Hang tough, p.27
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       Hang Tough, p.27

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  transporter. How are you, Riss?”

  “I’m jealous my buddy Jade can ride the cannon you’re packing in your pants anytime she wants.”

  Silence.

  Jade couldn’t look at Tobin.

  And she sort of wanted to kill Riss.

  Then Tobin laughed. “Your loss, darlin’.”

  “Congrats for hitting the genetic lottery.” She held her fist for Tobin to bump—which he obliged. Riss laughed. “I think Jade wants to crawl under the table right about now.”

  “Or smack you with the chair like on World Federation Wrestling,” she grumbled.

  “Tobin understands that as my new BFF, you and me are sharing some stuff.”

  “A minimal amount of the naked stuff,” Tobin warned Jade.

  “No worries. She didn’t go into detail.” Riss started down the steps and blew Jade a kiss. “I’ll call you later in the week.”

  Jade didn’t look at Tobin until Riss was in her van. “Are you mad that I had girl-time sex chat?”

  “I guess it’s better that you told Riss that I have a big dick, than I am a big dick.” He grinned at her. “Go upstairs. Get naked. I’ll be right up.”

  “Are you going to punish me?”

  “Nope. I’m gonna reward you.”

  “For what?”

  He lifted an eyebrow. “I need a reason? Fine. It’s Tuesday.”

  “That works for me.”

  Chapter Twenty-one

  “You sure you don’t mind going along with me?”

  Tobin took Jade’s hand. “They just want to meet you in an informal setting.” He kissed her knuckles. “It’ll be fine.”

  “Will I have to buy a uniform?”

  He frowned. “Uniform? We don’t wear uniforms.”

  “But you do wear chaps and spurs, right? I never get to see you in those. I imagine the cutout in the back frames your tight little butt and the front accentuates that delicious meat club.”

  “Jesus, Jade.”

  “You’re blushing. You’re so cute when you blush. Pull the truck over and let’s have a quickie.”

  His tiger was nervous. With him she’d babble from nerves, but the second she was in a group of strangers she’d clam up completely. “No quickie for us. But I appreciate the offer.” He kissed the back of her hand. “You want to work here. It means we get to be together, remember?”

  Jade reached over and stroked his cheek. “How could I forget?”

  “You happy?”

  “With you? Very.”

  At the main entrance to the Split Rock, Tobin downshifted and they bumped into the parking lot.

  “How long will this take?”

  “Not long. I assume most people brought their kids. They tend to get a little wild.” Especially Janie and Abe’s boys. Those two were hell on wheels.

  Dust blew up around them as they crossed the parking lot. Tobin had gone with his usual boots and jeans, but opted for a short-sleeved shirt and his dress hat. He shot a look at Jade out of the corner of his eye. She’d worn a red and white floral sundress with white sandals.

  “You’re sneaking looks at me. Am I underdressed or overdressed for this job interview?”

  “It’s not an interview, tiger. You’ve got the job so stop worrying.”

  On the top stair, Tobin curled his fingers around the side of her neck and stroked the edge of her jaw with his thumb. “I’m so fucking proud of the fact you’re my girlfriend.”

  “You are?”

  “You’re beautiful, smart, talented, a tiger in bed and you make me laugh. Every day I learn more about you and I like it. I like you. Hell, I love you.”

  She sucked in a quick breath. “What?”

  “I’m not good at playing my cards close to the vest, am I? I want you to know before we walk in there . . . if you get overwhelmed, look at me. And imagine that’s how I feel every time I look at you. I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

  “That is so getting you laid later,” she whispered. Then she placed her hand on his wrist and pulled him in for a kiss. An achingly sweet kiss.

  The door banged open behind them. Tobin expected someone to yell, Get a room! but a small body smacked into their legs.

  Looking down, he said, “Hey, Tyler, watch it, okay, little man?”

  Tyler’s hands were on his hips and he tilted his head back to peer at Jade. “Do you know kung fu?” he demanded. “’Cause I do.” With a loud hi-yah! he spun and karate chopped the boy behind him in the head.

  But Bran’s son didn’t pull any punches. Tate never said a word; he never looked away. He just socked Tyler in the stomach with all his might.

  Tyler doubled over.

  Jade started to bend down to help, but Tobin tugged her away, inside the lodge.

  “Trust me. You’re better off just letting it go. Last time I got between them? I ended up with a damn black eye. From a fucking four-year-old.”

  She snickered. “Those kids are just allowed to run wild?”

