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       Corralled, p.2

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  “Hank, you know Mel?” Kyle asked.

  Wake up, wake up, wake up.

  “Intimately. Except I know her as Lainie. Right, darlin’?”

  Any second now, the buzzing would jar her straight out of a dead sleep. And boy, wouldn’t she welcome that intrusion for a change.

  Kyle frowned. “Why is that name familiar?”

  “Because that’s her name, dumb ass,” Hank snapped. “Lainie Capshaw. She’s a med tech with Lariat Sports. Is that ringing a bell?”

  Comprehension dawned. Kyle’s head whipped toward her, his jaw nearly hanging to his championship belt buckle. “Your name isn’t Mel?”

  Shit. Busted. She was so freakin’ busted.

  Kyle faced Hank. “You’re with her too?”

  “Too? ” Hank repeated. He didn’t spare Lainie a glance. He shoved Kyle. “You’d better be fuckin’ kiddin’, Gilly.”

  “Don’t fuckin’ push me, Lawson.” Kyle pushed Hank back.

  Broken glass crunched beneath their booted feet.

  “Back off,” Hank snarled.

  “You back off first.”

  “Not a fuckin’ chance.”

  Kyle sneered, “Bring it, asshole.”

  A crowd gathered, anticipating a fight.

  Should she jump between them and put a stop to this?

  “Who’s up for a wet T-shirt contest?”

  All eyes zoomed to Tanna, standing on a table at the front of the bar. She’d stripped to an itty- bitty see- through white tank top, which showed the outline of her nipples in full detail, as well as the deep vee of her impressive cleavage.

  Lainie’s gaze briefly connected with Tanna’s and her friend mouthed, Go! before she poured a bottle of beer on her chest.

  Male whoops of appreciation echoed and Lainie ran as if the hounds of hell were chasing her. As she cut out the side door, her brain ran rampant with questions. What were the odds that both her men would show up here tonight? Or worse, that they’d know each other?

  Stop thinking and run!

  Boot steps slapped the pavement behind her. A hand landed on her shoulder, jerking her to a stop.

  “Mel, please. Wait. Don’t run off. It won’t solve a damn thing.”

  Breathing hard, she didn’t protest when Kyle whirled her around. No hint of amusement danced in his green eyes. His hands slid down to her arms and curled around her biceps, keeping her in place.

  She braced herself for his recriminations. Angry words and accusations about her loose moral character would make it easier to walk away. Easier than admitting the truth: She wasn’t sorry for her hanky- panky with Hank or for getting her kicks with Kyle. She was just sorry she’d gotten caught.

  “What’s goin’ on? I’m confused as hell,” Kyle said.

  “That makes two of us.”

  “No. That makes three of us,” Hank said as he sidled up beside Kyle.

  Lainie tried to squirm out of Kyle’s gentle hold, but his fingers tightened.

  “Let her go,” Hank said sharply.

  Kyle’s eyes searched hers. “Is that what you want?”

  She nodded and he immediately released her.

  “Step away from her, Gilly,” Hank warned.

  Kyle shoved him. “You first.”

  Hank shoved him back. “Keep it up and I’ll hand you your ass.”

  “Try it,” Kyle taunted.

  “Stop it. Both of you.” She wrapped her arms around herself and stepped sideways so she could see both men.

  They were pissed. Rightly so.

  The brutal silence caused her to blurt, “I’d say I never meant this to happen, but I doubt you’ll believe me.”

  “Try us,” Kyle said.

  “Obviously I had no idea you guys were friends.” She paused and her gaze flicked between them. “How good of friends?”

  “Why does it matter?” Hank asked brusquely.

  “It just does.”

  “Me ’n’ Hank have been friends since junior high,” Kyle said.

  Lainie bit back a groan. It figured. “For the record, I’ve never, ever done anything like this in my entire life. So it’s no surprise . . .”

  A headache built behind her eyes, making the sockets ache and her temples pound.

  Do not cry. You will not pull those goddamn crocodile tears like your mother would. Buck up and face the music.

  Wrong. Run!

  “I have to go. Right now.”

  “Now, wait just a damn minute. We’re all adults here—”

  She focused on Hank. “Did you or did you not get into a shoving match with Kyle when you saw us together?”

  He scowled. “It caught me off guard, okay?”

  “Me too,” Kyle said. “You must know neither one of us is the type of man to back down.”

  Lainie threw her hands up. “Which is precisely my point.”

  “We aren’t gonna come to blows over you,” Hank scoffed.

  “You’re right. You won’t. Because I’m backing down. I’m breaking it off with both of you.”

  “Lainie. Come back here so we can talk about this,” Hank shouted.

  Her wild curls bounced against her rigid back with every hurried boot step. She never stopped. She never looked back.

  When she climbed in her truck, Hank started after her.

