Book 3 in the Holiday, Montana Series
Tyler Cooper can’t love. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, but he can’t. After all, cupids are great at love, just not their own. His job is to help others find their happy ever afters and keep the magical town safe from outsiders as the town sheriff. Only he never expected her.
Abigail Clark needs to move on. She’s been in love with Tyler since they were kids and he’s never truly seen her. She knows she’s not for him and now needs a new chance outside of Holiday.
Yet when cupid’s arrow hits true, the two find that leaving town might be out of the question. And when someone from Tyler’s past threatens everything they’re trying to build, it will take the town of Holiday—quirks and all—to save them both.
“Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Have you found your love yet?”
Tyler Cooper turned off the radio and cursed. No, of course he hadn’t found his love yet. He didn’t want to. Who in their right mind would want to be with someone on Valentine’s Day? All that love, warmth, and togetherness crap was nauseating. Plus, as soon as someone had a date for Valentine’s Day, suddenly warm and fuzzy images entered their minds and visions of wedding bells and engagement rings filled their dreams. It turned into crack for the lovebirds.
It was enough to make a grown man want to lock himself away in his apartment for the entire month of February. Though with the way the Coopers were falling around him, he had to be careful. Matt and Justin were already down for the count with their women; he didn’t want to be next. No women for him on that special day. No, he’d be in hiding—no, staying in because Coopers didn’t hide. Yeah, that sounded like a plan.
Yes, because rationalizing it like that made it so much better.
The sun beat down on Tyler’s face as he got out of his SUV, and he stopped for a minute to let it warm him. Though the coldness of a Montana winter could seem as bitter as any tundra, the ice seemed to melt away with each passing hour. Ugh, even the weather tried to warm up at the thought of Valentine’s Day, didn’t it? God, he hated this holiday. Too much pink, too many flowers, too much candy, and too many doe-eyed women who thought they’d ‘find the one’. Well, it wasn’t going to be him.
A chilled breeze slid past him, seeping into his bones. Though he’d lived in Holiday his entire life, sometimes he wished he lived in a place with a warmer climate; one where his balls didn’t feel as though they were icing over every time he had to go outside.
He took a steadying breath, then strolled to the car in front of his SUV. Yeah, never a dull moment in his Montana town. No, Mrs. Ellis, the eighty-eight-year-old busybody had been caught going sixty in a thirty-five. In some states, the woman would already be in jail for that kind of reckless driving. Or at least she should be. Why was it that, in his town, the elderly seemed to be the ones who had lead feet, while everywhere else the geriatric set would drive at a snail’s pace, just as they did with their walkers?
Oh, woe was he.
And now he sounded like a damn pansy.
He tapped his notebook on her driver’s side window and made a motion with his hand so she’d lower it. She should have known the drill by now. After all, this was the third offense in as many months. Now that the old mayor was out and his new sister-in-law had settled into the role, traffic violations could actually be dealt with and not thrown under the rug with the enticement of money. This meant that Mrs. Ellis would be losing her license this time. It was about damn time. Not only was the paperwork a bitch, but the old lady could have killed someone. He shuddered to think what could have happened if he hadn’t caught her.
“Oh, Sheriff Cooper? What brings you out in this frigid day?” She had the audacity to bat her eyelashes at him underneath her blond, curly-haired wig.
Yeah, like she was fooling anyone about her age with that.
Tyler took a deep breath and lowered his sunglasses. “License and registration, ma’am.”
“Oh, dear boy, you don’t need those. Why, I helped powder your bottom when you were a baby.”
She had done no such thing. She had been too busy sucking up to the old money in town and didn’t want to bother with the hard-working Coopers. No matter that the Coopers had more money than most, but that was neither here nor there.
Tyler closed his eyes and prayed for patience. He really needed to stop worrying about what people thought of him and his family. In fact, he didn’t really care; he just didn’t like liars.
Mrs. Ellis was one of the worst; the ugliest gossip in town, at least on the inside. She’d take the minimal amount of information she could get her little wrinkled hands on and blow it out of proportion so she’d be the center of attention.
God, he hated small towns sometimes.
“Ma’am, I need your license and registration,” he said, this time in a firmer tone that didn’t quite hide his impatience. If he wanted, he could have her arrested if she continued to refuse, but that was the last thing he needed.
