Date Published: Mar 2021
“Take me to the moon, Boone,” Emma yelled into the star-filled sky.
Boone laughed and pushed her higher. “Only if I can come too, Emma Lou.”
She giggled at his familiar response—one he had given her since they’d been in kindergarten—and leaned back in the swing as sheer happiness consumed her. She didn’t want to be anywhere else on earth but right here in the middle of Simple Park . . . with Boone. He pushed her higher and higher until she felt like she could reach out and touch the moon.
“What will you do when you get there?” he asked as she swung back—so close she could feel his breath on her neck.
She didn’t even have to think before she answered. “I’ll open the first moon bookstore so no space traveler will ever have to go without a good book. What will you do first?”
“I’ll take a big bite out of the moon to see if it tastes like cheese pizza.”
She laughed. “You’re always thinking about food, Boone Murphy.”
There was a long a pause as she swung forward and back. “Not always.”
She was about to ask him what else he thought about when the park sprinklers came on. The autumn wind caught the high spray and swept it over to the playground. She released a shriek as the cold mist hit her bare legs.
Boone laughed. “Afraid of a little water, Em?”
“And it’s hot.” He stopped pushing her. “Too hot.”
She glanced over her shoulder and saw him kicking off his flip-flops. “What are you doing?” She slowed the swing down with her feet. In the darkness, she saw his flash of teeth. Boone had the best smile.
“I’m cooling off.” He pulled off his shirt, and her breath got stuck like a big wad of bubble gum in her chest. Since turning fifteen, Boone’s body seemed to be sprouting muscles daily. The more muscles he got, the more breathless she seemed to get whenever he took off his shirt.
Now, he didn’t just take off his shirt. He slipped off his shorts too. She hadn’t seen Boone in his underwear since they were in preschool. The saggy Spiderman underwear he’d worn then didn’t have the same effect on her as the navy-blue boxer briefs did now.
Emma looked away and brought the swing to a complete stop. “Don’t you dare strip naked, Boone Murphy.”
“Why not? We used to run through the sprinklers nek-ked.”
“We are not running through the sprinklers—nek-ked or otherwise.”
“You might not be, but I am.” Boone jogged toward the grassy area the rotating sprinklers were watering. Thankfully, he’d left his underwear on. Although the sight of his butt still made her feel a little woozy. He disappeared in the spray of water and hooted like he had when they’d run through the sprinklers in their front yards as kids. A few seconds later, he reappeared, looking like a happy drenched puppy. A muscular and hot drenched puppy.
“Come on, Em.” His grin was devilish. “I dare you.”
Dares from Boone had always been her kryptonite.
She toed off her sneakers. Since she wore a sports bra, she didn’t hesitate to take off her t-shirt too. Leaving on her shorts, she raced toward the sprinklers and Boone. She shrieked as the first spray hit her and ran faster to avoid the next one. Boone was right behind her, laughing and hooting. They ran all over the park like a couple of kids until Emma got too close to a sprinkler head and got knocked to her fanny by the force of the spray. Boone ran over to help her to her feet. They were both thoroughly drenched and laughing hard . . . until they stopped laughing.
In the cool mist of the sprinklers on that hot September night, the friendship they had guarded so carefully over the years shifted and the physical attraction they had been trying to ignore could be ignored no more. Like two magnets flipped to the right side, they came together.
Boone lowered his head and Emma lifted hers. Right before their lips touched, he whispered.
Just one breathy syllable and she knew. She knew that things between them were about to change forever. Two best friends were about to become something more. Much more.
What she didn’t know then was that more wasn’t always better.
There was no way on God’s green earth she was going to let him win.
Even if she got killed in the process.
Which seemed likely when Emma Johansen took the corner going close to fifty and the back tires of her Honda Civic fishtailed. She corrected and kept the pedal to the metal as she sped down the street towards her parents’ house. But before she could pull into their driveway, a blue Dodge Ram pickup came out of nowhere and cut her off. She saw a flash of Boone Murphy’s gloating face before he swerved into the driveway, leaving her no choice but to slam on the brakes or end up attached to his trailer hitch. Of course the selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed jerk took both parking spaces in the driveway, leaving her no choice but to park at the curb.
But she still had a chance to beat him to the door.
