Hang tough, p.6
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       Hang Tough, p.6
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         Part #8 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  slowly unfolded it and slapped it on his chest. “Do not delude yourself that you have any right to tell me what or what not to do.”

  “Tiger’s got claws,” he murmured.

  “What did you hope to accomplish with that note?”

  “Look, I wrote it last night when I was pissed off at you, all right?” His gaze briefly dipped to her mouth before connecting with her eyes again. “After I left for work I was hoping it fell down and you didn’t see it because, believe it or not, I don’t want to fight with you.”

  She said, “‘There will be hell to pay’ and ‘don’t test me on this’ were code for ‘let’s kiss and make up’?” Her face flamed. Why in the world had she said that?

  And why did Tobin’s eyes gleam as if he considered that a great idea?

  “Jade? Are you coming to help me or what?” GG yelled from the kitchen.

  Saved by the yelling granny. “Be right there.” She crumpled the note in her fist and tossed it at him.

  Tobin caught it before it bounced off his chin. He grinned. “You added hearts and flowers to this, didn’t you?”

  “More like daggers and skulls.” She sidestepped him and hustled into the kitchen.

  Of course Tobin didn’t stay out of the kitchen.

  Within ten minutes of GG heading to her “boudoir” for a long bubble bath, he wandered in. He invaded Jade’s space so completely she caught a whiff of the soap he used.

  “Smells great in here. Are there any extra samples you need me to try?”

  “Should’ve gotten here sooner for that.”

  “Damn. So are any of them ready for me?”

  “No. They have to be cooled completely before you can frost them. I just took the last batch out of the oven fifteen minutes ago.”

  “How much longer until I can start?”

  Jade stopped wiping down the counter and peered over her shoulder at him. “An hour probably.”

  “Are you gonna help me?”

  She laughed. “Nice try.”

  “Why not?”

  She faced him. “A, I didn’t see you in here the past two and a half hours helping us. B, you seem to have forgotten the ‘we’re not to occupy the same place and are supposed to actively ignore each other’ rule. C, well, there is no C presently, but I’ll probably come up with one the longer you stand there breaking rule number one.”

  Tobin grinned. “You are Little Miss Rule Follower, aren’t you?”

  “Yes. This is where you tell me that you aren’t big on following the rules.”

  “Actually, I’m totally a by-the-book guy.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Does that surprise you?”

  She found herself saying, “Yes,” almost automatically. “So as long as you’re here, Mr. By the Book, check out the schedule on the fridge.”

  Tobin pushed away from the counter. “A schedule for what?”

  “When GG plans to eat with you and me, but she isn’t dining with us at the same time at all, nor is she letting us dine together.”

  “This is just plain damn ridiculous.”

  “Maybe if you hadn’t been so argumentative and antagonistic since the moment I arrived, things would be different.”

  “I’m taking the high road and ignoring that comment, which is also proof that I can follow the rules. But I’ll forgive you for your rules breach if you stay and help me frost these damn cupcakes.”

  She smiled. “You wish.”

  “Not fair to deny me a taste.”

  Her focus went straight to his mouth and she managed, “What?”

  “You must’ve had a taste, because you have batter on your face.” Tobin’s hand slid beneath her hair and he pressed his fingers against her neck, letting the rough pad of his thumb glide across her jawbone.

  Jade didn’t move; she couldn’t breathe as he gently rubbed on the spot. The heat from his body hit hers as if she’d opened the oven door.

  “I got it off,” he said, his deep voice gruffer than normal.

  “Ah. Thank you.”

  He dropped his hand and stepped back. Then he jammed his hand through his hair. “So, uh, yeah. I’ll . . . ah . . . be back in an hour.”

  Then he was gone, leaving Jade to wonder what had just happened.

  Tobin was fucked.

  Seriously fucked.

  And not because he’d almost fucking kissed Jade in the kitchen two hours ago.

  Goddammit. He’d immediately gotten hard when he’d touched her smooth skin and her hair had brushed his knuckles like the finest silk. When she’d parted her lips and a sexy sigh had escaped, just a quick hitch in her breath that sounded like an invitation . . . he’d forced himself—and his cock—to stand down.

  He oughta get a cupcake for not devouring her.

  Focus, man.

