Hang tough, p.17
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       Hang Tough, p.17

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  experienced a feeling damn close to euphoria.

  And why should he have to hide that from the world? From the people in his life who mattered to him? Tobin wanted everyone to know that Jade was his. His to touch, his to hold, his to tease, his to cherish, his to belong to. His to make long-term life plans with. Because that’s where this was headed.

  “What is going through that head of yours, cowboy?”

  “Tryin’ to figure out the best way to tell your grandma that you’re my woman.”

  She smiled. “With GG timing is everything.”

  “True. This might be a little tricky. We have been sneaking around since day one, darlin’. I don’t want her to feel like an ‘old fool’ because that’ll set her on a tear. I don’t want her to think I’ve disrespected her by living in her house and takin’ advantage of you.”

  A beat passed and Jade got right in his face. “That’s why you haven’t invited me into your bed or tried to sneak into mine, isn’t it? You are mindful of how GG would react if she caught us rolling around in the sheets naked.”

  He blushed. Fuck. Had he ever blushed this hard in his life?

  “Tobin Hale. I adore you for so many reasons.” She trapped his face between her palms. “But your respect for my grandma is at the top of the list.”

  “Jade—”

  “You will listen to me heap praise on you for a few minutes and then you can go back to that ‘aw, shucks, it wasn’t nothin’ gentleman-cowboy mindset.”

  His heart kicked hard.

  “I’ve never met a man like you. You are helpful, thoughtful, mindful, respectful and wonderful—not just to GG but to me. You don’t pander, you don’t assume, your pride isn’t enormous or easily bruised. You are stubborn, but you’re also sweet. You’re patient . . . until you’re not.”

  He smiled because she had taken that exactly as he’d intended.

  “I could tell you that you’re smart—but that’s redundant. I could mention that you’re a hard worker—but that’s also a given. I could tell you that you’ve transcended the term ‘nice guy’—but you’re too humble to take the compliment. I could tell you that everything about you—your big muscled body, your handsome face, your intense eyes, your sexy mouth, your ropy forearms that I’m obsessed with, your broad shoulders—just does it for me in a bad, bad, bad way, but I’d rather show you.”

  Tobin couldn’t think, he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t fucking breathe when she looked at him and let him see the truth of everything she’d said, right there in her eyes.

  Jade pulled his face closer, using her mouth with erotic intent. When she finally allowed their lips to part, she whispered, “And then there’s that.” She nuzzled the hollow below his ear. “You’ve maintained tight control over the passion that’s such an innate part of you.” The hot, openmouthed kiss she dragged down his throat caused his entire body to tremble. “No more containment, Tobin.”

  “How did you know?”

  “Because like recognizes like.”

  He groaned.

  “So when we become lovers, no holding back.”

  “For either of us.” Tobin tilted her chin up. “Which means the first time we get naked and sweaty together can’t happen here.”

  “Agreed. Let’s check into a seedy motel.”

  “Christ. I’m about to throw you over my shoulder and sprint to my truck. We can be in Rawlins in half an hour.”

  “I want a whole night with you, Tobin. No interruptions. Just us—”

  “And a case of fucking condoms.”

  She laughed. “I’ll leave you to set it up.”

  “How’s tomorrow night?”

  “I’m officially meeting the Mud Lilies tomorrow sometime.” She folded her arms together in front of her. “But that shouldn’t take all day and night.”

  The sun had dropped and so had the temperature. Tobin rubbed his hands up and down her arms. “Cold?”

  “A little.”

  “You want my shirt?”

  “You’d be bare-chested?” The gleam in her eyes was unmistakable. Then she blinked. “I couldn’t control myself if you were half-naked, so . . . better not.”

  “Let’s head back.” Tobin threaded their fingers together and they strolled down the dirt road, hand in hand. “Wanna hear something corny?”

  “Sure.”

  “This is why I sent you on a run.”

  “So you could chase after me?” she teased.

  “So we could hang out together away from the house. I like talking to you. I want to know everything about you.”

  She turned her head and kissed his bicep. “That’s not corny. We haven’t had a normal courtship, have we?”

  “Courtship.” He snickered. “You have been spending all of your time with Miz G. That sounds like something she’d say.”

  “I did have coffee with Riss today,” Jade pointed out.

  “How’d that go?”

  “I like her. She definitely isn’t shy, which is what I need in a friend. Someone who pushes me just a little further than I would myself. She asked me to join her book club.”

  Tobin lifted an eyebrow. “Riss is in a book club?”

