Hang tough, p.16
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       Hang Tough, p.16
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         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  gotten to the point where it’s disrupted my life and I need medication. But it is an off-putting trait.”

  “What dumb-ass told you that?”

  That jarred her. “What?”

  “You are who you are. It’s part of what makes you . . . you. You’re smart enough to know that if your anxiety gets out of hand you get help.” Tobin hugged her to his chest. “You really think I’d be judgmental after I told you about Danica committing suicide and none of us having the first fucking clue why she’d do something like that?”

  “I didn’t think you’d judge me, Tobin, I was trying to explain.”

  He kissed the top of her head. “Sorry. Keep goin’.”

  “The first few days here I was on edge. I chalked it up to the change from my constant busyness to having no agenda. But then there was you. Larger than life, suspicious, a little mean, sexy as sin and sometimes so thoughtful I just . . . melted. Little by little I’ve started to loosen up and discover new things about myself that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t been forced to slow down. You said you were searching for something and you figured out it’s me. I’m a few steps behind you. I’ve been searching for something and now I know that part of it is this place.”

  Tobin was quiet for several long moments. Then he said, “I can work with that.”

  Jade tucked her body closer.

  Then she shifted her legs along his.

  She slipped her arm down across his waist.

  The next time she moved, Tobin clamped his hand on her ass and said, “Be still.”

  “But don’t you want to—”

  “Hush. Lord knows I love that my woman has a sexy little body and a sassy mouth, but sometimes you just gotta still both of ’em. So just lie here with me and listen.”

  “To what?” she said petulantly.

  “To everything but the sound of your own thoughts and voice, sweetheart. Practice conscious stillness. Can you give it a shot?”

  “I’ll try.”

  That’s when she noticed the quiet night . . . wasn’t really quiet. Bugs contributed a loud hum and buzz that ebbed and flowed. Wind blowing through the tall grass made a whistling rattle. Occasionally the soft flap flap of wings whispered above her. In the distance an animal chittered and another answered.

  Jade had no sense of time but she was deeply rooted in a sense of place.

  Wanting to cement the connection to this moment and to Tobin, she shifted slightly and heard his soft breathing . . . turn into a loud snore.

  She waited and heard it again.

  Apparently practicing conscious stillness meant something entirely different to him.

  So much for her seduction plans.

  Chapter Thirteen

  After Tobin spent the day dealing with Renner’s crappy mood and the resort guests from hell, all he wanted was half an hour of solitude and an icy cold beer.

  And Jade straddling his lap, doing that thing where she ran her fingers through his hair over and over. Fuck. He loved that. He hadn’t had nearly enough of that last night before he’d fallen asleep.

  So when he pulled up and saw the rugs from the upstairs hallway strung up on the clothesline, and Jade whacking the crap out of them with a broom, he knew his evening was about to take a different turn.

  Miz G sat on the porch, alternately watching her granddaughter and working on a crossword puzzle. “Tobin, what’s a four-letter word for big?”

  “Huge?”

  “That’ll work.” She refocused on her paper.

  “What’s gotten into Jade?”

  “Well obviously she’s annoyed about something.”

  “Got any idea what’s bugging her?”

  “She’s pretty high-strung. Could be anything.”

  Tobin’s eyes narrowed on Miz G. “Did you ask her?”

  “Nope. And I suggest you keep away unless you’ve got a hankering to become a piñata.”

  Torn, he stood there. He didn’t want to raise Miz G’s suspicions that he and Jade had any kind of relationship, because he knew if he went to her and saw her distressed, he’d wrap her in his arms and try to calm her down.

  Miz G’s phone buzzed on the table. She scooped it and her paper up. “Sorry, gotta go. My show’s on. Then I’m takin’ a bath. There’s food in the fridge.”

  As soon as the screen door slammed, Tobin started toward Jade. By the time he reached her, she’d set the broom down.

  “Is it safe to come over here?”

  “Yes . . . unless you lie like a rug and need a good beating.”

  He smiled. “I’m a shitty liar.”

  “Then you’re in the clear.”

