Wrapped and strapped, p.25
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       Wrapped and Strapped, p.25

         Part #7 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  Hugh won.

  So he’d fucked her on the yoga mat, first with her hands and feet on the floor, her legs spread wide as he held onto her hips. Then he brought them onto their sides, him stretching out behind her, bringing her top leg over his and entering her from behind. Sucking and biting on the nape of her neck, nibbling on her ears, tweaking her nipples, grazing her clit with his callused thumb, turning her inside out as he slowly worked his cock in and out of her body. Every time she got close to coming . . . he’d stopped and whispered, “Gonna make you wait for it tonight, hippie-girl.”

  Her belly had done a slow roll when Hugh grabbed the nylon strap she used to assist in her yoga stretches. The cowboy “well versed in ropes” had his own idea how to utilize the strap. He’d tied it around her wrists and looped the ends beneath the leg of the chair. Then he’d wedged the foam block beneath her lower back, holding her hips up so he could bury his face in her pussy, watching her face as he ate her.

  And again, every time that tingle started, he’d back off.

  She’d loved seeing a different, more playful side of him. Then witnessing his shift from teasing man to intense lover. He’d dragged out the interlude until they were both sweaty. Needy. Desperate.

  Their explosive, mutual climax had left them both gasping. Shaking. Stunned. Once they’d found their way back from the orgasmic bliss, Hugh had picked her up and taken her to bed. Wrapping himself around her completely.

  “Harlow?”

  Hugh’s deep voice startled her back to the present. “What?”

  “What were you thinkin’ about so hard?”

  When she met his gaze, she knew he knew exactly where her thoughts had been. She smirked. “Taking a nap. I am tired.”

  He smirked back. “Rest up. You’ll need it for later.”

  “Plan on a repeat of last night?”

  “I’m thinkin’ on it. But next time we stop, darlin’, I’m putting you behind the wheel. Although I plan on doin’ all the driving, things happen and I need to know that you can take over if need be.”

  “All right. It’s probably easier than driving a bus.”

  That took him aback. “You’ve driven a bus before?”

  “In a dozen different countries on roads that were a serious stretch to even be called a goat path.”

  “Were you ever scared?”

  “Once. Along the cliffs in Bolivia. I puked as soon as everyone was off the bus. I’d been so afraid I’d plunge us into a ravine.” She popped open the top of her Camelbak water bottle. “But that wasn’t as scary as the time the military police pulled us over.” She shuddered. “It was bad enough being a passenger and having to press your face in the dirt while eighteen-year-old kids walked around with machine guns.”

  “Jesus, Harlow. Where did that happen?”

  “More than one place. Mexico, Cambodia and Armenia. And before you ask, I’ve lost track of the number of times it’s happened.”

  Hugh cracked open a Mountain Dew and took a couple of drinks before he spoke again. “How did you ever get started doin’ that kinda work?”

  “I’m sure you’re thinking it’s some rich-girl thing to alleviate my guilt for growing up privileged,” she shot back.

  He said nothing. Didn’t even take his eyes off the road to look in her direction.

  “Sorry.” Harlow blew out a breath. “You didn’t deserve that. I just get all sorts of nasty remarks and judgments from so many people who have no idea what they’re talking about. And for all the good I’ve done with the organizations I’ve worked with, the responses to me doing that kind of work are almost always negative. So yeah, I am overly sensitive.”

  He kept his eyes on the road when he reached for her hand. “I pride myself on not bein’ like most folks. And I wasn’t tryin’ to get your back up when I asked. I’m seriously interested in what makes my woman tick.”

  My woman. That gave her a secret thrill, so Harlow debated on whether to tell him something she’d never told anyone.

  “Anything you tell me stays only with me.”

  No one besides her therapist had ever made that promise to her. “This is a poor-little-rich-girl story. You know my mother died when I was two months old. We had a parade of nannies after that. Some were more memorable than others. I have a better recollection of Rosa, our maid, than anyone else from my childhood besides my sister.”

