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Tripped out, p.11
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       Tripped Out, p.11

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  academic level it was challenging. That part I loved. The social aspect? A nightmare. One thing I hadn’t known? Working the night shift paid more because there was more work to do. It wore my grandmother down. She already had arthritis and she developed chronic pain syndrome. Her insurance wouldn’t cover high-priced pain meds, so she sucked it up and suffered.” His fingers stopped moving on her arm. “That’s what I hated most of all. She’d given up so much to raise me. It killed me to see her curled into a ball in her bed because her body hurt so badly. I felt helpless and guilty and told her I’d go back to public school, but she refused to consider it.”

  “How old were you?”

  “At that time…fifteen.”

  “Did you have anyone to talk to?”

  “I’d made one friend—Dougie—we social outcasts stuck together. He’d landed in private school after being expelled from public school for smoking pot. So I confided in him. He suggested I get a nighttime job to help out financially. He also mentioned that marijuana had medicinal properties and gave me a joint. Of course, I balked. Gramma wouldn’t consider getting high, right? But one day the pain was so bad I bucked up and asked her if it would help.”

  Stirling felt him swallow.

  “After I convinced her I wasn’t doing drugs—I’d done research on cannabis to find a way to help her—she finally tried it. It eased her pain, but she didn’t like the smoking part. I tracked down a water vapor heavy bong, hoping it delivered on the promise of less smoke but equal medical benefits.”

  “What about edibles?”

  “Edibles…inconsistent information at that time. It was more of a joke. ‘Hey, you want my Aunt Ginny’s recipe for pot brownies?’”

  Stirling snickered. “And she’d probably have to eat an entire pan of them.”

  “Exactly. Since she didn’t have another option, she kept lighting up.”

  “Dougie was your dealer?”

  “No. At first he’d supplied me out of his own stash. When I learned how much Gramma needed and how much it cost, Dougie set me up with a dealer.”

  “Wait… Dougie. Why is that name familiar?”

  “Because he’s the cannabis specialist who helped me deal with the plants Friday night. I’ve never met anyone who knows more than he does.”

  “You’re still friends with him?”

  “We kept in touch over the years. He’s a brilliant guy, but the crazy kind of brilliant.”

  “Like attracts like. He’s a perfect friend for you,” she teased.

  Liam lightly tapped her ass.

  “What does he do for a living?”

  “He won’t admit to it, but I’d lay odds he’s a hacker.”

  “Wow. He’s not in the cannabis industry?”

  “He grows his own. When we were teens he turned his closet into a grow house.”

  “Enterprising.”

  “Selfish with his product, but not his knowledge. So when I discovered cannabis could be ingested in pill form, he helped me learn how to make them. We screwed up a bunch of times before we got the viscosity right.”

  “Were pills easier for your grandma?”

  “Much. I kept a notebook detailing…well, everything. Especially how her body responded. Sometimes she got a head high and fell asleep. Other times she’d get an energetic full-body boost. But it worked. There wasn’t a chance she could OD, like with oxy. Pharmaceutical companies manufacture drugs full of dangerous and deadly chemicals. But cannabis, which is natural and nonaddictive, is illegal. Makes no sense on any level.”

  “Preaching to the choir, Liam.”

  He sighed. “I know.” His hand had drifted to her arm. The rough tips of his fingers trailed from the ball of her shoulder to the inside of her wrist.

  “Your grandma didn’t have a problem sending her teenaged grandson out onto the streets of Denver to buy weed for her?”

  “She had a serious issue with it. So I lied. I told her I was buying from Dougie, but she couldn’t ever let on that she knew.”

  “Sneaky.”

  “Not sneaky enough.”

  She propped her chin on his chest and looked at him. “What happened?”

  “I started working for my dealer. Partially because he gave me a discount on my biweekly purchase. Partially because it paid more than bussing tables and it allowed me more free time to apply for college scholarships and grants.”

  “When you mean working for…?”

  “I delivered packages a couple times a week. I had no idea what was in them—I didn’t want to know. But given what he did for a living… It was obvious. Anyway, I’d been his ‘errand’ boy for about a year. That day’s delivery was to a fitness club. I had the locker number and the combination memorized. But evidently a skinny, nerdy-looking kid with glasses roused suspicion among the body builders, so the front desk manager detained me. The cops came, searched my backpack, and found the unmarked package.”

  “What did they find when they opened it?”

  “Baggies of pills. Hash. Mushrooms. I didn’t have to feign shock because I was shocked. They cuffed me and dragged me to juvenile. I couldn’t get ahold of my gramma so the cops brought in a woman from social services. That allowed them to start grilling me. Even when I hoped it never happened, getting caught had always been a possibility, so I had a cover story.”

