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       Corralled, p.31

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  “I know.”

  “I’ll keep in touch.”

  The last thing he heard was Lainie saying, “I’ll help you pack.”

  Outside the door to the camper, Kyle said, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m already packed up.”

  “Maybe I just want to talk to you in private.”

  Lainie glanced at the duffel bag and Kyle’s equipment bag. She jammed her hands in her pockets. “You’re ditching us for Breck, huh?”

  “His traveling partner left yesterday, so it’s actually great timing.”

  “Breck seems like a good guy.”

  “He is.”

  Her stomach roiled when she saw the wariness on Kyle’s face.

  “I won’t ask you not to go.”

  “I know. Which is why I’m goin’,” he said softly.

  She’d been a fool to believe no one would get hurt in this situation. “I’ll be rooting for you.”

  “I appreciate it. I hope my luck holds.”

  “It will. You’re a great bull rider.”

  A ghost of a smile appeared and vanished. “Don’t give me those sad puppy- dog eyes, Lainie. We knew it’d end. It just happened sooner than we expected.”

  Lainie had no response.

  “Hank will heal faster at home in Muddy Gap. Especially with you taking care of him. He’s a great guy, but I don’t need to tell you that.”

  “Kyle, I didn’t mean—”

  He held up his hand, halting her excuse. “I know. You didn’t want to choose. But you have. I accept that. I’ll admit to feeling a bit glum, as I’d hoped it’d be me. But to be honest, Hank is the best guy I know. You’re the best woman I know, so in my mind, you and Hank are the best match.”

  She swallowed, determined not to cry.

  “Don’t worry. I won’t be an ass to you or Hank, or blab to anyone about how we spent Cowboy Christmas. It’ll stay our secret, because, sugar, I don’t have a single regret.”

  “Me either.”

  “When I see you at CRA events, I won’t make it awkward—”

  “You won’t see me at CRA events,” she blurted. “Or at EBS events. Or at any events.”

  His eyes clouded with confusion, then sharpened with suspicion. “What are you talking about?”

  Her shoulders slumped against the camper. “I’m switching to an administrative position with Lariat. Full- time. I can quit my part- time EMT job. No more weekends on the road. To be honest, it isn’t as glamorous as I imagined.”

  Kyle frowned and she backpedaled.

  “Don’t get me wrong. I love the people part of my job. But all I see is the airport or the inside of my car, another hotel room, and the medical room.”

  “And you just realized this?”

  “Maybe. This constant traveling opened my eyes. Showed me what my dad went through in his quest to be the number one bull rider in the world. Made me appreciate my mother’s point of view.”

  She inhaled and let out a sigh. “She’s off base on a lot of things, but she was right about this. I’m getting the short end of the stick working half- time for Lariat. It’d be easier to be on the road full-time or not at all. I’m choosing not at all.

  “It’s another reason why this worked for us. We’re at a crossroads in our lives. You, switching to the CRA. Hank, trying to decide if he wants to do the bullfighting gig full- time. Me, realizing I don’t want my life to be work and sleep.”

  “Does Hank know about your job change?”

  She shook her head. “I’d planned to tell you both at the same time. But since you’re moving on, I figured you deserved to know the truth.”

  Kyle scratched his goatee. “I’m surprised, but not completely.

  I’d wondered about your change of heart from a big ‘no’ to throwing yourself into our threesome idea. Was the thought that you wouldn’t have to face either of us afterward why you agreed at the last minute?”

  “Yes.”

  Silence.

  Lainie tried to remember why she thought this scenario would be an easy, fun fling.

  “Hey.” Kyle touched her cheek. “No regrets, remember? It’s all good, Lainie. I’ll be fine. I promise.”

  She looked at him. No anger or sadness lingered on his face.

  Just acceptance. “You are a great man, Kyle Gilchrist. Someday you’ll find a woman who appreciates everything about you.”

  “I already did. But the problem is, she’s in love with my best friend.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Take care of yourself, Mel. I’ll see you around.”

  He walked away and didn’t look back.

  Lainie set the GPS. Eight hours’ travel time. At least she was making the drive during the day, so she could enjoy a little of the scenery.

  At first Hank flat- out refused to sleep in the camper. She’d dealt with enough belligerent cowboys that she wasn’t cowed by his behavior.

