Hang tough, p.20
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       Hang Tough, p.20

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  interested in is a margarita.”

  “In the middle of the afternoon?” Vivien asked.

  “I’ll pretend I haven’t seen all of you totally tanked at the Blue Lantern before noon—on more than one occasion,” Riss shot back.

  “Those were special celebrations. And the mimosas they serve during their pork festival pack a wallop,” Miz Maybelle said.

  “Regardless. Jade and I are headed to Rawlins.”

  “To the Blue Lantern?” Vivien asked.

  “Nope. The Prickly Cactus.”

  “That is not a nice place for nice girls,” Tilda said with a sniff.

  Riss smirked. “Which is why I’m a regular there. Later, ladies. And Aunt Bernice.” She held the door open for Jade.

  As soon as Jade was out of view of her watchers, she hugged Riss hard. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times. I started to worry they were going to strap me in a chair again.”

  “Again?” Riss said. “When was the first time?”

  “Not important now. I am so ready for a margarita. Or five.”

  “Same. Follow me into town. I gotta stop and buy a different shirt since this is the only one I have with me and there’s a streak of cowshit across the girls.”

  Jade’s gaze fell to Riss’s chest. Sure enough, she saw a brown smear. “Does that happen a lot?”

  “In my line of work? I’d consider this a clean shirt day.”

  “Good to know.”

  “You seriously ready to get your drink on? Cut loose a little, Wyoming-style?”

  “Yes. I need a reminder that I’m twenty-four, not eighty-four.”

  She grinned. “Call Garnet and tell her it’s a pixie dust night for you.”

  “Pixie dust?” Jade repeated.

  “She’ll know what it means. She’ll also know not to panic if she doesn’t see you until tomorrow morning.” Riss dropped her sunglasses over her eyes. “Stick close. I sorta speed.”

  Great.

  In Rawlins, Riss stopped at the farm and ranch supply store.

  Jade wasn’t a shopper, but she didn’t have high expectations about the clothing selection in a place that sold chickens and tractors, so the section dedicated to women’s ranch and leisure wear was a happy surprise. Especially when Riss decided they both needed barhopping clothes.

  Riss outfitted Jade in a tight button-up with swirls of glitter across the chest—that actually created the illusion of cleavage—and boot-cut jeans with rhinestones on the back-pocket flaps. Instead of cowboy boots, Jade selected a pair of funky flip-flops with a three-inch wedge heel covered in western beads and medallions.

  “Lookit you, New York. Totally countrified.”

  Jade took a bow. “I owe it all to you.”

  “Come on. My turn. I’m here, I’m stocking up.”

  And stock up Riss did—in record time. Within ten minutes she’d tossed two frilly shirts, five basic tank tops, identical in style but different colors, and a pair of jeans into her cart.

  At the checkout stand, a woman coming in the front doors stopped and said, “Larissa?”

  Riss muttered fuck before she plastered on a smile. “Hey, Dodie! Long time no see.”

  “I’m surprised to see you shopping.”

  “Don’t tell my mother,” Riss said in a pleading tone. “I still have nightmares about that prom dress.”

  “I’ve kept your other secrets, haven’t I?” The apple-shaped and apple-cheeked woman—who looked to be in her late fifties—focused on Jade. “Who’s your friend?”

  “Sorry. Dodie, this is Jade Evans. She’s Garnet’s granddaughter. Jade, this is my mother’s cousin, Dodie.”

  “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Jade said.

  “Dodie is the head cook up at the Split Rock,” Riss said. “She’s been there since the place first opened, right?”

  “Right.”

  “There’ve been some changes with Hugh leaving. How’s everything going up there?”

  Dodie sighed. “Hectic. We’re at full capacity through the summer. Everyone in every department is stretched thin, so we’re all tired and cranky. Naturally that’s when Lou-Lou gives notice, claiming she’s developed a bulging disc. I don’t care that she’s my cousin. I wanna throttle her.”

  A calculating look settled on Riss’s face. “It sucks that you’re short staffed. Lou-Lou . . . she wasn’t the baker?”

  “Only thing she baked was her brain. Besides, we don’t make baked goods in-house; we order them from an artisan bakery in Casper. Lou-Lou is a prep cook.”

  “You’re kidding! What a coincidence. Jade was a prep cook in New York City.”

  Shut it, Riss.

  “You don’t say.” Dodie’s eyes turned shrewd. “Are you just here visiting?”

