Turn and burn, p.32
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       Turn and Burn, p.32

         Part #5 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
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  of her body launched his orgasm and he rode the wave with her to the very end.

  He stretched out on the towel and she followed him down, sprawling on his chest and keeping their bodies connected. His fingertips drifted up and down her spine. Fletch decided he could die a happy man in this moment. At the same time he feared he didn’t have many more of these left with her.

  The rest of their time at the lake passed in a blur of fun and laughter, despite that they had no luck fishing. They swam, played cards, stargazed and indulged in spontaneous bouts of sex that were sweet, raunchy, intense and poignant.

  In one of his favorite moments yet, they were curled up in bed listening to the sounds of the night drifting through the screened windows.

  “What are your plans for next week?”

  “Selling clothes, pulling taps. Right after I lock the doors Tuesday, I’m headed to Eli’s to work with the girls on horseback. Meaning they’re on horseback and I lead them around the barrels. Sometimes I wish I could just cut them loose and let them try it on their own, but until I’m sure Sparky won’t balk, we have to go slow and steady.”

  “I meant, how’s it goin’ for you?”

  “Oh. I’m riding. I can even go around the barrels. Slow but I have picked up some speed.”

  “Don’t you trust yourself to go faster? Or is it the horse?”

  “A combination. Then I wonder why I’m even bothering to call this training and that doesn’t help my mind-set to get back in the game.”

  “So, getting back into training hasn’t made the nightmares worse?”

  “No. I still have that bad dream. But I don’t wake up screaming . . .” She poked him in the chest. “As you well know, bein’s I’ve been in your bed most nights.”

  “Don’t remind me.” He kissed the top of her head. “I’m gonna miss that.”

  “Me too. Are you looking forward to seeing your dad tomorrow?”

  “Yeah. Be interesting to see if he actually took pictures with the camera he had to buy.”

  “Will it be weird between you and Cora? You said you had no idea they were together before they went on this trip.”

  “Oh, she’ll be as bossy as ever. I doubt my dad will show up for a nooner, then again . . . I’m hardly ever around at noon so it could happen.”

  She laughed.

  Just ask her. “Would you wanna meet my dad sometime?”

  “Absolutely, if he’s as good-lookin’ and charming as you.”

  He released the breath he’d been holding. “He’d claim I was a chip off the old block.”

  Tanna didn’t say anything else and he realized she’d fallen asleep.

  But sleep didn’t come for him so easily. Fletch didn’t know how he’d survive when this woman walked out of his life.

  He showed up at his dad’s on Sunday afternoon after dropping Tanna off early in the morning at Eli’s. He had returned to the Split Rock to load everything from the trailer and hauled it back to his place, then opted to come back for the bed another day. Hauling it out now made his leaving seem so final.

  His dad waited in the doorframe, smiling at him.

  “If it isn’t the world traveler.” Fletch pulled him into a big hug and held on for longer than usual. “I missed you, old man.”

  “Missed you too, boy.” He patted him on the back. “Would you like a glass of the whiskey I brought back from Ireland?”

  “Of course. And don’t be stingy with it.”

  Drinks in hand, they settled in the living room, Fletch on the couch, his dad in the easy chair.

  “Tell me all about it.”

  “Well, we started out in London.” He talked for the next hour, and had Fletch laughing and groaning at some of his senior group experiences.

  “Did you take pictures?”

  “Not a damn one. Couldn’t figure out how to use the camera and I had too much pride to ask for help. Besides, what would I do with pictures anyway? Wallpaper the bathroom?”

  He chuckled. “Good point.”

  “Now you wanna tell me how you spent six weeks of vacation time?”

  “I stayed at the Split Rock and did some research for Renner Jackson on a project he has in mind. Caught up on my reading. Wrote and submitted a paper to a veterinary journal.”

  “You worked the entire time?”

  Fletch shook his head. “I had plenty of downtime.”

  His dad’s eyes narrowed. “What else? And please tell me you didn’t take a single animal call while you were on vacation.”

  “Dad—”

  “Dammit, boy, what is wrong with you? You were given a gift and a chance and you—”

  “Fell in love, all right? I fell in love with the most perfect, beautiful, funny, sexy woman on earth and there’s not a goddamned thing I can do to stop her from leaving me.” He drained his drink and walked to the kitchen for a refill.

  Fletch hadn’t meant to say any of that. He’d been away from Tanna less than four hours and he was already moping.

  A heavy hand clapped him on the back. “How about if we start this conversation over?”

  He nodded.

  His dad refilled his own glass. “This woman. She’s the one you told me about before I left?”

