Saddled and spurred, p.25
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       Saddled and Spurred, p.25

         Part #2 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Beer was consumed. Stories told. Bullshit shared. Bran was having a great time, but that didn’t keep him from looking for Harper every time the trailer’s screen door banged.

  Such a sucker. You are so totally whipped over that woman.

  No lie. He had it bad.

  Dusk fell and the guys headed home, complaining of aches and pains. Comparing bruises. Branding was hard physical work. Not the branding part, but wrestling the calves to the ground and holding them for the branding iron. Bran had his fair share of bruises.

  With no hot young cowgirls, the younger guys had taken off, as had the families and Hank and Lainie. The last stragglers were Fletch, Abe, Eli, Ike, and Harper. Bran lit a bonfire anyway.

  But Harper wasn’t cuddled by his side. She’d taken it upon herself to put away all the leftover food and clean up. It wasn’t something a hired hand would do; it was what a wife would do.

  Wife. Right. Sex and beer were clouding his brain. Or maybe he’d taken a hoof to the head wrestling calves today.

  “That Renner guy seemed a decent sort,” Ike commented.

  “You’re just sayin’ that because you’re lookin’ to pick him up as a client,” Bran pointed out.

  “That is true. Hey, it’s a shitty economy all around—gotta search out new opportunities.”

  “No lie,” Fletch said. “I’ll be dropping my business card off as soon as I’m sure he ain’t gonna run outta cash again.”

  “You know, I was surprised he offered that up,” Abe said.

  “I wonder who he got to ante up for this resort.”

  “He did get a sour look on his face, like he wasn’t too keen on his new partner.”

  “I doubt it’s someone local. Probably some bigwig who’ll bring his buddies out here for hunting as an extra perk for bein’ the moneylender.”

  “Nothin’ worse than a bad partner, as I know firsthand,” Eli said. “I’m glad to be out of that situation. However, I too will be letting him know I can provide him with horses he might need for trail rides.”

  Silence fell. More beer was passed around. Insects buzzed on the periphery of the crackling fire. The spring chill set in.

  “Too bad Devin ain’t around. He could sing us a tune or two.”

  “Bastard would probably charge for entertaining us these days,” Abe grumbled.

  Much to everyone’s relief, Abe hadn’t reconciled with Nancy. He was almost back to being the old Abe, but oddly, he did have a harsher edge than before, and that worried Bran, but he wasn’t about to bring it up.

  “Well, guys, I’m whupped.” Fletch stood.

  “Me too.” Eli pushed to his feet.

  “I ain’t ready to go home,” Abe said. He looked at Ike. “You wanna hit Buckeye Joe’s and see if anything’s goin’ on?”

  “Sure. Ain’t like I gotta get up early and go to church.”

  More laughter.

  Bran wondered if Abe’s new fascination with Buckeye Joe’s had anything to do with his ex-wife’s interest in the place. According to Harper, Janie had become a regular—and she’d regularly called Harper to drink with her.

  Harper strolled out of the house after the guys left. Wrapped in a blanket, she stopped on the opposite side of the bonfire from where he sat.

  “Hey,” he said.

  “Hey.”

  “Thanks for cleaning up.” He finished his beer. “It was a ton of work. I appreciate it. You can put the hours on your time sheet, if you want.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “I didn’t show up today as your hired hand, Bran. I’m here as your . . .”

  Silence.

  “As my what?” he prompted.

  She sauntered forward. “As the woman who wants you to keep her warm.”

  Bran opened his arms. “Come here, my woman, and snuggle up on my lap.”

  A wide grin split her beautiful face and she practically ran to him. She sat facing the fire, nestling the back of her head into his neck and draping her legs outside his.

  He tucked the blanket around her. “Better?”

  “Mmm-hmm.”

  They watched the orange and yellow flames dancing up the long chunks of wood as the embers glowed red.

  After a bit, she sighed. “There’s just something mesmerizing about a bonfire, isn’t there?”

  There’s something mesmerizing about you.

  “Bran, I have a confession to make.”

  “Okay.”

  “I broke into your grandparents’ house today. Well, technically I didn’t break in because the door wasn’t locked, but Lainie and I got to talking, and we were both curious, so we just sort of . . . went in.”

  Any anger he expected didn’t surface. He didn’t say anything because he didn’t know what to say.

  “Are you mad?”

  He brushed his lips over her temple. “No. I guess I’m figuring you’re gonna chew me out for letting it sit empty.”

  “It is a cool house. Much bigger on the inside than I imagined. It would take a lot of money to get it updated, so I do understand why the repairs might seem daunting.”

  “But?”

  “But. It’s where you grew up. It just seems to be waiting for you.”

  “Waiting for me . . . how?”