  Everyone asked her that. And it hadn’t come up between her and Tobin since the night they’d gone for a run. “I’ll be staying longer than I planned.”

  Riss hip-checked Jade. “That’s because she’s hooked herself a gen-u-wine Wyoming cowboy and she’s in love.”

  “Riss!” Jade felt her face and neck get fiery hot. If Dodie had been at the Split Rock since it’d opened, then she probably knew Tobin pretty well. Hopefully Riss wouldn’t share that.

  “We are hiring, if you’re interested. It’s only part-time. The shift starts early in the morning and prep is usually done by eleven.”

  “Oh, Jade is familiar with early morning shifts. She mentioned that she had to get up at three a.m. to catch the subway to her job that started at the ungodly hour of four thirty.”

  “Good lord, I can’t even imagine that!” Dodie said.

  Riss started tossing the items from her cart onto the conveyor belt. “Great chatting with you, Dodie. We’ve gotta scoot. But Jade will be in touch.”

  “I hope so.”

  Jade paid for her purchases and didn’t say anything to Riss until they were outside. “What was that?” she demanded.

  “Serendipity,” Riss deadpanned.

  “No. Seriously. I am not going to work at the Split Rock! Even if they are hiring.”

  “Why not? You are qualified.”

  “Because it would be weird if I said, ‘Hey, Tobin, by the way, now I’ll be working at the same place as you! We can live in the same house and work together. Maybe we can even carpool!’” She slammed the passenger door.

  Riss rolled her eyes. “Whatever. But at least ask him about it, okay?”

  “I think he’s mad at me because I cancelled our date after . . .” I had a mini-meltdown after the “misunderstanding.”

  “I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be either. Especially not after what you told me the other day.” Riss looked at her watch. “Cool beans. We’re running ahead of schedule. Follow me to the truck stop.”

  During the drive, Jade flashed back to the first conversation she’d had with Riss over coffee. Normally Jade had problems connecting with people. She worried about saying the wrong thing or looking like a nerd, so she erred on the side of not saying much at all. But Riss just blew right past her defenses from the moment they’d sat down.

  “So what type of guy do you usually go for?” Riss had asked.

  Big, built, with a beautiful smile and a skilled mouth.

  “I don’t know that I have a type.”

  “Liar.” Riss laughed. “Level with me. What’s going on between you and Tobin? Because he babbled incessantly about you when he was hammered last week.”

  “He also asked you out on a date,” Jade reminded her.

  “Not seriously. It’s sort of a joke between us.”

  “You have no interest in him? At all?”

  “Only as a friend. Don’t get me wrong, Tobin is a great guy.”

  “But?” Jade prompted.

  “But he’s almost . . . too good, if you know what I mean. He’s like a freakin’ Boy Scout. Polite, thoughtful, kind. He always does the right thing, even if it’s not the best thing for him. That’s not the kind of guy who’s a good fit for a woman like
me. I’d sour him sooner rather than later and he deserves better.”

  “Tobin and I have been messing around,” Jade blurted out. “And trust me; that man is no Boy Scout when he’s got that mouth in motion.”

  Riss blinked at her. “How long has this been going on?”

  “It’s been this back-and-forth thing since the day we met. We haven’t . . .” Jade blushed.

  “What’s the holdup? I know Tobin’s in total lust with you since he freakin’ told me that himself.”

  “The holdup is that we’re living with my grandma.”

  “So? Give me a legit reason why after granny goes to bed that you shouldn’t be climbing that man like a tree and letting him bang you like a coconut.”

  She snickered. “Interesting imagery, Wyoming.”

  “You’re stalling. Come clean, New York, on why you’re not getting down and dirty with him every chance you can.”

  “Fine. Tobin isn’t a fling kind of guy.”

  “And you’re worried he’ll want more than a fling?”

  “I could end up hurting him if I say ‘screw it’ and start screwing him. I don’t want that. And I live in New York.”

  “Tobin knows where you live, dumb-ass,” Riss said crossly. “And I . . .” She paused and smacked the table. “Omigod. I’m the dumb-ass. You’re not the fling type either, are you? If you start this with him, chances are good you’ll fall for him too and it’ll—”

  “Be too late? I think it already is . . .”

  Loud pounding on the car window startled her out of the memory.

  Riss grinned and opened the door. “Grab your stuff and let’s do this thang.”

  As they crossed the parking lot, Jade said, “We’re really getting ready at a truck stop?”

  “Not a lot of female truckers. So the women’s bathroom is super-duper nice since it’s hardly ever used.”

