Book 3 in the Juniper Springs Series
Part of the Camos and Cupcakes World
Welcome back to Juniper Springs, home of gay ducks, Nerdvana, and the LOLS.
Okay, so here’s the thing. I’m Liv, the normal O’Bryan sister. I have two kids I’m raising on my own, and I even have what people think is a boring job. Going to Vegas with my insane sisters is out of character for me, but I take that chance because of my new job. And let’s face it. I lost my husband over five years ago and I just haven’t…well…there’s been no one.
But an altercation with some drunken idiots has me almost falling on my butt, until a set of very strong hands save me.
Mason Spencer is younger, beyond sexy, and interested in me. So, I give in for one night. Can’t hurt, right? He goes above and beyond my wildest expectations. The next morning, I say thank you and head back to my life.
Until I move in next door to him, and my insane dog Houdini keeps showing up on his doorstep so I can’t even avoid him.
Worse, Mason tells me he wants more than that one night stand. Worser, he seems to fit right in with my kids and me and I discover that being with him makes me happier than I’ve been in years.
But remember, I’m the normal sister, and there’s nothing normal about an older woman with two kids snatching up a young man like Mason.
Of course, I’ve realized that there is nothing normal about the town, so maybe I would fit right in.
Author Note: Yep, it’s that time again to jump back into Juniper Springs. Home of Little Old Ladies, the Juniper Springs Express, and a seriously younger man with his mind set on his sexy neighbor. There’s a rescue dog with a mohawk who lives up to his name, and a meddling younger sister determined to help Liv find love.
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I stare into my sister Avery’s big brown eyes and wonder if there are any kind of genetic mental disorders in the family. Avery has always been a little bent, and well, the whole family is a little crazy except for me. So maybe there’s something in our blood. And of course, that makes me wonder about my own children, but I push that worry aside and focus on the problem at hand. Compartmentalizing is my superpower.
“What do you think?”
I bring her back into focus. She’s smiling at me, her chin length brown hair a little poofier than usual. Another sign of something crazy about to happen. And no, I’m not the one who came up with that. Cora, the oldest sibling, is the one who did. She always says that Avery’s level of insanity can be gauged by how big her hair is.
I push aside that line of thought and concentrate on Avery’s current insane idea. If I don’t talk her down, I’ll end up on a plane to Vegas. “I think you’ve lost your mind.”
She rolls her eyes and steps around me. Houdini, our golden retriever mix, follows hot on her heels. He adores the insane energy Avery brings to my household when she’s here. Everyone does, except me, because I’m always cleaning up after the mess she creates. But it is something that makes her a good social media coach. She teaches people who hate social media to love it—or pretend they love it.
“You need to pack. We’re going to have a blast. We’ll be like the Taylor Swift song.”
I’m trying to follow along, but I wasn’t ready for this invasion. “What Taylor Swift song?”
“22. That’s gonna be us in Vegas. We’ll recapture our youth. I mean, you will. I’m not that far away from being twenty-two. But first, we gotta pack.”
“I don’t need to do anything but get ready for my move,” I say, scrambling after her.
Since Avery is the eccentric of our family—which is saying a lot—I need to make sure she doesn’t get into my things. I have no idea what she’s up to, but from the sparkle in her eyes, it’s only going to turn out badly for me. She’s not the most book smart of the O’Bryans. She’s worse. Her street smarts make her a dangerous adversary.
“I’m not about to go to Vegas.”
She doesn’t even look at me when she answers. “Of course, you are.”
“Avery,” I say once I catch up to her.
Houdini is sitting on my bed next to my suitcase. The damn dog is smiling at me. He is yet another layer of stress I added to my life recently.
Yes, my kids convinced me to adopt a sixty-pound escape artist golden retriever mix. When the shelter had named him Houdini, I should have known there was something up with him. But he’s a sweet golden and he has a weird mohawk. I just couldn’t resist him, or my kids. I don’t have time for a dog, but the kids used emotional blackmail, and I fell for it. I felt so guilty for making them move down to Juniper. Sue me.
