Wrapped and strapped, p.19
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       Wrapped and Strapped, p.19
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         Part #7 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  Hugh looked at Harlow in confusion, but she offered a small shrug like she didn’t know what was going on either. She said, “Show you what?” to her sister.

  “How it is between you two when it’s not insults and dirty looks.” Tierney dipped her head to Hugh. “Go on. Kiss her.”

  “What the hell, T.?” Harlow demanded.

  “You cannot expect me to believe that Grumpy”—Tierney inclined her head to Hugh—“and Harlot”—she gave Harlow the same head tip—“have set aside their contempt for one another without giving me a demonstration of how you’ve both been lovestruck and filled with lust.”

  “You’re joking.”

  “Not even a little bit. I’ve heard of this kind of situation before. Where two people who couldn’t stand each other each need something from the other person, so they fake being in love and try to fool their family and friends.”

  “You’ve heard of this?” Harlow laughed. “You mean you’ve read about it in one of those dirty books you love so much.”

  Tierney blushed.

  Hugh bit his cheek to keep from grinning.

  “Regardless,” Tierney continued. “I would like to see that Hugh’s tongue in your mouth doesn’t kick in your gag reflex, Harlow.”

  “This is so stupid! We don’t have to prove anything to you or anyone else. In fact, there’s no way I’ll do it.”

  “Harlow.”

  She whirled on Hugh. But before she could stomp off, he pulled her close, lowered his mouth to hers and kissed her. Not with hunger or overblown passion, but with familiarity. Slipping his hand up to sift through her hair. Letting his other hand mold to the curve of her hip while his thumb stroked her belly.

  Harlow melted into him, twining her arms around his neck.

  Everything else faded into the background. The world boiled down to the heat between eager bodies and the taste and tease of their lips and tongues.

  “Jesus. Do I need to get out the damn hose?” Renner asked.

  Harlow eased away first, but she kept her eyes on Hugh’s as she stroked his jawline. Then they smiled at each other before they broke apart. “Blame your wife,” Harlow said to Renner, who had reappeared on the porch. “She demanded proof that we weren’t pulling a prank on you guys.” Then Harlow aimed a cool look at Tierney. “Convinced?”

  “Yes.”

  “Still mad?”

  Tierney bit her lip. “I just feel out of the loop. I was so focused on my pregnancy—”

  “As you should’ve been,” Harlow said softly. “You have plenty of things on your mind besides what your wayward little sister has been up to with the hunky ranch foreman.”

  “But am I blind that I didn’t notice you two had noticed each other?”

  Hugh saw Renner studied his wife intently.

  “Did you think Janie was blind when you and Renner were sneaking around?” Harlow retorted.

  Tierney glanced at Renner and a devious smirk curled her lips. “Not at all. At first we were constantly at each other’s throats and then we weren’t because we were too busy trying to get into each other’s pants.” She laughed. “Okay. I see it from the other side now.”

  “And we’ve got nothin’ to hide,” Hugh said.

  Renner opened the child gate on the left side of the porch. “Let’s head around back.”

  When Harlow reached Tierney, she stopped and said, “My turn to hold Rhett.”

  Hugh had spent quite a bit of time at Renner and Tierney’s place. The Western elements found at the Split Rock were absent here. The house itself was traditional: two stories with a wraparound porch that connected to a deck on the back side. Since the location had steep terrain comprising rock on both sides, Renner had constructed a metal staircase that zigzagged down the rock face to the bowl-shaped bottom, the only place with grass.

  “I have such house envy, sis. I could sit out here for hours,” Harlow said, dropping into the swing.

  “I have been. Since Ren put up the awning, we’re shaded back here all afternoon. The breeze blows up from the canyon and it’s perfect.” She smiled softly at her husband and wrapped her arm around his waist.

  Renner kissed the top of her head. “I’ll open the door so we can keep an eye on Isa.”

  Hugh sat next to Harlow on the swing, stretching his arm along the back.

  Tierney chose a single padded chair across from them. But when Renner returned, he pulled her to her feet, and then situated them with Tierney on his lap.

  “Is everything okay?” Harlow asked.

  Renner whispered to Tierney and she shook her head.

  Hugh felt Harlow stiffen beside him. Something was going on.

  “Seriously, sis, what’s up?”

  “I’m just more tired than I should be. But I can’t sleep. Rhett is a fussy baby”—Tierney shot a wry look at her son conked out in Harlow’s arms—“so I’ve stopped breast-feeding and put him on formula so Renner can take some of the night feedings.” Tierney snuggled into Renner and looked at Harlow warily. “Please don’t yell at me for going with formula and not sticking with the natural way to feed my baby.”

  “How is your choice any of my business? You make me sound like some radical who’ll turn you in to the La Leche League.”

