Hang tough, p.3
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       Hang Tough, p.3

         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  touching. Mr. Rugged Sexy-Eyed Cowboy needed to know that he didn’t intimidate her.

  “I’m GG’s only granddaughter, Jade Evans. I can see by your confusion that I wasn’t what you expected, so let me clear it up for you. Yes, I was adopted as a baby, but that doesn’t mean—”

  “Whoa, there, tiger. I wasn’t questioning your parentage. And since I haven’t seen pictures of you or your parents—ever—anywhere in this house, let alone seen any of you bother to step foot in Wyoming, I had no preconceived ideas about you.”

  Not the answer she’d been expecting. But he had managed to get in a dig about her family anyway.

  “Now, now, no fighting. No need to get indigestion before we eat lunch, is there?”

  Jade watched a sweet smile bloom across the man’s face as he looked at GG.

  “If you’re truly making liverwurst sandwiches, Miz G, I’ll guarantee indigestion.”

  “Oh, you.” GG flapped her hand at him. “I know you hate it, so of course that’s not on the menu for today.”

  The way he pandered to GG ticked Jade off. “Excuse me, but I didn’t catch your name.”

  That aquamarine-colored gaze winged back to her. “Tobin Hale.”

  “Tobin Hale,” she repeated. “Is that one name? Like Billy Bob?”

  He raised an eyebrow. “You’re making a lot of assumptions about me, for us just meeting, Jade.”

  She smiled at him. “Assumptions about you, Tobin Hale, are exactly why I’m in Wyoming.” She faced her grandma. “Since this is the first time I’ve been here, can you show me around after lunch?”

  “I’d love that. Let’s go inside. This bickering between you two is eating into Tobin’s lunch hour. He needs to get back to work.”

  Tobin pushed open the screen door and held it for them. “No need to rush now, Miz G. I believe I’ll take the rest of the afternoon off so I can help you show Jade around.”

  More like show me over the edge of a cliff, she thought.

  The interior of the house was as whimsical as Jade had imagined. The kitchen with its bloodred walls, crisp white cabinetry, dark gray countertops and wide-planked floor had a warm, welcoming country kitchen vibe. On the antique sideboard Jade noticed stacks of jelly jars. “GG, are those your strawberry champagne preserves?”

  “You remembered! I put up a big batch.”

  “I finished the last jar you gave me just this week.”

  “This is the primo stuff. Better ingredients and all that. I’ll hook you up with a case.”

  Jade felt Tobin studying her so she met his gaze head-on.

  “I’ll even load it in your car before I send you on your merry way,” Tobin said helpfully.

  Back where you belong, went unsaid.

  “Tobin, dear, would you get out the plates?”

  “Sure, Miz G.”

  “Jade, be a doll and grab the milk out of the fridge.”

  “GG, I haven’t had milk with lunch for years.”

  “The milk is for Tobin.” GG squeezed his biceps. “How do you think he got so big and strong?”

  “I assumed from lifting cows or whatever.”

  Tobin laughed. “Well, darlin’, I’ll take that assumption as a compliment that you think I’m capable of lifting a twelve-hundred-pound cow by myself.”

  GG snickered. “You’re gonna get quite the education, girlie, on life in the West. I guarantee it’s nothing you learned at Columbia.”

  Blushing, Jade grabbed the milk out of the fridge and set it on the table.

  Tobin carried two plates, one loaded with sandwiches, the other with fruit, and parked himself between Jade and her grandmother.

  Not a subtle move at all.

  GG set a glass in front of each plate and passed out Hello Kitty napkins. “No liverwurst on the sandwiches, just turkey, ham, roast beef and salami.” She patted Tobin’s muscled forearm. “I eat more meat when you’re around.”

  “The food is just an extra bonus for living here with you,” Tobin said.

  So . . . was this where she just jumped in and asked why Tobin was living here? Or did she let the conversation develop naturally? Jade had zero stealth skills. She’d never needed any. Thinking back to all the episodes of Veronica Mars she’d watched where the sleuth tricked suspects into spilling their guts without much effort . . . well, she was drawing a blank on that technique.

  “Are you havin’ a sandwich? Or are you some kind of vegetarian?” Tobin asked.

  Jade blinked, noticing he held the plate of sandwiches in front of her. “Now who’s making assumptions? No, I’m not vegetarian. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”

  “Agreed. It ain’t my business how folks choose to live their lives.” His eyes gleamed. “In fact, I find it disturbing when people who haven’t got the first clue about a person’s life presume to horn in and take over.”

  And it looked like the gloves just came off.

  Good.

  Before Jade responded, GG pushed back from the table. “Shoot. I left my pills in my room. Gotta remember to take them with lunch.” She quickly vanished through the swinging doors.

  Tobin leaned close enough she could see the golden hair mixed in with the darker scruff on his face. “You might as well get in your car and hightail it back to New York City and tell your daddy that he won’t succeed in throwing Garnet out of her house. I won’t let that happen.”

