One night rodeo, p.11
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       One Night Rodeo, p.11
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         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  breathing. “Celia and I are married. Fucking deal with it. And we didn’t come here wanting a goddamn thing from either of you except your congratulations. But instead you insult her, you insult me, and then you make my wife, your sister, cry? Jesus. What is wrong with you two?”

  Abe helped Hank to his feet. “This has gotten out of hand.”

  “You’re damn right it has. So here’s your warning. Stay away from her.”

  “Dammit, Kyle, knock it off. We’re her family.”

  “No. I’m her family now. Because I’ll never ever treat her like you just did.”

  Celia cried harder.

  Neither of her brothers tried to stop them from leaving.

  At the turnoff to the highway, Kyle said, “Do we still need to stop at Eli’s or can it wait?”

  “I want my own pickup and if I have to wear these clothes another week, I’ll puke.”

  Beyond heartsick, Celia ignored the phone vibrating in her pocket. She stared out the window. The scenery she’d always loved offered her no comfort at all.

  Eli Whirling Cloud was unsaddling a horse when they pulled up. He brushed her down before he approached them. “This is a nice surprise. I expected maybe one of you, but not both of you. But there’s only one extra bed, hey.”

  Celia was so happy to get such a warm welcome from her friend and horse trainer that she almost burst into tears again. “We’re not here to crash, but thanks for the offer. We’re here to share some news.” Celia’s heart raced. “Me’n Kyle got hitched last weekend in Vegas.”

  Eli grinned from ear to ear. “I’ll be damned. Congratulations are in order, then?”


  “Outstanding.” Eli’s smile faded. “So why the teary face, sweetheart?”

  “We just left Hank and Abe. They were less than enthusiastic about the news.”

  “Eh, they’re both hotheads. Especially when it comes to you. They’ll get over it.”

  “I’ll track Mickey down so Kyle can tell you what else has gone on.”

  Standing in front of her horse trailer, she realized Kyle had been right about one thing. All her worldly goods were contained within it. Three suitcases of clothes. One box of household things and knickknacks.

  How pathetic.

  Fighting tears, she leaned against the back of the horse trailer, out of view of the house. Her life had become a train wreck. How soon would Kyle regret getting mixed up with her?

  Tired of being a fucking baby about her injury, she unloaded everything from her horse trailer herself. She had to take a break after she dumped her suitcases in the back of Kyle’s pickup because her ribs were screaming in protest.

  She rested against the fence post, watching Mickey in the distance. But her horse didn’t gracefully trot up and welcome her home. He tossed his mane and ran farther afield.

  You too, Mickey?

  His regal head bobbed, as if he’d heard her.

  “He’s always been a temperamental motherfucker,” Kyle drawled behind her. “Don’t take it personal.”

  “It’s not like I can ride him anyway.”

  Kyle swore. “Did you really load and unload all that yourself? Christ, Celia—”

  “Please don’t yell at me. I can’t take any more today, especially not from you.”

  “Hey. C’mere.” Kyle gently enclosed her in his arms. Feeling a little more settled, she pressed her face against his neck, inhaling his scent, and whispered, “Thank you.”

  He hissed. “Your face is freezing. Let’s get you warmed up.”

  I’ve got an excellent idea on how we can do that.

  Celia eased back until they were nose to nose.

  “That’s a dangerous look in your eye, kitten. Thinking body friction would warm us both up. Because I’m all over that.” Kyle kissed her. Slowly. Teasingly. Making her ache in a new way. Tempting her to whip off their clothes and make naked snow angels. He broke the kiss. “I’m ready to go. Why don’t you follow me back so you don’t get lost?”

  “I never get lost.”

  “You look a little lost right now.”

  She teared up once more and he kissed her again. She felt a little more in control, because she understood she wasn’t alone. Kyle would be there for her.

  “Don’t even think about unloading them bags when we get home,” he warned.

  Back at the house, Celia sat listlessly on the end of the bed and watched as Kyle carried in her luggage.

  “Run yourself a hot bath and soak for as long as you can sit still.” He pressed his fingers over her lips when she started to protest. “We’ve had a couple of great argument-free days, so let’s not start now.”

  Celia submerged herself in the pink tub. Too bad she couldn’t drown all the voices in her head clamoring for attention.

  Kyle knocked twice before he entered. He shamelessly inspected her naked body as he rested on his haunches beside the tub. “You okay?”

  No. “Just sore.”


  She shook her head. “But we really need to go to the store tomorrow.”

  He traced her collarbone and let his finger follow the slope of her breast, dipping below the water to circle her nipple.

  Celia studied Kyle’s face as he lazily stroked the beaded tip—the hunger in his eyes was undeniable. And exciting. The way he looked at her left her a little breathless.

