Hang tough, p.15
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       Hang Tough, p.15

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  “I’d rather you kept me warm.”

  “Another time. Boots on or off?”


  She picked up his right foot and pulled on his heel. She repeated the process for his left boot. Then she set both boots at the end of the chaise and went inside to grab a blanket.

  When Jade returned a minute later, Tobin had crashed. The blanket didn’t cover him entirely and she debated for a few moments about curling up next to him, using her body heat to keep him warm.

  But she ended up going to bed alone.

  After the discussion with Tobin after he’d come home from the bar last night, Jade decided to take the bull by the horns tonight.

  Geez. She hadn’t been in Wyoming two weeks and she’d already reverted to Western colloquialisms.

  As the day wore on, she worried maybe Tobin wouldn’t return to GG’s after work because she suspected he’d be . . . embarrassed about his state last night since that wasn’t the norm for him. They’d exchanged cell numbers, but she’d never needed to contact him because they usually interacted in person.

  And she planned to get very up close and personal with him tonight.

  She snapped a selfie and added the text:

  I have a surprise for you—make sure you’re home before bedtime so we can break some rules

  She forced herself to leave her phone in her room for an hour before she checked it for messages. Tobin’s response had come in not five minutes after she’d sent the original text.

  No problem. As long as there’s no booze involved. But you probably already knew that . . .

  She grinned like an idiot. His sense of humor was just another thing she liked about him.

  Tobin didn’t show up at GG’s until almost ten o’clock. He looked tired but he still made time to chat with her grandmother—which just proved his genuine affection for her.

  Jade caught him in the upstairs hallway before he took a shower.

  He stopped and eyed her warily. “Hey.”

  “Hey is for horses,” she quipped. “I’m disappointed you didn’t say, ‘Hello, darlin” and sneak a kiss.”

  He smiled. “I’ve been workin’ outside most of the day, so I probably smell pretty ripe. But I’ll give you a hello kiss and then some after I knock the dirt off.”

  They’d gotten used to speaking in whispers when they weren’t alone in the house, even when GG probably couldn’t hear them from the bottom floor. But there was something more intimate and urgent when they were forced to use that quieter, more intense tone with each other. “I don’t care. I need a kiss from you now, Tobin, so I know we’re okay.”

  His gorgeous eyes softened when he gave her a sweet smile. He reached out to smooth his hand down her hair. “We’re fine. I’m the dumb-ass for crawling into a bottle last night.”

  Circling her fingers around his thick wrist, she brought his palm to her mouth for a kiss. “I wish you would’ve told me you planned to get your drink on.”

  Tobin feathered his thumb across her bottom lip; his hungry eyes followed the movement. “You would’ve tried to talk me outta tying one on?”

  “No. I would’ve been your DD, not Riss.”

  He smirked. “Darlin’, that sounds a little like jealousy.”

  “No, it is jealousy, a lot of jealousy.” She nipped the fleshy skin at the base of his thumb. “But since you are here with me, burning me alive with that hot, sexy stare, I’ll let it slide. Just this once.”

  Then Tobin was nose to nose with her, his hands curled around her face. “Do you have any idea how fucking hot it makes me that you got jealous over Riss driving me home?”

  “You asked her out on a date right in front of me, cowboy. You do remember that, don’t you?”


  “Were you trying to make me jealous?”

  Confusion caused him to squint. “I’m crazy about you, Jade. And I hate that I can’t take you out and let my friends see just how crazy I am about you.”

  That was sweet. She didn’t think he’d appreciate that sentiment right now, so she waited for him to continue.

  “Maybe I had it in my head that if Miz G was hanging around last night when I got home, that if she heard me asking Riss out she wouldn’t be suspicious about you and me breakin’ the rules every chance we get.”

  “Seriously? You’re going with that explanation?”

  “No. I’m goin’ with the ‘I was drunk and didn’t know what the hell I was sayin” explanation.” He pressed his lips to hers and held them there for several long moments. “I apologize if that hurt you.”

  Jade slid her hands across his chest. “It hurt worse to know that you were upset and angry and I couldn’t be there for you the way I wanted.”

  “You wouldn’t have liked me. I was a moody dick.”

  “Will you become a moody dick if I ask you to talk to me about it tonight?”

  “No.” He brushed his lips over hers. “I’m calmer.”

  “Good. Meet me on the porch in half an hour.”

  After he scrambled her brain with a seductive kiss, he shooed her away.

  GG seemed distracted and puttered around in the kitchen for nearly forty-five minutes after Jade came downstairs.

  It’s almost as if she knows you and Tobin plan to sneak off for alone time.