God forbid he had to deal with the glares and upturned noses of the other busybodies if he put their leader behind bars. Though the picture of Mrs. Ellis behind bars in an orange jumpsuit did put a smile on his face. He quickly frowned, so she wouldn’t guess what he had been thinking about.
Mrs. Ellis huffed and rolled her eyes. Yes, that was a perfect example of maturity. Or not. She handed him her paperwork then drummed her fingers on her steering wheel. With each staccato beat, his tension increased and his shoulder blades itched. He had no idea why the latter was happening, but it must have something to do with the crazy woman in front of him.
“So, Tyler, dear, are you sure you need to write me a ticket? I wasn’t going that fast, was I?” She fluttered her eyelashes again, and Tyler, again, resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He had to remain the adult in this situation.
“Mrs. Ellis, you were going sixty in a thirty-five. You could have killed someone. School’s about to let out. How would you have felt if you’d have hit one of those kids because you were going too fast?”
The color drained from her face before she waved her hands. “Oh, I would have stopped for them.”
Tyler shook his head and wrote her a ticket. “You don’t know that. The laws are in place for a reason. Use them.”
Mrs. Ellis turned up the radio and shook her head, clearly wanting to avoid the situation. “Can you believe this? Only two weeks until Valentine’s Day, and they’re just now working up the dance invitations. In my day we had the whole dance set up after Christmas, and the dates worked out accordingly. There were no stags or lonely ladies home at night, no sir. Now look at it. It’s as if people don’t care about the holiday at all.”
Tyler signed the ticket and handed it to her while trying to tune out her droning voice. He hated this holiday more than most, but really, he had good reasons. He was connected to it more than anyone he knew, and he didn’t want to find love. He didn’t need it, nor did he want to hear about it.
“So, dear, do you have a date for the dance? Such a young, virile man like you probably has no trouble getting a date.” She fluttered her eyelashes again, and Tyler held back the urge to roll his eyes, again.
“No, ma’am. I’ll probably be working.” He handed her the ticket, and she curled a lip in disgust. Not his problem anymore.
“Oh, dear, that just won’t do. What would your mother say about you shirking your responsibilities as a handsome man on a night as important as Valentine’s Day?”
The sharp, familiar pang at the thought of his mother echoed through him, and he fisted his hands.
“Take care of that ticket, ma’am,” he bit out, then turned on his heel and walked backed to his SUV.
That woman had no right bringing up his mother, had no right barging into his life…had no right to anything having to do with him. He watched as she drove off—a little too quickly for his tastes—then closed his eyes.
Thank God that was his last stop. As of five minutes ago, he was officially on a two-week vacation. Yeah, he’d lied that he’d have to work at the dance, but he didn’t really care.
A sharp itchiness attacked each of his shoulder blades, and he rubbed his back against his seat like a bear in the forest. Holy fuck it hurt. It had been happening off and on for the past year, and he knew what it was about.
That didn’t mean he wanted to think about it. Fuck, everything was catching up with him, and he wasn’t ready. He’d had his whole life to be ready, yet everything was coming too fast.
He started his SUV and drove home, scratching his back against the seat as he did so. He was damn lucky he didn’t get in an accident. Yeah, that’s all he needed, the sheriff getting involved in a collision because he’d been too busy trying to scratch an itch on his back.
He pulled up to his apartment complex and turned off the motor, letting his head calm. He ran a hand through his dark, closely shorn hair and sighed.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
He’d thought he’d have more time before it all caught up with him. But, no, he was a thirty-two-year-old man who had a path to follow that he hadn’t wanted.
Fuck. He banged his hand against the steering wheel and shook his head. He sounded like a petulant teenager. He got out of the SUV, slammed the door, and stalked up to his apartment. He nodded at his neighbor as she watered the potted plant the landlord let her keep out.
It wasn’t a rundown place by any means, but it wasn’t really home. It was more of a waiting place, a purgatory, before he moved on. Yet, he had no idea what he wanted to move on to. He closed the door behind him and set his keys on the table by the door.
He undid his tie and set his hat next to his keys while he looked around the place. He’d painted the walls a cream color, bland and boring, and had kept his college furniture so it looked like the bachelor pad of a man who needed to grow up.
