Saddled and spurred, p.24
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       Saddled and Spurred, p.24

         Part #2 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Their footsteps sounded hollow on the wooden floor as they entered what must’ve been the dining room. Big windows faced the shelterbelt, and Harper could imagine sitting at a long table, gazing out those windows, watching the seasons change.

  “Look at the woodwork in here,” Lainie said, running her hand down the mahogany-colored trim around the doorframe.

  “It’s gorgeous.” Dark trim also ran the length of the floor, and the ceiling boasted elaborate crown molding. Harper walked through an arched doorway to the kitchen. No appliances had been left behind. The countertops were dated and chipped, as were the cupboards and the linoleum covering the floor, but the space was large for the time frame in which it’d been built.

  “It’s weird that the kitchen is in the back of the house. Almost every house I’ve seen from this era has the kitchen in the front. And you enter the house more formally through the back.”

  “You mean like this?” Harper asked. An enclosed porch spanned the breadth of the back of the house.

  “Oh, wow. This is seriously cool. We’re putting one of these three-season porches off our kitchen too. This house was seriously ahead of its time, although it does appear to have been constructed backward.”

  Harper wandered through another arched doorway into the living room. It also had a door that opened onto the porch. More windows. More gorgeous woodwork. More feelings of sadness that Bran could just ignore this beautiful home that was so much a part of his personal history and should be part of his future.

  She wound through the L-shaped room, discovering a small bathroom with limited headspace that had been constructed beneath the stairs as an afterthought when they’d added indoor plumbing. “I’m going upstairs,” she said to Lainie.

  The handrail and the balustrades were made of that same mahogany-colored wood. The instant she cleared the last step at the top of the stairs, she smiled. The floor was wider than a hallway, with a sunny landing. She imagined Bran as a little boy playing with trucks and Legos under the watchful eye of his grandmother.

  Five doors were spread at random intervals. Behind the first door she found a full bathroom. The next two doors she opened led to small bedrooms. She knew that neither of these rooms had held Bran’s childhood dreams and memories. The biggest room appeared to be the master bedroom, but it was small in comparison to modern-day master bedrooms and master suites.

  The room directly across the hall, she knew without a doubt, had belonged to Bran. No faded marks from posters marred the walls. But there was one obvious sign of his residency: fishhooks embedded in the woodwork surrounding the window. Probably some fancy hand-tied lures, which made her wonder why he’d taken everything out of the house but left those.

  “Harper? I think I hear the guys coming back. We’d better get going.”

  She gave the barren room one last, lingering look and returned downstairs.

  ATVs, pickups, and horses trickled in from the field. Around that same time, wives and kids, girlfriends, and others showed up with heaping bowls of side dishes. Harper knew almost everyone, and if they were surprised to see her acting the part of hostess at Bran Turner’s branding, they didn’t mention it—an achievement itself in their small community.

  After the guys washed up, they dug in like they’d never seen food. Harper had secretly suspected Bran was crazy for having her order a hundred pounds of shredded beef and fifty pounds of shredded pork, but now she wondered if there’d be enough.

  The weather was beautiful, the food delicious, the beer cold. Everyone was having a great time. Even Bailey had driven out with her friend Amy. They hadn’t stayed long, despite the urging of the younger single cowboys for them to stick around for the bonfire.

  Both she and Bran mingled, separately. But she sensed his gaze on her several times. Okay, all the time. It gave her a secret thrill that no one had a clue about his rapt attention because his eyes were hidden beneath dark sunglasses and his ever-present cowboy hat.

  Harper knew, though. Her skin prickled with awareness in anticipation of what he’d do to her when they were finally alone.

  Food consumption dwindled as people lounged beneath the canopy and chatted. Harper gathered the temperature-sensitive condiments and took them to the trailer. She’d just shoved the mayonnaise into Bran’s refrigerator when the screen banged open. She looked over the fridge door and saw Bran stalking toward her. All male, muscled sweaty goodness. Wearing the dark, sexy—God, hungry—look in his eyes that let her know he’d tracked her down for one reason and one reason only.

