I had to cut some great scenes from Nikki & Hunter’s book (Meaning in Masterson) to keep it under my word count goal. They all featured Nikki’s brother Fletcher. Fletcher can be a bit clueless! I thought you might enjoy getting to know him. He’ll eventually get his own book, too. (As will Ben and Gil!)
Deleted Scene 1:
Dusty Talley was one of the most perfect women to ever walk the planet. Fletcher Tyler was almost one hundred percent certain of it.
She was also definitely not the woman for him.
But he could appreciate the sight before him. Long, straight blond hair hung loose around her shoulders, almost to her waist. Big green eyes shot fire at him and his brother.
It was mostly his brother that her ire was directed at now.
Not that Fletcher fully blamed her. Ben had overstepped a bit. It was always Ben with Dusty lately, it seemed.
It was hard for them not to. She had practically grown up right in front of them, side by side with their baby sister. Fletcher and his brothers had been watching out for Dusty almost as long as they had Nikki. It was just what they did.
Dusty and Nikki had given Fletcher gray hair a time or two, with the things they’d get up to. It was almost like they’d had devils nipping at their heels, his father had said once.
Fletcher could agree with that.
His father had said it was because the two young girls had learned early on about their own mortality. And wanted to enjoy every moment of life they’d been given.
It had taken Fletcher a while to understand what his father had meant about that.
Nikki had been so hurt by their mother’s death. And Dusty… she’d collapsed in the middle of a tae kwon do studio during a group lesson not even two months after they’d buried Fletcher’s mother. From a heart condition Dusty had been battling all her childhood. She’d only been fourteen or fifteen he thought. They’d taken her back for emergency surgery.
They had almost lost her.
Fletcher had been there that day. He had carried her to his truck and rushed her to the hospital himself, Nikki terrified beside her, holding Dusty up in her arms, begging her best friend to just be ok. To not leave Nikki, too. Hard not to feel protective over the girls after that.
Nikki had been beyond terrified. Fletcher had taken care of his little sister himself, then. While they waited.
It had made a guy feel a bit overprotective of the sweet and gorgeous blonde in front of him. Dusty was like another baby sister to him.
Fletcher knew it was his duty to protect. Same probably went for Ben.
Dusty had her arms crossed over her Come to Flo’s Diner hoodie, as she stared up at Ben.
“You are a massive idiot,” she said. “Both of you. You don’t have the right to tell me who I can date and who I can’t. I am not Nikki! And you can’t even tell her, either. Why can’t you get that through your thick skulls?”
Ben reached out and patted Dusty on the head. Fletcher practically saw the steam coming out of her ears at that one. That wouldn’t calm her down—Fletcher had tried it before. Dusty was quiet—but she could sure breathe fire when she wanted.
Ben was about to get singed.
“You can do better than that damned Cadell Grady, Dusty.”
“Why? Cadell is a nice guy who I like very much.” Dusty’s frustration was practically visible, steam coming right out her ears.
“He’s a Grady.”
“So? You’re not telling me you’re holding what his father did to Maggie and Marin against him?”
Ben just shrugged. Fletcher knew that was exactly what his brother was doing. Maybe it wasn’t fair, but it was the truth. He didn’t exactly want Dusty going around with a Grady right now. He didn’t trust the guy at all. Guy had to be almost ten years older than Dusty, too.
What kind of guy wanted to date the cousin of the woman his own father had shot?
Talk about awkward.
Besides, Dusty needed better than a stuffy, workaholic attorney. Dusty enjoyed being outdoors, working with animals. Everyone knew that. She came out to Gil’s new place with Nikki at least once a week to ride the horses.
Gil and Ben were talking about giving her a horse for her birthday coming up, too. It had been Ben’s idea, but Fletcher thought it was a good one. He’d pitch in on the purchase price, too.
They just wanted to take care of their pseudo-baby-sister, after all.
Even so, Ben threatening Cadell right there in the middle of the diner probably hadn’t been the way to go about it. Ben was a former military cop, after all. He knew everything there was to know about guns. Not to mention the mixed martial arts his brother had been into since he was no older than their ten-year-old cousin Parker, after all.
Fletcher had his own black belt in tae kwon do, but his was nothing compared to the skill Ben had. Fletcher hadn’t been able to keep up.
His brother scared people. And that he wrote books about murder and mayhem didn’t help his reputation.
Ben just wanted to protect Dusty. Too bad the girl was too stubborn to see that.
Dusty and Nikki both.
