Pickles-N-Fries and Fireflies

by Rachel Anne Jones

Pickles-N-Fries and Fireflies by Rachel Anne Jones
It’s summertime, and Maddie Dill is back in her hometown of Hanley, KY, the last place she ever thought she’d be. Fresh out of college with stars in her eyes, Maddie’s ready for big city lights and a career in journalism, destined to leave her thumbprint on the world.

Mason French is back in town for good and ready to take over the family business. For Mason, Maddie is the one who got away, a bitter reminder of the girl he never kissed. It isn’t long and they run into each other one night at the local bar. When Maddie walks in, Mason’s thrown right back to high school, wondering if his former best friend is ready for more than just friendship.

Sparks fly when they share a searing kiss just before Maddie kicks Mason out of her booth, dumping him on the floor. The feud that’s gone on for generations between their families continues, but Mason’s used to Maddie’s fiery temper and he’s not staying away.

Maddie plans to spend time with her mom and work as an intern for the local newspaper before she takes off for the big city. Mason has designs on Maddie’s heart.

With such different dreams, will they both be fulfilled?

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Release Date: September 12, 2023
Genre: Contemporary Romance

A White Satin Romance


Chapter One

Mason French leans forward on the bar stool as he hovers over the newspaper, scanning the poem with a bemused expression on his face. “Maddie Dill,” he mutters under his breath. “Wouldn’t that be somethin’ if she came back here, a place she swore she’d never set foot in again?”

Ron and Casey’s conversation about the latest weather report per the Farmer’s Almanac for the next winter comes to a screeching halt. “Did you just say Maddie Dill?” Tall, blond Ron announces in a voice loud enough for Mason to shrink just a hair.

“Shut it down, Ron,” Mason mumbles to his friend as he glances around the room, feeling all exposed. “Geez. You’re so loud.”

Green-eyed Casey crosses his arms in his signature flannel before leaning back to smirk at the two of them. “Shoot, Mason. You must not get out at all these days. Haven’t you heard?”

Mason’s stomach tightens with anticipation at the thought of any news about Maddie Dill, the one who got away. “Heard what?”

Casey gives him a sly grin. “Word has it she’s comin’ back for the summer.”

Ron nods with too much enthusiasm, as far as Mason’s concerned. “Yep. Her mom’s MS has gotten bad again and so Maddie’s comin’ home. She’s even doin’ an internship down at the newspaper, though I heard her and Shelly don’t see eye-to-eye on much.”

“I don’t believe it.” Mason shakes his head and taps his finger on the newspaper. “Well, I mean I believe Maddie’s plenty opinionated. There’s no question about that. But she swore she’d never be back once she graduated high school, and it’s not like Maddie to go back on her word.” Mason swallows hard when he recalls the last thing she yelled at him when they were both sixteen. “I’m never talking to you again, Mason French!” He stares off into the distance. She was way too good at making good on her promise. Nothing stings worse than your best friend literally giving you the silent treatment for the rest of your high-school days. He shakes his head to clear his memory.

Ron stares Mason down. “What went down with you two, anyway? You were glued together at the hip and then it was like you were complete strangers.”

“Yeah. What happened?” Casey grins. “Did you two get it on? That’ll ruin a friendship real quick.”

Mason’s fists clench. He glares at Casey. “That’s not what happened. You’re not even close.”

Ron leans in. “Then what was it that split you two apart?”

Mason flips the newspaper over. He can’t read Maddie’s words of poetry on the page a second longer, but she’s got one thing right. Love is pain, especially when you’re stupid enough to fall for Maddie Dill.

Mason takes a deep breath. It’s definitely time to change the subject. He glances around the spacious bar room. He’s surprised to see so many of the people he grew up with in it who will soon be potential customers. He’ll be doing business with them before too long now that he’s agreed to take over his grandfather’s business, which is the last thing he thought he would do. He stares down at his hands in disbelief once more. He’s filled with annoyance all over again. It sucks being the only one of his siblings who has any sense of fulfilling family obligations. He raises his head to find Ron and Casey staring at him with expectation in their eyes. Mason forces a grin in their direction. “You guys remember all the times we tried to sneak in here for a drink?” He shakes his head again. “Like everyone didn’t know we were underage. This town is so small.”

Ron does a table tap. “Yep. It’s small all right, too small for secrets.” He grins at Mason like he knows something he shouldn’t. “Except for maybe your secret.”

Mason fidgets. “What’re you talkin’ about? I don’t have any secrets.”

“You tellin’ me you haven’t been harborin’ a crush on Maddie Dill all these years?” Ron winks at Mason, who wants to punch him in the face. “I hear she’s single.”

Mason’s anger dissipates as his ears perk up. “Wasn’t she, uh, wasn’t she engaged to some big-shot real estate guy or something like that?”

Ron’s face lights up, and Mason does an inward groan. He recognizes that look. Ron’s about to spill tea. “She was engaged like less than a month ago, but she found out he cheated on her, and she gave him the boot.”

