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Tripped out, p.14
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       Tripped Out, p.14

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  She rolled her eyes. “How old are you?”

  “Old enough to say no to pointless endeavors.”

  “Fine. I’ll text you.”

  * * * *

  By “text” Stirling had meant carrying on entire conversations. Bizarre discussions, which should’ve been no surprise to him.

  Thursday night’s texts began with them sending each other funny memes.

  Then they shared links to strange scientific discoveries.

  That led to snippets of their favorite songs, to discussion of overrated movies, to images of places they’d been and places they’d hoped to go, to food and sports.

  The last image she’d sent was a selfie of her in bed, making duck lips.

  ME: This is not a come-on, but what are you wearing?

  SG: Pajamas, perv.

  ME: Seriously, what are those things on your bottoms?

  SG: Excuse me?

  ME: Your pajama bottoms have cartoons on them?

  SG: Not cartoons, animated characters.

  ME: Aka—cartoons.

  SG: No, the animated character on these is Mulan from the movie Mulan and her pet dragon.

  ME: Why do you have them?

  SG: Because they’re comfy.

  ME: Stirling. Seriously. That is not a legitimate answer.

  SG: Why, Dr. Freud… Are you attempting to psychoanalyze my pajama selection? Like it was a happy time in my childhood and I’m trying to find a connection to that happy child as an adult?

  ME: You give me far too much credit. I never think that deep on a personal level. Sorry. Where did you get them?

  SG: Why? Do you want a pair?

  ME: Hilarious. So an old boyfriend gave them to you?

  SG: NO! There is no special significance. I got them on sale at the mall, okay? In fact, I have three other pairs of pajama pants with animated characters on them. Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, and Winnie the Pooh and Woody from Toy Story. Satisfied?

  ME: Yes, but those are some crazy pants.

  SG: LOL.

  ME: That would be a great nickname for you. Crazy pants. It fits on so many levels.

  SG: DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME CRAZY PANTS.

  ME: I won’t. At least not to your face…

  SG: LIAM

  ME: Kidding. I can’t wait to peel those crazy pants off you, hot stuff. Is that better?

  SG: Much. Kissy faces to you.

  ME: Get some sleep.

  Liam had toiled a full day on Friday, wondering if he ought to back out of attending Stirling’s sister’s party since he’d fallen behind. But Stirling would be upset if he bailed on her, so he’d suck it up and go because she acted like she needed him.

  His cell phone buzzed with a text message. He pulled it out of his lab coat pocket and removed his silicone glove.

  SG: Let’s pretend we just met through an online dating service.

  ME: Why?

  SG: Because I have questions, dumbass. And I didn’t think you’d want to spend our rare face-to-face time together filling out an “Are you compatible?” questionnaire.

  ME: I’m with Artie in stage-two grow. There might be a lag time between answers.

  SG: LIAR. You’re in your lab. I should know because I’m closing the store with Jumanji.

  ME: Wrong. I was in the lab. I’ve been out back for two hours.

  SG: Whatev. This is how it’ll work. I’ll type in the question. Then we’ll both have thirty seconds to answer.

  ME: Got it.

  SG: Q1 – Growing up did you have a pet? If yes, what?

  ME: No

  SG: That wasn’t 30 seconds Dr. Cheater!

  ME: Fastest answer always wins.

  SG: Not in this case. Competitive much?

  Liam chuckled. “You have no idea.”

  Artie stopped checking the flow numbers on the drip system. “Sorry?”

  “Nothing. I was just…” Like a dumbass he pointed to his phone.

  “Sexting with Stirling?” Artie supplied with a grin.

  Don’t fucking blush. “What makes you think that?”

  “You’re walking around smiling despite the fact we’re working sixteen-hour days and stage-one grow ended up a total loss.”

  “And?”

  “And no pranks this week from either of you.”

  “Maybe because we’ve both been busy working sixteen-hour days?”

  “Or maybe because you’ve been too busy kissing boss lady in the break room,” Artie said and puckered his lips, smacking out kissing noises.

  Never mind the fact Liam blushed as red as the Scarlet Fever buds, what the fuck was wrong with Artie? A grown man—a grandfather, for Chrissake—making kissing noises?

  “Don’t deny it. Lexa saw you two earlier today. She’s a gossip hound.”

  “Everyone knows?”

  He shrugged. “Everyone who worked today. For what it’s worth… I think it’s great you two are bouncing the bedsprings. Love is what makes life worth living, man.”

  “Yesterday you said weed makes life worth living,” Liam pointed out.

  Artie just grinned. “Keep sexting with your lady. I got this.”

  Jesus.

  ME: The jig is up

  SG: …the news is out…

  Liam laughed again. For fuck’s sake. He’d fallen right into that one.

