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One night rodeo, p.19
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       One Night Rodeo, p.19

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  Garnet held her glass aloft. Her gaze encompassed Celia, Tierney, and Harper. “To these young gals. May their friendships last as long as ours have.”

  “Hear, hear.” Glasses clinked.

  That was a sweet and tame toast—from the woman who wore a royal blue tank top emblazoned with GILF in rhinestones. Beneath that, Garnet had on a black lace long-sleeved T-shirt. Her pants were stretch denim covered in glittery sparkles.

  And Celia had worried that her outfit was too over the top? She fiddled with the belt to her coat, making sure it stayed knotted. It was always cold in the bar in the winter, so no one thought anything of her leaving her coat on, especially if she wasn’t dancing.

  Conversation flowed as freely as the booze. Celia wasn’t in the mood for either, so she nursed her drink and listened.

  An hour passed. She heard about Bernice’s upcoming bunion surgery. Vivien bragged on her grandchildren. Pearl talked about starting the Jack Daniel’s knitting club. Harper talked about her sisters’ military lives. Tierney announced she was throwing a baby shower for Janie and Tyler.

  Garnet leaned closer. “See the dude in the beige hat at the bar?”

  Celia angled back for a better look. “Gray hair?”

  “Yep. How old do you think he is?”

  “Between fifty and sixty, closer to the sixty side.”

  “Practically a baby,” Garnet snorted.

  “Age is relative. You’re the one who taught me that. You oughta ask him to dance.”

  “I will.” She put her mouth on Celia’s ear. “Don’t tell no one at this table what I’m doin’.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because they’ll try to stop me. For my own good. But Lord. I’m tired of being good. Know what I mean?”

  “What are you two whispering about over there?” Pearl demanded.

  “Nothin’. Just giving Celia sex advice,” Garnet trilled. “Pretty raunchy stuff, Pearl. You’d probably blush.”

  Celia choked on her drink.

  “Is that right?” Pearl asked Celia.

  “Uh. Yeah. I’m blushing, but it’s stuff I, ah, needed to know.”

  Satisfied, the ladies returned to their conversation.

  Garnet murmured, “Thanks for covering for me. I’m off to rock his world.”

  Another half hour passed. Celia wondered how long she had to stay.

  “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” blared from the speakers and everyone jumped up for the line dance, except Maybelle and Celia. They volunteered to stay at the table to keep an eye on drinks and purses.

  “How’s married life treating you?” Maybelle asked.

  “Great. We’re getting the house set up. Working cattle. Doing all the never-ending ranch stuff. Getting ready for calving.”

  Maybelle patted her hand. “Celia, dear, that’s not what I meant. I wondered if you and Kyle are getting along okay.”

  Celia bristled. Given their past, did everyone assume she and Kyle would constantly be at war with each another? “Yes, we are. Why?”

  “I remember the first few months Earl and I were married. The man drove me insane. I swore I’d made a mistake. Living with him every day was nothing like the rosy world of dating, where he was all cleaned up when he picked me up for a date and he was always on his best behavior. Listening attentively to whatever I said. Buying me little tokens. I was shocked by how fast some of that wooing behavior disappeared after the wedding bells stopped pealing.”

  “But obviously you worked around it because you were married for over fifty years.”

  Maybelle offered a sad smile. “Yes. I miss that man every day. But at first it took me a while to admit I liked the real side of Earl better than the idealized dating version. Sure he was a slob. And he had no patience for my dillydallying. We’d fight over the dumbest things. He’d storm off and I’d cry. But he wasn’t mad for long. We’d air our grievances and then it was over.”

  Celia found herself confessing, “Kyle hurt my feelings yesterday. He’d been saying some mean things that I’m probably overly sensitive about.”

  “What did you do?”

  “Stomped off. Bought myself some new clothes. Stayed away from home for a few hours.”

  “What happened when you went home?”

  “He apologized.”

  “Without prompting?”

  She nodded. She probably blushed to the roots of her hair when she recalled how thoroughly he had apologized. Twice.

  Maybelle smirked. “I always liked the making-up part too. I’m glad to see you’re not the type who holds a grudge or keeps score. That can sour everything in a marriage right quick. You don’t want to start your marriage out that way. Always take the high road when given the chance.”

  That observation jarred Celia because she hadn’t taken the high road. She’d actually sunk a little low. Lying to Kyle about her plans tonight. Wearing an outfit that made her feel exposed enough she’d left her coat on. Did she really need to prove to Kyle that other men found her attractive?

  No. Hell no.

  The only man she cared about being sexy for…was Kyle. Her husband.

  Being here, dressed like this, was a petty, childish thing to do. Kyle deserved a wife who respected him—in public and in private—as much as he respected her.