Really, please don’t because I don’t have the money. Thanks.
Still, I couldn’t say no. Both kids were having adverse reactions to moving. Sammy started having nightmares every night. Callie had been borderline hostile to me. Houdini doesn’t stop all of it, but Sammy sleeps through the night with Houdini in his room. Callie is still being a brat, but it goes with the territory since we are approaching those wonderful preteen years.
I shove those thoughts to the side and zero in on my sister. She’s in my lingerie drawer digging like she’s a Goonie in search of buried treasure. She holds up one of my plain white panties.
“You can’t wear this in Vegas. It’s just not allowed.”
“They have panty rules in Vegas? I thought Vegas had no rules.” I blink, trying to focus. I know what she’s doing. She starts an argument that diverts me from my cause. “Stop packing my things.”
My house is already a mess. The kids and I are moving in a few weeks, so I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning. There are boxes and junk all over the place, which is driving me a little crazy. Add in my sister’s three-ring circus attitude, and I’m really on edge.
“These cannot be the only panties you have.” She tosses them on the bed. “If we’re going to get you laid in celebration, you need something sexy.”
“Avery!” I say, grabbing her and pulling her back. She sighs and stops her search. “Stop what you’re doing and explain yourself.”
“It’s an O’Bryan girls’ trip. We’re all going to Vegas.”
“All? Gerry’s coming?”
She nods. Our workaholic sister is a New York City doctor who only comes back to Texas a couple of times a year.
“And what am I going to do with the kids?”
“We’re going to spend time with Grandma Louise and Papa Mike.”
I glance back to find my oldest, Callie, standing in the doorway.
A secretive smile plays about her lips. She hasn’t smiled much since I made the decision to move to Juniper Springs, so I’ll take it even if it’s at my expense.
“Avery planned it all out. She said the girls needed to celebrate.”
I turn back to my sister, who is smiling at me. “Seriously? You conspired with my child?”
“It was the only way to get you to go. It took a lot of coordinating and if you don’t go, you’ll have to explain it to Gerry, who had to rearrange her entire week to make this. And Cora had to train Jim to deal with the kids.”
Guilt hits me hard. Both of my other sisters have a lot of obligations. Cora has four kids who do more in a week than I ever did in a year as a kid. Gerry works in an ER and never really takes time off.
“When have you ever known me to play fair, Livvy?”
True. She’s the youngest of the five kids in our family and the most devious. She also cheats at every board and card game known to man. You don’t know she’s cheating until after the game is complete and you realize she’s just screwed you over.
I could fight this but, in the end, I know I’ll lose. My shoulders sag. I had planned to work more on packing this weekend. Yes, I know, I live an exciting existence, but I need structure in my life.
Avery senses my wavering emotions, so she goes in for the kill. “We’ll have fun, the kids will stay with the in-laws…just this once.”
I know it is weird that I never really leave my kids. I’ve left them one other time with my in-laws and they had a blast. It’s not them who has a problem, it’s me. My therapist always says I try to control everything since I lost my husband Sam, but I’ve actually been like that my whole life. Everything needs to be in the perfect place or I can’t function.
“Liiiiiv,” Avery whines, and I blink out of my thoughts. I look down at her. Avery is also the shortest of all of the kids. It’s probably why she’s so scrappy.
“We’ll have fun, do a little gambling, or at least mock people who do, and…WE HAVE TICKETS TO SEE THE BACKSTREET BOYS!”
For a second, I can’t think. I’m a total Backstreet Boys fan. I know, it’s such a white girl thing, but I love those guys. “No!”
She nods. “Yep. They aren’t the greatest seats, but we got them.”
“I…” I’m speechless. Just totally unable to form words. It doesn’t happen that often, but this news not only leaves me speechless, I feel tears burning the backs of my eyes.
