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       Corralled, p.11

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  I sure can’t.” Abe drained his coffee and grimaced. “Sorry for rambling, Lainie, when it appears you’re ready to fall asleep on your feet.”

  “It’s okay. If there’s anything I can do while you guys are checking cattle or whatever, I’d be—”

  Hank smothered her babbling with a decisive kiss. When he eased back, she blinked up at him. “What was that for?”

  “For thinking you’re gonna be a maid, housecleaner, and cook.

  What part of ‘guest’ is confusing to you?”

  “The offer to help out is deeply ingrained in me. A little kiss ain’t gonna stop it, sorry to say.” She yawned. “As much as I’d love to chew the fat, if you don’t need me I will hit the hay.”

  “I’ll be waiting in the machine shed whenever you two get done.” Luckily Lainie missed Abe’s lewd wink.

  Lainie didn’t gawk at the surroundings of his home. He steered her half- stumbling form down the hallway. Damn woman. He’d bet she hadn’t slept a wink waiting for them to pick her up. He opened the door to his room, praying he hadn’t left it a pigsty.

  She sighed dreamily. “That’s the biggest bed I’ve ever seen. Is it real? Or am I asleep, dreaming about an enormous marshmallow?”

  “It’s real.” Hank managed to catch her before she face- planted on the carpet. “Whoa, there. Lemme help you.” He guided her to the edge of the mattress. “Let’s get your boots off.”

  “I can do it.” She frowned. “Probably.” Another frown. “Maybe.”

  While she debated, Hank lifted her foot and yanked off her right boot. Then her left. She fell back onto his puffy goose- down comforter with another blissful sigh. “Night, sexy bullfighter.”

  He laughed. “You need my help getting undressed?”

  “Why can’t I just sleep like this?”

  “Because I’ve fantasized about getting you nekkid between my sheets since the first time we met and I ain’t about to let the opportunity pass me by.” He stroked her hair. “It’s not like I haven’t seen you in the buff.”

  “True. But I’m too tired to move.”

  “I know, baby. Lift your arms.” Hank removed her shirt. Sweet Jesus. She wore the sheerest black bra he’d ever seen outside a lingerie catalog. The way the mounded flesh popped over the fabric hardened his cock. The tease of her peaked nipple poked into the material and begged for his hungry mouth. Somehow he tore his gaze away and tugged off her jeans.

  Fuck. It figured she wore matching sheer black panties that hugged her sweet, feminine cleft. He peeled back the covers and gave her a gentle nudge until she scooted in.

  When her skin slid over the cool cotton sheets, she moaned.


  He half hoped Abe heard that.

  No, hopefully Kyle heard that.

  Hank smoothed the springy curls from her face, reluctant to leave her. She looked so small and vulnerable . . . and perfectly at home in his big bed.

  “You’re staring at me, Hank.”

  “Does that bother you?”

  “Depends on if you’re planning on doing more than looking.”

  “Not right now. I ain’t gonna take advantage of when you can’t be a full participant in what I’ve got planned.”

  “But tonight, when it’s just us, will you take advantage of me?”

  He squinted at her, unable to tell if her words were exhausted babble. “Is that what you want?”

  No answer.


  “I want you to do all the things you’ve fantasized about doing to me when I’m in your bed.”

  Had to be the tiredness talking. “No reason to hash this out now. We’ll talk later.”

  “No.” Her eyes flew open. “Maybe it is lack of sleep giving me the courage to bring it up.”

  “Bring what up?”

  “You’ve held back with me, Hank. From the start six months ago, when we first starting sneaking around.”

  Hank wasn’t sure if his tongue or his guts were tied in a bigger knot.

  “Show me that side of yourself you’ve hidden from me.”

  He swallowed hard. “And if it scares you?”

  “It won’t. I’m tougher than you give me credit for. If I’m all in for everything a threesome entails, then you should be all in with me.”

  “Hmm.” Hank let the back of his knuckles float up and down her jawline. “I’m not sure you’re completely coherent.”

  “Try me.”

  “If I spend the rest of the day getting primed to show you my kinky side, and I crawl into bed with a bottle of lube and a rope, will you freak out?”

  “That won’t happen—”

  “Good. Because, darlin’, you asked for it.” He smooched her forehead. “Sleep. If you think you’re exhausted now, it ain’t nothin’

  compared to how you’ll be when I get through with you tonight.”

