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       Roped In, p.3

         Part #6.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  breakup text.”

  “Why didn’t you go home? I’ve been to your house. It’s huge.” He paused. “Did you have a falling out with your parents?”

  “No. But I’m twenty-seven. Returning home...I’d feel like a failure. I’ve been on my own for years. I only gave up my apartment because I was practically living at Stitch’s anyway.” She looked away. “I thought the relationship would be permanent. When it turned out not to be? I should’ve followed my mom’s advice to always take care of myself first and to not give away things for free.”

  “Meaning...why buy the cow when you’re giving the milk away for free?” he teased.

  “No. Meaning I trained Stitch’s horse. That’s part of the reason he’s done so good on the circuit this year.”

  His gut clenched. “He didn’t pay you?”

  She shook her head. “Worse. I didn’t charge him.” Absentmindedly, she traced the polo logo on his left pec and his nipple hardened. “I’ve been meaning to look for a place to live that’s centrally located, but my summer schedule is busy and I don’t seem to have enough time.”

  “But you’d have time to work with Dial?”

  “Yes, especially if I’m onsite with him. I just need a place to park my camper. That’s it. I won’t bother you at all. My morning training appointments don’t start until ten. I’m usually done by six in the evening.” Her gaze hooked his. “Wait. You don’t live at home, do you?”

  “No. I have my own place. Why?”

  “I just thought maybe your injuries were such that you moved home again so your family could help you out. I remember my mom mentioning—”

  “The last time I injured myself in the arena was five years ago, and yes, that time I did return home. As soon as I dealt with some issues, I finished the house I’d started to build for my ex. After I’d changed the layout so it was what I wanted not what she’d demanded.”

  London’s hazel eyes softened. “Glad to see I’m not the only one with baggage from an ex.”

  “You have no idea.”

  “Then tell me.”

  “Why?”

  “If we’re involved I’d know stuff like this. Plus, I’m nosy. So dish on the biggest bag.”

  Christ, she was pushy. “I met Charlotte when I started competing professionally in college. We were young. She knew what she wanted. I was too...green to see it.”

  “See what? That she just wanted you for your green?”

  “Clever. She wanted a man who made a good living but was gone all the time. After my career setback and the injuries that required multiple surgeries…I was off the circuit. That meant no money coming in and I’d be underfoot expecting her to take care of me. She bailed on me the second week of my recovery.”

  “Harsh. That sucks.”

  Sutton let himself get a full look at this woman he’d spent a good five minutes kissing. High forehead and cheekbones. Dark eyebrows and eyelashes. Her eyes were more green than brown. With her auburn hair and fair complexion he expected to see freckles, but her skin was smooth. Flawless. Her lips, when they weren’t flattened into an angry line, were pink and lush and way too tempting. If he had to describe her heart-shaped face with one word he’d say...sweet.

  “Why the fuck are you gawking at me, bulldogger?”

  And…not so sweet. Undeterred, he traced the curve of her neck, intrigued by how her pulse jumped at his touch. “Because it’s one of the first times you’ve let me. And darlin’, you are a pretty sight when you ain’t scowling at me.”

  She blushed. But she didn’t move away from his touch. “Can I ask you something?”

  “Sure.”

  “Were you ever a player?”

  “How would you react if I said yes?”

  London considered him for a moment. “I’d be surprised.”

  “Why?”

  “You seem more settled than the last time we crossed paths.”

  Wrong. He’d never been more unsettled, which was proof people saw what they wanted. “Not to disagree, but you were so busy painting me as the enemy back then that’s all you saw. I’m not a bad guy; I was just trying to prove myself in the arena. Any of the player stuff I get accused of is because I get mixed up with Saxton Green.”

  She snorted. “I’ve met him. He doesn’t hold a candle to you.” London realized she’d paid him a compliment and backtracked. “Well, hate to burst your bubble, pal, but you’ll still be proving yourself to me.”

  They realized, simultaneously, they were still body to body, face to face. But when London tried to bolt, Sutton wouldn’t let her. “Steady. Don’t want the people watching us to think we had a tiff after that kiss, would we?”

  Her eyes widened. “Do you think there are people watching us?”

  “I know there are, because darlin’, that was some kiss.”

  Her lips curved into a smile. “Yes, it was.”

  Sutton pressed his lips to her forehead. “Let’s head to your camper to finish this discussion in private before my thirty minutes are up.”

  London retreated, took his hand and said, “This way.”

  On the walk to where the competitors and exhibitors had set up camp, London said hello to several people but didn’t introduce him, and luckily no one recognized him.

  Her camper was the pull-behind kind—not fifth wheel sized, but the funky silver-bullet Airstream type. He noticed it was still hooked up to her truck. “When did you get here?”

  “Late yesterday afternoon.” She unlocked the camper door. “After you.”

