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One night rodeo, p.35
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       One Night Rodeo, p.35

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James


  “Have you heard from Celia at all?” He shook his head again and Lainie sighed wearily. “I was afraid of that.”

  Had Celia confided in Lainie about their fight? Or about their marriage? “Of what?”

  “Stupid cell phones.” She held hers out. “See? Even I don’t get service here. And Tanna’s folks’ house is one of the few places in Texas where there’s limited cell service. So between the spotty service in Wyoming and you and Celia being without a home phone, I figured that’s why Celia called me—because she couldn’t get ahold of you.”

  So Celia hadn’t told Lainie about the fight or the marriage license problem. Good. He’d let Lainie believe that crappy cell phone service was the culprit for Celia and him being out of touch with each other for four days. “What did she say? Is she okay?” Does she miss me? Is she coming home?

  “She’s…coping. She told me the funeral is the day after tomorrow.”

  “That soon?”

  “Yes. I guess grief has done some crazy things to Tanna’s dad and he just wants the whole thing over with.” Lainie glanced up at him. “You are planning to go to Texas? Because Celia sounded a little…lost.”

  That twisted his heart and his stomach into a gigantic knot. “I was just on my way to ask Josh if he’d take care of things here for a couple days so I could go get her.”

  “Well, not to overstep our bounds, but Hank and Abe have volunteered to pitch in and take care of your livestock. They figured it’d be all right even if you needed a full week.”

  Stunned, Kyle just stared at her.

  “What? Would you prefer to have Josh do it? That’s okay with us too.”

  “No, I don’t know what to say. I didn’t expect the offer…not after all that happened….”

  “You thought we’d just let you handle this on your own? Huh-uh. Family doesn’t work that way. Both you and Celia need to understand that. You both need to get used to it.”

  He cleared his throat. “Well. Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome. Admit you’ve always wanted a buttinsky sister-in-law, and pushy brothers-in-law. So for better or for worse, you’re stuck with us now.”

  Kyle said, “I’m glad,” and meant it.

  “Oh, and Bran said he’d help out. As did Renner and his foreman, Hugh. So we’ve got you covered.”

  Again Kyle just stared at her.

  “What are you waiting for? Shoo, man. Get yourself packed. It’s a long drive to that part of Texas.”

  “But what if…” She refuses to come home? What if she’s decided now that she’s got money to compete she’ll hit the road with Tanna again? How could I return to Wyoming without her?

  “But what if…what?” Lainie prompted.

  Kyle couldn’t voice his fears to Lainie. He remembered Pearl’s advice to always talk to his wife first about things. And that’s what he intended to do. As soon as possible. “Nothin’. I appreciate you bein’ the go-between, Lainie. But I’ll handle getting ahold of Celia from here on out, all right?”

  “She said something along those lines too when I told her I’d relay the message.” She flapped her hand at him. “My God. You and Celia are two peas in a pod. Stubborn. Both wanting exactly the same thing.”

  “A national CRA championship?” he joked.

  “No, you’re both looking for a place to call home. She loved racing around barrels for a while, but she never intended to make that her life. Same with you and bull riding. It was a means to an end. Now you both have what you want. She loves you, Kyle, as much as you love her. I’ve seen you two together and I know you were meant for each other.”

  “Damn straight.”

  Lainie danced a little jig around him. “Besides, I get to say I told you so. I told you one day you’d find a woman who loved and appreciated everything about you. And you did. I just didn’t expect it to be Celia.”

  Then you weren’t paying attention. Because it’s been her all along.

  Chapter Twenty-four

  It was one of the worst weeks of Celia’s life.

  The somber mood in the Barker household. Tanna and her brother Garrett’s devastation was made worse when their father, Milt, handed down edict after edict. Bonita’s best friend, Rosalie, refereed between father and children, in addition to coordinating the food, handling phone calls and visitors.

  Celia helped as much as she could. Staying busy kept the memories of when she’d lost her parents locked down tight. She’d taken over feeding the cattle and the horses to allow Milt, Garrett, and Tanna to deal with the most pressing issues. It also allowed her time away from Tanna’s grief, which was overpowering and all-consuming.

  Talk about all-consuming. She missed Kyle. Missed him like she’d left part of herself with him. Maybe the best part. She missed the home she’d made with him. Missed the life they’d begun to build together regardless if they were officially husband and wife. There was so much she wanted to tell him. In person.

  And Celia had wanted Kyle so badly today, she’d sworn she’d seen him at Bonita’s funeral. Sitting in the back row at the church, wearing a black hat and a dark green sport coat. But she hadn’t seen him during the processional out of the church. Nor had she seen him at the cemetery. Obviously he’d been a figment of her needy imagination.

  After the funeral Celia changed out of her dress clothes and put on work clothes to deal with the livestock. She lingered outside, trying to glean joy from the beautiful spring afternoon. As much as she appreciated the milder Texas weather, she missed Wyoming. Missed the spring snow that this time of year turned everything into a mud bog. She missed the cold air and the big sky and the constant smell of wood smoke. She missed the sound of calves bawling and the sound of Kyle whistling as he worked.