  A strong grip on his forearm and a curt, “Let her go,” stopped him.

  Hank shifted to glare at Gilly. “What the fuck? Maybe you don’t want her, but I sure as hell do. I ain’t letting her go when she’s like this.”

  Gilly got right in his face— a feat in itself, since the man was six inches shorter. “Don’t think for a second I don’t want Mel as badly as you do. But goin’ after her when she has this stubborn mind- set is a fool’s errand, and you damn well know it. I won’t have you fucking up my chance with her because you’re too damn dense to let her be.”

  “Stop calling her Mel,” Hank snapped. “Her name is Lainie.”

  “Stop bein’ such a dickhead,” Kyle shot back. “And for chrissake, if you’re gonna be such a picky bastard about names, how about if you get mine right? I ain’t been Gilly since I left Muddy Gap, Hank. The name is Kyle.”

  “Fine, Kyle.”

  The back door to the bar burst open, releasing a blast of steel guitar. Hank glanced in that direction, away from the dust plume as Lainie’s truck barreled off. A woman’s drunken whoop echoed, followed by a man’s laughter, and the door banged shut again.

  Hank scowled. This was how his evening played out? Standing in the parking lot of a honky- tonk? At ten o’clock at night? Completely sober, completely pissed, completely confused on how he and his buddy ended up fucking the same woman?

  Kyle sighed. “Look. I need a damn beer, but the thought of heading back into the bar turns my stomach.”

  “Yeah. Me too. There’s a package store around the corner.”

  Five minutes later, laden with a six- pack, Hank climbed into his truck next to Kyle. He set the brown bag on the center seat, tempted to crack a bottle— to hell with the open- container law. He needed a damn drink now.

  The lights of Lamar zoomed past the truck windows. Hank had half a mind to whip a U- turn and drive out to the rodeo grounds. At least if they were getting drunk with a group of rowdy cowboys, they wouldn’t be commiserating about having the hots for the same sexy- assed sports med tech.

  “You thinking about her?” Kyle asked.

  “Yeah. Are you?”

  “Always.”

  Great. Hank knew Lainie starred in plenty of sexual fantasies of cowboys on the CRA circuit. He’d never expected she’d been part of his friend’s sexual reality.

  “How long have you been seein’ her, Hank?”

  “Roughly six months.” As much as Hank didn’t want to ask, he did. “How about you?”

  “Two months.”

  Hank couldn’t stop the smug feeling over having been with Lainie longer than Kyle.

  Yeah? If you’re in with her so
damn good, then why’d she go looking for another man to knock boots with?

  Damn.

  “What’d she treat you for?” Kyle asked.

  “Pulled my Achilles.”

  It’d pissed him off too, pulling a muscle during a performance.

  Instead of the usual gruff med tech, Lainie stepped up. Hank had scoffed at the little slip of a woman. How was she supposed to fix him if she could barely assist him onto the exam table? But as Hank half listened to her questions, he watched her. Her hair color was odd— somewhere between dark brown and rich red, a shade that reminded him of his quarter horse’s glossy coat. Hank kept that observation to himself; few women found humor or flattery within workhorse comparisons.

  Lainie had stretched him out on the padded exam table and dug her fingers into his sore calf. The strength and skill of her hands surprised him almost as much as the color of her eyes— the hue of burnished copper.

  And so began his obsession with Lainie Capshaw.

  At an event the next week, Hank popped into the medical aid station, only to discover that Lainie worked every other week with the EBS circuit. In the interim, he’d stumbled across information about Lainie’s heritage that’d shocked him. The curly- haired cutie with the sparkling eyes and magical hands was the daughter of worldfamous bull rider Jason Capshaw. An icon, a legend, a man who’d died way too young, way too publicly, gored by a bull in an arena filled with thousands of adoring fans. A man who’d left behind a young widow and a five- year- old daughter. A little girl christened Melanie— who’d been nicknamed Lainie by her adoring father.

  When she’d checked out Hank’s sprained pinkie the following week, Hank asked her about her famous father. Lainie’s sunny disposition vanished as fast as a Wyoming rainstorm. Yes, she was Jason Capshaw’s daughter. No, she didn’t want to talk about him. So Hank seized the opportunity to steer the conversation in the direction he’d wanted all along: He’d asked her out.

  Lainie’s response? A vehement no. She absolutely did not date rodeo cowboys. Ever. Period. End of discussion.

  Normally, he’d move on. Yet, something about her called to him. Hank didn’t push, but he let her know he wasn’t giving up on her either.

  His luck turned the night of a sponsors’ dinner. The wine had relaxed her and he swooped her onto the dance floor during a sexy, suggestive Dierks Bentley tune.

