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       Corralled, p.10

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Crickets chirped in the sudden silence.

  “Hank?”

  “Ah, darlin’, it wasn’t nothin’.”

  “Don’t make me get out my rubber gloves and check you myself first thing. Tell me.”

  “Just a little misunderstanding between me and the bull. I went left; he was supposed to go right, but he didn’t. Caught me on the quad. I’m sore. But mostly I’m tired. No worries, okay?”

  “Fine. I’ll let it go for now, but I want to take a look at it in the morning.”

  Hank muttered, grabbed the pillow, and limped off to climb into the back cab of the truck.

  While Kyle had the chance, he pecked Lainie on the mouth.

  “Nice to see you out here waiting for us.”

  “Were you afraid I’d chicken out?”

  “Nothin’ is a sure thing.”

  Lainie returned his smooch. “Lucky for you, I am.” She situated herself in the passenger side. “Need me to navigate?”

  “Nope. I reckon this truck can almost drive itself to Muddy Gap. We’ll head north on I- 25 to Cheyenne and then west on I- 80 to Rawlins. You ever been in that area?”

  “Doc keeps me to the Southwest and Midwest areas for the CRA, which is why I always run into Hank.”

  “Lucky Hank,” he muttered. Kyle wouldn’t admit it to them, but it bugged him that Lainie and Hank had known each other longer.

  “No sniping,” she warned.

  Might be a long couple of weeks.

  Settled in, with the truck on cruise, he asked, “So even when you live in Colorado Springs you’ve never worked the ‘Daddy of ’Em All’ in Cheyenne?”

  Lainie’s body went stiff. She shook her head and aimed her gaze out the window.

  Way to stick your boot in your mouth.

  Kyle felt like a total fucking heel. Of course Lainie hadn’t worked Cheyenne Frontier Days. Frontier Park was where her father had been killed. He grabbed her hand from the console.

  “Sugar, I’m sorry. Sometimes I don’t think before I open my big trap.”

  “Actually, it’s probably stupid I’ve never been there. My mother suggested I steer clear of the place, since she claims I already have enough issues with the hero worship of my dead father. But the morbidity keeps me away, not her.”

  “Have you talked to her since this morning?”

  “No. And I feel guilty, but not guilty enough to call her, know what I mean?”

  “Yeah. My mom gets on my nerves too. We butted heads big-time when I stayed with her after my surgery.”

  “Sharlene and I get along for a while and then kaboom! We don’t talk for months. My grandma Elsa reminded me I might not like what my mother does, but at the end of the day, she’s still my only mother.” She sighed. “I miss Grandma putting things in perspective for me.”

  “When did she pass on?”

  “A little over two years ago.”

  “I’m sorry. You’re lucky. I never knew my grandparents.” Heck.

  Kyle never knew his father. That was one thing his mother never shared— the name of the sperm donor who impregnated her.

  “What was your grandma like?”

  “Elsa was an amazing woman who lived a hard life. Her parents married her off at eighteen to a family friend who was fifteen years older than her, right after he was discharged from the military. They had nothing in common and she didn’t get pregnant until she was thirty- eight. My dad was her miracle baby. Arthur, my grandfather, died when my dad was six, so Grandma raised her son on her own. She cleaned houses, took in sewing and ironing.

  She grew most of their food and hunted and fished for their meat.”

  “She does sound amazing.”

  “My dad’s death nearly killed her,” Lainie said softly. “And then my mom moved me away. When I was nine I ran away and my mom finally agreed to let me spend summers with her. After I graduated from high school, I packed up and moved to Oklahoma. Gram needed a caretaker and I was all she had. Times with her were the best of my life. She was . . . real—know what I mean?”

  Kyle squeezed her hand. “I like seeing this sweet, sentimental side of you, Lainie. I’m just sorry I didn’t take the time to notice it before.”

  The conversation died. Had Lainie taken that the wrong way?

  “Kyle, can I be honest?”

  “Sure.”

  “I liked that you saw me as sexy, not sweet. I really liked that you were so hot to have me you couldn’t wait.” He felt her curious stare. “Do you remember that first time?”

  “Remember? Hell, how could I forget?” After two months of flirting, Lainie agreed to meet him for a late- night breakfast.

  She’d sauntered in wearing a pair of short shorts and a tank top. Kyle had taken one look at her copper eyes and freckled skin and lost his cool. Without a word, he’d dragged her into the women’s bathroom and locked the door. He’d been absolutely fucking crazed to feel her soft curves, heated skin, and wet pussy clinging to him as he fucked her. He took her against the wall.