  Keeping in mind Jade’s comment about not embarrassing Miz G with, oh, just plain old sprinkles on the cupcakes, he’d actually attempted to be creative. Using the banana-shaped candy and two of the orange-shaped hard candies, he’d tried to make a bird with a curved beak.

  So his first tray of cupcakes looked like an erect dick and balls.

  Fucking awesome.

  He hadn’t fared much better on tray two. He’d nestled two gumdrops side by side, placing a dot of icing on the center of each gumdrop to make them look like a pair of eyes.

  Except . . . they looked like a pair of tits.

  That’s when he grabbed a beer out of the fridge. Miz G would blow a gasket when she saw the X-rated decorations that he’d constructed.

  He powered through with tray three when he found a cookie mold and pressed the shape into the frosting, which allowed him to outline with icing. Then he filled it in with colored sugar and sprinkles so they resembled flowers.

  Tray four—and beer two—he fashioned the pi symbol out of the hard candies on each one. Hey, educators always claimed kids never had enough math.

  He was on a motherfucking roll for the last tray. Slicing the licorice whips in random lengths and poking them into the cupcakes so it resembled a porcupine or something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Add in some rainbow sprinkles . . . and ta-fucking-da. Done.

  Jade pushed through the swinging doors. “Oh. You’re still decorating?”

  The woman had the worst poker face ever; he didn’t believe for a second she wasn’t checking up on him. “I just finished.”

  “Mind if I have a look?”

  “Knock yourself out.”

  She smiled at the flower tray. Laughed at the pi tray and said, “Pi on cake. Clever, cowboy.”

  Tobin shrugged, but he was pleased.

  She laughed again at the porcupine tray. “These are awesome. Kids will go crazy for them.”

  And then . . . she reached the other two trays. She shifted her stance a couple of times before her gaze sought his. “So what happened here?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You know what I mean.”

  He manufactured a confused frown. “They look fine to me.”

  “Really? Because they are completely inappropriate.”

  “How so?”

  “You cannot send cupcakes decorated like breasts and a dick and balls to a school carnival, Tobin.”

  “They’re not that bad.” Belligerently, he folded his arms on his chest. “Maybe you just have a dirty mind.”

  Jade stared at him. “There is a phallic-shaped piece of fruit sticking up between two oranges—not a huge leap to see an erect cock and balls. And your gumdrops have nipples.”

  “Huh. Well, the adults will get a charge out of them.”

  “No, they will charge GG with indecency.”

  “Shit. You’re right.”

  She inhaled a deep breath. “What were you trying to make?”

  “With which one?”

  “The gumdrop nipples. What’s the small dot halfway down? Because it looks like a belly button, which really makes those look like boobs.”

  Tobin rubbed the skin between his eyebrows. “It was just a mark to kno
w where to put the licorice smile.”

  “Adding that in might fix it.”

  “Except I used all the licorice.”

  “Awesome.” She leaned over the other tray. “I can’t wait to hear your explanation on this one.”

  “An attempt to re-create Gonzo from The Muppet Show.”

  “While you get points for creativity, I think Gonzo’s eyes are blue.”

  “Yeah. And that would’ve been so much better. Blue balls and a banana dick nose.”

  Jade laughed.

  God. She was even prettier when she laughed.

  She’d look even better with swollen lips after he kissed the daylights out of her.

  “Good luck figuring out a way to fix them,” she said.

  He shook his head to clear it. “They’re done. I’m not a creative guy on my best days. Today was grueling, moving livestock with one less helper than usual, and I’m fried. I get to get up at five thirty and do it all again.”

  Jade slipped her hands in the back pockets of her jeans. “Was any of the livestock you moved yours?”

  Strange question. “I don’t own cattle. I’m just a hired hand.”

  She studied him. “Somehow . . . I don’t believe that.”

  That hadn’t sounded antagonistic, just curious.

  When Jade realized she’d been staring at him, she backed up. “Anyway, see you tomorrow.”

  “Did you get what you came for?” he asked when she’d almost reached the door.


  “You’re in the kitchen. You haven’t grabbed a snack or a drink. So I have to ask, Little Miss Rule Follower, why you came in here when you knew us inhabiting the same space is against the rules?”

  Jade blinked innocently—but couldn’t quite pull it off. “I thought you would’ve finished long ago.”

  “Wrong. You knew I’d be struggling with this, didn’t you?”

  “I suspected you’d exaggerated your skills. So . . . maybe I came down here to peek at your cupcakes so I could secretly snicker at them and feel superior.”