She was out of the car in a flash, hurdled her father’s perfectly trimmed rose bushes, and cut across the pristine lawn to the front door at a dead run. She made it to the porch steps first, but was knocked out of the way by a big, uncouth man with no manners. Before she sailed into the front hedge like the last bowling pin in a spare, Boone’s arm snaked around her waist and set her back on her feet.
“Whoa there, Emmie.” God, how she hated that name, and by the twinkle in his eyes, he knew it. “Have you been tipping the bottle in the back room again?”
She jerked away from him and gritted her teeth. “I have never drank at work and you know it, Boone Murphy. Unlike you, who has no problem inviting all your bad boy buddies to the hardware store for a beer.”
“Only after we’re closed up. And my friends aren’t bad boys anymore. They’re married men who only stay for one beer before they go home to their balls and chains.”
He did have a good point. Cru, Logan, Holden, Val, Lincoln, and Sawyer were no longer the bad boys who had spent one summer at the Double Diamond Boys’ Ranch. Nor were they the troubled men who had returned to the ranch to help out the two old cowboys who owned the Double Diamond. After falling in love, they were all happily married husbands and respectable citizens of Simple, Texas. Why they wanted to hang out with a degenerate like Boone Murphy was beyond her.
“Simple Hardware is not a bar, Boone,” she said. “If you want to have a beer with your buddies after work, go to Cotton-Eyed Joe’s.”
He leaned closer so the brim of his brown Stetson almost touched her forehead. “I know you love to be in control . . . Emmie. But it’s half my business. And if I want to drink a beer with my friends after hours, I’ll drink a beer with my friends. If you don’t like it, you can always leave instead of sulking around listening to our conversations.”
She snorted. “I have better things to do than listen to your stupid conversations. And I’m not leaving an irresponsible fool in charge of locking up.”
“Why not? When I was helping out my grandpa in the mornings, I left you in charge of opening up.”
If he hadn’t mentioned his grandfather, she would’ve listed all the reasons why she was more trustworthy than he was. But Grandpa Murphy had passed away only a few months ago, and she knew Boone was still upset about losing his beloved grandpa. She was upset too. When she was younger, she had spent almost every weekend on Boone’s grandparents’ small ranch, riding horses and helping his grandfather muck out stalls or his grandmother bake cookies. So she let the argument go and climbed the steps to the porch.
A wreath hung on the door with red, white, and blue artificial flowers and stars-and-stripes ribbon. Her mother loved decorating for every season and holiday. Usually she covered the entire porch with her decorations, but the wreath was the only thing that heralded the upcoming Memorial Day and summer.
Which was odd, Emma thought as she pressed the doorbell. And even odder was the invitation to supper with Boone.
Boone read her mind. “I wonder what’s going on? Our parents usually don’t invite us to dinner at the same time after what happened on Fourth of July last year.” He chuckled. “Talk about fireworks. You certainly exploded that night.”
“With good reason,” she said. “You completely ruined my date with Brad Jenkins by monopolizing the conversation with embarrassing stories about when we were kids.”
“Embarrassing? I thought the story about you running through the sprinklers in your underwear was pretty cute.”
“If I’d been three!”
A smirk settled on his face. “I don’t know. I thought it was pretty cute when you were fifteen. Although when the sprinkler hit you in the gut and knocked you down, that wasn’t cute so much as damn funny. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pass out.”
She whacked him on the arm. “I could’ve been seriously injured. And it would’ve been all your fault, you idiot.”
“How was it my fault? You were the one who took the dare.” He smiled. “You never could turn down a dare, Em.”
She hated the name Em even more than she hated Emmie. Emmie just ticked her off, but Em brought back too many memories. That night in Simple Park, they hadn’t just run through the sprinklers. They’d kissed for the first time and changed their relationship forever. If Emma could go back and redo that night, she would’ve ignored the dare. Maybe then she and Boone would just be two friends who ran a hardware store together. Instead of enemies who made each other’s lives miserable.
The front door swung open.
“There’s my peanut Em and Em.” Her father stepped out on the porch and pulled Emma into his arms for a tight hug.
Michael Johansen was a great hugger. And a great father. He was a loving, patient, quiet man who loved gardening and books. He had been the accountant and business manager for the hardware store while Boone’s father, Dean—who was as gregarious and outspoken as Boone—had dealt with all the customers and sales reps. It had been a perfect partnership.
The two men had been best friends since college. If anyone had needed a friend at the time, it had been Emma’s father. He had just lost both his parents and his younger brother in a car accident and was struggling with grief and depression. Dean Murphy had taken Michael Johansen under his wing. Dean had even brought Michael back to his hometown of Simple for all the holidays. Which is how Michael had fallen in love with Emma’s mother.
