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One night rodeo, p.3
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       One Night Rodeo, p.3

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  lined with people, but no one intercepted him.

  “Who are all these people?” she whispered.

  “No fuckin’ idea.”

  “Why aren’t they talking to you?”

  “It’s a stipulation in my contract that no one talks to me for two hours prior to a performance. Unless it’s an emergency.”

  “Sometimes I forget you’re this big country music star beloved by millions and not just the meanie who used to hang me upside down from the barn rafters.”

  “That was Kyle, not me.”

  “You used to hide in the basement closet and jump out and scare me.”

  “I had no part in that. Blame—”

  “Kyle. I get it. Just a reminder that he’s always been horrible to me.”

  “He didn’t seem horrible to you today at the hospital. In fact, he was straight up freaked out when he called me.”

  “Guilt, I’m sure. Afraid my brothers would find some way to put the blame on him for my accident.”

  “Accident?” He lifted a brow. “That’s stretching it. But you didn’t seem to mind his attentions, Cele.”

  Don’t respond. Be cool.

  Devin’s private ready room resembled a pricey hotel room, with a plush sitting area and a fancy bathroom complete with a lighted makeup mirror and a stylist’s chair. A small bar dominated one corner. Privacy screens blocked off an area behind the living space. Probably a makeshift bedroom. Guitars, notebooks, water bottles, and articles of clothing were scattered across the sofas, coffee table, and chairs.

  Devin plopped down on the couch. “You are coming to the postconcert blowout at the Trade Winds Casino?”

  “I guess. Why you having it there?”

  “Because it’s a total dive. Cheap drinks, haggard cocktail waitresses, a crummy wedding chapel, a greasy-spoon diner, all with a honky-tonk theme straight from the fifties. It’s perfectly retro and I’m feeling nostalgic.”

  Devin grabbed an acoustic guitar and propped his bare feet on the coffee table. He strummed a haunting melody. He’d stop, scribble in a notebook, then pick up where he left off—both the conversation and his guitar playing. He’d always done that, talked while he noodled with the strings and wrote music when it looked like he was screwing around. Sometimes it was hard to reconcile Devin the scrawny, happy-go-lucky kid with Devin the songwriter who penned such dark songs about love, lack of it, and no redemption.

  “What’s been goin’ on in your world?” he asked.

  “Same old same old. Trying to win enough money in barrel racing to justify doin’ it for another year.”

  “What will you do if you don’t?”

  “Maybe enroll in trade school and get a degree as a vet’s assistant, since I know a lot about livestock. Fletch has always said I could go to work for him.”

  He stopped playing to jot something down. “I take it you’re not going home much?”

  “Did Hank or Abe say something to you?” she asked sharply.

  “No. I’ve sensed restlessness in you the last couple of times we’ve talked. What’s keeping you from ditching the rodeo life and settling down in Muddy Gap?”

  “And do what? I’m the odd one out in the Lawson family. I’ve got no place to live. My brothers are married with families of their own. Harper and Bran are married. My new buddy Tierney married Renner Jackson. Tanna is the exception, which is why she insists I spend my off-tour time with her in Texas.”

  “Weren’t you seeing some guy, kinda seriously?”

  “Breck and I were hook-up buddies and it wasn’t exclusive.” At least not on Breck’s end. “I’m not looking to get married. What about you?”

  Devin snorted. “Not hardly. I don’t lack for hook-up offers, and that’s fine by me. Touring is a bitch. But I ain’t bitching because this career is fickle. I can have a song at the top of the charts, sell out big venues, and the next year won’t land a recording contract. It happens all the damn time, and it will happen to me eventually, so I’m gonna ride this ride as long as I can. Then maybe I’ll find a woman who ain’t impressed with the celebrity and just wants a simple country boy from Wyoming.”

  “Tell you what, Dev. If your career hits the skids and I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’ll marry you. I know you from the days you sported a mullet. I saw you barf after gutting an antelope. And I’m thankful for the cool cred you gave me my first year on the Cowboy Rodeo Association tour when you showed up after an event and whisked me off to dinner in your tour bus.”

  “We had fun that night, huh?” Devin gave her a considering look. “All right. If in a couple of years we’re both unhappily single, we’ll tie the knot.”

  “Although, sex might be weird. Vaguely—”

  “Incestuous,” they finished simultaneously and laughed.

  “Not to mention her brothers would fucking kill you,” Kyle drawled behind her, “but it’d probably be worth it.”

  Celia whipped around to see Kyle exiting the screened-off area. “Why do you always have to scare me half to death?”

  “Like you scared me when I left the bathroom and found a fucking note on the bed?”

  Shit.

  “At least she left a note,” Devin pointed out.

  “I don’t appreciate bein’ ditched, Celia,” Kyle said in that deep, sexy rasp of his.

