One night rodeo, p.5
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       One Night Rodeo, p.5

         Part #4 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  She definitely didn’t need Kyle speaking for her. She’d proven she could handle herself just fine.

  Celia was quiet on the ride to her motel. Kyle didn’t push it—they would have a solid fifteen hours together in the truck, enough time to talk a lot of things through.

  Chapter Two

  A knee to the head woke Kyle from a sound sleep. Groggy, he sat up and squinted at Celia. “What the hell?”

  “You snore like a freakin’ bear. And you sleep like the dead, which ain’t a fun combination at all.”

  He scrubbed his hands over his face. Then he looked out the window. They were on I-80 almost to Cheyenne. He’d slept a solid six hours. “You okay?”

  “No. I want a goddamn cigarette. This is why I hate bein’ on the road. I get so fuckin’ bored all I can think about is firing up a smoke. And don’t suggest sunflower seeds. They don’t work.”

  “Didn’t for me either. I had to get a big bag of Dum-Dum suckers.”

  “Chewing on plastic straws was the only thing that worked for me.” She shot him a sideways glance. “Speaking of chewing…when did you quit?”

  “About six months ago. Bet with my mom as an incentive to get her to quit smoking.”

  “Did it work?”

  “Has so far. We both chewed about a million packs of nicotine gum. Did you use pills or gum or anything?”

  “Nope. I quit cold turkey. Three days after I broke up with Breck. Might sound stupid, but I starting smoking with him, so it seemed like I oughta quit when we called it quits. Been a lot tougher to give up than I thought.”

  Kyle looked at her. “Cigarettes were tougher to give up? Or Breck was tougher to give up?”

  “Cigarettes.” Celia tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. “Although there was a lot I liked about Breck or I wouldn’t’ve stayed with him.” She let a beat pass. “Thanks for what you said to him.”

  “I meant every word.” It was the perfect opportunity to bring up the marriage issue. “So we’re telling everyone who knows we stumbled down the aisle…that we’re getting an annulment?” He knew his voice sounded disapproving.

  “I thought we agreed on that.”

  “No, you informed me of your intent to get an annulment. I didn’t argue. But that’s not agreeing with you, Cele. Not by a long shot.”

  “Well, let’s compile a list of who knows about us getting hitched. Tanna. Who’s only told Lainie. Lainie, who says she won’t tell anyone. Devin. Who told…who the hell knows all the people he’s told. Breck. Who’s probably told everyone on the damn circuit. Your mom.” She looked at him. “Who all has your mom told?”

  “How the hell would I know?”

  Kyle’s cell phone rang and they both jumped. “Speak of the devil. Hey, Mom. We’re just starting the descent into Cheyenne.”

  “I’ve been trying to call you for the last four hours.”

  “What’s up?”

  When his mom didn’t answer right away, he knew. He closed his eyes. “When?”

  “About twelve hours ago. Right after I told him you were on your way to see him.” She sniffled. “Evidently his death came as a shock even to the staff. Marshall didn’t have anyone listed as next of kin, but one of the nurses after shift change had my number and she called me. I just got off the phone with his lawyer. He’s set up a meeting tomorrow morning at nine.”

  Kyle didn’t know what he was supposed to feel in response to this news. He’d been afraid to meet the man and now he would never have the chance. The resentment he’d tamped down earlier reared its ugly head again.

  “Are you staying with me and Rick tonight? Because I made up the guest room.”

  “No.” He wouldn’t give in to her guilt. “What’s the lawyer’s name?”

  “Bill Ruttan. His office is downtown. Do you need directions?”

  “I’ll look up the address when I get to the motel. Are you gonna be there tomorrow?”

  “No. It’s just supposed to be you.” She hesitated. “And your wife, if you want.”

  “Jesus, Mom, you told the lawyer I was married?”

  Celia groaned.

  “I assumed it was all right.”

  He bit off, “Do me a favor. Don’t assume anything. Don’t talk to anyone about any of this, okay? My marriage, whatever the hell this inheritance is supposed to be about. You think you can handle that?”

  “Kyle Dean Gilchrist. Stop being an ass.”

  “Funny, that’s what my wife says to me too. I’ll call you when we’re done at the attorney’s.” He hung up, mired in that place between regret and anger. Wondering what the fuck happened next.

  “Kyle? What’s going on?”

  “Marshall died. So there’s no need for us to rush to the VA.”

  She covered his hand with hers. “I’m sorry.”

  “Yeah, me too. Pick a hotel you wanna stay at tonight.”