  And he wasn’t taking no for an answer.

  Her blood raced. Her body heated and softened. He could do this to her. Without a word. Without a touch. With just a single look.

  Bran shut the refrigerator and pressed her up against it. His mouth greedy on hers, his hands roving down her sides to grip her butt. His tongue invaded and conquered. He tasted like beer and sunshine and need.

  Need. How could she need him this much?

  He’d plastered his body to hers. Harper latched onto the denim covering his hips. One of his hands slid up to her scalp. He threaded his fingers through the loose strands of her hair and tugged her neck to the side, giving himself total access to the flesh of her throat. His lips followed the curve of her jaw to her ear. “Fuckin’ sexy little goddamn sundress. Been drivin’ me nuts all day.”

  A shiver washed over her, his hot words searing her skin like a brand.

  “Want you, Harper. Now.”

  “Yes.”

  Bran stepped back, grabbed her hand, and dragged her into his office. As soon as they were inside, she was between a hard cowboy and a hard door.

  She let his passion consume her, drive her higher. She ripped open his pearl-snap shirt and raked her nails down his chest, eliciting his full-body shudder. When she stroked and pinched his nipples, he groaned in her mouth.

  The kiss grew more and more frantic until she couldn’t breathe without breathing him in.

  He buried his face in her throat. “Can’t stop. Sweet Jesus I don’t even want to slow down.”

  “So don’t.”

  “Remember you said that.” He nipped her neck and pushed back, giving her a head-to-toe inspection. Without taking his eyes off her, he rolled the chair away from the desk. “Bend over the chair.”

  She didn’t hesitate. She brushed past him and placed her palms flat on the foam armrests of the chair, her pulse pounding from her nipples to her groin as she awaited his instructions.

  Strong, impatient hands landed on her hips. Battered Tony Lamas appeared between her boots and kicked her feet apart. “Widen your stance.”

  Her heels slid out a couple of inches.

  “Wider.”

  Her position must’ve pleased him, because he growled. His thumb traced the arc of her spine up to the nape of her neck. A hand tangled in her hair. Instead of urging her head up, he pushed it down so she could see between her legs. “Watch me.”

  Cool air teased the backs of her thighs as Bran flipped her sundress up. His fingers hooked in the elastic band of her panties. He tugged them past her kneecaps and stopped. “I’m hobbling you.”

  She bit her lip. He had no reason to hobble her; she had no intention to try to get away from him.

  “Better yet, I’m taking them all the way off.” Yank. Rip. “Oops. Looks like you’re goin’ commando the rest of the day. It’ll be handy for later.”

  “Later?”

  “Uh-huh. This is just an appetizer. Later, I’m gonna want a full meal of you.” He gathered the dress material and tucked it out of his way. When he dropped to his knees, every inch of her body seemed to catch fire.

  But even her flaming skin couldn’t match the desire burning in Bran’s eyes. Those strong, calloused hands clamped onto the outsides of her thighs. He licked the crease of her left knee and swept that naughty wet tongue up the sensitive skin of her inner thigh.

  Gooseflesh broke out, tightening her already taut skin.

  He opened his mout
h directly below the curve of her butt cheek and sucked. Hard. Hard enough to leave a hickey.

  “Bran!”

  “Hush.” Then he nibbled up, across her behind, letting his tongue follow her butt crack until the tip reached her tailbone. And back up went that meandering tongue and wandering mouth. He sank his mouth and teeth into her flesh, gifting her with the same sucking love bites on the opposite side.

  “Oh, God.”

  Before she’d recovered from his intimate mark, Bran licked her slit. Twice. Three times, never quite reaching the top of her sex. His frustrated rumble vibrated across it. “Bend your knees and cant your hips so I can taste you.”