  Tobin shot a look over his shoulder before he took Jade’s hand and pulled her on the other side of the clothesline behind the largest rug. He cupped her face in his hands, tilted her head back and kissed her.

  When she tried to twine herself around him, he stopped. “Be still.”

  “But I want to touch you.”

  “I want that too. But not yet. Right now I want you to close your eyes, put your hands by your sides and let me kiss you. However I like, for as long as I want.”

  “Okay.”

  But when his lips slid over hers, she leaned into him to chase his mouth.

  “Jade. I’m serious. The only thing I want you to think about is this.”

  “Why?”

  “Kissing you is a singular pleasure.”

  “It’s the only pleasure because we’re not having sex.”

  Didn’t that sound testy?

  Instead of ignoring it like he wanted, he met her gaze. “Wrong. Kissing you is a singular pleasure because everything in the fucking world disappears for me when we’re mouth to mouth. Last night you told me about your struggle with anxiety. Let’s try dealing with it this way and see what happens.”

  Her irises were nearly black as her gaze darted between his eyes. “This is not your issue, Tobin. It’s mine. I need to learn how to deal with it on my own.”

  “No, darlin’, you don’t.” He sidled closer to her. “We are together and that makes you mine. I take care of what’s mine. From the smallest things to the biggest. Now close your eyes and pucker up, baby, ’cause I am gonna rock your world.”

  That brought the first smile he’d seen from her.

  Tobin pulled out all the stops, using every seductive trick he’d learned, seen or wanted to try. He nibbled, licked, teased. Then he switched it up, interspersing bursts of tongue-tangling passion with lingering smooches.

  And when she became perfectly pliant, he stopped.

  She peered at him from beneath lowered lashes. “Now what?”

  “Do you trust me?”

  “Yes.”

  Made him feel ten feet tall when she answered that with no hesitation. “Did you go for a run today?”

  She shook her head.

  “Then that’s next. Get your gear on.”

  “Seriously?”

  “Yep.” Tobin grinned. “Go on. Get movin’ and get those endorphins riled up.”

  That defiant chin came up. “And if I don’t?”

  “You could go back to beating the rugs.”

  “I’m done. They’re bug-free now.”

  “What happened today that brought about this beatdown?”

  “I saw a spider crawl under the rug in my room.”

  He crossed his arms over his chest. “Really.”

  “I really hate spiders.”

  “So why are the rugs from the hallway and bathroom out here too?”

  “Because I had to move them to vacuum. Then I got totally creeped out there were more spiders hiding under all the rugs so I decided to air them out.”

  Tobin eyed the cans of Lysol and Febreze lying on the ground next to a large pair of tongs and an industrial-looking rubber apron. Maybe this was only about spiders. “How’d you get the rugs outside?”

  She pointed. “I tossed them out the bathroom window and dragged them over here.”

  “With the tongs.”<
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  “I wasn’t going to carry them out and take a chance one of those sneaky hairy buggers would make a break for it.”

  They’d gotten offtrack. “If you’re done, then quit stalling and get ready.”

  “Why are you making me run?”

  “Because your grandma is home.”

  She frowned. “That matters . . . why?”

  He crushed a handful of her hair in his fist and clamped a hand on her ass. “Because if we were alone I’d fuck you until your body was covered in sweat, your legs went weak and you couldn’t breathe. Then you’d forget all about the spiders.”

  “Oh.”

  “Running or sex. Same results, different actions. I prefer one action over the other but it ain’t like we have a choice tonight.”

  “True.” She backed away from him. “But you’d probably fall asleep anyway.”

  He stared at her. “Was that a shot at me for last night?”

  “Do you think?”

  Smart-ass. “I had a long damn day plus I’d woken up with a hangover that morning.”

  “You were snoring.”

  “That just means bein’ with you is the most natural thing in the world and I relaxed enough to let my guard down.”

  She laughed. “Right. I wanted to get your pants down.”

  Fucking hell. Could his untimely nap have factored into her anxiety today? “Jade—”

  “No time to talk, cowboy. I’ve gotta work up a hard, hot sweat. Too bad you can’t watch and learn.”

  Her sassy little ass twitched at him as she walked away.

  Now she’d done it.

