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One night rodeo, p.21
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       One Night Rodeo, p.21

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  Tyler fussed and Celia leaned closer to see if he’d open his eyes.

  “Would you like to hold him?” Janie asked.

  “Yes, please.”

  Kyle released her hand. “I’ll be back. I’m just gonna go check on that one thing.”

  The door shut.

  Janie looked at Celia with surprise. “Was it something I said?”

  Celia had no idea what Kyle was up to. “No. I think he’s paranoid that if I hold a baby I’ll want one of my own. Not that cajoling him into getting what I want has ever worked for me in the past.”

  “But add sex to the cajoling and he’ll probably do damn near anything for you, won’t he?”

  “The jury’s still out on that. Now hand that baby over.”

  Janie lifted him and Celia tucked him against her body. “The kid does like to be very close to breasts.”

  “He’ll be disappointed in mine.” Celia pressed a kiss to his forehead and inhaled the sweet baby scent. “So, Janie, you really ready for motherhood?”

  “Yes. I’ve been watching Lainie and Brianna for the last year, so I’m not as shocked by it as I might’ve otherwise been. Labor was a bitch though. Holy shit. I wanted to brain Abe when he said, Just breathe through it. How about you try to breathe through a busted nose and a broken jaw, buddy.”

  Celia laughed.

  “It is amazing to watch Abe with Tyler, though. He’s just so…stunned by him.”

  “He’s perfect. I’m thrilled for you guys.”

  “I know you are, sweetie.” Janie drained a glass of water. “So you and Kyle?”

  “Yep.”

  “Typical Lawson response,” she muttered. “How did it happen?”

  “Kyle and I had been dancing around each other for the last year.”

  “You and Kyle have been dancing around each other for much longer than that, but go on.”

  Celia didn’t comment on that observation. “After Devin’s concert in Vegas, we just looked at each other and knew. So we stopped dancing.” She answered Janie’s questions about Kyle’s inheritance and was relieved when her nosy sister-in-law didn’t press for more details on her supposed love match with Kyle. To ward off further inquiries, she talked about shopping at Harper’s store and the girls’ night out with Harper, Tierney, and the Mud Lilies.

  “Sounds like a good time. I fear my girls’-night-out days are a thing of the past.”

  “I doubt Garnet and Maybelle would let you get away with ditching them.” She patted Tyler’s little butt when he made a mewling noise. “When will you go back to work at the Split Rock?”

  “I’m taking a couple months off. Two at least. Maybe three. Then we’ll be in the busy season at the resort. Renner can’t run the place without me.” Janie smirked. “Plus I love my job. Lainie is happy with Brianna’s day-care place, so I’ve already reserved a spot for Tyler.”

  “That’ll be handy.”

  “I imagine when you and Kyle have kids you’ll be a full-time at-home mom, like your mom was?”

  Celia’s mother had been a sweet, hardworking rancher’s wife. She remembered that’s how she’d always referred to herself—Rose Lawson, mother and rancher’s wife. She glanced at Tyler’s face. “I guess we’ll see. It’s a long ways down the road for us.”

  “Be nice if you had your kids soon though, so they’d be the same age as their cousins.”

  “Janie!”

  She laughed. “I’m kidding. Anyway, you did get an invite to the baby shower Tierney’s throwing, right?”

  “Yes.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “You have to come. You and Kyle. Even if you’re both still pissed off at Abe. Promise me.”

  “You want Kyle to come? Aren’t baby showers mostly for women?”

  “Oh, pooh. That’s old-fashioned. These days they’re coed.”

  Celia imagined the look of horror on Kyle’s face if he was forced to play baby shower games. She grinned. “I promise we’ll both be there.”

  Kyle approached the information desk. “Excuse me, where would I find the home health care office?”

  “Down that hallway and last office on the left.”

  As he headed that direction, he figured this was a wasted trip. Medical records were confidential. Probably this woman wouldn’t remember Marshall Townsend. Or worse, maybe he’d been the same crotchety asshole to her that he’d been to everyone else.

  An attractive brunette manned the desk. Her head-to-toe inspection reminded him of the buckle bunnies following the rodeo circuit, contemplating the size of his package behind his belt buckle. “May I help you?”

  “I’m here to see Karen McNamara.”

  “She’s on a call right now. Can I give her your name?”

  “Kyle Gilchrist. I just have one quick question for her.”

  “Well, Kyle,” she cooed, “could you be a little more specific on your needs? Are you here for”—her gaze swept across his chest and over his arms—“recommendations for sports injury rehab clinics? I’ll bet you’re some kind of athlete.”

