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Home > The Girl's Guide to (Man) Hunting (Bluebonnet #1)

The Girl's Guide to (Man) Hunting (Bluebonnet #1)
Author: Jessica Clare

ONE

Like everything else bad that happened in Miranda Hill’s life, rear-ending old Mrs. Doolittle was purely the fault of Dane Croft.

She could have sworn that she’d recognized the broad shoulders, tight ass, and familiar swagger of her nemesis walking into the local coffeehouse. Her most hated enemy. The man who had ruined her life. In fact, she’d been so busy craning her neck to see if it really was Dane Croft that she hadn’t paid attention to the stoplight…and had plowed right into the car in front of her.

Yet another thing she could add to the list of reasons why she hated him.

Miranda put her pickup in park and slid out of the cab to look at the damage she’d caused to the other car. Mrs. Doolittle drove a Buick that was older than Miranda herself, and the thing was built like a tank—a big, powder blue tank. The bumper wasn’t even dinged, not that Mrs. D cared. The old woman crawled from the belly of the tank and scowled at her.

“You hit my car, Miranda.” If Mrs. Doolittle had a cane, she probably would have shaken it in Miranda’s face. “What on earth were you thinking, girl?”

Miranda gave Mrs. D an apologetic look and self-consciously tugged at the high collar of her pink sweater set. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Doolittle. I was just…distracted.” She was still distracted, actually. Her gaze strayed to the Kurt’s Koffee on the far side of the street, but the windows were tinted and impossible to see into.

The elderly woman peered at her. “Young lady, were you using the Twitters while you were driving? You know—”

“No Internet,” Miranda blurted, tugging on her collar again. “I just wasn’t paying attention. I thought I saw…something.”

Someone.

A car pulled up behind them. No surprise, given that most of the streets in downtown Bluebonnet were single lanes, with just enough room in the city square to park in front of one of the two restaurants. She waved for the driver to go around them, and then continued apologizing to Mrs. D, even as they exchanged insurance information. Anything to get out of the street and appease her curiosity. She kept glancing at the coffeehouse as she scribbled down her contact numbers.

Finally, Mrs. D was on her way, satisfied. Miranda pulled her truck into a parking space across the street and sprinted toward the coffee shop, but didn’t go inside. Instead, she pressed her hands to the glass and peered in. A few people were seated, but she didn’t see the man she was looking for.

No Dane Croft. Was she crazy? Had she imagined that she saw him? Chewing on her lip, Miranda straightened the front of her sweater set in the reflection and then went inside.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Boobs of Bluebonnet,” said Jimmy Langan from behind the counter. Jimmy was the town rebel, with purple, red, and black Rasta braids, a face that had never seen a tan, and enormous ear gauges that he’d probably regret when he was seventy. He grinned at her, giving Miranda the up-and-down look that she’d become far too accustomed to in the past nine years. “What can I do for you?”

“Shut up, Jimmy,” she said. Three weeks. She could deal with the jokes and the sneaking glances at her br**sts for three more weeks. Moving past the counter, she peered down the hallway at the restrooms. No Dane Croft. She resisted the urge to open the door, and instead wandered back to the counter. “Is anyone in there?”

“You want me to go and check under the stalls for feet?” Jimmy said dryly.

“Well, no,” she stammered, her hand going to the collar of her sweater. “Maybe.” She hesitated, reluctant to say the name of the man she was looking for. If she even so much as uttered Dane’s name, the rumors would start flying all over town again.

You know that nice Miranda Hill? She never quite got over Dane Croft. She was asking about him in Kurt’s Koffee. Poor thing.

Remember that man in the photos with Miranda Hill? She’s still sweet on him. I heard she’s still got the hots for him and that’s why she hasn’t married.

The town librarian? She’s a slut. Want to see the pictures? She spent seven minutes in heaven with Casanova Croft back when they were both in high school. They even took photos of it. Just search for “Boobs of Bluebonnet” on the Internet and you’ll see them.

Miranda clutched the collar of her demure sweater even harder. “So what kind of customers have you had today?”

Jimmy shrugged lazily, adjusting the thick black-frame glasses on his pasty, scruffy face. He’d been a stoner back when they’d graduated from high school together, and he was a stoner still. Asking him to remember the customers he’d had that morning might be beyond his pot-riddled memory. “Couple soy lattes, couple double espressos, a venti mocha frap with double Splenda…”

Great, just what she needed: a rundown of coffee orders. She feigned interest, her eyes skimming the restaurant as Jimmy rattled off a litany of special requests.

“And a certain someone you might recall,” Jimmy added slowly, his gaze dropping to her br**sts. “We went to high school with him.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, doing her best to hide what the underwire minimizer wouldn’t. Her heart was thudding hard in her chest, but she forced herself to be nonchalant about the information. “Oh? Someone from high school? Who’s that?”

To her surprise, he reached behind the counter and pulled out a brown and green pamphlet. “You remember Dane Croft? Casanova Croft? Star of the Las Vegas Flush?”