  It was one of the sexiest sights she’d seen, peering between her spread legs, watching Bran’s hungry mouth working her—lips, teeth, and that amazing tongue. She imagined his eyes were closed in ecstasy as he ate and sucked at her soft, wet folds.

  His hands moved from the outsides of her legs to the insides, his fingers holding her pussy open so she could feel every bit of his sensual blitz.

  Liquid excitement poured from her core. She caught a whiff of her own arousal and heard wet sucking sounds as Bran pleasured her. All those sensations, combined with the fierceness of his grip, increased her body’s urgency to hit that point where she flew apart.

  The spiral toward orgasm didn’t begin slowly; it spun inside her as fast and furious as a tornado. “Oh, God, Bran, please.”

  Somehow, despite the unusual angle of his head, Bran’s mouth fastened to her clit. When he sucked—ding ding ding! game over. She came hard and fast, digging her nails into the arms of the chair, throwing her head back, gasping his name. The man knew just how to send her soaring, and he did it without hesitation.

  She was still experiencing buzzing aftershocks when he released her throbbing clitoris and scrambled to his feet.

  His belt buckle rattled, the tines of his zipper made a quiet rasp, and his clothes rustled. The head of his cock prodded her entrance once and then he slammed inside fully, with enough force to move both her and the chair forward.

  “You feel so good, Harper. Every goddamn time.”

  Instead of holding her hips, Bran curled his hands around her shoulders, giving him the depth he needed with every powerful stroke. His pelvis pistoned lightning fast, matching the thundering in her pulse and his harsh, labored breaths. Each relentless thrust built on the next until he shoved deep and stayed there, grunting while hot spurts heated her channel as his cock jerked inside her. She squeezed those muscles and he swore a blue streak even as he groaned her name.

  He slumped across her back, exhaling into her hair, placing kisses across her shoulders where his fingers had dug in. She loved that Bran was so affectionate in the aftermath of explosive sex. She remained quiet, not wanting to ruin the moment.

  “Now I don’t wanna go back out there.” His breath teased the damp skin below her ear. “I wanna take you into my bedroom and lock the damn door for the rest of the day and all of the night. And all day and all night tomorrow too.”

  Harper turned to nuzzle the side of his head, trying not to read too much into his declaration. “How long does this shindig last?”

  “Usually the guys stick around the bonfire until the wee small hours. But I’m thinking tonight ... I might hurry them along a bit.”

  “Mmm. I like the sounds of that.”

  Pause. Then he murmured, “Harper, I—”

  The hallway creaked and the bathroom door slammed shut.

  Immediately Bran pulled out with a muttered curse as if he just realized they were screwing in his office where any partygoers could hear them. They hadn’t exactly been discreet. Or quiet.

  Normally she’d be the one worrying if people were standing outside listening, gossiping about her reckless behavior or comparing her to her mother. But right now, sated from an intense sexual encounter with a smokin’-hot man who couldn’t keep his hands off her, she had a hard time caring what anyone thought.

  The jangle of his belt broke the silence between them as he yanked up his jeans.

  While she was dissecting the situation, Bran helped her stand and straightened her dress. He kissed the back of her head, twice, with infinite sweetness.

  She could give her heart to this man. So easily.

  “Can you stay tonight after everyone leaves?” he whispered hotly against her throat. “Just you and me, Harper. Sitting by the fire, lookin’ at the stars.” His lips brushed her ear. “I’ll even make you s’mores, since I remember how much you used to love them.”

  Maybe it was too late. Maybe she hadn’t been careful enough. Because what she felt for him felt like a whole lot more than great sex.

  It felt like love.

  “What do you say?” he prompted with another sweet kiss.

  “I say yes.”

  Bran was pretty sure he had an extra swagger in his step when he returned to the party. Harper continually surprised him. He’d expected that she would kiss him crazily and play a little grab-ass before shooing him outside. But she’d given in to his demands. No, better yet—she’d given all of herself to him. Without boundaries. Without conditions. Without hesitation.