  “So pretty,” he murmured.

  “So small,” she said hastily, curbing the urge to cover herself.

  “So pretty,” he said again, more firmly. “I like the look of you, Celia. I always have. Lean muscles, long legs, world-class ass from spending your life on horseback.”

  “I thought you had a thing for busty brunettes.”

  “Doesn’t really matter now because I have a thing for you.” He continued that maddening, arousing stroking on her breast.

  “Had you ever thought about asking me out…before New Year’s Eve?”

  “On a date? No.”

  Her gut clenched.

  “Only because I figured you’d say no, or you’d come up with something cutting if I even tried. I’d decided to save myself that humiliation.” Kyle looked at her. “Was I wrong?”

  “Probably not.”

  “So it’s a damn good thing we skipped that awkward dating stage and went straight to marriage.”

  She smiled. “Damn good thing.”

  “Water’s getting cold.”

  “I should probably get out. And I’m sore enough to take a pain pill and crawl into bed.”

  “That’s probably a good idea.” Kyle kissed her forehead by her stitches and left the bathroom.

  Celia dug out a clean pair of pajamas and downed two pain pills. Sweet Kyle had smoothed out the bedding and plumped her pillows. He even waited until she slid beneath the covers so he could tuck her in.

  Her tears surfaced again and she cried until the pain pills kicked in and sent her into a deep sleep.

  Chapter Six

  Kyle woke to the smell of bacon cooking. He considered walking to the kitchen naked and dragging his wife back to bed for a repeat of yesterday morning’s wake-up call. The clock read five thirty. Hell, it was still dark outside. And cold as fuck, if the ice on the windows was any indication.

  Yawning, he slipped on a pair of sweats.

  Celia was placing the cooked bacon strips on a paper towel. She smiled at him. Her eyes were clear and she appeared to be in a happier mood.

  Kyle kissed her with more passion than she’d expected. He put his mouth on her ear. “Mornin’. Smells delicious.”

  “It’s just bacon. And biscuits.”

  “Mmm.” He lightly nipped her earlobe. “And the food smells good too.”

  She laughed softly.

  “I like to hear that laughter, especially after yesterday.” It’d ripped at him to hear her crying herself to sleep. But she hadn’t wanted his comfort last night. She’d preferred to handle things herself. That’s where they were exactly alike. So he’d
reluctantly left her alone. But he’d obsessively checked on her every ten minutes just in case she needed him. In between, he’d tackled two boxes of Marshall’s most recent paperwork, including notes from the VA and a home health service out of the local hospital in Rawlins. He had to check it out, see if he could learn anything about his father, even if it turned out to be a dead end. Kyle shoved aside his sense of futility and peered into her eyes. “How’re you feeling?”

  “Like I had a miraculous recovery. My ribs don’t hurt at all.” She danced a little jig. “See?”

  Sweet wife, your ribs weren’t the only things hurtin’ yesterday.

  Over the years he’d seen her false bravado. He’d seen her injured. Seen her sad. Seen her mad as hell. Seen her devastated. But until yesterday he’d not seen her rocked by all those emotions at one time. He never wanted to see it again. He wanted to hurt anyone who ever put that broken look on her face.

  The intensity of that feeling scared him.

  “As soon as we’re done with chores today, we have to go to town. There’s no fresh food at all.”

  Kyle poured himself a cup of coffee and refilled hers. “Fresh food. What kinds of fresh food? Because I ain’t crazy about vegetables. Never taken a liking to fruit, neither.”

  Celia removed flaky golden biscuits from the oven and slid them onto a plate. “Then we need to discuss what groceries to buy. Living on junk food and fast food isn’t an option now.” She sat across from him. “Can you cook?”

  “Yep.” He smirked. “Frozen food, canned food, microwave meals. That’s where it appears that I take after my father.”

  “I can cook some stuff. Since we’ll be eating three meals a day together I want to be on the same page about expectations of cooking duties.”

  “I’m thinkin’ your other wifely duties will include sex at least twice a day. Three times on Sunday,” he said in a silken growl.

  She dropped her fork. “Kyle Gilchrist. I’m serious.”

  “Me too. I’m hoping you’re on the pill so we don’t have to use condoms. My annual AFR physical came back clean last month. I haven’t been with a woman for nine months.”

  “You were celibate for nine months?” she said with surprise.

  He shrugged. “A quick fuck before I hit the road after a performance stopped doin’ it for me.”

  “Did you arrive at that decision before or after you nailed my friend Lindsay?”

  Kyle had wondered when that would come up. “Don’t you think you’ve made me pay enough for that mistake? It’s been over a year.”