“It was bad.” Casey looks down at the table. “The guy was a real tool. I can’t believe he’d do somethin’ like that less than a month before they were to be married. He left her with a helluva mess. She had to cancel all the plans and get all the refunds, including their honeymoon cruise.”

Mason’s confused. “How come I didn’t hear about any of this?”

Ron looks all sheepish. “Maddie kind of put the word out that she didn’t want the news reaching certain people.” He tugs at his collar.

Mason scratches his head. “That must be why I didn’t get an official wedding invitation either.”

“You didn’t get an invite to Maddie’s weddin’?” Ron’s blue eyes widen in surprise. “She invited our whole class practically.”

Mason takes a long swallow of beer, feeling more than a little wounded. “Well, that’s a pretty sucky deal. That’s too bad for Maddie.”

“Yeah, I ‘spose.” Casey grins. “It must not have been too hard on her, though. I heard she’s lookin’ pret-ty fine.” Casey smiles at Mason, looking all ornery. “Maddie must have some pret-ty strong feelin’s for you, if she couldn’t even invite you to the weddin’.”

Mason stares at the floor. “Yeah, somethin’ like that.” He mumbles his response. Everything’s quiet for about half a second.

Ron slugs Casey in the arm. “Hey. You remember the night of the bonfire and Maddie showed up in that bikini, shakin’ us all up?”

Casey coughs a little. “Yep. Up until then we all thought she was a tomboy. Nobody knew she was hidin’ her goodies under her hoodies.” He chuckles at his own joke.

“That was so lame.” Ron takes a sip of beer and sets it down while rolling his eyes.

“I thought it was funny,” Casey replies.

Ron’s whole face changes like he just solved a mystery. “Wasn’t that the night she stopped talking to you, Mason?”

Mason takes another long drink of his Miller Lite and tugs at his collar as he sets it down on the table. “You know what guys? There’s no need to rehash the past. High school was a long time ago. You’re makin’ me feel old.”

“So you’re tellin’ me that if Maddie Dill walked in here tonight, you’d have nothin’ to say to her ‘cause it’s all in the past? Forgotten.” He raises his eyebrows in challenge.

Mason throws out his arms. “It doesn’t matter ‘cause that’s never gonna happen. Maddie Dill wouldn’t set foot in here. This bar is the social center of our Podunk little town, the one place she swore off.”

Casey laughs out loud and points behind Mason’s shoulder. “You’re right about one thing. Your friendship was a long time ago. You don’t know Maddie near as well as you think.”

Mason’s curiosity gets the better of him. He ducks his head to the side to look at the front door of the bar that flies open, banging the side wall. His breath hitches as the only girl who could literally bring him to his knees, Maddie Dill, strides through the front door of the Red Dog Saloon. If Mason didn’t know better, he’d swear a calf just kicked him in the stomach. His gaze is caught. He can’t catch his breath. The mood lighting may be dim, but there’s no mistaking those big brown eyes and that fly-away red hair that lifts just right as the screen door slams shut behind her.

“Dude. Stop starin’.” Ron punches his arm.

Mason’s head is cranked. “I can’t.” No sooner do those words leave Mason’s mouth than Maddie’s eyes meet his. Her brown eyes widen just enough to show appreciation that quickly turns to scorn and annoyance. She flicks her head to the side. Mason whips around to face Casey sitting at his right, but he’s really watching Maddie slide into a booth. Mason frowns as he sees Zach sidle up to Maddie’s table in all of ten seconds. “Since when did the bartender leave the bar to take a drink order?” Mason growls.

Ron snorts. “It’s Maddie Dill and she’s on the rebound. Need I say more?”

Mason scowls. “Doesn’t Zach have a wife and kids at home?”

“Yep,” Casey said, grinning, “but they ain’t here.”

Ron nudges Mason’s elbow. “Hey, you want us to walk you over there an‘ say 'hi’.”

Mason rolls his eyes. “What are we, a bunch of women? If I want to say hello, I will.” He glances at Maddie who still hasn’t looked in his direction. Maddie fills the corner of his eye as she sits on the edge of her booth in the somewhat crowded bar. Part of him jangles with anticipation, but the other part wants to turn tail and hide. Mason feels so unprepared. He had no idea she was in town, and he was not ready to see her when all he can remember is that night at the bonfire. It was their sophomore year.

His heart was in his chest. He was finally going to tell Maddie he wanted to be more than friends, but he couldn’t find the words, so he followed his instincts. He leaned in to kiss her. She jumped up and took off, but not before he caught the look of horror and panic in her eyes. That was the day he lost his best friend and the only girl he’d ever loved.

Ron shakes his head. “Just go say 'hi’. It’s no big deal. You’ve known Maddie since you were kids. Remember when you used to call her Dill Pickle and she called you French Fry on account of your last name is French and one time you grabbed an electric fence and gave yourself quite the shock?”