  Sutton hadn’t known what to expect when he’d stepped inside, so the vibrant color scheme filled in the blanks about what kind of person London was in the hours off the dirt.

  Crafting stuff covered every inch of surface area across the small table. “I function in creative chaos and don’t normally have visitors.”

  “What’d the smashed coffee pot on the ground outside do to get tossed out?”

  “Quit working.”

  “Ah.” He leaned against the wall while she packed things away. “You’re lucky you’ve got this much space. Bad thing about bein’ on the road is there’s never enough room in the living quarters of a horse trailer.”

  “That’s why my mom insisted I get this. She has no problem hauling horses, but she insists on sleeping in a hotel.”

  “Smart lady.”

  “So, Sutton, what do you do during the day at home since you aren’t training or on the road?”

  “Physical therapy some days,” he lied. Those days were behind him. “Other days, I’m a great gate opener when my dad and brothers need extra help on the ranch.”

  London looked up sharply. “You don’t ranch?”

  He shook his head. “Growing up a rancher’s kid, I never saw the appeal, just all the damn work.”

  “I hear ya there. I didn’t date ranchers’ kids because I never wanted to be a rancher’s wife.” She sorted beads and strips of twine into a plastic catch-all container with dozens of different compartments. “Does this feel awkward to you?” she asked without meeting his gaze.

  “What? Me bein’ in your camper?”

  “That, and the fact that we’ll be spending a lot of time together over the next few weeks. An hour ago, we were strangers who’d spoken just one time and now we’ve played a pretty intense round of tonsil hockey, and here we are alone.”

  He laughed. “If I think too hard on it, yeah, it’d seem weird. But I approached you, London. I figured that my offer would catch you off guard.”

  “As I’m sure my counter offer did you.”

  “Yeah. Well, I ain’t exactly sure how that’ll work.”

  London’s shoulders stiffened.

  “That came out wrong. What I meant is we’re acting like a couple only on the weekends?”

  “Saturdays are my workshops, so I’d like you to be around after my sessions end.”

  “Not before?”

  “I don’t expect world champion steer wrestler Sutton Grant to stand around holding m
y clipboard and collecting payments.”

  “You’d be surprised at what I’d do to get a sense of purpose these days,” he said dryly.

  She smiled and kept packing stuff away. “If the rodeo finals are held on Sunday, there’s usually a dance Saturday night. I’d like to put in an appearance because that’d be normal for me. And since we’re together...” She glanced up at him. “Speaking of, what will we tell those nosy people who ask how we ended up falling in lurve so suddenly?”

  Sutton scratched his chin. He really needed to shave. And make sure he didn’t dress like a bum. No daily schedule meant he’d gotten lax on dressing the cowboy way, as he’d done for years. “How about the truth? I was havin’ behavioral issues with Dial. I knew you’d trained him so I asked you for help. We spent a lot of time together and that’s our lurve story.”

  “Perfect.” She snapped the locks on her huge plastic tote. “Done.”

  “What is all that anyway?”

  “Like I said, creative chaos. I’m the super high-energy type, which means I always need to be doing something. Making jewelry forces me to focus and slow down. It’s a hobby, but since I’m so task oriented, I’m very prolific.”

  He could see that. “How many pieces you finish in a night?”

  London shrugged. “At least two. Some nights as many as ten.”

  “Sweet Christ, woman. What do you do with them?”

  “They’re in plastic tubs in the bedroom. Hell, I think there might even be some tubs on the bed. Not like the bed has seen any action lately.”

  We could remedy that. Right now.

  She seemed embarrassed by her confession. Before she fled, Sutton hooked a finger in her belt loop, stopping her.

  “Whoa there. No running away. Especially not in here since there’s no room for me to chase you, darlin’.”

  Her eyes blazed. “Let go.”

  “Nope. You’re gonna tell me what you meant when you said the bed hadn’t seen any action.”

  “That’s none of your damn business.”

  “Wrong. Every low-down dirty personal detail about you is now my business bein’s we’re a couple in lurve.” To reinforce his point, he crowded her against the cabinet. “If I remember correctly, you said your ex broke up with you a month ago. So it’s been a month since that mattress has had a real pounding?”

  “That mattress has been jostled and bounced, but it’s never been pounded.”

  Sutton quirked an eyebrow. “Stitch too much of a gentleman to give you a good hard fuck?”

  The fire in her eyes died. “Just drop it.”

  “How long’s it been for you, London?”

  “Four months.”

  “Motherfuckin’ hell. What was wrong with that asswipe? He had sexy you in his bed and he left you alone for three goddamned months?”

  “Yes. Apparently he was getting what he needed from Paige so he didn’t touch me. I made excuses for his behavior. He was stressed, I was too pushy, I was too kinky. You name it, I took the blame.” She sighed and studied the logo on his shirt again.