  Celia didn’t speak until the truck stopped. “How’s this place?”

  Kyle squinted at the sign. Fairfield Inn. “This’ll work.”

  As they entered, the front desk clerk was nauseatingly chipper. “Good afternoon. Welcome to the Fairfield Inn. My name is Trudy. How may I assist you today?”

  “We need a couple of rooms.”

  Celia tapped his shoulder. “Why are you getting us separate rooms?”

  “Because I’m in a lousy mood and I want to be alone.”

  Her mouth grazed his ear. “Tough shit. You’re stuck with me.” She gave the clerk a cheeky smile. “Sorry. Temporary marital dispute. One room.”

  Marital dispute? Was she serious? She was going to acknowledge their marriage…now?

  “King-size bed or two queens?”

  A challenge floated between them. Kyle said, “Two queens.”

  Celia dropped her gaze.

  If Kyle hadn’t known better, he’d have said she was disappointed.

  Fuck. That was the last thing he needed to worry about: mixed signals from the woman who claimed she didn’t want to be his wife.

  After they were settled in their room, Celia said, “I need a shower. Food. And sleep. Food first?”

  “Just as long as it’s steak.”


  They opted for Golden Corral. Hitting the buffet line at different times limited their conversation, which suited Kyle fine. Although Celia kept sending him strange looks.

  He dropped her off at the hotel. “While you’re showering I’ll track down the lawyer’s office.” And a liquor store.

  When he returned, an hour later, Celia sauntered out of the bathroom in a skimpy camisole that matched the silvery color of her eyes and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms that hugged her ass.

  Her hair was unbound. A mass of blond that brushed the lower curve of her butt. Kyle had only seen it in a braid the last couple of years. No wonder she always tamed it. With it untamed, she was a goddess. He had the overwhelming urge to bury his face in those fragrant tresses. Feel the silken strands sliding across his skin. Twined around his body. Christ. This was a bad idea. Maybe he oughta sleep in the truck.

  “Hey. What’s that?” She peered in the package and her hair brushed his arm. “You bought beer? And whiskey? We having a wake or something?”

  His eyes connected to hers. He fought the need to consume her mouth in a heated kiss. But the scent of her, the sight of her, the inability to have her, might just drive him out of his fucking mind.

  He turned away, setting the package on the small table. After ditching his boots, he snagged a cup, ripped off the plastic packaging, and poured himself three fingers of whiskey. Grabbing the remote, he flopped on the bed closest to the TV, offering an offhand, “Help yourself.”

  Celia took the ice bucket. She returned a few minutes later and poured herself a whiskey on ice before plopping cross-legged on his bed. “So…”

  Her shoulder blocked his view of the TV; he shifted to the right.



  “Don’t you wanna talk?”
br />   “About?”

  “Your father dying. How upset you are with your mom. What’ll happen at the attorney’s office tomorrow.”


  Celia tipped her head so it was right in front of the TV.

  “What?” he said irritably.

  “Talk to me.”

  “Don’t got nothin’ to say. Now move. I’m watchin’ this.”

  But she didn’t move. “I’m serious.”

  “So am I.”

  “Why don’t you—”

  “Why don’t you understand? It won’t make a lick of difference if we dissect this fuckin’ thing nine ways ’til Sunday. I won’t know anything until tomorrow. For tonight, I wanna forget about it with some bad TV and some good whiskey.” Kyle allowed his gaze to roam over her face, down her chest, and back up to her eyes. “Unless you’re offering another way to make me forget about it, because, kitten, I’m all over that.”

  Celia’s skin turned a beautiful shade of pink, from the roots of her hair to the center of her chest. “That’s not what I was suggesting.”

  “I didn’t think so. Pity. Now move.”

  She flounced off the bed.

  Kyle flipped through channels. Poured himself another glass of whiskey. Tried not to stare when Celia braided her hair. Tried not to fantasize about demanding that she unbraid it.

  When Celia climbed beneath the covers, he turned the TV down, not off, because he was wired. He downed his fifth shot and he still wasn’t feeling the effects.

  His thoughts were a jumbled mess. He just wanted to get some sleep but his damn brain wouldn’t cooperate.

  Hours passed. Late-night TV bored him. Tired of staring at the ceiling, he got up and parted the curtains. Great view of the parking lot. The edges were piled high with snow from the last storm. The streets were a muddy gray color that matched the sky. Dreary damn night.

  Welcome to January in Wyoming.

  “Kyle?” Celia said sleepily, startling him. “It’s three o’clock in the damn morning.”

