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One night rodeo, p.4
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       One Night Rodeo, p.4

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  word to Hank, but this isn’t a secret that’ll keep for long. Be best for your brothers to find out from you. In person, not over the phone. I expect you’ll come home ASAP.

  As much as Celia loved Tanna, she’d seriously fucked up this situation by blabbing. Wait a second, Kyle had told his mother too. How many people had she told? How many people had Devin told? In the last thirty minutes Celia had lost any chance of getting a quiet annulment.

  What was she supposed to do now? How could she tell Hank and Abe her marriage to Kyle was a drunken mistake? They already treated her like a flighty kid who couldn’t make up her mind. She rolled to her feet, returning to the room to find Kyle gazing out the window. His tension was obvious in the tight set of his shoulders.

  “What did your mom say?”

  He didn’t respond for the longest time. Then he said, “She told me my father’s name. I’ve been asking her since I was five years old and she finally told me today.” Another long pause. “Marshall Townsend is my father.”

  “The name isn’t familiar to me. Do you know who he is?”

  “Yeah. I’ve crossed paths with him a couple of times, but it’s not like I know him. The summer after your folks died, this rancher named Marshall Townsend called Hank out of the blue and hired us to hay for him. We both thought it was weird at the time, since he didn’t know Hank or me, but we figured he must’ve known your parents. Anyway, he wasn’t friendly at all. He was cheap. He paid us the bare minimum but promised us hunting rights for the fall. When we tried to collect on the hunting rights, he said he’d changed his mind and chased us off his land.”

  “That’s harsh.”

  “What an asshole, right? And come to find out, that asshole is my father.”

  Her heart broke for him. Celia went to him without thinking. She rested her cheek on his shoulder, hating to hear happy-go-lucky Kyle so resentful, although he had a right to be. “What can I do?”

  He stiffened. “Don’t take a shot at me right now, Cele. I couldn’t handle another fuckin’ thing today.”

  It hurt that he assumed she’d kick him while he was down, so she stepped back.

  He remained quiet for a few moments. Then he sighed. “It’s easier for us to snipe at each other, isn’t it? Here I’ve been telling you it doesn’t have to be that way between us and what’s the first thing I do? Snap at you.”

  Slightly mollified, she said, “This news about your father is a big shock for you, Kyle, so I’ll let it slide…this time.”

  “So noted,” he murmured.

  It bothered her that he hadn’t turned around to talk to her face-to-face, almost like he expected her to get fed up and leave. So naturally, she dug her heels in. “So, what else do you know about him besides his assholish tendencies? Where does he live?”

  “West of Rawlins. About thirty miles from your place. As far as what I know about him? Nothin’. Except my mom says he wants to see me because he’s dying.” He shook his head. “He’s acknowledging me as his sole heir on his deathbed? That’s TV-movie-of-the-week bullshit.”

  “Kinda like us getting drunk and ending up hitched in Vegas, huh?”

  Kyle snorted.

  “So what will you do? Blow him off like he’s blown you off?”

  “What can he possibly say to me that’ll make any difference now?”

  Celia warned herself to be patient with him. He was confused and hurting, and she’d snapped at him plenty of times in the hospital yesterday when she’d been in the same scared and frustrated frame of mind. “Don’t you want to find out? Why slap his hand when he’s finally reached out to you?”

  A full minute passed before he spoke. “Pains me to admit you’re right. They’ve only given him a couple of weeks to live at best. So I told my mom I’d go. But…” His sigh was long and loud—a sound of pure frustration. “Fuck. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” He shrugged tightly. “I’m sure I sound like a whiny prick. Forget I said anything.”

  “Don’t slap my hand away either,” she said softly.

  “I’m not. It’s just…Christ, Celia, I feel like a five-year-old kid. I’m afraid of facing him. What if I walk into the VA hospital in Cheyenne…” That fist clenched again. “Or worse, what if I can’t even walk into the room?”

  Hearing the uncertainty in Kyle’s voice broke her heart. “What if I came with you? Would that help you take that first step?”

  Kyle slowly turned around. “Why would you do that?”

  Because I’ve never seen you like this, so damn vulnerable. Because I have the urge to be there for you the way you’ve been there for me the last year. Because there is something growing between us, something that gets stronger whenever we’re together, and it scares me half to death but I’m not strong enough to walk away from it.

  When she didn’t respond, Kyle said, “After all your insistence on getting this marriage annulled immediately, why would you put that aside and come with me to Wyoming?”

  She tossed off a breezy, “Because…hello. My ride left and I’m running low on options.”

  His face shuttered at her flip response and she felt like an ass for skirting the truth.

  Before Kyle retreated, Celia reached for him, running her fingers over the dark stubble coating his jaw and pressing her hand in the center of his chest. “Because I owe you.”

  “Because we’re married? It’s not real, as you’ve pointed out. Repeatedly.”

  “Will you stop being a dickhead and listen to me?”

  Kyle’s eyes flashed remorse. “Sorry. Shit. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today.”