  “I guess she’s been part of it for three years. They meet at different members’ houses in Casper. It sounds like an eclectic group. I’ll have time to read the book before the meeting next month.”

  Jade had no trouble keeping up with his longer strides. Their joined hands swung between them. Her ponytail bobbed from the spring in her step. But she didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity.

  When he couldn’t stand it anymore, he tugged her against his body. “Spill it.”

  “This is going pretty fast.”

  “That’s the speed you like.”

  She smiled. “True. It just seems like a lot of promises between us and we haven’t had sex yet.”

  “Oh. That’s the problem? You think we’ll be sexually incompatible and this will all fall apart?” Tobin fused his mouth to hers and kissed her.

  And kissed her.

  And kissed her some more.

  By the time he relinquished her lips, she clung to him.

  He put his mouth on her ear. “Are you wet?”

  “Very.”

  “And I’m hard as a fucking post, so yeah, I don’t think sexual incompatibility is gonna be an issue for us, darlin’. But I’ll tell you what . . . I’ll prove it. Tomorrow night. I’m getting us that motel room.”

  “Okay.”

  Tobin smirked. “I thought you might say that. Let’s head back before the mosquitos eat us alive.”

  Chapter Fourteen

  Jade fussed with the pitcher of lemonade.

  “Girlie, why are you so nervous?” GG asked.

  “Because you know that’s just the type of person I am.”

  “Oh pooh.”

  “These women are your friends. Your best friends. I want to make a good impression on them.”

  “Why? Because I don’t give a hoot if they like you or not. I like you.” GG squeezed her from behind. “I love you, Jade doll. You know that. I’ve managed to hold them off for two weeks, but they ain’t havin’ none of it anymore.”

  “Why did you wait so long?”

  GG moved to stand in front of her. She adjusted the lace collar on Jade’s blouse. “I wasn’t sure how long you’d be here. Heck, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be here since I imagined moving vans showing up out of the blue.”

  That was the first time GG had said that to her directly. Jade put her hand on her grandmother’s shoulder. “Where did you get that idea anyway? Dad never said anything to me that that was his plan.” She paused. “Did he threaten you with that?”

  “It’s kind of a blur, to be honest. I heard, ‘blah blah blah, you shootin’ off guns and blah blah blah, can’t trust you not to do crazy stuff and blah blah blah, you oughta be someplace where someone can keep a better eye on you.’”

  Jade frowned at her. Something didn’t fit. “GG. That is a l
ong ways off from what you told Tobin. Like miles and miles away.”

  “Well, sweetheart. Tobin is one of them kind of protective men. You mess with someone he cares about and he sees red. He acts first. His first action was to move in here to make sure that no one could move me out. What was I supposed to say? No? There is no sayin’ no to that man.”

  Don’t I know that.

  She let her hand drop and turned away so her grandmother couldn’t see the heat staining her cheeks when she thought about how thoroughly Tobin had . . . ravished her. That wasn’t a word she’d ever thought would apply to her, but it did in this case. The heat in his eyes, the hunger in his mouth, the greed in those big hands, the intuitive way he made her completely unravel. She’d never experienced anything like it.

  “Jade? Is everything all right? You’ve been distracted the last day or so.”

  She manufactured a smile before she turned around. “I’m just muddling over my life choices.”

  “The world is wide open to you, sweets.”

  “I never know what to think when people say that. What does that mean? It’s not advice. It doesn’t give me a direction.”

  “Oh goodie.” GG rubbed her hand on the outside of Jade’s upper arm. Her eyes twinkled. “I’ve been waiting to play this what-if game with you.”

  Jade remembered Tobin muttering about “what-if” being useless words when put together.

  “What if money wasn’t an issue? How would you spend your days?”

  “I don’t know.”

  GG frowned. “That’s not how this game works.”

  “I know. But I get stuck on that question every time because believe me, I’ve asked myself. And to be honest? That’s how I ended up with a degree that I can’t use to make a living. I still love those time periods in history. But it wasn’t a smart answer to that question.”

  “Dadgummit. You’re making too much sense. We’ll move on. Where do you see yourself living? In New York City?”

  “It’s the only place I’ve ever lived.”

  She shook her finger in Jade’s face. “Again. Not an answer.”

  “This is why I’m struggling, GG. I don’t have answers to any of these big life questions.”

