Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James

  wine. “Why’d you buy this place?”

  “It’s convenient. I spend enough time outside that I don’t wanna do yard work. Dave maintains this outside so it blends in with the rest of the buildings around the lodge. The size is perfect. I don’t need much space.” He popped the top on his bottle of Budweiser.

  “What’s that scowling face for?”

  “Thinking about my ex-wife. She never would’ve lived in a place like this.”

  Harlow looked around and smiled. “Too bad. It’s so homey. Although I admit I wish you would’ve kept the wallpaper.”

  “Did you put your stamp in here someplace?”

  “Just one thing.”


  She laughed. “Not telling you because you’ll think it’s stupid. You probably already tore it down.”

  “Show me.”

  With a smirk on her lips, she spun around. Her flip-flops smacked against her heels as she walked into the bedroom. She flicked on the lights and stopped at the edge of the king-sized bed before she looked up. “The hook is still there.”

  “The canopy was your doing?”

  “My one princessy thing.” She cocked her head. “I imagine you don’t believe that, so I’ll say I was used to living under mosquito netting and it made me feel safe. Did you check the drawers for a tiara after you moved in?”

  Hugh got toe-to-toe with her. “No. But I was hopin’ to find a pair of your lacy drawers in the drawers. Does that count?”

  “In your dreams, cowboy.” She put her hands on his chest and pushed him. “How did we end up in your bedroom first thing?”

  “Just lucky, I guess.” Since she’d touched him first, he took that as a sign touching was okay. He curled his hand beneath her jaw and tilted her face up. He just stared at her. A challenge was there in her blue eyes. Her soft pink lips parted. In anticipation?

  She said, “Don’t make a big production out of it.”

  “Out of what?”

  “Kissing me. Just do it. That’s what you’re waiting for, isn’t it?”

  Hugh angled his head closer. And closer. Until their breath mingled. “Just want to get it over with?” He barely brushed his lips over hers and he felt hers tremble. “Fast and hard, in a burst of passion, and then it’s done? Kinda like the night we fucked?”

  “You consumed me that night, Hugh.” Her soft exhalation drifted into his mouth and he could almost taste her. “You devoured me and then spit me out when you’d had enough.”

  “I’ll never get enough of you, Harlow. I knew it then. I know it now. So if you want me to devour you this time, say the word.”

  “What word?” she murmured against the corner of his mouth.

  “Please.” He pressed a full-on kiss to her lips. “Devour.” Another longer mouth-on-mouth connection. “Me.”

  “Yes. Please devour me.”

  He planted his mouth on hers fully and settled in.

  Kissing Harlow was a fucking benediction.

  He’d never appreciated the power of a kiss—even when he had kissed her before, it had never been like this. Not with the conviction of a man who knew what he wanted.

  More than just one kiss. More than just one night.

  Harlow’s fingers flexed into his chest.

  He bit back a growl at how quickly her flesh yielded to his as he adjusted her head to dive ever deeper into her succulent mouth.

  That’s when she pulled away.

  And he let her—after he pressed his mouth to hers one last time for a soft kiss before leading her out of the room. “Hungry?”

  “Starved.” She paused. “What did you cook?”

  “Grilled portobello mushrooms, baked potatoes and a tomato salad.” Hugh glanced at her over his shoulder. “All vegetarian.”

  “Will they revoke your membership to the cattlemen’s club for making a meatless meal?”

  “I never considered that. Guess it’ll have to be our little secret, doll.”

  “I guess so.” She picked up her wineglass.

  “Have a seat.”

  Hugh loaded the food on the table and sat across from her.

  “Why don’t I know if you’re a good cook?”

  “You worried?”

  Her noncommittal shrug made him laugh.

  “I ain’t a bad cook. It wasn’t my own cooking that turned me into a lard ass, though. It was bein’ on the road, eating fried food three meals a day.”

  “So it wasn’t you eating your troubles away after your divorce that packed on the pounds?”

  “Nope. That’s when I finally lost the weight. The irony isn’t lost on me either,” he said dryly.