  “Why are you here, Tobin? Exactly what kind of . . . relationship do you have with my grandmother?”

  “You watch yourself,” he warned. “I have nothin’ but the utmost respect for Miz G, and that is why I will not let her family—a family that’s never been here to visit even one time in the years I’ve known Garnet—think they have the right to enforce any kind of decision on her. Your father does not know what’s best for her and neither do you.”

  “And you do?” Jade asked him with a sneer that matched his.

  “Damn straight. I’m here to ensure that a moving van doesn’t pull up and start dismantling Garnet’s life piece by piece as she stands by helplessly and watches them haul it away.” He shook his head. “Not happening to her on my watch.”

  Jade started to correct his assumption about the sudden appearance of moving vans as paranoid speculation on GG’s part, but she decided to let his mistaken judgment ride and see where it led. “She’s out here in the middle of nowhere—”

  “That is a lame argument. She’s been fine living on her own here for years.”

  “Because she’s heavily armed?” she retorted. “Lately she’s been exhibiting the type of behavior that forces us to question her ability to make sound decisions.” She took a breath. “You think it’s fine for her to shoot off guns in a public venue? It’s fine for her to get arrested and spend the night in jail? It’s fine to spend twenty thousand dollars on champagne? Or on—”

  “It’s her damn money,” he said irritably. “If she wants to drop that kinda cash on bubbly, it’s not your father’s concern or yours.”

  “But it is my concern how much she’s paying you for ‘protection services.’ I highly doubt you’re doing it out of the kindness of your heart.”

  “You don’t know a thing about me. But here’s a hint. I’m stubborn as fuck. And you just showing up here out of the blue proves my point about there bein’ way more at play than Garnet making a couple of bad decisions when she’s defending her best pals.” Tobin pointed to the door. “That woman is selfless and nobody is taking advantage of her for that. Especially not her family who think they can lay down the law for her from thirty-five hundred miles away.”

  “Happily, I’m not that far away anymore. I’ll be living here for as long as it takes to get a feel for what she needs.”

  Tobin eased back. “You know what Garnet needs? Honesty. Don’t play off your sudden appearance like you got a wild hair up your ass to leave your fancy city lifestyle so you could experience the modern-day West. You’ll hurt her if you allow her to believe you give a shit about her life in W
yoming.”

  Jade felt her cheeks heat. “I would never hurt her.”

  “You don’t think not knowing anything about her life or her community doesn’t hurt her? As you so annoyingly pointed out first fucking thing, you are her only grandchild. So how come I’ve never seen a picture of you?”

  The blush spread from her face to heat her neck and her chest. “I don’t know.”

  GG sailed back into the kitchen. “Aw. You two didn’t have to wait for me to eat. You should’ve just dug right in.”

  He got plenty of digs in, all right.

  Jade watched as Tobin turned and smiled at GG. “I’ll sort through those tools in the shed and see if I can’t find that missing bit. You enjoy lunch with your granddaughter. I’m sure you two have a lot to catch up on.”

  “Aren’t you gonna eat? I know you’re starved, young man. You told me so yourself.”

  He grabbed a sandwich off the table. “It’ll be a working lunch, same as always.” He locked his gaze to Jade’s. “But don’t you worry. I’m not going anywhere.”

  Chapter Three

  Tobin didn’t even taste a single bite of his sandwich after he stormed out of Garnet’s kitchen.

  He crossed the yard and headed straight for the machine shed. He threw his shoulder into the wooden door because it always stuck—not because he was pissed off.

  But he was pissed off.

  After slamming the door behind him, he didn’t bother with the light. He didn’t need anything out here; he just figured it was a place where neither Garnet nor her granddaughter would follow him.

  Her annoying, pain-in-the-ass, argumentative granddaughter.

  Her goddamned beautiful granddaughter.

  Holy hell the woman was the most stunningly exotic beauty he’d ever laid eyes on. The round face with those almond-shaped smoky-topaz eyes. The warm caramel hue of her skin, her full mouth that almost distracted from the tip of her stubborn chin. And that hair. Glossy black that fell in a straight line below her shoulder blades. She was small—he topped her by at least a foot, but she had some delectable curves.

  By god the woman had some balls showing up here and accusing him of having ulterior motives. Maybe he did; he refused to let an adult woman be railroaded into life changes that would put her in an early grave. Yanking her away from her home and her friends . . . everything that made Garnet vibrant would wither away with no one around to appreciate it. He’d never doubted that’s why she donned such outrageous getups. It got a reaction. It got people outside her normal circle talking to her. Or rather, Garnet talking to them.

  He’d taken her to the farm and ranch supply store in Rawlins about six months after they’d become friends. He’d gone to get his supplies, which took ten minutes, and in that time he’d lost track of Garnet. When he found her, by the warmers where the baby chicks were penned, he watched her scoop up a baby chick and bring it over to an elderly woman sitting on a bench by herself.