  Hugh smirked. “No wonder you speak Spanish so fluently.”

  “That’s probably part of it.” She paused. “How did you know I’m fluent?”

  “That first summer you worked at the Split Rock, I overheard you talking to some guests. On more than one occasion. I imagine you have to be at least bilingual to do what you do.”

  “It helps. I know a smattering of other languages, enough to get me by anyway.”

  “Back to the story,” Hugh prompted.

  “My dad worked all the time. So we were raised by strangers. I had Tierney and that’s all that mattered to me. We lived in this huge apartment. Tierney and I had our own rooms, and each bedroom had a playroom and a bathroom. I remember I didn’t like being away from my big sister, the one familiar, constant person in my life. We’d stay in her room one night. And mine the next. Sometimes we’d set up a tent in one of the playrooms and pretend we were camping. She was the greatest.

  “One night during the week, our dad was home for dinner. It was such a rarity I remember Tierney being really nervous. And there was a strange woman at the table with Dad. Tierney immediately didn’t like her. She said her smile was as fake as her hair color. Barbara had worn a slinky cocktail dress, not exactly appropriate for dinner with children. That was our single introduction to Dad marrying her. She didn’t try to be our stepmother. In fact we called her Barbara. The first indication that she was a horrible person was when she fired Rosa. Then she got rid of Beedie.”

  “Who was Beedie?”

  “He was like a butler. He drove us places. Carted groceries in. Helped Rosa.” Harlow shot him a look. “Rosa was Mexican. Beedie was black. As soon as Barbara moved in, she hired a white staff. Not only was she racist—she hated homosexuals, and anyone who practiced a religion besides Christianity. And then we learned the hard way that she hated children.” She took a drink of water. “She convinced my dad to send Tierney away to boarding school.”

  “Shit.”

  “After Tierney left, I was inconsolable. I threw such a tantrum that my dad came home during the day—which was unheard of—in an attempt to calm me. I heard him tell Barbara that it was a mistake to send Tierney away. But that conniving bitch convinced him otherwise. Then after Dad left, she took me into my room and had a little chat with me. She said if I didn’t quit being such a spoiled, whiny brat, she’d personally see to it I never saw my sister again.”

  “And you believed her?”

  “I was five years old, Hugh. Of course I believed her. If there weren’t age restrictions, Barbara would’ve shipped me off to boarding school too. With Tierney gone, I had no one.” She gritted her teeth and admitted her private shame. “Within a year I’d imprinted my father’s wife on my personality. I watched her. I asked to dress like her. I mimicked her way of dealing with people. I craved attention from her. My father thought it was cute that I wanted to be like her.”

  “Until?”

  “Until I succeeded in being as nasty and awful as she was. I was a perfect little sponge that absorbed her racism and her disparagement of the working class. Being like Barbara didn’t make her like me more or act any more like the mother figure I craved. Then Tierney stopped coming home—evidently she’d taken a page from my father’s book, because he rarely came home either.” She paused for another drink. “This story has a point, I promise.”

  Hugh brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles. “It’s all good, sweetheart. Keep talkin’.”

  “I started to change when Tierney refused to have a Sweet Sixteen birthday party. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to be the center of att
ention, wearing a dress fit for a princess and being the envy of everyone. She told me she didn’t have time for such trivialities. I knew she was a total brainiac, but I didn’t know she’d started taking college classes that year. I asked her why and she said one day she would take over PFG and make it more successful than ever. Again, I didn’t see why she’d set that goal. Wouldn’t she rather be pretty and fashionable than smart and driven?”

  “I can just imagine the look on her face when you said that,” Hugh drawled.

  “Then two things happened. My dad divorced Barbara and I was alone again, trying to figure out who I was. After school one day I was walking with some of my friends when we came across a homeless man. They stood in front of him, taunting him, saying the most horrific things. Normally I would’ve been chiming in, but when the guy looked at me, I swore it was Beedie. I bent down to talk to him and my friends took off, leaving me alone with a homeless guy. By then I realized he wasn’t Beedie, but it had taken its emotional toll on me. I wondered if Beedie ended up homeless after Barbara fired him.

