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       Corralled, p.32

         Part #1 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  “You are one damn handsome man.” She traced his lip with the pad of her thumb. “And you sure know what to do with this mouth.”

  “Who’s the sweet talker now?” He rested his forehead to hers.

  “Spread your legs, baby, and let me love on you.”

  “Anytime, anyplace.”

  He lowered his body to hers, hissing in a breath when her tits crushed into his chest. Pleasure rocketed through him when her soft belly brushed his. His eager cock aligned to her core of its own accord. He watched her eyes glaze with pleasure as he eased into her heat and welcoming wetness.

  “That’s always so good,” she whispered against his throat. “Every time.”

  Truer words had never been spoken. “You don’t mind that we’re face- to- face?”

  Lainie lightly slapped her hands on his cheeks. “I love being face- to- face with you. Especially now that I know missionary isn’t the only position that you excel in.”

  “You had doubts?”

  “Maybe at one time. Not now.” She smooched his lips with each word. “You. Rock. My. World. Hank. Lawson.”

  “Lainie. I— I—”

  She put her fingers over his mouth. “Don’t. Just be with me like this.”

  Rough kisses fed soft. Deep, rhythmic thrusts became shallow rocks of his hips. Hank moved with her, on her, in her, gave her all of himself and received everything from her in return.

  She was wholly his. She in turn owned him completely.

  It was beautiful. And scary. And amazing.

  There was no race to orgasm. Just the constant ebb and flow of skin sliding on skin. Heartbeat matched to heartbeat. Lips clinging to lips. Breath mingling with breath. His senses were awash in the feeling of connectedness. Of rightness. Of their making love to each other, bodies, hearts, souls, and eyes wide open.

  She whispered his name and unraveled.

  Hank found release right along with her.

  In the afterglow they lazed in his big bed, Lainie resting on her stomach, head pillowed on her arms. Hank dragged his fingertips up and down her spine. Or he played connect the dots with her freckles and moles. “You really have to go?”

  “Yes. I wish I didn’t.”

  “Is that your way of saying you don’t mind hanging out at the ranch? Even though I slept through the days you were here?”

  She smiled. “Fishing for compliments about your spread, Hank; for shame. You know I like it here.”

  “I’m glad.” He placed a kiss at the base of her neck. “You sure you want Abe to take you to Rawlins tomorrow?”

  “It’ll be easier.”

  Lainie didn’t explain whether she meant easier on him because of his injury, or easier for them to say good- bye here, rather than in public. Either way, this wasn’t a permanent separation. They’d see each other soon on the circuit.

  Hank wouldn’t push her for any kind of promises until after he knew where his career was headed. “Well, it ain’t gonna be easier on me, darlin’, ’cause I’m gonna miss you like crazy.”

  “Same goes.”

  Chapter XXII

  The trip had been a nightmare from the start. Delayed flights, long lines at the rental- car places. Brutally hot weather. Crappy motels. Snarly contestants. Jerky coworkers.

  Lainie was ready to throw in the towel.

  Tanna was making a special trip to see her tonight because River Bend, Texas, was a mere five hours from her family ranch. It was the only bright spot in Lainie’s long day.

  Since the sports medicine room was at the opposite end of the arena, Lainie had to schlep everything from the van through twisting corridors. Lariat was shorthanded. She’d anticipated a busier than normal shift. However, she hadn’t expected Bobby, the other staffer— a local hire— to sit on his fat ass and direct her in an irritating king- to- peasant manner.

  Bobby took great pains to point out that he’d earned a master’s degree in sports physiology. He snarked that he’d limit her medical help to handing him adhesive bandages, emptying the medical waste receptacle, and fetching coffee.

  It’d gone downhill from there.

  The fill- in doctor was a pretentious prick. Between the two men, Lainie felt about an inch high. She kept her mouth shut and did what she was told.

  The event was second tier— meaning none of the top sixty EBS riders were competing. It surprised her to see two guys from the big tour hanging out in the cramped medical room with their buddy. A lot of bull riders were unbelievably cocky, which was another reason she’d chosen not to date them.

  You dated Kyle.

  Kyle was different. He’d never pulled macho cowboy bullshit with her. She’d expected him to look down his nose at the CRA bull riders, as the rivalry between the CRA and EBS was legendary.

  But he’d fit right into the CRA circuit. She wondered how Kyle was doing. Lainie hadn’t spoken to Hank since she’d left Wyoming five long days ago.