  How long did Tanna expect her to stay? Because if Celia had her way, she’d hop a plane tomorrow morning and she could be home by suppertime. She imagined pulling into the driveway at twilight. Kyle running out of the house to greet her. Sweeping her into his arms, peppering her face with kisses, and making her promise she’d never, ever leave him again.

  Romantic nonsense. Next you’ll have him riding up on a white horse. Carrying a puppy.

  After two more quick swipes with the brush, she patted Daisy-Mae on the rump and returned her tools to the barn, hanging up the chinks and straw hat she’d borrowed from Tanna’s stash.

  But even after she left the pen area, three horses hung over the fence trying to get her attention. She wandered over. They took off when they realized she didn’t intend to feed them.

  “You know, I shouldn’t be surprised I’d find you out here with the horses.”

  Celia spun around, her heart racing. Not a figment of her imagination this time. Kyle was here. Really here. In his black hat and a green sport coat. “Kyle?”

  “Glad to know you haven’t forgotten my name in the last six days, nine hours, and twenty-three minutes.”

  She didn’t think, she just acted. She hopped over the fence and threw herself into his arms. “I can’t believe…I thought I was seeing things. You really were at the church.”

  “Yeah. I kinda slipped in and snuck out. I knew you were with the family and I didn’t want to distract you.” He gestured to the pasture. “If you’d waited I’da done a cattle check with you. Someone told me recently I ain’t all bad on a horse.” He smiled.

  That charming smile did things to her knees and other parts of her body. “How long have you been here?”

  “Only since about an hour before the service started. I drove straight through. Found a hotel, got cleaned up.” Kyle curled his hands around her face. “Stayed away from you until I couldn’t stay away any longer.”

  Celia closed her eyes when his lips met hers.

  “Christ, I missed you. I hated that you left with things hanging between us. But I understand why you did. You are Tanna’s friend; she’s been there for you so many times when you felt you had no one else. You owed her and she needed you. But I need you too, Cele.
” Kyle tilted her face so he looked directly into her eyes. “I love you. You’ve been my wife in my heart and soul since the morning we woke up wearing wedding rings. And yes, I should’ve told you when I learned about the marriage license issue. I’m not proud to say I didn’t tell you because I thought you’d leave me. See, you’ve never needed me as much as I need you.” His small smile was there and gone. “I wasn’t worried about losing my ranching expert, Celia. I was terrified of losing you.”

  “You didn’t lose me. After you told me you loved me, even when you knew I had to leave, it gave me so much hope and…”

  “And what?”

  “And I can finally admit that I love you like crazy.”

  “Thank God for that.” He held her for several long moments. One hand twisted around her braid, the other hand covered her heart. “The thought of not having you in my life, by my side, every damn day for the rest of my life makes me die inside.”

  “Don’t say that.”

  “But it’s true. I never knew I could love anyone the way I love you. It scares me, Cele.”

  Her tears leaked out the corners of her eyes and ran over his hands. But she didn’t even try to stop them. “I missed you so much, Kyle.”

  “Oh shit. Don’t cry. I freak the fuck out when you cry.” His fingers started to wipe the moisture from her cheeks.

  Celia put her hands around his wrists. “They’re happy tears. You make me happy. Ever since last year, when you told me I deserved better than Breck, when you convinced me that if I walked away from him I’d give myself a chance to find a good man who loved everything about me. I’m so thankful that man is you.” Celia squeezed his wrists. “I think part of that bratty little girl who annoyed you always secretly loved you.”

  He laughed. Then he kissed her. With sweetness. With his heart. With his soul. The passion would come later when they were alone. Celia let herself fall into it, fall into him.

  Took a good, long while before they finally broke the kisses, and even afterward, their hands stayed clasped, their bodies gravitated toward each other.

  “Will you stay with me at my hotel room tonight? I’m dying to touch you.”

  “Yes. God, yes. I missed that about us too.” She buried her face in his neck.

  But he wouldn’t allow her to hide. “So why the sadness in your eyes?”

  “I feel guilty. I’m so happy right now. And Tanna’s inside, so devastated.”

  “She’s lucky you could drop everything and go to her, but she’ll have to stand on her own now. You realize that, right?”

  “Yes. Speaking of dropping everything…who’s taking care of the livestock at home? Josh?”

  “And your brothers. And Bran. And Renner and his crew. They said they owed me for all the years I helped them out. They were more than happy to return the favor for a few days. But I suspect our sisters-in-law had a lot to do with makin’ that happen.”

  “My meddling family members making you crazy yet?”

  “Nope. I sort of like it, to be honest.” He briefly pressed his mouth to hers. The man could not stop kissing her. And she really loved that about him. “My mom has some news too. But it’ll keep. First things first.”