The guy she’d been making out with in the closet? The one with his hand on her boobs and the other down her pants for all eternity thanks to a few ill-timed photos and the magic of the Internet? Who’d left the next day to be drafted into the NHL and become a star while she’d been stuck in town as her mother had a nervous breakdown? The Casanova Croft who’d been booted out of the NHL six years later for sleeping with the coach’s wife? Life-ruiner and all-around jerk?

Yeah, she knew who he was. “I’m familiar with the guy.”

“He’s moved back to town,” Jimmy said, offering her the pamphlet. “Him and two other guys we went to high school with are starting a business here. Something about survival training classes. They bought the Daughtry Ranch on the outskirts of town.”

“The Daughtry Ranch?” Miranda echoed, taking the pamphlet from him and forcing her shaking fingers to open it. The Daughtry Ranch was ten thousand acres of private property, and when old Mr. Daughtry had died without an heir, the ranch had gone up for auction. No one in town knew who’d ended up buying it. Sure enough, there in the picture on the pamphlet were three men she recognized: Grant Markham, Colt Waggoner, and her nemesis—Dane Croft. The three of them were dressed in black T-shirts and camouflage pants, and the top of the brochure proudly proclaimed, “Wilderness Survival Expeditions: Bushcraft Training for Corporate and Military Groups.”

Survival training? The Dane Croft she remembered was a hard-partying playboy who refused to do anything that didn’t involve beer or girls—or both. She remembered Grant and Colt—one was a jock and one had been the richest guy in her class. Both had moved away when they’d graduated, just like Dane. And now they were back…just like Dane.

Could today possibly get any worse?

She tucked the brochure into her pocket, feeling faint. “Thanks, Jimmy. Can I get a green tea latte, please?”

“Sure,” Jimmy said lazily, his gaze sliding to her br**sts again. “Venti, grande, or tall? Iced or hot? Two percent, whole, skim, or soy?”

Miranda had her phone out, dialing, and ignored Jimmy. Her other hand fluttered back to her pocket repeatedly, touching the brochure again and again.

“Right. I’ll just make something up,” he drawled, then turned away to make her drink.

Beth Ann picked up the office phone on the second ring. “California Dreamin’,” she answered in a chirpy voice. “We do waxes, haircuts, highlights, and perms. Can I make you an appointment?”

“It’s me,” Miranda hissed into the receiver, covering the phone and turning away in case Jimmy planned on listening in. “You’re never going to believe who’s back in town.”

“Who?”

“Dane Croft,” Miranda gritted.

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “The Dane Croft? The Vegas Flush player? The one we went to high school with?”

“That’s him—”

“The one who put his hand down your pants—”

“Beth Ann!”

“I’m clearing my lunch appointments,” Beth Ann declared. “Be here in twenty minutes and we’ll talk.”

For Beth Ann, a “talk” usually involved waxing Miranda’s eyebrows, a trim for Miranda’s split ends, and a manicure. They’d been friends ever since the fifth grade, and if there was one thing that Miranda knew about Beth Ann, it was that she liked her hands busy while she chatted. Her small salon was nearly empty at noon on a Wednesday, and Miranda waited patiently as Beth Ann unlocked the back room that housed a tanning bed and let in a teenage blonde.

“I keep telling Candy that she’s going to look like a handbag by the time she’s thirty, but she won’t listen to me,” Beth Ann said with a shrug, returning to the barber chair Miranda sat in. “And the tanning bed brings in almost as much money as manicures do.” She spun the chair around, turning Miranda toward the mirror, and flung the pink satin styling cape over her clothes. “Now, honey, tell me your problems.”

“My problem is Dane Croft,” Miranda said, digging under the cape and pulling the brochure out. She held it toward Beth Ann. “He’s moved back to town—permanently. And he’s started a survival business with Grant Markham and Colt Waggoner.”

“Survival business?” Beth Ann tucked a lock of perfectly highlighted blond hair behind her ear and gave Miranda an odd look in the mirror. “That doesn’t sound like the Dane Croft we went to high school with.”

“It’s him—look at the picture.” Miranda slumped in the salon chair, wishing this day would start over again.

Beth Ann’s eyebrows rose as she stared at the pamphlet. “Professional survival services? That’s kind of strange.”

“I know,” said Miranda flatly.

“Mmm. Just look at them. They’ve all filled out rather…nicely, don’t you think?”

Miranda scowled and snatched the pamphlet back, glancing at the photo again. All three men were tall and fit, she supposed. Dane’s arms were especially toned with muscle. He had a dark tan and his black hair was cut incredibly short. The white smile on his face was as familiar as her own. He actually looked like a hunky, Hollywood version of a survival instructor. That made her feel worse. “This is just awful.”

“Why is it awful?” She began to comb out Miranda’s long, dark brown hair and trim the ends. “This is the perfect time for him to come back. You’re leaving for that big job in the city in three weeks, remember? You only have to avoid him until then.” And she sighed.

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