  “Excuse me. If you’re done starin’ at Jake’s ass, he could use some medical help.” Guffaws broke out.

  Lainie’s gaze whipped to Ace Newharth. Even though he was dead wrong about the direction of her unfocused gaze, trying to stop her blush was pointless. “What do you need?”

  “What’re you offerin’ me, sweetness?” Ace said with a lewd wink.

  A punch in the mouth. “Do you require medical assistance?”

  “Yes. I’ve got this pain in my groin. You wanna get down on your knees and have a closer look at it?”

  More braying laughter.

  Lainie bit back her response— I don’t have a cure for small cocks— and said, “If you don’t have a real injury, leave so we can assist those that do.”

  A male chorus of ooohs rang out.

  Ace’s mouth flattened. “You ain’t pretty enough to get away with talkin’ to me like that.”

  Direct hit.

  Lainie turned her back on him. But he grabbed her arm and jerked her close enough to gift her with garlic breath. “Let me go.”

  “Ask me nice. Real nice.”

  What the hell were her male colleagues doing while this asshole was manhandling her?

  Out of the corner of her eye she saw Bobby and Dr. Horrible engaged in conversation. They weren’t paying attention to their own patients, let alone her. Swallowing her anger, she softened her tone. “Please. Let go of my arm, Mr. Newharth.”

  “You know my name.”

  “Everyone knows your name.” Everyone thinks you’re an asshole went unsaid.

  He released her. Smiled nastily. “Lucky for you. Now see to my buddy; he thinks he sprained his riding thumb.”

  “I’m afraid I’m not qualified to help him with that.” She pointed. “That doctor is.”

  All three bull riders harrumphed and ambled away. But Lainie felt Ace’s eyes on her the entire time. It creeped her out. Not only was he married, but he proudly proclaimed himself a Christian cowboy. His crude behavior really rankled her.

  Tanna had texted her that she’d pick her up out front at the main entrance to the arena. Three- quarters of the way through the event, Lainie started hauling stuff to the sponsor’s van— with no help from Bobby or the bad doctor. Dusty always lent a hand. Did he do that at all events? Or just the ones she worked? Because she was a woman? Or because she was Jason Capshaw’s daughter?

  Didn’t matter. She wouldn’t say boo to Dusty about his nonhelpful workers. Wouldn’t be her concern much longer anyway.

  She’d be working nine to five in the office, and hauling boxes would be someone else’s responsibility.

  She stopped to watch the last rider, hoping the guy didn’t get injured, as she’d already packed up the medical supplies. He rode eight seconds without incident.

  The door to the medical room was closed on her return but the Lariat Sports Medicine team sign remained up. Neither Bobby nor Dr. Horrible was in the room, but they’d left their marks: empty Styrofoam coffee cups, soda cans, food wrappers, blank pages of paper.

bsp; Dammit. She was not a maid. Grumbling to herself, she set the room to rights. She’d almost finished when she heard the shuffle of boots behind her. She whirled around and found herself face- to-face with Ace Newharth.

  The hair on the back of her neck stood up. Her heart rate spiked. What was he doing here?

  Stay calm. There could be a perfectly valid explanation for why he’s shown up.

  She couldn’t muster a smile, but she managed to keep her tone even. “Mr. Newharth. The medical room is all packed up.”

  “And you’re all alone.” The sound of the door clicking shut was as loud as a gunshot.

  “What do you want?”

  “A little taste of your feisty side.”

  “I’m not interested. It’d be best if you left. Right now. Before Bobby and the doctor get back.”

  “They’re gone. It’s just you. And me.”

  “Get out.”

  Ace laughed and advanced on her. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Neither are you. ’Cause you gotta get past me to get out that door. And there’s a reason my nickname is ‘Tank,’ so go ahead and try. I don’t mind getting rough.”

  Lainie screamed. Twice. As loud as she could.

  He was on her in an instant, shoving her into the cement wall.

  One hand clamped over her mouth; the other circled her throat.

  His lower body trapped hers. “Do that again and I’ll wrap my hands around your neck until you pass out. Then I will fuck you while you’re unconscious any fuckin’ way I want to if I hear another sound come out of your stupid mouth. Understand?”

  She nodded.

  He rubbed his fingers over her lips. The garlic scent of his breath in her face made her gag. “Bet you can suck real good.”

  A sick feeling ran through her. How long before things started to go fuzzy from lack of oxygen to her brain?

