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One night rodeo, p.18
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       One Night Rodeo, p.18

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  shoes. She owned one pair of wedge sandals, five pairs of boots, one pair of athletic shoes, and one pair of flip-flops. She’d never been a shoe-crazed girl, which completely flabbergasted both Harper and Tierney.

  “All right. Time for the fashion show. I want you to try on everything, and I mean everything.” Harper smiled brazenly as she threw back the dressing room curtain. “And you’re gonna start with my selections first.”

  Celia groaned halfheartedly.

  She nixed the orange and oranger floral shirt. Ditto for the seafoam green number with crisscross straps she couldn’t even figure out how to fasten. She didn’t mind the green and purple paisley western shirt Harper had paired with a royal purple tank top. And she loved the soft gray sweater that was tighter than she normally wore, with sequins around the scooped neck. And although the navy blue and cream lace tunic looked hippie-ish on the hanger, it looked more prairie-style on her. Chic country.

  Chic and Celia Lawson. In the same sentence. Right.

  Harper removed the discard pile and brought in Celia’s selections. But Harper gave her choices a thumbs-down. Every single shirt Celia had chosen.

  When she slipped on the last one, a pale pink thermal with embroidered roses on the three-quarter-length sleeves, Harper shook her head. “I thought you weren’t buying clothes to wear in the barn?”

  “I give up.” Celia slumped into a chair. “Kyle is right. It’s hard to tell I’m a woman most of the time.”

  Harper’s eyes pierced her. “Your husband said that to you?”

  Celia nodded glumly.

  “That jerk. I will be right back.”

  She heard Harper muttering and the click of hangers.

  Then Harper stood in front of her with a smug smile. “These outfits are over the top. But, darlin’, that’s what you need to make that foolish man…beg.”

  Celia smiled. “I’ve missed you.” She ducked into the dressing room and slipped on the first outfit. And holy shit, she was afraid to come out.

  “Don’t make me come in after you,” Harper warned.

  She took a deep breath and threw back the curtain. “Ta-da.”


  “That bad, huh?” Celia said with a sigh. “I didn’t think I could pull this off. It shows way more of my pasty white skin than I’m used to—”

  The front door chimed and a voice yelled, “Harper, I just have a quick question—” Tierney stopped. Her eyes were big as saucers behind her glasses as she scrutinized Celia. “I’m glad I didn’t try that on. Obviously it was made for her. You are a cowgirl goddess in that smokin’-hot getup.”

  Celia’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”

  “She’s completely serious. Take a gander at your sexy self in the big mirror.”

  They were being polite. That’s all.

  She stepped in front of the three-way mirror. The boot-cut jeans were a faded shade of blue. Tight too. Tan fringe circled the bottom hem by her feet. The outside seam of each leg showed an inch of skin beneath the leather ties, which held the jeans fabric together. The front sat so low you could practically see her hipbones. She turned. The back pockets had sheer lace flaps that exposed more skin. But the jeans did look good. Made her legs look a mile long and her hips look curvier.

  The top to the outfit was more outrageous than the bottoms. A vest, the same shade and material as the fringe on the jeans, pushed her boobs together, creating cleavage. The wide collar was crafted of denim. Although the vest reached the waistband of the jeans, it did ride up, revealing a two-inch strip of her belly.

  Celia looked nothing like herself. Her gaze met Harper’s in the mirror. “It’s a fun outfit. But I wasn’t looking for something to wear in the bedroom.”

  “This is not bedroom attire. You look too damn good to limit yourself to the hungry eyes of your husband. You need to wear this out. Let every man in the joint wish he was peeling those skintight jeans down your amazing legs. That’ll show him.”

  Tierney glanced at Harper, then Celia. “What am I missing?”

  “Kyle insulted his new bride by questioning her femininity and she’s gonna show him she’s all woman.”

  “What can I do to help?”

  “Put on that other outfit,” Harper said to Celia, “while Tierney and I plot Kyle’s comeuppance.”

  Celia was torn. While she wanted to soothe her feminine pride, she didn’t want to humiliate Kyle to do it.

  Tierney sauntered over and patted her on the arm. “Don’t worry. We’re not planning anything mean. But every once in a while our men need a reminder of how lucky they are.”

  She said, “Okay,” but she wasn’t entirely convinced it’d work with Kyle. The next outfit was a dress. She yanked it over her head, tugging the clingy fabric down her legs. But there wasn’t much fabric to tug. “Harper, you brought me the wrong size.”

  “Come out and let me see it.”

  Celia kicked off her socks and headed toward the mirror. “See? The hem is nowhere near my knee.”

  Tierney rolled her eyes. “I swear the Mud Lilies show more skin than you, Celia.”

  “I’m modest! It’s the way I was raised.”

  “Sugar, you ain’t ten no more. But you are straight up a ten in that dress,” Harper said. “Take a look.”

  She wondered when she’d stepped into an alternate reality. The sleeveless rust-colored dress didn’t boast a deep neckline, but the fabric was shirred through the bust area. At the waist, the shirring vanished and the cut became tight to where the dress ended five inches above her knee. Not only did the color bring out the burnished gold strands in her hair, but it gave her normally pale skin a glow. “Well, hell. I don’t look like a little girl playing dress-up in Mommy’s clothes, do I?”

