Branded as trouble, p.8
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       Branded as Trouble, p.8

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 8

 

  “It’s an added bonus if your breasts are sensitive. Especially if you have a lover who knows what he’s doing. Who understands your balance point between pleasure and pain. ”

  “I’ve never had a lover give me what I really want. ” She looked away.

  India waited, hoping Domini would say something else. When she didn’t, India let it drop. “Are we ready?”

  “I am. ”

  They opted to drive to the community center. Upon seeing all the trucks and cars spilling out into the street and filling up the parking lot of St. Winifred’s Catholic Church, they figured they might’ve been better off walking.

  The band had set up in the back. Tables along the near wall were piled with cookies and bars; on the far wall the tables were crammed with auction items.

  Nadia waved and Domini headed to the table. India hung back, her eyes scanning the crowd for a familiar face.

  No, for the familiar face.

  Lots of dark-haired men, but not the one she was looking for.

  She bulled her way through the crowd, smiling at the folks she knew, ignoring the pointed stares of the ones she didn’t. She finally saw a face she recognized. Buck McKay, her sister’s brother-in-law.

  Sometimes India forgot Buck and Kade were identical twins because their personalities were so different. Heck, to her, they didn’t even look that much alike. In the last year, Buck had grown a soul patch and shaved his hair to stubble. Good thing the man had a gorgeous skull. He had a gorgeous everything.

  Not as gorgeous as Colt.

  Dammit. She was trying not to obsess about him.

  Buck opened his arms in welcome and she hugged him. “I didn’t expect to see you here, Buck. ”

  “Same goes. Normally, it’s not my thing. But I promised Hayden if he helped me fix fence for two weeks without complainin’, we’d bid on the fly-fishin’ weekend. He upheld his end of the deal, so I’m upholding mine. ” He set his hand on the slender shoulder of the boy beside him. The kid’s slight build and fair complexion made him look about seven, but his eyes behind thick glasses were wise for such a young age.

  “This is my buddy Hayden. Hayden, this is India Ellison. She’s Skylar’s sister. ”

  “Nice to meet you, Hayden. ”

  “You own India’s Ink, right?”

  “Yep. ”

  “When I’m eighteen, I’m going to get a tattoo just like Buck’s. ” He gave Buck a look of absolute adoration.

  India smiled. “It’s never too early to start thinking about the perfect design. I’ll look forward to seeing you in a few years. ”

  “Why don’t you grab us each a cup of punch before the band gets started?” Buck suggested. Hayden took off like a shot.

  “What a cutie. He seems like a nice kid. ”

  “He’s great. ” Buck’s gaze followed the boy across the room.

  “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Don’t know if I ever said thank you for givin’ me a dose of tough love. ”

  “You’re welcome. I’m just glad to see it’s working out. ” A few months back, during a dinner at Sky and Kade’s place, Buck had spent the evening whining. His twin was happily married. His cousin Colt had built a new place and sold the Boars Nest to Cam.

  Poor Buck was left homeless and lonely—a fact he’d bitched about until India snapped. If he was so damn lonely, there were plenty of boys in the Little Buddies program who needed time and attention from an adult male. It’d shocked her a few weeks later when Kade mentioned Buck had taken her advice and signed up for the program.

  “I didn’t expect to see you here either. ”

  “Domini’s idea. But I’d hoped to run into Colt. Have you seen him?”

  Buck’s eyes avoided hers. “Uh. Yeah. ”

  “Where?”

  “He’s around. ”

  When he stayed mum, India demanded, “What’s going on?”

  “You tell me. I figured you and Colt must’ve had a fight or something. ”

  “Why?”

  “Because he’s here with a date. ”

  A sucker punch couldn’t have hurt worse. “What?”

  Pause. “That motherfucker. ” Buck looked at her. “You didn’t know?”

  India shook her head.

  “Just say the word and I’ll kick his ass. ” Buck swore and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “Ah, honey, I’m sorry. ”

  “No wonder he’s been dodging my phone calls all week. ”

  “Stupid bastard. ”

  That caused a small smile. For the hundredth time India wished she could fall in love with Buck McKay. He wanted the same thing she did—what Kade and Skylar had—true love, mutual respect, great sex, a real home, sweet kids, the whole shebang. Buck looked out for her, treating her like a little sister, which was the problem.

  It’d feel incestuous if they became more than friends.

  It should feel incestuous with Colt too, since they’d been friends longer, but somehow…it didn’t.

