Turn and burn, p.10
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       Turn and Burn, p.10

         Part #5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  “I stand corrected.” He lifted an eyebrow. “You gonna make me pay for that oversight?”

  Tanna laughed. “Of course. I like seeing a big man squirm.”

  Goddamn, she had a laugh that pulled him in, a carefree sound that was sexy as sin.

  Max gave him a once-over. “I see you’re still wearing your barnyard clothes. Finish your last call late?”

  Leave it to Max to point out Fletch’s less than stellar appearance. “Yeah. If you sat a little closer you could get a whiff of barnyard. Welcome to my world.” His eyes met Tanna’s. His job was messy and smelly. No reason to pretend it wasn’t. Most days he fared a helluva lot worse than this. Question was: would she balk and move away?

  “All’s well in the world of veterinary medicine?” Ike asked.

  “I’m busy as all get-out—not that I’m complaining. But I didn’t get home before ten o’clock a single night this week. Those five a.m. starts make for a really long day.”

  Tanna blinked at him. Hopefully she understood he’d directed that answer at her. Pushing her to have coffee with him and then not contacting her this week . . . not cool.

  “How long have you guys been here?” he asked Ike.

  “An hour and a half. Ran into this lovely lady right after we arrived. She was sitting all by herself up at the bar.”

  Fletch kept his focus on her. “Getting wild on a Friday night?”

  “No. I’m on clothing store duty tomorrow and I’ve been warned that Saturdays are busy,” Tanna said.

  “No wildness for me either,” Holt said. “I’ve got a roofing job to finish tomorrow. Which means I’ll be up at the ass crack of dawn before it gets too damn hot.”

  “I assume you’re on animal patrol even on weekends?” Tanna asked Fletch.

  “Most Saturdays are busy. Was kind of a fluke last weekend that I didn’t get called away after the branding.”

  “You get called away on Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes night and day,” Ike scoffed. “I can’t remember the last time you talked about having a full day off. He’s a regular workaholic,” he added to Tanna.

  Fletch felt his face heat. Was it his imagination, or were his friends trying to make him out to be the type of guy who preferred four-legged animals to the two-legged variety? He opened his mouth to protest, but Tanna beat him to the punch.

  “You must love your job if you work that hard at it,” Tanna said. “Your clients are lucky you’re so dedicated.”

  “Fletch wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working,” Holt said.

  “That’s not true. I just have to prioritize who I want to spend time with when I do get a break—which didn’t happen at all this week, unfortunately.”

  “So we should consider ourselves lucky that you graced us with your presence,” Ike joked.

  “I consider myself lucky that you guys haven’t written me off as a lost cause when I’m so lousy at keeping in touch.” His eyes never wavered from hers.

  Tanna’s gaze turned thoughtful but she didn’t speak.

  That’s when Fletch noticed her eyes were brown tonight. Not gray like the last two times they’d met. Interesting little quirk, that she changed her eye color.

  The music kicked up a notch and Max held out his hand to Tanna. “You promised me a dance.”

  She tore her gaze from Fletch’s and stood abruptly. “So I did. Let’s hit it.”

  Three pairs of eyes followed the couple to the dance floor. Fletch’s fist tightened on his beer can when he saw just how close Max pressed his body to Tanna’s right off the bat.

  “So that’s how it is,” Ike said.

  “What?” Fletch answered distractedly, keeping his focus on the too-close couple on the too-crowded dance floor.

  “You. And her.”

  Fletch offered a halfhearted shrug.

  “Don’t give me that bullshit innocent act after how you were when you first sat down.”

  “And how was that?”

  Holt leaned forward, snagging his attention. “Like you wanted to crack our skulls together for even lookin’ at her. And she gave off the vibe that she’d like nothin’ better than for you to bend her over the table.”

  Fletch choked on his beer. Then he looked at Ike, who nodded agreement with Holt’s comment. What the hell? How had these guys picked up on that?

  Because you’re usually the most laid-back guy in the room and tonight . . . you’re not.

  Ike sighed. “Why does this always happen? You get there first. I really like her.”

  So do I.

  “What’s goin’ on between you two?”

  “We’re just friends,” Fletch said with a slight snarl.

  Ike’s eyes narrowed. “Her choice? Or yours?”

  “Let it be,” Holt warned Ike.

  That shut Ike down immediately.

  So they’d drifted into a neutral conversation by the time Max and Tanna returned. Well, Ike and Max had. Fletch had gotten intercepted by another person requesting animal care advice. He attempted to end the conversation, but the guy didn’t get the hint.

  After five minutes, Tanna drained her beer and looked pointedly at Fletch. Then at the stoop-shouldered interloper. “Come on, Doc. You’re off the clock and you promised to prove that your barbecue skills put Texas boys’ skills to shame.”