  “Cele, honey,” Harper started, “you’ve seen yourself as that girl for far too long. But look at yourself. That’s not a little girl. That beautiful woman staring back at you in the mirror? That is you.”

  Although buoyed by their compliments, Celia remained unsure. “The outfits are great. But honestly, where would I wear them? I don’t have a job outside of the ranch. Even if I was still on the road, competing in barrel racing, I don’t know that I’d wear them. Which is sort of pathetic when you think about it. And this is a reminder of why I don’t go shopping. It makes me feel even more inadequate.”

  “But, sweetie, don’t you think you and Kyle will go out on the town? If only out for dinner?”

  “We haven’t talked about it. We’ve been so busy working.”

  “Here’s my take,” Tierney said. “When Kyle says, Hey, baby, let’s go out for supper tonight, you can slip on one of these outfits and blow his mind.”

  Maybe he hadn’t taken her out because he didn’t want anyone to know he’d married her. That depressed her even more.

  “Or…” Harper stared at her with that devious look Celia had always loved. “Tomorrow night is poker night at our place. Did Kyle mention it?”

  “He said he was going. Why?”

  “Usually Tierney and I head to Rawlins on poker night and see a movie or eat someplace the guys don’t like. But tomorrow night, let’s have a girls’ night out.”

  “I don’t wanna butt in on your plans.”

  “Butt in? Wrong. Buck up, little camper,” Tierney said. “That was not a request. You’re going out with us tomorrow night, getting wild and having fun, even if we have to drag your ass behind Harper’s Jeep.”

  “Show up here at the Split Rock at six o’clock. Have Kyle drop you off on his way to our house and we’ll get you all glammed up,” Harper said. “But first, I have one more outfit for you to try on. I think it’ll be perfect for tomorrow night.”

  Celia left all her purchases at Wild West Clothiers. She couldn’t tell Harper the purchases had drained her bank account. Drained it to the point that she’d have to ask her husband for money.

  Which set her teeth on edge. She hated asking for money. She’d paid for everything herself since she’d stopped li
ving at home. Since Kyle now had funds from Marshall’s account, he’d insisted that all their living expenses be paid from that account.

  The problem was, Celia wasn’t on the account, so every time she needed to run to town, she had to ask Kyle for money. Or he’d write her a check and she’d have to cash it at the bank before she could go to the grocery store. A couple times she’d just used her bank card to make purchases, but she’d been too embarrassed to ask Kyle to reimburse her. Which meant she had less than fifty bucks to her name.

  Her phone buzzed with a text message from Abe. We welcomed Tyler Alan Lawson to the world an hour ago. Eight pounds of perfection. Mama Janie is doing fine. I’m scared shitless. I’d love for you to meet the newest member of our family, sis.

  Feeling more morose than before she left for the Split Rock, she took the long way back. It was dark when she returned to the ranch, but Kyle had left the porch light on. Not a sweet thought, a practical one. Don’t go assigning romantic meanings to every damn thing he does or you’ll spend the next few months looking for other signs to stick around for the long haul that aren’t there.

  Kyle came to help her take off her duster right after she walked in the door. “You’ve been gone a while.”

  “I was at the Split Rock with Harper and Tierney. We’ve got catching up to do, so we’re going to Rawlins tomorrow night during the poker game.” She toed off her boots. “Got a text from Abe. Janie had a boy a little while ago.”

  “I got a text too. So did you go anywhere else? Like to the hospital?”

  “No. Why?”

  “A phone call would’ve been nice.”

  “I’m not used to answering to anybody.” Celia grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and noticed Kyle hadn’t started supper. Might be petty, but if he wanted something to eat he could fix it himself.

  “Celia, we need—”

  “To talk, right? Wrong. I’m sick of talking. I need to take a shower.” She shut the bathroom door in his face and locked it. Sipped her beer while unbraiding her hair. The day had left her with a bone-deep sadness she couldn’t shake. New clothes hadn’t helped. Spending time with her friends hadn’t helped. She looked at the empty beer can; booze hadn’t helped either. Just when she’d thought she found a place she fit, she’d been given another reminder that she didn’t fit anywhere. Even temporarily.

  Hot water poured over her. Steam surrounded her. She set aside the soapy washcloth and rinsed the conditioner from her hair. Even though it was barely six o’clock, falling into bed sounded good.

  “You can’t stay in there all night,” Kyle said right outside the shower door.

  Damn him. “I locked the door because I wanted privacy.”

  “No, you locked the door to avoid me and I ain’t havin’ any part of it.” He opened the shower door and stepped inside.

  Celia’s stomach jumped when his hands circled her hips. But she didn’t move. She remained under the spray of hot water.

  “Celia,” he said silkily against her shoulder.

  “Go away.”

  “You’re mad at me.”

  She didn’t respond.

  His lips glided across her wet skin. “I hurt your feelings.”

  She shrugged, as if it was of no consequence, and tried to remove his mouth from her skin.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Go. I want to finish my shower. Alone.”


