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Tripped out, p.13
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       Tripped Out, p.13

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  In the silence she heard the heels clicking down the hallway stop outside the door.

  Shanna called, “Dr. Argent?” through the door.

  “Yes?”

  “Have you seen Stirling?”

  “She’s right here.”

  Stirling stepped around Liam. “Hey, Shan, what’s up?”

  Her confused gaze winged between them. “Some of the employees are freaked out about all that’s gone on, so you need to settle them down.”

  “Don’t we have weed that’ll take care of that better than I can?”

  Liam laughed behind her.

  “Oh, stuff it,” she said over her shoulder. “It’s not funny.”

  He kept laughing. “Yes, Stirling, it is.”

  “Whatever. Quit playing with your tool and double check when the contractors are supposed to arrive.”

  “As you wish.”

  Shannon’s jaw nearly dragged on the floor as she tried to keep up with Stirling hustling down the hallway.

  Before they entered the back room—technically the drying room, the trimming room, and the vault where the saleable “finished” weed was stored—Stirling faced her assistant. “Why is everyone freaked out?”

  “Because they’re afraid the business is going under.”

  Of all the… She counted to ten. “What gave them that impression?”

  “Oh, I don’t know. Grow stage one was padlocked by the MED, and Macon isn’t around after he had meetings with you and Dr. Argent two days in a row last week.”

  “That’s it? Macon is rarely around.” She’d be really happy if he became a silent partner.

  “No, that’s not it.” Shanna shuffled her feet. “You and Dr. Argent aren’t arguing and acting like Dwight and Jim on The Office. The employees are afraid you’re getting along because the business is folding.”

  Talk about stoner paranoia. “The business is fine. My brother insisted Liam—Dr. Argent—and I work together on getting the extraction equipment viable as soon as possible.”

  “That’s it?”

  “Yes.” Stirling slid her keycard through the reader and waited for the green light.

  Once the door opened that distinctive cannabis scent wafted out.

  The door to the drying room was at the end of a short hallway. She stepped inside and her gaze swept the ceiling. Cotton clotheslines were strung from one end of the room to the other. Each plant hung upside down with the RFID still attached.

  Hip, the post-harvest manager, aka the “cannabis sommelier,” bounded over. “Hey, boss lady. What’s up?”

  “Typical Monday shit.” Stirling’s gaze locked onto the vault. She still couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of product finished the drying process in garbage bags. Then she looked back at Hip. “Just giving you a heads’ up. We’re enacting some changes—all good ones, I promise. I’ll make a formal announcement and write up protocol, but all of these leaves and shit pieces that drop during drying? They’ll need to be picked up and screened for the extraction machine.”

  “You got it.”

  “The next harvest is in two weeks?”

  He nodded. “We’ll be ready. We’re sitting good on stock of the popular kinds. But tell Jumanji we’ve got an extra bag of OG Kush to run as a happy hour special this week.”

  “How much extra?”

  “Ten pounds.” Hip shook his head. “Man, Louie was a fuck-up. Or he planned to rip you off. That much bud shouldn’t have been where I found it. I’m glad he’s gone.”

  Employee turnover was higher than normal in this business. “You’re sure it’s marked recreational and not medicinal?”

  “Positive.”

  “Awesome. Split it in half. Mark one of the bags for me. We’ll need to run premium buds through the extractor after we’re familiar with the machine.”

  “Will do.”

  “Thanks, Hip.”

  The door between the drying room and trimming area required another keycard entry. Since trimmers weren’t employees, but independent contractors, they had limited access behind the scenes.

  Josie, a carrot-topped, freckle-faced waif with a photographic memory, managed the trimming and packaging room. She froze when Stirling entered. “Fuck. It’s true. We’re closing.”

  “No, we’re not closing. We’re making some changes but none of them are bad.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Who’s we?”

  “Me mostly. But Dr. Argent will be working outside of his lab. So cooperate with him, yeah?”

  “No problemo.”

  Stirling relayed the new instructions for gathering the trim that didn’t make the final cuts. “Any questions?”

  “You want the super trash too? Stems, etc.?”

  “Yeah. Why?”

  “That’s what I’m asking. Trash parts are trash for a reason. What do you think you’re gonna get out of it?”

  “We won’t know unless we experiment with the low end as well as the high end. Dr. Argent will determine a baseline and we’ll go from there.”

  “Oh. That makes sense. Thanks for explaining everything. I know you didn’t have to.” Josie adjusted her headband. “I have a buddy who works at another dispensary and he tells me horror stories about the owners. So I know how good I have it here, boss. Everyone who works at High Society feels the same way.”