  Harlow filled her plate and waited while Hugh did the same.

  After she praised the food and they ate in silence for a while, she broke it. “So, Hugh. What do you do for fun?”

  He chewed a bite of the grilled mushroom. Not bad, but he wished it were a filet. “Checking to see if I’ve changed my boring ways?”

  “You still bothered by my ‘You wouldn’t know fun if it bit you on the ass’ comment from when we first met?”

  “Mostly it bothered me because it was true. It still is to some extent.”

  “Why’s that?”

  “I work ten to twelve hours a day. When I have a day off, I hang around here anyway. Damn good thing Tobin and I get along so well.” He took a drink of beer. “We joke that we’re married to the job, which practically makes us married to each other. God knows we spend more time together than most married couples.”

  “Which means you don’t want to hang out with Tobin after the workday ends.”

  “Him’n me and Ike and Holt are the only single ones left in our group. Holt is working all over the state. Ike’s a local, so he has family around here. Which leaves . . . me’n Tobin.”

  “Are you regretting moving away from your friends and family? It’s a pretty isolated existence.”

  “That’s part of the reason why my wife is now my ex-wife. The isolation would’ve made her crazier yet. Her idea of hell was livin’ in the middle of nowhere, bein’ away from friends and shopping.”

  “And your idea of hell?”

  Hugh looked at her. “Talking about my ex-wife with a beautiful woman I’m havin’ dinner with.” His gaze dropped to her plate and he was surprised to see it was empty. He still had half his food. Jesus. Had he been yammering on that much?

  Harlow’s fingers brushed his forearm. “The meal was so good I’m afraid I ate like I’d never seen food before. Thank you.”

  That gentle stroking on his arm was unconsciously erotic. He lowered his head, hiding his eyes so she couldn’t see how deeply her simple touch affected him. He mumbled, “You’re welcome.”

  Then the warmth of her hand was gone. “If you don’t eat up, I might just finish yours too.”

  “Then you might not have room for dessert.”

  “There’s dessert?”

  He looked up. “Yep.”

  “What is it?”

  “A surprise.”

  A funny look crossed her face.


  “Why are you being so . . . ?”

  “So what, darlin’?”


  Hugh leaned over the table. “The first time around, you musta missed out on the fact that I am charming. So I’m just showing you what’s always been there.” He picked up her hand and brushed his mouth across her knuckles. “I’ll give it to you straight. I wanna spend time with you for as long as you’re here.”


  She really wasn’t going to make this easy on him.

  It’s no less than what you deserve for how you treated her last time.

  “Because there’s always been something between us. Even when one of us didn’t want to own up to it. I let my fear get the best of me three years ago, Harlow. I screwed up with you.” He felt heat creeping up his neck. “When I think back to how I acted like an eight-year-old boy, saying stupid, mean shit . . . only way it
could’ve been more obvious that I liked you was if I’da yanked on your ponytail or pushed you in the mud.”

  Harlow’s lips curved. “Renner did that to Tierney when she first came here to oversee things. It’s more like she fell in the mud after he scared her, but she ended up in a puddle in one of her fancy suits.”

  “So you saying if I would’ve pushed you in the pool that night I caught you skinny-dippin’ . . . ?”

  “I would’ve held on to you for all I was worth and dragged you under with me.”

  He swept his thumb over the inside of her wrist. “I wouldn’t have put up much resistance. A hot, naked woman squirming against my wet body? That’s my idea of heaven.”

  “I’m not going to sleep with you tonight,” she blurted out.

  Hugh couldn’t help but grin. “Damn. There goes my dessert plan. Now I’ll have to rustle up ice cream.”

  “Eat your dinner, cowboy, and stop thinking about eating me.”

  Oh, hell yeah. His dick stirred at the prospect of that. “Sorry, but I can’t stop thinking about tasting those sweet lips.”

  Her baby blues flashed when she realized what lips he meant.

  So he pushed his luck a little. Bringing her hand to his mouth, he kissed the base of her knuckles between her index and middle fingers. Then locking his heated gaze to hers, he pushed the tip of his tongue through the split V of her fingers. Flicking his tongue in and out, back and forth. Licking softly. Then gently nibbling.