  When Hank realized Lainie wasn’t bluffing about dragging his ass back to the hospital if he didn’t fall in line, he shuffled into the camper. Making sure his cell phone was within reach, as well as a bottle of water and a barf bucket, she tucked him in with a kiss.

  Then she hit the road.

  At the halfway point she topped off the tank, checked on her patient— still out— and took a bathroom break. After being in the constant company of Hank and Kyle, she found her own company didn’t thrill her. She was lonely. How Tanna did this by herself week in, week out boggled her mind.

  Dusk teased the sky when she started up the long driveway to the Lawson ranch. Abe had the cab door open almost before she’d parked. “Thanks for driving him home. How’s he doin’?”

  “Still asleep. Which is the best thing for him, although he’ll tell you he’s just fine.”

  “How are you?”

  She hadn’t expected that. “I’m okay. But watching him take that horn to the chest and the hoof to the back of the head about did me in.”

  “I can imagine.”

  “Is Celia around?”

  Abe shook his head. “She’ll be back the day after tomorrow.”

  “Who’s been helping you with the stuff that needs doing around here?”

  “Me, myself, and I. We’re a good team.” Abe grinned.

  Lainie grinned back at him, because he reminded her so much of Hank. “I’d like to tag along tomorrow morning and help out, if that’s all right.”

  “That ain’t necessary; you’ve already done enough.”

  “Hank will be crashed all day, and I’m not the greatest at figuring out what to do with free time. So be warned: If you don’t take me along to see the daily grind of a Wyoming cattle rancher, I’ll find something else to occupy myself. Like rearranging your closets and cupboards. Fun stuff like that.”

  Abe measured her. “Hank don’t get away with nothin’ with you, does he?”

  “Nope.”

  “He’s always needed a good woman to keep him in line.” He jerked his chin toward the camper. “How’s about we get the patient inside?”

  Hank walked inside mostly on his own. He took a pain pill, took a leak, crawled into his own bed, and was out for the night.

  The next day, between times of obsessively checking on Hank, Lainie hung out with Abe. Oddly enough, she never felt restless.

  She certainly never felt bored. She was completely relaxed. More content than she’d been in a long time.

  So the cell phone call from Doc Dusty should’ve come as no surprise. Lariat had added three last- minute venues with the second tier of the EBS circuit: a two- day event in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, a one- night event in River Bend, Texas, and a two- day event in Salt Lake City. Since he’d sent everyone on vacation, Dusty was desperate for her to fill in as a Lariat representative.

  It was damn difficult for Lainie not to feel resentment— even when she could’ve said no. But that was why Doc had called her; he knew she wouldn’t turn him down.

  So much for the remaining w
eek of her vacation time. First thing in the morning Abe would take her to Rawlins. She’d rent a car and drive to Denver. From there she’d fly to Santa Rosa, stay three nights, rent another car for the six- hour drive to River Bend, stay one night, and fly out the next afternoon to Salt Lake City for two nights. Then she’d fly to Colorado Springs, giving her one day before starting her new position with Lariat.

  Why wasn’t she looking forward to any of it?

  Because it means leaving Hank.

  After a late- afternoon cattle check with Abe, Lainie peeped in Hank’s bedroom, expecting he’d still be asleep.

  But he was showered, dressed in ragged sweats, and unpacking his equipment bag.

  “What are you doing up? Get back in bed.”

  “Nope.” He piled his dirty clothes into a laundry basket. “Two days of sleep cured me.”

  “But—”

  “Lainie. I’m fine.” He finally looked at her.

  She had to admit he did look better. Color in his cheeks. Cleareyed. Belligerent posture.

  “See? So tell me what you’ve been doin’.”

  “I drove yesterday. Hung out with Abe today. Watched over you. That’s about it.”

  “Bored out of your skull, were you?” he said dryly.

  “Not even close. I did ranch stuff, which was fun. But I did miss you. Although you do argue less when you’re unconscious.”

  “Ha, ha.”

  “You hungry?”

  “Starved.”

  “Sit. I’ll bring you a tray.” She started for the door.

  “Like hell.” Hank grabbed her hand and tugged her against his body. “Next time I’m in that bed you’ll be in it with me. And we won’t be sleeping.”

  “I wouldn’t want you to strain yourself.”

  Hank gave her the naughty grin that turned her insides into pudding. “If I ain’t straining myself to please you between the sheets, then I’m doin’ something wrong.”