  An hour later they walked into the Prickly Cactus looking as hot as a prairie fire—Riss’s words, not hers. The joint was a total dive, filled with kitschy western memorabilia—what little Jade could see of it since the only light in the place came from the neon bar signs. They found a table in the middle of the bar area and set it up as their base since it wasn’t quitting time for the blue-collar patrons.

  “Another hour and this place will be full.” Riss smirked around the straw in her margarita. “The cream of the crop will come to us.”

  “So you’re here . . . ?”

  “To get laid? Yeah. Pretty much. Been a while. How about you?” She leaned in. “Please, please, please tell me that you and Tobin have done the nasty like five times a day since the last time we talked.”

  “No. We’re still trying to get the timing right. The night it was supposed to happen it didn’t. I haven’t heard from him at all today . . . so he’s probably mad or something. I don’t know.”

  “Did you tell him what you wanted?” Riss asked.

  Jade sighed. “I’m used to hanging back and waiting for someone to approach me.”

  “I think you’ll be surprised at how many times you get hit on tonight. Babe, you’ve got to know that you’re—”

  “If you say exotic looking, I will karate chop you.”

  Riss choked on her drink. “Fuck, woman. You are funny. I’d totally do you if I was a lesbian.”

  She laughed.

  Guys started coming in one after another. First they’d order a drink, then they’d look around.

  “Okay, show time,” Riss said.

  Chapter Seventeen

  Tobin mumbled to Garnet on his way past her.

  A long-ass day in the truck driving back from Nebraska meant a shower was an immediate necessity. He took his time cleaning himself up, so when he emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later, Garnet had resorted to pacing in the hallway.

  She stopped and pointed at him. “It’s about time.”

  “I didn’t use all the hot water, I swear.”

  “I know that. I need to talk to you about something. So after you’re decent”—she gestured to the towel—“come into the kitchen because we have to talk. Make it snappy. Time is wastin’.”

  He slipped on a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He’d plugged his dead cell phone in before hitting the shower and quickly checked his messages.

  Three. From . . . Riss? What the hell?

  The first was a selfie of Riss and Jade in a bar.

  His stomach cartwheeled at seeing Jade’s sweet smile. She just did it for him. On so many levels.

  He squinted at the next shot. Jesus. Was that a picture of Jade’s ass? He enlarged it. Oh yeah. Jade’s ass in tight jeans with sparkles on the butt that just made him want to sink his teeth into that curve below the pocket.

  But why had Riss sent him a picture of Jade’s backside? Judging by the way Jade stood, she had no idea her friend was secretly snapping pics of her butt.

  In the third pic, a guy had his hand on Jade’s shoulder. The time stamp on that one was half an hour ago.

  Tobin texted: Where are you?

  RT: The Prickly Cactus . . .

  Garnet appeared outside his door. “Tobin, I really need to talk to you.”

  “Make it fast, Miz G. I’m on my way out.”

  “Jade called me.”

  Tobin whirled around. “When?”

  “Earlier. She’s out with Riss and she told me not to wait up.”

  “Christ.”

  “She’s an adult entitled to her fun. Heaven knows I resist when anyone tries to end my good times. I just worry because she’s never had much use for a pixie dust night.”

  He remembered the one time he knocked back a few pixie dust shots. Or maybe he should say, he didn’t remember—the next morning he woke up naked on his deck with a sunburn in places the sun don’t shine. Ever since that incident, the Mud Lilies referred to a night out making questionable decisions a pixie dust night.

  “So I need a huge favor.” Garnet twisted her gnarled fingers. “Make sure Jade is all right.”

  “How, Miz G?”

  She blinked. “By spying on her, of course.”

  “Not happening. I’ll check on her to make sure she’s not doin’ anything illegal like some people who tend to get carried away on pixie dust nights. But whatever else she’s doin’? Ain’t your business. Got it?”

  “I hate when you shoot down my ideas with logic.”

  Tobin smiled. “I know. You’ll be all right by yourself? I probably won’t be back tonight.”

  “Where are you goin’?”

  To get a tiger by the tail.

  His grin told her that wasn’t any of her business either. “Have a good night.”

  She stomped her foot. “Dadgummit. You oughta be taking me along.”

  “Nope.” He touched her nose as he walked past her in the hallway. He could only handle one Evans woman at a time.

  Tobin made a call as soon as he turned onto the main highway.

  Ike picked up on the second ring. “T, what’s goin’ on?”

 
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