  Celia didn’t have to tell him he was lashing out because he was scared. Kyle already knew that, even if he wouldn’t give voice to it—to himself or to her. “I owe you because you were the only one who treated me normally after my parents died. Everyone else felt sorry for me. Felt sorry for my brothers getting stuck raising me.”

  “Celia. That’s not true.”

  “It is true.” She fussed with the buttons on his shirt. “Everyone treated me like a lost waif. Everyone but you. You riled me. Poked at me. When you found me crying in the shelterbelt, rather than coddling me, you scooped up an armful of wet leaves and kept covering me in a layer of nasty slime until I got mad and started fighting back. I chased you into the bull’s pasture. We ran around until my legs gave out and I fell to the ground.”

  “Right into a pile of manure, if I remember correctly,” he murmured.

  Celia met his gaze. “That was the first time I felt normal after they died. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve never said thank you.”

  “You said thank you every time you pulled some shitty prank on me. That was when I knew you’d be okay.”

  “So it’s time for me to pay it forward. Will you let me?”

  He seemed to consider it and abruptly changed the subject as he took a step back. “Who were you talkin’ to a little bit ago?”

  “Tanna. She’s on her way back to Texas. She was anxious to recap the events leading up to our nuptials.” Celia paused and cocked her head. “Evidently we wrote our own vows?”

  Kyle half squinted at her. “We did?”

  His surprise surprised her. “You don’t remember?”

  “Nope. To be honest…most of the details are sketchy for me too.”

  “But you told me…that we…” Had a smokin’-hot wedding night.

  “I was yanking your chain, Celia.”

  Completely floored, she said, “Why?”

  “Because that’s what you and I do to each other, remember?”

  “We’re beyond that juvenile behavior, remember?” she shot back with saccharine sweetness. “Isn’t that what you keep reminding me?”

  “Well, us rolling around naked, sucking face like horny teenagers until we both passed out…without having sex on our freakin’ wedding night is sort of an anticlimactic end to the wild-night-in-Vegas tale, don’tcha think?”

  She opened her mouth to tell him to quit being an ass, but he bea
t her to the punch.

  “And there I go again, being a dick to you. But, dammit, you oughta know I’m not the kind of man to take advantage of a drunk and injured woman.”

  Of course he had to throw in his chivalrousness. So she threw hers right back at him. “I’m not the type of woman to bail on a friend in need either. I offered to go home with you and the offer stands. Since we didn’t consummate the marriage, we can still get an annulment after we deal with your family thing in Cheyenne. Provided…”

  His gaze turned shrewd. “Provided…what?”

  Provided my brothers don’t kill you. “Okay. Here’s another wrinkle. Apparently Tanna, ah, told Lainie that you and I got hitched last night.”

  “Shit. So your brothers know about us?”

  Celia shook her head. “Lainie swears that she won’t spill the beans. But I—we—have to tell them. In person before they hear it from anyone else.”

  He groaned. “I’m a fucking dead man.”

  “Maybe they’ll think it’s funny,” Celia offered. “Especially since we haven’t had sex.”

  Kyle scrubbed his hands over his face. “Or maybe they’ll cut my dick off to guarantee that never happens.”

  “A bit paranoid, aren’t you?”

  “Not after all the times they warned me away from you.”

  Celia put her hand on his wrist. “What do you mean after all the times they warned you away from me? When did they do that?”

  “When you were seventeen I made a comment about you filling out and I thought Hank was gonna throw me through the wall. Abe basically said you’re their princess and I’m a toad who’s not nearly good enough for you.”

  Princess? Yeah, right. They treated her more like a stableboy than a princess.

  “And they told me if I ever touched you, they’d string me up. By my toes because they would’ve already cut off my hands.”

  Her mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”

  “Completely.”

  “Maybe I won’t tell them we tied the knot,” she said with a huff. “Maybe I’ll just tell them that you fuck like a dream and I’m moving in with you until we get sick of nonstop kinky sex.”

  Kyle smiled for the first time in an hour. “That works too. We would’ve had to tell them something anyway since we talked about traveling the circuit together. And we sure as hell wouldn’t have been just…friends.”

  Unsure how to respond, and feeling strangely shy, Celia sidestepped him and looked out the window to the Vegas skyline.

  “I’ll get packed.”

  “My stuff is still at my motel,” she reminded him.

  A quick zip sounded. “We’ll stop there on our way out of town. But before we leave here you’d better check on the other side of the bed to see if you forgot anything.”

  Celia stepped over his bag on the floor and crawled across the mattress. “I doubt there’s anything because I’m wearing—” And she found herself flat on her back, staring into Kyle’s amazing green eyes.

  “Thank you, for not running out screaming today. My mood swings, from happy to nasty, from sarcastic to silent, were annoying the piss out of me.”

  “Most days you are pretty even-keeled.”

  “Except when it comes to you. You make me crazy, Celia. In so many ways I can’t even begin to explain to you.”

  Her heart jumped into her throat and she couldn’t speak.