  The woman’s hands were gnarled and she could only stroke the chick’s downy head with a misshapen finger, but she wore a big grin the entire time Garnet cupped the chick in her hands. When the woman started to talk, Garnet listened. A harried woman around Tobin’s dad’s age came over and chewed the woman out for wandering off. Garnet held the chick out to the woman and told her the world would be a better place if everyone had more patience with children and old people. Kids because their excitement came from how they saw potential in everything and old people because they had to give up the things that were important to them, and that had defined them.

  It’d really struck home that this sweet, kooky woman had such a big heart. She’d gone out of her way to forge a connection with someone who looked as if they needed it. That was the first of many times he’d witnessed Garnet’s generosity.

  He’d bet that Jade had benefited from that generosity. But how well did Jade know her grandmother beyond that?

  You’re just hopeful she’s not the bad guy because she’s hot. And a little mouthy.

  Heaven help him, but that kind of woman was catnip to him.

  Tobin had been prepared to square off against a moving company. Nothing had prepared him for the mixed emotions she evoked with one haughty look.

  But there was no doubt in his mind he’d still be squaring off against her.

  After killing a couple of hours outside, he jogged up the steps and saw Jade lounging on the love seat next to the porch swing. Beside her was a laptop, a tablet, a cell phone and an e-book reader.

  “Before you grill me on GG’s whereabouts, I promise I didn’t put sleeping powder in her tea. She conked out on her own in the sitting room.”

  “Look, I never said I thought you intended to harm her. I said I didn’t want you to hurt her. And before you go all ‘I’m an English major’ on me or something, I’m aware of the similarities in the meanings of those two words. But that means you’re also aware of the differences in their meanings.”

  She smiled. Not a sarcastic smile, but a genuine you amuse me smile and damn if that didn’t just cause a funny tickle in his gut.

  “Pull up a chair, Tobin, and let’s see if we can have a civilized conversation this time. Because looking at you . . .” Her gaze wandered across his shoulders and lingered as it moved down his arms. “I know I would lose badly in an arm-wrestling contest against you.”

  Tobin laughed, but holy hell. That almost seemed like a compliment.

  So that’s her game. She’ll use her beauty, her body and her charm to distract you and make you think she’s not the devil.

  “Why would we be arm wrestling?”

  “For GG’s affections of course. I’ve never had to share them.”

  “Feelin’ a mite competitive and jealous?”

  Jade blinked those stunning topaz eyes and gave him a weak smile. “As a matter of fact . . . yes. And I do realize that sounds petulant.”

  “Well, darlin’, that’s the best part of Miz G. She’s got affection in spades.” Tobin sat across from her. “I feel the need to point out . . . a little slip of a thing like you? I don’t see arm wrestling bein’ one of your skills.”

  “It’s not. But that’s my clichéd way of saying I’ll go to the mat to do what’s best for her.”

  “Then when you’re done you’ll pack that mat up and send it to Cheyenne along with the rest of her stuff?”

  She glanced at her watch, then back at him. “Wow. We didn’t even make it to the two-minute mark that time without taking potshots at each other.”

  At least she’d said we and wasn’t placing the blame for sniping solely on him. “Let’s try again. Did you get the grand tour of the house?”

  “No. I unpacked my car and dumped everything in my room. That took a while. GG was sleeping by the time I finished.”

  Tobin frowned. “I would’ve helped you haul your stuff upstairs.”

  That surprised her. “I’m used to doing everything myself. And it wasn’t bad. The last place I lived was on the sixth floor. The elevator didn’t work ninety percent of the time. I think that room is bigger than that entire apartment was.”

  “Miz G put you in the daffodil room?”

  She nodded. “I did have some serious envy that you’d already claimed the rose room.”

  “Why?”

  “The bed is bigger.”

  “That’s the king-sized bed I brought with me. A guy my size doesn’t fit well in a double.”

  A moment of awkward silence passed.

  Then Jade said, “It looks like we’ll be sharing the upstairs bathroom, so I feel the need to warn you about leaving the toilet seat up.”

  “As long as we’re goin’ with clichés, I’ll warn you not to use my razor.”

  Jade’s thoughtful gaze roved over his face. “Doesn’t look like you have much use for a razor anyway.”

  He scratched his cheek. “Just not today. I wasn’t aware we’d be expecting guests. Did she know you were coming?”

  “Yes. She didn’t tell you I was on my way her
e?”

  “Nope. How long are you staying?”

  “Depends.”

  “On?” he prompted.

  “This and that.”

  He eyed her electronics. “You don’t have a job to go back to?”

  “Not a full-time career-type job.”

  “Got a boyfriend pining away for you?” he asked, suspecting a woman with her type of delicate beauty wouldn’t be single.

  “Not one of those either.” She paused. “How about you?”

  “No boyfriend for me. Or girlfriend for that matter.”

 
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