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       Corralled, p.20

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Part of her wanted to ask if she had a say in whose bed she ended up in. Another part wished they’d spend time together only as a threesome. Then she wouldn’t have to worry whether each man was getting equal time. Or that she was picking one over the other.

  “You okay with that, Lainie?” Kyle asked softly.

  “Are we being completely honest here?”

  Two nods of agreement.

  “I’ll remind you that even though I fucked Hank a couple of times and slept in his bed that night, I also messed around with Kyle during the day.” She let her gaze move back and forth between them. “Does that mean in order to be fair I have to mess around with Hank at some point today?”

  “Have to mess around?” Hank repeated.

  “You know what I mean.”

  “No, I guess I don’t,” he said brusquely.

  “Hank—”

  “Have to,” he grumbled. Then he snaked his arm around her waist and brought her onto his lap, one hand curving around her neck as he kissed her.

  Boy, did he kiss her. Pressing the rough pad of his thumb against her carotid, gauging every increased beat of her pulse. He teased and nibbled, keeping her off balance with the sensual blitz of his mouth.

  Have to mess around. Right. If Hank kept it up, there’d be no question how she’d spend the traveling time to Sheridan: on her back.

  Lainie lost herself in the immediate punch of need Hank’s drugging kisses delivered. Beneath the surface of passion was a sense of comfort. Hank could rev her up and soothe her, all within the same kiss.

  On the periphery of her awareness, she heard Kyle get up, walk to the bathroom, and close the door.

  Hank released her mouth reluctantly and buried his face in the curve of her throat. “Will you stay back here with me? Let me love on you a little bit this morning?”

  She pushed out of his arms. “No offense, but I’m ready to be out of this camper for a spell.”

  “Understood.” He pecked her on the mouth and set her on her feet.

  Lainie expected him to cajole her, to attempt to change her mind. But he didn’t.

  Aren’t you disappointed he didn’t try harder?

  “I’ll scrub up that skillet before I get myself ready.” He squirted dish soap in the pan and poured water in.

  She turned and smacked into Kyle’s bare chest. His hard, muscular bare chest. Damn. He smelled tempting. A mix of toothpaste, deodorant, and warm male skin. Without thought, she brushed her lips across the delineated line of his pectorals, letting his chest hair tickle her chin and cheek. She kept nuzzling until a chuckle rumbled beneath her roving lips. Lainie tipped her head back to look at him. “What?”

  Kyle hooked a chunk of hair behind her ear. “You constantly surprise me.”

  “What surprises you?”

  He traced the shell of her ear down to the bottom lobe. “You’ve embraced this threesome business wholeheartedly. No inhibitions.

  If you want to make out with Hank, you do it. And here you are, just a few minutes later, giving me the sweetest morning kisses. I’ll admit, I didn’t know how you’d react faced with Hank’s and my sexual demands.”

  “Have I passed?”

  “With an A plus.” He grinned. “But if you’re looking to earn extra credit, I’ll let you blow me right now.”

  “Nice try, but I am not a suck- up.”

  Hank snorted behind her.

  “Well, I’ve planned some good stuff for you and me later tonight anyway, so I can wait.”

  Although Lainie was intrigued by his taunt, and she sensed Hank’s curiosity, she waved Kyle off. “Bring it, bull rider. For now, let’s get this rig on the road.”

  They topped off the tank and hit the RV dump station. Kyle took the wheel for the relatively short trek from Gillette to Sheridan.

  The drive was stunning— flat dusty hills, rolling prairie, crested buttes, and the Big Horn Mountains looming west of the interstate. Big, bold, beautiful Wyoming.

  She also enjoyed the ease with which the three of them were together. No mindless chattering. No awkward silences. No blathering one- sided cell phone conversations. No fighting over the tunes on the radio. No annoying food consumption. Just peace.

  Sheridan was a quaint town with a main- street shopping district that boasted everything from high- end Western clothing boutiques to a bait and tackle shop. Lainie wasn’t much of a shopper on her best day. But she had the strangest compulsion to duck into one of those exclusive stores and buy an outrageously sexy outfit to wear to the rodeo.

  Or to wear tonight for Kyle?

  Right. She’d be lucky if she kept on whatever she wore for fifteen seconds.

  As soon as they’d entered the contestants’ area and found a temporary place to park, Hank’s cell phone rang.

  “You have an eagle eye, Arvin; I just pulled in. Uh- huh. Who?

  No, I don’t. No problem. Thirty minutes? Sure. See you.”

  Kyle cranked his head toward him. “What’s up?”

  “I’m bein’ summoned. Evidently the rodeo promoter is requesting me. Says he knows Abe— and me by association.”

