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One night rodeo, p.2
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       One Night Rodeo, p.2

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Kyle’s eyes drank in every inch of those ridged calf muscles covered by smooth, pale skin. His gaze traveled up slowly, stopping at the equally sexy curve of her knee.

  “Stop gawking at my legs like you’ve never seen ’em before.”

  He didn’t bother banking the admiration in his eyes. “Hard not to stare when you’re sporting such a fine pair.”

  “You just noticed that?”

  “No.”

  The air between them vibrated.

  Kyle invaded her space. This close to her he felt that one-two punch of something stronger than lust. “Would it be so bad?”

  “What?”

  “Letting me watch over you tonight?” An internal debate warred in her eyes. Kyle braced himself for a smart-ass rebuttal.

  “Watch over me like a brother would?”

  “The last way I think of you, Celia Lawson, is like a sister. And you damn well know it.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “I’m glad you came to Vegas, Cele. I was afraid you wouldn’t show up.”

  “Kyle.”

  “Mmm?” He placed another kiss on the edge of the bandage.

  “Can we talk about this later?”

  “Define later.” The skin below the bandage needed a kiss as well.

  “Right after we leave here. At my hotel. You need to skedaddle so I can get dressed.”

  “In a second.” He smoothed flyaway strands from her face. The honeyed scent of her hair filled his lungs and he seemed to breathe easy for the first time since he’d heard she was hurt. He left one last soft smooch on her lips. It totally flustered her, which was odd, given that it wasn’t the first time he’d kissed her.

  “Umm…Hand me my clothes.”

  He dropped the pile on the bed. “I’ll be right outside.”

  “No peeking,” she warned as he ducked out.

  Kyle paced the length of the privacy curtain. On his fifth pass, he heard her gasp. Worried that she’d strained herself, he poked his head back in. “What’s wrong?”

  Celia clutched a wad of fabric to her chest. “It was my favorite shirt. My lucky purple shirt. Now it’s covered in blood and completely ruined.” A little hiccup escaped. “I can’t wear this.”

  “Are the jeans ruined too?”

  “No. Just a few splotches of blood.”

  “Tossing that shirt in the trash ain’t no big loss in my mind. I’m thinkin’ its luck ran out. Never looked that great on you anyway.”

  Celia lifted her head, probably to snap at him. Before she opened her mouth, Kyle gently wiped her tears. “Come on, kitten, I was kiddin’.”

  “Pretty stupid to be so upset over a blouse, huh?”

  “Somehow I don’t think it’s just about the blouse. And given that you’re in the hospital, you’re entitled to a few tears. You don’t always have to act so tough, you know.” Kyle popped the buttons on his long-sleeved western shirt. “Although I wouldn’t mind seein’ you in just your sexy bra and them tight jeans, I don’t think you wanna flash the entire ER when I bust you outta this place. Wear this.” He draped his shirt over her pillow and tucked his white T-shirt into his jeans.

  “Uh, thanks.”

  Interesting that Celia couldn’t take her eyes off his chest. “My pleasure.” Kyle kissed her forehead. Twice.

  “What’s with you kissin’ me all the time now?” she asked crossly.

  “I hardly think a couple of pecks could be considered me kissin’ you all the time.” His eyes searched hers. “But I could ramp up the kisses to spark your memory from a few weeks back, if you’d like.”

  “In your dreams.”

  Kyle chuckled. “I’ll be outside if you need anything.”

  Like a total chickenshit, Celia was hiding in her hotel bathroom.

  From Kyle.

  Kyle. The guy she’d known since she was six years old.

  What the hell was wrong with her?

  Because the Kyle waiting for you is not the same Kyle you’ve known your entire life.

  She dabbed concealer over the bruise on her cheekbone. Contrary to her sister-in-law Janie’s claims, Celia hadn’t been in love with Kyle Gilchrist since her childhood—she’d simply loved to annoy him.

  Even when Kyle was a teenage boy, it took a lot to rile him, unlike her brothers, who were easily provoked. Armed with childish logic, Celia made it her mission to get under Kyle’s skin as often as possible.

  She’d drawn hearts emblazoned with her name on every one of his school notebooks.

  He’d retaliated by stringing up her My Little Pony collection from a tree.

  She’d pushed him into the stock tank.

  He’d held her down and tickled her until she peed her pants.

  She’d put a snapping turtle in his gym bag.

  He’d tied her to the tire swing and spun her until she puked.

  All harmless pranks that demanded retaliation.

  The problem was—Kyle still brought out every combative instinct she owned. Her first impulse was to goad him into an argument, or to fight back when he goaded her, which happened frequently since he’d never outgrown that juvenile behavior either.

  But that had all changed three weeks ago with a kiss. An incredible kiss.

  Tanna had dragged her to the annual New Year’s bash at rodeo legend Del Montoya’s ranch outside of Stephenville, Texas. Celia hadn’t known many people, so she’d been secretly happy to run into Kyle the first day of the two-day party.