  It was on.

  Ten minutes later, Jade stepped outside in a pair of running shorts and a matching spandex tank top. She jogged to the end of the driveway and turned left.

  Watch and learn, my ass.

  Since he had access to a fitness facility at the Split Rock, he had a duffel bag of workout clothes in his truck. He told Miz G he forgot something at work and he had to run back there. He hopped in his truck and took a right at the end of the driveway. He parked in the pullout and changed into his running gear.

  He paced on the gravel road for another ten minutes before setting the fitness program on his watch and heading out.

  Tobin caught up to her about a mile and a half into the run. He didn’t smile, or wave, or stop to chat; he just blew past her as if she’d been standing still.

  Of course Miss Competitive kicked up her pace to try to match his.

  Good luck with that.

  But he did slow down slightly, allowing her to almost catch him.

  Almost.

  Then he put on a burst of speed, leaving her in the dust.

  When he hit the two-mile mark, he slowed and ran backward, watching her huff and puff as she tried to keep up. This time he did let her reach him. “Nice evening, isn’t it?”

  She was so winded she just grunted.

  And he could tell it annoyed her that he didn’t seem out of breath at all.

  “How far do you usually run?” he asked.

  She held up four fingers.

  “You’re at the halfway point.”

  Jade braced her hands on her knees, leaning over to catch her breath. “How. Far. Do. You. Run.”

  “Six miles, sometimes seven, depending.”

  She panted. “Show. Off.”

  “The elevation here is killer,” Tobin offered. “That could be what’s slowing you down.”

  Jade lifted her head. “Why did you follow me?”

  “Your challenge of watch and learn wasn’t an invitation?”

  “You suck,” she wheezed. “You’re not even breathing hard.”

  “My job at the ranch is physically demanding so I’m in better shape than I look.”

  “No lie there.” Jade gave him a once-over and her gaze lingered on his chest. “But that isn’t an answer as to why you followed me.”

  “I thought we could race back. The winner gets the choice of oral sex or regular sex. You know, to make up for me falling asleep last night.”

  “I’m not racing you, Tobin.”

  The panic in her eyes made him want to kick his own ass. “Darlin’. I was joking.” He skated his hand up her bare arm, over her shoulder and cupped her neck in his palm. He stroked his thumb along the edge of her jawline.

  Jade closed her eyes for a moment and leaned into his touch. “Sorry. I just find this a little weird.”

  “What?”

  “You demanding that I go for a run and then following me. If we’re trying to keep this relationship under wraps for a little longer, us both being gone and then us both showing up at GG’s in exercise clothes will raise her suspicions.”

  “Jade. Give me some credit,” he chided gently. “Your grandma knew you went for a run, right?”

  She nodded.

  “About fifteen minutes after you left, I told her I had to go back to work. I drove to the pullout a quarter of a mile up the road, changed clothes and ran to catch you.” He grinned. “Smart, huh?”

  “Very. But I hate we’re going to such extremes to see each other when we’re living in the same house. Our rooms are next door to each other. We could be sneaking into each other’s beds every night and GG wouldn’t know.”

  “Jesus, Jade. Are you trying to make my dick hard?”

  She smirked. “That’s my right—my job—as your girlfriend.”

  His eyes searched hers. “Is that how you see yourself?”

  “Well, we’re not friends. We’re not lovers—yet. The word ‘companion’ makes me think of a dog. The word ‘partner’ sounds like a business relationship. So what other word is there?”

  MINE, roared into his head.

  Yeah, that declaration would likely freak her out.

  “I can admit I liked it when you called me your woman. So if you don’t like the word ‘girlfriend,’ then you could, ah, call me that if you want.” She stepped back and tried to shove her hands in her back pockets, forgetting that she didn’t have any.

  That nervous mannerism got to him, because she shouldn’t be uncertain of this. He sure as fuck wasn’t.

  Then why don’t you nut up and tell Miz G you’re falling for her granddaughter?

  “My woman,” he said, almost to himself. His gaze roamed over her face, this beautiful, sweet, smart, determined woman who’d brought him such happiness in a few short weeks. Every time he looked at her, he
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