  That was when she knew she loved him. Not Kyle the boy. Not Kyle the bull rider. Kyle her husband. The man who got her. The man who needed her. The man she needed more than she’d ever imagined.

  And more than anything, she just wanted to go home to him, hit replay, and do this over. She couldn’t do that, but she could keep from making it worse.

  “Miz Maybelle, will you excuse me? I need to make a phone call.”

  Celia scooted outside and huddled against the building as she waited for him to pick up. “Kyle? Can you come and get me and take me home?”

  “Aren’t you comin’ back here after the movie?”

  “Umm…Yeah, about that. We didn’t go to a movie. We’re at Buckeye Joe’s.”

  Silence. Then, “I’m on my way.”

  “Lemme get this straight. Harper, Tierney, and Celia are drinkin’ at Buckeye Joe’s?” Bran said with an edge to his voice.

  “I’ve seen how Tierney and Celia are when they’re drinkin’ together.” Renner stood. “I’ll get my coat.”

  “I’ll get mine too,” Bran said, “because I’ve seen Harper and Celia drinkin’ together over the years and it usually ends in a bar fight.”

  “Looks like your wife is the common denominator of evil,” Eli said slyly.

  “Fuck off. And back off, you two.” Kyle pointed at Bran and Renner. “Celia didn’t say nothin’ about your wives. She wants me to take her home. Maybe she’s sick or something.”

  “The question is why didn’t any of you know your wives were goin’ to Buckeye Joe’s in the first place?” Fletch asked with a snicker.

  Kyle noticed that Tobin, Renner’s hired hand, who always talked nonstop, hadn’t uttered a peep. In fact, he was mighty interested in his dead hand of cards. “I wanna know how Tobin knows what they’re up to.”

  All eyes zoomed to Tobin.

  “What? I’m innocent.”

  Renner snorted. “That’ll be the day, college boy. Start talkin’.”

  Tobin threw his cards on the table and sighed. “I only know because Garnet contacted me this afternoon. She asked if she got snockered if she could call me to give her a ride home. So I asked what she was doin’ tonight and she told me about them meeting at the Buckeye. Sounded like y’all’s wives planned on inviting you after they’d cut loose with the Mud Lilies for a few hours. Garnet was pretty pumped that it was cheap-drink night.”

  Bran groaned. “Those ladies are always in the thick of things, stirring things up.”

  “That’s why I love them old gals. They are far more interesting and fun than any of the women my age I’ve dated in the last couple years.” A grinning Fletch glanced from Hugh Pritchett, Renner’s foreman, to Eli. “You guys up for a drink
or ten at the Buckeye?”

  “Now hold on just a second. What if they planned some kind of surprise?” Kyle asked.

  Everyone looked at Tobin.

  “Don’t look at me like that. How the hell should I know what they’ve got planned? They’re your wives.”

  “Which is why I’m heading there alone,” Kyle said. “I’ll call from the bar and tell you what’s goin’ on.”

  “If we don’t hear from you ASAP, we’re showing up anyway,” Renner shouted as Kyle reached the door.

  Kyle drove on autopilot, trying not to come up with worst-case scenarios about why Celia sounded so mortified.

  The parking lot was jam-packed.

  Just as he started to get out of his truck, his cell phone buzzed with a text from Renner telling him the guys were on their way.

  He found Celia in the far back corner of the bar. Wearing her coat and a worried look. Christ. Maybe she was sick.

  “Darlin’, what’s wrong?”

  She threw herself at him. “I’m sorry.”

  “For what?”

  “For almost embarrassing the crap outta both of us.”

  How much had she been drinking? Because she wasn’t making a lick of sense. “Come again?”

  “Yesterday after you made that nasty crack about me, I went to Harper’s store and bought new clothes, intending to prove to you that I am a sexy, hot woman and not some dorky, shapeless little girl.”

  “Cele. I thought we’d moved on from that.”

  “We have. I mean, yes, you apologized to me. But I’d already made plans to come here tonight and make myself feel better by wearing something snappy. Then we planned to call you guys to come have a drink with us. You’d walk in and see me lookin’ so smokin’ hot that you’d immediately regret your mean remark.”

  “I regretted it the instant I understood it hurt you,” he said softly.

  “I know.” She swallowed hard. “And I regret I’m wearing this slutty outfit. I regret it to the point I haven’t taken my damn coat off since I got here.”

  Kyle’s eyes searched hers. “Why not?”

  “Because you’re the only man I want seeing what I’ve got on.”

  “So let me get this straight. You feel guilty about the way you dressed. Guilty enough to tell me about it, but not guilty enough to let me see what you’re wearin’?”

  She nodded vigorously. “So can we please go home?”

  “No. Show me.” His tone brooked zero arguing.

  Celia peered over his shoulder to check if anyone was watching. Then she whipped open the coat in a fast movement that would’ve made a flasher proud. “There. You saw it. Now can we go?”