  “What? After I left during our big fight, you want assurances from me that from this point on you’ll come first in my life?”

  “Yep, that’s a start. And you’ll come second in mine, right after the cows.” He laughed when she swatted at him. “Kidding. I figured that’s what a real cattleman would say. But if that’s the case, I’ll never be a real cattleman, because you’ll always come first. Always.” He wrapped her braid around his fist and tugged. “But if being a cattlewoman isn’t enough for you? The offer to pay for your school still stands. I want you to have your dream, Celia. No matter what it is.”

  “You…this life we’ve begun to build together…that’s my dream. It’s more than I ever hoped for. More than I ever thought I’d deserve.” Celia touched his jaw. “Part of me is afraid this is a dream.”

  “It’s not, baby. It’s as real as it gets.”

  “I can’t believe you came after me.”

  “I can’t believe you thought I’d ever let you go.”

  They looked at each other and laughed. “We’re so sappy.”

  “Sappy, happy, sloppy in love. That’s us, kitten.” He slung his arm over her shoulder and they walked along the paddock.

  “Did you tell Tanna or anyone about the marriage license screwup?”

  “No. Did you?”

  “Are you kiddin’? After the way your brothers acted the first time? You think I wanna give them a real reason to beat the shit outta me for living in sin with their baby sister? No way.” He stopped and faced her. “So no more living in sin. I have a couple ideas how we can fix this.” Kyle dropped to his knees. “Celia Rose Lawson, I love you. I can’t live without you. Will you marry me? Again?”

  “Yes!” She jerked him to his feet and said, “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes,” punctuating each yes with a kiss.

  He laughed. “We have two options. The first: Hop in the truck and drive straight to Vegas. We’ll find a chapel with an up-to-date permit and we’ll tie the knot again, and make sure we leave with all the proper paperwork. So we’ll have proof we’re really married.”

  “That sounds perfect.”

  “Ah, but I’m not done. I know that tequila-fueled ceremony wasn’t the wedding of your dreams. So the second option: Have a hometown preacher marry us in front of our family and friends, so you can wear a fancy dress and have a big party afterward. If you want that, I’m good with that. I’m good with anything that makes you mine as soon as possible.”

  She liked his possessive side as much as his sweet side. “Something about us getting married in boots and jeans fits us. Something about keeping the ceremony about us pledging ourselves to each other in private suits us too. So thanks, but I’ll take the quickie Vegas wedding.”

  “You sure?”

  “Yes. Because I already feel like I’m married to you. It’d just be a formality.”

  Kyle kissed her. “This time we’ll be sober when we repeat our eternal vows to each other. This time I’m putting a big diamond on your hand. This time when we seal the deal with a kiss, I’ll take extreme pleasure in knowing that I’m the first man who ever kissed you as well as the last man who’ll ever kiss you.”

  “And there’s that romantic streak I’ve been missing something fierce,” she murmured.

  “Then we’ll rent one of them fancy bridal suites and I’ll spend the whole night proving how much I love you.” He grinned and waggled his eyebrows. “I guarantee we’ll both remember our wedding night.”

  She touched his face. “I love you, Kyle. So much. Who knew me asking you to keep me from doing something stupid turned out to be the best thing I ever did?”

  “One night turned out to be a lifetime. I’m good with that.”

  Lorelei James is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary erotic romances set in the modern-day Wild West. Her books have won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, as well as the CAPA Award. Lorelei lives in western South Dakota with her family…and a whole closetful of cowgirl boots.

  Did you miss the first book in the sexy

  Blacktop Cowboys® series?

  Read on for an excerpt from Lorelei James’s


  Available now from Signet Eclipse

  “Screwing two guys doesn’t make you a slut.”

  Lainie Capshaw darted a quick glance at the crowd in Bucky’s Tavern. Luckily none of her coworkers—her male coworkers—lurked about. “Maybe you could’ve said that a little louder, Tanna. I don’t think they heard you on the dance floor.”

  “Puh-lease. The men in this joint are too busy gawking at the cocktail waitress with the watermelon-size tits to be eavesdropping on us.” Tanna sucked down a healthy swig of beer. “Twenty bucks says ol’ monster jugs pops a strap in the next ten minutes.”

“No dice. If I take that bet, you’ll sneak up behind her and slice the damn strap just so you can win.”

  “You’re no fun.” Tanna sighed dramatically. “I’m bored.”

  Lainie rolled her eyes. A bored Tanna was a dangerous Tanna.

  “So let’s talk about Lainie’s lewd love life.”

  “Let’s not.”

  Tanna wagged her finger. “Ah, ah, ah. Suck it up, chickie. You walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk. Besides, who cares if you’re boning two guys? Cowboys are notorious for having a different buckle bunny every night, in every podunk rodeo town on the circuit. It pisses me off there’s still a double standard for women.”

  “True. But…”

  “But what?” Tanna looked at her quizzically. “You aren’t feeling guilty, are you?”

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