  “Yeah. The last two months have been the best of my life.” Fletch talked. And talked some more. He hadn’t realized how much he’d needed someone to listen to him. He’d always had Eli as his sounding board. But since Eli was also counseling Tanna, he didn’t feel comfortable being so brutally honest about her with him. His other guy friends, well, this wasn’t the sort of shit he shared with anyone besides his dad.

  “She sounds wonderful. Do I get to meet her?”

  “I asked her last night and she said yes, but only if you’re as good-lookin’ and charming as me.”

  His dad laughed. “I like her already. Got a day or night in mind?”

  “That’s the thing. I go back to the unpredictable schedule this week. I could set something up, but guaranteed if I do, I’ll be called to some emergency in Rock Springs.”

  “Have you considered that maybe your job might be one thing that’s holding her back from making a commitment to you?”

  “Of course. But it’s not like I’m independently wealthy and can quit.”

  “No. But you do have options. Maybe it’s time you seriously looked into them.” He held up his hand to quell Fletch’s protest. “Having the life you want is about sacrifices.”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “I know you think I’m a rambling old man—”

  “Dad, I do not think that. Not at all.”

  “Then listen up. Back in my day . . .” He grinned. “Kidding. I will say from the time I was a kid I wanted to be an oil rigger. My folks insisted I get an education first so I took business classes for two years and earned an associate’s degree. Then directly after graduation I started working in the oil fields in the Southwest as a roughneck, not a pansy-assed suit and tie management guy.”

  Fletch raised an eyebrow. “So how’d you end up doin’ exactly that?”

  “Because of you. After your birth, it was obvious Darla wouldn’t take to being a mother. I had a child who needed at least one stable parent. Instead of working three weeks on at a remote location and one week off at home, I chose the eight to five, Monday through Friday job.” His dad looked at him. “You think I wanted to be management? You think it was easy showing up at the job sites questioning my friends about labor cost and accident ratios after we’d been coworkers for years? No. But I had no choice except to take a different position in the company with less money to start out, but more stability. Would I trade those years for a fatter bank account right now? Not on your life. That change was good for me. Good for my life because I got to spend it raising you. So don’t automatically discount a change. Maybe it’s time.”

  In the last couple of weeks, working normal hours with Tobin and having some freedom, Fletch had been thinking along those same lines. So he wasn’t
as averse to change as he’d once been. And since his dad had brought this up, it was the perfect time to turn this back on him. “So are you mentioning this because there’ll be changes in your life?”

  His dad frowned. “What?”

  “You. And Cora. Are you two dating? Is there a chance you’ll be moving in together?”

  “No. I like Cora. We had a great time on the trip, but we’re both too old, too set in our ways, and too used to living alone to ever combine households. Our independence is important to both of us.” He shook his finger. “You, on the other hand, are young. There’s a woman in your life now. That should play into any decision you make.”

  What his dad didn’t understand is Fletch didn’t have a say in Tanna’s decision. After she’d finally had a breakthrough with the possibility of returning to the career she loved, he couldn’t put additional pressure on her to stay in Wyoming with him.

  “Now that my fatherly duties are done, what’re we watching? Europe is lousy for any kind of real sports.”

  “Gotta be a baseball game on. Or since you’re a big-spending international traveler these days, maybe we could see if there’s a boxing match on pay-per-view.”

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  “I see Eli’s still babying you along.”

  Tanna turned toward Sutton and rolled her eyes. “He wants me to ‘reconnect’ with my love of horses. In the past four hours I’ve ridden two mares and a gelding.” She smirked. “I was gone a while the last ride. Did he send you out here to check on me?”

  “Busted. Tell me the truth; were you secretly out cutting a clover leaf pattern around the rocks?”

  “No. I just lost track of time.”

  Sutton grinned. “That’s good to hear. So are you running barrels?”

  “Finally.”

  “How’s it feel?”

  “Slow. But good. I’ve been gone a couple of days, so I had a moment of panic when I got back in the saddle and wished I hadn’t sent Fletch away, because the man can convince me to do anything.” They’d been apart for only five hours and she already missed him.

  “Eli mentioned something about you and Fletch bein’ off on a romantic getaway.”

  “Yep.” Tanna led the horse through the gate.

  Sutton fell in step beside her. “So I don’t get the down-and-dirty details of your sexcapades?”

  “Nope.” Tanna hadn’t seen Sutton since the day she’d spilled her guts. As much as she liked him, after her conversation with Fletch, she had to reestablish some boundaries.

  “That sucks.”

  “I thought you were off rodeoin’ during Cowboy Christmas?”

  He shrugged. “A couple here and there. Nothin’ big. What about you? Need some help setting up barrels?”

  “I’m done for today. I know Sunday is Eli’s day off and I’m determined to ride every day, so I wanted to get riding in early so he didn’t spend the whole day worrying about me. Plus, I’ve got plans for this afternoon.”

  “With Fletch?”

