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Tripped out, p.10
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       Tripped Out, p.10

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  pictures of every part of the plant. The other one documented the destruction, including stripping off the RFID tags.

  As co-owner, Stirling had to sign her agreement that nothing fraudulent was taking place. She’d acted as somber as he’d ever seen her.

  A private security guard—a burly biker, bald headed, covered in tattoos, and wearing a cut that declared him a member of Grinder Kings motorcycle club—also witnessed the burn.

  Liam had a moment of panic when the dude showed up late Saturday night with a sleeping bag and a lawn chair, barking at Liam to get some sleep, under Stirling’s orders. Then he told Liam to lock himself in; he and his “brothers” would secure the building until MED arrived in the morning. After being up for almost forty-eight hours, Liam crawled in the sleeping bag and crashed.

  They were down to the last couple of plants. He looked around at the eerily empty grow house. It’d remain empty until MED closed the case and gave the green light to replant. The only saving grace in this situation was the destroyed crop was medicinal, not recreational. Since seventy percent of their plants were required to only be for medicinal use, and the latest P&L indicated medicinal sales were down, it could’ve been much worse.

  After the barrels containing the plant matter were loaded, Liam watched the MED van drive off.

  The biker spoke to Stirling before he roared away on his Harley, leaving Liam and Stirling alone.

  She crossed the gravel parking lot and stood in front of him.

  Would she punch him? Yell at him? Fire him?

  Those wise blue eyes took his measure for several long moments and then she wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his chest.

  Not what he’d expected but he’d take it.

  They stayed locked together until Stirling tipped her head back and said, “Come home with me.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Yes. If you go home alone you’ll spend the rest of the day on your laptop, obsessively researching why this happened, and you’ll get no rest at all.”

  “Maybe I should stay awake, racked with guilt.”

  “See?” She jabbed her finger into his chest. “That’s what I mean. We’ll deal with the timeline of how it happened and create protocol for the future…tomorrow.”

  Liam rested his forehead to hers. “All right. But I need to stop at my place first and get out of these clothes.”

  “Then we’ll just go there. Besides utter lack of Pop-Tarts, you probably have more food than I do.” She smiled slyly. “And I know you’ve got better weed.”

  Chapter Seven

  Stirling took Liam’s suggestion to make herself at home by rummaging through his closet while he showered. So his shocked look when he found her barefoot in his kitchen wearing his shirt made her laugh.

  “What? I was cold.”

  “Aren’t you supposed to strut around in my shirt the morning after?”

  She shrugged. “I’m not so much with following societal norms anymore.”

  “And she gets an ‘atta girl’ for that.” His rapt gaze roamed over her as he crowded her against the counter. “Dreadlocks suit you. There’s nothing to detract from this beautiful face.”

  I can’t wait to wrap this hair around my hand as I’m fucking you from behind. Remembering the sexy, matter-of-fact way he’d stated that still gave her shivers. Had she truly found the man who accepted—and approved of—all parts of her? Physical and intellectual?

  His rough-skinned knuckles followed the curve of her jaw. “I was really looking forward to our Friday night together.”

  “Me too.”

  He shifted his head, intending to kiss her, but she pushed against his chest.

  “Hold on, Dr. Eager Beaver. I’m dying to feel those hot lips of yours on mine, but give me your word that you’ll stop at just one kiss and you won’t hoist me onto this counter and do all sorts of depraved things to me.”

  “Why not?”

  “Oh, don’t look butt hurt. I need your promise to stop because I know once I get in that lust-addled state, I’ll say yes to anything.”

  “And that’s bad…?”

  “Not normally. We will get down and dirty until we’re both hoarse and half dead in a sex coma. But first I need to feed you.” She kissed the inside of his wrist. “You’ve subsisted on coffee and beef jerky for two days. You need real food to fuel up. It’d be a shame if this amazing body would peter out at the magic moment, wouldn’t it?”

  “Are you questioning my stamina, Miss Gradsky?” His fingers slipped down to cup the back of her neck. “The first round might be lightning fast. But I promise you rounds two, three, four, and five won’t be.”

  Holy shit. He planned to fuck her five times?

  Yes, please.

  Then Liam took her mouth like a conquering hero, caging her body with his, gripping the nape of her neck to keep her head where he wanted it, gifting her with a head-swimming kiss that satisfied any qualms about how well the man used his lips and tongue.

  She was embarrassingly breathless—and wet—when he released her with a nuzzle below her ear.

  He stepped back and smiled. “Only one kiss, as requested.”

  “Thank you. Now park it on the other side of the breakfast bar.” She propped her hand on her hip and challenged, “Or do I have to banish you because you’re the type of guy who’ll freak out when I rummage in your fridge and make a huge mess on the counters and the stove?”

