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One night rodeo, p.26
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       One Night Rodeo, p.26

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  “Neither of us had a parental marriage to model ours after, or a bad pattern to avoid, which has been a blessing. Renner can’t say, My parents always did it this way, because his mother died when he was young. So did mine. Our parents’ initial marriages left no lasting imprint on either of us.”

  Sometimes Tierney talked way above Celia’s head. Imprinting? Modeling? Wasn’t every marriage supposed to be unique to that couple? What worked for one couple didn’t mean it was gospel for every other couple? Another thought crossed her mind. Were all the guys giving Kyle husbandly advice on how to handle her?

  “I’m sorry, Celia. I’m blathering on and I’m supposed to be listening to you.”

  “I’m trying to take in the fact I’m actually at my own wedding shower.” She cocked her head toward the room where the guys were holed up. “How’d you get them to show up? The promise of free booze?”

  Tierney regarded her oddly. “No. The promise of fireworks. Between you and Kyle.”

  She frowned. “Really?”

  “On the guys’ side there’s a betting pool about how many dirty looks you’ll give Kyle once you two get into the same room.”

  “And the women’s side?”

  “Oh, the women are more romantic. They have a bet on how many kisses he’ll give you to try to wipe those dirty looks off your face.”

  It made her a little sad that these people believed she couldn’t change. That she’d be combative with Kyle as her husband, as she’d been when Kyle had just been an annoyance in her life.

  She feared maybe he still saw her as a necessary annoyance. He needed her ranching help. He wanted her physically, almost obsessively. He could put up with her on a temporary basis because there was the benefit of kick-ass sex.

  The hollow feeling expanded to think Kyle might be justifying their marriage at her expense.

  Kyle wouldn’t do that. He’s no more the same guy he was years ago when you two constantly butted heads than you are the bratty girl who used to torture him. You need to tell him how you feel. Or at least that your feelings have changed.

  “Celia?” Tierney said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

  She looked up. “You didn’t. I was just trying to figure out how much my brothers bet against me. And if Kyle is in there shooting whiskey.”

  “Hey, Renner bringing up the tequila shooters incident reminded me of something from that night last year. Right after Kyle showed up at the bar before we started getting wild, he whispered something to you. Seemed pretty intense. Do you remember what he said?”

  Don’t do this to yourself, kitten. If Breck doesn’t know where you’ve been all week he doesn’t deserve you. It’s killin’ me to see you so damn unhappy. Let’s go somewhere. Just you and me, and talk.

  If Celia hadn’t promised Tierney she’d hang out with her, she would’ve left with Kyle right then.

  She should have. Because directly after Renner and Tierney had taken off, Breck and his cowboy posse bailed. She’d had no choice but to go along because she’d had nowhere else to go. Then Breck and Michael turned in early because they were tired.

  Tired of keeping up pretenses most likely.

  “Sorry. You don’t have to answer that.”

  Torn from the past, Celia blinked at Tierney. “In a nutshell, he said, Dump Breck. Which I did shortly thereafter.”

  Fletch and a guy Celia didn’t know were zipping their coats and appeared to be headed out the door.

  Tierney stepped in front of them. “Where are you guys going?”

  “We hit a lull and I need Fletch to look at a couple of things while he’s out this way.”

  Fletch tugged on Celia’s veil and grinned. “Hard to believe you’re a married woman, brat. Married to Kyle, no less.”

  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the I’m shocked comment plenty of times.”

  “I’m not shocked. I’m thrilled you two boneheads stopped fighting long enough to actually talk to each other.”

  Celia squinted at him with disbelief.

  “He wore that same look just now when I said the same thing to him.”

  “And how did my loving husband respond?”

  “That he’d had his eye on you a lot longer than he’d admit. But of course, I already knew that too.” Fletch smirked. “I’m an excellent judge of animal behavior.”

  She cuffed him on the arm. “So have you found an assistant yet?”

  “Nope. They last about two months. Then I’m looking again. I’ve decided it’s easier to do it all myself. Why? You know someone who’s interested and qualified?”

  “I was just thinkin’ about your comment that if I ever did follow through and become a veterinary assistant you’d hire me.”

  “I meant it. But it’s not like you won’t have your hands full helping Kyle run you guys’ ranch.”

  “Hey, Fletch, the warden granted us some yard time,” the man next to Tierney drawled.

  Talk about looking like ten miles of bad road. This guy had dark circles under his piercing brown eyes, a scraggly beard covering the entire lower half of his face, shaggy blackish brown hair hanging from beneath his gray cowboy hat. He was a big guy, at least six foot three, and his clothes hung off him like a scarecrow. She guessed his age to be around hers, and he’d be good-looking if he took any kind of pride in his appearance.

