Saddled and spurred, p.8
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       Saddled and Spurred, p.8

         Part #2 of Blacktop Cowboys series by Lorelei James

  “I’ll . . . ah, just get you that aspirin. And a pillow.” He hustled down the hallway.

  She didn’t want to crash on Bran’s couch. She preferred to go home. But her head was pounding and chances were high that Bran would argue with her, which would make her head hurt worse.

  He returned with a bottle of aspirin and brought her a glass of water. “Here.”

  After she downed the pills, she reluctantly stretched out, tucking the pillow beneath her cheek.

  Bran covered her with a blanket.

  That was sort of sweet. Until she remembered he’d called her a heifer.

  “Need anything else?”

  “Just for you to wake me up in two hours because I have to work at Get Nailed.”

  “Can’t you call in sick?”

  “No. I promised Bernice this job with you wouldn’t interfere with my job there. I’m the only nail tech she’s got.”

  “Then I promise I’ll wake you. I’ll be back in my office doin’ bookwork. Just holler if you need anything.”

  But Bran made no move to leave. They stared at one another.

  He said, “What?”

  “Do you really think I’m a heifer? Meaning I’m fat, uncoordinated, and stubborn?”

  Horror filled his eyes. “No. God, no. That’s what you think?”

  She nodded.

  “Of course you do, because that’s what I said. Jesus. I’m a fuckin’ idiot.” He stepped forward and crouched down close to her. Very close to her. “You’re about as far from fat . . .” Bran’s gaze swept over her blanket-covered form, as if he were imagining her naked beneath it. “You’re so goddamn flawlessly built with all these curves, I can’t believe you’d think I’d ever see you as anything less than perfect.”


  “As far as uncoordinated, you were doin’ just fine on the ATV until your hare-raising experience.”

  She fought a smile.

  “So next time you see a bunny? Run the damn thing over, okay?”

  Harper blinked at him. Faced with the same situation again, she would do the exact same thing.

  Bran bestowed that heart-stopping smile on her. “You are stubborn, I’ll give you that much.” His smile faded. “Harper. Are you sure you’re okay?”

  “Besides the headache?”

  “Yeah. I mean, if this is too much for you, I’d understand . . .”

  “You’d understand if I . . . what? Wanna quit?”

  His stormy gray eyes stared back at her, but his mouth stayed shut.

  “Because I had one little spill?” Harper rolled her eyes. “Please. I understand working as a ranch hand can be dangerous, but so can any other job.”

  He didn’t look convinced. “Oh, really?”

  “Absolutely. For instance? When I was a waitress, the dishwasher spilled soap all over the floor and I crashed into the wall and nearly broke my arm. And when I was cleaning motel rooms, the vacuum I used had a short in the cord and I almost electrocuted myself. Not to mention all the times my butt got pinched when I was slinging drinks at the sports bar. Or worse, if a guy ‘accidentally’ stuck his face in my boobs. That was far worse than taking a tumble off a slow-moving ATV, trust me.”

  A dark expression crossed his face. “I hope you got sore knuckles from clocking those motherfuckers who pinched you. You shouldn’t have had to put up with that shit—”

  “My point is, any type of work can be risky, Bran. No biggie. I’ll be fine, okay?” Harper squeezed his upper arm. Whoa. Talk about big biceps. She should move her hand, but somehow . . . she didn’t.

  “Okay. But I’ll be watching you a lot closer. Guaranteed.”

  Why did the thought of Bran watching her closely send a delicious shiver through her from head to toe?

  Probably because you’re cold.

  In a move that was hot, seductive, and unexpected, Bran ran the back of his rough-skinned knuckles down her cheek. “Sweet dreams, sweetheart.”

  She closed her eyes, wishing he’d continue that gentle stroking motion until she fell asleep. But his touch disappeared and his footsteps faded down the hallway.

  Her dream was anything but sweet.

  A bucolic scene unfolded, golden rays of sun shining on lush green grass. A floral-scented breeze stirred her hair, blowing the loose strands across her face. She looked down and saw boots on her feet, dark denim covering her legs, and her glove-clad hands wrapped around the top rung of a metal corral.

  A man-size shadow fell across her and she shivered, but not with fear. Warm lips landed on the side of her neck, tasting the skin up to her ear. His breath teased the sensitive area until she arched closer for more.

  “That’s my girl,” he murmured in a deep, husky tone.

  When she turned her head for a kiss, he denied her. He held her chin in his fingers, forcing her to face forward. “Watch,” he whispered gruffly.

  A big black bull entered her peripheral vision, his cock distended, his balls swaying with every lumbering step. Two cows stood side by side. Waiting. Their breath coming hard and fast. The cow on the left cranked her head, and made a bellowing moo before trotting off. The cow on the right just stayed in place. Waiting.

  “See how she lifts her tail? Letting him know she’s ready?”

