Turn and BurnLorelei James
This book is dedicated to all my Texas friends and especially those wild,
crazy-assed Texas women
who inspire me every day . . .
“Sweet darlin’, what did you say you did for a living?”
Sweet darlin’. Did this dude really think she’d buy into his fake cowboy shtick because he’d shown up at a Western bar wearing alligator boots and a Stetson? Please. She was a Texas girl, born and bred. And if there was one thing Tanna Barker knew, it was cowboys—real cowboys.
She smiled coyly. “I didn’t say. But a shot of Patrón would loosen my tongue a whole lot.”
Mr. Alligator Boots flagged down the bartender.
Tanna would’ve almost felt bad for this guy, except he’d approached her. Buying her a shot was the least he could do after he’d laid on the bullshit so thick she felt it seeping into her boots.
After knocking back the tequila, she confessed, “I don’t normally share my occupation because it tends to be viewed as . . . a bit raunchy. But I’ll make an exception for you, puddin’ pop.”
She saw his gears spinning as he pondered her raunchy occupation. Paid escort? Hooker? Exotic dancer? His eyes roamed over her skintight Miss Me jeans, her pink rhinestone b.b.simon belt and her shimmery ruffled blouse cut low enough to garner interest in her abundant cleavage.
Then Mr. Alligator Boots frowned at the bandage on her forehead. “What happened to you?”
“Hazard of my job.” She confided, “I’m a professional Roller Derby girl. I’m the pivot for the Lonestar Ladies. I hit the cement in the ring last night after some bitch hooked me and I ended up with a skate to the head. It bled like a mother, I guess. I didn’t notice, ’cause I play to win. Only took ten stitches this time. Last month I ripped the shit outta my calf and ended up with twenty-five stitches.”
“I can show you the scar. Bet a tough cowboy like you is into scars, ain’t ya?” she taunted.
Mr. Alligator Boots backed away and waved at someone across the room. “Would you look at the time? I gotta go. I see my friends are here.”
Tanna held in her laughter until he disappeared.
Within five minutes another friendly guy sidled up. Younger than Mr. Alligator Boots. But he still wore the Hey, baby, I’m all that and a real cowboy look of a smarmy douche bag. She smiled and waited for him to strike up a conversation.
Hello, free shot number two.
Talk about shooting fish in a barrel. Over the next two hours, and after multiple complimentary shots of tequila, her injury had been the result of a bow hunting accident, from getting clipped by her gear after jumping from an airplane, from a drunken brawl with her fellow missionaries, from hitting the roll bar during the demolition derby finals and her personal favorite—the whip she’d used on her lover recoiled and sliced her in the face. Truly a classic. As the queen of tall tales, she couldn’t wait to share these fun little fibs with her buddy Celia Lawson Gilchrist.
Hopefully pregnancy hadn’t affected Celia’s sense of humor.
Tanna ordered a Corona, lamenting the lack of Lone Star beer this far north. Still, she was grateful for her friends who’d offered her a place to live in Wyoming while she got her head on straight. Her life had been in turmoil these past two years, more than she’d let on. She just wanted a place to hole up, lick her wounds and figure out what the hell to do with herself.
Rather than imposing on Celia and Kyle Gilchrist or Lainie and Hank Lawson, even for one night, Tanna had checked into a dive motel in Rawlins within stumbling distance of Cactus Jack’s Bar. This wouldn’t be her last night of freedom, but it’d be her last chance to be anonymously wild for a while.
Right. Tell yourself that. You can’t go more than two weeks without getting into trouble.
Another guy, this one with too many tats and too few teeth, slunk up next to her. “What’s a looker like you doin’ drinking alone?”
“Celebrating that I just got out of jail last week.”
His bleary eyes lit up. “What a coincidence. I just got outta jail too. What were you in for?”
A real jailbird was hitting on her? Awesome. That’d teach her to lie. “Arson. I allegedly”—she made quotes in the air when she said allegedly—“set fire to my ex’s trailer and blew up his truck with a couple of incendiary rounds. The man has no sense of humor and if I ever see that lyin’ bastard again . . .” Tanna squinted at him suspiciously. “Hey. Come to think of it, you look an awful lot like him. An awful lot.” She sneered and poked him in the chest. “LeRoy, I swear to God, if you think you can pull some kind of lame disguise with me—”
“I ain’t LeRoy, and lady, you’re plumb crazy.” He backed away. Ran away was more like it.
She couldn’t help but snicker before she upended her beer.
“Word of advice, sugar twang? Bein’s the town of Rawlins hosts the Wyoming state penitentiary, there’s a higher than average population of ex-cons around. And they’re not all so easily conned as him.”
Tanna glanced up at the man.
Oh, hello, sweet darlin’.