Deleted Scene 2:
Worrying about his sister was just something he did. Fletcher suspected the same was true for his brothers. It always had been, from the moment their parents had brought the little lump home from the hospital. Her eyes had been funny—he remembered thinking that the first time he saw her.
His parents had explained that she wouldn’t be able to see very well. Probably for a very, very long time. Years. And that her brothers had to help take care of her.
When she’d been a teenager, eye surgery had corrected a big portion of her vision issues enough that she could see ten times better than she had before, but by that time, taking care of Nikki was ingrained in him.
Of course, he was a Tyler, and taking care of their women and girls was ingrained in a Tyler man’s DNA.
He knew she’d said she’d be just fine, but the idea that his little sister could be sitting in an old building with no power and frozen pipes and no real heat—or way for her to reheat food in her microwave—had him worried.
She liked to say that she could take care of herself completely, but he suspected that was just pure stubbornness. No one did stubborn better than his baby sister, after all.
“She should have gone to the inn. Stayed with Dusty. What was so different about this time? She stays with Dusty all the time, and they do each other’s nails and chatter about boys while it storms.”
“When they were thirteen,” Gil said. Fletcher got the impression his oldest brother was laughing at him. Gil did that sometimes, when he thought Fletcher was being an idiot. “They stopped talking about boys years ago. They’ve moved on to men now, I believe. I heard Gabe Masterson is sniffing around Dusty. And Eli… well… he’s been spending an awful lot of time in the diner. But only during Nikki’s shifts, I heard. Or is it the other way around and Eli is there during Dusty’s shifts and Gabe during Nikki’s? They are not girls anymore, you two. Something to keep in mind. Men are going to come around. It’s just inevitable. I’m surprised they’ve both not married yet, actually. Nikki’s going to eventually want a family of her own. Look at Maggie and Uncle Phil’s girls. It’s just a matter of time. If she’s not too set in her ways, our stubborn little sister.”
Nikki marrying some guy? Hell. Fletcher had never even considered it. He did the math in his head quickly. Nikki was only twenty-four, Dusty a half year older. They were too young to be thinking about settling down, seriously. Right? “What’s the big rush? She’s still young. They both are.”
Ben growled something from the rear seat. Fletcher had beaten him to the front passenger seat, and Ben had been grumbling ever since. They were full-grown men, but sometimes defeating your older brother for a place in the car was oddly satisfying, still.
Especially faster than the speed of light Benji-the-ass.
Probably because Gil and Ben used to beat him up every chance they got. “What was that?”
“Gabe Masterson is an arrogant asshole. He needs to stay away from Dusty. She doesn’t need a man like him.”
“What’s wrong with a nice, steady, stable, successful pediatrician like Gabe?” Gil asked. “He’s a good friend. And has been for years. I’d fully trust him with Nikki or Dusty. He wouldn’t do anything he shouldn’t. You aren’t holding his brother against him, are you?”
Fletcher knew what he meant. Jack Masterson had stolen their cousin Martin’s girl right out from beneath Martin’s nose. Not even six months later, he’d done the same to Ben with another girl.
Jack was supposed to have been their friend. That his brother was sniffing around their Dusty, well, that didn’t sit so well with Fletcher, either. And that the other brother was looking in Nikki’s direction?
Nope. Not going to happen.
“Dusty is old enough to make her own decisions about who she dates, and even who she sleeps with,” Gil said firmly. “You two are to stay out of her love life. Or she may borrow Matt’s scalpel he uses to neuter dogs and come after the two of you. I heard about the last incident.”
Fletcher winced in shame. Maybe they shouldn’t have run that Hoffman guy off in quite the manner that they had. But Ben hadn’t liked the way the man had been flirting with their Dusty. They’d been duty-bound as her pseudo-big-brothers to run him off.
Even if that had just exasperated Dusty, and made Nikki laugh like a little lunatic behind the counter.
His sister got a kick out of the weirdest things.
Fletcher had mostly been just joking—Dusty had always had her head on her shoulders where guys were concerned—but Ben…
Ben had actually meant it.
Ben had chased that guy off from Dusty like he was a junkyard dog, with only one nicely shaped bone to guard.
They’d known Barand Hoffman their entire life.
The guy had looked at Ben like Ben had gone mad.
Maybe he had.
Dusty really had been angry that day. He’d probably need to apologize first chance he got. At least for his part.