  For the first time Hugh wondered if the “hippie-girl” nickname for Harlow bothered her. Harlow lived by her own code, but he’d never heard her try to impose it on anyone. From hearing her talk, he knew the humanitarian organizations she worked for weren’t about enforcing their will or a specific belief system on the people they’d elected to help.

  Renner said, “I know you and Gene had concerns about Tierney and this pregnancy, Harlow. I’m doin’ what I can to help my wife understand that she shouldn’t try to do it all. We’re partners in this. Which means I’m takin’ more time for her and the kids.”

  “That’s good. Ain’t like the Split Rock is gonna crumble if you’re not there twelve hours a day,” Hugh said. “I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that you’ve got a good crew, boss. Let us carry the load. You shouldn’t try and do it all either.”

  Tierney elbowed Renner. “See? Told ya.”

  “And I’m here for as long as you need me,” Harlow added.

  Hugh forced himself not to react. When he’d pressed Harlow on her plans, she’d hedged.

  “About that.” Tierney’s gaze winged between Hugh and Harlow. “Is this a long-term thing? Or just a fling?”

  “Way to cut to the chase, babe,” Renner said with a grimace.

  “Fine. Maybe I should’ve asked if you’ve told Dad yet.”

  “Actually, when I knew things were headed the way they were, I spoke to Gene,” Hugh said.

  Renner raised his eyebrows. “What’d he say?”

  “Not much.”

  “Well, when Hugh says ‘Me’n Harlow are together—get used to it,’ there wasn’t a whole lot Dad could say,” Harlow pointed out.

  “True.”

  “Hugh and I aren’t labeling this. We’re living in the moment. How many moments that leads to . . . we’ll see. Right?”

  Fuck that. I’m just giving you time to get on board. Hugh knew exactly where this thing between them was leading. But he just kissed Harlow’s nose and said, “Right, doll.”

  Footsteps sounded across the deck and Isabelle stopped in front of Harlow. She glared at the baby. “Put him down. You’re my aunt and I don’t hafta share you with him.”

  Looked like baby jealousy had struck.

  Harlow said, “Take Rhett for a minute,” and placed him in Hugh’s arms, and then she was gone.

  Shit. He tried not to show panic, but he didn’t want to be responsible for this baby. Jesus. It was so freakin’ small. So breakable in his big, rough hands.

  “I’m pretty sure I wore that same look the first time I held Isabelle,” Renner said. “Here. I’ll take him.”

  Then Hugh could breathe again. He looked over, but Tierney had gone inside with Harlow and Isabelle.

  “Isabelle
is actin’ out,” Renner said. “It’s driving Tierney crazy ’cause how are we supposed to discipline Isa for sibling jealousy?”

  Hugh had no clue.

  “Dealing with all this stuff . . .” Renner sighed. “Goin’ from one kid to two kids has been a bigger adjustment than either of us expected. So, yeah, you’re right. I need to delegate.”

  “Just tell me what you need done.”

  “Between me’n Tobin, the cattle are handled. But Tobin ain’t workin’ seven days a week. So if you could help out the mornings Tobin is gone, I’d appreciate it.”

  “No problem. I’m here.”

  “And this is one wrinkle I haven’t mentioned to my wife yet, but the week we’re contracted for in Kansas?”

  Please don’t say you’re going to cancel it. “Yeah?”

  “I can’t go. I can’t leave Tierney here with both kids. I’ve gotta be here for my wife.”

  Hugh snorted. “I didn’t plan on you goin’, because you didn’t like bein’ away from her before you two started procreating.”

  Renner grinned. “No lie. So I’m askin’ you to take over the Phillipsburg deal and finish the final scheduling.”

  “Be happy to. In fact, you do remember my main job is supposed to be running Jackson Stock Contracting?”

  “Daddy!” Isabelle yelled through the screen door. “I wanna do more stickers.”

  “Be right there, sweetheart.” Renner shifted the baby, who’d started to fuss. “Bet bossy girl demands Daddy puts the baby down.” With that, he walked off.

  Hugh stared after him. Once again Renner had dodged the question. But maybe if Hugh did a great job in Kansas, it’d convince Renner not to abandon the stock contracting side. He had to at least try to save that side of their business.

  *

  Hugh’s preoccupation on the ride back to the Split Rock concerned Harlow. Something had changed in the short amount of time Renner and Hugh had been left alone on the deck. Had Hugh’s boss expressed displeasure about their relationship?

  And she had to think of it in those terms. Renner was responsible for Hugh’s livelihood. While she didn’t think Renner the type to make the same kind of ultimatums as her father, it could be a difficult work situation.

  Back at the barn at the Split Rock, she draped the saddle blanket over the railing to dry while Hugh brushed Jimbo down. She readied a bucket of oats and waited out by the corral.

  Hugh ambled out and her heart fluttered. Everything about him was just so quietly commanding.

  After the oats were gone, Hugh hung up the pail and reached for her hand.