  Then Kyle rushed her to his motel room and nailed her in the shower; he bent her over the vanity and they fucked in front of the mirror. There hadn’t been a whole lot of talking. To some extent all their sexual encounters played out that way— urgent.

  And hot. Holy freakin’ hell, did the woman turn him inside out and upside down with pure animal lust.

  “Can I tell you something that sounds ironic?”

  He nodded, hating that his stomach tumbled.

  “That night I’d planned to tell you I was already seeing someone. But then you looked at me like that . . .”

  “Like what?” he asked hoarsely.

  “Like I embodied your every secret sexual fantasy.” A giggle escaped her. “It was thrilling stuff, Kyle. No way could I resist you.”

  “Ditto, sugar.”

  Her nervous energy amused him. Lainie messed with her cell phone. Stared out the window. Checked on Hank. They didn’t speak again until they’d passed through the Denver metro area.

  “Was your grandma proud you chose sports medicine?”

  “I didn’t go to work for Lariat until after she died. She was just glad I took advantage of getting a higher education. I’d already earned my EMT certificate and certified nursing assistant diploma my senior year in high school. I graduated with an LPN degree after I moved to Oklahoma. At some point, massage therapy interested me, so I went to school for that.”

  Kyle smirked at her. “The masseuse thing explains those magic hands.”

  She batted him on the biceps. “I probably don’t have the medical degrees needed to work for Lariat, but Doc offered me the part- time position and I jumped at it— much to my mother’s eternal dismay.”

  “Working part- time is enough to pay your bills?”

  Lainie sighed. “No. I work third shift as an EMT when I’m not on the road with Lariat. I’m hoping once I get the—” She stopped. “Sorry. I’m boring you, huh?”

  “Never. I could listen to you talk all night.”

  “I guarantee it’s better than listening to me sing,” she said glibly.

  The discussion changed to general topics. Music. Movies. TV

  shows. When they hit Fort Collins, he exited off the interstate and cut through town. The residential sections disappeared and they zipped through rural countryside again.

  “Are we filling up with gas way out here?”

  “Slight change in plans. We’re taking the scenic route on Highway 287 instead of goin’ through Cheyenne. We’ll hook up with I- 80 in Laramie and head to Rawlins.”

  Lainie went motionless. “You didn’t have to do that, Kyle.

  Avoid a whole city because of my paranoia.”

  “It’s no big deal. It is a shortcut, okay? Driving through Cheyenne, right past Frontier Park, ain’t something you need to deal with right now.”

  She lifted her cool fingers to his face to trace the outline of his mustache and goatee. “Th
ank you. I’m really glad to be seeing this sweet and sentimental side of you too.”

  Kyle angled his head and kissed her palm. “Anytime.”

  Not long after that, Lainie yawned and slumped against the door. Neither of his snoring passengers woke when he topped off the tank in Laramie.

  Five miles from the turnoff to the Lawson ranch, Hank stirred.

  He sat up and draped his forearms over the middle of the front seat. “Man. Talk about sawing logs.” He jerked his chin toward Lainie. “How long’s she been out?”

  “Since outside of Fort Collins.”

  “How’re you holding up?”

  Kyle yawned. “Don’t mind telling ya, I’m hitting a bed for a few hours before we load the camper and all that shit.”

  Lainie stretched. Yawned. “Where are we?”

  “We’re just about home, darlin’.”

  Home. Kyle snorted. Hank’s home.

  It’s not like you can offer that to Lainie. You don’t have anything to offer her. Hank does.

  Fuck. That thought jarred him wide- awake.

  She smoothed her hair and cracked her neck side to side. “Well, boys, as long as we have a few minutes, let’s get our stories straight.”

  “What stories?” Hank asked.

  “Why I’m traveling with both of you. I doubt Hank wants his family to know he’s sharing me with you, Kyle. So the question is, when I’m asked, which one of you guys am I ‘officially’ with?”

  Kyle and Hank answered, “Me,” simultaneously.

  Chapter VIII

  Hank was groggy. But not that goddamn groggy. No fucking way was Kyle getting the upper hand on Hank’s home turf.

  “We’re staying at my fucking house, driving my goddamn truck, so it makes sense that Abe and Celia believe Lainie is with me.”

  “Which is exactly why it makes more sense for them to think Lainie is with me,” Kyle said calmly.

  Which just pissed Hank off more. “That don’t make a lick of sense, Kyle.”

  “Guys. Please.”

  “Maybe we oughta have Lainie choose.” Kyle sent Hank a smug look.

  That’d sounded confident. Had something happened between them while he’d conked out? Hank looked at Lainie. “Well?”