  “Bring it, cowboy.” Lainie rolled over, leaving him staring at her back.

  Hank filled an insulated mug with coffee before he wandered outside. The hazy sky weakened the light, a signal that they were in for a barn burner of a day. He tracked Abe to the new steel shed, which housed piles of odds and ends and busted machine parts beyond repair.

  Abe had torn a motor out of an antique exhaust fan and was cursing at it under his breath.

  “You oughta take that to Bob to fix. Quit pissing with it, Abe.

  Jesus, it’s been, like, four months.”

  “I’m not trying to get it to work, dumb ass. I’m trying to figure out if those guys building the wind turbines are using this old technology. If I can reverse- engineer it, I’m planning to build a turbine down by the west end of the creek. Take advantage of the fact that the wind blows so goddamn hard here and harness it into energy.”

  That was ambitious. Although Abe hadn’t gone to college, he was the smartest man Hank knew. “Why’s this the first I’ve heard of it?”

  Abe shrugged. “Been doin’ more thinking about it than talking.” He stared pointedly at Hank’s leg. “You were limping after you got out of the truck. You okay to work?”

  Hank waggled his mug. “A little caffeine therapy and I’ll be fine. What’re we doin’?”

  “What do you think?”

  He groaned. “Fixin’ fence. Damn. I hoped you’d finished that up while I was gone.”

  Abe gave him a droll stare. “You ain’t been gone that long.”

  The sound of tires crunching on gravel echoed through the open door.

  “Guess who decided to grace us with her presence?” Abe said with an edge.

  “I’ll talk to her.” Hank hustled out and caught Celia just as she’d started up the steps.

  Why the hell did she look like she’d been rolling in the dirt?

  The back of her jeans were dusty, from the frayed white strings dragging on the ground by her boot heels to the dark smudges covering her back pockets.

  “I assume you ain’t goin’ to church dressed like you’ve been mud wrestling?”

  Celia spun around, as much guilt on her face as mud splatters.

  “Oh. Hey, Hank. I thought you probably got in late and you’d already be sleeping.”

  “Obviously.” Celia’s resemblance to their mother increased damn near every day and spooked him a little. He let his eyes sweep over her, from scuffed boots to mussed hair. Yep, the front side of her clothing was as filthy as the backside. “Where you been?”

  “Did Abe send you out here to grill me?” she demanded.

  “No. I can see you’ve been up to no good with my own eyes.”

  “See? You’re just like him! You automatically assume I’ve been doin’ something bad.”

  “If it wasn’t bad, then why don’t you answer my question?” He sipped his coffee, waiting for the wildcat to hiss and scratch.

  “Because I don’t answer to you. Or to Abe. I’m not a child, Hank, and I—”

  “Spare me the rant and the reminder of your age. You’re right, Cele, you don’t have to answer to me. But wh
at you do have to do, as long as you’re living here, is pull your weight. Which it don’t sound like you’ve been doin’. I count on you. So does Abe. And when we can’t even talk to you about it without you flying off the handle? Something’s goin’ on. Tell me.”

  She glared, then focused on kicking the crap out of a clump of red dirt that had fallen off her boot.

  “I don’t give a good goddamn if you were out all night partyin’ in some damn mud hole. Suck it up and check the cattle.

  Right now.” Hank held up his hand at her automatic rebuttal.

  “Before you ask, me ’n’ Abe will be fixin’ fence before it gets too hot, so by all means, complain and I’ll send you with him instead.”

  “You suck.”

  “Yep. Also, be warned— Kyle is sleeping in the guest bedroom downstairs, so you’ll be sharing a bathroom with him.”

  “What? Why can’t he stay in the guest bedroom upstairs? He’s your friend, Hank, not mine.”

  “Because I already have someone staying with me.”

  Celia’s bloodshot eyes narrowed. “Who?”

  “My girlfriend, Lainie.”

  “Yeah, right. Since when do you have a girlfriend?”

  “You answer my question about where you were last night and I’ll answer yours.”

  Another mulish look.

  Hank grinned at her. She was so damn easy to tease. “I’ll introduce you to her later. Now git before I change my mind and find something worse for you to do than mope as you ride around in the truck.”

  “You really do suck.” She flounced past him and roared off.

  “Nicely done,” Abe said behind him.

  “Thanks. Think she’s got a boyfriend she’s hiding from us?”

  “Maybe. She’s at that age.”