How hadn’t she noticed this giant? At least six feet five, he easily cast her five feet three inches in shadow. And holy frijoles was this guy hot. Like, really hot. After being approached by wannabe cowboys all night, there was no doubt this guy was the real deal. So she shamelessly took in his banging body, from his summer-weight cowboy hat to the tips of his dusty boots—and every inch in between.
His age looked to be mid-thirties. In this part of the country his reddish gold complexion had to be from Native American ancestry. Her avid gaze took in his angular features. A high forehead not marred by a single wrinkle. A slash of dark eyebrows arched over eyes the color of warm topaz. His cheekbones were prominent in a wide-set face. A thin blade of nose. The corners of his lips turned up in an indulgent smile. And check out that ridiculously strong-looking, chiseled jawline. His thick neck tapered into shoulders so wide it appeared he wore football pads, until she realized this hunky man couldn’t hide bulky equipment under his skintight T-shirt.
“You done looking your fill? Or did you want me to turn around so you can ogle my ass too?”
“Better to know up front that I’m staring at your package, and not considering the size of your wallet, don’tcha think?” Tanna retorted with saccharine sweetness.
He laughed. A deep, sexy rumble that caused a little flip in her belly. “So will you let me buy you a beer if I pull out my wallet?”
“If you’re sure you wanna spend money on an ex-con.”
“You’re not an ex-con by any stretch of your imagination.” He waved down the bartender. “But I am interested to hear which lie I’ll rate.” He shot her a grin. “I’m hoping you’ll claim to be a secret agent.”
Tanna leaned across the bar. “Got a Bond girl fantasy you wanna tell me about, ace?”
“I’m more a fan of Lara Croft or Sydney Bristow. Chicks who kick ass turn my crank.”
“Hot women who know how to kill and how to dress to kill are the ultimate asset.”
“Oh, those women ain’t got nothin’ on you in the asset department.” His gaze dipped to the deep V of her cleavage.
It didn’t bother her that he was blatantly checking out her rack. When he finally dragged his gaze to hers again, the unbridled lust in his eyes sent a wave of liquid heat through her.
“You are trouble,” she murmured, unable to look away from him. Something about this man pulled her in and revved her up.
“No more trouble than you are, spy girl.” He held out a twenty for the bartender without breaking eye contact. “You wanna grab us a booth and we’ll talk about what kinda trouble we can g
et into together?”
She nodded. Just as she stepped back, a man jockeying for her spot at the bar jostled her, sending her off balance. Her tall, dark and handsome stranger kept her from falling by using a firm arm to pull her forward. Her breasts met the hard wall of his chest and all the air left her lungs in a rush. Good God was he solid.
He sucked in a sharp breath at the sudden intimate contact.
The side of her face smashed against his pectorals. She remained like that, inhaling his scent until he tugged on her hair to get her attention. She glanced up into his eyes, feeling a blast of pure sexual heat.
“Might be dangerous to keep looking at me like that,” he said softly.
“Because you’re afraid I wanna do more than look at you?”
“No.” His rough-edged fingertip traced a line down her neck, from the dent in her chin to the start of her cleavage. “But maybe I want more than you’re willing to give.”
Tanna stared at him. Normally such blatant sexual talk so soon after meeting had her stepping back. But something about this man kept her right where she was—completely entranced by him.
“Say the word, sugar twang, and I’ll walk away.”
“And if I don’t want you to walk away?” she countered boldly.
“Then our night just got a whole lot more interesting.”
“Sounds good to me.” Opening her mouth over the hard curve of his pectorals, she blew a stream of hot air through the shirt, then lightly bit down. “I’m game for whatever you’ve got in mind.”
“Grab your beer.” He led them to the only unoccupied booth, by the front door.
She slid into the bench seat opposite him and raised her bottle for a toast.
“What’re we toasting to?”
“Ex-cons and little white lies.” She smirked. “And a guy with a big . . . bullshit meter.”
“I’ll drink to that.” He grinned.
Sweet Lord. There was damn dangerous wattage in those pearly whites of his.
He rested his massive shoulders against the back of the booth. “So, what’s your name besides Hot Trouble?”
Tanna shook her head. “How about if we keep it simple and don’t exchange names?”
He didn’t even blink. “Because you’d probably give me a fake one anyway.”
“Yep. I see this ain’t your first go-round in this type of rodeo either, cowboy.”
“I’m good with no names—I like ‘sugar twang’ better anyway—but there are a couple of basic questions I’ve gotta ask first.”
The twinkle vanished from his eyes. “You’re not married and out on the town looking for one night with a stranger to cure your marital boredom?”
“No, sir. I don’t cheat. So no boyfriend either.” She pointed with her beer bottle. “Back atcha.”
“No significant other in my life. Or in my bed on a regular basis.”
“That clears that up. Next question.”
His eyes flicked to the bandage on her forehead. “What happened there?”