  He loomed over her. “Take. Off. The. Coat.”


  “Because I told you to.”

  A rebellious expression tightened her face. But he saw it for what it really was. Fear.

  This was the perfect opportunity to begin showing her he was proud to have her on his arm, proud that she was his woman, his lover, his wife. That he wanted her to be his wife for a helluva lot longer than six lousy months. He wanted her forever.

  Kyle stroked the underside of that stubborn jaw with the rough texture of his glove. “Maybe I want everyone in Buckeye Joe’s lookin’ at you thinkin’, damn, when did Celia Lawson become sex on legs? Maybe I want the men in the bar to eat their goddamn hearts out because all this”—his gaze traveled from her eyes to her boot tips—“is all mine.”

  She bit her lip. “You haven’t even seen the outfit yet.”

  “I don’t need to. I’m sure you look fantastic.”

  Celia’s eyes softened. “Given our history, I’ll admit I’m itching to see wow in your eyes.”

  “So take off the damn coat before I rip it off with my teeth.”

  She pulled the coat open and yanked it off.

  Holy fucking shit. Celia hadn’t been kidding about being decked out in a sexy-ass getup. He’d always admired her sexy legs. In the past month he’d paid homage to them with his hands and mouth. But he’d never seen her in a short skirt that showed so much of those mile-long legs.

  He finally managed to pull his gaze away from the funky buckskin skirt and he let it travel upward. She wore a matching buckskin halter that dipped low enough in front he might’ve caught a glimpse of nipple.

  He imagined her riding her horse, bareback. With those golden locks flowing in the wind behind her, looking so beautiful and free.

  “Turn around.” Christ. There was no back to the shirt, except for flimsy leather straps that crisscrossed her muscled back. And if she bent over she’d give everyone a peek at that sweet pink flesh between her thighs.

  Not happening. Ever. She was his, goddammit. Only his.

  Kyle went from mildly amused to caveman possessive in three seconds. But he had the urge to show her off. Wrapping her braid around his palm, he tugged her gently until her back met his front. He nuzzled her ear. “Kitten, you are a walking wet dream.”

  She rubbed her cheek against his in a very catlike move.

  He spun her around and made certain she saw the pure male appreciation in his eyes before he consumed her mouth in a blistering kiss. He didn’t give a damn that they were in a crowded bar. He wanted her to feed on his lust.

  His sweet, sexy Celia held nothing back.

  He slowed the kiss. Sweetened it. But it still held that edge of need. He whispered, “Dance with me.”

  “But, Kyle, you don’t—”

  “Not a request, little wife of mine. You are dancin’ with me. Now.” He tossed their coats over the back of the chair and clasped her hand in his. As they snaked through the tables, he nodded to several people he knew, but didn’t stop to chat. He stopped right on the edge of the dance floor, hauling her close.

  “Umm, Kyle, this is an up-tempo song and I think we’re supposed to be two-stepping.”

  “The good thing about bein’ a bad dancer? Ignoring all them pesky rules about how I’m supposed to be dancin’.” He murmured, “Besides, the only person who’s gonna see that fringe flapping tonight is me.”

  “And how do you intend to make it flap if you’re not spinning me on the dance floor?”

  “When I slide this skirt over your sassy ass and pound into you from behind.”

  A gleam of interest brightened her eyes.

  “Can you feel how hard I am?”

  “It’s hard to miss. For me and everybody else.”

  He laughed. “Don’t be haughty with me. Ain’t that the reaction you wanted? Me so hard I can’t see straight?”

  She pressed a kiss on his neck. “Yes. I like the way you look at me, Kyle. No man has ever looked at me that way. I’m sorry. I…”

  “It’s okay. But I do have one question. Are the rest of the clothes you bought sexy, like this?”

  She shrugged. “They’re all different from what I normally wear. But, yeah, they show some skin.”

  “So is that a comfortable outfit?” He slowly spun them into the middle of the dance floor.

  “Not really. It’s kinda tight, which is hard to believe since it doesn’t have much material.”

  “There ain’t gonna be a problem with me tearing it off you?”

  “There damn well is a problem with that, Kyle. This wasn’t cheap and I—”

  He fused his mouth to hers. The kiss, alternating between sweet and fiery, flirty and flat-out lewd, ended when the song did, which was too damn soon for his liking.

  “You’ve proven your point,” she panted. “Can we please go now?”

  “Nope. You’ve got that backward. You proved your point. I need to prove mine.”

  “Which is?”

  He offered her a wicked grin. “To show my public appreciation that my wife is a knockout.”

  “Wouldn’t it be better to show your appreciation in private? To me?”

  “I plan to. For now, put your arms around me. Dig your nails into the back of my head like you do when I’m goin’ down on you.”

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