  “I could lie and say no, but the truth is . . . their parents own the business so they’re around a lot. You want me to give you a tour?”

  “I’m pretty sure I need a drink first.”

  Tobin ran his palm up the outside of her arm. “Still nervous?”

  “Not as much as I was, now that I know you’re in lurrrve with me.” Jade snaked her arms around his neck. “I need a good-luck kiss.”

  He sensed her nerves leveling out at the touch of his lips to hers.

  “I’ve gotten better at kissing you when you’re wearing your cowboy hat.”

  “It’s like I told you. It just takes practice.” Tobin gave her one last smooch and stepped back. He looked up to see they had an audience. Great.

  Renner, cradling his sleeping son, Rhett.

  Plus Abe with his youngest son, Dylan, slumped over his shoulder. And Fletch, who also held his sleeping son, Gus.

  All three men were grinning at him.

  “Hey, guys. What’s up? Did your wives send you to the naughty corner already?”

  “This is a far sight better than wranglin’ the kids that ain’t asleep,” Renner said.

  “Which is most of ’em,” Abe said dryly.

  “Yeah, we ran into Tyler out front. Or rather, he ran into us.”

  “Runnin’ from Tate or chasin’ him?” Abe asked.

  “Couldn’t tell as they were hitting one another,” Tobin said.

  Abe sighed. “His mama is supposed to be watching him.”

  When Tobin saw Abe staring at Jade expectantly he said, “This is my girlfriend, Jade Evans. She’s Garnet’s granddaughter. Jade, this is Abe Lawson. His wife, Janie, is the Split Rock GM—technically your new boss—and they’re the parents of the karate chopper we met out front.”

  “Nice to meet you,” Jade said. “I won’t shake your hand as it appears yours are full.” Then she looked at Renner and smiled. “Good to see you, Renner. What’s your son’s name?”

  “Rhett. We’re mighty glad you’re comin’ to work here.”

  Fletch was a big enough guy he could juggle a sleeping toddler and a horse. He offered Jade his hand and an enormous grin. “Well, well. Tobin’s girlfriend. I’m very happy to meet you, Jade. I get a huge kick outta your grandma.”

  “I’m afraid I’m not nearly as entertaining as she is,” Jade said.

  “Sugar, no one is.”

  “I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

  “Sorry. I’m August Fletcher—you can call me Fletch. The little guy is Gus. I’m a veterinarian so me’n Tobin work together a lot.”

  “Is Tanna here?” Tobin asked.

  Fletch shook his head. “She’s got a touch of morning sickness again. My dad fusses over her like a mother hen, so he’s with her. But she sent me with very clear instructions, Tobin; you are to bring your girlfriend by sooner rather than later.”

  “Go ahead and tell her I saluted.”

  Everyone laughed.

  “So am I good to take Jade inside? Or did y
ou all wanna gawk at my beautiful girlfriend before she’s officially on the Split Rock payroll?”

  Jade groaned and turned her face into Tobin’s arm.

  “She’s a damn sight prettier than you,” Fletch said. “Tell you what. Leave her here with us. We’ll take good care of her.”

  “Fuck that.” Tobin steered Jade inside the entrance and across the main room to the bar and dining area.

  “Do they always give you that much crap?”

  “In the way only friends can do and not get punched.” Tobin headed to the bar and stepped behind it. “It’s serve yourself, so what’re you drinking?”

  “I’ll just have a Coke.”

  Tobin loaded a glass with ice, filled it with soda and dropped two cherries in the top. “Here you go.”

  “Nice touch.”

  “I thought an umbrella might be over the top.” He popped the top on a Budweiser. “Let’s make the rounds.”

  The first person they ran into was Tierney. And she jumped right in. “Hi. Jade, right? I’m Tierney Jackson. I do the finances around here and some other stuff.”

  “Nice to meet you. I saw your darling son with Renner.”

  Tierney beamed. “He is a doll. Our daughter Isabelle is running around someplace. I wanted to say welcome and if you need anything, just swing by my office. Garnet is family. And you are too.” She shot Tobin a soft look. “Doubly so now.”

  “Thanks.”

  A child’s bloodcurdling scream echoed across the space and Jade jumped.

  Tierney sighed. “I never thought I’d get used to that, but I am now.”

  Tobin watched as Isabelle raced in and tried to hide in front of her mother.

  But Tierney neatly stepped aside.

  A sweaty boy, covered in mud, stalked closer to them.

  Harper, a chubby baby boy on her hip, shouted, “Jake Turner. You stop right there.”

