Bound, Branded, & Brazen(10)

By: Jaci Burton


“You were thinking you had a thing for red hair and freckles when you were twelve years old,” Jolene said.

“And lanky, gawky guys,” Brea added. “Oh, God, Brett Stanton? Gag. What was I thinking?”

“Brea and Brett,” Valerie said. “I remember we teased you mercilessly about that name combination.”

“Funny how one’s tastes in guys could change over the years, isn’t it?” Jolene said. “And of course, we all chose the mansion.”

“And we wanted to live in Paris and drive the Lamborghini,” Brea added.

“And have two kids, and be schoolteachers. Those were all the popular wants. But none of us managed to reach those lofty goals, did we?” Jolene said, going quiet as she studied her pages with her lips pressed together.

“We used to have such fun playing this game,” Valerie said, smoothing her hand over the yellowed pages of her notebook.

“We played it a lot,” Brea said.

“Especially whenever a new boy caught our eye. We wanted to make sure we would end up with him,” Jolene added.

Wineglasses were refilled and the room went quiet. Valerie lifted her gaze from the pages of her notebook now and then to watch her sisters, knowing they were lost in their own memories, just as she was, back in a time when it was such a thrill to be in love. How long had it been since she’d felt that way about a guy?

Not since Mason. And not again after him.

“Oh, I have the best idea ever,” Jolene said, her lips lifting in a wide grin.

“What?” Brea asked.

“You’re going to love this.”

“What’s your idea?” Jolene always had wacky ideas that usually got them all into trouble, Valerie thought. But they were usually the most fun ideas, too.

Jolene lifted her glass to her lips and took a sip.

“Jolene.”

She giggled.

“Jolene!” Brea repeated. “What?”

She put her wineglass down.

“Let’s play the M.A.S.H. game again. Right now.”

Valerie





WHAT KIND OF HOUSE? CAR?

Mansion Porsche

Apartment Lamborghini

Shack Corvette

House SUV



WHERE TO LIVE? NUMBER OF KIDS

Paris 5

London 3

Dallas 1

On the Ranch 2



GUY OCCUPATION

Mason Teacher

John Doctor

Fred Fashion Designer

Bill Actress





three

“play the game?” valerie gaped at jolene. “are you nuts? We’re not kids anymore.”

Jolene took a long swallow of wine, then went to the bar and refilled her glass, bringing the bottle over to refill her sisters’ glasses, too. “Oh, come on. What’s the harm in having a little fun? How long has it been since we played this game?”

“Ten, twelve years or so, at least,” Brea said.

“Exactly. So let’s do it.”

Jolene looked so eager and excited. Even Brea was digging in her bag for a pen.

Valerie didn’t want to be the one to spoil their fun, and even she had to admit she was eager to take pen to paper and play again.

“Fine. We’ll play.”

They swept their notebooks to the first blank page and grabbed their pens. Valerie stared down at the blank page for a long time. She wasn’t a kid anymore, with childlike dreams of fame and fortune and big houses, expensive cars and the man of her dreams. Real life didn’t work that way. But oh, to dream . . .

She put her pen to paper and started filling out the dwellings, the cars, the occupations, where to live and even the number of kids she wanted to have. Jolene was right. It was fun getting into the game again, imagining all the what-ifs. But when it came time to fill in the guys—men she wanted to marry—she drew a blank.

“You stopped again,” Jo said.

“What are you, my warden?”

“You paused at the guys, didn’t you?”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because Brea did the same thing.”

“Hey,” Brea said, tilting her notebook away from Jolene’s prying eyes. “Quit peeking.”

“It’s not like I’m going to copy the guys you write down. I already know who I want.”

Valerie’s brows perked up. “Really. That confident, are you?”

“About who and what I want? Hell yes. Now if I could just get him to see it my way . . .”

“And which guy would this be?” Valerie still found it hard to believe her baby sister was old enough to date, let alone fall in love or have sex. But Jolene was twenty-six, and more than capable of running a ranch by herself. She could certainly fall in love. Get married. Raise a family. Time had passed too quickly. And Valerie had missed a ton of it.

“Walker Morgan.”

“Ahh, I thought I saw you making eyes at him over supper,” Brea said, a knowing smile spreading across her face. “He’s hot, with that coal dark hair and stormy eyes. Yummy.”

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