Wrapped and strapped, p.15
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       Wrapped and Strapped, p.15
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         Part #7 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  Then bam! The work paid off. His balls went tight, his cock jerked hard against her snug walls and he poured his seed into her, each jetting pulse hotter than the one before. A ripple of gooseflesh started at the nape of his neck and flowed outward, sensitizing every inch of his skin. He broke the kiss and sucked in extra air, since he’d gone dizzy.

  Harlow stiffened and moaned into his ear. With the extra tightening of her pussy, he knew she’d come again.

  He grinned. Hard not to feel cocky about that.

  They remained locked together like that. Her breath in his ear, his hands on her ass. Hearts thundering. Sweat cooling. The only way it would’ve been more perfect was if they were naked.

  Finally he roused himself from the postorgasm laziness and placed soft kisses down her jaw. “Harlow.”

  “Mmm.”

  “I need you in my bed. And I ain’t letting you out until morning.”

  “Hugh—”

  “Look at me.”

  She tilted her head back.

  “Make no mistake where I’m comin’ from. You just rocked my fuckin’ world. But it’s our world now. We are together—in bed and out. I promise I won’t run out. I promise I won’t say stupid shit. I promise this is the start, not the end. So please”—he kissed her—“sleep next to me for the rest of the night.”

  “Why is this so important to you?”

  “So when I wake up, feel your heat and softness next to me and hear you breathe, I know you’re real and not just another damn dream.”

  She smiled. “Okay. But I didn’t bring pajamas.”

  “Don’t worry. I got ya covered.”

  Chapter Eleven

  ‡

  Harlow would’ve been happy sleeping on top of Hugh the whole night with his cock wedged inside her. She’d waited for that thickness to soften, but he’d stayed hard. She’d expected him to start things up again, setting her on fire with his kisses, becoming insistent with his touches, but he’d held back.

  And she wasn’t sure if she was happy or embarrassed that he’d known she needed to be in control.

  After they’d separated, she ducked into the bathroom to clean herself up. The lights were off in the bedroom and Hugh had already climbed between the sheets.

  She paused at the end of the bed.

  “What?”

  “You’re on my side, cowboy.”

  He grinned. “We could sleep in the middle, darlin’, with me on top of you.”

  “Wouldn’t be a whole lot of sleeping going on.”

  “True.”

  Harlow undressed quickly and nearly tripped over Hugh’s clothes scattered across the floor. She slipped beneath the covers, scooting her butt into his groin.

  He pulled her closer, so her face rested half on the pillow and half on his biceps.

  She should’ve pulled away when he’d started trailing his fingers down her left arm. His sweeping caress shifted to her hip and then up her left side. Gooseflesh spread as he stroked the eight inches of raised skin between the bottom of her rib cage and her hip.

  “Whoa. What’s this?”

  “A scar.”

  “What happened? I don’t remember it bein’ there before.”

  She refrained from reminding him that it’d been pitch-black the last time they were naked together or that he’d left so fast afterward he hadn’t looked at any specific parts of her.

  “Harlow?”

  “It wasn’t there before.”

  “How’d you get it?”

  “Long story.”

  “I’ve got time.”

  Harlow rolled away from Hugh’s questing fingers. Perching on the edge of the bed, she snatched the first article of clothing she touched. She slipped on Hugh’s shirt and walked out of the bedroom.

  In the kitchen, she gazed out the window above the sink, trying to remember the dreams and plans she’d had three years ago as she’d stood in this very spot.

  You had no idea the dark turn your life would take. You were so naive running from here, thinking you’d find something better.

  Harlow prided herself on her ability to look at situations from all sides. Being here with Hugh now, seeing that he had suffered remorse after his treatment of her, gave her the sort of closure she’d needed. And in that closure, she’d found her truth; she’d left here because he’d hurt her feelings. Hugh wasn’t a horrible person. He was just a man who’d made a mistake and had admitted as much. And she could admit she’d been wrong too, to paint him and the past with such a wide brush.

  She wondered how he’d react when she told him the truth of what she’d gone through. He wasn’t the type of man to ignore the signs and just let her be. Complete honesty on her part would show her how much he’d push for more—she just wasn’t sure if she could handle the retelling tonight. Even putting it off a day would leave her better prepared.

  For what? Aren’t you most afraid that he’ll look at you and see you as weak?

  She turned on the cold water tap and filled a glass. A mouthful of the cool liquid loosened up her tight throat.

  “Harlow?” Hugh said behind her, startling her. “You okay?”

  A soft, sweet lover’s inquiry, not the demanding tone she’d expected. “I’m fine. I needed a drink.”

  “Bullshit. Tell me how you got that scar and why you fucking ran when I asked about it.”

  Ah. There was the harsh tone. She took another sip. Swallowed again. “Because I don’t want to talk about it.”

