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       Corralled, p.24

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  “Nothin’ specific, just the impression she’s ready, anxious even, to be double- teamed by us. Not the way we’ve been doin’ it, if you get my drift.”

  “We talking no-holes-barred?” Hank asked casually.

  “I reckon. I ain’t exactly sure how that’ll work.”

  “Me neither.”

  The announcer tried to rile up the crowd for the next event.

  “This morning after you went to check in, Lainie crawled up in my bunk,” Hank said, during a lull.

  Kyle’s head whipped toward him. “She did?”

  “Nothin’ happened, but I got the feeling she was only there out of guilt. Trying to make me feel better for her havin’ alone time with you last night.”

  Pause. “Son of a bitch. She did the same damn thing after we left Muddy Gap. That afternoon in Gillette, she sought me out to reassure me and we ended up . . . Ah, hell. She shouldn’t be reassuring us, Hank; we oughta be reassuring her.”

  “I know. I ain’t bein’ a dick when I say it’d be easier all around if we nixed the individual alone time with either of us from here on out— unless she requests it.”

  “Agreed.”

  Hank shot Kyle a look from beneath his hat brim. “That was quick.”

  Kyle shrugged. “Don’t make much sense to argue when we all want the same thing.”

  “True. Don’t know what we’ll be able to do about reassuring her tonight, since we’ve got a long- ass drive to Miles City after we leave Red Lodge.”

  “We have to come up with something. Figure out how to make time, bein’s we’ll be spending the majority of our time on the road the next two weeks.”

  “She asked if she could drive tonight.”

  “I say we let her.”

  Hank allowed a grin. “Then we’ll be rested up.”

  “I’m in. I’ll follow your lead. Until it’s time for you to follow mine.” Kyle pushed back from the fence and slung his bull rope over his shoulder. “Gotta get my head in the game.”

  When the time came for Hank to hit the dirt, he was ready. The quality of both the bulls and the riders was high. But sometimes during afternoon events, in the hot sun, the livestock were lazy.

  Neither broncs nor bulls bucked hard. Which wasn’t bad for him—

  a lethargic bull usually wasn’t problematic. But riders needed ornery, rough stock to score well.

  A few bull riders cleared the eight- second mark. None of the judges’ scores were impressive. Except for the one they gave Kyle.

  He’d ended up with a replacement bull that wasn’t happy to be in the bucking chute. When the slavering beast burst out, he tried like hell to get Kyle off his back by any means necessary. And Kyle stayed on, spurring like crazy. When the buzzer sounded, and the bull ran off with no prompting from the bullfighters, Hank suspected he’d just seen the winning ride.

  They stood side by side in the dirt as they waited for the score.

  Eighty- eight. Hank slapped him on the back. “Looks like we’ll be sticking around to get that winner’s check, huh?”

  The next eight riders didn’t come close to Kyle’s score.

  Hank didn’t bother to shower or change out of his bullfighting duds after the rodeo. They’d be cutting it close to get to Red Lodge.

  Kyle picked up his winnings and they booked it back to the camper. Lainie had made sandwiches, a thoughtful gesture that wasn’t lost on him or Kyle. It was her sweetness, a genuine desire to please them, not for any reason besides that she liked to do it, that made Hank take notice. That kind of care was rare— and all the more prized.

  When Lainie marched over to the driver’s side, he and Kyle exchanged a look— which she returned with irritation. “What?”

  “No offense, sugar, but we need to get there fast, so this ain’t the time for you to be learning how to drive a rig with a three-thousand- pound camper attached.”

  Wrong thing for Kyle to say. Venom sparked in Lainie’s eyes.

  “You think I can’t drive a truck? I drive a goddamn ambulance! I’m certainly capable—”

  “Whoa. Let’s all take a deep breath,” Hank said. “We’re not questioning your driving skills. But the truth is, me ’n’ Kyle have driven that stretch of twisty highway many times to go skiing or to unload cattle. You haven’t. If you wanna argue about it in the truck on the way to Red Lodge, fine. But we need to get goin’ now.”

  Lainie had that stubborn set to her chin and Hank braced himself for a fight. But she climbed in the back of the cab and slammed the door. Hank tossed Kyle the keys. “Let ’er rip.”

  She didn’t speak until they were out of town. “I’m driving to Miles City tonight.”

  “Fine. You coming to the performance?”

  “Nope.”

  Kyle slanted her a look in the rearview mirror. “So you’re goin’

  shopping for fancy shoes? Or souvenirs for your mama while me’n’ Hank are risking life and limb?”