  He just wished they didn’t have to pretend that theirs was an employer/employee relationship. Oh, sure, he understood the reasons they were keeping their off-hours relationship on the down low, given Harper’s mother’s reputation in Muddy Gap and how hard she’d tried to rise above it. Sleeping with her boss—and, face it, no matter how they tried to spin it, Bran was Harper’s boss. But he would do anything to protect her. Everything about the woman kicked his protective instincts into overdrive.

  Still . . . he would love to exit the trailer holding her hand, hearing catcalls from his friends, seeing the knowing looks from the people in his life who mattered, who would know exactly what he and Harper had been doing for the last fifteen minutes. Instead, he had to settle for the secret knowledge of why her hair no longer looked so damn perfect while her taste lingered on his tongue.

  She fit in. She fit him. She was the first woman who ever had. Maybe the only woman who ever would. And wasn’t it just a kick in the nuts that she was leaving in three short weeks?

  Before that panicked feeling took hold and he did something stupid, he saw a big rig that he recognized as Renner Jackson’s pulling in, redirecting his attention.

  As soon as Renner ambled toward him, he couldn’t help but razz the man. “Typical stock contractor. Shows up when the work is done.”

  Renner thrust out his hand. “Sorry. Last-minute schedule change and the only one who could handle it was me, unfortunately. So—didja get ’em all branded?”

  “Yep. Had a great crew this year.”

  “Looks like it.”

  Strange. Renner almost seemed nervous. “Come on over. I’ll introduce you and find you a beer.”

  Once they were under the canopy, introductions done, and polite chitchat exchanged, Bran asked the question that was on everyone’s mind. “So, whatcha building up there, Renner? I ain’t the only one who’s wondering what your plans are.”

  Renner groaned. “This is why you invited me, wasn’t it? Ply me with beer and food and make me stare into the faces of all your neighbors and explain myself.”

  “Yep.”

  Laughter.

  “I’m sure that most of you noticed I put in a road and poured the concrete footings last fall for four separate structures. I had planned on spending all winter up here getting the framing done.”

  “What happened?”

  He sipped his beer. “Honestly? I ran out of money. As some of you know, I’m a stock contractor. We had a shit year, and the income I’d counted on from the livestock business, to start my building project, wasn’t there. So I had to suspend all construction until I found an investment partner. Which I have, thank God.”

  “What exactly are you building?” Fletch asked.

  “I’ll bet it’s a huntin’ lodge,” Ike said.

  “Of sorts. It’ll be more like
a . . . resort.”

  A chorus of male groans caused Renner to grin. “Hey, I’m lookin’ beyond just a hunting lodge. I want men to come and bring their women. So it’ll also have a spa.” He looked at Fletch. “Plus I’m hoping to move part of my stock operation up here and give the customers a taste of working on a ranch, in addition to hunting.”

  “I’m always ready for more work,” Fletch said.

  “How many locals are you hiring?” Abe asked.

  Renner got a funny look on his face. “A few. So go ahead and spread the word that I’m looking to hire locally, especially experts in the areas where I’m no expert.”

  “Which would be in what areas?”

  “All of ’em,” Renner said dryly.

  More laughter.

  Talk turned to whether he’d try to stock the area with wildlife for hunting parties. The downturn in the economy.

  Bran didn’t envy Renner the work he had cut out for him to get the place up and running, but he admired the guy for his honesty. He could’ve kept hedging until the building process was under way.

  “So, do you and your employees plan on living in Muddy Gap full-time?” Abe asked.

  Bran almost snorted. Yeah, right. Abe was interested in exactly one of Renner’s employees—Janie.

  “For the most part. I’ll still be traveling the rodeo circuit with the stock contracts I’ve lined up for the next few years. When I’m not on the road, I’ll be living here. As will a couple of my key employees.”

 
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