  His angry breaths fluttered her hair.

  “Why won’t you look at me?”

  Harlow whirled around so fast water splashed on Hugh’s chest. “Because it’s none of your business. When I say I don’t want to talk about something? Guess what? I’m not kidding.” She brushed past him and returned to the bedroom, snatching up her clothes.

  Before she registered what was happening, Hugh picked her up, then tossed her on the bed. He crawled on top of her, his weight making it hard to breathe, pinning her wrists above her head with one hand, and curling the other beneath her jaw, almost around her neck.

  Keep calm. Keep your eyes closed. Keep your body relaxed.

  “Look at me.”

  “Let me go right now or I’ll scream.” She couldn’t keep the tremor from her voice.

  He immediately scrambled off her. “Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

  But you did.

  Harlow stood and quickly put her clothes on. She didn’t look at him when she said, “I’ll see you later.”

  “Don’t go.”

  “I can’t”—talk to you about this—“stay.”

  “Just tell me . . . Were you attacked? Is that how you got the scar?”

  She paused at the door and shook her head.

  “Then was it an accident?”

  “No. It was self-inflicted.” She fled before he could respond.

  Once she reached her trailer, she locked the door and headed straight to the bathroom, where she stripped and cranked on the shower. The water nearly scalded her, but it didn’t help because she couldn’t stop shivering.

  She should’ve kept her distance from Hugh. Not let things get intimate. It was that need for closeness—an intimacy Hugh hadn’t been able to give her three years ago—that’d driven her to search for it elsewhere. And she’d found the intimacy she’d craved. Too bad she’d given her trust to a monster.

  Harlow remained in the warmth and safety of the shower even after the shuddering stopped.

  Can’t stay in there forever.

  A tremor of fear jolted her and she spun around, afraid since she’d heard Fredrick’s voice, she’d see him lounging against the wall, warning her, watching her, waiting for her like he always did.

  But no one was there.

  After toweling off, she braided her hair and shuffled to her bedroom.

  As soon as her heated skin slipped into the cool sheets, her brain simply shut down and everything went dark.

  *

  When Harlow ca
me to, she didn’t know how long she’d been asleep or what time of day it was.

  But she knew someone was in her room.

  “It’s just me,” Hugh said softly.

  “How did you get in? I know I locked the door.”

  “This used to be my trailer, remember? My key still works.”

  Guess she’d have to have Dave change the locks ASAP. “I locked the door because I wanted to be alone. I’ll let it slide if you leave the key on the counter when you go.”

  The chair in the corner creaked. The carpet didn’t muffle his heavy footsteps as he crossed the room and stopped at the edge of the bed. “See, that’s the thing. I can’t let it go. I can’t let you go, when I know you’re hurtin’ and hidin’ from me.”

  “Even if was you that left me hurting?”

  A pause. “Especially then. So you might as well start talkin’. I need to know if this . . . fear you have was an issue and I just didn’t notice it three years ago.”

  “No. I didn’t have it.” She took a breath. “You never scared me. Not then, not now. That said, I knew I never should’ve gotten mixed up with you that summer. You were so sexy and compelling and raw. A completely different animal from the men in my world. So maybe the fact our differences couldn’t ever mesh appealed to me. You saw me as a bit of dandelion fluff floating anywhere the wind blew me. You made me feel unworthy of you.”

  “As I’ve repeatedly admitted, I was an ass and I’m sorry. It is fucking killing me that my actions and words caused you to run.” She heard him swallow. “Please, Harlow. Somewhere in your travels you ended up with the scar. I want to know how it happened.”

  Harlow knew she’d have to tell him at some point. The fact he’d calmed down before he’d chased after her showed he had changed. She took a moment to gather her thoughts. “After I left here, I drove to Portland. A new relief agency needed workers for a yearlong job in Laos. The guy in charge, Fredrick, was one of those charismatic men who were born leaders. I had an audition phase of two weeks, working in a local shelter, before he’d determine whether our personalities and work ethics meshed.”

  “The audition requirement didn’t bother you?”

  “No. It’s actually customary before a long-term contract. Volunteers have to be able to work together. Anyway I passed the audition. Fredrick and I hit it off. I knew his vision would have a hugely positive impact and I wanted to help make that vision a reality. It would’ve been ideal to have twenty volunteers, but we had to make do with ten.”

  “When you say volunteers . . . no one got paid, right?”

  “No, this was a paid project, although it works out to less per hour than minimum wage. So in this case when I say volunteer, I really mean worker.”

  “Got it.”

  “We spent six months preparing. Securing donations. Getting transportation for us and our supplies. Making sure our visas would clear. Brushing up on local customs. Contacting other relief agencies for their experiences.”

  “I’m surprised to hear that’s standard practice.”

