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Silhouette Special Edition #1850
Montana Mavericks: Striking It Rich
June 2009
ISBN: 0-373-24850-4

DJ Traub's back in town and opening one of his famous Rib Shacks right here in Thunder Canyon, and the food's not the only thing that's delicious there!

Gorgeous DJ has definitely changed over the years. But one thing has remained constant: his secret love for the beautiful Allaire. Life didn't work out the way these two best friends had planned, though, especially with Allaire's disastrous marriage to DJ's dashing brother, Dax.

But we're not in high school anymore. I've seen the way that Allaire looks at DJ-and I don't think friendship is on her mind. Maybe Allaire can convince him that nice guys can finish first..

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Excerpt from HER BEST MAN

After the students left, Allaire had gone to the window, hearing the rain thudding against it. She was one of the few people on earth who'd never felt cozy on a rainy day. Maybe it was because, by nature, melancholy grated on her, even if it'd become such a big part of her recent life.

So she'd gone to her classroom boom box, where she often played Mozart for the kids, and inserted a CD mix that a student had burned for her. He'd discovered she was a TCHS graduate and compiled a bunch of songs from her "ancient" school years mainly as a joke.

But she loved the collection and often listened in her quiet hours. As "Macarena" came on, she lowered the volume, then settled in to work on her painting.

Cheesy memories could be good company.

She experimented with adding more vivid color to the Paris nightscape, and it pleased her so much that she sat back and imagined she was there, in the City of Lights .

The glow of them reminded her of how DJ's eyes brightened when he saw her, of how he'd shown such fire in his gaze the night they'd kissed.

She felt his skin scratch over her cheek again, felt the warmth of lips that belonged against hers. He'd felt so perfect pressed against her body, like a portion of her that had floated away and had come back as if it'd never left.

When she heard a voice break into her musings, she startled, her heart blasting into a thousand flutters that immediately flew back together again.

"If they played this kind of junk at prom," the voice behind her said, "I'm sure glad I missed it."


Was this a part of the fantasy or.?

Her pulse was still buzzing from her reverie, almost like the wings of a hummingbird as it flew in one place, feeding. She held onto his voice for a moment-just a decadent second that she knew couldn't last-and exhaled. But she wasn't obvious about it.

Her stomach somersaulted as she turned in her chair to face him. He still carried injuries from the fight with Dax and, although they'd mellowed, she could still imagine them under her fingertips. She'd wanted so badly to erase his pain.

Should she say something about not calling him?

Or should she stick to the harmless subject of prom? Then again, she'd gone with Dax to two of them. DJ had stayed home both times.

She went with another option.

"Did you need a place to dry off?" she asked, making light of his wet hair and skin. He even had those pink spots on his cheeks, and the sight of them did something to her that had nothing to do with thinking it was cute or sweet.

The normal DJ would've grinned at her amiable comment, but he seemed so serious. That scared her.

Thrilled her.

He shut the door behind him and Allaire's heartbeat really took off.

"I wanted to stop by to see you," he said.

"Voice mail message," she blurted, wanting to stop him before he said too much about how she'd avoided him after their kiss. "I've been meaning to return your call, but."

DJ took a step forward, his gaze steady and seemingly determined. Oh, God, that scared-and thrilled-her most of all.

"But what, Allaire?"

His tone was soft, so gentle that she wanted to turn away so he wouldn't know he'd flipped her life topsy-turvy.

Yet she didn't move. Lord knew, she'd wanted him to come after her, to force her to admit what she was feeling.

If that's why he was here..

Just as she was about to tell DJ how mixed up she was, another song poured out of the boom box.

"Because You Loved Me," by Celine Dion. It'd been the theme of her senior prom, and she and Dax had danced to it after she'd been crowned Queen. Both she and DJ had been on the yearbook staff, and she recalled how he'd managed to avoid working on that page when he'd been asked by their advisor.

It was as if he..

No. DJ had been her pal. It'd just been recently that she'd noticed the difference in their dynamics.

He had obviously noted the song, too, because he tipped back his head, a rueful smile weighing his mouth. Then, shaking his head, he shed his coat, hanging it over a chair so it would dry off.

Allaire felt as if she'd been granted a reprieve.

"More dorky prom songs," she said to smooth out the moment.

"They probably weren't so dorky when you were in your dress, out on the floor with the rest of the kids. I'll bet you knew the words to every slow song, and you believed them, too."

She had a vague recollection of that-of living a ballad every day. But that was puppy love, right? Rainbows, hearts and starry lyrics that you wanted to emulate.

"I wonder," she said, nestling her paintbrush in a cup of paint-tinted water near her easel, "when we officially start thinking these kinds of songs are 'dorky.'"

"When our hearts first break?" he asked.

