Wrapped and strapped, p.30
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       Wrapped and Strapped, p.30
 

         Part #7 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  “Me too! Let’s do it.”

  Thirty minutes later, Harlow said, “Even Bendy Wendy couldn’t get into some of those positions, so now I don’t feel uncoordinated.”

  “Me neither.”

  They found the food booth, which contained a chocolate fountain and every possible delicious morsel on earth to dip in chocolate. While they stuffed their faces, and laughed their butts off, they continued to knock back drinks.

  So then when the cowboy hosts erected a portable stripper pole and performed a routine that had Harlow whooping and hollering, she was selected to try her hand at working the pole.

  Evidently she’d done a good enough job—Thanks, Dad, for insisting on those ballet lessons!—they asked her to stay onstage to help teach.

  Her somewhat drunken ego shouted, See? You’re a natural! You’ll make a great teacher.

  After that demo, the music started. At some point half the tent had turned into a dance floor.

  By that time almost every woman was tipsy, if not outright hammered. But it was a fun kind of hammered. They sang at the top of their lungs and danced like no one was watching, because no one cared about anything but cutting loose. And while a few women whirled around the dance floor with the cowboy hosts, most of the ladies danced together.

  Harlow felt freer. Lighter. Happier. She’d been part of something amazing. She actually got teary-eyed when the DJ played “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing as the last song of the night.

  Gigi and Madge, the coordinators, took the microphone to remind the ladies that what happened at spa day stayed at spa day.

  She and Riss stumbled out of the tent. “Shit. It’s dark out now. How long were we in there?”

  “Seven hours.”

  “Damn. Time flies. That was some fun.”

  “I’m not ready for the night to end, are you?” Riss asked.

  “Nope. What’s next?”

  Riss got right in her face. “How drunk are you?”

  “Midpoint between hammered and tipsy. Why?”

  “ ’Cause there’s one other thing we can do tonight. But I’ll warn ya, it’s not for the faint of heart.”

  “I’m in.”

  Riss’s eyes went wide. “Without me even tellin’ you what it is?”

  “Yep. I’m gonna be more like you, Riss. Daring and crazy fun.”

  “Hot damn, Harlow, you’re my new BFF. Let’s go.”

  They’d just reached the area where the campers and horse trailers were parked when Harlow saw Hugh headed their way, looking unhappy. She didn’t think he’d seen her, but she yanked Riss behind a fifth wheel anyway.

  “What the hell, Harlow?”

  “Ssh. I saw Hugh and I think he’s looking for me.”

  “Of course he’s looking for you. You’re a fuckin’ hottie and he’s been away from you all day. Plus, he knows you were mad and he thinks you’ve been waiting around, so he’s been dreaming up dirty things to do to you to get back into your good graces.”

  Harlow blinked at her.

  “What?”

  “You’re exactly right! You have to hide me from him because he’ll swoop in and hit me with his sex mojo—then I won’t care that I’m missing out on the ‘not for the faint of heart’ thing. And I have to do it. Have to.”

  “You sure?”

  She nodded vigorously. Whoa. Her head spun.

  “Okay. Come on. I know a shortcut.” Riss grabbed her hand and they dodged and weaved through campers and horse trailers, until Harlow wondered if they’d gotten lost. Then . . . they were right back behind the arena.

  Harlow spun around slowly. “I’m not that drunk. There used to be a tent right here.”

  “They have to pack up fast because people get snoopy.” Riss waved at someone. Then she said, “Stay here. I’ll be just a minute.”

  “Fine. But bring me a drink. I’m thirsty,” she said to Riss’s retreating back.

  “I’m thinkin’ you’ve probably had plenty to drink,” Hugh drawled behind her.

  Harlow screamed and spun around. She slapped her hands on his chest. “Don’t sneak up on me like that, you big jerk!”

  “Darlin’, I’ve been following you for the last ten minutes. You should’ve noticed me.”

  “I was paying attention to Riss because she didn’t ditch me today like someone I know.” She forced herself to drop her hands and step back. “Why were you following me?”

  Hugh didn’t allow her retreat. He moved in closer. “ ’Cause I missed you.” He reached out and twisted a section of her hair around his index finger. “I hated that we had words before I left.”