  For once Fletch’s blank look wasn’t feigned. “Shoot. How could I have forgotten?” He pushed back from the table and the old-timer finally shuffled away.

  “Devin wasn’t kidding when he said that happens to you a lot,” she said softly. “And yet, you never act like it’s an intrusion.”

  Half-embarrassed, he shrugged. Then before she could comment on that, Fletch stood. “Sorry to cut this short, but I’m whupped. Good seeing you guys.”

  “No worries,” Holt assured him. “We’re about to head out shortly.”

  Tanna rolled to her feet and offered his friends a smile. “I’ll be taking off too. Thanks for the company and the beer. First round is on me next time.”

  When she glanced up at him, Fletch’s heart raced. “I’ll walk you out.”

  If his buddies made sarcastic comments, he didn’t hear them. He had eyes only for the petite cowgirl. He placed his hand in the small of her back to navigate through the crowd, trying like hell to ignore the warmth of her skin heating his palm.

  Tanna didn’t attempt to dislodge his touch or put distance between them as he escorted her outside. “Where’d you park?”

  “Close to the exit.”

  He chuckled. “Planning your escape route before you even entered the building?”

  “That’s how I roll.”

  They didn’t speak again until reaching her truck. “Tanna. Look. I’m sorry I didn’t call you this week about that coffee date.”

  She faced him and his hand fell away. “I know you’ve got a busy practice, Fletch. But I will point out that you’re the one who insisted we be ‘friends’ and it was your responsibility to let me know a coffee night wasn’t in the cards for us at all.”

  Chastised, he softly bit off, “Waiting by the phone, were you?”

  “Maybe.”

  “Then I promise it won’t happen again. I’ll call you even if it’s ridiculously late.”

  “Deal.” Tanna stepped closer.

  Fletch automatically backed up two steps. “Ah, you probably don’t wanna get that close to me, sugar twang.”

  The crazy woman erased the distance between them and sniffed his shirt. Twice. She wrinkled her nose before breaking into a smirk. “Relax. You don’t smell. I’d be more offended if you doused yourself in Axe body spray. Now that shit is really rank.” Her fingers traced the row of buttons that stopped between his pectorals. “Nothin’ wrong with honest sweat, Fletch. I actually prefer a man who’s not afraid to let me see his dirtier side.”

  Fletch’s flip “I’m all about getting down and dirty with you” masked his relief that Tanna wasn’t turned off by his less than flowery scent.

  Sh
e laughed. “You never give up, do you?”

  “Nope. And consider that your warning.” He grinned. “So, you giving me a second chance on that coffee date? Say . . . on Sunday?”

  “How do I know you won’t stand me up?”

  Fletch placed his hand over hers, which still rested on his chest. “Since my Sunday rates are triple my normal weekly rates, it’s gotta be a real emergency for a client to call me.”

  “Smart. So if it looks like you won’t make it can you at least text me?”

  Dammit. He so didn’t want to admit this.

  Her eyes turned suspicious. “What?”

  “Does it make me a techno-loser if I admit I don’t text?”

  Tanna cocked her head. “You’re a doctor. I doubt you’re a technophobe and don’t know how to text, and with all those confusing pharmaceutical names, it’s unlikely that you misspell words.”

  “Not intentionally.” Fletch held up his hands. “See these huge mitts? Even the tips of my fingers cover about three letters at a time so I’m a fumbling fool. It takes me three times as long to send a text as it does to dial a number. So if I can’t call, I don’t bother.”

  Her eyes were on his fingers and the hungry look on her face suggested she was thinking about how well he used his fingers, not how badly. “Tanna?”

  She refocused. “Fine. Where should we meet? Someplace in Rawlins?”

  Tricky woman. She didn’t consider it a real date if they met up instead of him picking her up.

  Wrong. But he’d let her think that if it meant she’d show up.

  “Sounds good. There’s Dot’s Diner across from the Super-Valu. Around eight?”

  “That’ll work.”

  “I’m looking forward to it.” Fletch pressed his lips to the back of her hand before letting her go. “Drive safe.”

  Sunday night, Fletch showed up early at the restaurant for their date. He thought he’d prepared himself to act cool and friendlike. But the instant he caught sight of the sexy Texas cowgirl, he knew this “friendship” experiment was doomed to fail from the start.

  So yeah, maybe he had a predatory look in his eye and a wolfish twist to his mouth when every delicious inch of Tanna sauntered toward him.

  She stopped at the end of the table, propped her hand on her hip and loomed over him—as much as the petite woman could loom—and warned, “I’m fixin’ to walk right back out the door if you keep staring at me like that.”

  He couldn’t stop the tiny grin or from asking, “Staring at you . . . like what?”

  “Like I’m on the damn menu.”

  “I wish.”

