad for months on end.” Narrowing her eyes, Kylie’s friend pointed toward the Talk of Texas display. “And what’s that crap? If you don’t care, then why put his face up all over your store?”
Kylie ignored the question. “So what’s going to change? What will going to his concert possibly do?”
“It will help you get over him. Once you see him again, you’ll realize that whatever you’ve built up in your mind is some fantasy.”
“I haven’t built up anything, in my mind or otherwise.” But Kylie didn’t sound as certain as she wanted to.
“And a year of moping argues otherwise. You still have that paper with all the pictures?”
“Not here.” But her glance flicked toward the cabinet under the counter. Dammit. Was her friend right? Why hold on to the tabloid if she didn’t care?
Balancing carefully, LeeAnn stretched out her arm, palm up. “Liar. Gimme.”
The electronic chimes over the door jingled, and a middle-aged woman leading a ten-year-old girl stepped into the store. The woman’s eyes widened behind her glasses at the sight of LeeAnn, twisted into a half pretzel on the counter.
Dropping her legs back into a lotus position, the wannabe yogi bowed slightly and intoned, “Namaste.” The woman blinked nervously and moved toward a display of rhinestone-encrusted wallets.
“Get down,” Kylie hissed. “Hello, Mrs. Miller,” she called out. “Hi, Amber. Anything I can help you with today?”
“We’re looking for a gift for Amber’s mother. It’s her birthday this week.” She waved Kylie away. “I’ll let you know if we need help finding anything.”
“We got some new necklaces in,” Kylie offered. “One of them would look great with the bracelet you got for her on Mother’s Day. They’re on that wall.” She pointed.
“Thank you, dear,” Mrs. Miller said.
LeeAnn grinned and hopped back off the counter. “So. Paper?”
Kylie moved back behind the cash register and crouched down to reach back into a cabinet. She pulled out a tabloid magazine and flipped through it. Folding back the page, she passed it across the counter. “There,” she said.
“Holy hell,” LeeAnn breathed, pointing to the picture of Cole stretched out over Kylie. “That is some seriously hot beach action.”
Kylie stared down at the pictures, too, trying to see the layout as if for the first time. The photos were a little blurry, obviously taken with a telephoto lens. In the first one, she was facing the camera and laughing with her head thrown back. Cole was half turned, bending down and splashing water up from the turquoise-blue Caribbean toward her. In the second one, she was thrown over his shoulder, still laughing.
He had carried her up onto the Mexican beach and dropped her onto the blanket he’d spread out earlier. He fed her cheese and crackers and fruit he had ordered from room service. And then he kissed her. The first picture of a kiss was tightly cropped—nothing but their faces showed. The next picture, though, was a full-body shot, and it captured the way their fingers intertwined as he stretched out above her.
“Cole Grayson’s New Mystery Woman?” the headline screamed across the top of the photo spread.
“So did you ever hear from him again?” LeeAnn asked.
“Get that look out of your eye. There’s no happily ever after here. I need someone stable, someone who will actually stick around.” Her fingernail tapped against the headline and she chewed on her lower lip as she stared down at the photos.
LeeAnn nodded sagely. “Not someone who’s likely to dump you at the altar and leave you to take your honeymoon by yourself.”
“Yes. Definitely. But also, not someone who’s on the road all the time, hooking up with whatever groupies happen to be there.” Her gaze flickered between the pictures of her father and Cole in the Talk of Texas display and the tabloid in front of her.
“And that’s why you need to go to the concert. I’m telling you, you’ll feel different about him once you see him again. Get some closure.”
Kylie groaned. “God. Don’t go all New Agey on me.”
“Promise to go to the concert with me and I’ll stop.” Her friend glanced toward Kylie, then went back to staring at the tabloid, shaking her head in disbelief. “I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me about this. You had sex with Cole Grayson.”
“Pardon me,” Mrs. Miller interrupted, her lips pursed in apparent disapproval, “but do you have this in pink?” She held up a wallet in a neon-green cowhide print with a sequined cross on it. Amber blinked at Kylie from behind her grandmother.
Kylie could have sworn they had been all the way across the store only moments ago. Her face grew hot. “I’ll check in the back,” she muttered, glaring at LeeAnn as she brushed past her. This was precisely why she hadn’t told anyone when she finally figured out who Cole really was.
In the stockroom, she pulled down a box from a top shelf and rummaged through it.
Telling her friend the reason she was reluctant to go to Cole’s concert had made sense when she made the decision as she ate lunch.
She had been dreaming about him again the night before.
In her dream, they were back on the beach. Cole kissed her, rolling her under him on the blanket and pulling away to tuck her hair behind her ear. “Maybe we should go back up to the room,” he whispered.
“Why?” Kylie asked, feeling reckless. “There’s no one else here.” She pulled him back down to her, reaching up to nip at the scar on his lower lip. He laughed and flipped her again so that she was on top of him. She threaded her fingers through his and pulled his arms up over his head. He wrapped his leg around her and pulled her closer. His tongue slipped inside her mouth, and he groaned.
“Oh, God, Kylie,” he whispered. “Come on. Let’s go back to the room.”
It hadn’t made sense to her then, but she had decided he must have been oddly modest.
Yeah, right. He hadn’t wanted the paparazzi to get full-frontal pictures.
They would probably be worth a fortune.
Kylie realized she had been standing completely still over the box she had pulled down. Snarling, she grabbed the wallet she’d been searching for. She stomped back out to the front of the store and offered it to the waiting customer.
Mrs. Miller was standing at the counter, holding a beaded necklace and flipping through the magazine with the pictures of Kylie and Cole. LeeAnn had moved to the back of the store, where she was practicing handstands against a wall.
As Kylie rang up the wallet and necklace, Amber moved up beside the older woman and held up a mug. “Can I have it, Granna?” she asked.
Her grandmother glanced at the cup, then shrugged and added it to her other purchases.
A Cole Grayson collectible. Of course. Cheeks burning, Kylie wrapped it in Bubble Wrap and taped the package closed. She placed it carefully inside a separate sales bag and bent forward to give it to the child. “Here you go,” she said.
She gave Mrs. Miller her change. “Thank you,” ,” the grandmother said, then paused, tapping the center picture in the tabloid layout. “Cole Grayson really does seem like a lovely young man, at least in the papers,” she said, her eyes crinkling in a suppressed smile. “If I were you, I’d go to the concert.” She ushered her granddaughter out of the store, letting the door swing shut behind them, but Kylie could still hear her laughter, matched by LeeAnn’s.
With a moan, she dropped her head onto her forearms on the counter. “Fine. I’ll go.” Looking back up at the Talk of Texas display, she added, “But it’s not going to change anything.”
She could make it through seeing him this once. And then she would get back to her quiet life.