Emma hugged her father back tightly and took a deep breath of his familiar scent of Old Spice deodorant, potting soil, and books. Some of the tension she always felt around Boone eased.
They held each other for a few seconds more before her father drew away and turned to Boone. At one time, he would’ve pulled Boone in for a hug. But after Boone returned from college and traveling, he’d started acting weird whenever her father tried to hug him—like he was too macho for hugs—so her father only patted his shoulder. “Hey, Boone. I haven’t seen you since the funeral. How are you holding up?”
Boone looked away and grumbled. “Fine.”
While Emma bristled at Boone’s rudeness, her father seemed to take it in stride. “Have you decided what you’re going to do with your grandparents’ place now that you’ve inherited it?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll sell it. It doesn’t make any sense for me to live there when it’s so far from town and the hardware store.”
“No, I guess it doesn’t.” Her father got a strange look in his eyes. “But things change. So it might be best to hang onto it for awhile.” Before Emma could ask him what he meant, he waved a hand. “Come on in, you two. Boone’s folks are already here. Dean is out back grilling the steaks and the women are in the kitchen cooking . . . or more likely chattering up a storm.”
Her father was right. When Emma got to the kitchen, she found her mother and DeeDee Murphy standing at the counter making deviled eggs and talking nonstop. The two women were more like sisters than best friends. They had both grown up in Simple and had known each other since grade school. They became inseparable after Gina fell in love with DeeDee’s boyfriend’s best friend.
Emma knew they’d had high hopes of their children getting married one day and strengthening their bond even more. But things hadn’t gone according to plan. Still, the two moms refused to let go of the dream.
“I really thought it would work,” DeeDee said as she filled the white portion of the hardboiled egg with deviled yolk. “I just thought they needed time to get all their differences ironed out.”
“I did too,” Emma’s mother said. “But obviously we were both wrong. It’s a shame. Maybe this new—” Gina glanced up and saw Emma standing in the doorway. “Emma!” She hurried over and gave her daughter a quick hug.
Gina Johansen was all about efficiency. She didn’t waste her time on long hugs . . . or long anything. She read magazines instead of books. Couldn’t sit through a movie longer than ninety minutes. And refused to make any meal that couldn’t be tossed in a crockpot and forgotten about while she ran to her multiple committee meetings. Gina was a professional volunteer. She had been a Girl Scout troop leader, a cheerleading coach, a softball coach, a volleyball coach, a room mother, president of the PTA, Sunday school teacher, and chairman of so many town committees that Emma had lost count.
If anyone needed a volunteer, Gina Johansen was the person to call.
“How are you doing, honey?” She brushed back Emma’s hair and studied her. “You look a little pale.” She glanced back at DeeDee. “Doesn’t she look a little pale, Dee?” Before DeeDee could answer, she continued. “Are you taking your vitamin D, Emma? Eating plenty of vegetables? How about if I make you one of my spinach smoothies?”
Her mother’s smoothies were god-awful, so Emma quickly declined. “I’m good, Mom.” She glanced at DeeDee and smiled. “Hey, Dee.”
“Hi, my sweet girl.” Even with one hand holding an egg half, DeeDee pulled Emma in for a tight hug. She was a good hugger too. “Is Boone coming?”
“He’s outside with Dad and Dean.”
DeeDee drew back and her green eyes lit up. “You two came together?”
“No, we just arrived at the same time.”
The light faded. “Oh. Well . . . how are things at the store?”
While her mom and DeeDee finished the eggs, Emma told them about her idea to buy the empty space next to the hardware store. “Then we can start keeping lawn mowers and larger lawn equipment at the store instead of having to order it. Of course, Boone hates the idea. But if I can get you guys onboard, he won’t have a choice.”
Her mother and DeeDee exchanged looks. Something was definitely going on. But before Emma could ask what, Dean hollered in the open window.
“Steaks are done! Let’s eat.”
Emma carried out bowls of beans and potato salad while DeeDee carried the platter of deviled eggs and her mother carried a pitcher of lemonade and a bottle of wine. Once everything was on the table, Emma started to pull out a chair. Unfortunately, Boone had chosen the same chair. A gentleman would’ve let her have it. But Boone was no gentleman. At least, not where Emma was concerned. He held tight to the chair and a tug of war ensued . . . until his mother got after him.
