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Tripped out, p.20
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       Tripped Out, p.20

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  Calliope blushed. “I said I was sorry. I was in character.”

  “Last I checked, darlin’, we weren’t doin’ a remake of Psycho.”

  “You are such a pain in my ass, Justin Donohue,” she retorted.

  “Donohue…” Stirling looked him over. “Where do I know that name from?”

  “Maybe because Justin was on the PBR tour for years and won quite a few events?” Calliope offered.

  Justin aimed a smug look at Calliope. “Until I got too old to compete.”

  “You must follow rodeo since your family owns this school and your brother-in-law was bulldoggin’ world champ like four times,” Calliope said to Stirling.

  Stirling shook her head. “My parents were ranchers who dabbled in supplying rough stock for local events until a couple of their horses were a cut above and they jumped into breeding high end horse flesh. I was in high school and wanted to get away from ranching, so I didn’t pay attention.” She gave Justin a sheepish smile. “Sorry.”

  “No worries. Donohue is a common enough name.”

  “Wait.” Stirling paused and snapped her fingers. “Do you have a brother who’s in real estate?”

  That took Justin aback. “Yeah. My older brother Jack invested in a ton of properties in Denver when he lived here. Now he lives in Wyoming with his wife Keely and their four kids.”

  Stirling looked at Liam. “Macon and I bought the building from Jack Donohue. Western Property Management.”

  “Small world.”

  “That’s what I said!” Calliope punched Justin in the shoulder. “And get this. Justin’s sister-in-law, Keely? Is part of the McKay family that my family has known for years. In fact, I was a flower girl at Carter and Macie McKay’s wedding.”

  When Calliope took a breath, Stirling seized their chance to escape. She tugged frantically on Liam’s belt loop behind his back. “Well, thanks for helping my mom out today.”

  “My pleasure. I’m supposed to tell you that if you need a ride back to your house, that Justin and I will be happy to drive you.”


  Liam said, “No, that’s fine. We’ll walk.”

  “Told ya.” Calliope smirked and held her hand out to Justin. “You owe me five bucks.”

  They booked it outside.

  “How are we getting back to my parents’ house?” Stirling asked him.

  Liam strode over to the golf cart. “The keys are in it.”

  “Yes!” Stirling pumped her fist in the air. “Dream achieved. I can totally cross getting a tattooed bad boy to steal a sweet ride for us off my bucket list.”

  “Crawl in, Sweetpea, and let’s blow this Popsicle stand.”

  “Seriously so so so crazy about you.”

  “You can prove it when we’re naked in bed.”

  “About that…” She bit her lip. “I cannot have sex when my parents are in the house.”

  “Sure you can have sex.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you telling me you can’t come with your parents around?”

  “Yes. I won’t be able to come.”

  “Is that a fact? Or a theory? Because if it’s a fact, then it would be a proven fact with another man. Not a proven fact with me. I’m the variable. So then we’re back to square one. I need to prove the hypothesis, which means you have to have sex with me to disprove the theory.”

  “Are you seriously going all ‘Dr. Argent’ on me right now?”

  Liam tugged her against him. “All Dr. Argent, all over you, all of the time. Now let’s go start some research.”

  Chapter Fifteen

  It wasn’t weird having breakfast Sunday morning with her parents and Liam.

  Liam, who’d disproven her “theory” five times last night.

  Five. Times.

  When their eyes met, Dr. Cocky smirked. He knew exactly where her mind had wandered.

  Stirling’s mom refilled everyone’s coffee and settled across from Liam.

  The tilt of her head and the nonchalant way she held her cup offered the impression of docility, but Berlin Gradsky was about as docile as a tiger. And now her total focus was on Liam.

  He’d better like things hot because he was about to get grilled.

  “So, Liam. You’re a mystery to us. Macon calls you brilliant, but for the past year, my daughter has called you…arrogant, annoying, irritating, a know-it-all. Am I wrong about that?”

  “No. But she also called me asshat, asshole, a douche canoe, and a dickhead.” Liam glanced at Stirling. “Am I missing any, crazy pants?”

  The man deserved the dick-punch she planned to give him when they were alone. “Just fuckwad, fuckhead, fuck-weasel, and fucktard off the top of my head, sugar buns.” Ha. Snicker. Two could play. If he kept this up she’d start calling him sugar balls.