  When she didn’t smile, he tipped her chin up. “Darlin’, I’m okay. I promise.”

  “I’m glad.”

  “Then what’s wrong?”

  Lainie sighed and pressed the side of her face into his chest. “I hate to tell you, but Doc called me a couple hours ago. I have to leave tomorrow. A bunch of last- minute EBS events.” She braced herself for his demand that she stay as he played the sympathy card about his injury. But Hank didn’t.

  He kissed the top of her head. “Well, we’d better make the most of tonight, hadn’t we?”

  Abe vanished after supper.

  Lainie supervised Hank while he stretched the kinks out, making sure he didn’t push himself too soon. He appreciated her concern and he took it easy with the exercises. But as soon as she was gone he’d have to figure out a way to work through the pain.

  His audition in Tulsa was in five short days. No way was he missing it.

  Later they sat side by side, swinging in the old porch swing. As much as he loved just being with her, he needed to touch her. To reconnect with her in the most elemental way so she truly understood he was all right physically. Emotionally the thought of her leaving was almost more painful than getting kicked around by a bull. But neither of them was ready to deal with that tonight.

  “Lainie.”

  “Mmm?”

  “I want you.”

  She brushed her moist lips across his ear. “Then take me.”

  Hank twined his fingers through hers and led her to his bedroom. “Get nekkid, woman.”

  She stripped and then bounced on the middle of the bed, causing her tits to jiggle nicely. “Hank, you’re not convincing me you’re recovered.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “You’re a little slow getting them britches off.”

  “Darlin’, you ain’t seen slow yet. Not by half.”

  Lainie groaned.

  “Kick those covers aside so I’ve got room to work.” Hank lowered himself beside her. Looking into those shining eyes, he saw something more than lust. It knocked him for a loop, same as it had the first time he’d seen it: the night they’d been alone together at the cabin.

  She whispered, “Why are you staring at me?”

  Because I love you. I think you love me. And why can’t we just be adults about this and admit the truth?

  “Hank?”

  “Because I’m trying to decide where I wanna start kissing you first.”

  “I can make a suggestion,” she said huskily.

  “Mmm. I’ll bet you can.” With barely- there kisses, he teased the plump, wet softness of her mouth until her breath hitched. Until she latched onto his neck to bring his mouth down on hers.

  After letting her think she had control, he eased back to gaze into her eyes again. “Is that really where you want me to spend my time kissing you?”

  Lainie scratched the beard bristle on his jawline. “No. I want to feel this rough beard between my thighs. On my nipples. My belly. My neck.”

  He growled. “Arms above your head.”

  She arched sexily, a long curve from her wrists to the wanton cant of her hips.

  Hank placed his mouth on the hollow of her throat and licked straight down the valley of her cleavage, not stopping to suckle the hard tips of her nipples or the rounded underside of her breasts.

  His tongue followed the shallow indent of her smooth belly. He circled the tip of his tongue around her navel and across the quivering skin of her lower belly, stringing kisses along the line of tight curls.

  “I love that.”

  His answer was a long, slow, flat- tongued lick from the entrance to her pussy up the slit. He didn’t intend to drag out her climax forever, but he wouldn’t be denied the time to enjoy her thoroughly.

  He nibbled into the soft recesses of her intimate flesh. Lapping at the pink folds, swallowing her sweet cream. Holding her hips down with a warning squeeze when her pelvis shot up.

  “Hank, please.”

  He moved his mouth away a fraction of an inch and blew a stream of cool air across her hot tissues.

  Her whole body trembled.

  That was when Hank zeroed in on her clit, letting his tongue lightly flick the nub. As soon as her breathing changed he suctioned his mouth to it and sucked hard.

  “Just like that— yes!” That sweet, hot flesh contracted and spasmed against his tongue and pulsed against his lips.

  The friction of his cock head against the sheets was almost more than he could bear. He released her clit, rubbing his razor-stubbled face against her inner thighs. He loved this secret part of her. The pale white skin looked even more exotic against the tanned skin of his hands.

  Hank meandered up her luscious body. He tended to her breasts, admiring the perfect weight of them in his hands, the slight upturn to the nipples, and how tightly the tips budded in anticipation of his mouth.

  Lainie arched. Then she blinked and bestowed that secret womanly smile that made him nervous.

  “What?”

 
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