  Lust exploded between them the instant he hauled her into his arms. Hank’d had his share of sexual conquests in his years as a bullfighter and a cowboy. But nothing in his experience was as potent as slow dancing with Lainie Capshaw fully clothed.

  They’d managed to keep their relationship platonic for another twenty minutes. Sex between them rocked his world. He’d believed Lainie felt the same. So Hank hadn’t demanded exclusivity, fearing it’d spook her, given her “no dating cowboys” rule.

  Now he wished he had.

  “Hank? Buddy, you okay?” Kyle asked, breaking him out of his reverie. “You’re awful damn quiet.”

  Hank sighed. “I don’t know. Guess I’m more shocked than anything. Aren’t you?”

  Kyle shrugged as Hank parked at the far back of the motel lot.

  He hopped out and lowered the tailgate with a loud clank while Hank snagged the six- pack.

  They sat on the tailgate, gazing at the sky. The stars were bright, despite the light pollution from the town. He passed Kyle a bottle. A pop- hiss sounded, followed by a metallic ping as he flicked the cap into the truck bed behind them.

  Kyle spoke first. “You asked me if I was shocked. I’m not. She ain’t the type to play games, but I suspected she was seein’ someone else. I figured it’d be a guy who lived in her area.”

  “Lainie don’t exactly seem like the ‘what happens on the road, stays on the road’ type, with a different fella in every town.”

  “Exactly. I figured her deal with the other guy couldn’t be that serious if she was with me every so often.” Kyle sent him a sidelong glance. “Am I right?”

  “She and I never made promises to each other. It’s been pretty casual.” Hank knew it wouldn’t help the situation if he admitted he’d wanted those promises from Lainie and had been prepared to offer them in return. Tonight, in fact.

  “You been with other women since you and Lainie hooked up?”

  Hank shook his head. “You?”

  “Nope.”

  “That’s a fuckin’ surprise.”

  “Why?”

  “ ’Cause I know you.”

  Kyle’s back straightened. “No, you don’t. I ain’t the horndog I used to be.”

  Hank snorted. “Right.”

  “Did you ask me about screwing other women so you could run and tell her that she was just another meaningless tumble for me, while she was special to you?”

  Heat rose up Hank’s neck. Kyle had nailed his response and he knew it, which was what made this situation doubly hard.

  Thick silence descended.

  “Hell, Hank, maybe Mel— Lainie— has the right idea. Maybe we all oughta walk away from this.”

  He practically snarled, “I don’t wanna walk away from her.”

  “Me neither.” Kyle drained his beer and rattled the paper sack, reaching for another.

  Hank finished his Bud and grabbed a second. “I’m open to suggestions as to what to do.”

  “Beats me. Ain’t shit like this usually settled with fists?”

  “You saw how she reacted when we got into a shoving match.

  Made it worse. That ain’t gonna work.” He sent Kyle a tight- lipped smile. “One of us could be a gentleman and bow out.”

  “Go for it,” Kyle said, flashing his teeth at Hank in a nonsmile.

  Hank laughed. “Not a chance.”

  “I ain’t bowing out; you ain’t bowing out. Then we’re back to square one.”

  “Appears that way.”

  Another bout of quiet stretched between them. Normally Kyle would fill the void with chatter, jokes, and bullshit, but tonight he was unnerved. For the first time in a long time he’d found a woman who invoked real feelings in him. Lainie wasn’t his usual she’s- hot-and- she- fucks- like- a dream type of woman, who he’d happily bang until he got sick of her. No, from the moment Kyle met her, he’d known she was different.

  Immediately after rejoining the EBS, Kyle learned from the other fifty- nine guys on the tour that Mel did not fraternize with cowboys. Ever. Given her tragic family history, he understood her need to detach herself, especially from bull riders. Given the fact she was the only woman on the sports medicine team, he understood her need to keep a professional distance and reputation.

  Everything changed the night Kyle landed hard enough on his riding arm that he feared he’d cracked his elbow, which sent him straight to the sports med room. Lainie had slapped a sling on him, never losing her good humor during the drive to the closest hospital for X- rays.

  When he admitted to the attending doctor at the ER that he thought he might’ve cracked his tailbone too, Lainie’s professional edge sharpened— as did her words. She asked if Kyle had neglected to tell her the full extent of his injuries in the sports med room because of her gender— or because she wasn’t a doctor.

  Kyle confessed he had a problem sticking his ass in the air for a woman. She’d snapped back that if it bothered him, she’d scratch her crotch, refuse to shower, and walk around with a ball- swaying swagger so he’d think of her as a guy.

  From that point on, he’d become smitten with the oh- so-feminine yet ballsy woman called by a man’s name. Kyle knew the attraction wasn’t one- sided, no matter how many times she’d denied it. No matter how many times she’d told him she didn’t mess around with bull riders. Period. But he’d worn her down with a mixture of charm and luck.

 
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