Branded as trouble, p.4
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       Branded as Trouble, p.4

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 4

 

  India threw the hairbrush in the sink. She snatched the gel from the cabinet and squirted the orange goo in her palms, rubbing it vigorously into her hair. Bah. It didn’t help. She still looked like a porcupine who’d lost a fight with a weed whacker. Plus, she needed to recolor the tips. The fuchsia was fading into a hideous bubblegum pink.

  What the hell did it matter what her hair looked like? It wasn’t like they were going to be in public.

  She froze. Was that why Blake wanted to cook for her at his place? Because the colorful tats and piercings were what most folks noticed and he was embarrassed by it?

  Not Colt.

  Why had everything circled back around to him?

  Because you hurt him. And not just from shooting him in the butt with the nail gun.

  That stupid voice in her head was mistaken. She had not hurt Colt McKay’s feelings by agreeing to a date with Blake. She and Colt were friends. That was it.

  Right?

  Wrong. Colt’s been more to you than just a friend, no matter how you slice it. And he deserves better than you running off for a date—a date you didn’t want in the first place—with his cousin.

  Blast it. Why had India said yes to Blake West? Sure, he was cute, golden curls, a brawny build and a bright white smile. He reminded her of the shaggy-haired surfers she’d grown up with in California. Blake was a cheerful guy, happy to help out his cousins Chet and Remy West whenever they were shorthanded in their construction business. Blake was sweet. He didn’t have a horndog reputation. He was low-key, just the type of guy India wanted.

  With one teensy-tiny little problem: when Blake West wasn’t tending his sheep, he tended bar.

  India avoided bars and nightclubs even eight years into her sobriety, so hooking up with bartender Blake wasn’t a smart move.

  Plus, she had a sneaking suspicion as laid-back as Blake appeared, he wouldn’t go for a casual relationship. He was the kind of guy who’d want exclusivity and promises, promises she couldn’t give him or any man.

  Could you give those promises to Colt?

  Yes.

  No.

  Dammit! She was not listening to the voices arguing in her head. Colt was her friend. And she was not going to cancel her date because of one ornery cowboy who was being a pain in her butt. He was a guest in her house. Her house, her rules, she could do whatever the hell she wanted.

  She picked up her cell phone and dialed Blake’s number. “Hey, Blake. No, Alfredo sauce sounds great. Look. I just wondered…if you wanted to come over here after dinner? Why? Well…” India laughed. “You busted me. That’d be great. I’ve even got a fresh batch of apple dumplings from the diner. ” She hoped she still had time to pop downstairs and raid the pie case before Domini sold out.

  “I might be a little late, just wanted to warn you. Good. I’m looking forward to it too. Bye. ”

  India grabbed her purse and raced down to the diner to pick up dumplings. She might as well grab dinner for Colt.

  Four dumplings, one quart of chicken and wild rice soup, a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich later, India booked it back to her apartment.

  She burst into the guest bedroom, startling Colt out of sleep.

  “Christ, India. Do you have to scare the livin’ hell out of me every goddamn time you open the door?”

  “Sorry. I just wanted to get the food to you while it was still hot. ” She set everything on the dresser and spun around to give him a once-over. “Soup is kinda hard to eat laying down. Let me help you up. ”

  “I don’t need you—”

  “Yes, you do. Just hold on. ” Threading her fingers through his, she pulled him to a sitting position. “There. That wasn’t so bad.

  Let’s get you to the chair. Stand up on three. Ready? One. Two.

  Three. ” India jerked, hoping to take some of the strain. But she jerked too hard and he crashed into her.

  “Shit. Too fast. I—”

  “Hang on. ” Oh, he was a substantial guy. She braced her legs and smashed her face into his chest while maintaining a death grip on his upper back.

  “Why’m I so dizzy?”

  “Low blood sugar. It’s okay. I’ve got you. ”

  Colt’s hands reluctantly landed on her hips. Almost against his will, he allowed her to hold him up.

  As India’s nose brushed Colt’s pecs and her hands were spread across that incredibly muscular back, she felt his fingers squeezing her hipbones. A powerful sense of…longing overtook her. He was so solid and warm and he smelled all musky good like a man should and she absolutely did not want to let him go. Ever.

  “Indy?” he said her name in a husky whisper.

  “Mmm?”

  “I think I can make it to the chair now. ”

  “Oh. Right. ” She released him and settled him in the seat. “Do you need an extra pillow for your butt?”