  “I asked my dad and he didn’t know or care. So I started watching the other people in my life and I quickly realized they didn’t care either. And I hated it. I hated Barbara. I didn’t want to be like her. I made a choice to change my life, who I was and who I wanted to be.”

  “How old were you?”

  “Thirteen.”

  He whistled. “So young to have such a revelation. At that age I was still wearin’ Batman pajamas. My biggest goal was convincing my parents to buy me a puppy.”

  “A puppy figures into this poor-little-rich-girl tale of woe too,” she said dryly. “After seeing the homeless guy, I started paying attention to my surroundings. About two months later I literally stumbled over a box of puppies.”

  “No way. You’re pullin’ my leg now.”

  “No, I swear it’s true. I picked up the entire box, not knowing what to do with them. I couldn’t leave the pups in the cold to starve. I must’ve looked suspicious because a beat cop stopped me. When she saw what I had, she called a squad car to pick me up. We ended up at an animal shelter.” She closed her eyes. The images of those animals packed in cages and crying out for attention still turned her stomach. “Long story short, they needed volunteers. So I took the form home and filled it out. But I knew my dad wouldn’t sign it. So I forged his signature.”

  “Rebel girl.”

  “It wasn’t like I was racking up charges on his credit card. It was for a good cause. That’s how I justified it. Anyway, volunteering made me feel good about myself. People relied on me. I learned volunteers are in short supply everywhere. So I found a couple of other causes to support with my free time.”

  Hugh opened his mouth. Then closed it.

  “What?”

  “Did you support them with money?”

  She shook her head. “That came later. I had limited access to the trust funds that’d been set up for me. And since you haven’t asked, but I know you’re curious as to why, that’s also when I became a vegetarian.”

  “Any specific reason?”

  “We had to dissect fetal pigs, fish and frogs in biology class and it grossed me out. The shelter wasn’t a ‘no kill’ shelter at the time and I hated knowing the animals were going to die. The smell of cooking meat started to make me sick, so I quit eating red meat, pork, chicken and fish.”

  “How long have you been all about the veggies?”

  “Sixteen years. I’ll admit it’s a lot easier now to be vegetarian than it was as a teen.” She swallowed another mouthful of water. “Sorry if I’m boring you and you’re rethinking taking me on the road with you.”

  “Darlin’, you’re about as far from boring as it gets. And I feel guilty because I oughta know this stuff about you and I don’t.”

  “You know more than most. I think it’s time I hear the Hugh Pritchett life story.”

  “Only if you wanna be put to sleep.”

  Harlow gave him a sultry look. “The last thing I want to do when I get in bed with you is sleep.”

  “I’ll drive off the road if you start me thinking about us bein’ in bed together.” He playfully nipped her fingers. “Gonna be tight quarters back there. You’re all right with that?”

  “It’s enclosed and I won’t be fighting bugs and reptiles trying to crawl in with me, so yeah.” She yawned. “Maybe I will take that nap after all.”

  *

  Hugh hit the brakes harder than he’d intended and Harlow jerked forward.

  “Sorry for the abrupt end to your nap. My depth perception got screwy there for a second.”

  Harlow stretched forward and squinted at the dashboard clock. “I didn’t mean to sleep that long.”

  “You must’ve needed it,” he murmured. While she’d slept, her head resting on the console between them, Hugh’s emotions had run the gamut from shame to pride. Shame for the assumptions he’d made about Harlow and the dismissive way he’d treated her when she first worked at the Split Rock. Pride for all the brave, stupid, amazing, heartbreaking things Harlow had done with her life so far.

  Never once in the retelling had she bragged, not even in that self-deprecating style that was annoying as fuck. She’d just laid it out, where she’d been and why. Except Harlow never used the singular “I” when talking about the trips she’d taken. It’d always been “we.”

