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Tripped out, p.21
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       Tripped Out, p.21

         Part #8.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  bickering twins throwback day.

  “So we’re on for the pool tournament tomorrow night?”

  “Wouldn’t miss it.” Watching Liam annihilate the competition with his methodical pool playing…something sexy about that. And not just because he had to bend over the pool table, giving her an eyeful of his amazing ass.

  “See you then.”

  She waved at Evan and then at Amber across the parking lot before she climbed into her car.

  Moving into this upscale community three months ago had turned out to be one of their better decisions when they decided to live together. Their neighbors were mostly couples with no kids, professionals who worked as many hours as she and Liam did. With weekly social events sponsored by the condo owners association, they were making friends together, which was a new experience for both of them. Being happy and free to be themselves in their relationship was still mind-boggling because neither of them believed they’d ever find that kind of acceptance and love.

  And hot, hot, hot sex that hadn’t cooled one bit since they became lovers.

  Stirling sipped her coffee as she wove in and out of traffic. She hated not knowing why Liam had stomped off mad this morning. While things were great, they still had their argumentative moments. She’d made him lunch—a deviled ham sandwich—hoping that would soften his bad mood.

  She parked by the fence at High Society and considered going into the grow house since that’s where Liam usually was first thing in the morning. But she’d left several things unfinished last night that needed her attention.

  With Cheney doing a kick-ass job managing the employees, Stirling had more time for promo, which became a necessity after winning the 420 Cup. It had changed everything, business wise, as Macon had predicted. Most of it good, like keeping the High Society cannabis strain exclusive to their dispensary. Some of it risky, like their decision to grow hemp on fifty of the two hundred acres she owned. They’d plant one crop in the spring and go from there.

  In the reception area of her office, she set down her lunchbox and coffee mug to hang up her coat. When she turned around to offer Shanna a good morning, her assistant was busily typing away—aka ignoring her. And that only happened when…

  Dr. Annoying pranked her.

  Sure, their pranks weren’t as frequent, but neither of them had wanted to give that up, especially not after they discovered the dirty-kinky fun of making up in one of their offices.

  She rested against the open doorway, waiting for Shanna to crack.

  On the receiving end of Stirling’s unflinching stare, Shanna crumbled like a dried bud. “I had nothing to do with it! It was there when I got here.”

  Jesus.

  Stirling entered her office with trepidation.

  He’d arranged the items on her desk.

  An empty family-sized bag of crunchy Cheetos.

  A stick person created out of baked Cheetos, complete with dreadlocks and a dress crafted from tissue paper, that he’d attached to the upper corner of her computer screen.

  A box of s’mores Pop-Tarts and a box of blue raspberry Pop-Tarts.

  And a note.

  A long, handwritten note, complete with bullet points.

  Dear Miss Gradsky,

  I am rescinding your “open invitation” to my lab—as well as disabling your keycard for the following reasons:

  1. You ate the bag of crunchy Cheetos that I’d purposely hidden from you in my office because you can’t seem to stay out of the bags I bring home. And you put the empty bag back in said hiding place, filling the bag with crumpled paper towels covered in cheese dust, giving the false impression of a full bag. That type of prank is borderline cruel.

  Stirling snickered. That’ll teach you not to become a Cheetos hoarder. She read on.

  2. On your computer screen you’ll see I super glued a mini you I created out of the baked variety of Cheetos that you prefer as a reminder that you should eat THOSE because you can purchase them from the vending machine here and not the crunchy variety I prefer, which I cannot purchase from the vending machine and have to make a special trip to procure.

  Procure. Snort. He cracked her up even when he was pissed at her.

  3. You are aware that Pop-Tarts don’t grow on trees. Yet I don’t recall the last time you restocked the Argent/Gradsky larder after you dusted your favorite kind as well as mine. Once again, you placed an empty box back in the cupboard, reinforcing the notion there were Pop-Tarts to be had for breakfast enjoyment. Not so.

  She shook the Pop-Tarts boxes. Yep. Empty. That’s why he was pissy this morning. She might’ve had the last blue raspberry package last night after Liam had gone to sleep. So he’d woken up early, probably looking forward to a delicious toasted breakfast treat, only to be denied. Okay, that had been a dick move.

  4. I have commandeered the toaster until you learn proper Pop-Tart etiquette and issue a heartfelt apology.

  What? That was her damn toaster!