  “I hated that you took off for some mysterious man meeting and expected me to just wait around for you.”

  His eyes sharpened. “So whatcha been doin’? Drinkin’?”

  “Yes. I mean no. I’ve been doing woman stuff. You wouldn’t understand.”

  “Still pissed off at me?”

  “Yep. So why don’t you skedaddle your hot little Wrangler butt on back to the horse trailer and see how you like sitting in there alone waiting for me.”

  He raised an amused brow. “And what will you be doin’?”

  “Hanging out with Riss.”

  “That still don’t tell me what you’re up to.”

  “That’s because it’s none of your business.”

  “Losing my sense of humor about this, Harlow.”

  Riss rejoined them. “Hugh. Fancy meeting you here.” She snickered and mouthed, “I told you so.”

  Hugh focused on Riss. “So maybe you can tell me what your plans are for tonight, since Harlow’s acting a little—”

  “I am not drunk,” Harlow retorted.

  “I was gonna say you were acting a little vague.”

  “That’s because we’re not sure what our plans are,” Riss lied.

  “Uh-huh.” Hugh locked his gaze on Harlow’s and her pulse spiked. “You’re headed over to the old arena.”

  “So what if we are?” Harlow couldn’t admit she had no idea where they were headed.

  “Not happening. Especially if you’ve been drinkin’ all day.”

  Harlow cocked her head at him. “It’s cute how you think you can tell me what to do.”

  “Cute?” he practically bellowed.

  “Ah, Harlow. If we’re gonna do that thing, we’ve gotta go.”

  “What thing?” Hugh demanded. “ ’Cause there’s only two things that go on over there and if you think you’re participating in either one—”

  “Maybe I’m participating in both of them.”

  “Like hell.”

  “Ha! What are you gonna do about it?”

  Riss grabbed Harlow’s hand and started to lead her away at a good clip.

  “Harlow! Get back here!” Hugh shouted.

  When it seemed like Harlow was waffling, Riss increased her iron grip. “Let it go.”

  “If he locks me out of the horse trailer tonight, can I crash with you?”

  “Of course. But, honey, I wouldn’t worry about it because we both know he’s gonna be in the arena watching with the rest of the crowd.”

  “Watching what? Uh, Riss? What did I sign on for?” A tiny feeling of panic set in. What had she been thinking? Blindly agreeing to an activity not for the faint of heart?

  You weren’t thinking, dumb ass. Booze and a dare equals regrets or disaster.

  Riss stopped abruptly and faced Harlow. “You, my brave friend, signed on for topless steer riding.”

  “What! But I can’t—”

  “Yes, you can. And more importantly, you have to now.”

  “Why?”

  Riss got right in her face. “First, because it takes balls to ditch your shirt and get on a steer and you need to prove to yourself you can do it. Second, you start letting Hugh dictate to you? Might as well start bringing him his pipe and his slippers . . . in your teeth . . . on your knees.”

  When Riss put it that way . . .

  “Besides, you won’t be alone. I’ll be rig
ht there beside you.”

  “You’re competing?”

  “Of course. I’ve won it last two years, so I’m looking for a three-peat before I retire.”

  “Now I understand why you rouged your nipples,” Harlow said dryly.

  Riss grinned and looked down her own shirt. “They will stand out more in the pictures, won’t they?”

  “Pictures?”

  “Get a move on, PITA.”

  There wasn’t as much chaos behind the chutes as Harlow expected. She did knock back a shot of whiskey with the other contestants beforehand—just to be sociable. The hardest part for her wouldn’t be letting her boobs flap in the wind, but exposing her scar.

  So when the youngest contestants revealed their perfect perky tits, Harlow’s worries lessened. No one would be leering at her tits and watching her ride.

  Except for Hugh.

  That thought sent a curl of desire spiraling through her as she took off her shirt and bra. It’d be interesting to see her man’s reaction.

  “Harlow,” Riss hissed. “Pay attention. It’s almost time.”

  “Sorry.” Harlow draped her clothing over the top of the corral.

  Then it was mass chaos. They put the steers in the pen and they had five seconds to choose one and climb on before the gate opened.

