Published by Water's Edge Publishing on June 30, 2022
All’s fair in love and war.With Randi and Buck, it’s hard to tell the two apart…
An uptight, self-contained college girl, Randi Becker just needed one thing: a room. Somewhere she could study, and keep away from the things that most confuse and frighten her: people.
Unfortunately, the “nice quiet place” she reserved turns out to be a room in the campus’ most raucous house. A place seemingly designed to make studying impossible, made even worse by the other girls’ non-stop drama.
But then Buck, a fun-loving cowboy whom all the ladies love, shows up…and everything gets much worse.
Buck seems to have it all: friends, fun, and a never-ending line of admirers. But what he most desires is a break. So when Buck spots Randi, he figures she’s a perfect decoy: he can play up a “crush” on her that will take him off the market; buy him some breathing room. And if he can tease her a bit, and get under the skin of the uptight busybody? Well, that’s just gravy.
But Buck is about to find more than he bargained for. Randi’s strong-willed, opinionated, difficult—and maybe just what he needs. And Buck isn’t alone. Soon Randi wonders as well…if the world she wanted is really the world she needs. If her future is nothing more than a diploma on the wall. And if the most important thing in her world isn’t a grade, but the cowboy who’s planted his boots firmly in her heart.
Fans of Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare and Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game will delight at this mix of romantic comedy, contemporary romance, and cultures colliding in a campus town with a western flair. Grab your copy today, and fall in love with Buck Up, Buttercup!
An old pickup, with new shiny green paint, slowed down beside her until it crawled along at her pace. A quick glance sideways revealed black-hat-cowboy-guy grinning down at her.
A jolt of awareness cleared some of the fog from her head. He was more good-looking than she’d remembered, and also incredibly large above her in the truck.
“Good morning, darlin’,” he called down.
“Drive on,” she called out.
“Headed into town? We’ve got room.”
“I’m going to walk.” She wouldn’t get into a car with a single person from that party. She walked forward, not looking at him.
“Hold up, you dropped something,” he said, stopping the truck.
Randi whirled around, scanning the empty ground behind her. Her fingers lost their grip and her bags crashed down, things spilling out onto the gravel road. Her eyes burned. Buck turned off the truck engine and leaned out the window.
“That’s a lot of gear to haul all the way into town,” he said, cheerfully.
“That was a dirty trick.”
“I just want to talk to you for a minute.”
“Leave me alone please!”
“Listen. Hugh, in the passenger seat, and I are headed in for some breakfast. If you ride with me, this gas guzzler will have a full cab. Darlin’, that’s a load off my conscience.” Randi’s belly shuddered and her lips quivered. The dam burst. Her hands flew up to cover her eyes and a hiccupped sob exploded out.
“I can’t jump in some stranger’s pickup,” she mumbled through her fingers.
“Hey now,” he said, the amused condescension in his voice making her glare up at him. “You hold on to that pepper spray if it makes you feel better. Land’s sake, girl, we hauled around passed-out-Sarah last night. You’re practically part of the family. And Hugh here has about twenty sisters, so he’s well-trained.”
The door of the truck opened. She took a step back, pulling up the inside collar of her dress to dab at her face.
Buck’s eyes crinkled at her, a lopsided half-grin on his face. It was probably the way he looked at cows right before he lassoed a rope around their necks, or whatever. But he had helped Sarah. And her.
Her shoulders slumped. Defeated, she was beyond resistance. If they murdered her, at least she might be sitting down.
“All right?” he asked.
She exhaled. “All right, I’ll take a ride to the closest bus stop. Thanks.”
Buck picked up her bags and put them in the back of the truck. She hauled her heavy backpack off her aching shoulders and turned to sling it up, but Buck was already gripping the top and lifting it out of her hands.
“Hi,” said a burly man sitting on the passenger side of the bench seat, a gentle smile on his face. Like she was a crazy person. Which she was. With a deep breath, she hoisted herself up into the cab next to him.
“Sorry about Buck,” the big guy said, glaring at the culprit with one eye squinted. “He’s devious about getting what he wants.”
Buck landed on the seat beside her. “Hugh keeps the standards up. Probably why he’s so grumpy all the time.”
Hugh crossed his arms, leaning into the passenger door. His buzzed blond head and muscular frame brought to mind a late-twenties version of Mr. Clean, minus the jewelry.
“I ain’t grumpy. Just tired of your ugly face.”
Buck chuckled. Randi caught herself staring at him. She wouldn’t call his face ugly, not even anything related to unattractive. More like relentlessly cheerful. And way too confident that he could boss everyone around. She sniffed, annoyed with him enough to stop crying.
The truck rolled forward, bumping on the gravel road. They sat on an old-fashioned bucket-style bench, comfortable for two people, and a squeeze for three. The middle seat offered no belt. A death trap. Because that was the logical conclusion to her week from hell. She braced a hand on the dash to keep from bouncing into the bodies next to her.
Not touching either man, holding her body tense and straight, made her neck ache. And still she knocked knees with Hugh and almost leaned on Buck’s shoulder. Buck’s hand on the manual gear shifter was an inch from her thigh, his fingers brushing the edge of her skirt when he shifted. Short of sitting on Hugh’s lap, there was nowhere for her to go to keep from touching him.
She felt shaky, barely keeping herself together. Every time Buck changed position she noticed it, his muscular arms flexing as he drove. It was like sitting next to a tiger: electrifying, an experience you never forgot, and total madness.
“So,” said Buck, flashing a grin at her. “What’s your rush this morning? You just moved in last night.”
Randi dug a tissue out of her bag. “I can’t live in a party house,” she said, dabbing at her running nose.
“A Waffle House?” said Hugh.
“She said party house, Einstein.” Buck glanced at her. “How’d you end up with a room out there?”
“I was teaching in Argentina and found it online. Paid everything…” She paused, choking up, not sure why she was telling them. “They lied to me.” And she dissolved again, covering her face with the tissue.
What was wrong with her? It was beyond humiliating to be crying like a child in front of these strangers. At least she’d never have to see them again.
“Huh,” said Buck, tapping the steering wheel. “Well, I know Trish isn’t happy about the parties.”
“They got an ugly ticket last June,” said Hugh. “She’s on probation.”
Randi sat up straighter, taking in this information. She managed to stop crying, and dabbed her cheeks clean with the tissue.
Buck rubbed the side of his face. “Is that right?”
“I can’t believe you didn’t know that, Buck. Jesus.”
“I just look like I know everything.”
“Yeah, well, one more ticket and they’re facing jail time. And, of course, there were minors everywhere last night. I turned my back and they slurped down my keg.”
Randi pushed up her glasses. No wonder Trish hadn’t been there during the party. It revealed, even more, how shamelessly Trish had lied to her in the emails they’d exchanged about the house.
The farmland was transforming into residential housing when Buck turned onto a major road.
“That bus stop coming up will be fine,” said Randi, her voice annoyingly shaky.
“No way, darlin’,” said Buck. “You cry in my truck, and I buy you a coffee. Then, I drop you off wherever you want.”
“Hey,” he said, “I put up with all the tears. So now we’re going to go to this coffee drive- through and get sugary drinks to make ourselves feel better. Otherwise, Hugh over there might start his period.”
“You’re such a jackass,” Hugh said, shaking his head.
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Denise and Raymond Duvall
I love the title! Buttercup sounds like it’s from an old western movie.