Reluctant Bumpkin

Country Cousins Mysteries Book 6

She’s just a girl with a dog, a cat, and a pig. And since she’s been drafted into helping her boyfriend scare his younger brother straight, she’s a girl who’s suddenly glad she’s an only child.

Hal’s younger brother has been banished to Deer Hollow because of his proclivity for getting into trouble. Hal’s parents are hoping he’ll take the kid under his wing and straighten him out. But Asher Amity has a knack for finding trouble, and it doesn’t take him long to find it in Deer Hollow. When Asher steps into a steaming pile of murder and treachery, Hal and Joey are destined to get dragged into the mess with him. Who knew how dangerous babysitting could be?

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UNEDITED EXCERPT

Gone, gone, gone were the days I wished I had a sibling.

Nope. They weren’t just gone…they were obliterated.

I stood with my arms crossed over my chest, back pressed against the front door of my house, and stared down at the young Greek god with the decidedly ungodlike snarl on his perfect lips and a “bad boy” air that seemed too big for his years.

Facing off with the mini-Greek god, the full-sized version, who certainly could have been a bad boy if he hadn’t worked so hard in his life to prove to others that he wasn’t that guy, stood with hands on hips and perfect face formed into stone. “Why didn’t they tell me they were bringing you?” Hal asked his younger brother, Asher Amity.

The they he referred to was their parents, who’d apparently done the dump and run while Hal and I had been at the grocery buying stuff for dinner. Beside me on the porch, my sweet and adorable pitty, Caphy, vibrated like a laundry spin cycle, her deadly tail whipping the wood planking behind her. She was so excited to meet the newcomer she could barely stand it. Pitty-full whining emerged from her throat and she kept jumping to her feet and then plopping back down when I wouldn’t let her leap off the porch and fly into Asher’s arms.

I was pretty sure the dark-eyed hostility the kid was flinging around like holy water in a room full of vampires was a good indication he wouldn’t appreciate a chest full of pibl.

Asher shrugged, his speculative gaze sliding to me. “They forced me into the car and drove here. Trust me, brah, if I’d known they were bringing me out to Bumpkinville, I’d have opened the car door and flung myself out onto the highway.” His lips curled in disgust as he looked around. “Anything would be better than this place.”

A growl vibrated on the air and it hadn’t come from Caphy.

Hal’s hands fisted. He took a step back as if afraid he’d pop the brat on the nose. “First of all, you owe Joey an apology for insulting her and her home…”

I opened my mouth to say he didn’t. The last thing I wanted was to be inserted into the battle of wills going on at the bottom of the steps.

Hal’s gaze whipped my way and the look in his eyes murdered my objection before I could give it life..

Alrighty then.

“Why? It’s true,” Asher snarled.

“Only a spoiled little brat would curl a lip at this beautiful house,” Hal growled. “You’d be lucky to live in this house. Anybody would be. And this town is filled with wonderful people. Just because they live a different kind of life than you’re used to doesn’t make them bad people. When did you become such a snob?”

Asher’s lip curled higher. “It stinks here. Does she have pigs or something?”

I winced. Yep, I did. Well, one pig, anyway. Ethel Squeaks. But that kid had better be careful about how he talked about sweet Ethel. Hal loved that pig almost as much as he loved Caphy and…um…me.

“That’s manure, genius. The farmers spread it on the fields as fertilizer. You’d know that if you weren’t such a city-slicker.”

If Hal had meant that term as an insult, it didn’t land that way. Asher’s back straightened and he raised his perfect Greek nose. “And proud of it.”

Hal shook his head, scrubbing a hand over his mouth in frustration. He made a visible attempt to calm himself before speaking to his brother again. “I don’t know why mom and dad brought you here, but I can guess. Did you get in trouble again?”

The kid shoved his hands into the pocket of jeans that hung so low on his narrow hips I was pretty sure a good sneeze would create a denim puddle on the ground. I chewed my bottom lip at those jeans, wondering if the kid had some kind of eating disorder. Surely Hal’s parents could afford to buy him jeans that fit. Although, I guessed a seventeen-year-old would probably refuse to let his mom pick out his clothes.

No, the jeans, the boxers I could see sticking up from their too-big waistline, and the tattered black tee shirt that read, “Thug Life” on the front were intentionally bad.

“Maybe we could go inside,” I offered in a voice that was embarrassingly scratchy. I cleared my throat as the two men ripped twin hostile glares in my direction and bent my lips in a stiff smile. “I made fresh lemonade this morning.”

Asher snorted derisively and Hal cuffed him on the back of the head. “Show respect or I’ll personally drop you into a pile of manure.”

Hal jerked his head toward the door. “Inside.”

Asher slumped up the steps, his spotless white leather sneakers slapping the concrete as he ascended them.

Caphy bounced up and down, barking with excitement. The kid jerked to a stop as if he’d just noticed her. He eyed my pibl for a long moment, his familiar green eyes narrowing.

“This is Caphy,” I told him. I offered a hand and stepped forward. “I’m Joey.”

For an uncomfortably long moment Asher seemed intent on ignoring my hand, but Hal cleared his throat almost violently and the kid huffed out a put-upon breath. He clasped my hand briefly, his own moist with nerves.

My heart softened a little. The kid had been unceremoniously dumped in an alien environment and he was understandably upset about it.

“Cool dog,” he said.

And suddenly I knew he and I were gonna get along famously. “She’s very sweet,” I told him, releasing some of the tension on the leash I’d been holding her back with so she could get closer to him.

Caphy danced forward, tail whipping, body wagging, and tongue lolling out on a wide doggy grin.

“She gets a little excited sometimes, though,” I finished.

Asher rubbed a hand over Caphy’s wide head and she melted beneath his touch.

Hal wrapped an arm around my waist, providing a united front while addressing his brother. “While you’re here, you’ll treat Joey and the animals with care and respect. Do you understand?”

The kid stiffened, his bottom lip jutting with irritation. He didn’t respond but he didn’t argue either, and as he stepped toward the door, Caphy fell in with him, pressing against his thigh as if they’d been friends forever.

Asher opened the front door and I released Caphy’s leash so she could follow him inside.

I looked up at Hal, my brows peaking.

He sighed. “Sorry, honey. I’ll call my dad and find out what’s going on.”

I nodded, laying my head on his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m sure they have a good reason for leaving him with…um…you.”

His lips curved upward, his dark green gaze sparking with humor. “Oh no you don’t, Joey Fulle, we’re in this together.”

I laughed. “Who says?”

He lowered his lips to mine, the kiss warm and lingering. My knees melted. By the time he broke the kiss a moment later, I was struggling to remember my name.

“You wouldn’t desert me in my hour of need, would you?”

Not after that kiss. “My assistance can be bought,” I told him, grinning.

“Oh yeah,” he asked, tugging me close again. “For the price of another kiss?”

I blew a raspberry. “Not a chance, bud. We’re talkin’ banana cream pie. Lots of it.”

Chuckling softly, Hal tapped my nose. “You drive a hard bargain.”

“Yeah, I know. But that’s my offer, take it or leave it.”

Hal’s eyes sparkled. He gave a dramatic sigh. “Okay. If that’s the best I can do…” He held out a hand and I took it. “It’s a deal.” Then he yanked me in for another kiss.

Dang! What was my name again?

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