  “Sometimes when you find one thing, everything else slips into place. Maybe that one thing is a dream job. Or finding a place to set down roots. Or having friends who get you like no one else. Or finding a man you can build a life with. If you learn nothin’ else from this trip, girlie, I hope you discover that havin’ it all is a lie. Havin’ only one thing? One good thing that’s yours? That’s what you need.”

  Jade fought the urge to cry. This was how it’d always been between her and GG. She knew when her granddaughter needed sage advice. She knew when she needed fun. She also knew when she was being a brat and deserved a kick in the patootie. She’d never forget the time GG had shown up in New York, walked into Jade’s room and announced no granddaughter of hers would ever be a snob or take her parents for granted.

  Gravel crunching in the driveway brought her focus back to the here and now. She sidestepped the couch and walked along the edge of the room to the picture window. She lifted the curtain and peeked out.

  Two vehicles had pulled in. One was parked out front, but the other was . . . backing up to the barn?

  “Jade! You were raised better than to lurk from behind the window,” GG chided. “Do me a favor and grab two extra rolls of toilet paper out of the supply closet upstairs. The bathroom on the main floor is out.”

  Five minutes later, Jade paused at the top of the stairs. The Mud Lilies were congregated inside the front entryway and they all looked up at her arrival on the scene.

  Talk about being put on display.

  GG waited at the bottom of the staircase, beaming. “Jade, honey, come down here and meet my friends.”

  Plastering a smile in place, she started down the stairs. Nerves kicked in overtime and she fought the urge to giggle. Or to wave like a beauty queen. Or to throw her leg over the handrail and slide to the bottom.

  None of GG’s friends said a word as she made her descent.

  But once her foot hit that last stair tread, they were on her.

  “Omigoodness, look at you! Aren’t you just the cutest thing ever?” a stylish redhead gushed. “Bernice. Look at her hair! Isn’t it gorgeous?”

  A stout woman moved in next to the redhead. “It is pretty. A little more texture than I expected, but the color is exceptional.”

  A tiny, birdlike woman floated closer. “Oh, sweetie. I love that you’re petite like I am.”

  Jade didn’t point out that she had almost half a foot on her.

  “Hush up, Tilda. She’s not that small.” A woman in an honest-to-god beret and olive green camo stepped forward. “Since none of them have bothered with formal introductions, it looks like it falls to me again. The redhead? Vivien. Next to her is Bernice. She’s interested in your hair because she owns a salon. You met Tilda the petite. Behind me is Maybelle. She’s the society reporter for the Muddy Gap Gazette so make sure to clarify that anything you don’t want in the paper is ‘off the record.’”

  Jade peered around camo woman to the reporter. Was she wearing a . . . muumuu?

  “And I’m Pearl,” camo/beret lady said in a booming voice.

  “It’s so great to meet you all finally.”

  Silence stretched as they studied her.

  It felt like she was facing a firing squad.

  “Would you like refreshments? GG made lemonade. If you’ll all have a seat—”

  “We’re your granny’s BFFs so there’s no need to fuss over us,” Pearl said.

  “Although it is appreciated,” Maybelle said. “But I believe Tilda is helping Garnet out in the kitchen today. That’ll free you up to spend some personal time with us.”

  Jade looked to GG for guidance but she’d already disappeared into the kitchen with Tilda.

  Vivien slipped her arm through Jade’s. “Garnet tells me you’ve been working in the garden quite a bit.”

  “There’s such a variety of flowers and herbs. I could spend all day outside.”

  “Let’s take a stroll out there, shall we? And see what you’ve been up to?”

  She froze.

  They knew about the pot plants. Maybe she’d been right all along; maybe the marijuana belonged to these women and not GG.

  And now they knew that she knew about it.

  Crap.

  Vivien led her down the porch steps with Pearl, Bernice and Maybelle following close behind.

  Were they taking her outside and away from GG to warn her to keep her mouth shut?

  Maybe she could feign ignorance. Not everyone knew what marijuana plants looked like.

  Set the stage now.

  Jade faked a laugh. “I’ll admit that being a sheltered city slicker, I didn’t know what ninety-nine percent of the plants were.” There. That sounded plausible.

  But Vivien didn’t steer her toward the gardens; they headed to the barn.

  “This is making me a little nervous, ladies.”

  “The only reason you should be nervous is if you’re feeling guilty about something,” Bernice said.

  “No. She might be nervous if she’s got something to hide,” Pearl retorted.

  Maybelle opened the barn door and Vivien shifted sideways to step through first.

  After the bright sunlight, Jade had to close her eyes for a moment. When she reopened them . . . well, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

 
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