  5. I have also purchased every package of baked Cheetos in the vending machine. You want them? Come and get them. Or…maybe they’ll be all gone since I did not get breakfast this morning.

  He’d left an orange smear across the bottom of the page beneath the words:

  Fondly,

  Dr. Liam Argent, Ganja Research Guru

  Aka…Dr. Dead Man Walking.

  Stirling breezed past Shanna and her assistant yelled out, “I’ll hold your calls.”

  The hallways were empty so she reached his office in near record time.

  As he’d warned, her keycard didn’t work. She pressed the buzzer like she was laying on her horn.

  But Liam didn’t come to the door. The chickenshit had sent his assistant Patrick.

  “Oh, hey, Stirling. Umm…Dr. Argent isn’t in—”

  “Yes, he is. He’s hiding in his office.”

  “I don’t know—”

  “I do. Maybe you should take an early break.” She brushed past him and turned the corner, hearing the door to the lab slam behind Patrick after he rushed out.

  Liam leaned in the doorway to his office, looking like a million bucks in his lab coat, khaki pants, and boots. “Glad to see you’re finally responding to my summons in an acceptable time frame.”

  “It wasn’t a summons, which is why I hot-footed it here.”

  He stepped aside. “Come in. We’ll discuss this in private.”

  “Fine.” She headed straight for the couch. “Where’s my toaster?”

  “I’ll remind you the requirement was to apologize.”

  When he sat beside her, she took his hand and blurted out, “I’m sorry I ate the last two blue raspberry Pop-Tarts last night. I didn’t have a case of the munchies, I…” She sighed. “Okay, I did have a case of the munchies and we were out of Cheetos—”

  “Because I seem to be the only one capable of grocery shopping in our household.”

  “I know. I’m sorry. It’s just you’re so efficient at it. I give you a list, you get the items with no lollygagging around. I…meander and toss weird shit into the cart.”

  Liam studied her. “So that’s how we ended up with two cans of key lime pie filling, a bottle of sriracha ketchup, seven bags of Cheetos, and a pig-shaped pot scrubber last time you went to the store.”

  “Yes. Stupid, huh?”

  “Never stupid.” He kissed her forehead. “Always quirky, which is exactly how I like you, Stirling.”

  She touched his face, this incredible man who understood her so well. “I’m sorry. I’ll be a better roommate and throw away boxes and bags after I empty them. I’ll respect our diverse Cheeto needs and not eat yours just because they’re there.”

  He smiled. “That’s all I wanted, crazy pants. Apology accepted.” Liam pulled out a cardboard box from under the couch and set it on the coffee table. “Open it.”

  Stirling peeled the flaps back and grinned at all the vending-machine-sized bags of baked Cheetos. “You proved your point, but I definitely planned to replace your purl
oined Pop-Tarts tonight after work.”

  “Really? You’ve seen that kind before?” He pointed at the box.

  She plucked out the Pop-Tarts box he’d indicated. It felt weird. Too light. She looked at the front and read, “Wedding cake flavored? Hey, I haven’t seen this kind.” Then she studied the image more closely. It appeared to be an official Pop-Tarts label, but they didn’t have labels. Everything was printed on the cardboard. Curious, she opened the tabs and peered inside. What she saw had her dropping the box.

  Liam caught it.

  Her gaze snagged his. “Liam. Is that…?”

  “Before you ask, this is not a prank.” He tipped the cardboard box and a square blue velvet box dropped into his palm. He set it on his knee and curled his hands around her face. “I love you. I never thought I’d find a woman like you. I want to spend my life making you as happy as you’ve made me. So please, Stirling Gradsky”—he kissed her softly—“marry me.”

  Her stomach did backflips. Her entire body mimicked a paint shaker.

  “We belong together, beautiful.”

  Stirling couldn’t find her voice.

  Somehow, he recognized that and pressed a gentle kiss to her voice box. “Nod if you’re still with me.”

  She did and felt him smile against her neck.

  “Nod if you’re ready to see the ring.”

  She nodded vigorously and he laughed.

  He kissed the corner of each eye. “Close these baby blues and give me your hand.”

  Stirling placed her shaking left hand over his heart, only to find it was beating hard and fast beneath her palm. Her eyes hooked his.