  “Sweet Lord, are you tryin’ to test me today?”

  “Yep. I’ve already made it clear I’d like a second helping of you. And you are testing my willpower, sugar twang, because you always look so tasty.”

  She whapped him on the shoulder. “I swear, August Fletcher—”

  “I love the thick and sweet way my name rolls off your tongue,” he half growled. “Say it again.”

  Tanna purred, “Dr. Pervert,” before she dropped into the chair opposite his and smirked at him.

  “I guess I deserved that. Still . . . I’m glad you came.”

  “Since I didn’t hear from you beforehand I assume you’ve not dealt with emergency calls today?”

  “Just one. Early on. So I’m all yours.” Stop with the come-ons, Fletch. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted coffee or tea so I ordered both.”

  “Tea is fine. But pass me the sugar.”

  He slid the packets closer. “I didn’t get a chance Friday night to ask how it’s goin’, working up at the Split Rock.”

  Tanna stirred three packs of sugar into her iced tea. “Busy. I had no idea the retail store had that much traffic. I sort of expected I’d be sitting around bored. But that hasn’t happened so far.”

  Fletch wrapped his hands around his cup of coffee. “Did you bartend much?”

  “Twice. Harlow kind of took over the bartending gig this week.”

  “You okay with that?”

  “It’s only the first week so we’ll see how it goes from here. The bar is really sedate.” She winked. “I like bars that are hoppin’.”

  “We oughta head to Buckeye Joe’s again one of these nights. Just you and me.”

  “You and me get into trouble in bars, Fletch.”

  He grinned at her. “All the more reason for us to go.”

  “I’ll take it into consideration, since my usual choices of drinking buddies are currently knocked up. Or nursing.”

  She stirred her tea again. Almost like she was nervous.

  “What was your week like?” she asked.

  “Same old, same old. Horses, cows and bulls. I did help deliver a baby llama. Cute little bugger, but the mama ain’t interested in it, so the owners will have to bottle-feed.”

  “Did you do anything fun?”

  He shook his head. “I worked around Laramie Monday and Tuesday. I spent Wednesday and Thursday in Rock Springs. Friday I had nonemergency visits around here I’d postponed. Yesterday I got a couple of calls but the problems had resolved themselves by the time I got there.”

  “Does that happen a lot?”

  “Yeah. But I can’t really know if the call was made outta panic or if there’s a valid concern for an animal without physically checking it out in most cases. They know they’ll be billed for my services regardless if there’s something wrong or not. I knew when I started my practice if I didn’t take a hard-line stance on billing for my time for all calls, it’d look like my time wasn’t worth nothin’.”

  “Didn’t want to be known as the nice guy?” she asked.

  Fletch flashed his teeth. “There’s a difference between bein’ accessible, bein’ nice and a bein’ a chump. But I must not be too nice because I can’t keep a veterinary assistant to save my hide.”

  A smirk played around the corners of Tanna’s mouth. “This might shock you. I went to trade school for a year to become a veterinarian assistant.”

  Fletch leaned forward. “Seriously? Come to work for me. I can double what they’re paying you at the Split Rock. Hell, I’ll triple it.”

  “I didn’t graduate.”

  “I don’t care. I can teach you how to do everything the way I like it.”

  Tanna laughed. “Nice try. But I already learned a lot of the ways you like it in just one night. Which is why you keep doggin’ me.”

  “Partially true. But I’m talking about business here, Tanna, not pleasure.”

  “What makes you think we could work together?”

  “First of all, because you’re a born ranch girl. You’ve been around large animals so you’ve got some idea what to expect. You don’t have as many misperceptions about what I do as some dewy-eyed new vet assistant school graduate.”

  “I’ll bet you’ve had problems with that. Animal-loving girls who wanna snag a hot veterinarian for a husband.”

  Fletch thought back to his last assistant, Ashley. She’d dressed nicely, if a bit provocatively, for her interview. She seemed to grasp that his practice wasn’t puppies and kitties. He’d hired her on a two-week trial period. She’d shown up the first day in a miniskirt and four-inch heels, with a low-cut shirt that highlighted her D cups. She’d lasted four days. And she seemed really surprised he hadn’t offered a marriage proposal.

  Before he could toss off a sexy remark, she said, “Besides, I’m only in Wyoming temporarily. You need an assistant who’s sticking around for the long haul.”

  “Why’d you go to school in the first place? Weren’t you already on the circuit?”

  She wiped the condensation from her glass with a napkin. “I raced on weekends. I hadn’t gotten into my groove yet and my dad wanted me to have some sort of skill, so I chose a two-year degree. After I finished a year, I rewarded myself by attending a private barrel racing camp. That’s when everything changed.”

  “How so?”

  “The woman who ran the camp hadn’t personally won any wo
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