  “Which was?”

  “A big body builder dude stopped me at the end of the block and said he wanted to play a joke on his buddy. Said he’d pay me twenty bucks to take a package into the locker room, write ‘John’ on the outside, and leave it in an empty locker. The cops didn’t believe me and kept asking the same questions over and over. My answers never wavered. So they decided to book me for possession, figuring I’d crack when faced with jail time.” He fidgeted beneath her. “I cried. In fucking juvie. I was terrified to spend even one night in there, wearing inmate orange.”

  “Did anything bad happen?”

  “No. The other kids ignored me. The next morning I had an appearance in juvenile court and Gramma was there so they released me. The cops testified, calling my explanation a ‘total fabrication’. The front desk manager admitted they had several members named John.”

  “Ah, the first seeds of doubt.”

  He yawned. “I had two ‘character’ witnesses. The school counselor who helped me get into private school and my physics teacher. They touted my academics, my flawless disciplinary record, and my helpful nature. Neither of them had trouble believing I’d do a favor for a stranger. With no prior history of arrests, the judge dismissed the charges.”

  “So nothing went on your permanent record.”

  “Nope.” He stretched and rested his forearm across his eyes. “That’s the benefit of a dealer using underage couriers.”

  “Did he know you’d gotten caught?”

  “Of course. He cut me loose. But for not ratting him out, he left me five hundred grams of weed under my pillow.”

  “Over a pound? Seriously?”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  “What did your grandma say about your stint in juvie?”

  “She asked if I was dealing for Dougie.” Another jaw-cracking yawn. “I didn’t have to lie to her about that.”

  Stirling nestled into his chest. “Thanks for telling me.”

  “You’re welcome. But it’s still embarrassing,” he mumbled.

  “During my teen years I didn’t hang around with kids who bragged about juvie like it was a private club. Bad boys… I never understood the attraction. Not that they were attracted to me, a girl with braces and acne, not to mention my hard line of what was right and what was wrong. No gray areas in my world. My friends were like me—focused on academics and what came after high school. My sister wasn’t. At the time she made me feel like a loser for not running wild like she did. Looking back, I was too afraid acting tough and reckless wouldn’t make a difference in how other kids my age saw me. And looking like you were trying too hard to be cool was worse than just accepting that you weren
t and didn’t fit in, know what I mean?”

  No answer.

  His breathing had evened out, meaning he’d fallen asleep.

  Stupid karma.

  “Fine. I deserve this. But is the ‘payback’s a bitch’ smirk necessary, Dr. Dozed Off?”

  No response.

  “I’m really glad I didn’t take that second hit.”

  She listened to his slow and steady heartbeat. It’d been a rough couple of days and he needed sleep more than sex. She disentangled from him and he didn’t move.

  After she covered him with that butt-ugly crocheted afghan, she perched on the edge of the couch and watched him sleep. “Are we ever gonna get this right?”

  Stirling grabbed her stuff—including his flannel shirt—and went home.

  Chapter Eight

  Chaos ruled at High Society on Monday morning.

  With one half of the stage-one grow house padlocked on the outside and hermetically sealed on the inside, employees were justifiably spooked.

  Liam had taken delivery of the extraction machine and was waiting for the contractors to arrive, when Kiki, the consultant who handled paperwork for the various revenue and enforcement agencies, showed up in terrorize mode. Not only hadn’t they called her when the MED agents were onsite, with Macon out of the country for an indeterminate amount of time, she’d have to deal with Stirling.

  He watched Kiki barrel into Stirling’s office—but she only got as far as Stirling’s assistant Shanna’s desk. So as Kiki paced and texted on her phone, Liam leaned in the doorway, figuring he should stick around in case Stirling needed moral support.

  Or maybe you want to see Stirling shift into ass-kicking mode because it’s highly entertaining… Especially when you’re not on the receiving end.

  Shanna crossed over to Stirling’s office and opened the door. “Miss Gradsky will see you now.”

  “About goddamned time.” Kiki stormed in and Shanna left the door open so Liam could follow her.

  Stirling flicked a quick look at him but her expression didn’t change. “Kiki. Won’t you have a seat?”

  “No.” She slammed her hands on the desk and loomed over Stirling. “I want to know what is going on here right now. First, there was an infestation that required the MED onsite for hours as the affected plants were destroyed and no one contacted me. Then I find out there’s an industrial extraction machine going in? And once again, no one told me about this development or asked about the dozens of hours that will be added to my workload.”

  Stirling tapped her pen on her desk blotter and studied Kiki coolly. “Is that all?”