“I just want to check on Nikki. She’s up to something. I just know it,” Ben said. “And I heard a rumor Rowland Bowles and some of his people are back in town—including Phoenix, which I confirmed myself—and may have been seen with either Maggie or Nikki in town. I want to make sure she isn’t being bothered.”
Well, Fletcher had to agree with him there.
Nikki had been extra secretive when he’d brought the kerosene. And she’d kept looking toward that empty apartment.
Like… maybe someone had been in there.
Maybe his sister had had a man in the building that she didn’t want Fletcher to know about? Rowland Bowles, maybe? The guy had been all about Nikki after she’d been shot, coming to check on her, bringing her expensive flowers and stuff. That could turn a young girl’s head.
Especially since he’s so famous. Easy for a girl like Nikki to just get star struck or something.
That… that idea was crazy.
His sister wasn’t experienced enough for that. Hell, if she’d done more than kiss a guy or two a few times, Fletcher would eat his favorite hat. With ketchup.
He wondered idly if they’d ever scraped the ketchup off the ceiling of the diner after that last major incident with Marin there. He’d have to ask Dusty the next time he saw her.
He’d stop by when he got a chance. See if Dusty had a clue what Nikki was up to.
Just in case.
And he’d tell Dusty upfront… it hadn’t been his idea to run off that Hoffman. It had been Ben’s.
Gil’s warning about Matt’s scalpel was a good one.
Dusty had a bit of a temper when she was riled.
Deleted Scene 3:
After the party for his uncle—aka the latest Tyler excuse to get together—ended, Fletcher spent some time helping Martin and his cousins clean the remodeled barn everyone was affectionately calling Tyler Hall. There were metal chairs to fold and hang on the rack, the floors needed swept—some of the younger Tylers were messy—and the trash needed taken out.
Martin’s brother Michael was busy tending to his sweet, pretty little wife. She wasn’t handling the morning sickness all that great, Fletcher thought. It was knocking her flat.
She sure was trying, though.
Michael was a darned lucky man. To have found Jude like that—and then to have been able to save her from that monster who had tried to kill her and her little friend Linsey.
Linsey had been there tonight, with Jude. She was a beautiful woman, with wildly curling blond hair, a tiny but curvy body, and a sense of humor that would leave a man in stitches. Well, most of the time. She had spent a fair amount of time today snipping at Martin’s brother, Chandler.
Fletcher thought about Linsey as he ran the broom over the concrete floor Michael and Martin had spent some time staining with a pretty cherry wood color.
Maybe Nikki had been right. Maybe he’d been alone too long. A woman of his own wouldn’t be so bad. He shot another look at Michael and Jude. Followed by one at Michael’s sister Maggie, where she stood bundling her son into his winter coat while her husband did the same to their daughter.
Maggie seemed wildly happy, too. She was smiling now. Her husband leaned down and said something, then snagged a kiss. Clint was a quiet guy. Maybe he thought no one was watching. Or maybe he was so happy with his woman that he just didn’t care who saw?
Movement caught his eye. Fletcher looked toward the doors. Just in time to see that darned Hunter Louis Clark holding Nikki’s coat out to her, a firm expression on his face.
Nikki always had needed to be reminded to put on her coat sometimes. Gloves and hat, too. Which Clark held in his other hand.
Nikki grinned up at Hunter. There was an ease between them that had Fletcher’s attention focusing.
Right before his eyes, Clark brushed a hand down Fletcher’s baby sister’s cheek. Touched her mouth. Lingered.
The look in the man’s eyes…
That wasn’t right.
Fletcher started in that direction.
Hell. That bastard was putting the moves on Nikki. Right there in front of them. Even though Fletcher had thought the guy wasn’t interested in Nikki that way before.
Nikki. That was just crazy.
Here he’d almost convinced himself the man wasn’t so bad, after all.
Fletcher was going to have to warn his brothers. See what they thought should be done.
They wouldn’t just stand by and watch as Nikki got hurt by some love’em and leave’em type. Not even for a moment.
Fletcher was going to kick the guy’s ass.
Then again, didn’t Clark have some serious martial arts training or something?
Maybe Fletcher would just sic Ben on Clark instead.
Deleted Scene 4:
That damned Hunter Louis Clark had broken her heart. It was obvious when he got a good look at his baby sister’s face. Fletcher didn’t know what else to do, so he just scooped her up. Nikki didn’t weigh much. Sometimes he forgot how small she was. How it was his job to protect her from assholes like Clark.