  She gazed into his face and tried to make out his expression, since it was perpetually shadowed by his hat. “What now?”

  “You tell me.”

  “Should we go our separate ways to eat dinner and meet up later?”

  He tugged her against his body. “Not really hungry. At least not for food.”

  She loved the dark glint in his eyes. “Then let’s feed that other appetite of yours first.”

  Next thing she knew, he was dragging her uphill at a good clip. He took the shortcut to his cabin, easily hoisting her over the rock wall. By the time they reached the front door, his house key dangled in his hand and he shoved it in the lock.

  The second they were inside, Hugh kicked the door shut and pressed her against it. “You’re so fuckin’ hot. Havin’ this ass”—he latched on to her butt cheeks with both hands—“pressing against my cock as we rode has kept me hard the last three hours.”

  “Poor hard cock.” She reached for his belt buckle as she teased his throat with nipping kisses. “So confined. Let’s give him some breathing room.”

  Hugh groaned when she got the zipper down. He hissed when she slipped her hands inside his boxers and freed him. As she pushed his jeans down his legs, she lowered to her knees.

  Sometimes it was all about the tease. Driving him to the edge, backing off and building him up again until she felt his entire body vibrate with the need for release.

  But she didn’t want that for him now. This time she wanted his pleasure fast and acute. She circled the base of his cock with her hand and pulled it away from his belly, enclosing as much of the shaft in her mouth as she could.

  “Fuck, Harlow. That’s so . . .” He groaned again. Muttered something she couldn’t make out.

  She smiled and started to work him, sliding his length in and out. This time she wouldn’t use her hands, just the wet heat and suction of her mouth.

  His callused hands cupped her face. He gently stroked the hollows of her cheeks, never forcing himself deeper, allowing her to set the pace.

  Harlow felt his burning gaze from head to toe. She knew the visual of her on her knees, wanting to do this for him, was an epic turn-on for him.

  “So close,” he said on a sharp exhalation.

  “Faster?”

  “Fuck yeah.”

  She lost herself in the urgency. In the now familiar taste and scent of him. In the way she’d become attuned to the subtle changes in his breathing, in his touch.

  He made an inarticulate noise, his cock grew harder against her lips and then he was done. His warm, salty seed spurted against the back of her tongue as she held him in her mouth, sucking and then swallowing until he’d spent completely.

  After a minute or so when his body quit shuddering, he dropped his hand back against the door to brace himself.

  Harlow pulled back and smirked at him. Even after he’d just come, he was still hard. She kissed the tip of his cock and then the tops of both of his thighs before she looked up.

  His brown eyes were soft. Sated. His hand shook a little when he tucked her hair behind her ear. “You love doin’ that, don’t you?”

  “Yes.”

  “You . . .” He gave her a goofy smile. “Not thinkin’ straight yet, but damn. That was . . .”

  She rolled to her feet and tugged his boxers and jeans back into place.

  He zipped and buckled before wrapping her in his arms. “I never know if I’m supposed to thank you or build a shrine to you.”

  “A shrine. Definitely. With a chocolate fountain.”

  He chuckled. “You got time to stick around for a while?”

  “Sure. But can I make myself a salad? I am a little hungry.”

  “There’s stuff in there from last time.” He paused. “Will it bother you if I heat up a burger?”

  “No, that’s fine.”

  They fixed their individual meals and sat at the table to eat. After a quick cleanup—and how thoughtful was it that Hugh brushed his teeth so he wouldn’t taste like meat when he kissed her?—they settled in front of the TV to watch episodes of Fringe. It’d surprised her to discover his favorite shows and movies were sci-fi, not Westerns.

  At one point, she looked over and saw Hugh lost in thought, not paying attention to the show at all. She used the remote to hit pause and waited for him to notice.

  Roughly thirty seconds passed before he glanced over at her. “Something wrong?”

  “You tell me.” Harlow climbed on his lap, her knees against his hips and her forearms resting on his shoulders. “What’s on your mind? Did Renner warn you off me because I’m a man-eater who’ll break you before I move on?”

  Hugh lifted his mouth to hers for an achingly sweet kiss. “No. And I would’ve told him to back off if he had. ’Cause, darlin’, you ain’t no carnivore.”

  “Damn straight. But something is eating at you.”

  “Two things are.”

  Getting him to talk tried her patience at times, but she’d figured out he would talk only when he was ready. Better that than him blurting out the first thing that popped into his head.

  “The stock contracting side of Renner’s businesses, which used to be his only business, is providing stock for an event in Kansas. Renner always intended to go, but now he won’t leave Tierney and the kids, which is understandable. That leaves me shorthanded.”

  “So you’ll have to back out?”


  “No, I’ll have to round up replacements.”

  “But?”

  “But I’m afraid you’ll leave while I’m gone. And I never thought I’d
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