  After she realized she’d been staring, she thrust out her hand. “I don’t believe we’ve met. Celia.”

  “Hugh Pritchett. I manage Jackson Stock Contracting for Renner and the tyrant—I mean Tierney—when she lets me.”

  “Let you. You do whatever the hell you want.” Tierney rolled her eyes. “Besides, you look like death warmed over, so no working livestock. It’s supposed to be your day off, Hugh.”

  “Ain’t no days off in this business,” he said.

  “Got that right,” Celia replied.

  “I’ve seen you run barrels a coupla times. You’re good. Plans to continue that?”

  “Nope.”

  “Your husband said he’s done with ridin’ bulls too, which don’t hurt my feelings none. He rode BB last year, and that’s sayin’ something, since he’s the only one.”

  Fletch sighed. “You two will talk rodeo all damn day. Come on, Hugh, let’s get this check over with so I can get back to drinkin’ on my day off.”

  Soon as they were gone, Tierney shook her head. “I worry about Hugh. He’d work twenty-four/seven if Renner let him.”

  “No offense, but he looks a little ragged.”

  “Hugh’s wife refused to move to Wyoming when Renner relocated the stock business here, and she filed for divorce. Messed him up bad. He’s lost seventy pounds in the last year. Calls it the divorce diet. He’s a great guy and he hates when I mother him, so I do it as often as possible.”

  “He needs fashion advice from Harper. I’m surprised she hasn’t attempted to make him over.”

  “She’s been buying stuff in his size, because the man doesn’t need to lose another pound. When she puts her mind to making him look decent, he won’t know what hit him.” Tierney looped her arm through Celia’s. “Let’s see who won the prizes.”

  “More vibrators?”

  “Please. Not all the gifts are sexually oriented.” She groaned. “But I’m starting to think that’s what the partygoers would’ve preferred.”

  Celia laughed.

  Tilda won the name-the-food game and her prize was a cookbook—which she donated to Celia.

  Lainie won the name-the-apron-items game and her prize was a bottle of flavored cooking oil—which she also donated to Celia.

  “Okay, this is the last question, Celia, so come up here while Tobin pours the shots.” Harper asked, “What do you consider ‘your song’?”

  The memory came rushing back. At the concert with Kyle, standing in the wings. Devin had looked at them from center stage and said, “This is dedicated to my hometown friends.” She remembered her belly swooped when she glanced at Kyle and knew he felt it too. Even through h
er haze of alcohol she’d known. No wonder she’d ended up married to him that night.

  “Celia?” Tierney prompted.

  “The song is ‘Right in Front of Me’ by Devin McClain.”

  “That’s what Kyle said too. Pour this woman a shot.”

  “The time has come to open presents!” Harper clapped with glee.

  Lainie leaned over. “I’ll admit I snooped in your kitchen cupboards when we visited. I made a list of what you didn’t have and shared it with the shower attendees. Hope you don’t mind.”

  “I’m overwhelmed. Thank you.”

  The present opening took more than an hour. Celia could not believe the mountain of household items. Garnet referred to a few items as bood-war gifts, like the Hitachi “massager” with attachments and a basket of flavored body oils, and a jumbo bottle of lube. No one fessed up to that one and Celia suspected it was from Tanna.

  “There’s one last game to play and it involves the guys, so ladies, make room while we get Celia ready.”

  Harper hustled her from the room and led her down the hallway to Wild West Clothiers.

  “I don’t have to change clothes, do I?”

  “No. First I wanted to give you and Kyle your wedding gift from me’n Bran.” She unlocked the door and flipped on the lights. “It’s up here.”

  Curious, Celia followed her to the cash register.

  Harper picked up a painting leaning against the wall and turned it around. “I saw you looking at this one when you were shopping. The woman in this picture reminds me of you.”

  The picture was a cattle drive scene. A blond-haired woman on horseback was driving cows across the prairie. The sky was that magnificent color of blue that seemed to be found only in Wyoming. The fences were broken down in places. The ground was so dry dust swirled around the cows’ legs. At the forefront of the picture was a man on a horse with his broad back to the viewer as he waited. For just a moment the image came to life. That could be her future with Kyle. The tears she’d sworn she wouldn’t cry sprang to her eyes.

  “Harper,” she said hoarsely. “It’s such a stunning gift. I don’t know what to say. Thank you doesn’t seem enough.”