  “How long have you been involved?” her mother asked.

  Liam said, “Define involved.”

  “More than coworkers.”

  They answered “Ten months” simultaneously.

  Stirling’s dad snorted behind his newspaper.

  “But now you two are officially dating?” her mother pressed.

  Liam sliced off another bite of pancake. “We haven’t gone out on a traditional ‘date date’ per se, but we have spent time together outside of working hours. I plan to take Stirling out and do date-y type things when we return to Denver.”

  “What kind of date-y things?” Stirling asked, expecting he’d say something smartass-y.

  “Hiking. I love going into the mountains. I didn’t get a chance to do that when I lived here as a kid.”

  Oh, that was sweet.

  “I’ve got tickets to a demolition derby. I take kickboxing classes at Black Arts and they’re sponsoring an MMA fight. And Stirling mentioned learning to unicycle, which I’m singularly pumped about.”

  Singularly pumped. There was his sly humor.

  But her mother wasn’t satisfied. “Do you worry that after working together all day, you won’t be as eager to spend time together afterhours?”

  Stirling’s father set down his newspaper with a loud snap. “For godsake, Berlin, give it a rest. We’ve worked together every day for almost forty years and you’re still eager to spend time with me afterhours, aren’t ya, buttercup?”

  Holy crap. Her mother blushed!

  “Besides, we know everything we need to about Liam,” her dad continued. “Macon trusts him and Stirling is more than half in love with him.”

  Way to point that out, Dad.

  But Liam’s eyes met hers. The softness and happiness she saw slayed her.

  “If she’s half in love with me, and I’m half in love with her…” He smiled shyly. “I say we’ve come full circle.”

  Stirling melted.

  “That was genuinely sweet and romantic…” A sniffle sounded behind her mother’s napkin. “It’s a relief to see that you two really like each other. You’re not together because it’s convenient. Or due to your mutual love of cannabis.”

  Of course her mother would be worried about that.

  “Seems to have worked for us,” her dad said with a wink.


  “Way, way, way too much information, people,” Stirling complained.

  Liam offered, “Chuck, if you’re in the mood for a cannabis variety that really gets—”

  Stirling clapped her hand over Liam’s mouth. “TMI, dude. Seriously. That’s my dad.”

  A horn started beeping outside.

  “Chuck, did you sit on your key fob again?” her mother asked.

  “No. It’s hanging up by the door.”

  “Then what is that noise?” She got up from the table and everyone followed her.

  The horn continued to honk until they were out on the front porch.

  Macon leapt out of the driver’s side and yelled, “We did it, Argent!”

  “Did what?”

  “We won! We won the 420 Cup! The committee let me know last night. I was on an international flight so I had to keep the news t
o myself for ten hours. But goddammit, you did it!”

  Liam had gone statue-still beside Stirling.

  “What is my business partner talking about, Dr. Argent?”

  He said nothing.

  Macon bounded up the steps and said, “C’mere bro!” and pulled Liam into a hug.

  It seemed Liam didn’t know what to do with his arms, which was adorable, so he just sort of patted Macon’s back while Macon squeezed the crap out of him.

  “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”

  “This guy here,” Macon actually gave Liam a noogie, “crafted—and I do mean motherfucking crafted—a new varietal that we entered in the 420 Cup. And it took first place. First place! This is so gonna put us on top! Rolling in the green, baby, literally!”

  “Time out, Macon. You’re telling me that you entered a High Society varietal in the 420 Cup and didn’t tell me?” Stirling demanded.

  “I’m telling you now,” he pointed out. “And the good news is we won. Liam can take credit for his brilliant strain, like he never got to do publicly with Livin’ Large. This is why I hired him. It took him months to get it right, but get it right he did.”

  “This is why you wouldn’t tell me what Dr. Argent was working on?”

  “In his defense, it wasn’t all he was working on,” Macon added.

  Stirling faced Liam.

  Liam flashed her that sexy grin. “On a scale of one to ten…how mad are you at me right now?”

  “At you? Not at all. I wanna high-five you until our palms bleed because that is awesome news.” Stirling stalked her brother. “You, on the other hand, Macon Moneybags, should have told me that you dropped one hundred thousand dollars on a goddamned contest. I am your business partner. Partners tell each other stuff!”