  Jade chalked that up to paranoia. If GG suspected her granddaughter and her protector had moved beyond adversaries to more than friends, she’d bring it up. Loudly.

  So an hour and fifteen minutes had passed by the time Tobin strolled out to meet her. He smelled divine—a manly kind of clean. He’d swapped out his cowboy duds for a T-shirt, athletic pants and running shoes. His hair had almost dried and she knew he felt naked without a cowboy hat or a ball cap, but she loved how his hair retained some curl when it wasn’t smashed beneath a hat. His face and neck were smooth. She reached up to caress his cheek. “I like that you shaved for me.”

  “One of these days I’m gonna keep the stubble.”


  “So I can leave beard burn on the inside of your thighs.” His wicked gaze hooked hers and he offered her an equally wicked grin.

  She imagined his hands curled around her knees as he pushed her legs wide enough to accommodate his massive shoulders. He’d keep his eyes on hers as he teased her with the soft brush of his hair and the rough scrape of his beard as his mouth journeyed higher.

  “Don’t fucking look at me like that, woman, or I will plunk your ass on this table right now and drop to my knees.”

  The deep rasp in his voice could be mistaken for a growl.

  No. Knowing Tobin, it was a growl.

  The man was so blatantly sexual she wondered how she’d ever keep up with his needs when they became lovers.

  Jade rose to the balls of her feet and kissed his Adam’s apple. “You, Mr. Sexy Talk, are distracting me.” She grabbed the folded quilt she’d stashed on the chair.

  “What’s that for?”

  “To spread out in the grass so we can talk and stargaze.”

  Tobin loomed over her and made that rumbling noise again. “By stargaze, please tell me you mean us rolling around on that blanket naked as I make you come so hard that you see stars.”

  Jade blinked at him and had to bite her tongue against blurting out that it was the best idea she’d ever heard. Instead she stepped back and hugged the quilt tighter. “While I can see that happening one of these nights, it’s not tonight, okay? I really think we need to talk.”

  He curled one hand around her hip and pressed his knuckle under her chin, tipping her head back to gaze into her eyes. “Why is it so important to you that we talk?”

  “It just is.”

  He studied her for a few more moments before he kissed her. “Okay. We’ll talk. But darlin’, we are gonna mess around too. If that’s not what you want, say so now.”

  She said, “I want that,” quickly enough that Tobin laughed.

  “Good.” He tucked the blanket under one arm and h
er under the other. “Lead on.”

  Jade had found a flat spot away from the compost pile and the gardens where the ground felt more springy than rocky.

  Tobin helped her spread out the quilt.

  She kicked off her flip-flops and scooted to the middle after Tobin had settled in. The man took up a lot of space.

  He clamped a hand on her butt and nudged her closer until her head rested in the indent between the ball of his shoulder and his chest.

  They’d never lain down together anywhere, so the fact they just fit this way gave her a funny tickle in her chest.

  “This was a great idea,” he said and kissed the top of her head. “I like havin’ you next to me.”

  “I like being here with you. Like this.”

  “It’d be better if we were naked.”

  “Then we’d get bug bites in weird places.”

  “Sounds like a fair trade-off to me.”

  Tobin’s left hand was behind his head, and he trailed the fingers on his right hand up and down her back, from her shoulder to the spot where her thigh curved into her butt cheek.

  “Not much in the way of moonglow,” she said after a bit.

  “That makes it harder to stargaze.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “What did you want to talk about?”

  Her pulse spiked. She tried to swallow discreetly but of course he noticed.

  His hand stilled. “Why are you nervous?”

  “Because I don’t know how to do this.”


  “Pry into your life. Ask about the job you lost out on yesterday. Ask if you blame me, because if it hadn’t been for you moving in with GG, you’d be gone.”

  “The job wasn’t a done deal, Jade. It was an in-person interview.”

  “But anyone who meets you in person, Tobin, will scramble to hire you.”

  He grunted. “They didn’t give me a chance. Granted, I asked for an additional week before I went down there for the interview. That might’ve tripped their warning bells. And yeah, I was extremely pissed off and surly about it yesterday.”

  “Did you blame me?” Jade drew small circles on his chest. “Or at the very least GG because she begged you to stay with her?”

  “My first reaction was to get pissed off about it, so there was some blame.”

  “So there’s no chance for that job now?”


  “Are there others across the country that you need to get to?”

  “I’ve got other irons in the fire. It’s a whole lot of wait and see. Why?”

  His eyes were assessing her as she started to respond. “If you have other job opportunities, take them.”

  “You tryin’ to get rid of me?”