  He withheld a snort. That lame pickup line would’ve worked on him at one time. Before he’d stopped fighting his attraction to his best friend’s little sister and just accepted the fact he had it bad for the cowgirl and no other woman would do. He smiled at the receptionist. “I’m not an athlete, just a rancher. My wife’s sister-in-law suggested I ask about a claim for my ailing father.”

  Her body language changed immediately at the mention of the word wife. “Have a seat. She’ll be with you shortly.”

  Kyle studied the artwork in the small office until the receptionist led him back to an office.

  The woman behind the desk offered her hand. “Kyle? Come in. Have a seat. What can I help you with?”

  Kyle perched on the edge of the chair. “It’s probably pointless of me to ask, but I’m wondering if you can tell me anything about a former patient of yours.”

  “Former?”

  “He died at the VA a few weeks ago. But I found your name in paperwork at his house and it looked like you might’ve done home health care with him.”

  “Whereabouts was this?”

  “Rawlins. The man’s name was Marshall Townsend. He was my father. But I didn’t know he was my father until he was dead. The truth is, I know nothing about him. I’m not looking for confidential medical information, just whether you knew him.”

  She sighed and tapped her pen on her desk blotter. “Yes, I knew Marshall. He came into the hospital early last summer complaining of chest pains. We did a full round of tests and kept him overnight. The test results weren’t good. He checked himself out the next day. Because he wanted the visit billed to the VA, our office had to do a home check-in. He didn’t return our calls, which forced a home visit. He wasn’t particularly happy to see me but he wasn’t rude either.

  “I asked why he hadn’t sought treatment in Rawlins or at the VA in Cheyenne. He said he was as good as dead anyway and he wouldn’t spend his last few months trying to change the outcome.”

  Kyle clenched his teeth. Marshall had known he was dying last summer?

  “He’d made up his mind, so there was no point in arguing with him. Do you know how long he was in the VA before he passed on?”

  “Two months, I guess.”

  She frowned. “You really didn’t know him?”

  “I met him a couple times over the years, but I had no idea he was my father. I wondered if what killed him might be hereditary.” Not a believable lie, but he had to learn something about the man.

  “No. He had lung cancer. He’d smoked for many years and he’d been subjected to some bad chemicals in Vietnam. To be honest, I’m surprised he lived as long as he did after the diagnosis. I suggested he get his affairs in order. I assume he did?”

  “Not besides makin’ sure his cows and horses didn’t starve.” Kyle stood and offered his hand. “I appreciate your time, Miz McNamara.”

  “You’re welcome. Sorry I wasn’t more help.”

  Kyle wa
s lost in thought, leaning against the wall outside of Janie’s room, when Celia strolled out. “Had enough of your baby fix?”

  “Yep. He started screaming, she jerked open her hospital gown to nurse him, and I took that as my cue to leave.”

  “I’m ready to go home too.”

  “We have to stop at the store.”

  “Can’t it wait?”

  “Not unless you want to start raising chickens, growing fruit, and milling wheat because we’re out of bread, eggs, and orange juice.”

  He continued to be lost in thought on the drive to the SuperValu. He parked and said, “I’ll wait in the truck while you grab what we need.”

  “You have to come in with me.”

  “Why? I don’t care what kind of juice you buy.”

  Celia glared at him. “I won’t be able to buy any juice if you don’t come in with me, Kyle, because I don’t have any money. None. You hold all the purse strings, remember?”

  Made him feel like an ass to see her embarrassment. “Don’t snap at me,” he said evenly. “This sharing thing, especially about money, is new to me too, okay?”

  “I hate asking you for money. It’d be easier if you would…” She turned away. “Never mind. Can we just go in the damn store?”

  He grabbed her arm when she tried to flee. “Obviously this has been bugging you for a while. Why haven’t you said anything before now?”

  Her gaze pinned him. “Why didn’t you tell me you had business at the hospital today?”

  Why did that put a hurt look in her eyes?

  Because she’s your wife and you’re shutting her out.

  “Because you’re already dealing with enough stuff with your family. I didn’t want to add to it when I wasn’t sure what I’d find out.”

  “I recall you telling my brothers that you’re my family now. So tell me where you went after you left Janie’s room.”

  Part of him wanted to tell her to mind her own business. But the larger part of him wanted to talk to her. Wanted to open up to her in hopes she’d do the same. He told her about his conversation with the home health care nurse.

  Celia remained too quiet for too long after he finished talking.

  “What?”

  “How long are you gonna do this to yourself, Kyle? What if you never find out anything more about him?”

  How could he tell her he couldn’t accept that?

  She brought his hand to her mouth and kissed his knuckles. “Don’t you see his secretiveness benefits you? It frees you.”

  “How so?”

  “You can imagine the best about him, not have proof of the worst. He must’ve felt something for you, Kyle, even if it was just guilt, to leave you such an amazing inheritance. You need to stop picking apart your good fortune and accept that you’ll never know the man. You’ll never know why he didn’t reach out. The fact he didn’t get to know you truly is his loss.”