He released the chair and Emma went stumbling back, dragging the chair with her. She would’ve fallen if Dean hadn’t caught her. He sent a warning look to his son before he took the chair from Emma and held it out for her to sit down.
Usually her parents and the Murphys talked and laughed all through dinner, but tonight their conversation seemed awkward and forced. Even Boone noticed. Instead of digging into his food like he normally did, he barely ate as his gaze shifted between their parents. Finally, he tossed his napkin onto his plate.
“Okay, so what’s going on?” His gaze narrowed on his mother. “Let me guess. You and Dad are getting a divorce.”
DeeDee’s eyes widened with shock. “Of course not.”
“Where would you get a crazy idea like that, son?” Dean asked. “Your mother and I love each other and would never even think about divorcing.”
Boone hesitated for a moment before he shrugged. “My mistake. So why did you invite me and Emma here?”
The parents exchanged looks again before Dean spoke. “We’ve decided to move to South Padre Island. We’ve been thinking about it for a long time. Mike and I want to do some fishing. And the girls like to wander around on the beach.”
Emma looked at her parents in shock. “You’re moving too.”
Her mother stood and started collecting the plates. “It’s a very nice retirement community right on the water with plenty of activities for the residents. And since there’s no real reason for us to stay here, we thought—”
Emma stared at her. “There’s a reason. Your daughter.”
Her mother stopped cleaning up. “A daughter who is grown and rarely comes to see us.”
Emma wanted to argue, but she couldn’t. She hadn’t spent a lot of time with her parents lately.
“I’ll come to see you more,” she said.
“It’s not just that, Emma,” her father said. “There’s not much to do in Simple and we’re young enough that we want to enjoy our retirement.” He paused. “But us deciding to move isn’t the main reason we called this meeting.” He cleared his throat. “We’ve decided to sell the hardware store.”
Emma was too stunned to speak. Her father had always wanted her to run the store and spoke often of his grandchildren doing the same. Since he had no extended family left, he thought of the hardware store as his legacy. Which was why Emma worked so hard at trying to make it successful. And now he wanted to sell it? It made no sense. Boone didn’t think so either.
“What are you talking about?” He stared at her father. “You and my dad gave the store to me and Emma.”
“We gave you the business to run,” Dean said. “We never officially signed over anything.”
Boone snorted. “Funny, but you always told me that a man’s word was good enough. Now you’re going back on your word? What kind of bullshit is that?”
“Watch your mouth,” Dean snapped.
“No, he’s right, Dean,” DeeDee said. “We shouldn’t have acted like we were going to give them the hardware store.” She looked at Emma with sad eyes. “We just thought that if we put you two together, you would get everything figured out and go back to being close. But our plan seems to have backfired. Instead of becoming friends, you’ve become the worst enemies.” Tears filled her eyes. “And we just can’t stand to stay and watch it. Nor can we let you continue to ruin your lives.”
Gina sat down and nodded. “Dee is right. It’s heartbreaking to see our kids frittering their lives away with hate. We want our children to be happy—to fall in love and start families. But no single person in town is willing to get in the middle of your feud. And enough is enough. If you two don’t have the hardware store to fight over, you can both move on. You’re young enough to start over somewhere else.”
“But I don’t want to move on,” Emma said. “I love Simple. This is where I grew up. Boone can move and leave me the store. He doesn’t even like Simple. After college, he didn’t even come home. Instead, he traveled around like some vagrant bum.”
Boone snorted. “Just because I choose to take a little time off and travel doesn’t mean I don’t love the store . . . Emmie.” He leaned closer. “And seeing how it was my mom’s dad who opened the hardware store in the first place, I’m the one who should get it and you’re the one who should leave.”
That got her dander up and she jumped to her feet. “My father worked his butt off to make the hardware store what it is and so have I. I’m not handing it over to a smug, irresponsible, insufferable—”
“That’s enough!” Her father slammed his hand down on the table, rattling the stack of dirty plates and causing her mother’s wine to spill. Since her father rarely raised his voice, Emma shut up and turned to him.
He sighed and ran a hand through his thinning salt and pepper hair. “We aren’t asking you what you want. We’re telling you what we’re doing. And we’re selling the hardware store. As of now, Boone Murphy and Emma Johansen’s ongoing feud is over.” (Taming a Texas Tease Excerpt by Katie Lane)