  “It’s getting to be a habit with us, sharing kisses one or both of us forgets. But I intend to fix that right now and make damn sure you remember this one. On the bed where we spent our wedding night.”

  He lowered his face to hers. But he didn’t swoop in and blow her circuits with a kiss packed with tongue-thrusting power. No. He took his time. Whispering soft breath across her jaw. Letting his full, damp lips barely graze hers. Each almost connection of their mouths increased the rapid beat of her heart. Her breathing became erratic as her lungs emptied of air.

  Kyle’s roughly murmured “Breathe” was far sexier, far more in tune with her body’s response to his than she’d imagined.

  Then he rocked her to her core with a kiss so hot and sweet, so fierce and soothing, so completely unrestrained. She’d never been kissed like this. With all-consuming hunger. With pure eroticism. With a promise of total sexual fulfillment. Every pulse point in her body throbbed with anticipation.

  Kyle used nibbling kisses to ease the disconnection of their mouths. He pushed up and hopped off the bed.

  His cocky grin—completely justified—appeared quickly. “Come on, kitten, let’s hit the dusty trail.”

  Damn him for acting like he had the upper hand. Damn him for melting her brain and her resistance with those molten kisses.

  She slipped her purse strap over her shoulder. “We’re still getting an annulment.”

  Kyle was so lost in thought about Celia’s contradictory actions—reminding him of their friendship in one breath and then taking his breath away with such a passionate kiss in the next, that he didn’t notice Breck and his buddies hanging around the concierge stand until Breck started toward them.

  Kyle said, “Let me handle this.”

  “I don’t need you to speak for me.”

  “Then follow my lead, so we don’t get stuck in a pointless argument with him.” Kyle set his hand in the small of her back and brought her closer, expecting Breck would treat her as roughly as he always did, clamping his beefy arms around her, squeezing her in a bear hug, tossing her in the air like a rag doll. He wasn’t letting that happen.

  But Breck stopped five feet from them. His focus was concentrated on Celia’s head. “Sugar pie, what happened to your beautiful face?”

  She touched the bandage with her right hand. “Minor mishap with some livestock.”

  “But you’re okay? Where else are you hurt?”

  “My ribs are sore, but besides that, I’m fine.”

  “Good. You still look great.” Probably out of reflex, he reached for her hand. “I miss you.”

  “Breck. Don’t.”

  Breck only then seemed to realize Kyle was standing next to Celia. “Gilchrist. I’m surprised to see you here, bein’s you didn’t finish high enough in the standings in December to compete in the Country Showdown Expo.”

  No surprise Breck tossed out a barbed reminder of Kyle’s lackluster finish in the American Finals Rodeo—AFR—the previous month. “Guess I didn’t know I needed an official invite to come to Vegas.”

  Breck’s gaze zoomed between the two of them. As if something wasn’t quite right.

  Although Kyle had no idea how this Vegas marriage would play out, he wanted to rub it in Breck’s face that Celia was his, even temporarily.

  So he did just that. Kyle used his left hand to brush a hair from Celia’s shoulder. “You’ve got so damn much hair, woman.”

  Breck’s eyes narrowed first on the ring on Kyle’s hand and then on the matching band on Celia’s. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me.” He looked at Celia. “Say it ain’t so.”

  Celia glanced at Kyle. He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her ring finger.

  “How long has this been going on? While we were together?” Breck demanded of Celia.

  Immediately incensed, Kyle got up in Breck’s face. “Don’t put your shitty morals on her. Celia ain’t like that and you know it. Apologize to my wife, right now.”

  “Kyle—”

  “He isn’t allowed to insult you, Celia, ever. I’ve watched him do it enough over the last two years and I couldn’t do anything about it then, but I can stop it now.” He didn’t move an inch. “So apologize to her.”

  “Jesus. All right, all right, I’m sorry.”

  Only then did Kyle back down.

  “How long have you two been—”

  “Married?” Kyle supplied. “Since last night. We’re just on our way home to Wyoming.”

  Breck’s face distorted with an ugly sneer. “Last I knew you didn’t have a pot to piss in. So where are the newlyweds gonna live? In y
our shitty camper? Or Celia’s horse trailer? Or are you sponging off Celia’s brothers?” He focused on Celia. “I asked you to marry me. And you turned me down for him? A guy who has nothing?”

  Jesus. That stung. Was that really how Breck saw him?

  Isn’t that how you see yourself?

  Celia stomped closer to Breck. “I turned you down because we have vastly different ideas of what commitment means. I’d spent enough nights wondering why you preferred Michael in your bed more often than me.”

  Breck glanced around, but Celia had said it in a low tone so no one had overheard. “But Kyle, Celia? Really? One of my best friends? It’s like a knife in my heart.”

  “Now you know how I felt every time you were with Michael.”

  Breck looked stricken. “But…I never hid that from you, sugar pie.”

  “Being honest about the nature of your relationship with Michael didn’t excuse it.” Celia faced Kyle. “We’re done here.”

 
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