Wrapped and strapped, p.33
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       Wrapped and Strapped, p.33
 

         Part #7 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  Cocky jerk. “Give it to me, then.”

  Harlow half expected him to make her say please.

  But he didn’t. He didn’t stop, either.

  Not after she came the first time. Or the second. Or the third.

  After she found her way back to earth after three orgasms, she looked at Hugh to see he’d stripped. His cock jutted out. His chest heaved. His jaw was set. His eyes were beautifully dark with need.

  Harlow started to push up, wanting her mouth on his cock, her hands teasing his balls, but he shook his head and brought her hands to his chest.

  Hugh liked nipple play, but he was either too shy or too embarrassed to ask her specifically to touch him there.

  Then he wrapped her legs around his waist and leaned over her, bracing his hands on the cushion above her head.

  That put his chest right at mouth level.

  When he surged into her, Harlow slid her hands down to his hips to stop the rapid-fire motion. She buried her face in his chest hair, breathing him in. When he caught the hint she could focus her attention on his nipples if he slowed his thrusts, he adjusted his thrusts to a leisurely glide in and an equally slow withdrawal.

  She’d glanced up to see if he was watching her. But his eyes were closed, a blissful expression on his face that remained until after he came. Only then did he kiss her. The level of heat transcended a normal kiss, while rooting it in sweet supplication, and she was lost again in how deeply she felt for this man.

  *

  The next morning Hugh left without waking her.

  After the chili incident, she didn’t feel like mingling with the maddening crowd. So she spent an hour doing yoga, a couple of hours looking at the class descriptions at Bleeker to see where her proposed classes would fit for students in the humanitarian studies curriculum. As a guest lecturer, she’d teach the required intro class for incoming freshmen.

  Riss stopped by with a message from Hugh that they’d be hosting the workers between the end of the afternoon event and the start of the evening rodeo.

  Looked like her contribution would be leftover chili, since it was too late to go to the store.

  Late afternoon, Harlow exited the horse trailer with her Crock-Pot of chili. “Where should I put this?”

  Riss cleared a spot. “I’ll run an extension cord, since we’ll have a couple of other hot dishes.”

  “It’s nice that Hugh is doing this.”

  “Yeah it is nice—too nice—considering this bunch of hands are assholes. I wonder who recommended them.”

  “Ike maybe?”

  Riss shook her head. “He mentioned he thinks these guys are dickheads too.”

  Harlow withheld judgment. Alton had been great after the chili cook-off yesterday. “We’ve got how many coming?”

  “Eight. Plus the four of us.”

  “Do these guys bring wives or girlfriends? Do we need more food?”

  “Heck if I know.” Riss smirked at her. “Throw out a plate of veggies and salad. I doubt the guys will eat any and the chicks will.”

  “Including you?”

  “Hey, I like veggies. Just not as much as steak. Don’t worry—we have enough food. I’ll finish doing this. You head down to the pens and see when they’ll want to eat.”

  “Sounds like a plan.” Harlow grabbed a jacket and a ball cap. Although it was brutally hot, the arena had been exceptionally dusty and she preferred the grime on the hat and the coat and not her skin.

  The slack trials put an extra burden on the contractors, wearing out the steers and calves before the timed events tonight. Through Ike’s connections they had found another twenty head.

  She zigzagged through the corrals until she spied Hugh and Ike. She stopped to admire the view of two cowboys who each filled out a pair of Wranglers like they’d been invented specifically for him. Long-sleeved shirts stretched over broad backs and wide shoulders. The hint of sunburn between the shirt collar and the start of the hairline. Those sexy hats. The laconic way they draped themselves over the metal bars oozed confidence.

  Hugh turned and looked over his shoulder, as if he’d sensed her gaze. “There’s my woman.”

  “There’s my Neanderthal.”

  “What’s up?” He wrapped an arm around her waist and planted a kiss squarely on her mouth.

  “Checking to see how much longer before you’ll be ready to eat.”

  “Fifteen minutes. And I’ll warn ya it’ll be a dine and dash situation.”

  “Got it.”

  After another kiss, she returned to their campsite. Alton and two of his buddies were moving food to the larger table.

  She and Riss stayed busy, because more people showed up than what they’d planned for. But everyone had brought food. By the time she and Riss sat down, there was only one table of guys left.