  Maybe it was the free-flowing alcohol, but she and Kyle hadn’t sniped at each other once. The lead rope tied around the door handle of Tanna’s horse trailer meant her friend was getting lucky that night, so Kyle let Celia crash in his camper. They’d talked and laughed until the wee small hours.

  The next day Kyle and Tanna were competing in the private rodeo, leaving Celia at loose ends. In the late afternoon she’d headed to a small pond to watch the sunset. It’d struck her how alone she felt most the time, no matter whether she was surrounded by people, on the road, or in the arena—or even at home in Muddy Gap.

  Kyle had tracked her down and somehow sensed her melancholy. The ease of the previous day’s conversation lingered, especially when they talked of home. Of frigid nights and miles of snow. Of the splendor of orange and purple Wyoming sunsets splashing across a pale gray winter sky.

  When she mentioned the New Year’s Eve festivities, Kyle asked, “Have you picked a cowboy to kiss when the clock strikes twelve?”

  “I’ve had enough drunken, forgotten kisses to last me a lifetime.”

  “If that’s the case, you could always lay a hot, wet one on me,” he’d said silkily. “I guarantee an unforgettable kiss.”

  “Like I said, Kyle. Been there, done that.”

  “But not with me,” he insisted.

  “Been there, done that with you.” Celia locked her gaze on his. “You were the first guy who ever kissed me.”

  Kyle shook his head. “Trust me, I’d remember that.”

  “Trust me, you forgot. After a night out partying with Hank, you stumbled into my room instead of the guest bedroom. You stripped naked in front of my sixteen-year-old virgin eyes and crawled into my bed. When I tried to move, you grabbed me and kissed me. With tongue and everything.”

  He wore an appalled look. “I did?”

  “Yep. Then you rolled off me and started snoring. I snuck out and crashed on the couch upstairs. You weren’t in my room the next morning. You never said a word about it, which meant you didn’t remember, because we both know you’d’ve been a total dick if you had. But that doesn’t change the fact you were my first kiss.”

  “Jesus, Celia. I don’t remember.”

  “It’s not like I could forget. Besides, it’s over and done with.” She tried to turn away but Kyle didn’t allow it.

  His hands cupped her face. “Let me make it up to you by kissin’ you at midnight tonight.”

  “But—”

  “I’ll be totally sober, I promise. And this kiss?” He’d lazily, erotically
traced the outline of her lips with his thumb. “Will blow your mind.”

  And it had. Holy shit, had it ever.

  Celia shivered, remembering being wrapped in his arms. His mouth so sure on hers as the clock struck twelve.

  Four loud raps on the bathroom door startled her out of her trip down memory lane.

  “Celia? You all right? You’ve been in there half an hour.”

  “Yeah. I’m fine. Be right out.”

  She exhaled a slow breath and studied her handiwork in the mirror. She’d tried to play up her boring gray eyes, adding black eyeliner, drawing attention away from the bruises that liquid face makeup couldn’t camouflage. Extra blush brightened her pale skin. Bronze lipstick highlighted her mouth. She couldn’t do much about the white bandage on her forehead, unless she gave herself bangs. Since her three and a half feet of blond hair was her best feature, that wasn’t happening.

  She popped a mint in her mouth and opened the door.

  Kyle turned from the window and inspected her head to toe. When he continued to stare at her, without uttering a word, without a single change in his facial expression, a tiny kernel of dread bloomed in her gut.

  “What? Do I look like death warmed over or something?”

  “Not hardly.”

  “Then why are you staring at me?”

  He crossed the room, stopping a foot from her. “Seems I’ve known you forever, Celia. Then other times, I look at you and I feel I don’t know you at all.”

  “So I don’t look like a hundred-and-fifty-pound steer got the better of me today?” she joked, unnerved by the male heat darkening his eyes.

  “Nope. You ready?”

  “For what? The concert doesn’t start for three hours.”

  “I meant are you done in the bathroom? I need to get cleaned up. I’m not exactly in concert attire.”

  Kyle preferred dressing in traditional western shirts, so his upper-body physique wasn’t obvious…until those long sleeves were stripped away to reveal his muscular arms. His biceps and triceps were beyond simply well defined. Yet his truly spectacular forearms always drew her attention.

  “Celia?”

  Her gaze met his. Kyle’s eyes were an unusual hue, somewhere between summer-grass green and pine green. With gold flecks that reminded her of dappled sunspots reflecting off a crystal clear mountain lake.

  “You feelin’ okay?”

  What was wrong with her? Salivating over his arms? Becoming mesmerized by his eyes? Maybe she had knocked a screw loose when she’d smacked into the ground today.

  Right. Keep telling yourself that. He’s the reason you came to Vegas. You haven’t stopped thinking about him or what that kiss meant for the last three weeks.

  She cleared her throat. “I’m still a little wonky. So if I say anything weird”—like compose an ode to your tight little butt—“chalk it up to a head injury.”