  Fuck. Way to be a smart- ass. Hank was about to cuff Kyle in the back of the head and apologize for him when Lainie laughed.

  “You are such a jerk, Kyle. Only shoes I’ll buy are the pointy-toed variety to kick your butt with.”

  “Bring it, sugar.”

  “I heard your name announced over the loudspeaker as the winner. Congrats.”

  “Thanks.”

  “You’re on a roll. The CRA seems to suit you better than the EBS. You’ve ridden what? Your last twelve bulls in a row?”

  “Something like that. You must be my lucky charm.”

  She rolled her eyes and turned to look out the window.

  Kyle asked Hank, “Did you talk to Abe after all that shit went down with Celia?”

  “Yesterday, while you guys were at the carnival.”

  “What’d Abe say?”

  “Truthfully? He wasn’t surprised. Said he suspected something like that, but wanted her to come clean about it before accusing her.”

  “What’s he gonna do about it?”

  “What can he do? She’s of legal age.” Hank slouched in the seat. The discussion about Celia wasn’t what’d bothered him about the call. It was the weariness in Abe’s voice. Abe indicated that when Hank and Celia were both home they’d all sit down and talk specifics about the future of the Lawson ranch. Hank felt sick when he thought about their home place being sold. He’d fight Abe to keep it.

  Yeah? Why? You want it but you don’t want to run it.

  The hell he didn’t.

  You’re either a bullfighter or a rancher. Better to give your all to one thing rather than do a half- assed attempt at two.

  Aware that he’d gone off into his own little world, Hank looked at Kyle, but he hadn’t noticed Hank’s distraction. Lainie had sacked out in the backseat. Hank pulled his hat down over his eyes and let the tharump, tharump of the tires lull him to sleep.

  They made it to Red Lodge with thirty minutes to kill. Because the grounds were small, most of the contestants without horses parked in the lot across the road. Kyle’s buddy Breck had called and invited them to his impromptu cookout.

  Everyone was blowing off steam, hyped up on the bonus of a multievent day. Winning, or the promise of it, plus reconnecting with friends made for a lively group. Beer and food flowed freely.

  Hank felt Lainie hanging back as they traversed the crowd, which freaked him out a little, because she’d never acted shy.

  Maybe she’s embarrassed at being with two guys.

  Kyle took them to Breck’s setup. Bratwurst were sizzling on a grill next to a pot of beans. Lawn chairs were arranged but no one was sitting. When Breck caught sight of Kyle, he beamed a smile.

  “Glad you could make it and drag your friends along.” He held out his hand to Hank. “Good to see you again, Hank.”

  “Likewise.”

  Breck’s assessing gaze roved over Lainie, even when Breck had a brunette hanging off his arm. “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Breck Christianson.”

  “Lainie. And we did meet
briefly in Denver, although I doubt you remember.”

  “You’d be a hard one to forget.”

  Kyle snorted.

  Lainie smiled. “You had a pretty serious case of whiplash after getting tossed off a bronc. Doc sent you for X- rays to check for a concussion. I drove you to the hospital.”

  “That was you?”

  “Yep. I work for Lariat.”

  “So what’re you doin’ with these two yahoos?”

  “Keeping them healthy. Learning what you guys go through during Cowboy Christmas.”

  “And your opinion so far?”

  She flashed her teeth. “No comment.”

  As they mingled, Hank realized he missed the socializing during a multiday rodeo. Racing from event to event limited their interaction. What was Lainie gaining from this experience?

  Lainie chatted with a barrel racer who knew Tanna. When opening- ceremonies time neared, he and Kyle headed to the rodeo grounds and Lainie escaped to the camper to rest before the trip to Miles City.

  Maybe it was his mood from earlier carrying over, but Hank was sorry Lainie missed the Red Lodge rodeo. High scores in the saddle bronc. A new record in tie- down roping. A couple of real close calls in the bull riding section. Kyle finished second. Not where he wanted but still in the money.

  Another rodeo ended. Another trip to the winners’ tent. Another long walk to the camper. Lainie was there fiddling with the GPS, as well as studying maps spread out across the table. They dumped their duffel bags.

  Kyle spoke first. “You sure you’re okay to drive? ’Cause the truth is, me ’n’ Hank are bushed.”

  “I’ll be fine. You guys go ahead. I don’t need you to hold my hand, and if that changes, I promise I’ll wake one of you up.”

  “Good, let’s go.”

  On the road again, he and Kyle had flipped for shotgun and Hank won.