  She shook her head. “I won’t choose. Try again.”

  “You said it yourself, Hank. I have a reputation— a former reputation, I might add— as a player, so Abe and Celia would think nothin’ of me shacking up on the road with a sexpot like Lainie.”

  Kyle waggled his eyebrows at her.

  “Should I be offended by that statement, Kyle?”

  “Sugar, you oughta be flattered. Unlike some people, I’ve never brought a woman home to meet the family.”

  Hank bit back a sarcastic remark at Kyle’s cheap shot. “Your reputation precedes you, Kyle, but that’s exactly why my family would be skeptical. They ain’t gonna believe I’ll travel with you and your woman of the month, driving my truck, living in my camper for three weeks. But they’d have no problem believing you’d tag along with me and my woman.”

  After fifteen seconds, Kyle muttered, “Shit. You’re right.”

  Hank fought the urge to gloat. And lost.

  Lainie didn’t say anything, although he sensed her questions as her gaze winged between him and Kyle.

  The sun was starting to peep over the horizon when the turnoff to the ranch came into view. Kyle cranked a hard left on the gravel road leading to the house.

  “So that’s how we’re playing it?” Kyle asked testily. “Lainie’s with you?”

  “Yep. Lainie? You all right with that?”

  “I guess.” She studied Kyle quizzically, rather than meeting Hank’s gaze.

  Which bugged the crap out of him— not that he’d say anything.

  The road snaked three- quarters of a mile around trees and up a hill until the house, barns, and outbuildings appeared. The house wasn’t fancy, just a one- story ranch that’d been added onto over the years. Abe’s truck was parked in his usual spot. Celia’s pickup was absent. Where the devil could that girl be at five thirty in the morning? Dollars to doughnuts she wasn’t up doing chores.

  The lights were on in the kitchen. Abe started chores every morning at six, just like clockwork.

  Kyle parked beside Abe’s rig and shut off the engine. He turned around, resentment in his eyes. “I’m agreeing to this on one condition.”

  “What’s that?”

  “If Lainie’s in your bed alone with you for one night, turnabout is fair play.”

  The thought of Kyle and Lainie alone together made him gnash his teeth, but it also strengthened Hank’s determination that his time alone with Lainie tonight would be memorable. Maybe even unforgettable. He said, “Fine.”

  By the time they’d unloaded the luggage, Abe leaned on the front rail with a mug of coffee, watching them.

  “Hey, bro,” Hank greeted. “Is there coffee left or did you drink it all?”

  “Drank it. But I started a fresh pot when I heard you drive up,”

  Abe said. “Got quite the merry little band with you, Hank.”

  Hank tugged Lainie beside him. “Abe, this is Lainie Capshaw.

  Lainie, this is my brother, Abe.”

  Abe switched his coffee mug to his left hand and thrust out his right. “Good to meetcha, Lainie.”

  “Likewise, Abe. Thanks for having me as an extra houseguest.”

  He smiled. “No trouble at all. How long are y’all stayin’?”

  “Just tonight. We’re heading to Gillette early tomorrow.”

  Kyle dropped his bag and dust puffed out from where it hit the ground. “Hey, Abe.”

  “Gilly.”

  Hank smirked at Abe’s use of Kyle’s old nickname.

  “Well? Don’t keep me in suspense. How’d you do in your CRA debut?”

  “First place.”

  “Outstanding. Was the purse worth more or the points?”

  “Definitely the points. Although the money wasn’t bad. Ain’t gonna make me rich, but luckily I’ve hooked a rich travel partner to share expenses with for the next couple weeks.” Kyle nudged Hank when he snorted.

  “You guys taking the camper?” Abe said to Hank.

  “You’re not using it for huntin’, are you?”

  “Have at it. I’ll get Bran and a couple of guys to help us load it.”

  “I’ll call him,” Hank offered. Part of the reason he wanted to see his friends was to show Lainie off.

  She’s not really yours.

  But she will be.

  “Where am I crashing?” Kyle asked Abe.

  “Probably be quietest down in the basement. Back bedroom.”

  “Cool. I’ll be bright- eyed and bushy- tailed after a little shut-eye.” Kyle shouldered his duffel and lumbered into the house, the screen door slamming behind him.

  No doubt Kyle was sore about the Lainie situation.

  Hank focused on Abe. “Where is Miz Celia?”

  “Who the hell knows? She’s been coming home at the butt crack of dawn for the last two weekends. Then she sleeps all damn day. She won’t tell me nothin’ about where she’s been or what she’s been doin’. Maybe you can coax something out of her.

 
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