  “You waiting until I turn around so you can make sure I’m a girl?” Celia turned and stepped back, letting the water spray him in the face. “See? Now go.”

  Kyle blinked the water from his mesmerizing green eyes. Water droplets clung to the dark scruff lining his cheeks and jaw, dripping down his neck.

  How unfair that he looked even better wet. His hair, a mix of different shades of blond, darkened under the stream of water and stuck to his scalp, making him look even more intense. Her gaze dropped to his groin. He had an erection. Big surprise. She whirled around, adjusting the shower spray. She’d freeze him out.

  But Kyle was determined. His hands were back on her. His mouth was once again by her ear. “There’s no excuse for what I said. None. I’m sorry. Jesus. I’m so fucking sorry, Celia. Will you let me apologize?”

  “You can try.”

  He chuckled. “A challenge. Well, darlin’, I live for a challenge.”

  Celia expected he’d use that silver tongue, telling her how much he loved her body. How beautiful it—and she—was to him. And he did. But not with words. He did it with his steady hands and his mouth in super-slow motion. So she felt his every stuttered breath on her skin. So she felt the heat and hardness of his body as he worshipped hers.

  Kyle swept her hair aside, allowing his lips to travel the slope of her shoulder. His callused hands skated up her torso, stopping to caress the underswell of her breasts.

  The man was a master at turning her on. But she didn’t hear the sexy little chuckle that meant he knew he was getting to her.

  His hands slid down her wrists. He placed her left palm on the tile wall and the right palm on the glass door.

  The dampness between Celia’s thighs owed nothing to the water sluicing down her skin. Her heart thudded. Her brain fogged.

  He fondled her breasts, zeroing in on her nipples. Pulling and tweaking the tips, while his mouth was busy biting her neck. Or the tip of his tongue teased her ears. Licking the water from her skin. Making her break out in gooseflesh.

  Then Kyle’s tongue followed the length of her spine until he was on his knees behind her. His fingertips danced over the outside of her thighs and calves, as he tongued the two dimples above her ass. His voice was a hoarse whisper. “Turn around.”

  Keeping her eyes closed, she faced her body toward him. She managed to stay steady when he lifted her left foot onto the edge of the tub. And when his beard scraped the inside of her thigh as he kissed higher and higher up her leg. But when his thumbs spread her pussy open for his mouth, and that skilled tongue lapped at her slit, she had to lock her knee to keep it from buckling. Still no little cocky chuckle.

  Kyle mapped every inch of her folds with his tongue. Not teasingly, just thoroughly. Then he settled his lips around her clit, alternated sucking and rapidly flicking his tongue over that swollen nub of flesh.

  Celia’s head fell back. She gave herself over to the divine moment when her entire universe was his mouth sucking on her pussy. When the only thing in her world was the happy throbbing in her sex as the blood pulsed through her body.

  Took a minute to regain her bearings. She glanced down at Kyle on his knees, his face nestled in the crease of her thigh.

  He reached around and turned off the water. Then he stood and stepped out of the shower, offering his hand to help her. Kyle toweled her hair and dried her off. All actions that might’ve been mechanical, but he turned every simple touch into pure seduction.

  Especially when he lifted her into his arms and carried her to their bed.

  There his worship continued. No part of her body was left untouched or unkissed. He slipped inside her and they moved as one. Just as they hung on the precipice and she expected he’d send them both soaring, he stopped moving.

  Kyle gazed into her eyes, his look a soulful mix of pleasure and regret. “I know you’re not a girl. You’re all woman, Celia. And you’re all mine.” He crushed his lips to hers and slammed home, staying seated deep inside her.

  That set her off. It set him off too.

  Once she’d found her sanity, she whispered, “Apology accepted.”

  Chapter Eleven

  After Harper and Tierney duded Celia up, they headed to Buckeye Joe’s for girls’ night out.

  Celia expected the place to be dead. But the Thursday-night special, Jack and Coke for two bucks, kept the joint hopping. The Mud Lilies, the wild group of seventy- and eightysomething women who’d banded together after becoming widows, had scored a table and saved three spots.

  Garnet did the wave when they arrived. “About damn time.
We started without you.” She gave Celia, Tierney, and Harper a one-armed hug, since she held a drink in her other hand. “Cheap drinks tonight, so I intend on bein’ a cheap drunk.” She whistled for the cocktail waitress. “Another round, barkeep!”

  “Garnet is in good spirits,” Bernice said, “so watch out.”

  Harper scanned the group. “Where’s Tilda?”

  “A Skype date with her grandson who lives in Singapore.” Pearl pointed to the dance floor. “And Vivien’s already cuttin’ a rug with some feller. But he’s got wandering hands. I wouldn’t be surprised if Viv slapped him.”

  “Which is why Pearl hasn’t taken her eyes off them,” Maybelle said. “Ten bucks says she slugs him in the stomach.”

  “You’re on,” Pearl said.

  They were both sorely disappointed when Vivien just gave the guy a stern talking-to with lots of finger shaking.

  Susan Williams, Buckeye Joe’s owner, delivered a round of drinks and promised to return and drink a toast.

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