  “Swapping information is crucial. Not only that, volunteers jump from agency to agency. Say an international peace coalition is in a part of Africa for two years. Then a native studies group takes over for their contracted time. It’s beneficial to have at least one person familiar with the locals to help with the transition between organizations. So that person who remains behind has to become part of the new organization so there aren’t contract violations.” She tried to squirm away. “I’m sorry. This is probably boring you.”

  “Nope. It’s interesting to me because it’s your life, Harlow. And I’m assuming it’s important to how you got the scar.”

  “It is.”

  He kissed the back of her head. “I’m listening. Go at your own pace. I’ll be right here.”

  “We went into the situation a little blind, since no other relief organizations had been in that part of the country for longer than two weeks. That right there should’ve cautioned us. But I was so happy to be part of the mission I ignored all the warning signs.”

  “Were you also happy to be with Fredrick?”

  Harlow hesitated. Part of her didn’t want Hugh to know how naive she’d been. Another part of her wanted him to understand why she’d needed to be someplace where her skills—and she—were valued. “Yes. I spent twelve to fourteen hours of every day working with him. Half of our group of volunteers lived together during the six months of prep time. So we were together practically twenty-four/seven. We’d had many of the same life experiences and I believed I’d found my soul mate.” She swallowed the bitter taste that admission left in her mouth. “Of course, that’s what he manipulated me to believe. He did see the real me—the woman who needed to belong—and he preyed on that. He built me up and I came to rely on his praise too, like it was food and water, like it alone could sustain me. So when he started to tear me down, I believed I deserved his harsh words because I’d disappointed him.”

  Hugh brushed his lips across the back of her head. He might’ve whispered I’m sorry or it might’ve just been a heavy exhalation.

  “So to keep me on the hook, and starry-eyed about him, Fredrick didn’t start a physical relationship with me until we were in the middle of nowhere. At first, it was great. I had everything I’d ever wanted. A man who loved giving back to the world as much as I did, a man I loved and who I thought loved me in return. I didn’t want the little things to bother me, so I tended to ignore them.”

  “What little things?”

  “It seemed like all of the other volunteers had something bothering them. Daphne’s jealousy about me and Fredrick. Pat’s worry we’d jeopardized our health by not having a medical professional along with us. Rialta’s concern the locals were resentful and could become violent. All of which I knew were concerns for every humanitarian-based trip. But it did bother me that we were so cut off from civilization.”

  “If I didn’t know firsthand there are plenty of spots in Wyoming that have little to no cell service, I’d ask if there were really places on the planet that isolated.”

  She couldn’t help but smile. “It’s a shock to first-time workers to not have technology be a daily part of life. And then there are encampments where the whole point is to introduce the locals to technology. But usually those places are founded by technology companies who are looking for a place to put up a cell tower.”

  “Darlin’, you’re getting off track,” he said gently.

  “Sorry. After two months on-site—at that point I’d known Fredrick eight months and I had a hard-core case of hero worship—I noticed Fredrick had started to speak for me. When we, as an organization, had to make a decision, we stuck to majority rules. Everyone had an equal vote. The first time Fredrick spoke for me wasn’t an issue because I agreed with him. The next time, when he said, Harlow agrees with me, I argued vehemently and said I did not. He didn’t get angry. He didn’t belittle me or argue back. So I assumed he understood I had my own opinions that weren’t his. But that night, when we returned to the room we shared, that was the first time he hurt me.”

  Hugh’s body went tense behind hers. “What did he do?”

  “Threw me face-first on the bed and slapped his hand over my mouth while he fucked me. If I made any noise, he’d shove his palm up higher and pinch my nose shut, cutting off my air.”

  “Jesus.”

  “I couldn’t use my hands to shove him off me because he’d trapped them. And the entire time he fuck-punished me, he kept up a running dialogue about me disrespecting him. How I was nothing without him. And unless I wanted to find myself in the pit, then I’d better not embarrass him again.”

  “What’s the pit?”

  “A hole in the ground the locals used to punish bad behavior. Fredrick was our leader. If he put me in the pit, no one—none of my coworkers or the locals—would help me out. After he hurt me . . . I tried to hide the bruises on my face with makeup. If any of my colleagues asked, I’d claim it was dirt. I toed the li
ne for a couple of weeks. No beatings, but we hadn’t had sex either. And when I’d convinced myself that Fredrick had been under a bunch of stress, and he hadn’t really meant to hurt me . . . another vote came up. I voted against him.”

  “What happened?”

  “He acted like it was no big deal. We went to bed. Took me a long time to fall asleep because I worried he’d fuck-punish me again.” She swallowed hard. “I woke up with him sitting on me, his hand around my neck. He choked me until I passed out. When I came to, I saw he’d scratched me hard enough to draw blood. Five lines of claw marks down the center of my body. Then like before, he flipped me facedown on the bed
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