  She threw her leg over the animal closest to her. She didn’t have time to worry about the scratching sensation of the steer’s rough hide on her bare skin. The gate opened, the animal bolted and Harlow held on for dear life.

  Inside the arena the contestants bounced off one another like pinballs. Riders were already hitting the dirt. Steering the steer was impossible, but the play on words made her laugh.

  The boisterous laughter spooked the animal and it put on a sudden burst of speed, forcing Harlow to loosen her grip. When the animal went to the left, her body went to the right. One second she was on the steer; the next she’d flipped ass over teakettle and hit the dirt. She couldn’t help but watch as Riss rammed her closest competitor right before she hit the finish line. In first place.

  Harlow pushed to her feet and jumped up and down with excitement for her friend.

  Riss bailed off the steer and raised her hands above her head in victory. Then she made a beeline for Harlow and hugged her.

  Okay. She’d never been naked chest to naked chest with another woman before. She tried to act cool. But it was weird.

  The guys in the stands seemed to enjoy it, as they were calling out suggestions for what they could do next—although the Hokey Pokey suggestion was bizarre.

  They turned to walk back toward the chutes and who should Harlow see walking toward her?

  Hugh.

  With her shirt squeezed in his fist. And that look in his eyes.

  Uh-oh.

  Chapter Twenty

  ‡

  Harlow’s first instinct was to run.

  So she did.

  Of course Hugh gave chase.

  The only way she knew that, at first, was because the spectators were encouraging him to catch her.

  She booked it toward the steers grouped in the far corner of the arena. Once she was in the midst of them, she spun around to check if Hugh had given up.

  He paused on the edge of the herd. A wild look danced in his eyes and an evil grin curled his lips. He draped her shirt around his neck and advanced on her.

  That’s when she noticed her lacy black bra hung out of his back pocket.

  “You think you’re safe in there, hippie-girl?”

  “Back off, Hugh,” she warned.

  He laughed. Laughed.

  “You are in a whole mess of trouble.” He advanced, his gaze on her chest. “Half-goddamned naked.” When she stepped to the side, so did he. “Showing everyone what belongs to me.”

  Harlow froze.

  “What? You don’t like me tellin’ you that you’re mine? Because you are. And if you doubt that?” He grinned. “I’m gonna take all night to prove it to you.”

  Her stomach cartwheeled. “Hugh, stop.”

  “Not a fuckin’ chance.”

  The herd moved, so Harlow moved with them.

  “Don’t make me come in there after you. It’s gonna just double your punishment if I gotta keep chasin’ you.”

  And unlike with Fredrick, when Hugh stated she belonged to him, Harlow realized she wasn’t afraid. When Hugh warned her that he planned to punish her, she knew in her heart that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt her.

  The whoops and hollers from the spectators were still going strong and that just added fuel to the fire burning in Hugh’s eyes.

  She was ready to make him work for it—for her. She darted to the left.

  So did Hugh.

  “Give it up.”

  “No!”

  “Last chance to come to me of your own accord.”

  “Or?” She sidled to the right.

  Hugh stopped. He clapped his hands loudly and yelled, “He-yah!”

  The steers scattered, leaving her unprotected.

  Moving faster than she’d ever seen, Hugh was on her.

  Her surprised scream when he imprisoned her arms behind her was lost in his hungry mouth on hers.

  Through the blood whooshing in her head, she heard a cheer rise behind them.

  Hugh kissed her, one hand fisted in her hair, holding her head in place for the onslaught of his mouth. His other hand circled her wrists as he pressed her body against his.

  He ended the kiss far sooner than she liked.

  Then he eased back and stared into her eyes. “Don’t fight me on this.”

  “On what?”

  “You came into the arena your way. We’re leavin’ my way.”

  Before she demanded clarification, he released her.

  Hugh pulled her shirt from where he’d draped it around his neck. He dropped the shirt over her head. But when she twisted up to put her arms in the sleeves, he murmured, “I get to do that part.”

  Her belly flipped when his hard-skinned hands landed on her waist and began an achingly slow ascent. His thumbs swept over the indentations beside her belly button and the expanse of skin between, his fingers flexing on her sides, then pressing into her lower rib cage.

  His eyes—oh god, those warm brown eyes were positively molten.

 
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