Miss firecracker, p.2
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       Miss Firecracker, p.2

         Part #2 of Wild West Boys series by Lorelei James
 
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Page 2

  Author: Lorelei James

  “…out of hot water. ”

  Willow looked up. “What did you say?”

  He smirked, recognizing she’d been ogling him. “I said I figured you’d prefer to go home and get cleaned up. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  “Don’t thank me yet. I expect to see you back in the bar in two hours. ”

  “What time is it now?”

  “Noon. The bar opens at two. ”

  “How late am I working?”

  “Until close. ”

  She groaned. A twelve-hour shift. Chances were good she’d still feel like dog doo-doo twelve hours from now. Chances were even better her new “boss” knew that.

  Holding the sheet close, Willow peeked over the edge of the bed. No sign of her clothes. She scanned the floor. Nothing. Ditto for the dresser next to the window.

  “Something you need, sunshine?” Blake asked sweetly.

  “Umm. Where exactly did you put my clothes?”

  He grinned. “I didn’t put them anywhere. You did. ”

  “This is not funny. Where are they?”

  “Now, that’s the question of the day, ain’t it? Look up and to your left. ”

  Willow carefully angled her head skyward. Her red bra and lacy thong dangled from one side of the ceiling fan, her denim skirt and red tank top from the other.

  Fantastic. She flopped back on the mattress. Must’ve been a heckuva strip tease. How was she supposed to retrieve them without jumping on the bed like a naked, drunken monkey?

  Thirty seconds later, a soft thump landed on the mattress. Willow turned her head to see her clothes wadded into a ball. “Thanks. ”

  “I’ll leave you to get dressed. ”

  “Will I be wearing a uniform today?”

  “No. Just a white shirt and jeans. Or a skirt. ”

  At least she wasn’t expected to parade around in a Hooters-type get-up.

  “Your purse and keys are in the living room. Don’t know what you did with your shoes. ” His eyes narrowed again. “Remember. Be back here in two hours. Or I send the sheriff after you. ”

  Chapter Two

  “‘Come watch the bar,’ he said. ‘We never have any problems in Broward, Nebraska. It’ll be a cake walk. ’” Blake West mimicked his buddy Dave’s cajoling tone.

  What stuck in Blake’s craw about the bizarre events from last night wasn’t that he’d allowed the sexy slip of a woman to run roughshod over him, but the misery on her sweet face when she huddled alone knocking back shots. Something about her…called to him. And that was before he’d seen her nekkid.

  Blake hefted the case of beer onto the bar top and slammed open the sliding lid on the cooler. The jukebox blared Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs” and normally he’d be tapping his boot and humming along, but all he could think about was her.

  Willow Gregory, a. k. a. Miss Firecracker, had been contrite after the sheriff chastised her. To hear the buzz in the bar, her performance was far from her normal behavior. On the trek to the apartment, she’d repeatedly told him her actions had been above reproach for the last year and she wanted to have fun for a change.

  Blake understood needing to cut loose. Hell, last month after loading the last of the sheep, he’d gotten totally shitfaced. He hadn’t woken up until noon the next day, which had happened maybe a dozen times in his entire life.

  Mornings started damn early in the sheep business. The sheep didn’t care if you’d closed down the bar at three a. m. The sheep didn’t care if your head hurt. The sheep didn’t care if you had a warm, willing woman in your bed. Sheep needed tending. Period. When you raised sheep your life was dictated by that constant tending. Period.

  But you’re no longer in the sheep business.

  His hand curled around the longneck bottle. For the briefest moment he considered popping the top and chugging the beer. Blake experienced a sense of displacement when he considered the drastic changes in his life during the last four months.

  Nightmare words bounced in his brain. Stroke. Disabled. Long-term recovery.

  His memory rewound to that day. A normal day. It’d started out the same as always, as Blake and his dad worked side by side in the barn. Then his dad had hit the ground with some kind of seizure.

  Luckily, Blake had been right there. Luckily, his dad received medical attention in time. It hadn’t been a heart attack like Blake feared, but a stroke. The stroke wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been and the doctor’s prognosis had been good. But recovery would take time.

  It’d been difficult watching Darren West, his formerly robust father, struggling to relearn how to walk. Directly after his discharge from the regular hospital, the staff placed him in a rehabilitation unit more than one hundred miles from their ranch. Rather than drive two hundred miles round trip every day, his mother had rented a ground level apartment in Casper.