  “No sirree. You ain’t takin’ the blame for him bein’ a total douche-nozzle.”

  That brought a smile.

  “And I will tell you something else.”

  “What?”

  “I will take complete blame for this.” Sutton’s mouth crashed down on hers. With every insistent sweep of his tongue, with every sweet and heady taste of her, his pulse hammered and his cock hardened. He imagined hoisting her onto the counter and driving into her, finding out firsthand where her kink started and how hard she’d let him push her. The second kiss was hotter than the first. Once the embers started smoldering, it wouldn’t be long before they ignited.

  She kissed him back with the same hot need. By the time they ended the kiss, they were both breathing hard and staring at each other with something akin to shock.

  Then London nestled the side of her face against his chest. “Okay. Wow. Normally I’d say, whoa, let’s take a step back, but all I can think is I’d rather take a running step forward straight to my bedroom.”

  “In due time, darlin’.”

  “You busy right now? Or are you just out of condoms?”

  He stroked her hair and smiled against the top of her head. After a bit he said, “Yeah, I’m out of condoms. Haven’t needed them.”

  She lifted her head and looked at him. “What? A hot, built guy like you ain’t getting any at all?”

  “Nope. You said it’s been four months for you? I’ve got you beat. It’s been over nine months for me. Since before my accident.”

  London’s skeptical gaze roamed over his face. “Are you just saying that to make me feel less shitty?”

  “Why would you think that?”

  She slid her hands up his chest and curled her fingers around his jaw. “Because you look like this.”

  He blushed. “Now you’re just bein’ ridiculous.”

  “You can’t honestly tell me you don’t have women hitting on you all the freakin’ time.”

  “Not lately, bein’s I’ve been holed up at home recovering. Ain’t a lot of women prowling around my place. My dogs tend to run them off.”

  “Sutton. I’m serious.”

  “So am I.” He counted to five. “Women don’t want to see a man struggling to put himself back together. It’s easier to go it alone. I found that out the hard way the first time.” He tugged her hands away from his face, sidestepping her and the topic. “So is there a dance tonight?”

  His abrupt subject change perplexed her. “Yeah, but I’d decided to skip it.”

  Sutton angled his head toward her box of jewelry supplies. “Got other plans?”

  “Maybe.” London pointed to the back of the camper. “Got a mattress that needs pounding. And darlin’”—she gave him a hungry, full-body perusal—”you look completely recovered to me.”

  “Much as I’d love to take you up on that offer, ain’t gonna happen today.”

  “Why not?”

  “Because even before my injury I wasn’t the kind of guy to indulge in indiscriminate sex.” That made him sound like a total pussy. He made light of it. “That’s why they call me ‘The Saint,’ remember? Plus, I’m gonna make you at least buy me dinner first.”

  “There’s a box of Corn Pops in the cupboard. And the milk is fresh.” She waggled her eyebrows. “I’d totally give it away to you for free.”

  He laughed. “Taunting me won’t change my mind.”

  “So saintly you is leaving just when it’s starting to get interesting?”

  “Yep. I said my piece. Come by tomorrow when you get done here. I’ll be around.” He picked up the clipboard and scrawled his address and phone number in the last box where she’d written—D.L. A-ride. “Didja get my joke?”

  “Dial a ride? Yes. Not funny.”

  “I’ve heard that before too.”

  “What?”

  “That I lack a sense of humor and I’m always too serious about everything. So with that...” He headed for the door.

  London grabbed his hand. “Did I scare you off by being too aggressive? Is that why you’re slinking outta here like a scalded cat?”

  “No.” He said, “No,” again more forcefully when her eyes remained skeptical. “I like that you know what you want—I’ll never judge you for that. This all happened fast. You kissed me once; I kissed you once. I’m guessing the heat between us surprised us both, and hot stuff, ain’t no doubt there’s an inferno between us just waiting to ignite. We both need to think about it and decide how far this is gonna go before it blows up in our faces. But it’s not happening an hour after we reconnected. And not ten steps from a bed.”

  “For the record, can I say I hate that you’re right?” She plucked up the clipboard and clutched it to her chest. “I didn’t even like you an hour ago. Now I’m pissy that you won’t test the bounce factor of my mattress, so obviously my head isn’t clear.”

  “Lust and reason rarely go hand in hand.” Sutton let hi
s gaze move over her, making sure she knew he liked what he saw. “Let’s let reason win today.”

  “Fine. But it doesn’t feel like much of a victory.”

  “For me either, sweetheart.”

  After Sutton exited London’s camper, he headed straight for his truck. Unlike past years on the rodeo circuit, no one stopped him to chat. No one recognized him. That would’ve bothered him when he’d been trying to make a name for himself. Now it just drove home the point he
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