  She pulled back in mind and body. “Thanks. ”

  Hayden bounded up. Refusing his gentlemanly offer of his punch, India retreated to the shadows by the bathroom.

  Her eyes continually scanned the crowd for Colt. Finally she caught sight of him on the dance floor. God. He was stunning.

  Absolutely freakin’ stunning. He spun the woman in his arms around twice and kept zipping along the outskirts so she didn’t get a good look at his date’s face.

  Why does it matter what she looks like?

  It just did.

  When they performed the forward turn, India scrutinized her.

  The woman was tall. Sturdy. Blonde, with a wide smile that almost hid her horse face. She was maybe five or six years younger than Colt. She dressed in the style of a ranch woman, dark jeans, a brightly colored blouse dotted with geometric shapes and rhinestone snaps. Well-worn ropers the same turquoise as her shirt.

  Sad thing was, if Colt married her, local people would assume Colt had settled, especially in light of his reputation of preferring good-looking, wild women—of which this prim and proper lady was neither.

  Oh, Ms. Horse Woman would pop out a couple of halfway cute kids, be the perfect FFA mom, she’d help Colt run the ranch at top efficiency. She’d…fit in, in ways India never would. It made India sick, because she figured Colt would be back on the booze within six months of committing his life to such a lackluster woman.

  Colt needed someone like India in his life.

  Right. He’ll be dropping on bended knee after you called him a dickhead.

  A fake smile creased Colt’s face as he danced the woman backward and the couple disappeared into the crowd.

  When the song finished, the lights clicked on and the auctioneer randomly selected prizes for bidding. First, a massage package donated by AJ McKay, of Healing Touch Massage, which earned a respectable bid of two hundred dollars. The band kicked off another song. As soon as it ended, the auctioneer took the stage.

  And so it went for three more tunes.

  Skylar’s basket sold for three hundred bucks. The private cooking lessons with Domini, head cook at Dewey’s Delish Dish, fetched fifteen hundred dollars from an anonymous bidder. Domini was clearly flustered by the attention, but extremely pleased.

  Buck placed the winning bid on the fly-fishing trip. He and Hayden waved to her as they claimed their prize and headed out.

  After a snappy rendition of “Oh Lonesome Me” the moment India dreaded arrived. She kept to the back of the room, hidden in the alcove by the drinking fountain.

  The auctioneer snapped the paper in his hand. “Well, I’ll be.

  This is an interesting prize, a one of a kind tattoo, courtesy of India’s Ink. Who’ll start the bidding?”

  Silence.

  India wanted to throw up.

  “Come on, folks, this is for a good cause. Shall we start the biddin
g at one hundred dollars?”

  More silence.

  “How about fifty dollars?”

  She had to force her feet to stay in place and not run out the back door in sheer mortification.

  “I’ll give ya twenty,” some guy shouted from the front row and the whole room erupted into laughter.

  “Seriously, folks. Minimum bid is fifty dollars. Do I hear fifty dollars?”

  Then, “I’ll bid one thousand dollars. ”

  A collective gasp rippled through the crowd.

  The auctioneer pointed. “I have a bid of one thousand dollars.

  Going once. Going twice. ” Crack. The gavel landed on the podium.

  “Sold to the artistically minded gentleman in the black hat, for the sum of one thousand dollars. ”

  A smattering of applause broke out.

  And rather than rejoicing, India seethed.

  Colt McKay was a dead man.

  Chapter Six

  As India headed for the punch table, she formulated a plan of attack. She didn’t know whether to confront him here, or put the anger whammy on him when he least expected it. Her temper was a vile thing. Letting it fly was always a last resort, especially in public, since she usually picked up the nearest heavy object and let it fly too.

  Colt snatched the choice away when he snuck up behind her and drawled, “I didn’t think dances were your thing, India. ”

  “You don’t know everything about me. ” She whirled around.

  “Where’s your date?”

  “Where’s yours?” he countered.

  “I’m here by myself because no one asked me. ”

  “I’m sure my cousin Blake would’ve been happy to escort you.

  Or aren’t there any headboards here that he needs to fix?”

  “You’re hilarious, McKay. ”

  Colt flashed his teeth. “I try. ”

  “I expected better from you. ”

  People around them were starting to stare.

  “Meaning what?”

  Through clenched teeth she said, “Meaning, I don’t need your fucking pity. ”

  “Why would I feel sorry for you?”

  “Because no one else bid on my prize, and you’re throwing cash around like—”
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