  Harper nodded and Bran’s fingers slowly traced the curve of her neck to where her heart pulsed in her throat.

  “Is this rapid heartbeat telling me you’re ready?”

  Yes. For anything.

  Then all fifteen hundred pounds of bull was practically vertical as he mounted the willing cow. After a half dozen powerful thrusts, the bull stilled briefly and dismounted.

  The cow didn’t move at all. She just went back to grazing.

  “Aren’t you glad that with human males it’s not all about speed? It’s about stamina. Not how many we service, but how well we service . . . just one?”


  “Ssh. Watch. The other one is gonna make him work for it.”

  Sure enough, as soon as the bull closed in, the cow trotted away. Not across the length of the pen, but far enough that the bull had to come to her. The male snorted and bulled his way forward. The cow twitched her tail and moved ahead of him.

  Bran gave her a blow by blow of the bovine foreplay, which shouldn’t have been sexy, but somehow was. His husky voice rasped terms like thrusting power and hard mount in her ear, and the simple words danced across her skin like fire.

  Finally the bull had run the cow into a corner. She delicately lifted her tail and the grunting bull rose on his haunches. His big body shook as he thrust. But like the first go-round, this mating was short.

  Bran’s hands traveled the length of her arms and followed the length of her torso down, to circle her hips. He angled his head and nuzzled the other side of her neck. “You ever been taken like that, Harper? Hard and fast and dirty?” Those thick fingers squeezed her hipbones. “When all you care about is feeling your male’s raw thrusting power?”

  Harper whispered, “No.”

  “I could show you. Drop your jeans and be inside you in thirty seconds.” He latched on to her earlobe with his teeth and tugged playfully. “But I wouldn’t go fast. I’d go slow. Achingly slow. I’d stay deep. I’d stay on you. In you. Prove to you I don’t think you’re a heifer.”

  Her hands tightened on the corral. Her head spun with the feel of him, the scent of him, the hard strength of his body holding her up, turning her on even as he turned her inside out.

  He trailed moist kisses to her nape. “Let me show you. All you have to do is open the gate.”

  “Gate? What gate?”

  A buzzing in her pocket brought Harper out of the dream with a gasp as she opened her eyes. Ceiling tiles wavered above her, not the endless blue sky of the pastoral scene.

  Holy crap. She was at Bran’s house, having a wet dream about him.

  How embarrassing.

  How sexy and totally . . . hot.

  But still, she couldn’t face him, knowing
he would grill her about how she was feeling . . . and horny wasn’t an answer she was prepared to share. Her worst fear? That Bran would see the look on her face and figure out what she’d been dreaming about. Them. Getting ready to have sex against the corral fence like animals.

  She dug her phone out of her front pocket and read the text message from Bailey. Shoot. She had to go. Now. She listened and heard the deep, rumbling tones of Bran talking on the phone. She dressed as quietly as possible and snuck out.

  Chapter Five

  “We’ve got time for coffee,” Bran said the next morning. He shifted his grocery bag and ambled inside.

  Harper followed him into his trailer. Would he mention her leaving without a word yesterday?

  Bran kept his boots on, so Harper followed suit. She ditched her winter wear and sat at the chrome and black 1950s dinette table in the kitchen. He tossed a box of powdered-sugar doughnuts on the table and handed her a napkin. “Help yourself.”

  “Thanks. I can’t remember the last time I had a doughnut.”

  “I’ll admit I don’t normally buy them either.” He offered a rueful smile. “Consider them an early apology.”

  “For what?”

  “For you havin’ to be here this morning and then havin’ to come back later tonight.” Bran bit into the sugary confection and white powder dusted the front of his flannel shirt. “We’re gonna have a bunch of calves drop tonight.”

  Harper broke her doughnut into four pieces. “So do you always know when the cows will start dropping?”

  “No. But after checking them last night, I fully expect we’ll see lots of activity. Will that be a problem as far as your sister?” He snatched another doughnut, as his first one was already gone. “Because you’ll need to be here for the next few nights.”

  “She’ll be eighteen soon and she is very responsible. I know she doesn’t party, so me being gone won’t be an excuse for her to invite her friends over.”

  “Totally opposite kid than I was my senior year. When I was seventeen my grandparents left me overnight to go to a stock show. We had a helluva party.”

  “Did they find out?”

  “Yep. Ain’t nothin’ a secret for long in Muddy Gap.”

  “I suppose so.” Harper grabbed another doughnut before her conscience could recite fat and calorie content. “Did you get in trouble?”

  “Extra chores for a month, which wasn’t a big deal since I knew Grandpa planned on making me do that shitty stuff anyway. So havin’ the party was definitely worth it.”

  The coffeemaker beeped and Harper automatically stood.

  “Sit. I’ll bring you some. Black, right?”

  “Right.” She felt ridiculous for Bran waiting on her. As his employee, shouldn’t she be waiting on him?