He should have stepped in. Kept this from happening. Everyone could see that it would have. Clark… whether he was a nice guy or not, he wasn’t the kind of guy meant for Masterson. Not permanently, anyway.
And his sister was—of any of them, Masterson was in his sister’s blood so deep Fletcher didn’t think she could ever be happy anywhere else. Not really.
Not even with the man she loved.
Holy hell, he hoped her feelings for Clark weren’t that deep. That she’d get over the man quick enough.
It had been over a week now since Clark had left.
At first, he’d thought Nikki was just… not feeling great. Now Fletcher realized how stupid he’d been—she was grieving.
Heart-broken over what that ass Clark had done to her.
For a moment, Fletcher actually considered hunting that bastard down and making him hurt the way his baby sister was.
But sanity took hold after a moment.
Clark wasn’t good for Nikki. It was better she hurt a little now, then be totally devastated later when the inevitable happened and he left her cold turkey. After she loved him.
She hadn’t been with him enough to love him now. Fletcher was thankful for that, at least.
There were other men in Masterson. Men who would suit his little sister far better than some untrustworthy Hollywood type.
Once the snows thawed and it was easier for Nikki to get out a bit, he’d happily introduce her to some men he knew. Men he respected, and knew would take good care of a sweet woman like Nikki. She’d have to move out of town, eventually.
But she’d make a decent rancher’s wife.
Maybe. She didn’t cook all that great, and she didn’t like doing ranch chores, but she’d make a great mother. Of course, she’d have to find a way into town every day. He couldn’t see her leaving the bookstore. She loved it too much.
Maybe he’d better stick to the guys he knew who lived close to town. There was Shane Lowell. He was a decent sort of a few years older than Fletcher, and a doctor. He lived right there by the inn, so she’d be close to Dusty. Shane had a couple of kids already. Zach Lowell, the deputy, was Shane’s cousin. He was a decent enough guy. And he thought there was a surgeon named Paterson around. Not to mention Gabe Masterson. And there wasn’t a darned thing wrong with Eli Masterson, either.
Except… guilt settled in his gut. He and Ben and Gil had chased Gabe and Eli off just a few weeks ago.
From Nikki and Dusty. Maybe they shouldn’t have done that.
“Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll do it. Just to make everything better. Like a good big brother.” He rocked back and forth a bit as his eyes met Dusty’s.
Those soul-stealing green eyes of hers were filled with concern and heartbreak. She just shook her head at Fletcher. She knew…
There was nothing either of them could do to make this better.
Nikki stepped back, and Fletcher yanked Dusty close for a hug. She wasn’t half-bad as a pseudo-baby sister. He was glad Nikki had her.
He told her that, too.
Then watched as she led his sister back to the rear of the diner, where they kept their things. Nikki would spend some time with Dusty and her sisters and cousins. And Flo. Flo had been like a stand-in grandmother to Nikki. He knew that.
Maybe between them, they could help Nikki get through this.
Maybe. Fletcher sure as hell didn’t know what else to do.
He looked up as the girls left the diner. He’d offered to drive them to the inn, but Nikki wanted to walk—despite the cold. She said she needed to see the town around her tonight.
And Dusty… Dusty would be at her side, like she always had been. No matter what life had shoved in Nikki’s face, Dusty would always be there.
She’d earned Fletcher’s undying loyalty for that.
Ben sank down into the empty chair. He hadn’t seen his brother come in. He grunted at Ben. The last thing Fletcher wanted to do was talk right now.
His heart was breaking for Nikki right now. “What do you want?”
“What were you doing, hugging all over Dusty like that?”
“What do you mean? I hugged her right after I hugged Nikki. To say thank you for taking care of our sister. What’s your problem with it?”
“I don’t have a problem with it at all. I’m just looking out for her, that’s all. Making sure you weren’t hugging her because she was hurt or upset. That’s all.”
Fletcher looked into eyes as blue as his own. He snorted. “Sure you don’t. You can’t tell her who she can hug and can’t, bro. She’s not really our sister, you know. You probably should stop forgetting that.”
A look went through his brother’s eyes. One that told Fletcher just what exactly he had missed.
Ben had it bad… for Dusty.
Fletcher doubted the big doofus even knew it. Fletcher wasn’t about to say a darned thing.
Ben would have to figure that out for himself.
Fletcher thought about his sister’s sad little face. He’d hate to see Ben hurt Dusty like that. He knew his brother wouldn’t mean to, but relationships were hard. Things could go wrong in a moment.
