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       Roped In, p.4

         Part #6.5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 
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  was done with the world of rodeo.

  Or he would be, as soon as Dial had regained some of what he’d lost. Only then could Sutton find an owner that saw the workhorse beneath the spirited nature.

  The drive to his place passed quickly. At home he fed Dial and talked to him about London, mostly out of habit. There were times on the road when Sutton had felt his horse was his only friend—totally fucked up, but true. Dial wasn’t just a tool to him. Most of the time the opposite was true. Dial needed the challenge of those moments on the dirt. Sutton needed the moments on the dirt as a means to an end.

  Over the years, socialization had gotten easier for him, but in the beginning on the circuit, he’d remained in the background, barely speaking because he’d always been painfully shy. Early on most folks considered him conceited, but he couldn’t help people seeing what they wanted to. Rather than hit the wild parties after a competition, he hid in his horse trailer and watched DVDs.

  That’s not to say Sutton didn’t have friends—just none of them, with the exception of Breck Christianson, were professional rodeo competitors. Plenty of buckle bunnies had sniffed around him from day one. But he’d understood early on that it wasn’t him personally those women saw, but him as a meal ticket.

  After Charlotte dumped him and he’d survived his recovery, he’d returned to life on the blacktop and lost some of his reserve. He hadn’t gone hog wild as much as he’d learned to separate love from sex. Being in a serious relationship at such a young age hadn’t given him any experience with no-strings-attached, let’s-fuck-just-because-it-feels-amazing kind of sex and he quickly became a huge fan of it. But even then, his sexual exploits were nowhere near what his fellow road dogs were indulging in. And he’d yet to find a woman willing to let him explore his darker side. So, he’d let her set the initial parameters and then he’d push the sassy cowgirl’s boundaries.

  As he walked back up to his house from the corral, it reminded him how much he loved being at home. His house was his one indulgence. Basic on the outside. But inside? Big rooms, open space. A man his size needed room to move around. And because he’d had the house built from the ground up, he’d installed an underground shooting range. The basement, dug a level deeper than most, was literally his fortress. The concrete bunker that ran a 100 yards beneath his house was completely soundproofed and fully ventilated. He could fire ten clips from an AR-15 and anyone sitting in his living room wouldn’t hear even a small pop.

  His private shooting range wasn’t something he broadcasted, lest he get called a gun nut or a freak preparing a bunker for the end of days—neither of which were true. But he’d always been drawn to guns. Not for hunting, not for collecting, but for the actual skill it takes in shooting all types of firearms. If he hadn’t been offered a college scholarship for rodeo, he would’ve gone into the army. And he’d taken perverse pleasure in turning the indoor “dog run” that Charlotte insisted on for her stupid poodles into a regulation competitive shooting range with all the bells and whistles he could legally buy.

  Not only had the shooting range saved his sanity during his recovery period this go around, but being home for longer than a week at a time, he’d had a chance to hang out with other guys with the same passion.

  Passion. He’d had passion for his sport and passion for his hobby, but passion for a woman had been missing long before his accident.

  It’d shocked him how quickly passion had sparked to life with London Gradsky today. He liked the challenge of her. His thoughts scrolled back to that day she’d given him what-for when she’d found out he’d bought Dial. The fire flashing in her eyes, the over-the-top hand gestures. He admired that she didn’t hold back her true nature.

  She might be used to getting her own way on the dirt, but guaranteed he didn’t get roped into this situation without planning to take some risks of his own.

  Chapter Four

  Winning four steer wrestling world championships must’ve paid well because Sutton Grant had a gorgeous house. A ranch style with southwestern elements. The corral spanned the distance between the house and the big metal barn-like building on the left side. A three-car garage on the right side balanced out the sprawling structure.

  It was obvious this house had no full-time female occupant. No flowers or landscaping beyond a few bushes beneath the front windows. The reverse U-shaped driveway was unique, giving her the choice to pull up to the garage, follow the wide swath of blacktop and park in front of the house or pull up to the metal outbuilding.

  Before she could decide which would be the best parking option, Sutton strolled out the front door sans shirt. When she tore her gaze away from his muscled torso and saw he was wearing pants—pity that—and that he was barefoot, she hit the brakes hard. Nothing on earth was sexier than a bare-chested barefoot man in faded jeans. Nothing.

  Sutton meandered over.

  She unrolled her window but gazed straight ahead at the garage door instead of his mesmerizing chest.

  “Hey. I wasn’t expecting you so early.”

  “Did I interrupt something? Because I can come back.”

  “Why would you think you interrupted something?”

  Because you’re half-dressed and I’m pretty sure if I look down at your holy fuck washboard abs, I’ll see the top button on your jeans is undone. Then I’ll imagine you were lounging naked in bed when you heard a car pull up and you’re probably commando beneath those body-hugging jeans.

  Jesus. She even sounded like a breathless twit in her head.