  “Is that all?” Kiki exploded. “Don’t you think that is enough?”

  Stirling rolled her office chair back and stood. Then she mimicked Kiki’s pose, angling her body across the desk until they were face to face. “With all due respect, Kiki, I own this business. I don’t answer to you. I certainly don’t need your permission to purchase equipment for my business.”

  Liam did a mental fist pump.

  “Dr. Argent handled the situation with MED. He told me about the outbreak as soon as it was discovered and the measures he’d taken to contain it. I was here Sunday when the authorities were onsite. Besides Dr. Argent, I was the only person required to be here. What I didn’t want to have happen is exactly what happened when you came storming in here like an ill wind, throwing out accusations and rattling my employees.”

  Kiki’s back snapped straight. “I only—”

  Stirling held up her hand. “You acted as if you have more power here than you really do. While Macon and I appreciate the work you’ve done for our company in the past, if you believe the decision we made together last week will create more work than you’re willing to take on, I’d completely understand if you felt the need to turn in your resignation.”

  Damn. Miss Gradsky was sneaky good. It gave him a feeling of…not pride, but…

  Lust.

  Beautiful, brilliant, belligerent… The woman had massive balls.

  When a dude pisses me off I’m gonna tell him to woman up and grow a goddamn uterus. Balls are for pussies.

  Thankfully he’d perfected his poker face or he might’ve started laughing.

  “Wait. I didn’t say I wanted to quit.”

  Watching Kiki backtrack wasn’t nearly as interesting as seeing the class and grace that Stirling used to handle her.

  Oh. And hand Kiki her ass.

  The rest of the conversation lasted about four minutes.

  He stepped aside, allowing Kiki to exit. When he grabbed the handle to close the door, Shanna, the office assistant from hell, blocked the door open with her body.

  “Nice try, Dr. Argent. But I doubt Miss Gradsky wants to be stuck in here with you.”

  Want to bet?

  “And the cleaning service charges extra to remove blood from the walls and carpet,” she added.

  “It’s all right, Shanna. Liam and I have a few boring matters to discuss in private.”

  Boring? Ouch.

  Shanna had frozen in the threshold with her mouth hanging open.

  He said, “Hold her calls,” and shut the door in Shanna’s face.

  And locked it.

  When he turned around, Stirling was still standing. “Well, if it isn’t Rip Van Winkle.”

  “Nice to see you too, Sleeping Beauty.” He stopped behind the visitor’s chair in front of her desk. “I’m sorry for falling asleep last night.”

  She shrugged. “Now we’re even.”

  “Are we? Remember what transpired in my office the day after you crashed at my place?” He began to stalk her. And she played the prey so well; she started backing up.

  “You kissed me.”

  “So for it to be truly even between us, Miss Gradsky…?”

  “Then you’d better come here, Dr. Hottie, and pucker up.”

  Liam kept walking forward until he’d pinned her against the wall.

  Then Stirling’s mouth was on his in a carnal kiss. She jammed one hand in his hair and the other gripped his lapel. She poured every bit of hunger and sexual frustration into him. Grinding her hot body into his. Making sexy noises as she sucked on his tongue and pulled his hair.

  Good thing he’d locked his knees. And the door.

  When she finally released his mouth she said, “We really shouldn’t be doing this.”

  He laughed against her lips and said, “No we shouldn’t,” initiating another ravenous kiss.

  She dug her nails into his scalp trying to keep him in place as he slid his lips up her jawline. “Getting involved with a coworker is a bad idea,” she panted in his ear.

  “Very bad,” he said, sucking on the pulse point in her throat.

  “It never works out,” she murmured, arching back, offering him full access.

  “Never,” he repeated. With his hands squeezing her ass, he hoisted her higher against the wall. He brushed butterfly soft kisses over the shell of her ear. “Do you want me to stop?”

  She said, “Don’t you dare,” and returned his lips to hers by hooking her arm around his neck.

  The heat between them blazed.

  Stirling whimpered softly when he slowed the kiss down.

  Liam forced himself to take a break while his big head retained control of his body, before his brain surrendered that control to his dick. He exhaled a breath and rested his forehead on her shoulder.

  “Why the big sigh, big guy?”

  “I don’t want this to be just dirty talk between us.”

  “I thought we established that last night,” she said carefully.

  “And we established that on Friday, too.”

  “Oh. Right. Now I get what you’re saying.”

  “The missed sexy time opportunities have gnawed at me since I woke up alone this morning. Even when I know it’s ridiculous, because it’s only been three days since the massive shift in our attitudes toward each other. Yet it feels—”

 
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