  Stirling hugged her. “You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”

  As usual, when Stirling entered the rec store, she had a burst of pride. High Society lived up to the name—a sleek, upscale modern space, decorated in neutrals with unexpected pops of color. The shelves lined with glass jars of buds were set against a tomato red wall. Tucked in the cannabis consultation area was a deep-cushioned couch in electric blue. She’d balanced class with comfort. The collection of glass paraphernalia arranged by color gleamed like jewels. The display case for the fresh edibles remained glaringly empty, but when the case was stocked, she arranged the ganja goodies like a Parisian patissere. Several of their customers referred to High Society as the ultimate adult candy store.

  While there was no doubt what was sold in here, there wasn’t a single tie-dyed item for sale. No posters of celebrity cannabis smokers adorned the walls. And Bob Marley’s music was permanently off the playlist. If cannabis consumption was ever going to be accepted as a societal norm, then keeping alive the counterculture memorabilia and mindset from the 60s and 70s was counterproductive.

  So along those lines, Stirling insisted employees—in the store and the grow house—wear uniforms. She hated walking into a dispensary and being unable to discern which people were fellow customers and which ones were store employees. In most places it was hard to differentiate.

  She scanned the room, seeing Bob siting on a stool behind the counter. How many customers dismissed him as another employee? Granted, he wore the High Society employee shirt, but the massive man was mean looking. That’s why they’d hired him.

  Owning a cash-only business had huge drawbacks. Most dispensaries paid cash for everything, including employee wages. After Macon had taken over the dispensary from his client years ago, he’d set up a shell company tied to his law firm to run payroll through so at least their employees could take their paychecks to a bank. The temptation to rob a dispensary of product and cash, especially in the early days, caused owners to hire security guards. Bob was one of six guys in rotation at High Society. On days when she or Kiki had to transport large amounts of cash to pay vendors or tax revenue, they had two men with them at all times.

  Stirling waved to Bob and he dipped his chin at her. She noticed the store was at full capacity and they were down an employee on the sales floor. Snagging a black lab coat with the company logo on the pocket, she slipped behind the counter.

  Time to earn her cake.

  Chapter Ten

  “Tell me about que Sera, Sera.”

  Liam groaned. Stirling was a damn bulldog. Hadn’t he told her enough about his past? “Y
ou want to talk about that now?”

  Stirling gestured to where they sat on the floor of the newly remodeled extraction room as they waited for Phil, the company technician, to return from the hardware store. “It’s not like we’re doing anything else.”

  “Do you have that condom I gave you?”

  “On my person? No. And even if I did, we are not going to fuck on the dirty floor, during the workday when a dozen employees could walk in on us.”

  “It was merely a suggestion.” He whispered, “The floor isn’t that dirty.”

  She laughed. “You are ridiculous. But remind me again why you believed this would be a great lunch date?”

  Liam crossed his boot over hers. “You don’t think staring at a broken valve is fun? There goes my next date night idea where we watch grow lights burn out.”

  “Liam.”

  “Sorry I’m punchy. It’s just… It’s Thursday. We’ve only seen each other in staff meetings or in passing since Monday.” Great. He sounded whiny. Or clingy. Or both.

  “That’s because my brother is a sadistic fuckhead. Granting us the machine we’d begged for. Warning us that we’d be working closely together. Knowing full well that we’re not allowed to exist in the same space at High Society for more than five minutes before one of your people needs you or one of my people needs me. It’s a wonder we had time to prank each other at all the past ten months.”

  “It’s very telling that we both prioritized it. I didn’t realize how infrequently I actually see you on a daily basis until I wanted to see you.”

  Stirling rested her head on his shoulder. “That’s sweet. Now tell me about your relationship with Miz Duck Lips-Fake Tits.”

  No more avoiding this discussion.

  “You said you worked with her at GreenTech. Was she a fellow lab rat?”

  “No. She couldn’t cut the master’s program at Cal Poly. That should’ve been my tipoff since I earned my master’s in agriculture there in eighteen months.”

  “Of course you have a master’s in agriculture. I should’ve known a doctorate in microbiology wouldn’t be enough. Anyway, Sera worked in…?”

  “Client relations. I never understood what that meant except she traveled extensively and her cell phone was surgically attached to her hand.”

  “Did she recruit you?”

  “No. Her father, Sid Greenley, CEO and founder of GreenTech, approached me. At the time I still worked for the company that hired me after I finished my doctorate and I was ready for a career change.”

  “How long did you work there before you started slipping Sera the test tube?”

  “Jesus, Stirling.” He laughed. This woman was absolutely unlike anyone he’d ever met. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed so much. “I’d been languishing in the lab for a year and a half. Because like you”—he angled his position and kissed the crown of her head—“I killed myself to prove to the suits in charge I was worth the investment. GreenTech was heavily allied with big pharmaceuticals. Insert boring details about secondary research I came across regarding real cannabis and not the artificial compounds we manufactured. I co-opted the information and worked on it during my down time. Anyway, my nosy coworkers were more excited than jealous that I’d isolated a specific anandamide—the natural endocannabinoid that our bodies make—and one of them spilled the seeds to management. That’s when Sera took an interest in me.”

