Branded as trouble, p.2
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       Branded as Trouble, p.2

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 2

 

  Do you want me to touch you like that? “I’m…” India blew out a frustrated breath. “Dammit, Colt. I’m sorry. So freakin’ sorry. I’m such a klutz. I didn’t mean to shoot you in the butt. ”

  He merely stared at her.

  “What?”

  “You could kiss it and make it better. ”

  “Funny. Does it hurt?”

  “Like you wouldn’t believe. ”

  She winced. “I’m sorry. ”

  “If you’re not gonna pucker up, I’d be grateful for some Motrin. ”

  India leapt to her feet. “No problem. ” She hustled to the nightstand for a glass of water and shook out two orange pills.

  “Here. ”

  “Thanks. ” Colt popped the pills and took a big drink. The second gulp left him sputtering and water droplets clung to the bristle on his cheeks.

  Without thinking, she wicked the moisture away with her fingers.

  “God. Your hands are so cold. ”

  “Sorry. ” India moved her hand but Colt caught her wrist.

  “Don’t stop. It feels good. ”

  “It does?”

  “Yeah. My face is on fire. ”

  When she stroked his face, from his forehead to his chin, he expelled a long sigh. India couldn’t tear her eyes away from how Colt’s sharp facial features contrasted with his full lips. For the longest time she just touched him, studying him, sort of like she was seeing him for the first time.

  Finally, he said, “You’re quiet. ”

  “You sound surprised. ”

  “I am. You’re never quiet. ”

  “True. ”

  “So talk to me. ”

  “About?”

  “Anything. ”

  “Think you’ll be better by meeting night?”

  “Talk to me about anything but A. A. ” He shifted his position.

  “Tell me about the last tattoo you did. ”

  “Nothing too exciting. Another college girl bringing in a Chinese symbol her friend had found online that ‘means’ something significant. ”

  “In other words…”

  “Complete and total bullshit. For all I know—and all she knows—I could’ve tattooed the Chinese symbol for outhouse above her butt. ”

  Colt laughed softly.

  Encouraged by his laughter, she kept talking. “A couple days ago a big, burly biker came in and wanted a bumblebee done on each thigh above his kneecaps. ”

  “Why?”

  “In an outburst of passion, some hot chick swore he was the

  ‘bees knees’ so he demanded the moment be forever immortalized on his hairy skin. ”

  “You’re kiddin’ me. ”

  “Of course I’m kidding. Damn, you’re gullible, McKay. ”

  He gave her a droll look. “Gullible ain’t a word that’s ever fit me, Indy. ”

  “I don’t imagine it has. ” She placed her palm on his cheek.

  During the three years Colt belonged to A. A. , he’d told her some of the things he’d done while drunk or high or both. Granted, his past was tame compared to the shit she’d pulled, not that she’d shared the worst of it with anyone and she suspected he held secrets pretty close to his incredible chest too.

  “I hate it when you look at me like that,” he said.

  “Umm. Like what?” Like I wanna lick you up one side and down the other?

  “Like I’m a lab rat. ”

  India let her thumb arc over his cheekbone. “Not a lab rat. A guinea pig. ”

  “Great. That’s so much better. ”

  “I sketched a new tattoo design I’d like to try on you. ”

  “Yeah? Maybe once my ass is healed you can turn the puncture wound into one of them cool, fake bullet holes you see on motorcycles and pickup tailgates. ”

  “Please. I’m an artiste. I have something way better in mind.

  Something hip-fun-sexy-cool. ”

  Suspicion clouded Colt’s face. “I already told you. You ain’t tattooing the area around my nipples. Ever. ”

  “But this new pattern is so awesome. Turquoise and orange outlined in black and red, that looks like flames—”

  “No way, no how. ”

  “Just hear me out. ”

  “Dammit, Indy, I said no. Why are you so dang fired up about doin’ this?”

  “Because you have great nipples. ”

  Colt’s ardent gaze dropped to her chest. “Bein’s that I haven’t seen your nipples, I’m afraid I can’t return the compliment, sugar.

  But we could rectify that right now. Take off your shirt. ”

  “Ha ha. ” To hide the fact he’d caught her off guard, and that single hot look caused her nipples to stand at attention, she snipped,

  “Fine. I’ll just use my super cool new design on your cousin, Blake.