  “Shoulda been nicer to me.” His hand pushed into her larynx hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. His lower body pinned hers to the wall.

  Stay alert! Kick him in the balls. Do something. Don’t just stand there! Fight back.

  “Do you rape your wife too?”

  Ace dug his fingers into her throat, lifted her head, and smacked it hard enough into the cement that her vision dimmed.

  Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out.

  “Shut up.” His other hand circled her biceps, pinching the tender skin on the underside of her arm until she whimpered. “You brought this on yourself.”

  The door opened and Tanna’s voice drifted in. “Lainie? You in here?”

  Ace abruptly released her and stepped back.

  Only by sheer will did Lainie stay upright.

  “What the fuck is going on here?” Tanna demanded, closing the distance between the door and where Lainie stood.

  Ace sidestepped Tanna and booked it from the room.

  Lainie closed her eyes. Tears seeped out as she slowly slid down the wall to the floor.

  “Oh, my God, Lainie. Are you all right?” Tanna dropped to her knees beside her.

  She couldn’t speak around the sobs gathered in her throat that hadn’t yet burst free.

  “Was that . . . Did he try . . . ?” Tanna clasped Lainie’s hand between hers. “Did that son of a bitch attack you?”

  She nodded slightly.

  “Fuck. Fuck that and fuck him. I’m goin’ after that bastard right fuckin’ now.” Tanna scrambled to her feet.

  Somehow Lainie found the strength to grip her hand. “Don’t go.”

  “I need to catch him before he gets away.”

  “I know him.”

  “All the more reason to grab him until the cops get here.”

  “No cops,” she rasped.

  Tanna’s eyes turned sharp. “Did you hit your head? ’Cause, girl, you ain’t making a lick of sense. What do you mean, no cops?”

  “Please. Can we just go? I just want to get out of here. I don’t think I can stand to be in this room another minute.” Lainie started to cry.

  “It’s okay. Shh, sugar. We’ll go. Lemme help you up.”

  Once Lainie was on her feet, she felt more in control. She shouldered her duffel bag and followed Tanna through the winding and dark corridors. Her body returned to panic mode immediately. The urge to run. To constantly look behind her. Every noise made her jump.

  “Almost there. You doin’ okay?”

  No. “I think so.” She was glad she hadn’t run into anyone she knew. Or anyone she didn’t know. She wanted to curl into a ball and cry until she forgot this ever happened.

  Inside Tanna’s truck, Lainie leaned forward, hugging her knees against the shakes she was trying to control. They seemed to be driving a long way, so Lainie lifted her head. “Where are we going?”

  “I booked a hotel for tonight. But it’s a ways out, since everything else in town was full.”

  In the hotel room, Lainie threw her purse on the bed and escaped to the bathroom. She cranked the water to hot. When the tiny space was filled with so much steam she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, she climbed in the shower. Water beat on her head and streamed down her body. She stayed enclosed in the heat until she’d calmed down. After slipping on her pajamas, she exited the humid space.

  Tanna paced, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s dangling from her fingertips. She stopped. Stared. Swigged. And passed the bottle to Lainie.

  “No, thanks.”

  “Drink up. It’ll help. Trust me.”

  Lainie knocked back a slug. Before the first shudder set in, she gulped another mouthful. “That always tastes like shit.”

  “I know. But gentleman Jack is one guy who’s exactly as he appears: cheap, potent, trouble if you don’t keep a lid on him, and mean as a snake the morning after.” Tanna pointed to the bed against the wall. “Sit. Talk. I was fixin’ to bust down that damn door if you hadn’t come out.”

  “How long was I in there?”

  “Forty- nine minutes. Start talkin’.”

  Lainie sighed and dropped on the mattress. “Everything is getting more surreal the more I think about it.”

  “I’m sure. It’s called shock.”

  Another slug of Jack Daniel’s and Lainie poured it all out. She finished with, “If you hadn’t come in, he would’ve raped me.”

  There. She’d said the word.

  “You’re being way too calm about this, Lainie.”

  “No. I’m not making light of this, but it could’ve been much worse than him shoving and grabbing me.”

  “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t file charges. Jesus. He attacked you. At the very least it’s attempted sexual assault.”

  Lainie signaled for her to pass the bottle over. She drank deeply. Once. Twice. “Maybe. I need some time to think. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

  Tanna’s brittle smile relayed her frustration. “God knows I want to get shit- faced, and it didn’t even happen to me.”

  She lay flat on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

  “So what’s up with you and your guys?”

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