Deleted Scene 5:
His little sister’s heart was still breaking. Fletcher could see it in her big blue eyes. But Nikki was the stubborn type. She wouldn’t let anyone see it.
Dusty had spent the night with her, he thought. It was obvious, considering what she was wearing.
Ben said something—probably something stupid—and Dusty shot him a heated look.
It was ruined by the girly pink pajamas she was wearing and the two childish braids. She looked like she had when she’d been a kid, running around his parents’ house, getting into stuff.
They’d played with dolls and stickers, then talked about boys, and then their futures. All right around him.
Fletcher had watched them both grow up.
He hadn’t missed that Dusty was an adult now. A damned attractive one, at that. His cousin Derrick had mentioned that to him and Ben just a few weeks ago. Ben had punched Derrick, pretending to be joking. But Fletcher thought his brother meant it when he’d told Derrick to stay away, that Dusty wasn’t old enough for what Derrick had said.
Hell, Derrick had just mentioned asking her to the movies once the roads to the next county cleared a bit. Harmless.
Dusty was six months older than Nikki. She wasn’t a kid any longer.
That sank in as Fletcher watched her hook an arm around Nikki’s shoulders.
Nikki was an adult. Capable of making her own decisions—even about her love life.
Why hadn’t Fletcher seen that before?
Maybe he and his brothers were as clueless as Dusty and his sister had always said.
“Come on, girls. Get dressed. We’ll take you back to Gil’s place for a few days,” Ben said. “Ride out the incoming storm there.”
“I’d love to hang around with you three cavemen,” Dusty said, rolling those gorgeous greens of hers. “But I’m on at the inn for the next three evenings, while Daisy handles parent-teacher conferences. Nik? Why don’t you come stay at the inn with me? You can have Char’s room. We’ll go through the stuff she left and text her mean messages.”
“How is she doing?” Fletcher asked. He… knew… Charlotte Talley well, after all. In the most elemental of ways. But he doubted she’d told her slightly younger cousin that.
And Fletcher’s daddy had taught him long ago that a gentleman didn’t kiss and tell.
That some rogue cops in Finley Creek had shot her and her friends just pissed him off.
They might have dated six or seven years ago, when she’d been nineteen and he twenty-three, and it had ended, but he had always cared about the woman.
Charlotte had been pure hell on wheels.
“She’s better. Back to work now.”
“I think… I think I’d like that. I need to get out of here for a while. I’ll walk home to open the store each morning. We’ll hang out, like we used to.”
It wasn’t exactly what Fletcher wanted, but as Dusty hugged Nikki again, he understood—she’d know how to help Nikki deal with whatever was bothering her. Far better than Fletcher and Ben and Gil could.
Fletcher wasn’t stupid—it was all about Hunter Louis Clark.
Damn that bastard for hurting Fletcher’s sister.
She’d been an easy mark. Sweet, naïve, right there across the hall from him in the middle of winter. She had been right there.
Of course, a man like Clark would take advantage of that. Men like him weren’t raised to be gentleman.
Not like Tylers were.
As Dusty turned again, to say something to Ben—who she seemed to think constantly talked out of his ass lately—Fletcher took in the beautiful feminine body, the gorgeous face, and the far-too smart mouth.
Hell, of course, some guy would look at Dusty and want her. She was damned hot. Sexy, even. Fletcher almost gawked as that sank in. Dusty wasn’t a kid anymore. Guys would want her.
Some of those guys wouldn’t be good guys.
With no dad or brothers of her own, of course, she needed Fletcher, Gil, and Ben to look out for her. Make sure some guy didn’t take advantage of her, or break her heart.
Maybe it would be best if Dusty just got with a Tyler man. He’d be sure to treat her right, to take care of her. A Tyler wouldn’t take advantage of her either. Not like Clark had Fletcher’s sister.
He’d just make a point of telling Derrick if he wanted to date Dusty, he could.
Fletcher would just have to make Ben behave himself.
Ben really didn’t have the right to dictate to Dusty what she did with her love life, after all.
He shot another look at his older brother and Nikki’s best friend.
They were glaring at each other, Ben towering over her, almost. Hell, he almost had his arms around her. Did Dusty even realize that?
Ben was the tallest of Fletcher and his brothers. Ben had one of Dusty’s braids in his hands. She had a furious look on her face.
There was a lot of heat between the two of them now. He didn’t remember them acting like that before. He’d have to ask his brother about it, first chance he got.
In the meantime, Fletcher’s baby sister needed a hug.
She looked like her entire world was ending.