  “What’s his name?” Kyle asked.

  “Renner Jackson. Ring a bell?”

  “Vaguely.”

  “With me too. Guess I’ll get the scoop on him firsthand and report back.” He clapped his hat on. “Lainie, what’ll you be doin’ while Kyle is registering?”

  “I hadn’t really thought about it. Why?”

  “Just checking. We wouldn’t want you to get . . . bored.”

  Heat curled in her abdomen when she recalled how thoroughly they’d dealt with her boredom.

  Kyle choked back a laugh.

  “Grab your stuff and come to the sponsors’ tent with me. We’ll see if the promoter is also supplying the medical team. Maybe there’s room for you to help out tonight.”

  Any objection to accompanying him died when Hank put it like that. Even Kyle didn’t lodge a protest.

  “Do I have to wear a dress or anything?”

  “Why’re you asking me? You’ve been to sponsors’ events.”

  “At night, the banquet, formal type of events, not during the day. Doc handles all that promotional stuff while I’m prepping the medical room and pimping the Lariat name.”

  Hank frowned. “Don’t worry about it. You look great.”

  Lainie rolled her eyes. “No makeup, my hair in a ponytail.Yeah, I look real great.”

  “You look awesome. No matter what you do or don’t wear,”

  Kyle offered.

  “I think so too,” Hank said.

  Maybe fishing for compliments smacked of neediness, but Lainie was compelled to ask the question that’d been weighing on her mind for months. “Why did you guys hook up with me? You both could’ve had your pick of the litter of buckle bunnies. Or rodeo queens. I’m not in the same league as those women.”

  Kyle angled across the seat, trapping her face in his calloused hands and her eyes with his. “Don’t ever let me hear you say shit like that. When I saw you for the first time? With those wild red curls, that devilish smile, and beautiful, kind eyes, my heart just sort of . . . stopped. Then you checked out my injury in that no-nonsense manner, but you had such a tenderness about you, Lainie, a tenderness that knocked me sideways.”

  Oh, God. Kyle really had thought about the answer, apparently before she’d mustered the guts to ask him the question.

  “I ain’t as eloquent as Shakespeare here, but that’s awful damn close to what I was gonna say,” Hank said.

  Flustered, she smiled. “Such sweet- talkin’ cowboys, laying it on thick when I’m already a sure thing. But I’ll take it. Even though I’d like a minute or ten to freshen up before Hank drags me to the sponsors’ tent.”

  “Whatever you want. I’ll wait.” Hank leaned back in his seat.

  “Me too,” Kyle said, with a hint of challenge.

  As Lainie jumped out of the cab she heard them snap at each other, but she didn
’t stick around to see what it was about.

  Lainie wore her Lariat ID, so at least she didn’t look like a freeloading girlfriend. She half expected Hank to abandon her once they were ensconced in the tent, but he was determined to introduce her to everyone. It’d seemed like a good idea at the time.

  Now she wondered if she was being unfair to Kyle by acting like Hank’s girlfriend in public.

  Not that it would’ve mattered if she and Hank were a couple.

  A number of scantily clad women were roaming around checking out male buckle and bulge size. Including Hank’s. If Hank had worn his official bullfighter clothing, the predatory ladies would’ve glommed onto him even more than they were already trying to.

  How would you react if you were his girlfriend?

  Rage. She wouldn’t put up with another woman’s hands on her man. Ever. Not in private and certainly not in public.

  Was that what Hank and Kyle had fought about? How Hank would explain who Lainie was at an official event? How could Hank expect that Kyle wouldn’t be upset?

  “Lainie.” Hank placed his hand on the small of her back and brought her forward. “I’d like you to meet Arvin Zimmerman.

  Arvin is an old bullfighter, but mostly an old BS- er these days.”

  She shook his hand. “Mr. Zimmerman. Nice to meet you.”

  “Miz Lainie. The pleasure is all mine. Especially since Hank here usually flies solo.” Arvin’s gaze fell to her name tag. “How long have you worked for Doc Dusty?”

  “A little over two years.”

  “He seems to have his share of employee turnover in that company.”

  Snarky thing to say right off the bat. Lainie smiled tightly. “I wouldn’t know. It’s been the same people in my office since I started.”

  “At any rate, welcome. Hank, I’ll need to bend your ear at some point before you take off.” Alone was implied.

  “Not a problem,” Hank said smoothly, and steered Lainie to the food table.

  The food was standard: a meat and cheese tray, sliced fresh fruit, crackers, a veggie tray, and assorted chips and dips. She’d barely loaded her plate and found a place to sit when Hank was called away.