  ME: …they finally found us. Yes, I’m talking about our employees discovering that—

  SG: You and I aren’t currently fucking? Not news, L. In fact, it’s OLD news.

  ME: I’m serious. Lexa saw us in the break room today. See if she put a note up on the employee bulletin board because according to Artie, everybody knows.

  He watched that “…” for what seemed like forever.

  SG: Motherfuck! Jumanji knows about us. He just asked if I wanted to take home a bottle of Foria sensual cannabis oil. Fair warning: I will smoke cannabis and ingest it, but I WILL NOT RUB IT ON MY VAGINA. My vagina doesn’t need to relax. My vagina needs to be on edge, tight with anticipation, quivering…

  Liam groaned and clicked off his screen. A man could only stand so much.

  Artie said, “That good, huh?”

  Do not explain to Artie that Stirling is not sending you pictures of her quivering vagina.

  “Look, Artie—”

  Liam’s phone buzzed in his hand.

  “Better get that,” Artie said with a wink.

  SG: Are you ignoring me?

  ME: Yes. No more conversations about quivering body parts. I mean it.

  SG: Great! We can finish our compatibility quiz.

  ME: Why? What’s the point?

  When the “…” stayed on his screen for far longer than a normal message took to type, he braced himself.

  SG: What’s the POINT? The point is we need to get to know each other. Because we are not IN A REAL RELATIONSHIP until you know a few things about me and I know more about you. Personal things. Stupid things. Funny things. Sexy things. NORMAL things that a man and a woman who have worked together for TEN MONTHS should know about each other, and we don’t.

  ME: Is this about us going to see your family tomorrow?

  Shit. More of the “…” and somehow he knew he’d screwed up.

  SG: Liam…honey…baby…sweetie… Do you want to have sex with me?

  He was so fucked. He’d better make this answer world class. He’d even use a fucking emoji if he had to.

  ME: More than I want to take my next breath.

  Please answer fast he said to the “…” on the screen.

  SG: THEN YOU WILL TAKE THIS MOTHERFUCKING QUIZ TO THE BITTER FUCKING END AND YOU WILL TELL ME SHIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOU WILL ACT GODDAMNED HAPPY TO LEARN SHIT ABOUT ME. YOU DO NOT GET TO BITCH ABOUT IT ONE SINGLE BIT BECAUSE I DID THE FIVE THINGS FOR YOU TEST. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? OR ARE YOU PERPETUALLY GOING TO BE DR. NEVER-GONNA-GET-LAID?

  “Fine, crazy pants. You didn’t have to yell,” he muttered.

  “Bet you don’t call her that to her face,” Artie said.

/>   “You’re right, because I like my balls where they are.”

  ME: Where were we in the quiz? I answered that I didn’t have a pet. What was your answer?

  SG: I grew up on a ranch so I had dogs, cats, horses. Once I even had a pet pig.

  ME: Please tell me you named it MACON BACON

  SG: LOL

  As reluctant as Liam was to admit it, at the end of the two-hour quiz, Stirling had been right. They’d needed to learn the basic dating stuff about each other—not when they were high or working together.

  ME: See you tomorrow afternoon. Feel free to bring your crazy pants to sleep in.

  SG: Maybe I won’t sleep in anything at all.

  ME: Even better. Then neither of us will get any sleep.

  Chapter Eleven

  “What’s the story we’re telling your family?” Liam asked her.

  Stirling floored it to get onto the freeway, holding her response until she’d merged into the traffic leaving Denver. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

  “That’s not like you.”

  “We’ve been a wee bit busy this week at High Society. Besides, I knew we’d have time to kill on the way to the GFR&R.”

  “Is that Western lingo I should be familiar with?”

  “Shorthand for Gradsky Family Ranch and Rodeo.” Reaching over, she squeezed his thigh. “Relax. I have enough nervous energy for both of us.”

  Liam threaded his fingers through hers.

  His quiet support humbled her, reinforcing her gratitude that he’d agreed to accompany her this weekend.

  “What’s the most troubling aspect of this family party for you?”

  “Other than the fact that neither my mom nor dad clued me in about this party? But Macon knew? London is my only sister. I should’ve been involved in some aspect of planning a party for her.”

  “You get along with your parents?”

  “I thought I did.”

  He aimed his gaze out the window and didn’t answer.

  “Hey.” Stirling snapped her fingers. “Eyes back over here. You don’t get to pretend you’re suddenly interested in the scenery.”

  “I’m attempting to get a grasp on the Gradsky family dynamic before I’m thrust into it.”

  “You make it sound like there’ll be bare-knuckle brawling. I assure you that won’t happen.”

  A feigned expression of alarm crossed his face. “I agreed to come on the condition of witnessing family fisticuffs. If that’s not a
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