  Then he was nose to nose with her. “I shoulda forced a damn pain pill down your throat so you’d be sacked out instead of planning on goin’ out.”

  Happy that snappish Kyle was back, she poked his shoulder. “I’m not missing Devin’s concert. I’m not missing the private after party at the casino either. So if you’re determined to be my keeper tonight, Kyle, you’d better keep up.”

  “Remember you said that, kitten. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

  Yeah, we’ll see about that.

  A minute after she heard the shower kick on, she snuck out.

  Kyle couldn’t believe Celia had ditched him.

  To add insult to injury…she’d left him a fucking note.

  Meet you at the concert ~ C

  For chrissake, she shouldn’t be going to the damn concert with ten stitches in her head. He half expected to find the bloody bandage in the garbage.

  Reckless damn woman. Made him want to paddle her butt again. But bare-assed this time. Not in a roomful of people either, like last year in Breck’s hotel suite on the eve of Celia’s birthday.

  They’d been drinking heavily after the monthly poker game. Some new friend of Breck’s tossed off a nasty comment about women being the weaker sex, which sent Celia into full attack mode. She’d challenged the guy to a wrestling match and the dumb ass had taken her up on it.

  She’d had him in a headlock within a minute.

  And so it began. The other men wanted a shot at besting Wyoming cowgirl-tough Celia—none succeeding—while Breck egged her on. She’d whipped up on three guys. Then it was down to Breck and Kyle as the only ones who hadn’t answered her challenge.

  Breck had refused, claiming he’d never live it down if his girlfriend beat him.

  Kyle had refused to tussle with Celia because he’d been pissed about Breck’s treatment of her—like a pet to entertain his asshole friends. But Celia, being Celia, used that smart mouth of hers to question Kyle’s manhood, forcing him to give her the Muddy Gap smackdown.

  What the onlookers hadn’t known, and Celia herself had forgotten, was he’d been grappling with her since they were kids. Kyle knew all her moves; hell, she’d stolen most of them from him, and she’d never bested him.

  Not once.

  In the spirit of sportsmanship, he’d allowed her to believe she’d gotten the upper hand, and then he’d pinned her, demanding her submission.

  No surprise Celia had refused to give it.

  So he took it.

  Her shrieking, thrashing, and threats were to no avail, because Kyle, drunk on victory and cheap scotch, turned her over his knee to dole out the birthday spanking she deserved.

  Except during the test of wills, the feel of her muscled flesh warming beneath his stinging hand and the seductive way her body writhed on his lap became an erotic interlude, not a punishment.

  Round about spank fifteen, she surrendered.

  Round about spank sixteen, Kyle had a hard-on that rivaled steel.

  Breck had cracked jokes immediately after Kyle delivered Celia’s last birthday blow. But neither Kyle nor Celia had laughed. They’d barely looked at each other, unsure how to react to the sexual tension arcing between them like heat lightning.

  That night Kyle realized Celia’s relationship with Breck wasn’t making her happy. Maybe it never had. He became a man on a mission—getting Celia to see she deserved better than Breck. He’d never suggested becoming her replacement lover, no matter how badly he’d wanted to.

  After the breakup, Kyle had seen the suspicion in Breck’s eyes, as if Kyle had encouraged the breakup because he’d wanted Celia for himself.

  Which wasn’t entirely inaccurate.

  Celia Lawson stirred something inside him. Given their tumultuous past, he’d initially believed the feeling to be frustration. Yes, he’d lusted after her for the past two years, but the pull between them had always been more than merely physical. Everything about her spoke to him on the most basic level. How she could look both innocent and sexy almost at the same time. How she moved both on and off her horse. The fire in her eyes. Her pensiveness. Her sweetness. He’d never cared enough to examine another woman’s body language and quirks so intimately, which spoke volumes about his feelings for her.

  Feelings that had her running scared and had him chasing after her.

  He’d given her three weeks to think about the next step between them after that life-changing kiss in Texas. Now that she’d shown up in Vegas—as she’d promised—it was time she accepted that this thing between them wasn’t going away.

  Kyle intended to pull out all the stops tonight to make her his.

  After spending a few hours hanging out in the casino trying to win a little extra cash and partaking of free drinks, Celia wandered to the event center. She slipped on her all-access backstage pass and headed through the arena to the stage area. Two beefy security guys checked her pass, looked inside her purse, and waved her through. At the next backstage doorway, two more security guards blocked access. They scrutinized her pass, giving her a lewd once-over that suggested a thorough patdown. When thick-necked
goon number one asked what had happened to her forehead, she almost said, “Knife fight,” but amended it to “Baking mishap.” Not as much fun, but that response didn’t trigger a strip search.

  Celia smiled when Devin approached her. “If it isn’t the superstar man of the hour. How are ya?”

  “Damn glad you’re here, brat.” Devin led the way down a long hall
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