  Practical. And sweet. That defined his wife. “Thank you.”

  “You’re welcome. Now can we go in?”

  He shook his head. “I wanna backtrack to something you said. It’d be easier if I would…what?”

  “If you’d add me on the bank account so I didn’t have to ask you for money all the damn time. But I know why you don’t want to.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “Because this marriage is temporary and you’re afraid I’ll clean you out and take off for greener pastures.”

  Kyle clenched his jaw. “That’s not true. Bill said he’d take care of adding you to everything just as soon as we get a copy of the marriage license.”

  Celia’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what the holdup is on the marriage license, but it’s a moot point. You can add me to your personal bank account without proving we’re married. That just shows me that for all your talk about this being a partnership and us being a family, it’s not. I can’t pay for anything, Kyle. Not even a lousy jug of orange juice. Do you know how that makes me feel?”

  He did not want to fight with her about money. Ever. He wasn’t worried about putting her on his bank account; she was scared it would be the first step toward making this marriage permanent. That’s why she lashed out at him. “Fine. You want money? I’ll write you a freakin’ check every week. Just like I would if you were my ranch hand.”

  “Now you’re just pissing me off.”

  Fuck. He could not win when she was like this. Nothing would make her happy. And this stupid argument was like all the other stupid arguments they’d had over the years. They would automatically spout nasty shit to each other, not caring if feelings got hurt, and stomp off. Never learning from their mistakes.

  Well, that wasn’t happening anymore. She was his wife. He had to come up with a different way to deal with this.

  Kyle grabbed her braid and tugged on it.

  “Hair pulling in a fight, Kyle? That’s a new low, even for you.”

  He laughed. “That pouty lip of yours is very sexy, Cele.”

  She faced him. “I don’t pout.”

  “And I don’t wanna fight with you about money. So how about until we get the banking situation figured out, we keep an envelope of cash in the house that we both have access to? That way, if you’re at the store and you come across one of them sexy nighties and a pair of crotchless panties, you can just go ahead and buy it and not have to worry if it’ll affect the grocery budget.”

  Celia grinned and pushed him. “You’re an ass.”

  “Yep. So does that sound fair?”

  “I suppose. Do you want me to put receipts in the envelope so you can see what I spent the money on?”

  “Celia. You’re my wife. I trust you. You don’t have to be accountable to me when it comes to things you buy for our home, okay?”

  “Okay.” She leaned forward and kissed him.

  Happy that they’d circumvented a fight, Kyle surprised Celia with a bouquet of flowers at the checkout. She fussed and said he didn’t have to, but he knew she was pleased, since she kept sniffing them.

  He remained quiet on the drive home. Still brooding about Marshall. Wondering why a dying man could leave him a ranch worth several million dollars but hadn’t picked up the damn phone to tell him about it.

  Would that phone call have changed anything?

  Yes. No. Maybe.

  Celia was right. He had to stop dwelling on this shit. So why couldn’t he do it?

  “Kyle?”

  He looked at her. “What?”

  “Are we getting out of the truck?”

  Kyle realized they were at the ranch, parked in front of the house. “Yeah. Sorry.”

  Inside, he hung up his coat, kicked off his boots. He went into the room they’d designated as an office. He noticed Celia had printed out the course requirements and registration information for the vet’s assistant program at the community college. If he hadn’t already been melancholy, that sure would’ve done it. Just a reminder that she had every intention of sticking to her six-month time frame.

  He stared out the window. He should chop wood. He should figure out how to fix the solar panels by the stock dam. He should be productive, because that’s what life as a rancher was all about. But he didn’t want to do a damn thing but brood.

  And didn’t that make him a fucking pussy.

  Her soft footsteps alerted him to her presence before that alluring honey scent wafted over him. Celia nestled her face between his shoulder blades and her hands pressed against his pecs.

  Kyle closed his eyes. God, he craved her touch. Craved it like nothing he’d ever felt. And didn’t that make him a fucking pussy too?

  Then Celia’s hands were unbuckling his belt. Unzipping his jeans. Her hand slipped into his briefs and she fondled his flaccid cock. But it didn’t stay flaccid for long.

  “Celia—”

  “Turn around.”

  As soon as he did she pushed him against the wall. “Whoa.”

  She pulled his jeans to his ankles. By the time she got rid of his briefs, his cock w
as totally on board with whatever she had planned.

  Celia tongued the tip and looked up at him. “Hold on to the window ledge, not my head.”

  He stroked her cheek with the backs of his knuckles. “I’m agreeing to this even when I oughta turn you over my knee for your cheeky behavior.”

 
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