  He spun around.

  “Oh good lord, you were not raised in a barn! Why on earth would you think it’s okay to track mud across the lodge carpeting? Get out on the patio. Sit there and wait.”

  He shuffled off.

  Isa giggled. Too late she clapped her hand over her mouth when her mother heard it.

  “And you can sit on the bench outside my office, Isabelle Jackson. I’ll send your father to get you when it’s time but you’d better not move.”

  Tobin looked at Jade, who watched the interplay like a tennis match.

  Harper sauntered over. “Sorry. It’s usually not like this.”

  “Yes it is,” Tobin mock-whispered to Jade.

  “I’m Harper. We met briefly at Bernice’s a few weeks back.”

  “Oh. Yes. Nice to see you again.”

  Harper hoisted her baby higher on her hip. “This is Gage. The youngest of my three boys. The only one not covered in mud, or blood, but I sorta smell something worse.”

  Tobin stepped back.

  She laughed. “Just you wait, buster. Bran was grossed out too, changing diapers with kid number one. Which boggles my mind because the man regularly sticks his entire arm up a cow’s—”

  “She gets it, Harper,” Tierney said. “Don’t forget Tobin often has his arm up there too.”

  “Great, ladies. Thanks.”

  Just then Janie Lawson came in from outside, her hand clamped around her son Tyler’s upper arm. “You are grounded from watching TV. You do not karate chop people, do you hear me? Especially not your friends. You’re lucky that Bran stepped in before Tate throttled you.” Janie stopped. “Oh. Hey. Sorry. Just having a special little one-on-one time with my son.”

  “Janie, meet my girlfriend, Jade. Jade, Janie Lawson is the big boss here at the Split Rock.”

  “She’s the boss at work but Daddy’s the boss at home,” Tyler announced.

  Such a precocious little shit.

  “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Lawson,” Jade said.

  “Trust me, the pleasure is mine. Welcome to the Split Rock family. Please, call me Janie. Do you have any questions?”

  “About a million.”

  “The job is pretty straightforward. Dodie is in charge of the kitchen and she’ll set the schedule. If there’s a personal issue, come to me or Renner. If we have an employment issue, we’ll come to you. That’s rare, trust me.”

  “Does the kitchen staff wear uniforms?” Jade asked.

  “Mama, watch this,” Tyler said.

  “Not now, honey, I’m talking.” She looked at Jade. “Did you wear uniforms in New York?”

  “Yes. Not that I brought them with me. But prep cooks wore white. Line cooks wore black.”

  “You can wear whatever you’re comfortable in.”

  “All right. Then I’ll have my parents send my prep uniforms.”

  “So you’re both living in Garnet’s house?” Janie asked. “And she just left the two of you alone for three weeks?”

  Jade blinked at the abrupt change in topic.

  “Mama, I said watch!” Just then Tyler Lawson attempted to do a karate kick, and the toe of his boot connected with Jade’s shin as he uttered a loud, “Hi-yah!”

  Startled, Jade dropped her glass and it shattered on the floor.

  When she leaned down to pick up the broken glass, Tobin didn’t hear Janie yelling or Tyler crying—all he saw was Jade draw her hand back really fast and then blood dripping onto the tile.

  She said, “Shit.”

  She never swore.

  He wrapped his fingers around her right wrist and brought her hand up so he could get a better look. He winced. “Baby. Your fingers are bleeding.”

  “It’s okay, Tobin. It’s my—”

  “No, it’s not goddamned okay. You sliced your fingers and you’re supposed to audition in Casper this week. What if there are shards of glass embedded in the pads of your fingers? We’ve gotta get this cleaned up right now.” He slipped his arm beneath her knees, lifted and carried her into the kitchen since it was closer than the restroom.

  He set her on the counter by the sink and flipped on the cold water.

  “Tobin.”

  “Let me do this for you.” He held her hand under the stream of water. A little pinkish water swirled down the drain but not much. “Does it hurt?

  “No.”

  “Good.” He cast his hat aside so he could press his forehead to hers. “Your first day you’re attacked by ‘Children of the Corn.’”

  Jade laughed. “‘Children of the Corn’?”

  “I figured calling him ‘Chucky’ might be a little extreme.”

  “I don’t think ‘Chucky’ did it maliciously. He’s just excitable and like any boy wants to show off his mad skills. Besides, I’m the dumb one who reached for the glass.” She nudged him. “You’ve sufficiently numbed the cut. Thank you.”

 
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