  “She’s past the age, bro. Most of her friends are already married. Hell, she’s only two years younger than you were when you got hitched.”

  “Don’t remind me,” Abe said.

  “Fine. Where we workin’?”

  “Section over by the bluffs. It’s a two- man job, so I’ve been saving it special for when you got back.”

  “You suck,” Hank shot back, and Abe laughed.

  When they returned hours later, Lainie was sitting in a patch of sunshine on the front porch. Alone. Had she and Kyle already fucked like bunnies while he’d been out sweating like a pig? Jealousy surged through him.

  You’ve no right to it. Lainie has all the control in this situation, so buck up and deal with it or you’ll just piss her off.

  Besides, she was his tonight. All night. Any way he wanted her.

  By the time Hank reached the steps his smile for her was genuine.

  “All rested up?”

  “Mmm- hmm. I’ve been out admiring the scenery and the solitude. Gorgeous place you guys have.”

  “Thanks. We like it.”

  Her gaze lingered on his upper thigh. “How’s the leg?”

  Sore as hell. “Fine. Is Kyle up?”

  “I haven’t seen him.”

  Good. “You hungry?”


  “I’ll hop in the shower and then rustle up something to eat.”

  “If you point me toward the kitchen, I can fix lunch.”

  Abe ambled up. “Tell you what. Hank tells me you’re a med tech.”

  Lainie nodded.

  “How’s about you check his leg, because he’s been favoring it all damn morning, and I’ll figure out what to feed us.”

  Abe. What a fucking traitor.

  “I knew you were lying.” She drilled him in the chest with her index finger. “Get your butt in the shower. And after that I’m looking at that leg.”


  “Move it or I will drop your pants right here in front of God and everybody.”


  Lainie made a threatening noise and pointed to the house.

  “I’m goin’, I’m goin’.”

  He cuffed Abe in the back of the head as he walked past him.

  A shower helped loosen some of the kinks, but his thigh boasted a bruise the size of a hoof. He wrapped a towel around his waist and crossed the hallway to his bedroom.

  Lainie was perched on the end of the bed waiting for him. “Oh, good. No clothes will make it much easier for me to examine you.

  Towel off. Now.”

  Cursing, Hank stood in front of her and released the towel.

  For some stupid reason heat rose up his neck.

  He heard her sharply inhaled breath. “Damn, Hank, talk about a serious contusion.” Her fingers trailed over the swelling. “The whole muscle is sore?”

  “Yeah.” One muscle in particular wasn’t sore at all, but it was leaping for her attention.

  “You should ice it down. Sit on the bed and I’ll be right back with an ice pack.”

  Hank started to argue, but she’d already sailed out the door.

  Lainie cut through the living room to the arched doorway she assumed led to the kitchen.

  Abe stood at a center island, chopping lettuce. The knife stopped midchop. “Something I can get you?”

  “A plastic bag and a towel. Hank needs to ice down his injury if he expects to work tomorrow.”

  “No problem.” He rooted in a drawer, passing her a gallon-sized Ziploc and a frayed hand towel. “Ice is over there.”

  She scooped several handfuls into a makeshift ice pack. When she looked up, Abe was staring at her. His eyes were a steely gray, not a deep blue, but had the same intensity as Hank’s.

  She stared back at him with equal curiosity. Definitely a family resemblance, which would be more pronounced if Abe shaved off his goatee. The brothers were roughly the same height, but Abe appeared rangy and compact, whereas Hank was bulkier and broader. Both men were total cowboy hunks in every sense of the word. She’d rubbed elbows with the best of the best in her line of work, so that was really saying something.

  “Anything else?” Abe prompted.

  “Umm. No. I’m just gonna get this to him.” Yikes. Abe and Hank both had that don’t- waste- my- time attitude down pat.

  Lainie hesitated outside Hank’s door. Icing his injury wasn’t the only way she intended to soothe him. When he’d shuffled into his room in pain, his cock fully erect— both proud and begging— something inside her fragmented. The woman, not the med tech, had the urge to pacify her man.

  Time to take the bull by the horn.

  Lainie opened the door and locked it behind her.

  Hank scowled at the ice bag in her hand. “You’re overreacting.”

  “Quit being such a pain and let me do this for you.” She moved between his legs and gently kneed them apart. “Close your eyes.

  Then you won’t tense the muscle until after I put the ice on it.”

  He grunted.

  As soon as Lainie was sure his eyes were closed, she placed the ice
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