Oh, that was just great. Now he was disparaging his own home. Shit. He stalked toward his fridge, took out a beer, and had swallowed half of it before his headache started to recede. The itch and burn increased on his shoulder blades, and he cursed. He took another drink of his beer then set it down, the pain in his shoulders intensifying.
His body shook, and a cold sweat trailed down his spine as he took wobbly steps toward his living room. He gripped the edge of his couch, his fists bunching the fabric, tearing it at the seams. He felt the veins on his temples bulge, pulse.
Shit, what the hell?
He hadn’t though it would hurt this much.
He let go of the couch, his body overheated, needing release. Tyler stripped off his shirt, buttons hitting the ground at his reckless strength. He felt the skin on his back tear and stretch, and something foreign unfurled off his shoulder blades. A slight pain shot through him, then a sudden pleasure like the release after cracking his knuckles slid around him. With each tug and slide, he felt like something was suffocating him—his future altering with each change.
Oh, he knew what it was; he just hadn’t wanted to think about it.
He shook, the pain white-hot and blinding, as the wings he’d ignored for so long, hoping they’d never appear, slid out of his back and filled the room.
Finally, oh, God, finally, he calmed, his wings in place, his destiny sealed. Taking a deep breath, Tyler opened his eyes, not ready to look behind him. But, he wasn’t a coward; no, he was a Cooper. He risked a glance and cursed.
White wings sprouted out of his back. He moved them slightly so he could get a better look and cursed again. Yeah, still a bit tender, but wings tearing their way out of a back would do that to a guy.
He looked closer and saw they weren’t fully white. No, they had light pink colorization on the edges of each feather and the surface held an even lighter dusting of pink.
Oh, fucking hell. Yeah, that’s manly.
Not only did he have wings, they were fucking pink.
“Holy shit, Tyler. What the fuck?” Brayden, his brother, asked as he came into the living room.
Damn it. Why hadn’t he locked the door behind him? Served him right for growing up in a family that felt comfortable enough to walk into each other’s homes unannounced. He’d never do it at his older brother Jackson’s again. Well, maybe. Fuck.
“Tyler? You have fucking wings. Pink-as-fuck wings.”
“Why is it people think you’re the nice one, Bray?” Tyler asked as he turned toward his brother. His wings knocked a lamp off his side table, and he winced. “Fuck, I’m not used to these things yet.”
“People think I’m the nice once because I am nice. Just not to you freaks. But, what the hell, Ty?”
“I have issues.”
“No shit, but really, what the fuck? They’re pink.”
Tyler could feel the heat in his cheeks and knew he was blushing. Damn, that’s all he needed—his face to match his wings.
“Yeah, well, it comes with the job. And why the hell aren’t you freaking out more?” Tyler stood as still as he could and tried to will his wings to go away so he could sit down. No such luck.
Bray shook his head then got a beer out of the fridge. Ah, it was so nice that his brothers felt it was okay to take his shit. Yeah, not so much.
“You ask this after Matt turns into a ghost for eleven years, Jordan is a witch, Justin is one of Santa’s friends, and his fiancée is an elf? You being, well, whatever the hell you are, doesn’t faze me. It’s just one more thing tossed onto the Coopers. We’ll deal.”
There did seem to be a lightning rod of holiday and other weird crap in the center of their family, though Rina, the elf, said it was the town, not the Coopers, that was the center. Well, that didn’t seem entirely accurate if he analyzed what had happened in the past few months.
“What fiancée?” Tyler moved quickly toward Bray and knocked over a picture frame. The glass hit the floor with a crash. “Fuck.”
“Smooth, twinkle toes,” Bray said as he took the spot on the couch Tyler wanted. Fucker. “That’s why I’m here. Justin popped the question, and Rina was doe-eyed enough to say yes.”
“Well, hell. We’re falling like flies.” First Matt had married his high-school sweetheart, Jordan, after she’d come back to Holiday. Now, Justin had his Rina, though he’d already known about Matt, so it shouldn’t have been too surprising. At least there were three more Coopers to hold the fort of singlehood.
“Well, with those wings, I’m sure you can stay in the air a bit longer,” Bray drawled as he took a swig of his beer. “Now, you gonna tell me what the hell you are?”