  A horrified look crossed his face.

  “I thought so.” She pointed at the living room. “Go. And no smoking the good stuff while I’m slaving away.”

  “Why are you bossing me around in my own kitchen?”

  “Because I’ll let you boss me around in your bedroom later.”

  He flashed a wicked grin. “Excellent trade-off.”

  Stirling whipped up veggie omelets with cream cheese and capers, and a pile of toast.

  Liam ate slowly, despite how hungry he must’ve been.

  “You have great manners. Not that I’m surprised,” she added.

  “Thank you. My gramma would’ve been happy to hear that her nagging all those years hadn’t been for naught.”

  Then he didn’t say anything else.

  She sighed. “You’re going to make me ask, aren’t you?”

  “Ask what?”

  “Why your grandma would be proud and not your mother.”

  Liam wiped his mouth with a napkin and then knocked back the last of his coffee. “Because my gramma raised me. My mother ditched me with her when I was five.”

  “Oh. Well, I can skip the question about whether you have any siblings and go straight to the others I have.”


  “Uh-uh. I blathered on about my life history; it’s only fair that I hear yours.”

  “No, you shared your work history and how it related to you getting into the cannabis industry. You didn’t talk at all of your childhood.”

  “Fine.” She snatched his last piece of toast. “I’ve heard some of your work history, so tell me how a brilliant man with a doctorate in microbiology opted to specialize in cannabis.”

  He wrinkled his brow. “You really want to do this now?”

  “Why not? Is there somewhere else you need to be?”

  No response.

  Great, he’d reverted to Dr. Aloof. Stirling picked up the dishes and headed to the sink. “That’s right. You have unicycling club tonight. Or is this the night you’re rounding up the posse to track Bigfoot? I can’t keep your hobbies straight.” She squirted soap into the stream of hot water and reached for the sponge.

  A tattooed hand shut off the water. Then warm, strong arms encircled her. He rested his chin on the top of her head. “I suck at this stuff, Stirling. Like epic-level suck. Some events in my past are embarrassing.”

  “Liam, everyone has embarrassing moments in their past they’d rather forget. That’s not what I asked you to share with me.”

  His breath fanned across the t
op of her head. “What if they’re one and the same?”

  “Meaning what?”

  “Meaning…getting busted for possession at age seventeen is also why I pushed myself to get through college, with an eye on earning a doctorate so I could focus my plant-science research solely on cannabis, so I could help people like my gramma.” His arms slipped free and she heard him walk away.

  Since Liam needed to cool down or nut up before they resumed the conversation, Stirling took her time washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen. Then she checked her phone for messages, looked at cute pictures of kittens on Instagram, and drank three cups of coffee.

  Forty minutes later and Liam still hadn’t shown his face.

  All right, he wasn’t ready to let her in—which seemed a more positive way of phrasing it than he’d shut her out—so she’d go home and chalk this up to a bad idea.

  After folding the flannel shirt and setting it on the counter, she grabbed her satchel. As she passed through the hall to the entryway, she didn’t bother to peek into the living room to see if Dr. Detached had conked out on the couch.

  It was just her luck that she lost her balance as she slipped on her cowgirl boot, falling sideways into the coat tree, knocking it over with a spectacular crash.

  So much for her stealth exit.

  Liam raced around the corner. “Stirling? Are you…”

  “Leaving? Yes. Get some rest, Dr. Argent. I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

  His eyes narrowed. “You’re pissed off at me.”

  “What makes you think that?”

  “You called me Dr. Argent.”

  “It is your name, as you’ve repeatedly reminded me over the past ten months. Anyway, I’m not pissed off because you don’t want to discuss your past with me. It’s your choice. I’m not the type to nag or beg. But relationships require a level of trust from both parties, otherwise it’s superficial. I’ve had enough of that, so I’ll pass if that’s all you’re prepared to offer me.” She bent down to retrieve her boot….and found herself airborne with Liam’s shoulder in her stomach as he carried her in a fireman’s hold into the living room.

  Stirling was so stunned by his caveman behavior she couldn’t speak.

  Liam laid her on the couch and stretched out on top of her, preventing her escape.

  The smart man had pinned her legs so she couldn’t knee him in the balls, either.

  So she glared at him. She’d said her piece; in fact, she’d probably said far too much.

  “Did you mean it?” he demanded.

  “Mean what? Mean to leave? Yes.”

  “No. Did you mean it that we’re in a relationship?”