  “Fourteen and a half months,” she said, then hastily added, “or thereabouts. I really don’t recall.”

  “I’ll refresh your memory, kitten. Right after it happened you called me a man-whore in a whole tent full of contestants. Which, contrary to your other accusation, did not boost my cred with the other man-whores infesting the world of rodeo.”

  She focused on slathering jam on a biscuit.

  “Then you attacked me again a few days later, calling me names in front of a couple of sponsors. Not cool.”

  “Know what else wasn’t cool? Listening to Lindsay brag about how awesome you were in bed. In detail. I got a fucking play-by-play of every lick, every thrust, every orgasmic scream.”

  “So that’s why you screamed that I was a mother-fucking son of a bitch ass-wipe fuckwad?”

  Celia’s cool eyes met his. “I don’t remember saying that.”

  “I do. And I also remember tracking down your drunken ass a few hours later, when you almost racked me, punched me in the stomach, and sank your teeth into my ass.”

  “You were carrying me upside down like a side of beef! I chomped on your ass because it was the only part of you I could reach to do any damage.”

  Kyle had been livid, forced to deal with a drunk and morose Celia at Abe’s insistence. She’d passed out in his hotel room. But not before she’d stunned him with a slurred “Why Lindsay?”

  And he’d known immediately she’d meant, Why not me?

  “How did we even get on this subject?” she grumbled. “We were supposed to be talking about groceries.”

  “I think you wanted to know whether you were supposed to put condoms on the store list,” he said slyly. “So do we?”

  Celia rolled her eyes. “No. I’m on the pill. Eat up, greenhorn. It’s almost light and the day’s a-wastin’.”

  Sometimes the more times you did something the easier it became. But on day two of chores, Kyle figured that wouldn’t be the case with ranching. Ever.

  They didn’t get back inside until just after noon. Celia unwound a purple rhinestone scarf and ditched her coveralls, coat, and work gloves. She flopped on the couch, trying to catch her breath after helping him haul wood. He perched on the edge of the recliner.

  After only a minute, Celia’s nose wrinkled. “This thing reeks. We need to get it out of here.” She pointed at the chair. “That too.”

  “So we won’t have any furniture in our living room?”

  “Better none than this shit.” She smiled at him prettily. “Besides, we’re goin’ to a furniture store to get a new bed. While we’re there, we might as well buy furniture we both like and we can actually use.”

  “Sneaky, wife.”

  “Don’t pretend you haven’t been imagining a big-screen TV along that wall.”


  She walked the length of the room. “This dirty carpet has to go too.”

  “A new bed, new bedding, a new couch, a new chair, a new TV, new carpet…anything else?”

  “A coat of paint. Some bright curtains. And a funky coffee table.”

  His first thought was he couldn’t afford to buy all the household stuff that’d make her happy. Which was followed closely by his second thought: Yes, with help from Marshall’s bank account he had the means for Celia to transform this place from a dump into their home. His third thought was that if he let her buy everything her heart desired maybe that would encourage her to stay longer than six months.

  “After you take that ugly-ass chair out, I’ll help drag out this smelly couch.”

  Celia was so damn determined he didn’t bother reminding her about her injured ribs. After he returned inside from dumping the chair, he tossed her a pair of gloves.

  “Am I on the front end or the back end?” she asked.

  “The front end bears more weight, so it looks like you’re the caboose.”

  Cheeky woman shook her ass at him and added a husky “Aye, aye, captain.”

  Kyle lifted his end. When Celia had hers raised, he tilted it slightly to fit through the doorway. The couch wasn’t heavy, but the damn thing stank to high heaven and he held his breath until he was out in the fresh air. “Set it down.” He maneuvered it around the porch post. “All right. Let’s take it slow.”

  Celia picked up her end and everything was going great. They’d made it to the driveway when she suddenly screamed bloody murder. She screamed like he’d never heard outside a horror flick. Then she dropped her end of the couch, which put him off balance. He lost his grip and the couch hit the ground with a loud crash.

  He glanced at Celia, hopping from foot to foot as she smacked her palms on her head, her shoulders, and her stomach like she was slapping mosquitoes, shrieking, “Get them off, get them off, get them OFF!”

  “Get what off? Spiders?”

  “No. Mice! They skittered out when the couch tipped! They ran up my arms. They were in my fucking hair!” Celia kept beating on herself until he grabbed her hands.

  “Stop. You’re hurting yourself. They’re gone.”

  “No, they’re not. I can still feel them! They scrambled up my arms with their scratchy little mice feet and their furry bodies and their wormy tails slithering across my skin.” She shuddered so hard he feared she’d gone into some kind of convulsions.

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