“I thought Jordan said it was rude to ask that,” Tyler said, delaying the inevitable.
Bray raised a brow. “Jordan isn’t here, and you’re my brother. What’s with the wings?”
“I’m a cupid.”
Bray nodded. “I figured since it’s February, you have pink wings, and. well, this is Holiday, it had something to do with that. Wanna tell me exactly what that means, and why you don’t seem surprised by it?”
Tyler shrugged, knocking over a pillow with his wings.
“They’re not that pink. And I’ve known all my life.”
“They’re pink; don’t lie. What the hell, Ty? I thought you got on Matt for lying about being a ghost. Now look at you.”
“What happened to Matt was done to him. I was born this way.”
“So, it’s hereditary. Guess that means Jackson and I should be scared.”
“No, shit. I don’t know.” Tyler looked into his brother’s eyes and didn’t see surprise at the whole hereditary thing. “Is there something you want to tell me about a holiday you’re connected to? Am I missing something?”
“We’re talking about you right now,” Brayden evaded.
“You’re hiding something.”
“I’m not in the mood to talk about what is or could be happening. How did you know you were a cupid?” Brayden said as he raised a brow, daring Tyler to continue on the subject that seemed a bit touchy.
“Fine, we’ll drop it for now. As for my being a cupid? I just remember hitting puberty and another cupid coming to the house and explaining my job.”
“Another cupid? There are more of you?”
“Apparently, it’s a business like Justin being Santa’s executive. I don’t know. I haven’t done anything with it and haven’t had the wings or anything until now. This is my first year, and I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. They’re supposed to send me a packet or some shit explaining where my zone is.”
“So, you’re supposed to spread…love?”
Tyler sighed and winced as his wings went back to being hidden, sliding back into his skin, folding with a slight creak in his bones. It felt as though someone was bending his arm at an odd angle, not hurting, but not feeling like he wanted to do it every day either. Apparently, all he had to do was relax while thinking about making his wings disappear. Nice, he’d have to remember how he did that for the next time.
“I suppose it’s my job to help people find their true love.”
“You? Mr. I-don’t-make-commitments-past-breakfast?”
“Yep. Pretty much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap before I deal with the fact that I’m a fucking cupid, and don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
“A nap? Really? That’s all you have to say? Damn, Tyler. You don’t even want to think about getting married. How are you supposed to help others?”
“I don’t fucking know. It’s my job, my…destiny. We’ll see what happens when the packet comes and I figure out what to do, but I don’t know.”
“So, you can tell when people are supposed to be together?” Bray asked, nervousness in his tone.
Oh, he knew his brother had a right to be nervous, but it didn’t take him being a cupid to know who Bray should be with considering his brother never had eyes for anyone other than Allison. But that was another story.
“Those powers will come now that I’ve reached cupid-maturity, or whatever they called it.”
Bray let out a breath then got up to leave. “Are you going to tell the others?”
“I don’t have a choice, do I? I mean, you know.”
“I can keep a secret if you need me to, but I think the others should know.”
Ty let out a breath and finally sat on the couch. “Yeah, I’ll tell them. As soon as I know what the hell I’m doing.”
Bray let out a dry laugh. “You might want to tell them before that. Since if you wait that long, we’ll all be dead.”
“You want me to just let them know?”
Relief filled him. “Sure, that way I can just deal with the questions later. Because you know there’ll be tons.”
Bray smiled, and Tyler shook his head. “Does this mean you can find your own true love?”
An odd hollowness spread through Tyler at the thought. “I don’t know.”
Bray nodded, his eyes a little too knowing. “Okay then, twinkle-toes. Keep the wings hidden, and I’m here if you need me.” His brother let himself out, and Tyler laid down on the couch.
Well, hell. Now his brothers would know and, in turn, the women and their group of friends. Secrets didn’t go over well in the Cooper family, even though they all had them. He’d known since he was a kid what he’d have to become, that he’d finally arrive at that special age to be the cupid of Holiday and wherever the hell else they sent him. That he’d have to be the man, cupid, whatever, to expose love in people’s hearts.
What if he didn’t want to? After all, he didn’t believe in love. It wasn’t for him, and there damn sure wasn’t a woman for him. Not in Holiday, not anywhere.