  “London. Why aren’t you lookin’ at me?”

  “Because you’ve got way too few clothes on.” And I’ve got way too many ideas on what to do with a hot, half-naked man.

  A rough-tipped finger traced the length of her arm down from the ball of her shoulder, pausing to caress the crease in her elbow, and continuing down her forearm and wrist, stopping to sweep his thumb across her knuckles. “You could even things up, darlin’. Get rid of that pesky shirt and bra.”

  “I’m not wearing a bra,” slipped out.

  Sutton sucked in a sharp breath. “Prove it.”

  London’s head snapped around so fast she might need to find a neck brace. Her indignation vanished when she saw his dimpled grin.

  “That gotcha to look at me.”

  “Jerk.”

  Keeping his eyes on hers, he gently uncurled her fingers from her grip on the steering wheel. “Let’s start over. Good afternoon, London. You’re lookin’ pretty today. I’m happy to see you. There’s a concrete slab on the far side of the barn where you can park your camper.”

  “Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  Sutton continued staring and touching just the back of her hand in a manner that should’ve been sweet but sent hot ripples of awareness vibrating through her. “Uh, I’ll just go park now.”

  He released her hand and her eyes. “Need help?”

  “Nah. I’ve done this a million times.” She drove along the front of the house, cutting the turn wide when she started down the driveway. Then she put it in reverse and cranked it hard, perfectly lining it up alongside the building. After she climbed out of the truck, she saw Sutton had already unhooked the camper from the ball hitch. “Thanks.”

  “My pleasure. You wanna grab the stabilizer blocks?”

  She lifted them out of the back of the truck and set them on the ground.

  Sutton had them in place in seconds. Then he stood and brushed the dirt from his palms.

  Her focus had stuck on how the muscles in his arms flexed. Given his bulked up state, it didn’t look like the man had spent the last eight months recuperating from injuries.

  “London?”

  She met his amused gaze. “Did I say something?”

  “Not with your mouth, darlin’, but you are sayin’ a whole lot with them burning hot eyes of yours.”

  “Sorry.”

  “Don’t be. You need help hauling anything into the house?”

  London frown
ed. “No. But if you’ll show me where I can plug in—”

  “No.” Then Sutton crowded her, trapping her against the side of her camper with his arm right by her face. “I’m a single guy with a four-bedroom house. There’s no reason for you to stay in your camper.”

  Good Lord his muscles were even more impressive this close up. What weight exercise did he do to get that deep cut in his biceps? She could probably stick her tongue halfway into that groove. Then she could follow that groove down... Way down.

  Stop. Mentally. Licking. Him.

  “London?”

  She cleared her throat. “I can think of a reason.”

  “What?”

  Scrambled by his nearness, she said, “I snore really loud.”

  “I’ll wear earplugs.”

  “I get up at least twice every night to use the bathroom.”

  “You have a private bathroom in your room.”

  “I’m messy. Really messy.”

  “I have a housekeeper.”

  She was losing this battle. Think, London, because if you can’t come up with a plausible reason to stay out of his house, guaranteed you’ll be in his bed.

  “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

  Her gaze zoomed to his. “What are you hoping for?”

  “That you’ll end up in my bed. Or I’ll end up in yours.”

  Jesus. She’d said that out loud.

  Grinning, he pushed back. “Come on. I’ll show you the guest room.”

  She followed him inside. The entrance opened up into a big foyer with tile floors. Beyond the pillars separating the entrance from the hallways going either direction, she saw a great room with a fireplace, a man-sized flat screen, and puffy couches. Windows overlooked a patio. The living area melded into an open kitchen and small dining room. No bachelor bland in Sutton’s abode. The colors were masculine; rust, dark brown, and tan, yet the coffee table, dining room table and chairs, and end tables were light rough-sawn wood.

  “What a gorgeous space. Did you decorate it?”

  “Not on your life.” He snagged a black wife beater off the back of the sofa and yanked it on over his head. “I told my mom what I wanted, well, mostly what I didn’t want, and she supervised since I wasn’t around much.”

  “She lives close by?”

  “A few miles up the road. This house is actually on the far corner of the ranch.”

  “Handy.”

  “My brothers each have their own places too.”

  “There are worse things than having your family as your closest neighbors.”

  Sutton flipped a switch and light flooded the hallway. “We’ve never had a problem with it. What about you? I don’t remember how many siblings you’ve got.”

  “Two. My older brother, Macon, is an attorney in Denver. My younger sister, Stirling, received her masters’ degrees in biology, genetics, and animal science.” London held her breath, waiting for the inevitable question. What’s your degree in? Yeah, she bristled at being the lone Gradsky kid without a college education. Instead, she’d chosen the “school of hard knocks” route.

  “So you’re a middle child, too?”

  She slowly exhaled. “Yep.”

  “My oldest brother, Wynton, ranches with our dad, as does my younger brother, Creston.”