  “And the interest was mutual?”

  How much was he supposed to tell her about his former lover?

  Stirling briefly lifted her head and said, “No editorializing.”

  Everything, apparently. “Sera had fake tits and duck lips. How could I not be attracted to her?” he teased.

  “Funny. Go on.”

  “We started fucking. Now I see it for what it was. We were together when she wasn’t traveling. She was fascinated by my research—or so I believed, in my arrogance. I wanted to impress her. And I did because her father visited me in the lab and asked to see my research.”

  “Now I get why you were so resistant to sharing your notes.”

  Liam bypassed that comment. “Sid made that project my priority. So by the time I’d been employed there two and a half years, I’d successfully cloned plant S219 twenty times, achieving a strain that will manage pain for a variety of ailments.”

  Stirling got in his face. “I don’t need a biological breakdown of your work, Dr. Argent. I want to know how you felt about Sera. Did your heart race whenever you saw her? Was she affectionate to you outside of the bedroom? Did you smoke together? Did you buy her flowers and jewelry? Did she take you on business trips? Did you treat her to candlelit dinners? Did you indulge in long, romantic walks on the beach? Did your friends hang out with you as a couple? Did you make plans for a future with her?” Her eyes searched his. “Did you love her?”

  “I loved fucking her. But that stopped as soon she’d gotten what she wanted, which was the millions GreenTech got paid for S219. She dropped me so fast it was more comical than pathetic. One weekend I’m fucking her in her bed and she’s screaming how much she loves my cock. A week later she’s screaming at me to get out of her office and calling me a dick. So no, I didn’t love her. But it still stung my pride to know I’d been used and discarded.”

  Stirling had slumped back against the wall.

  He looked at her. “What?”

  “Never mind.”

  Liam turned Stirling’s face toward his. “You forced me to tell you this, so you’re not allowed to be pissy with me when you don’t like what you hear.”

  “That’s the thing. I didn’t hear anything except that you fucked her and she fucked you over.”

  He stroked that stubborn jawline. “In retrospect, that’s all it was. We never were together in public. She traveled extensively, so I understood that she preferred to spend her weekend at home. I might’ve bought her Starbucks once. But anything else? Not even dinner. And que Sera, Sera literally recoiled when I brought out my stash and she snottily announced that she didn’t smoke ‘dope.’”

  “I kind of hate her.”

  “Me too. Maybe she and Nick the Prick will cross paths someday. They deserve each other.” He swept his thumb across her lower lip. “We deserved better. I think we’ve found it.” He slanted his mouth over hers. At the first touch of his tongue to hers, euphoria similar to a cannabis high rushed through his body. The more times they were together the more right it felt. The more he wanted this feeling.

  Liam tried to keep the kiss sweet and reassuring, not let the fact he hadn’t kissed her since Monday drive it into I-want-to-fuck-you mode. But the uncertainty of when they’d be alone together again increased their mutual hunger. Need wouldn’t be denied. Once the kiss caught fire, no fucking way was he putting it out.

  No. Fucking. Way.

  Stirling made the sexiest noises when his tongue was buried in her mouth. What noises would she make when his tongue was deep in her pussy, licking her from the inside out?

  His cock was on board with that plan.

  Even when they paused to take a breath, their lips weren’t far apart. And he really loved how quickly she’d adapted to kissing a guy with glasses.

  “Liam.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “Will you come with me to the family thing on Saturday night at the ranch?”

  Being around all those men who literally wrestled stock for a living… He wondered what kind of reception he’d get. He’d met Stirling’s parents before, but not in this state. Where every day he fell deeper in like with their daughter. That thought forced him to cowboy up. “One question. Do I have to wear chaps? Because mine are at the cleaners.”

  She laughed into his neck.

  He really loved that.

  “No chaps, boots, hats, or spurs. But I do request you wear those jeans you had on the night you cooked for me.”

  Puzzled, he eased back to look at her. “Why?”

  “Your ass looks fantastic in them, Dr. Booty.”
r />   “Can I tell you a secret?” He whispered, “My ass looks even better out of them.”

  Stirling gave him a smacking kiss on the mouth. “Soon.” Then she stood and brushed off her pants. “I have a million things to do. You do too. But we can communicate through texts and Snap—”

  “The next syllable had better be ing…not chat,” he warned.

  “What do you have against Snapchat?”

  “Nothing. As long as I don’t have to use it.”

 
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