  “I’m trying to tell you I’d understand if you left, Tobin.”

  Tobin disentangled himself from her and sat up. “That’s just really fucking awesome, Jade.”

  She rolled to her knees, annoyed that he had his back to her. “I’m trying to do the right thing here, Tobin, after you were essentially wronged by my family. Why are you mad? Because I cost you the job opportunity you really wanted?”

  “No, you basically telling me to get the hell out of Miz G’s house is pissing me off.”

  “I didn’t say that!”

  “Then what are you saying?”

  “That I don’t want to be responsible for any more of your unhappiness.”

  Tobin shifted his body so he could look at her. “Whatever gave you the idea that I’m unhappy?”

  “You got drunk last night because you were unhappy about losing the job.”

  “Wrong. You want to know why I got drunk last night? Because I was actually really fucking relieved they called off the interview.”


  “I should’ve been mad at Miz G, mad at Renner, mad at you. All I’ve wanted for the last two months was to get the hell out of Muddy Gap. I felt like I’d lost time and opportunity and even a little of myself by not putting myself and my untapped skills out there in the real world. Then you showed up.”

  Her chest tightened.

  “It pissed me off. I had plans, dammit. I knew in my gut if I nutted up and left here that I’d find what I was really looking for.”

  “Which is what?”

  “I thought it was a different career. Or a new perspective.” Tobin reached over and twisted a section of her hair around his fingers. “It turns out that it wasn’t something I was searching for. It was someone.”


  “It’s you.”

  “Me . . . specifically?”

  He frowned. “Are you tryin’ to tick me off by sayin’ that?”

  “No. I just . . . This is so far out of the realm of my experience, Tobin. I’ve never been the type of woman who hears these things from a guy. It gives me a little tickle in my belly, but the kind I can’t be sure is excitement or—”

  “Disbelief,” he finished.

  “Exactly. And please don’t pretend if the situations were reversed you wouldn’t have the same concerns.” She paused. “Or maybe women tell you all the time that you were what they were searching for.”

  Tobin snorted. “Hasn’t happened yet.”

  Jade pushed him flat on his back and straddled his hips. “Are you sure?”

  Even in the dark she saw hope flare in his eyes.

  “I’m shy, Tobin. I’m happiest not being the center of attention. But that also means I don’t take chances when I should. I fear making a miscalculation because my only experience in what not to do in a relationship is what I’ve seen on TV or in movies. You know, where the weird girl blurts out, ‘I love you and want to have your babies’ after the first time she has sex with a guy? And then he never calls her back?”

  “You’re worried about putting yourself out there with me?”

  “Of course.”

  “You shouldn’t be, Jade. Holding back isn’t gonna get either of us what we want, and darlin’, I’m not just talkin’ about sex.”

  “I know that. I’ve been searching too. I didn’t know for what, either. Like you, I thought if I worked hard enough maybe the answer would magically appear. But instead . . .” Her heart beat faster and she forced her breathing to slow down before she continued. “Look. I haven’t been completely honest with you about something. But it’s not like I was hiding it as much as I just came to terms with it myself. I mean, even when I think about telling you this, I want to add little side notes and editorialize.”

  “Just rip that bandage off, sweetheart. Getting it over with is the best way to do it.”

  She fiddled with the neck on his T-shirt. “You’ve heard me mention I had the flu a few months ago? And that was the only time I quit working? Well, that’s not true. Calling it ‘the flu’ was a lie I told myself so I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I had a mini-breakdown at age twenty-four. It’s a lie I told other people so they wouldn’t judge me.”

  “What happened?”

  “My roommate’s boyfriend moved in, forcing me to live with my parents. I worked three jobs. I had no time for friends. No time for a relationship. Suddenly everything in my life seemed pointless. I was lonely and exhausted and scared my life would never get any better.” She inhaled. “I’d fought back against those feelings for about a year until I couldn’t fight it any longer. One day I started crying and couldn’t stop. I crawled in bed and had to ride it out. It took a week. Then because I hadn’t eaten and felt nauseous I convinced myself I’d just had the flu. And I let my life go back to exactly the same way it was before.”

  He ran his hand up and down her arm in a sweetly soothing manner.

  “I know you’ve picked up on the fact I’m high-strung. I’ve suffered from anxiety since my mid-teens. I cope with it by doing something productive until it levels out.”

  His eyes turned thoughtful. “Like rearranging cookbooks?”

  She smiled and started running her hand through his hair. “Yes. Or practicing my violin. Or going for a run
. Or cleaning. It’s not an obsessive-compulsion thing. Just more . . . constant busyness. It’s never
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