  Since Blake and his father were the only ones in their small livestock operation, his father’s health crisis meant Blake shouldered all the work, not just half. And half had been plenty before his dad had become incapacitated.

  Blake hadn’t complained. He just worked himself to the bone and fell into bed exhausted every night.

  He’d been grateful to his older brother, Nick, for showing up to help out for a week. But the relief on Nick’s face had been apparent when he returned to his wife and life in Colorado. Nick never wanted to raise sheep and he’d bailed out of Wyoming the month he’d turned eighteen.

  Oddly enough, Blake didn’t hold it against Nick for making that choice. Even when Nick’s choice meant Blake didn’t have one.

  So it’d come as a complete shock when his dad announced he was selling the ranch, the livestock, the house, the barns, the equipment, everything.

  Naturally, Blake had bristled. He’d been doing his damndest to keep it all together during his dad’s recovery. But his father assured him it wasn’t anything Blake had—or hadn’t—done that brought about the decision. The bottom line: after two months of rehab he doubted he’d ever be the same man. Workaholic Darren West decided it was time to retire.

  Blake’s mother was in complete agreement. After living in rural Wyoming her entire married life, she’d developed a taste for living in town. And she preferred quicker access to a hospital if need be. Blake also knew with Nick and his wife Holly expecting their first child, his parents were eager to move closer to Denver. He didn’t blame them. He’d miss them, but frankly, the workload had been wearing on Blake for a while.

  Then his father shared the most shocking news of all. Their neighbors to the east, who’d been looking to expand, agreed to buy everything but the sheep on the West Ranch outright. The dollar amount his dad named nearly had Blake’s eyeballs popping out of his head.

  And that was just Blake’s half.

  The first thing he’d done was pack up his worldly goods from his crappy singlewide trailer and rent a house in Sundance. The second thing he’d done was sleep. The third thing he’d done was become a bum.

  Well, not really a bum, although at times he felt like one, lying in bed until eight in the morning. Lifting weights at the community center with his cousins. Playing with his dog. Loafing on the couch with a book until his shift started at the Rusty Spur. Instead of working three jobs, bartending part-time was his sole occupation. No riding the range looking for lost sheep. No last minute handyman projects for his cousin’s construction business.

  He’d gone from out-of-his-mind busy to bored-out-of-his-skull.

  Blake jumped at the chance to manage his good buddy Dave’s bar in Nebraska while Dave took a much-needed vacation. Dave was one of the few guys Blake had confided in about his situation after the ranch sale: his restlessness, his worry about his dad, his struggle to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Bartending in a town where no one knew him would allow Blake to shake the phantom sheep shit off his boots and be someo
ne else for a while.

  And maybe Blake could finally fulfill his fantasy of finding a no-strings fling. The women in his hometown preferred his bad boy, hell raisin’ McKay cousins to a simple nice guy like him.

  Which was another reason he’d sought escape from Wyoming. Once word got out Blake West had money, women who’d never given him the time of day would flock to him like sheep. Another irony, since being a sheepherder had been part of his lack of appeal with the ladies.

  Might make him a dreamer, but Blake hoped to find a woman who wanted him for him—even if it was only for a week of hot sex over the Fourth of July. The town was packed to the gills with people attending family and class reunions and the county fair. Surely there was one woman who’d be up for generating some major sparks with him.

  Immediately the delectable Willow Gregory appeared in his mind’s eye. There was something about the former Miss Firecracker that made him want to blow his Mr. Nice Guy persona straight to hell.

  After mopping the floor behind the bar, Blake restocked the liquor shelves. He called the supplier and tripled the beer order. He lined up limes, lemons and oranges for slicing.

  He’d just poured himself a Coke on ice when the cowbell on the front door clanked and Willow slunk in. Damn, she looked good. “Feeling better?”

  “No. It’ll take more than a shower and four aspirin to purge my misdeeds, sad to say. ” Her gaze zeroed in on his glass. “Are you drinking on the job?”

  Rather than ask why Willow had such a low opinion of him right off the bat, he answered, “Nope,” very curtly. He pointed his finger at her. “And just so we’re straight, no drinking on the job for you either. ”

  “That’s not gonna be a problem. Today anyway. ” She marched around the bar and planted herself in front of him.

  Blake looked down at her. The top of her head didn’t reach his shoulder. If Mandy hadn’t checked her ID he never would’ve believed she was almost twenty-six. Willow projected sweetness and innocence with her cherubic face, big brown eyes, and wavy chestnut hair. Mercy, he’d like to drag her upstairs and prove that innocence was just a veneer.
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