  “It was a hundred grand to enter the 420 Cup?” Liam demanded.

  “It keeps the fly-by-night black-market dope dealers out of the running. A win is a game changer, Stirling. We can expand. You’ll get your investment back in no time and you can do that organic gardening thing—”

  “Yeah, about that…” She lifted her chin. “I changed my mind. I like what I’m doing now. You can’t deny I’m good at it.”

  “When did this happen? Just over a week ago you were yelling at me for the extended timeline to recoup your original investment. You said it wasn’t what you wanted.”

  “Maybe what I wanted was always right in front of me.”

  Macon blinked at her with total confusion. “You mean High Society?”

  “Yes. And…” Don’t look at Liam. Don’t look at Liam.

  “And Liam.” A happy little smile settled on her mom’s lips. “I imagine you were as surprised as we were when they told you they were together.”

  Oh shit.

  “These two?” Macon gestured between them. “Are together? Like a couple?”

  “Yes.” Her mom frowned at her. “Your brother does know that you and Liam are involved?”

  Stirling shook her head.

  “Stirling! Why on earth didn’t you tell him?”

  “Because there’s nothing to tell, Mom.” Macon’s laser focus landed on Stirling. “Is there?”

  She stared back. Today her brother wasn’t in character. No slicked back hair. No ugly Western-cut polyester suit. No cowboy boots. Instead he looked like a successful executive, dressed down for the weekend in jeans, loafers, and a sleek mock-turtleneck. It made zero sense that Macon wouldn’t want the world to see him like this.


  “Liam and I are a couple, Macon. Deal with it.”

  “Are you two pranking me right now?”

  Given their history… no wonder Macon couldn’t believe they’d fallen for each other.

  Liam said, “No prank. We are one hundred thousand percent together. If you doubt us, ask any High Society employee. We ruled the water cooler talk last week.”

  Macon’s gaze winged back and forth between them. “I swear I didn’t see this one coming. Congrats on getting it on and all that, but don’t make my life hell, okay? No mushy stuff out of either of you.”

  “The only mushy stuff I’m familiar with is hash,” Liam said.

  Stirling laughed. “My man is hot, smart, and has an awesome sense of humor. So I’m in for the long haul. I’ll stay invested and help High Society grow into a better business, which doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger business.”

  “You aren’t seeing the larger picture, Stirling,” Macon argued.

  “And that’s all you see. You don’t care about…”

  Neither of them noticed when Liam backed away.

  * * * *

  While Macon and Stirling continued to quarrel Chuck stepped up beside Liam.

  Liam asked, “Have they always been like this?”

  Chuck sighed. “Always. Are they like this at work too?”


  “Actually,” Berlin said moving alongside her husband, “this is tame compared to the damage three angry Gradsky kids can do when they’re in the same room together.”

  “Kids, as in…when they were young? Or now as your adult kids?”

  “Both,” Chuck said. “They yell and scream and tell each other off. Then they’re over it. Doesn’t mean Berlin and I weren’t concerned about Macon and Stirling going into business together. But that seems to have worked out okay.”

  Just then Stirling threw her hands up in the air and yelled at Macon, “If we’re going to continue this stupid conversation, I need to reload on gummies.”

  “Great,” Macon shot back. “I could use an entire bottle to get through this discussion with the queen of stubbornness.”

  “No way, get your own.”

  “She’s always been terrible at sharing,” Chuck confided.

  “Family fighting and forgiving…grudges and all that is a foreign concept to an only child like me.” Then Liam stiffened. Maybe he shouldn’t have blabbed his insecurities to Stirling’s parents first thing.

  “Don’t worry. You’re bright, you’ll catch on. If not… We’ll teach you.” Berlin patted his arm. “Welcome to the family, Liam.”


  Six months later…

  Stirling juggled her insulated coffee mug and her lunchbox as she set the alarm for the condo she shared with Liam.

  “Need help?” her neighbor Evan asked.

  She smiled at him. “No, but thanks.”

  “Don’t you and Liam usually ride to work together?”

  “Usually, but he”—was incredibly pissy about something this morning—“had to go in early.” Their poor employees. It might be a
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