  “Yes, I’m nervous. I’ve never proposed before and I’m second guessing whether I should’ve chosen a more traditional manner to ask you to spend your life with me.”

  Liam’s admission of nerves calmed hers. She slid her hand up his neck and tugged him closer. “This is perfect. Way better than you dropping to a knee with a bouquet of flowers as a violinist serenaded us.” She brushed her lips across his. “You know me better than anyone ever has and I’m grateful for that every day. I love you more every day. Now slip that ring on my finger before I do it myself.”

  He smiled and removed her hand from his neck. Keeping their eyes locked, he kissed her ring finger before sliding the ring on.

  Stirling held her hand out. The stones sparkled even in a room with no windows. The emerald-cut pale blue jewel in the center of the platinum setting was the size of her pinkie nail. On each side was a cluster of pink stones. Immediately she teared up. “Liam. I…”

  “The aquamarine reminded me of your eyes,” he inserted. “And pink diamonds look girly on the surface but beneath it, they are tough and resilient, just like you. Every time you look at this ring I want you to remember I love you for the rare and precious gem you are to me.”

  And there was his sweet side. How lucky was she that this remarkable, annoying man with a noble soul and a beautiful heart had chosen her? Tears poured down her cheeks.

  He hauled her against his chest, murmuring to her as she attempted to regain control of her emotions.

  Finally she said, “The ring is stunning. You have blown me away with this to the point that I can’t think straight.”

  Liam tipped her chin up. “May I remind you that you haven’t agreed to marry me yet?”

  “Of course I’m gonna marry you, Dr. Doubtful. I love you.” She teased his lips with hers until he opened his mouth, then she kissed him with everything she had—passion, tenderness, hunger, sweetness, and most of all love. When they broke apart, her gaze sought out the ring and she grinned.

  “Why the sneaky smile, Miss Gradsky?”

  “I wonder if I’ll miss you calling me that when I’m Mrs. Argent.”

  The possessive look in his eyes nearly had her tearing his clothes off.

  “How soon can we start telling people?” Stirling asked. “Macon should be first. Then we should probably Skype or FaceTime with my parents and let them know.” She kept sneaking glances at her kick-ass ring. “But then again, my mom will start asking things like have we set the date, if we’re having a big wedding, and where we’re having it.”

  Liam lifted an eyebrow. “Berlin will hit the planning stage that quickly?”

  “You have met my mother, Liam. This could turn into a three-ring circus if we don’t have our own plan.”

  “I sweated out waiting for the ring to get finished. I devised a way to propose that was personal to us. I proposed. You said yes. Can’t we just coast for a while?”

  Stirling started laughing. “Oh, you’re cute when you’re clueless.”

  He groaned. “All of this is making me dizzy. I believe I should lie down.” He stretched out on the loveseat as much as it allowed and brought Stirling down on top of him. “Much better. Now I can breathe again.” He wound three of her dreadlocks around his palm. “Do you want a big wedding?”

  “No. Just family and a few friends. How soon do you want to do this?”

  “I’d drag you to the courthouse today if I thought you’d agree to it.”

  A brilliant, totally off the wall—and totally them—idea occurred to her and she laughed.

  “Dammit. That laugh never bodes well for me, crazy pants.”

  “But you’ll love this.” She brushed his hair from his brow. “Let’s get married on 4-20. International cannabis counterculture day.”

  “I do love that idea. But only if the ceremony is performed at 4:20 in the afternoon, sticking with the traditional time to smoke.”

  “Absolutely. And let’s get married at—”

  “Mile High Cannabis Church,” he finished. “That is perfect for us. You can wear a hemp dress and carry a bouquet of cannabis flowers in full bloom…”

  “And we can write our own vows. Do you, Dr. Liam Argent…toke this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife.”

  Liam laughed. “’Til death do we pot.”

  “We’re such dorks.”

  “That’s why we’re so perfect together.” Liam tugged on her hair until they were almost nose to nose. “I locked the door. I want you wearing nothing but my ring as I fuck you.”

  Heat rolled through her like a desert breeze. “Okay.”

  “So agreeable,” he murmured against her neck.

  “Don’t get used to it.”

  “Trust me, I’ll never get used to how lucky I am to have you as mine.”

  “Perfect answer.” She sat up. “Now strip, hot doctor man of mine, and let’s make this engagement official.”

 
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