  “Waiting for you to settle down and decide to make it your home again. Most people never have that kind of chance.”

  Such a sweet, romantic notion from a woman who defined practical. It made his heart ache to hear Harper’s sentimental side and realize how she longed for a home of her own. Once again he was at a loss for words. He couldn’t tell her about the strange mixed emotions she aroused in him, but he could show her. He kissed her temple and said, “Can you get up for a second?”

  “Oh, sorry. I’m probably giving you a cramp, sitting on your lap.” She scrambled off and almost planted her face in the bonfire.

  He snatched her back by grabbing her hips. “Steady, sweetheart.”

  “I think my legs fell asleep.”

  “I’ll wake ’em back up.” Bran quickly unbuckled his belt and dropped his jeans and his boxers to his knees. Then he sat again, grateful that he’d chosen a chair with lower arms. He slapped his bare thighs. “Okay. Now you can sit on my lap.”

  Harper whirled around, her eyes immediately zeroing in on his erection. “My, my. What a hard, hot poker you have there, Mr. Turner.”

  “All the better to stoke your fire with, baby.” He used the edges of the blanket to tug her closer. “Straddle me. I want to see your face bathed in firelight as I’m inside you.”

  Her eyes softened. She lowered herself onto his legs carefully.

  Bran lifted her dress out of the way and shifted his hips, sliding her forward. The head of his cock brushed the warm wetness at her center.

  Harper pressed into him, taking him inch by inch. Once his cock was buried fully, she closed her eyes and her head fell back.

  He hooked his finger into the front of her dress and tugged the material until her bra appeared. Another tug and her nipples poked out. His mouth opened over the pale peach tip and he sucked, loving the way the bud responded. Loving her surprised gasp and the not-so-subtle way she attempted to get him to take more of her delicious nipple into his mouth by arching her back.

  She pulled herself closer. With her hands on his shoulders, Harper gained extra leverage and did a twisty roll with her hips.

  “Keep doin’ that, sweetheart.” He returned his focus to her luscious tits. Man, he could not get enough of them. In his mouth. In his hands. Gliding his cock between them. Nuzzling this softest part of her drove them both crazy.

  “I thought you wanted to see my face by firelight,” she said softly. “Because you seem to be focused on my chest. Again.”

  Bran’s gaze snapped up and her nipple slipped from his mouth with a soft pop. “But I am looking at you. You’re beautiful, Harper. Just like I knew you’d be.” His fingertips stroked the delicate line of her collarbone. “Much too pretty for the likes of me.”

  She crushe
d her lips to his. Sucking his sanity right into her hungry mouth with a scorching yet playful kiss.

  The sweet, slow lovemaking didn’t vanish in a fresh burst of passion, but stayed on course as they moved together. Or in opposition. He couldn’t touch her enough. His hands shook as they trailed from her jaw to her neck to her shoulders to cup the heavy weight of her breasts in his palms.

  Harper curled her hands around his face and muttered, “And you’re much too smart for the likes of me.”

  He laughed.

  “I love to hear you laugh, Bran. You don’t do it often enough.”

  “You make me laugh. Maybe I should keep you around as comic relief.”

  She gave his forehead a slight head butt, which strangely enough reminded him of the way his goats showed affection to each other. “Maybe you should.”

  “Mmm. Grind your clit into me. Make yourself come. I wanna watch.”

  “I can make myself come a lot faster if I use my fingers.”

  “Show me.”

  She traced her index and middle finger across the seam of his lips. “Open. Get them wet.”

  He did.

  Then she slipped her hand between their bodies and stroked in time to the bumping of his hips.

  “That’s sexy as hell, Harper. Everything you do is sexy.” He latched his mouth onto the sweep of skin where her neck flowed into her chest and left little nibbling kisses.

  “More. God. More, please. I’m so . . . almost ...”

  Wet, juicy ripples seemed to draw his cock deeper into her cunt during her orgasm. Holding off was pointless. After he shot his load, he rested his head back and stared at the profusion of stars above them.

  But nothing beat the glow on Harper’s face after she’d floated back to earth.

  “Why the big smile, sweetheart?”

  “Because this was definitely better than s’mores.”

  Chapter Eighteen

  “I just don’t know what I’m going to do when you leave town, Harper,” Rose Smith confided.

  “I’m sure Bernice will find someone to take good care of her nail clients.” At least she hoped so. Max’s girlfriend, Nikki, had applied. She seemed a sweet girl—if a bit flaky—but she was genuinely interested in doing nails.

  “But anytime there’s a change, the prices go up.”

  Telling Rose everything would stay the same was a big fat lie, so Harper kept her mouth shut.

  “Getting my nails done is a luxury and I’d hate to give it up.”