  “What about you?” he asked as he set down two cups of coffee. “Were you ever a wild party girl?”

  “No. Not that my mom would’ve cared if I’d gone out every night and got stinking drunk.”

  Bran lifted his eyebrows. “Really?”

  “In fact, she would’ve preferred it. Then we could’ve been drinking buddies and we would’ve had at least one thing in common.”

  “You talkin’ before or after you moved here?”

  “Before. Once my mom figured out I could enter pageants . . . well, then she wasn’t so embarrassed about me being a straight arrow. Drunk-and-disorderly charges are not exactly beauty pageant material, are they?”

  “Hell, I don’t know. Sorta depends on the title you’re holding. Say you were crowned Miss Hulett during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally? Them bikers would expect you to be tough enough to throw down shots with them.” His lips twitched behind his coffee mug. “And hot enough to look good wearing next to nothin’ riding on the back of a bike.”

  Harper pointed at him with a piece of her doughnut. “Which is why I haven’t entered those types of contests.”

  “What made you choose the ones you did enter?”

  Should she hedge? Or be totally honest?

  Bran backtracked. “Sorry. Ain’t my business. You don’t gotta tell me.”

  “No. It’s okay. I’m just trying to figure out how to phrase this to my new boss without it coming out sounding greedy.” She took a drink of coffee. “The amount of prize money was generally the biggest reason to enter any contest.”

  “So it wasn’t the sashes and trophies, and bein’ crowned the best-lookin’ girl in three counties with men drooling over you with lust that drew your entry?”

  Lust? She almost snorted. “No. My mom never had a stable job. We never knew when she’d wanna pack up and leave. The prize money allowed me to buy my own car. Gave me a little stability. It also paid for college classes here and there.” How had they gotten off track? “So, did you go to college?”

  “No.” Bran pointed at her cup. “Drink up. We’ve gotta get a move on.”

  Talk about an abrupt subject change. Harper ate the last section of her doughnut. When she stood, Bran was right there.

  The man smelled good. Warm with a hint of spicy aftershave. The skin on his cheeks and jaw was smooth, any shadow of his dark whiskers having been scraped away. His eyes were a deep gray, the color of a stormy summer sky. And his lips ... so full and soft-looking. She could lose herself in them, kissing and nibbling and tasting him for hours. She spied a tiny bit of powdered sugar on his upper lip, and she used the tips of her fingers to brush it away.

  His breath caught and she met his eyes. His eyes darkened, then smoldered with liquid heat. A look she’d never seen before and certainly one never aimed in her direction. She swallowed the immediate punch of lust.

  This man is your boss. No playing kissy face with him.

  Somehow, even though Bran kept staring at her, she found her voice. “Umm. You had powdered sugar on your face.”

  “Thanks.” As if he remembered he shouldn’t be standing so close, he sidestepped her. “Meet you at the truck.”

  The day sped by—albeit almost in complete silence. Harper left the ranch, changed clothes at home, and hoofed it to her second job.

  Nails, gossip, and Bernice lightened her mood—until an hour before quitting time when the front door chime jangled. They both glanced over to see Bran Turner stomping in. He didn’t look at Bernice, just made a beeline for Harper and got right in her face.

  “What is the point of havin’ a cell phone if you don’t ever answer the damn thing?”

  “I don’t answer it when I’m working, Bran.”

  “No shit. I’ve been calling you for two hours.”

  “So? You knew I had another job when you hired me. Now, what’s so all-fired important that you had to bust in here like an angry bull and chew me out in front of my boss?”

  That question actually took Bran aback. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinkin’.” He sent Bernice a sheepish smile. “Miz Watson. I apologize for my rude behavior.”

  “I’ll excuse it this one time, but you’d better offer up an apology to Harper too.”

  “Sorry, Harper.” He didn’t look at her, focusing instead on Bernice. “Would it be possible for me to have a word with her?”

  “Sure. I’ll be in the back.” Bernice walked between them, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke in her wake.

  Bran stared at Harper with that inscrutable gaze that gave no hint of what he was thinking.

  “So? What’s got you running to town like a crazy man?”

  “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . things have gotten hectic since you left and I hoped you could come back to the ranch earlier than we’d talked about.”

  “I’m free after my next appointment. Then I’ll have to go home and change, but I can be right out after that.”

  “That’ll work. Thanks.” Bran’s gaze dropped, taking its own sweet time traveling up the span of her body, lingering on the curve of her hips, encased in a short khaki skirt, and the tight fit of her blue satin Western shirt across her breasts. Finally his eyes caught hers and his wholly masculine appreciation, “Goddamn, y
ou look good,” knocked the breath out of her lungs.

  She fought a blush . . . and lost. “Thanks.”

  “But I gotta admit, as much as I like seeing you lookin’ all soft and
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