  Before Hank drifted off, he said, “By the way? Because me’n’Kyle will be fully rested when we hit Miles City, we’ve got plans for you. Naked plans.”

  That’d keep her awake, if nothing else.

  Chapter XVII

  Ten miles outside of Miles City, Montana, Lainie jabbed Hank in the ribs. His head was right beside her hip on the bench seat and she could’ve lovingly stroked his hair, but since he’d snored the entire way she wasn’t keen on being kind.

  Even Kyle, who usually seized the chance to talk to her alone while Hank slept, had immediately started sawing logs like a damn chain saw. Two performances in one day took a toll on both men.

  Maybe they won’t be up for a private performance with you.

  But getting it up had never been a problem for either of them.

  “Lainie, darlin’, are you muttering to yourself or talking to me?” Hank asked sleepily.

  “Muttering to you. Where are we stopping in Miles City?”

  “There’s a parking lot across from the rodeo grounds. The contestants’ area doesn’t open until eight.”

  “That’s in four hours.”

  “Plenty of time for what we’ve got in mind.” Hank turned and slapped Kyle’s thigh. “Rise and shine.”

  Kyle grunted.

  Lainie ignored his what we’ve got in mind comment and focused on driving.

  But Hank wouldn’t let her ignore him. The man was hell- bent on distracting her. He used his rough- tipped forefinger to trace the bones on the back of her hand. “Why’re you white- knuckling the steering wheel? Did the drive make you nervous?”

  She shook her head even as her heart raced.

  Hank stretched his arm across the back of the seat and stroked the side of Lainie’s neck.

  Kyle moved behind her in the backseat, twining her hair around his fingers. “What’re you trying so hard not to think about, sugar?”

  “Right now I’m only thinking about driving.” Liar, liar.

  “So, you’re not thinking about my hands on your tits, while Hank fingers your clit?”

  A wave of desire swamped her and she forced her gaze to stay on the white lines on the road.

  “You’re not thinking about how much you’d like us to both have our mouths on your nipples?” Hank’s finger drifted from the base of her neck down her chest. His big hand squeezed her breast and his palm rubbed her nipple outside the lacy cup of her bra. “I think Lainie needs a little reminder, Kyle.”

  “I do believe you’re right, Hank.” Kyle mimicked Hank’s position on her left side. Holding the weight of her breast in his hand.

  “I can’t wait to get my mouth on you.”

  “Kyle—”

  “Hush. I’d suck just long enough to make you squirm. Then I’d use my teeth and give you that tiny bit of pain to drive you wild.”

  “Not me,” Hank countered. “I’d suck softly. Swirling my tongue around the tip. Blowing on the wetness to see you shiver. Teasing you until I heard the whimper you make when you need to come.”

  Her sex softened and heated.

  “I’d kiss down the smooth skin of your belly. Stop to flick my tongue across every indent between the bones of your rib cage.”

  “I’d move up. Focusing on this sweet section of skin.” Hank’s thumb swept lazily over the pulse point in her throat. “See how it jumps for the attention of my mouth?”

  Lainie choked out, “You guys trying to get me to wreck the damn truck?”

  Confident male chuckles.

  “No. We’re just refreshing your memory,” Kyle murmured silkily.

  “Not that you’re thinking about getting nekkid with both of us or anything,” Hank said in her other ear. “You’re just driving, remember?’

  Good Lord. Even their voices got her hot. These men knew exactly how to rev her up. Hands caressed her. Breath teased her.

  The sexual tension in the truck cab was so thick it prickled across her skin.

  “Cat got your tongue?” Kyle asked.

  “Maybe Lainie needs a reminder of all the things we can do with our tongues.”

  “Stop.”

  Hank whispered, “No. We want you so ready for us that the crotch of your jeans is soaked clear through. Mmm. I’m getting a whiff of that sweet cream, Kyle. How about you?”

  Lainie clenched her thighs together. Ha! Like that would hide her arousal. Heck, it only drew the muscles up tighter and made the ache sharper.

  “Now that you mention it, Hank, I am detecting a hint of her hot juices.” Kyle toyed with her hair; his coarse fingertips scraped her ear as if he were fingering her clit.

  Hank said, “Exit here.”

  Miles City was dead at four a.m. The way to the rodeo grounds was clearly marked with signs— lucky for her, since her concentration was shit. Somehow she continued to hold on to the steering wheel, follow Hank’s directions, and get the truck parked in the back of the lot.

  She killed the ignition. The engine clicked and popped as it started to cool. No one moved. No one spoke.

 
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