Avery takes one look at my face, and her eyes soften. She steps forward and wraps her arms around my body. We stand there hugging for a few moments as I fight all the emotions bombarding me. It’s hard to sort through all of them, but the one that shines through the brightest is love. There is nothing like sisterly love.
“What’s wrong?” Sammy asks. I look at my son, who has joined the party.
“Don’t worry, Sam I Am. Your mama is just excited about our trip,” Avery says.
He nods knowingly and it’s then that it hits me. “You both knew?”
“I did! I kept my trap shut.”
I turn to glare at my sister, who smiles and shrugs. “Hey, it was the only way I could get him to be quiet. You know he loves it when I use old timey threats.”
It’s true. It comes from watching a bunch of old movies with my dad. Callie comes closer and takes my hand. “Don’t be mad, Mom. Avery just wanted to make sure we were cool with the trip.”
Another lump rises in my throat. My sisters always have my back, even if they annoy the living hell out of me. It takes all my control to stem the tears that threaten to upset my children. In all the years since their father died, they have never seen me cry. Yes, I know that’s insane and unhealthy. I’m all they have, and they need to know I’ll always be in control. If I can balance our life, including my reactions, it will calm their nerves. And yes, I know how unhealthy that sounds, but it is one thing I’m good at.
“Why don’t you two go check and make sure you have everything you need for your trip to Grandma and Papa’s?”
She nods and let’s go of my hand. “Come on, Sam. I’m sure there’s some kind of toy you’ve forgotten.”
Sam smiles and follows his sister out of the room. I sigh.
“You know you’re a kick-ass mom, right?”
I turn and look at my youngest sibling. There are five of us—four girls and one boy stuck right in the middle. And while all of us are close, Fritz is the stereotypical middle child. I know we made his life hell, and being the only boy, he would go off on his own a lot. On the flip side, I know that I can count on my sisters…and my brother to an extent. He’s a little busy with a baby on the way.
But this…this is beyond anything they’ve done for me.
I blink. “What?”
“You know you’re a good mom, right?”
“Why would you say that?”
She steps forward and pulls me into another hug. O’Bryans are huggers.
“I just thought I saw something in your eyes a minute ago.”
I sigh again and pull back from the hug. “You’re too smart for your own good.”
She laughs. “True but talk to me.”
“I was trying not to cry in front of them. You saw Sam’s reaction.”
“I just never cry in front of them. It makes me wonder if I’m screwing things up.”
“Olivia O’Bryan Edwards!”
“O’Bryan isn’t in my official name anymore.”
She wags her finger at me. “No matter how much you try, you’ll never escape being one of us.”
I laugh. I’m the quiet one and sometimes it’s hard to deal with the rest of the family. While they all have big personalities, I have never felt comfortable with a lot of attention thrown my way. But I love our insane motley crew.
“You also know that Cora has the same worries. And look what an excellent Mom she is.” True. She has a zoo at her house, filled with kids and dogs, cats, and I think they just got a bearded lizard thing.
I can’t say the words out loud.
Avery gives my arm a squeeze. “Listen, I get it.”
“Do you?” I can’t keep the skepticism out of my voice.
“I do. You’re feeling guilty about taking three days away from your duties.” Then she snorts because she’s Avery. She has the sense of humor of a nine-year-old boy, so I know she’s thinking about the word duties. “But you need this, Livvy. It’s not like you’re abandoning your children. You’re leaving them with two fantastic grandparents who will spoil the hell out of them. You’ll come back refreshed and ready to tackle the move. And maybe, we can clear out your vagina cobwebs.”
“What the hell?”
She laughs. “I know you haven’t been that active since Sam died.”
Not that active? There has been not one man, no one. I haven’t slept with a man since before I had Sammy. But I don’t tell her. They do know I haven’t had a relationship. I haven’t had the time. Two kids, a full-time job, and a world of guilt that lays heavily on me every day because the kids don’t have a father keeps me busy.