  “Now you know how I feel. You sent me to Bran, Celia. I can’t ever repay you for that. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” Then Harper hugged her and they were both crying. And they started giggling because they were crying.

  Tierney cleared her throat. “I figured this had happened. You two getting all mushy.”

  “Oh, shut up, Tierney. I saw you tearing up when you watched them entwined together on the dance floor at Buckeye Joe’s a few weeks back.”

  “Guilty.” She pointed to the painting. “I’m glad that’s going to your place, Celia. But it makes the Crock-Pot I gave you pale in comparison, huh?”

  “But we need a Crock-Pot.”

  “Such a diplomat. What are we using for a blindfold, Harper?”

  Celia froze. “Blindfold?”

  “For the last game.” Tierney snagged a paisley-patterned scarf from a rack. “This’ll work. Turn around.”

  Everything went black. Then something was smeared under each nostril. A mint scent wafted up. “What the hell?”

  “Don’t be a baby. It’s just a dab of peppermint oil.”

  Now Celia was really confused.

  “Let’s go.” Tierney led her out.

  Noises became louder, but she couldn’t make out any individual voices.

  “So, everybody, the first couple of games tested how well Celia and Kyle know each other. This game will test how well she knows him by touch. Celia can’t see. She can’t smell. You all will not give her any hints by making noise. Gentlemen, you will not speak.”

  “Boo!” came from the back of the room.

  She snickered, recognizing Bernice’s voice.

  “Gentlemen, bare your body parts.”

  More catcalls.

  “Out of ten male arms, you get to figure out which one belongs to Kyle.”

  This would be a piece of cake.

  Tierney placed Celia’s hand on the first forearm. Celia started at the wrist and smoothed her hand up to the crease in the elbow. Nope. Not Kyle. Too bony. The second forearm was too hairy. The third forearm too thick. The fourth one was close, but not quite.

  But when she touched the fifth forearm, she knew. Strong and meaty, with two big veins that bulged across all that rock-hard muscle. She was tempted to stroke her thumb in the crease of his elbow to see if he flinched, because Kyle always did. But she moved on. Taking her time. Keeping a puzzled expression on her face like she couldn’t make up her mind.

  “So, do you know which one is your husband’s arm?”

  “Number five.”

  “You’re sure?”

  “Without a doubt.”

  “Sure enough to lay a big wet kiss on man number five, even when it might not be him?”

  “It is him.”

  “Why are you so confident?”

  “Because I’ve been drooling over Kyle’s arms for a lot longer than just the little time we’ve been married.”

  Catcalls rang out.

  “Contestant number five, come forward.”

  Celia’s heart beat a little faster when the blindfold slipped off. She had a brief glimpse into Kyle’s gleaming eyes right before he kissed the daylights out of her.

  Chapter Sixteen

  The smartest thing he’d ever done was marry this woman.

  Kyle picked her up and carried her out of the room as he continued to kiss her. He backed her against the wall.

  She blinked those liquid silver eyes at him.

  “What?”

  “A blow job is my favorite drink, Kyle? Really?”

  He laughed. “I figured we oughta have some fun with it. I also figured you’d shoot back that my favorite shot was a wet pussy.”

  “I had no idea that shot even existed.”

  He raised his eyebrows. “But you know a drink called tie me to the bedpost?”

  “I almost said tie me down and fuck me,” she retorted.

  “We’ll have to try it sometime.”

  “The drink?”

  Kyle shook his head.

  Ooh, look at the flash of interest in Celia’s eyes.

  “So what did you ladies do? Sounded like you were havin’ a wild time.”

  “Played games. Did some shots. You should see the pile of presents we got.”

  “Yeah? How come I didn’t get to help open them?”

  Celia rolled her eyes. “Do you even care that the pot holders from Susan match the hand towels and dishrags from Bernice?”

  “Point taken.”

  “What did you guys do?”

  “Talked about ranching. Drank beer. Talked about cattle stuff that I always tuned out before, but this time I paid attention. A few differing opinions.”

  She pecked him on the lips. “The only opinion that matters is mine, right?”

  Somehow he’d been afraid she’d say that. He changed the subject. “Speaking of Susan…I heard some interesting gossip. She’s considering selling the Buckeye. She’s tired of working all the time.”

  “Really? That’d be weird to have someone else own it.”

  “We should go dancing there next week,” he murmured, crowding her body with his. “We had a good time last time we went.”

  “You aren’t thinking about the dancing part at all. You’re thinking about the vertical bop we did against the building after getting hot and bothered on the dance floor.”

 
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