  I’m sure he’d be up for it. Especially since he’s already here building some shelves. ”

  “Maybe while he’s debating ink colors, you could convince the slob to pick up his goddamn tools so innocent bystanders don’t get nail shot in the ass. ”

  Whenever India brought up Blake West’s name, Colt became bad-tempered. Not a reaction she understood since Colt and Blake were related and hung out on occasion.

  “While you’re busy playin’ with Blake’s nipples, you could pierce them. With little tinkling golden bells. So he can’t sneak up on his flock of sheep when he ain’t pretendin’ to be a carpenter. ”

  Why had Colt gone beyond peevish to pissed off? “Look, I’m sorry. I was—”

  “Forget it. I’m tired. My ass hurts like a mother and I’m supposed to be resting. So shut the light off when you leave. ”

  “If you need anything—”

  “I won’t. ” Colt dismissed her by facing the wall.

  Jerk. She had half a mind to retrieve the nail gun so she could nail his smart mouth shut.

  You have no right to be indignant.

  Still, Colt’s erratic behavior stung. He was usually so even-keeled. So sweet and thoughtful with her. India retreated to her room.

  She stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars glued to her walls and wondered if Colt would freak out when she told him about her date with Blake tomorrow night.

  Way to act like a jealous asshole. If Indy hadn’t guessed you are goofy in love with her before, she’ll know for sure now.

  Colt snorted. Right. He’d eat his hat if that happened. India hadn’t a clue how he felt about her. She’d chalk up his reaction to stress. Or pain. Or frustration.

  Which was fine with him. Better she pick any one of those excuses rather than know the truth: he’d fallen for her so hard he hadn’t looked at another woman in the three years since she’d come into his life.

  He knew it was stupid. Indy was his best friend. Their friendship was the most important thing in his life and he’d be a fool to jeopardize it.

  The fact she maintained their friendship after hearing about his sordid past, made him extra cautious not to screw that up, like he’d screwed up every other relationship. Plus, since she was his A. A. sponsor, it’d put her in a sticky situation if they started knocking boots. India was too important to the local organization to chance taking a tumble with the infamous former bad boy loser Colt McKay.

  If you’re such a loser, why does India end up with you all the time anyway?

  Good question. They were together at least three times a week—not all of them A. A. related. Colt knew her love life was as pathetic as his. Did her feisty, in-your-face personality scare men away? Or was it the tattoos, piercings, and hard-edged eyes that kept men wary? Hell, it was hard to pick which of those characteristics was his favorite when it came to Indy.

  Yeah, they were a pair all right.

  Sprawled in an unfamiliar bed, dissecting why his life was a mess even when he was clean and sober, Colt squinted at the caller ID when his phone vibrated. “Hey C
am. What’s up?”

  “Just checking in. How you feeling?”

  “Shitty. ”

  “I figured. Anyway, I called Dad and told him I’d run into you at the diner and you were on your way out of town for the weekend.

  So you’re clear until Monday. ”

  “What did Dad say?”

  “Nothin’ worth repeating. ”

  With some of the family issues he’d had recently, it was a relief Cam had his back, since his other brothers probably would say something smart about his weekend getaway. “Thanks. ”

  “No problem. I’m working a twelve-hour shift from noon to midnight tomorrow. You need anything?”

  “Yeah. Extra clothes. Bring me a pair of sweats since the ones that were in my gym bag stink. ”

  “Will do. Anything else?”

  “Where’s my truck?”

  “I moved it to the fenced lot behind the building. Why?”

  “Just wanted to make sure it was outta sight. ”

  “I am a cop. I did actually think about stuff like that. ”

  “Sorry. ”

  “Get some rest. ”

  “It’s about the only thing I can do. ” The second the words left his mouth Colt wanted to suck them back in. His piss-ant injury was nothing compared to what Cam had suffered. In combat. On the other side of the planet. Alone. Or what he suffered every day, dealing with his handicap, physically and emotionally. “Shit, man, I’m sorry. ”

  “Nothin’ to be sorry about, bro. See you tomorrow. ”

  Chapter Three

  Colt was bored out of his fucking mind.

  He’d tried to sleep. But every time he’d dozed off, oh-so-helpful India popped in to check on him. And for some bizarre reason, checking on him meant touching him. She’d place her cool hands on his forehead. On his cheek. Then on the back of his neck.

  The last time she’d barged in, he barely stopped from demanding she wrap her hands around his cock because that’s where he was the most feverish.

  Yeah, he was definitely punchy.
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