  Riss leaned over. “Shouldn’t they be with Hugh and Ike, since they’re the hired hands?”

  “You’d think so. Maybe Hugh is making them stay and help us clean up.”

  “I doubt it. Cleaning up constitutes women’s work around here.” Riss scooted sideways and turned the opposite direction. “I need a beer. I’m going to my rig to grab one.” She pointed to Harlow’s half-empty bottle of water. “Want another?”

  “Yeah. The chili got way hotter overnight.” She bucked up and ate the last three bites of her chili and wiped her mouth.

  Alton and the other hands gathered around her.

  She smiled, ready to demur on their thanks for the food.

  “We saw you enjoying your award-winning chili.”

  “It might’ve won for hottest batch today, since it was much spicier.”

  “That can happen when you modify a recipe.”

  Harlow nodded. “Next time, less chilies.”

  Alton had a smug look on his face. “Will you leave out the meat next time?”

  “This is vegetarian, remember?” She looked at the guys beside Alton, who also had sneering expressions.

  “It was vegetarian. See, when you was inside mixing up more tofu and shit, me’n Piker improved on your recipe. We added more chilies, bacon fat and some cooked ground veal.” Alton looked at her empty bowl. “And it musta improved the taste, since you ate yours all gone. Damn near licked the bowl after your second helpin’.”

  A sick feeling took root. “You dumped meat in my chili?”

  “From the most tender baby calf, so soft the meat melts in your mouth. Almost like it ain’t there. But I made sure I added two cups to jazz it up. Because despite the judges picking your stupid recipe as the winner, everyone around here knows that chili ain’t chili without meat. So we just put back in what you left out.” Alton grinned nastily. “You’re welcome.”

  Harlow watched them swagger away, patting one another on the back. Turning around and laughing at her before they disappeared.

  Her belly pitched. Not just an emotional reaction, a physical one.

  She managed to reach the bathroom in the horse trailer when the first nauseous wave expelled the contents of her stomach. Tears ran down her face as the acid crawled up her throat and lingered. For the longest time she couldn’t swallow it down; she couldn’t throw it up.

  She hadn’t had eaten any meat—not a morsel—not even accidentally—for sixteen years. Her body rejected the substance completely.

  Her head pounded.

  Her gut twisted. The immediate cramping had gotten more painful.

  The meat burps were the worst. She gagged with every one.

  “Harlow?”

  She couldn’t even rouse herself enough to answer Riss.

  A door slammed, then footsteps, then, “Omigod, Harlow! What’s wrong?”

  “Sick,” she managed.

  “I see that.” Riss crouched down. “What can I do?”

  “Water.”

  “Be right back.”

  After Harlow drank a mouthful, she felt queasy again and threw up. Then she rested her clammy head on the cool tile floor until the seesawing sensation in her gut f
orced her upright and her head in the toilet.

  How long that went on for, she didn’t know.

  Riss said, “You are really sick. I’ll get Hugh.”

  “No. He’s busy.” She swallowed thickly. “The worst is over, I think.” And her body promptly made a liar out of her by shooting out another stream of vomit.

  “Harlow, Hugh needs—”

  “To do his job. I’ll be okay. I just need to”—have my stomach pumped—“rest until it passes.” She swiped the sweat from her forehead with her forearm. “Can you give me some privacy, please?”

  “Okay. But I’ll be right outside.”

  “Thank you.”

  Riss closed the door.

  Harlow heaved again and then curled into a ball on the floor.

  *

  A warm, rough hand moved up her shin. She knew that touch before he rasped out her name. “Harlow?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Darlin’, what’s goin’ on?”

  “Sick.”

  “How long have you been in here?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Can you try and sit up? I’ll help you. We’ll go slow.”

  The world spun. Hugh seemed the only stable thing in it, so she latched on to him.

  Halfway up, she had to take a barf break.

  Hugh held her hair back.

  But she couldn’t hold back her tears when he sat on the bathroom floor and gently pulled her onto his lap.

  “I probably need a breath mint.”

  “You’re fine.” He kissed the crown of her head. “You think this is food poisoning?”

  She nodded.

  “What did you eat that made you so sick?”

  “I wasn’t trying to make a statement. But I made them all mad.”