  She stood, hoping neither man noticed her body swaying from the drinks that were catching up with her. “Being forced to hang out with me has to cramp your style, bull rider.”

  “That might be true if I had a style. And you can’t force me to do anything. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t wanna be.”

  Devin sighed. “No fighting. I need only good vibes in here, okay?”

  “We’ll just go over here,” Kyle said, directing Celia to the bar. He filled two shot glasses with three fingers of tequila.

  “So we callin’ a truce?” Celia murmured.

  Kyle’s eyes pinned hers. “I thought we’d called a truce on New Year’s.”

  “Kyle. Don’t. Not now.”

  “You promised we’d talk about this and we haven’t. So we’re gonna talk about it now. Why did you come to Vegas?”

  “For Devin’s concert,” she said way too fast.

  He got right in her face. “Really?”

  Stop being such a chickenshit. Celia threw her shoulders back and met his heated gaze head-on. “No.”

  “At least that was honest.” Kyle inched even closer. “What are you so afraid of?”

  Tequila truth serum had her blurting out, “You. And me. What if that kiss…that weekend we spent together…was a fluke?”

  “What if it wasn’t?” he countered softly.

  Flustered, she had to glance away.

  Kyle tipped her chin up. “Tell me you don’t feel this.”

  “I do feel it. I don’t know what to do about it.”

  “Give in to it. Just for one night. What’s the worst that could happen?” He held his shot glass up for a toast.

  Celia clinked her glass to his and downed the tequila. “Fine. I’ll give in to it. But you’d better keep me from doing anything stupid.”

  Chapter One

  Present day

  Celia stared at Kyle lounging on the bed, admiring his wedding ring. “Wrong. We are not going to Wyoming. We are marching down to that wedding chapel right now, telling them it was a mistake, and getting an annulment.”

  “No.”

  “No? I had a fucking head injury yesterday! You cannot believe for one second I was in my right mind when I agreed to marry you!”

  “You signed the papers. With little hearts by our names, if memory serves. So some part of you wanted to marry me, Celia.”

  Her jaw dropped. He was wrong. Completely, totally, utterly wrong wrong wrong.

  Wasn’t he?

  His hungry gaze took full measure of her body. “I’ll bet the scent of my cologne is still all over your skin.”

  Celia fought the urge to blush because he’d been saying sex stuff
like that since the moment she’d woken up. She stubbornly repeated, “I don’t remember a damn thing from last night.”

  “Don’t matter. I have this”—he jerked aside his shirt collar to show a small purple hickey—“to prove it.”

  Holy crap. She’d done that?

  “What’s the last thing you do remember?” he prompted.

  She tried to sort through her hazy memories, rattling off, “Us drinking tequila in the cab on the ride to the Trade Winds after Devin’s concert. I went to find Tanna and I took…a couple or three painkillers because my head and ribs hurt.”

  Kyle’s eyebrow winged up. “Three painkillers? Did you wash them down with booze?”

  “I don’t know.” Man, she’d been full of stupid decisions last night. “So at what point did we exchange vows of eternal devotion and cheap-ass rings?”

  “Hey, I checked the receipt this mornin’. The rings were a hundred bucks a pop, so they ain’t completely cheap.”

  He had a receipt? “Do you remember everything from last night?”

  Kyle leveled that damnably charming smile at her.

  Dammit. “Who else knows we had the clichéd, quickie, soon-to-be-annulled wedding in Sin City?”

  “Evidently Devin and Tanna were our witnesses.”

  Oh fuck. Celia slumped in the chair. This was seriously not good.

  “I take it you haven’t talked to Tanna today?”

  “No. I was a little busy trying to wrap my head around the fact that I woke up naked, hungover as hell, and wearing your wedding ring!”

  His phone rang. He muttered, “I figured she wouldn’t like me hanging up on her.”

  Celia had been so concerned about dealing with the bogus marriage issue, she’d lost focus for a few minutes about the terse phone call she’d interrupted. “What did you mean when you said she dropped a bombshell about your alleged father?”

  The teasing smile on his face vanished. “That’s exactly it. I don’t know what she meant. She mentioned some kind of inheritance, my father wanting to see me right away, and then she clammed up. When I demanded the full truth, she got pissy. Then I got pissy.” The phone stopped ringing.

  “Don’t you want to know what this is about? Obviously she’s anxious to talk to you.”

  His eyes were conflicted. “Maybe. It’s freakin’ me out. That, coupled with your near hysteria from last night’s…” He looked away and his jaw tightened. “Never mind. It ain’t your problem.”

  Seeing Kyle morph from mocking to morose so quickly triggered an odd need to soothe him. For once Celia didn’t dissect the feeling. She just gave in to it and sat down next to him on the bed. “So make it my problem. Talk to me.”

  “You haven’t exactly been civil to me since you woke up at the crack of two this afternoon.”