  He hadn’t expected that much honesty from her. “And the verdict?

  “Split decision. Those three pans? Very clever and unique. No snickering. However the boobs and dick ones? I’m totally feeling—”

  “Superior?” he supplied.

  “More like bad for you. Because dude. Those seriously suck.” Her eyes lit up. “Can I snap a picture of them and post them online as a Pinterest fail?”

  “I have no idea what that even is, so I’m gonna say no.”

  “I’d let you do a Pinterest fail on me if the situations were reversed.”

  All Tobin heard from that was do me.

  Yeah, baby, I’d do you in a fucking heartbeat.

  Wrapping that silky black hair around my hands as I ate at that sassy mouth. Feeling your legs clamped around my hips as I powered my cock into you slowly, making you wait to get off because you like it fast and hard.

  Whoa. What the hell was wrong with him? He shouldn’t be fantasizing about fucking Jade; he oughta be fantasizing about her fucking leaving. He didn’t even like her.

  Actually you don’t even know her.


  He offered her a hangdog smile. “Sorry. It’s late and I zoned out there for a moment.”

  “I said thanks for helping out with the cupcake emergency tonight.”

  Her hair had fallen in front of her face, giving him a glimpse of the shyness Miz G had spoken of. “You’re welcome. And don’t worry, tiger, I won’t tell Miz G about how blatantly you broke the rules tonight since I know how worried you are about disappointing her.”

  “The ‘rule’ is pretty absurd. But if you know my grandmother as well as you claim to, you also understand the more times we tell her how ridiculous or unenforceable her rule is, the more stubborn she’ll get about it. If she thinks we’re going behind her back and purposely breaking it? She will be a hard-core pain about it. We’ll never hear the end of it.”

  Tobin laughed. “That’s true. So what are you suggesting?”

  “Nothing. This conversation never happened.” She flashed him a grin and left the kitchen.

  Tobin thought everyone was sleeping early the next morning when he walked out the front door, heading to work.

  He’d only reached the top porch step when he heard, “Tobin Hale. I need a word with you. Right now.”

  He faced Miz G and bit back a groan. She hadn’t bothered to take out her curlers or change out of her flannel pajamas and fuzzy flippers. “I’m running late. Can’t it wait?”

  “No. Kitchen. Now. And don’t dawdle, sonny.”

  Shit. She’d already seen the titty and dick cupcakes. He hadn’t figured out a way to fix them last night, so he’d just left them and gone to bed.

  Sure enough, Miz G stood by the counter, her arms crossed over her bony chest, the bunny head on her slipper flopping side to side as she tapped her foot impatiently. She’d peeled back the aluminum foil halfway on each pan. “Care to explain these?”

  Tobin had decided to claim he was drunk—sad when that lie was better than the truth. So when he saw the pans she was pointing to, he did a double take. The dick cupcakes looked like pinwheels with the banana-shaped candies pressed into the frosting. And the titty cupcakes were flowers—flattened pieces of gumdrops shaped to resemble sugared rose petals, arranged around a hole in the center of the cupcake that was filled with strawberry-champagne preserves.

  Jade. That little sneak. She’d come back down here last night and saved his bacon.

  Totally unexpected.

  Totally sweet.

  He laughed with relief and delight because once again, Jade had shocked the hell out of him—in a good way.

  Then Miz G’s bony finger was drilling him in the chest. “I don’t find this funny in the least. Dadgummit, boy, why didn’t you tell me you had a flair for cake decorating?”

  Flair? Oh hell no. He had to nip this in the bud ASAP. “It was a fluke.”

  “Horse puckey. Tell me the truth.”

  It wouldn’t be fair to drag Jade into this so he said, “I used to make cupcakes with my grandma.”

  A beat of silence passed.

  “And after she passed on . . . you couldn’t do it without thinking of her. Gol-durn it boy, I thought you were getting teary-eyed looking at the frosting last night, but I figured it might’ve been from fear that you’d gotten in over your head.” Her chin wobbled. “I’m sorry. It’ll be our secret.”

  He hadn’t lied, but she’d gone a little farther with the half-truth than he’d expected. “I’d appreciate it.”

  She patted his cheek. “Have a good day at work, dear.”

  Chapter Six

  After tossing and turning in bed for an hour, Jade got up and slipped her clothes on.

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