  When he didn’t respond, he heard the swish of bedding, followed by her soft footfalls on the carpet. Her breath teased the back of his neck and her arms came around his waist. She held him for the longest time.

  And he let her. He wondered how long she’d stay with him. Would she take off right after they told her brothers about the impending annulment? How soon did she want to meet with Hank and Abe anyway? Tomorrow? Right after they left the attorney’s office? Where would she go? Back to the circuit?

  When Kyle sensed her retreat because he hadn’t responded at all to her sweet comfort, he squeezed her hand, then rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “Thanks.”

  She murmured, “It’ll be okay.”

  “You sure?”


  No bullshit. That made him smile.

  Tiredness finally overtook him after she’d returned to bed. He stripped and crawled between the sheets.

  The smell of coffee brewing woke him. Kyle stretched and whipped back the covers.

  “Oh my fucking God, you’re naked.”

  He cast a bleary eye at Celia perched on the bed across from his. “Yeah. So?”

  “So put that thing away.”

  Kyle glanced down at his erect dick and grinned. “Nothing personal, kitten. Just a little morning wood.”

  She muttered something about it not being little at all.

  “Sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.”

  “You weren’t meant to hear it. For God’s sake, Kyle, cover yourself.”

  He didn’t. He rummaged in his duffel bag for clean clothes. Celia averted her eyes pretty damn fast when he turned around. “Need to do anything in the bathroom before I shower?”

  “No. Since I’m decent and you’re not, I’ll head down to the complimentary breakfast.”

  While he was shaving, trying to get his head in the right place, he realized he hadn’t verified with Celia whether she planned to go to the lawyer’s office with him. He stepped out of the bathroom, in his jeans, his shirt unbuttoned. “I forgot to ask if you wanted to come with me this morning. I’d understand if you don’t, since—”

  “God, Kyle, do you have to walk around half freakin’ naked all the time?” Celia marched up to him and started snapping the buttons on his white western shirt. “I swear you’re just strutting around like this to test my willpower.”

  Willpower? What the hell? He tried to read her expression, but she was too busy smoothing out wrinkles and straightening the piping alongside the buttons, just like a wife would.

  She is your wife.

  Feeling an odd sense of possessiveness, Kyle put his finger under her chin, forcing her to look at him.

  Pure heat shone in her eyes, turning the soft gray the color of steel. He held her chin, uttering a gruff “Stay still” when she tried to jerk it away.

  Celia went motionless and kept her eyes on his.

  Interesting how well she responded to commands.

  Kyle ran his thumb over her bottom lip. “Little wifey mine, you like what you see when you look at me, don’t you?”

  Again she tried to jerk out of his grip. Again he didn’t allow it. “Stay. Still.” Another teasing stroke across her lips. “Answer the question.”

  He expected her to lie. To utter a cutting comment. He didn’t expect her to say, “Yes, you are gorgeous and built like a goddamn dream, Kyle, but you don’t need me to tell you that.”

  A compliment? That threw him off.

  “I’m sure all the bunnies lined up after an event always tell you the same thing,” she added.

  And there was the snark. But her sarcasm was covering up something else. Fear? Interest in getting naked with him? Regardless, Kyle wouldn’t let her get away with it. He leaned close enough to feel her breath on his lips. “Makes me all tingly that you see me that way, kitten. Anytime you wanna do more than look? Alls you gotta do is ask.” He smooched her nose and stepped back to tuck in his shirt. “Now back to the other question.”

  “Umm. What other question?”

  He’d completely flustered her. Good. “Do you want to go to the lawyer’s office with me?”

  “I thought I would. Unless you don’t want me to go.”

  “I want you to be there. I just didn’t want to assume.” He slipped on socks and his boots. He grabbed his coat and gloves off the chair. “Since my mother told the attorney we recently strapped on that ole ball and chain, we’re gonna have to act like this marriage is real, okay?”

  Celia studied him. “Just for today?”

  Kyle said, “Yes,” even though he wanted to say he wanted longer than just a damn day with her.

  “Deal.” Then she bestowed the sneaky smile that charmed the hell out of him. “But I do believe it’s your husbandly duty to warm up the truck so I don’t catch my death of cold.” She batted her eyelashes.

  He laughed. “Nice try. But I’ll make you a deal. If you get overly chilled, I’ll show you all the ways I can heat your body back up.”

  Kyle paced like a caged animal before they were called into the lawyer’s office.

  “Kyle?” A woman approached. “I’m Stacy, Bill’s assistant. He’s ready if you’d like to follow me.”

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