Saddled and spurred, p.34
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       Saddled and Spurred, p.34

         Part #2 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James
 

  Good Lord. He truly was an awful singer. But his willingness to put himself out there, in front of her, and in front of the dozens of male workers in the compound, as proof of his love . . . Well, it was time she offered him proof too.

  “Harper. Seriously. Go out and talk to him. Or gag him. My ears are starting to bleed,” Janie whined.

  Harper laughed and exited the trailer.

  The instant Bran saw her, the music stopped.

  Thank God.

  “Hey,” he said.

  “Hey,” she said back. “Nice tune selection. I particularly enjoyed your version of Conway Twitty’s ‘I’d Love to Lay You Down.’ ”

  His eyes lit up. “Really?”

  “No, not really.”

  “So did you come out here to make a request? I’ve got a big playlist. I can go all night.”

  She murmured, “You certainly can.”

  Bran seemed a little shocked by her innuendo. So shocked that he didn’t make a single move toward her.

  So she ambled closer to him. “Now you can say, I told you so, because you did prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you know me.”

  “Huh-uh. I ain’t done. There’s something else. You asked me to name something I liked about you that didn’t have to do with you workin’ for me or sex.”

  “Bran—”

  He put his fingers over her lips. “Let me finish. I don’t know if you’ve figured it out yet, but I ain’t exactly clever with words, especially not off the cuff. But that don’t mean I can’t do it—it just means I need to take my time to get the words right.”

  She felt her chest constrict as he inhaled a deep breath.

  “So here goes. I love that you’re always humming. I love how you grin when you’ve figured something out on your own. I love how you round up my coffee cups since I’m forever losing them or leavin’ them in the barn. I love it when you take off your hat and your hair sticks up all over the place and you don’t even notice. I love that you speak your mind.

  “I love how you’ve taken to the calves, the cows, the goats and horses. Hell, I even like how determined you are to feed them damn rabbits.”

  “Really?”

  He shook his head. “No. Not really.”

  “Shoot.”

  Bran smiled. “I love your unconditional love for your family. I love your devotion to the old gals who depend on you to do their nails. I love that you can be all girly one second and elbow-deep in manure the next. I love watching you eat doughnuts with impeccable manners, and then I love how fast that ladylike behavior disappears when you’re chowing down on a plate of ribs.”

  When she opened her mouth to protest, Bran placed his fingers over her lips again.

  “I know this list isn’t supposed to be about sex. But I love the glazed look in your eyes when I’m inside you. I love your passion and how you don’t hold anything back from me. I love how snuggly you are as we’re falling asleep. I love the smell of your hair and the scent of your skin. I love how whenever you pick up one of my shirts, you sniff it and smile that secret little sexy smile. I love the way you kiss me. I love the way you touch me, not only physically, but here.” He flattened her palm over his heart. “I love the way you accept every weird, kinky, dorky, plain, simple, and annoying thing about me. I love that you forced me to think about all the things I know about you, because, darlin’, there are a whole bunch more I don’t know and I think I’ll need a lifetime with you to figure them all out.”

  Harper couldn’t speak around the lump in her throat.

  “Come on. Say something.”

  “I never knew my cowboy had such a silver tongue.” She leaned forward and kissed him. Twice. “But I’ll take it. I’ll take you. I love you, Bran.”

  Then she was in his arms, being squeezed so tightly she couldn’t breathe. But she didn’t mind. She’d probably never get used to the breathless way he made her feel anyway.

  “I love you so damn much, Harper. Now will you please come home with me and let me prove it without words?”

  “I can’t.”

  He eased back to study her. “Come again?”

  “When I took this job, I promised Renner I’d live in the compound until the resort opened. We’re keeping some odd hours because we have such a tight deadline.”

  “How tight?”

  “Five months.”

  “I sure as hell am not gonna be without you for five months.”

  Harper kissed his scowling mouth. “That’s sweet, but—”

  “No buts.” A contemplative look entered his eyes. “How about if I move my trailer here? Then you can sneak off and spend time with me when you’ve got a break.”

  “Think Renner will go for that?”

  “I ain’t giving him a choice.” He swept a lock of hair behind her ear. “Besides, I won’t be needing the trailer at the ranch much longer anyway.”

  She stared at him, confused.

  “Seeing Hank and Lainie so happy in their own place made me want the same for us.” Bran dug in his pocket and pulled out an old-fashioned skeleton key, a key identical to the one he’d sent her earlier. “I’m finally ready to fix up my grandparents’ house and move into it. But only if you’ll live there with me, and help me make it a home—our home.”

  She swallowed, trying hard not to cry, because he was giving her everything she’d ever wanted. “And here I thought you were offering me the key to your heart.”

  “You’ve already got that. You’ve had it for a while now. I just had to trust you enough to let you use it. Every day. Forever.”

  It was no use. Her tears fell unimpeded.

  “Hey, now, what’s with the tears?” His face took on a slightly horrified, comical look. “You don’t think . . . You know that I’m not asking you to be my ranch hand, right? I’m asking you to be my wife.”

  “Well, you weren’t exactly clear on the job description, Bran.” She sniffed. “And being your ranch hand has been a good gig so far.”

  He framed her face in his hands and gently wiped her tears. “You’ve been a great ranch hand, but you’ll make an even better wife. Say you’ll marry me, Harper.”

  “Yes, I’ll marry you, just as long as you can wait a few months for us to tie the knot.”

  Bran’s smile was a thing of beauty. “I’ve waited my whole life for a woman like you. A few more months ain’t gonna matter.”

  Epilogue

  Five months later . . .

  From the Muddy Gap Gazette—Maybelle’s Musings

  The much-anticipated unveiling of the Split Rock Ranch and Resort took place last Saturday night after the wedding of Miss Harper Masterson to Mister Branford Turner.

  Although I’m new to the Muddy Gap Gazette as the society reporter, as a lifelong resident of Muddy Gap, I’ve attended many weddings. But this wedding was truly special. The surprise addition of Harper’s sisters, Sergeant Liberty Masterson and Specialist Bailey Masterson, to the wedding party, wearing their United States Army uniforms as they escorted Harper down the aisle, will resonate throughout this community for years to come. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house—including mine. Harper looked lovely in a traditional ivory mermaid-style gown, while her intended, Bran, epitomized dashing in a Western-cut black tuxedo. The bride’s attendant was Celia Lawson. On the groom’s side was Hank Lawson.

  The happy couple stuck around following the short ceremony for toasts and to cut cake, but left directly after for their honeymoon at an undisclosed location. Rumor has it they’ve gone fishing in the Caribbean.

  Speaking of rumors . . . a couple of spats arose during the wedding reception, luckily after the bride and groom’s departure, leaving many locals wondering if all is as it seems with the Split Rock Ranch and Resort. Stay tuned for further reports.

  When Lorelei James isn’t squirreled away behind her laptop writing sexy contemporary erotic romances set in the modern-day Wild West, she’s reading, practicing yoga, shootin’ for fun, watching the Professional Bull Riders tour, all in t
he guise of avoiding housework and rustlin’ up vittles. Lorelei is a fourth-generation South Dakotan, and lives in the Black Hills with her family—and a whole closetful of cowgirl boots.

 
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