  “Nah. ”

  “I’ll grab the TV tray and be right back. ” After she’d arranged the soup and sandwich and refilled his water, she felt him staring at her. “What?”

  “You didn’t have to do all this. ”

  Her pulse raced when she gazed into his compelling blue eyes.

  “I wanted to. I’m sorry about leaving you here alone tonight. I should’ve cancelled the date—”

  “I’m the one who oughta be apologizing. I was a total dick.

  Who you date and what you do on your dates ain’t any of my business. ” He gave her a head to toe inspection. “You look great, by the way. I’ve always loved that shirt on you. Brings out the color of your eyes. ” He smiled. “And sometimes, it matches the color of your hair. ”

  She self-consciously adjusted the vivid blue satin strap on her baby doll blouse. “Uh. Thanks. I thought I might dye the ends blue tomorrow. ”

  “That’s my favorite. ” Colt stirred his soup and blew on a spoonful before popping it in his mouth.

  Favorite what? Color on her hair? Or kind of soup? Soup, probably. “Would you like crackers?”

  He shook his head.

  “Do you need ketchup for your sandwich?”

  “Eww. ” He shuddered. “You’ve been cookin’ for Eliza again?”

  “Yeah, and we both know grilled cheese is about the extent of my culinary expertise. ”

  “Quit hovering and get goin’. You don’t wanna be late. ”

  Lightly, she said, “Seems like you’re trying to get rid of me. ”

  His laser-sharp gaze pierced hers again. “Never. ”

  They stared at each other and the air crackled with energy.

  Colt cleared his throat. “Just so you know, I probably won’t be around in the mornin’ if you choose to, ah, not come back here. You don’t have to worry about me blabbing your personal business and I’ll lock up for you since I already have a key. ”

  India’s jaw dropped. “Omigod. You don’t think I’m going to sleep with Blake on the first date, do you?”

  Pause. His eyes tapered to fine points. “You’re goin’ out with Blake? As in my cousin Blake? As in the guy whose nail gun took a chunk out of my ass?”

  She winced. Crap, she’d forgotten to tell him that. “Yes. ”

  “Did you agree before or after his machinery maimed me?”

  “Before. Look, he asked me while he was putting up shelves in the shop. I’ve cancelled on him two times already, so that’s why I can’t back out tonight. ”

  “You don’t have to explain to me. ”

  “But I do. He’s interested in getting a tattoo on his—”

  Colt held up his hand. “I don’t wanna know where you’re tattooing him, to be real honest. ”

  Dammit.

  “You go on and have fun. Much as I complain about him, Blake is a really good guy. He’ll treat you right. ”

  She was tempted to snap off, how nice that I have your approval, but that’d be bitchy and she’d acted bitchy enough. And
truthfully, she didn’t want his approval. She much preferred his smartass disapproval or his…jealousy.

  “Don’t wait up,” she said half-jokingly.

  “Don’t worry. With you gone for a few hours, I’ll probably finally sleep like the dead. I won’t notice if you do come home in the middle of the night. ”

  Six hours later, India slammed the door a little harder than necessary when she and Blake returned to her apartment.

  They finished off the caramel apple dumplings at her dinette table. Coldplay drifted from the stereo. A sharply scented lemon verbena candle filled the air.

  “I appreciate you taking a look at it, Blake. ”

  “Be my pleasure. ” Blake scraped his fork across the empty plate. “Although, I’d hoped the invitation into your bedroom would be extended in a different context, India. ”

  She grinned. “I imagine you did. But I’m not looking—”

  “For a relationship, yeah, yeah, yeah. ”

  “How’d you know that’s what I was going to say?”

  Blake looked at her from beneath incredibly long black eyelashes. “Because it’s the same old tune, you’re just a different singer. ”

  “You run into this problem a lot?”

  “Yep. ”

  “So if I said, ‘Blake, baby, let’s burn up the sheets for just one night?’”

  He stood so fast his chair crashed to the floor.

  India laughed.

  “What? You think I’d turn you down?”

  “No. But I’ll admit you don’t seem like a one-night stand kind of guy. ”

  “Wrong. I totally am that guy, it’s just the ladies don’t give me a chance. I must look like a ‘relationship guy’ to women instead of a

  ‘one-night wild fuck’ kind of stud,” he grumbled.

  “There are worse things. ”

  “Yeah? Name one. ”

  Shoot. Her brain wasn’t crafting reassurances very quickly.

  “Women thinking you’re a player. ”

 
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