  And she hadn’t painted a rosy picture of every experience either. She’d been brutally honest about the times she’d feared for her life and about places she’d never return. He’d found it intriguing that she’d kept politics out of her decisions on where to volunteer her time. Yet, he’d felt her frustration when she spoke of choosing to play political games in order to achieve humanitarian goals.

  “What was that noise?” she asked.

  “What noise?”

  “The one you just made in the back of your throat that sounded like a growl.”

  “That’s because it was a growl. But it wasn’t in my throat, darlin’—it was coming from my stomach. I’m starved.”

  “That’s your own fault. I cannot believe you’d embark on a two-week trip and neglect to pack even a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.”

  “I know.” He squeezed the steering wheel. “I knew I’d forgotten to do something, and it didn’t hit me until you started asking about food that I’m an idiot. A hungry idiot.”

  “I’m happy to share what I brought. But I doubt it’ll tide a big guy like you over for long.”

  “You’re so sweet, woman. Thank you.”

  “Where are we?”

  “Headed toward two empty pastures that are owned by one of Ike’s old clients. We’ll dump the bulls in one pasture, the horses in the other. Let ’em stretch their legs. I’ll warn ya. We’ll be out in the middle of the field, miles away from the house, so there won’t be an electrical hookup.”

  “That sucks. There goes my plan to blow-dry my hair while I’m waiting for my microwave popcorn to finish popping.”

  He laughed.

  Her fingers skated up his forearm.

  Immediately tingling gooseflesh shot up his arm and down his side. Hugh felt her staring at him and briefly took his eyes off the gravel road. “What?”

  “You laugh more.” He knew she hadn’t said it to make him self-conscious when she added, “I like it. It seems more . . . you.”

  “I laugh more around you because you say some funny shit.”

  “And that’s the only reason?”

  A pause hung in the air.

  Dammit. He should’ve said what he really felt and not made her ask for clarification. “No, that’s not the only reason. I’m happy around you, Harlow. For so long I feel like I’ve been holding my breath, waiting to get sucked back under to that dark place. When I’m with you, I see light. I feel like I can breathe again.”

  He heard her seat belt unclick. Then her warm lips grazed his ear. “That is the best thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.”

  Any additio
nal response would be inadequate, so he merely smiled.

  Hugh put the truck in park and killed the engine. He unbuckled and turned to root around in the back of the cab until he found what he needed. “Don’t say I never gave you nothin’,” he joked.

  The amber-colored dashboard lights sent a soft glow across Harlow’s face. “What is it?”

  “A headband with a headlamp. You’ll be using it a lot, since we’ll be moving stock at night. There’s never any guarantee there’ll be yard lights on at the rodeo grounds.”

  She pulled the Velcro straps apart and settled the headlamp in the center of her forehead before reattaching the straps. Then she gestured to his headband. “So, cowboy, you wear that over your hat?”

  “Nope.” He removed his cowboy hat and set it brim up in the backseat. He slid the headband down, letting it dangle beneath his chin. “Let’s get Ike unloaded.”

  Hugh waited for her in front of the truck, gauging how far the truck’s headlights reached and whether he should crank them to high.

  Next thing he knew, Harlow had invaded his space completely. “Look at you. Sexy beard, faded flannel shirt, ripped jeans, scuffed boots and a look of concentration. If the headlamp was a pair of goggles, you could pass for a hipster master brewer, out searching for the perfect organic hops for your heirloom beer recipe.”

  He laughed at her assessment as Ike ambled over to them. “Glad someone is havin’ fun. What’s the plan?”

  “Pull into the pasture, unload and check the water supply. Repeat with trailer number two.”

  “You manning the gate?” Ike said to Harlow.

  “Yes. I just need to make sure there are no gate-crashers, right?”

  “Right.”

  The gate was a bunch of old wooden posts strung together with barbed
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