But other women do it.
Nope. Not today, Satan.
I push that thought aside. “What makes you think I need to…” I look over my shoulder to make sure one of my kids isn’t standing there listening. “I need to clean out my cobwebs?”
“You wouldn’t be this uptight if you had.”
Then, as if she hadn’t insulted me, Avery smiles and bounces out of the room calling for my kids.
I know I’m uptight. I have always been that person, the one who has to have a list of my lists. According to my former therapist, it was a coping mechanism. Yes, I got worse after Sam was killed in action, but I have always been that kind of person. It took a lot of work with Dr. Simmons to keep from going complete OCD and making my kids miserable.
“Mom,” Callie says. I turn and see her standing in the doorway. Her eyebrows are knitted in worry and she’s frowning.
“What is it, baby?”
She sighs, and not for the first time, the sound hits me right in the chest.
I blink. “What happened?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this.”
Damn. This girl. She’s bright and funny, but she has that pensive air about her. It breaks my heart.
She’s just like you.
I can still hear Sam say it with a laugh. At the time, it had made me happy. Now, I don’t want her to be like me. I want her to have fun in life. The long dark hair is mine, but those blue eyes are pure Sam. I hope that someday she can see the fun in life and not be so damned uptight like me.
“Oh, baby.” I step closer to her and slip an arm over her slim shoulders. “I’m not mad and unless someone is hurt. I know that secrets with your aunt Avery can be fun. And she’s right. You and Sammy will have a great time.”
“We will. But I felt bad lying to you.”
I nod. Yep, that’s my mini me.
“Secrets like this are not a bad thing. Normally, I wouldn’t want you to keep things from me, but this was for your aunts and it was so you could surprise me.”
She looks up at me. “Are you sure?”
“Have you ever known me to let you off the hook when I think that you’ve done something wrong?”
She smiles. “No.”
“Exactly. Now, go finish packing.”
I get an eye roll for that comment. “I was packed yesterday.”
Of course, she was.
“Go help your brother. If Avery’s in there helping him, he will end up at your grandparents’ with five shirts, one pair of pants, and no underwear.”
The giggle I get out of that comment calms some of my nerves.
She steps back, but I can’t let her get away without saying it.
“I love you, baby.”
She tosses a smile over her shoulder. “I love you too, Mom.”
Then she’s gone and it doesn’t take long before there is a ruckus in Sam’s room. Callie is throwing orders around. I glance at Houdini. His mohawk is looking more defined today. I have a feeling Avery put something in his hair to style it.
“What do you think is going on in there?”
He gives me a look as if to say you know those two. Knowing Avery, they were playing instead of packing. I shake my head. I’ve always been envious of my sister. She just bounces around, happy with herself all the time. I have never been that way.
Well, I was for a while, then my husband died.
Mentally, I step away from that thought. I’m going to do the right thing and go to Vegas. We haven’t done an O’Bryan girls’ trip for years. I pack my suitcase easily. I was a military wife, so this is second nature to me. And as I’m grabbing my panties and bras, I pause. I do have a few sets of sexy underwear. I don’t wear them that often, but every now and then, I want something to make me feel pretty.
I grab my favorite set, black lace balconette bra with a pair of matching cheeky panties. I have a few others just like this, so I toss them in too. I’m not looking to clear out my cobwebs. That’s never been my game. The only time I did something rash like that was the night I met Sam.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with feeling pretty while in Vegas because I’m wearing some sexy lingerie.
With that thought, I head into the bathroom. Now that I’ve accepted the idea of going to Vegas with my sisters, I’m all in.
And if I come back refreshed and ready to tackle the move, it will be a win.
End of Excerpt
I absolutely adored this book!
This romance aims straight for the sweet spot and scores a bullseye.
an entertaining standalone story with lovable characters
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