  The vulnerability in his eyes just…slayed her. “The pranks, the bickering, the one-upmanship… We’ve been in a relationship since day one, Dr. Dumbass. An adversarial relationship, sort of fucked-up, to be honest. But in that time… Have I permeated your thoughts to the point you aren’t sure if you want to strangle me or if you want to fuck me? Do you have entire conversations in your head about what clever remarks you’ll toss off the next time you run into me? Or maybe you plan to cross my path just so we can have a snarky back and forth? Does your heart race when you see me? Do you imagine shutting my smart mouth with a steamy kiss? Do you fantasize about storming into my office, locking the door, bending me over my desk, fucking me in silence until we both explode, and then leaving without saying a word?”


  “Yes to what?”

  “Yes to all of it.”

  That’s when she noticed he wasn’t wearing his glasses. He looked less haughty. Less closed off. But still so sexy she couldn’t catch her breath.

  Or maybe you can’t breathe because the man is squishing you.

  But Stirling wasn’t about to complain.

  “You believe that us fighting, playing practical jokes, and acting like mortal enemies has been some kind of prolonged foreplay?”

  She snorted. “Dude. It’s still foreplay since we haven’t fucked.”

  “Yet.” Liam kissed her. Not with hunger but with sweet seduction. Soft, teasing nibbles, followed by the slick slide of his lips. Tasting her. Tormenting her. Finally, he slowed the sensual assault on her mouth.

  “Please tell me that kiss was the last bout of foreplay before you fuck me mindless.”

  He chuckled and planted a lingering smooch on her lips. “No. That was a thank you for voicing everything I couldn’t kiss.” Another smooch. “A you understand me and aren’t running away yelling freak at me kiss.” A longer press of his lips. “An I’m ready to talk honestly about my past kiss…” His eyes gleamed. “But let’s have a couple of hits first.”

  Stirling laughed. “Good plan. As long as there’s hair-pulling fucking afterward.”

  “You truly are the perfect woman, Stirling Gradsky.” He pushed back and stood.

  She scooted around into a sitting position.

  He looked over his shoulder at her after he pulled out his weed box. “Where’s my shirt?”

  “On the counter. Why? Did you think I stole it?”

  “No. I liked seeing you wear it. Never had anyone do that before.”

  That he’d admitted such a sweet sentiment… She felt oddly honored.

  Like before, Liam arranged the cannabis essentials in a precise row. Stirling noticed he’d pulled out a vaporizer pen—one that used concentrated oil instead of bud or wax.

  He caught her watching him. “Don’t know if I can deal with any more smoke today.”

  “Understood. What tasty concoction are you creating for us?”

  “Just a mix of oils I’ve found that don’t gum up in this thing.”

  “Cool. That’s probably why I don’t mess with oils. I had a pen like that for buds.”

  “We all have our likes and dislikes.” He placed the mouthpiece on.

  “What is your dislike?”



  “Using a blowtorch to vaporize concentrates is a complicated and dangerous process when there are so many other options. Plus, I get way high, way too fast.” He handed her the vape pen first.

  The taste remained citrusy smooth, even through her exhale. “I like that.”

  Liam indulged in a huge hit and passed the pen back. “I’ve found two tokes to be the perfect ratio.”

  “I’ll stick with one.”

  After he finished his second hit, he set the pen next to his eyeglasses on the table. Then he stretched out on the couch, tugging her down with him so the side of her face rested on his chest. “Are you comfortable?”

  She tried not to let it bother her that he’d chosen this position so he wouldn’t have to look her in the eye when he talked of his past. Turning her hips, she threw her leg over his. “Now I am.”

  “Good.” Liam began lightly dragging his fingertips up and down her arm. He brushed one soft, warm kiss up high on her forehead before he spoke. “I don’t remember my mother at all. She ditched me at her mom’s when I was five. My earliest memory was sitting at Gramma’s kitchen table, eating a deviled ham sandwich. It’s still my comfort food. Anyway, I attended public school until I was twelve. After taking a standardized test, my teacher, the school counselor, and the principal called Gramma and me in for a meeting.”

  “Let me guess. Your scores were off the chart.”

  He chuckled. “The highest they’d ever seen. Apparently the highest for my grade level in the entire state. They urged Gramma to enroll me in a private school for the academically gifted. Keep in mind that my sixty-five-year-old gramma worked as a daytime janitor. We barely scraped by. There was no way she could afford private school. But the school counselor was determined to find the tuition. And she did. Scholarships up the wazoo. We needed to ‘only’ come up with an extra two hundred dollars.”

  “For the entire year?”

  “No. Two hundred dollars per month. So Gramma switched to the nighttime janitorial crew since it paid more. I enrolled in private school that fall.
I hated the uniforms, hated the hierarchy, hated being the skinny poor kid. It didn’t help that I academically outpaced my fellow students so they had an excuse to make my life hell. Whenever Gramma asked about school, I lied and swore it was awesome. On an
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