  “Wynton, Sutton, Creston; masculine names for strapping western ranching sons.”

  He leveled her with a look. “I’d think a woman named London wouldn’t poke fun.”

  “I’m not. What are your folk’s first names?”

  “Jim and Sue. Mom wanted something unique for us, but personally I’d rather be Bill or Bob or Joe.” He took a few steps down the hallway. “Here’s the bathroom.”

  “At least your mother didn’t go with a theme. My dad’s full name is Charleston Gradsky, and he hates it so he goes by Chuck. But that didn’t deter Mom from picking a southern city as my brother’s name.”

  “So you’re London because she’s Berlin? Why didn’t she name your sister Paris?”

  She whapped him in the arm. “Too easy. She narrowed her choices to Stirling, which is a town in Scotland, or Valencia, a town in Spain. She hated the idea that Valencia could be shortened to Val. God forbid one of her kids would have a somewhat normal name.”

  “Wynton never uses his full name. He’s gone by Wyn since he started school. Same with Cres. But ain’t no way to shorten Sutton.”

  “Or London.”

  They smiled at each other.

  Sutton opened his mouth to say something then shook his head. He turned and started down the hallway. They passed two closed doors and he opened the third. “This is the guest room.” He pointed. “Bathroom is through that door.”

  “This is really rice.” The space was simple, tan walls with oak trim and oatmeal colored Berber carpet. Centered on the longest wall was a big brass bed sporting a Denver Broncos bedspread. Next to it was a nightstand with a matching orange and blue desk lamp. Opposite sat an antique dresser with a TV on top. Shades covered the windows, leaving the room cool and dark—just like she liked it. Some summer nights her camper was like sleeping in a tin can. “You’ve convinced me to crash here, although I’ll point out it’s a good thing I’m not a Kansas City Chiefs super fan.”

  “Bite your tongue, darlin’. Them’s fightin’ words.”

  She peeked into the bathroom. Same Broncos theme. When she looked at him again, she casually asked, “Where’s your room?”

  “At the other end of the hallway. There are two bedrooms on this side and two on that side.” He smirked. “So yes, your room is as far from mine as it gets.”

  How was she supposed to respond? Good? Or that sucks?

  “Need help unloading your stuff?”

  “No. My stuff is scattered throughout my camper, and I need to dig it out first.”

  “Okay. If you need anything, holler.” Then he left the room.

  London used the facilities and figured out the bare minimum of what she’d need. She practically tiptoed down the hallway, leaving the front door unlatched so she wouldn’t disturb Sutton with the door slamming.

  She had packed a suitcase—full of dirty clothes—and set it outside hoping laundry privileges were included in her guest status. She unearthed a duffel bag and shoved the few clean clothes inside along with her makeup bag. Her laptop bag held all of her electronics and charging cords. Then she figured she’d need her boots and hat, which were in the back of her club cab. Since she’d be dealing with Dial, a notoriously stubborn horse, a crop would come in handy. She rooted around under the seat until she found it.

  Looking at the pile, she wished she’d taken Sutton up on his offer of help. She slipped the strap of the duffel over her left shoulder and the laptop strap over the right. Hat on her head, boots teetering precariously on top of the zipped duffel, she reached for the suitcase handle.

  “You’d rather sprain your damn neck than accept my help?”

  She whirled around. Her hat, boots, and crop went flying. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

  Sutton picked up her riding crop and muttered, “I oughta use this on you.”

  “Okay.”

  He shot her a look.

  She didn’t break eye contact. Neither did he.

  Then he offered her a mysterious smile, grabbed the suitcase and rolled it to the front door.

  Whew. Talk about a hot moment. Scooping her hat onto her head, she trudged behind him. She met Sutton in the hallway. “When you’re done getting settled, I’ll be in the kitchen.”

  I don’t know if I’ll ever be settled around you.

  Not only was he…oh, a fucking dream man with those looks, those eyes, that body, enough amazing attributes to make any man cocky, he rarely acted that way. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear the man was…shy.

  Nah. He couldn’t be.

  Why not? Why do you think you know him? You’ve met the man one time. You’ve heard your parents talk about him, but you’ve had exactly one hour-long conversa
tion with him.

  But he hadn’t shied away from kissing her or from accepting her challenge to act like her boyfriend. And he’d all but told her she was crashing in his house, not her camper.

  Those were the actions of a self-confident person, not the shy, retiring type.

  Since when are those traits mutually exclusive?

  Maybe she should stop staring at the closed door like an idiot, clean herself up, and go talk to him.

  London changed from shorts into jeans. Hopefully the flies weren’t bad and she wouldn’t regret wearing a T-shirt instead of switching to a long-sleeved blouse. She tried to run a comb through her hair since she’d had the windows down on the way here, but the brush got stuck so she finger-combed it into a low ponytail. Not the best look, but she was
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