  “After working your fingers to the bone on the ranch the last fifty years, I don’t know anyone who deserves pampering more than you, Rose.”

  “You’re such a sweet girl.”

  Harper braced herself for Rose’s gentle chiding. “Why aren’t you married?” But for once Rose didn’t voice her concern for Harper’s lack of marital happiness. She went off on another tangent about the perils of loving the wrong man.

  For some reason Harper thought of Bran.

  Which should serve as a warning—if Bran’s name was the first one that popped up when she thought of the perils of love. If she wasn’t careful, if she looked too deeply or read too much into his change in demeanor around her since the branding, she might believe he’d started to have feelings for her too.

  Too.

  Face it. You’re already past the point of no return with the sweet and raunchy cowboy.

  “. . . such a shame, really.”

  Harper refocused on her client. “Sorry, Rose, I missed what you said. Such a shame about what?”

  Rose went into a long-winded explanation about the marital woes of the youngest Benton girl, who’d recently turned forty. When Harper heard stories of infidelity and heartbreak, she wondered why anyone was so hot to get married. Especially when most unions ended in divorce. Not that she advocated her mother’s lifestyle or her screwed-up view of the world, but at least Dawn Masterson hadn’t compounded her mistakes by marrying any of the men who’d impregnated her.

  After Rose left and Harper was cleaning up her station she looked up when the doorbell chimed. Her heart did that swoopflip-roll thing at seeing Bran just inside the door.

  He seemed ill at ease amid all the “girly” stuff, so she met him halfway. “Hey. What brings you by? Need a manicure?”

  He snorted with disdain. “Like that’ll ever happen. I was on my way to get some stuff in Rawlins and wondered if you wanted to ride along.”

  “Stuff?” she repeated. “What kind of stuff?”

  “Ah, the usual . . . ranch stuff.”

  Silence.

  She couldn’t figure out if this impromptu trip was business or a personal errand. Part of her didn’t want to press him to define it, because she was happy to see him. Might make her a lovesick fool, but she missed the rugged cowboy during the hours she wasn’t working with him on the ranch. If his expression was any indication, questioning his motives would put him on the defensive. She smiled. “Sure. I could use a change of pace. You’ve got great timing—I just finished up and was about to close down.”

  “Need any help?”

  “No. But I do have to lock the back door.” Harper cut through the salon, first checking to make sure all the appliances were shut off in the back room. She slid the dead bolt and clicked the lock on the heavy steel door. When she turned around, Bran was right there.

  “I didn’t want to do this in full view of the windows, in case someone was peeking in.”

  “Do what?” she breathed.

  “This.” Bran sealed his mouth to hers.

  The kiss was warm and sweet. Thoroughly mind-blowing in a way that belied its tenderness. He didn’t touch her anywhere besides where their lips met, but Harper felt the kiss from head to toe, as if they were body to body, soul to soul, and completely naked. Lord have mercy—she’d fallen hard for this man.

  He eased back, gifting her with his devilish grin. “If we don’t go now, I’ll be mighty tempted to lock the front door and test out one of them spinning chairs.”

  Harper reached up and caressed his smooth face, ridiculously pleased that he’d shaved. Like this was a real date. “Your kisses make me dizzy enough that I don’t need a spinning chair.”

  “You tryin’ to charm me so you can get into my pants later?”

  “A girl can hope.” She smooched his smirking mouth. “Let’s go. I expect you’ll feed me in Rawlins so I can keep up my strength to seduce you.”

  “I’ll buy you the biggest steak in town.”

  Despite wearing a skirt, Harper slid next to Bran in his truck when he’d patted the empty middle space. Since she hadn’t dated much, and rarely cowboys even then, she’d never been the girl who’d scooted close to her honey in his big ol’ pickup truck and straddled the gearshift. At first she’d felt silly, but the hard muscle of Bran’s right leg pressing into hers and his strong arm across the back of the seat changed her mind. Everything about being with him, being this close to him, felt right.

  As soon as they hit the outskirts of Rawlins, Bran said, “We’ve got to stop at Runnings.”

  “What for?”

  “I need some new gloves.”

  So this had been an excuse to spend time with her off the ranch. She knew the man didn’t need gloves; he owned, like, twenty pairs. But she nodded and said, “I could use a new pair myself.”

  The ranch supply store’s parking lot was empty. Harper turned to ask Bran if it was closed, and again, he was right in her face, lips on lips, his mouth controlling hers. His hand slid up her leg beneath her skirt and he teased her sex through her satin panties. He kept kissing her, kept stroking her, until she forgot about everything but the taste, the touch, and the scent of this man.

  Bran pulled away. The look in his eyes was serious and seriously hot. “Harper, do you trust me?”

  “Umm. Why are you asking me that now?”

  “Just answer the question. Yes or no.”

 
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