  “Who?”

  “Alton.”

  “Darlin’, you’re not makin’ sense.” Then his hands cradled her head and tipped it back so he could look into her eyes. “Tell me what happened.”

  So she did.

  When Harlow stopped talking, Hugh closed his eyes and tucked her against his body.

  It should’ve bothered her that he said nothing. But his silence spoke everything his mouth couldn’t.

  He handed her a cup of water.

  She shook her head. “If I drink it, I’ll throw up.”

  “That’s the point. Get it all out of your system.”

  Harlow drained the water and within a couple of minutes she was hanging over the toilet again. They did that three more times until she kept the water down.

  Then Hugh picked her up and carried her to the bench seat in the kitchen across from the bathroom. He crouched in front of her, and tenderly dragged the backs of his knuckles down her jawline. “Wanna try 7Up?”

  “No liquid in or out for a bit.”

  “All right.” His gaze roamed over her face. “What can I do?”

  “You’ve gone above and beyond.” She yawned and clapped her hand over her mouth. “Yuck. I really need to brush my teeth.”

  He kept a steadying hand on her when she returned to the bathroom. She left the door open and scoured her mouth to the point she tasted blood.

  But it helped.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  ‡

  For the first time in his life Hugh understood the reason for a rocking chair. The movement soothed the rocker as much as the rockee. At first he worried the back-and-forth motion of the recliner would make Harlow woozy. But she murmured she liked it before she’d fallen asleep. So he kept rocking, now for his own sake more than hers. It kept his murderous impulse on simmer, rather than boil.

  That little fucking weasel Alton. Hugh hadn’t wanted to work with him, but the stock contractors had no choice when the rodeo committee supplied chute workers. Alton had proven himself worthless and lazy, and Hugh just had to put up with it.

  But what he’d done to Harlow crossed the fucking line. He didn’t have to put up with that bullshit.

  When Hugh realized Harlow had crashed to the point she snored, he shifted and slipped out of the chair. He fussed with the blanket, needing to touch her as he tucked her in.

  Then he stood, settled his hat on his head and went to take care of business.

  As soon as he stepped out of the horse trailer, Ike and Riss were up, away from the picnic table.

  “Is she okay?” Riss asked.

  He snagged a beer out of the cooler, draining it in three long swallows before he spoke. “She’s sleeping. Hasn’t gotten sick for the last hour.”

  “What happened?”

  “Alton happened.” As Hugh explained, his rage returned hotter than ever.

  “That little cocksucker needs his ass beat,” Ike said.

  “Yep. So you with me?”

  Ike’s eyes widened. “I was kiddin’, Hugh.”

  “I’m not.”

  “But you can’t—”

  “When it comes to Harlow, I surely can—and will—do whatever it takes to take care of what’s mine.” He crushed the beer can in his hand. “Puking her fucking guts out for hours because of him. Fuck that and fuck him.” Hugh started in the direction of the after-party tent.

  “Wait. I’m coming with you,” Ike said, grabbing a couple more beers.

  Riss fell into step beside Hugh and he looked at her questioningly. “Oh, hell no, you guys don’t get to have all the fun. Harlow is my friend. This asshat fucked with her, so it’s my duty to watch you beat the hell out of him so I can give her the play-by-play.”

  “Fine. But I’d prefer you didn’t jump in.”

  “No problem. I’ll stand back and hold your hat.” She snaked an arm around Hugh’s in a quick show of solidarity.

  Ike scowled at her and offered Hugh a beer as they walked.

  He declined. He needed a clear head.

  Although it was just past midnight, the party still rocked along.

  “How do you know he’s here?” Ike asked.

  “He’s the type that’ll stick around until closing time, bragging about what he done today.” Hugh ducked under the tent flap and started a slow scan of the space. To Riss he said, “You go left; I’ll go right. Ike, check outside.”

  They split up.

  By the time Hugh reached the midpoint, he figured Alton had left, since he hadn’t seen any sign of Alton’s friends. When he looked across the space, Riss pointed to a group of four guys near the side entrance.

  Gotcha, you smarmy cockroach.

  Hugh’s wide grin bordered on psychotic and he didn’t fucking care when he moseyed up to the group. Most of them were pretty well lit, but
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