She forced a laugh, still feeling the pressure of what they weren't talking about suffocate the room. "I think you just came up with the title of a number one hit."

What she couldn't say out loud was: when did your heart first break, DJ? And who did it to you?

She wanted to know everything, even in spite of herself.

Silence descended, but she didn't allow it to linger for even another second.

"So how goes life at the Rib Shack?" she asked, going to the classroom sink to clean off her hands.

"The Shack?" He said it as if he couldn't believe she was asking about something so trivial.

"I heard you've been booked since the opening. Congrats."

"Thanks." He paused. "Allaire, I--"

"Where are you planning to open the next Shack?"

Desperate. She was so desperate to put him off.

"Trying to drive me out of town already?" he asked. "I haven't been here all that long."

"No, that's not." She faced him, drying off her hands.

He was raising an eyebrow, probably in an attempt to look less hurt than she guessed he was. His eyes couldn't hide the damage she'd already done.

"That's not what I meant at all, DJ." Sick of herself, she tossed the towel near the sink.

Here it was-another moment of truth. She could feel it pulling and pushing at her.

As another song came on-"Un-Break My Heart" by Toni Braxton-DJ rolled up his sleeves. His forearms were stranded with muscle, and the sight of them sent a naughty rush through Allaire.

He'd turned into such a man..

"If I didn't know any better," he said, moving toward her, "I'd say you were in a time warp with this music."

"It's a mix from a student. He was probably trying to get on my good side."

As DJ came closer, Allaire's mouth went dry, her pulse slamming through her veins.

That kiss, she thought. That kiss had been a spike in her complacency, and she craved more of it.

DJ's voice lowered. "I'd guess that your male CD-burning student might have a crush on his teacher."

"That's not true, Deej--"

The words caught in her throat as he stood before her. So warm, so tempting. She could barely think straight with him being so near.

His tone went gritty. "It would've been nice to have had one dance at the prom."

She self-imploded, her skin flaring, then sucking into a flash of yearning.

While she took a step backward, reaching behind so she could steady herself with the counter, DJ grasped her other hand. As usual, he balanced her, even as her mind went spinning and reeling.

At the heat of his skin, Allaire forgot the reason she'd run away from him in the first place. It didn't seem to matter that she was falling for her ex's brother.

Nothing mattered right now but DJ's hand in hers.

The world went hazy, like a night washed with silver stars hanging from a gym's ceiling. As DJ rested his other hand on her waist, she found herself placing her palm on his wide shoulder.

The dance he'd never had. Why was he making up for something he'd never even wanted back then?

She'd gone pliant, and he relaxed, then smiled until her knees went weak.

"I had a talk with Russ today," he said, apropos of nothing. But knowing DJ, he was getting around to saying something important.

Allaire made a sound that could've meant anything. Anything at all.

They were dancing now, slowly, hesitantly.

"He got me to thinking." DJ frowned slightly. "Thinking about change. About why keeping things the same could be for the best."

Keeping things the same, Allaire thought. Was DJ talking about staying friends? She wasn't so sure, not with them swaying to a song full of longing.

Not with her inching closer to him by the moment.

In fact, her chest brushed his, creating friction that rolled to a wall of heat covering her entire body.

But she didn't back away. Not now.

"If things never changed between the two of us," DJ added, "we wouldn't run the risk of disrespecting Dax, right? And I wouldn't have to worry about losing my best friend."

"We could never stop caring about each other, DJ."

He stopped their cautious rhythm, coming to pin her down with an intent look.

"Is that true, Allaire? No matter what happens, you'd always stick with me? You'd never run off on me again?"

"I.didn't know what else to do that night," she said, her hold tightening on his hand. "I got away from you before."

"Before what?"

She didn't know what to say.

Before she could take the kiss to the next level? Before she could tell DJ that seeing him again would encourage too much of a stir and, hence, make her life more uncomfortable than it already was?

Before she could risk goofing up yet again?

DJ took both her hands in his, bringing them to his chest. There, she could feel his pulse pounding. Her own matched it bang for bang.

"I'm tired of never saying what's in my heart," he said. "I'm tired of never taking a stand. And I'm not going to be the quiet guy anymore."

Blood rushed to her head. How should she deal with this? What could she.?

Relationships never work out, Arianna would've said. I don't know why you even bothered with Dax.

Allaire didn't want to hear whatever DJ was about to say.didn't-

But DJ had already steeled himself.

"I've always loved you, Allaire, and now that I'm back, I know that I always will."


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From the book: Her Best Man
By: Crystal Green
Imprint and Series: Silhouette Special Edition
Publication Date: 09/07
ISBN: 0-373-24850-4
Copyright: 2007
By: Chris Marie Green
R and TM are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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