  “Blame it on the shock at discovering I’d been intimately involved in a civil ceremony last night.”

  “You’re not blaming me?” Kyle asked skeptically.

  “For us getting hitched? Yes, I’m blaming you.” Celia jabbed at him with her finger. “You were supposed to keep me from doing something stupid.”

  He studied her. Pointed at her with his beer bottle. “Well, I don’t think it was stupid.”

  His calm acceptance caused her to blurt out, “I don’t even know what the hell to say to that.”

  The phone rang again.

  “We’re in the same boat because I don’t know what the hell to say to her. About my father. Christ.” He chugged the rest of his beer. “Talk about bizarre.”

  She patted his thigh. “Kyle. It has to be hard for her too. Talk to her.”

  “This oughta be fun.” He answered his phone. “Mom. Yeah, I am sorry. No. I don’t understand. Why now?” After a minute or so, Kyle stood and paced, holding the phone with one hand, gesturing wildly with the other. “If you think I’m gonna haul ass all the way to Wyoming so you can have the dramatic edge of dropping his name on me in person, think again. Either give me his name right freakin’ now or I’m hanging up.”

  Kyle froze. Every bit of blood drained from his face. Then he aimed his focus on the carpet, listening to whatever his mother was saying without argument.

  Celia watched his hand curl into a fist, his knuckles turning white. She had the strangest compulsion to open that tight fist and thread her fingers through his. To ease his tension. To let him know she was right there if he needed her.

  “Yeah. I understand. I’m sure. No. I get it. Probably a few hours. Okay. Love you too. Bye.” Without another word he locked himself in the bathroom.

  Great. What was she supposed to do now? Beat on the door and make him talk to her?

  Use his distraction to push for an annulment?

  Celia’s cell phone vibrated with a text message from Tanna. Good afternoon, Mrs. Gilchrist! Call me. I just hit the road for TX and wanna know your plans.

  Tanna could shed light on what had happened last night. Celia put the security latch in the door to keep it from shutting and snuck into the hallway.

  Tanna answered immediately, busted out “Single Ladies,” and then laughed. “But that doesn’t fit you anymore, does it, Mrs. Gilchrist?”

  “Ha ha, T.”

  “Can I just do my I-told-you-so dance? I knew it was only a matter of the right timing before you and Kyle publicly admitted your feelings for each other.”

  The right timing? After way too many tequila shooters?

  “Despite the fact you were both pretty hammered, it was romantic how he swept you off the dance floor and yelled, ‘I’m marryin’ this woman right now before any of you bastards try to take her away from me’ and then ran with you to the chapel.”

  Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Kyle had yelled that? And they’d been dancing?

  Tanna kept blathering on, as she was prone to do. “I couldn’t believe you guys already had the paperwork filled out and the rings chosen by the time I tracked Devin down and we showed up to be your witnesses. The whole thing, from Kyle’s declaration on the dance floor to the official pronunciation of man and wife, took twenty minutes tops. And I’m impressed you still had time to write your own wedding vows.”

  She’d written her own wedding vows? She sank to the floor in the hallway, tempted to beat her head into her knees, until she remembered she had stitches in her forehead.

  “Although your love and dove rhyme wasn’t particularly original, nor was Kyle’s use of ass and class appropriate, the rest was really sweet and heartfelt. Like you’d both been holding your feelings inside for a long time. And that kiss.” Tanna sighed. “It was beautiful, but surprisingly raunchy. I’ve never seen you so happy, Celia. God. You were giddy with joy.”

  How was it she couldn’t remember anything? And was it lucky or unlucky that Tanna did?

  “Cele? You there?”

  “Ah. Yeah.” Celia changed the subject, lest Tanna figure out just how much she didn’t remember from her own damn wedding. “Just wondering what you and Devin did after Kyle and I took off?”

  “Drank some. Then two fan-girl chicks horned in and offered to blow him, so the man-whore whisked them to his tour bus. For all I know they might be on their way to Portland with him right now.”

  “As you can imagine, I’ve been out of it today. Did you call Lainie and tell her that me and Kyle…?”

  “Yes! She’s so excited for you guys. But I made her promise to wait to tell Hank until she got the okay from you two. But I wouldn’t put it past Devin to blab far and wide, so if I were you, I’d start making calls.” She muttered something. “Sorry, C, gotta go. Traffic is a bitch on this road so I need to concentrate on my driving, bein’s I lost my traveling partner to the hottest bull rider on the circuit. Call me later.”

  Celia studied the floral-patterned carpet, trying to force any memory at all to the surface. Maybe she was trying too hard. Maybe if she let it…jell, it’d all come back to her.

  Her phone buzzed in her hand with a text message. From Lainie.

  I can’t believe you and
Kyle got married last night! I haven’t said a
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