  A bevy of buckle bunnies sat at the opposite end of the long table. They glanced at her dismissively and gossiped about some poor girl’s sluttish behavior.

  A camera- toting man took candid shots of the partygoers.

  Lainie ducked her head, swirling a carrot stick through the puddle of ranch dressing, wishing she were anywhere else. She heard, “Excuse me?” and looked up.

  The photographer had aimed the lens close enough to see every pore on her face and snapped off a shot.

  She lifted an eyebrow. “The painted ladies at the end of the table are far more photogenic than me.”

  “But the fact that you don’t want your picture taken makes you a more fascinating subject.”

  “Why would you think I’m camera- shy?”

  That surprised him. “Because you ducked when you saw me.”

  “No.” Lainie leaned closer, as if to confide in him. “I ducked because of the guy coming in behind you. You blocked me from his view, so thanks.”

  He turned, allowing her time to tuck her name badge inside her shirt. “Which guy?”

  “Oh. He’s gone now,” she lied.

  The photographer was distracted by a pair of double Ds and wandered off.

  Hank plopped down. “I’d planned to swoop in and rescue you from Larry the Lech, but you did just fine on your own, darlin’.”

  Lainie kept her eyes on the pudgy man as he waddled outside.

  “Who is he?”

  “Larry works for Pro Rodeo magazine. He gets great arena action shots but he also considers himself an investigative reporter and tries to stir things up.” Hank snatched a green olive from her plate. “Nice deflection, by the way.”

  “Hank Lawson?”

  Both their gazes darted to the man standing at the end of the table. “Yes?”

  “I’m Renner Jackson.”

  Hank stood and took his outstretched hand. “Renner. Good to meet you. What can I do for you?”

  Lainie watched the men sizing each other up. Renner was a good- looking guy. Dark blond hair sun- lightened to gold, deeply tanned features. Silvery blue eyes. Around the same height, build, and age as Hank, but nowhere in Hank’s league, in Lainie’s opinion.

  “I thought I’d have Martin give you a heads- up that I wanted to talk to you because I wasn’t sure if you remembered me.”

  “I’ll be honest; I recognized your name. But you don’t look familiar.”

  Renner chuckled. “Probably because the last time we saw each other we were about seven or eight years old. I lived in Muddy Gap with my grandparents, Rona and Bill Harking, for a year when my dad was stationed overseas. Second grade? In Miz Tatanalli’s class.”

  “Ah. Miz Tata’s class. I forgot all about her, even when I recall certain parts of her vividly.”

  “Yeah. Me too.”

  Hank smiled. “Hey, now I remember. You were the kid that projectile vomited against the bus window.”

  “Highlight of my young life,” Renner said dryly. “I left Wyoming right after that when my dad was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.”

  “I gotta say, I’m surprised you remember me.”

  “What stuck in my head was that you and your brother, Abe, were nice to a transplanted city kid. Much as I appreciated it then, I appreciate it even more now, when I know how locals feel about outsiders.” A quick grin. “Anyway, I got into the rodeo promotion, stock contracting business a few years back and recognized your name as available for bullfighting services. But I haven’t run into you before now. Mostly I stick to the Midwest circuits and don’t get out West much.”

  “I hear ya there.”

  “You’ve got a great reputation, so I was happy to see we’d booked you. Anyway, at some point I’d like to sit down and talk to you about a couple of things.”

  Hank’s skepticism was evident. “What kind of things?”

  Renner looked behind him. “Personal things. As you know, my grandmother sold the place right after my granddad died, which was strange because they only lived there a couple years.”

  No response except a cool stare from Hank, which sent an odd chill down Lainie’s spine.

  “My dad was a little sketchy on what really happened. It’s always bugged me. Thought maybe once this rodeo season slows down, I could come by your place in Muddy Gap and pick your brain a bit.”

  “Sure. I don’t see why not.”

  “Great. Thank you. I appreciate it.”

  Then Renner did a double take, appearing to have just noticed Lainie. He gave her a wily smile that might’ve made her weak-kneed if she hadn’t spent the last two years steeling herself against those sly cowboy grins.

  Yeah, and that had worked so well with Hank and Kyle.

  “Shame on me for overlooking such a lovely woman.” He offered his hand. “My sincere apologies. I’m Renner Jackson.”

  “Lainie.”

  “Lainie . . . ?” Renner repeated, politely inquiring her last name.

  “Capshaw,” she supplied. Hank rarely used her last name when introducing her in an effort to protect her from the morbid interest that came along with being the daughter of the infamous and beloved Jason Capshaw.

 
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