“Nothin’. It’s a prop to garner sympathy, start conversations and con men into buying me drinks.”
That seemed to amuse him rather than annoy him. “What brings you to Rawlins, Wyoming?”
“Just passing through on my way to start a new job.” Not exactly a lie. “What about you?”
“I’m on the road a lot too.” He let his bottle dangle a couple of inches above the table and swung it like a pendulum. “You’re not really on the run from an ex?”
Tanna snickered. “Nope. I’m just killing time in a honky-tonk before I move on.”
“So you’re not looking for Mr. Right?”
“More like looking for Mr. Right Now.”
His handsome face remained skeptical.
“Let’s cut to the chase. I like sex. There isn’t a substitute for the way naked flesh feels sliding together in the heat of passion. There isn’t a substitute for a long, wet kiss. There isn’t a substitute for a heart-pounding, blood-pulsing orgasm. There isn’t a substitute for sex. Period. I’m not supposed to admit I get antsy and snappish if I go too long without it. I’m not supposed to admit that satisfying the craving for intimate physical contact is all I want. I don’t want messy emotional entanglements. Just. Hot. Sex.”
He leaned forward and took her hand, staring deeply into her eyes. “I think I love you.”
“In all seriousness, it’s refreshing that you’re so up front about what you want.”
“Or what I don’t want.” Tanna swallowed a mouthful of beer. “So, you interested in taking me for a tumble?”
“Oh yeah.” His smile turned decidedly predatory. “But I’m not gonna shake your hand like this is a business arrangement.” He lifted their joined hands and kissed the inside of her forearm, from her wrist to the crook of her elbow. “I’m gonna seduce you.”
“Right here, right now?”
“Just giving you a sneak peek at my playbook.” His thumb lazily swept an arc from her knuckles to her wrist. “But I won’t attempt an all-out blitz. I’d rather make the plays drive by drive. Trust me. I’ll still get us to the goal line.”
Tanna squirmed in her seat. “I’ve never been turned on by a football analogy before.”
He chuckled. “I’m happy you caught the right sport reference.”
“Bite your tongue. I’m a Texan. Football is not a sport; it’s a religion.”
“My mistake. That said, I’m gonna jump ahead in the offensive playbook and score us a room at the motel across the street. Be right back.”
He slid from the booth leaving her staring after him feeling . . . what? Guilty? Like she should offer to pay for half? Or tell him she’d already booked a room? Or was she feeling like a skanky ho for picking up yet another guy in a bar?
Nah. It’d been a while since she’d hooked up. And what was wrong with acting on her baser impulses anyway? Nothing. Men did it all the freakin’ time. Her body, her choice. All pleasure, no emotional pain. Just what she needed.
Tanna ordered another round of Coronas and let her head fall back. Her mind filled with thoughts of roving hands and hot mouths. Of cool cotton sheets beneath her. She imagined the taste of his mouth. His skin. She thought about his hair teasing her as he kissed down the center of her body. By the time she’d finished fleshing out all the sexual scenarios she’d like to put into play, the bench seat creaked. She angled her head and opened her eyes to see her hot stranger sliding next to her.
His big hand curled around the side of her face and he swept his thumb over her cheekbone. “I was afraid you’d be gone.”
“Why? I meant what I said.”
“I believe you. But me heading off to secure a room before I even kissed you is a little rude on my part.”
Tanna’s heart galloped when he leaned closer, letting their lips almost touch as he gazed into her eyes with such heat and tenderness. She managed to eke out, “Maybe you oughta prove that you’re not a bad kisser before this goes any further.”
“Be my pleasure.”
His breath continued to flow over her lips, but he didn’t kiss her. “Is there a problem?”
“No. You’re just so dang pretty,” he murmured and pressed his mouth to hers.
A soft, quick brush of moist flesh as his lips teased hers. Then another. And another. When Tanna parted her lips, his tongue slipped inside her mouth.
The kiss started out a slow, sweet exploration. Heat built gradually as their lips moved and tongues dueled. She gave herself over to him and this amazing first kiss.
By the time he eased back, Tanna knew her face was flushed. Her heart raced. A warm throb of need had settled between her legs.
“Damn, woman,” he finally said.
“I’m feeling a little buzzed after that too.” Good Lord. He’d kissed her with such intensity she was out of breath.
“I take it I passed the kissing test?”
She nodded. “With flying colors.”
“Good. Because I want another taste of you.”
Heat spread between her thighs. “And then what?”
“Then I’ll probably throw you over my shoulder and run across the parking lot.” His mouth meandered down her throat. He stopped to trace his tongue along her collarbone before he planted kisses straight down to her cleavage.
Somehow he’d maneuvered her into the corner of the booth. His big body blocked her from view of other bar patrons, which allowed him to leave openmouthed kisses on every exposed inch of her breasts.