Casey laughs out loud. “Your grandpa laughed so hard he almost fell over when he told me that story. And he’d really get to goin’ when he got to the part when he managed to get out his tellin’ you, ‘you’ve been French-fried’.”

Mason nods his head. “Thanks for that reminder, guys. Trust me, I did not find this event near as humorous as he did, and when I made the mistake of relaying the story to Maddie at school because I was trying to impress her with my death-defying story, she found it as funny as my grandpa did and dubbed me ‘French Fry’ and the name stuck.” Mason rolls his eyes. “So naturally, I had to tease her back and so I called her Dill Pickle. And you all know how well Maddie takes teasing. I was like, ‘if you’re going to make fun of me, I’ll make fun of you.’”

Casey takes a swig of beer and shakes his head. “That’s how you guys became Pickles-n-Fries? All I know is as long as I can remember no one got one of you without the other. Ever. You two were inseparable, which is good, because you had a big mouth and not everyone thought you were funny.” He grins again. “It’s a good thing Maddie was there. She saved you from more than one ass-beatin’.”

“Yeah, probably,” he reluctantly agrees, his face hot at the memories of Maddie and her swinging fists on the playground.

Ron stares past Casey at Maddie sitting in the booth with Andrea, another girl from their high school years. He’s all smiles as he looks over at Mason. “I always thought the two of you would end up together.”

Mason’s stomach tightens. “Why do you say that?”

Ron shrugs. “I don’t know. Best friends usually do.” Ron stares Mason down. “Are you tellin’ me the two of you never hooked up, like not even in college?”

“Dude, we just had this conversation.” Mason coughs. “You guys know Maddie’s not like that. We’re just friends. I..I would never.”

Casey laughs and claps Mason on the shoulder. “Re-lax, French Fry. Ron didn’t mean anythin’ by it.” He squeezes Mason’s arm. “Besides, we all know she shot you down in high school. That had to sting.”

Mason’s jaw tightens. He feels played and he doesn’t like it. “What? How did you know?”

Casey shoots Ron a look. Ron grins. Mason frowns even more. He starts to stand up. “Whatever. The two of you always did like gossip a little too much and that’s all this is.”

Ron knocks on the table. “You don’t believe us? Fine.” He leans in again. “One night Maddie got drunk down here at the bar after some weddin’ she went to alone. Apparently, she started talkin’ about the time you tried to kiss her and how she kind of wished she would have because after that you acted all weird. She went on about how much she missed your friendship, and you were the best friend she ever had.” Ron shakes his head. “We were all shocked. It wasn’t like Maddie to tell her business, and we honestly didn’t think she had it in her to get all sentimental.”

Mason wants to walk away, but he can’t stop listening. He plops back down. He can’t believe Maddie wanted him to kiss her or that she announced it down at the bar. She had to know it would get back to him, right? Mason knocks his fist on the table. “I didn’t stop talkin’ to her. She stopped talkin’ to me.”

Mason casts another glance in her direction. He takes in her long red hair, trailing her narrow back while she sits in the booth waving her arms wildly about. Mason grins as his grandpa’s favorite words to describe Maddie, “bleeding heart liberal” run through his mind. Mason breathes out slowly. Maddie’s just as gorgeous as she’s always been, and if her waving hands are any indication, those gorgeous lips of hers are going a mile a minute. That hasn’t changed much either.

“Hey,” Ron says.

Mason snaps out of his gazing at Maddie. “What?”

Ron looks all ornery and scheming. Mason wants to walk away. “A whole summer’s long enough to get to know her better don’t you think?”

“I guess.” Mason shrugs. “But I’ll be busy and so will she. What are you gettin’ at?”

Ron chugs his beer and sets it down. “I bet you a hundred bucks you can’t hook up with Maddie while she’s here.”

Mason’s out of his chair. His finger is in Ron’s face. “Say one more word like that about Maddie, Ron and I’ll wipe this floor with you,” he threatens.

Casey’s hand falls on Mason’s arm. “Cool down. It was a joke.” Casey stares hard at Ron. “Right? It was a joke.”

Ron shrugs it off, but his face is full of annoyance. “Sure, man. Whatever.”

“Ron took it too far, alright,” Casey says, “but what about a kiss? That’s pretty harmless.” Mason swallows hard. Sure, it’s as harmless as the only thing I’ve dreamed about for half my life. Casey clears his throat. “I bet you forty bucks you can’t get a kiss from her before she leaves the bar tonight.”

“You’re on.” Mason grins ear to ear and turns to walk away.

“She has to kiss you. That’s what I meant,” Casey calls out.

Mason spins back around to face Casey. “It’s too late. You can’t change your words now.” He gives them a wink. “I’m goin’ in.”

Casey turns back to Ron. “Looks like Maddie will be wipin’ the floor with Mason tonight.”

Ron pouts in his chair. “I can’t believe he was gonna kick my ass over a girl.”

Casey’s green eyes light up with delight. “You better hope Mason doesn’t tell Maddie what you said about her, or she’ll be comin’ for ya too.”


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