  “With friends.” Tanna set about unsaddling the horse, her mind elsewhere.

  “You’ve made a lot of progress since the last time I saw you, Tex-Mex.”

  “Yes, I have. Still got a ways to go, though.”

  “You’ll get there.” Sutton clapped her on the back. “Holler if you need anything. I’ll probably be here this week.”

  She smiled at him. “Will do. Thanks.”

  Although she’d been in Wyoming two months, this was the first day Tanna’s schedule had meshed with Lainie and Celia’s. After Lainie had married Hank almost six years ago, Celia had stepped into Tanna’s life to fill that friendship void. But that’d changed once she’d married Kyle and quit the circuit. Their lives had taken divergent paths; still . . . she’d missed their close friendships the past few years.

  Lainie and Hank had a wonderful house. Their home embraced you as soon as you walked in the door. Tanna preferred houses that were homes, not an ostentatious showplace where you couldn’t sit on the living room furniture, the dining room got used twice a year on holidays, and the family areas were separated rather than small enough for everyone to be together.

  Her childhood girlfriends in Texas who’d married and started families—it was their goal to live in one of those McMansions in a suburb. A large brick and concrete box, with a manicured lawn, two top-of-the-line SUVs in the triple-car garage. The kiddos attended private preschool, suffered through scheduled piano lessons, dance class, club soccer practice and church on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. Kids didn’t get dirty; they weren’t allowed to explore. They lived by the color-coded weekly calendar on the refrigerator.

  So it did her heart good to see Brianna, Lainie and Hank’s almost four-year-old daughter, spinning and dancing across the open field adjacent to the house, an energetic dog following her.

  Celia sat on the porch, her feet on a footstool. She waved. “Hey, stranger.”

  “Hey, yourself, mama.” Tanna stopped beside the porch support and watched Brianna. Her copper-colored curls bounced as she jumped, twirled and sang. “Is Brianna always like that?”

  “She’s a happy kid. But how couldn’t she be? Her mama adores her, she’s got her daddy wrapped around her little finger, aunts and uncles who spoil her rotten, a baby brother who worships her and her very own dog.”

  Tanna grinned at Celia. “The dog was your doin’?”

  “Yep. When Patches’s mom had more puppies, I gave Brianna the runt of the litter for her birthday. She named him Flutterbee because that’s what she called butterflies. Flutter keeps an eye on her because the girl does like to explore.”

  “She’s beautiful. Lucky to be raised around family.” Tanna glanced at Celia’s rounded belly. “And hopefully lots of cousins.”

  Celia groaned. “Gotta get through this pregnancy first before we talk about more.”

  “How you feeling?”

  “Tired. Which is stupid because Kyle won’t let me do anything while I’m gestating baby G. I’ve even learned to crochet, if you can believe it. I’ve turned into this home-cooking, housecleaning, crocheting, waiting-for-my-man-to-come-in-from-the-fields kind of ranch wife.”

  “And you love every minute of it,” Tanna said.

  Celia smiled and rubbed her hand over her belly. “It’s absolute bliss. I do miss workin’ cattle. And I miss riding my horses, but Kyle makes sure I don’t lose my riding skills entirely.”

  “More than I needed to know.”

  “Oh, pooh. You and I used to talk about sex nonstop. Okay, you talked, I listened and took notes.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Which Kyle is very thankful for, by the way.”

  The screen door opened and Lainie stepped onto the covered porch, her dark-haired baby boy perched on her hip. “Pay no attention to Celia. She’s in that ‘me so horny’ stage of pregnancy.”

  “That’s a real stage?”

  “Yep.”

  “I learn something new every day.”

  The boy squirmed to get down.

  Celia said, “I got it,” and started to get up.

  “Stay put,” Lainie warned. She passed the squirmy kid to Tanna. “Hold Jason for a sec while I get the gate up.”

  Tanna hadn’t spent much time around kids. Tiny babies fascinated her, but scared the crap out of her. Kiddos this age, well, they were fun because they’d started to do tricks. She balanced the boy on her hip. Talk about solid. He was a Hank replica, from his near-black hair to his thoughtful expression.

  “All right, the baby jail is in place so he can’t escape.” Lainie plucked the boy from Tanna’s arms and sat him down.

  “It won’t be much longer and the baby jail won’t hold him,” Celia remarked.

  “Bite your tongue,” Lainie shot back. “He walked early, which was bad enough. And he wants to do everything Brianna does.”

  Jason ran to the baby gate stretched across the porch supports, blocking access to the steps. He grabbed the top of the gate and jerked on it, testing whether
he could break it down.

  “Oh, shit,” Lainie said and ran back into the house.

  Tanna looked at Celia. “Was it something I said?”

  “No. Something she smelled, most likely. She’s pregnant.”

 
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