  “You’re pulling out all the stops, aren’t you?”

  “Yeah, darlin’, I am. I’ve been waiting to get the chance to make it up to you.” He nipped at the fleshy skin between her thumb and index finger. “But if you’re still leery, then I can pull back and let the heat smolder a little longer until we’re ready to combust. I want you to trust me. And I want you to know that I won’t run scared this time.”

  Harlow’s other hand shook when she picked up her wineglass. After draining the pale liquid, she peered at him over the rim. “And if I said ‘Get over here, push my dress up and put that sweet-talkin’ mouth between my thighs’ . . . ?”

  “I’d get fabric burns from my jeans I’d be on my knees so damn fast.”

  She laughed. “Just checking.”

  He shoveled in the rest of his food without tasting it. Then he cleared the plates and grabbed the bottle of wine. “More?”

  “No thanks.”

  “Did it suck?”

  “Not at all. But since Tierney is ready to pop and I’m on tap for Isabelle duty, I limit myself to one glass.”

  “I know the circumstances ain’t been ideal, but it’s a huge load off Renner’s mind that you’re here to take care of the precious.”

  “Yes, it’s a shame the darling little girl suffers from lack of attention.” She slid her chair back. “I need to move around before the food and wine make me sleepy.”

  “I have to head down to the barn.”

  “Okay. Then I’ll just go back to my trailer and let you—”

  Hugh pressed his mouth to hers to keep her from babbling. “I wasn’t tryin’ to get rid of you. I want you to come with me.”

  “Okay.” She shoved her cell phone in the pocket of her skirt.

  He opened the door for her and followed her out.

  The evening air held a chill and his gaze moved over Harlow’s bare arms. “Did you bring a coat?”

  “No. I’m fine. I’ve always been hot-blooded.” The instant she said it, she amended, “Not that way.”

  “I beg to differ.” He clasped her hand in his, and pulled her arm against his body. “Rocks are slippery in them kinda shoes.”

  Harlow stopped and stared at the sign:


  “Has there been a problem with unauthorized guests?”

  “There was before we put the sign up. Lots of people think the barn is some kinda petting zoo.”

  She gasped dramatically. “It’s not? Then I’m leaving right now. You know how much I love feeling bunny fur.”

  “As long as it’s still attached to the bunny,” Hugh said dryly. He pushed open the barn door and towed her inside.

  Her nose wrinkled, but she didn’t comment.

  He’d been around these scents for so long the smell didn’t even register with him. He led her down the center of the barn, keeping a tight grip on her hand.

  “I’m surprised there’s still a dirt floor in here. I’d expect a fancy operation like this to have upgraded to concrete.”

  “Fancy operation?” he repeated.

  “In the countries I’ve worked in, everyone was farmers or involved in agriculture in some way. The shelters they built to protect their animals had palm-thatched roofs, support poles made out of whatever they could scrounge up and dirt floors.”

  “Ah.” Hugh scraped his boot across the dirt. “This whole area is almost solid rock beneath us. The contractor had to use dynamite to get down far enough to set the footings. The lodge is built on the one section of the land that was level and had the least amount of dirt work. So when building the barns, Renner chose metal over traditional wood, because metal can withstand the drastic shifts in temperature. The ground is a living thing, and keeping the flooring dirt is better for the animals too, because that’s what they’re used to in the field.”

  Harlow looked thoughtful. “So the people in the Third World countries aren’t behind the times as much as we’d imagined.”

  “Nope. By and large dirt is best.” He glanced down at her bare toes peeking out from beneath her long skirt. “But dirt is hell on manicures.”

  “Pedicures,” she corrected. “But since I prefer to go barefoot whenever possible, a little dirt don’t hurt.”

  Hugh recognized that she’d mimicked him, but it didn’t bother him. He bent down and kissed her soundly right on her smirking mouth. When he pulled back, he saw her eyes were shining with pleasure.

  She reached up and touched his beard. “It’s softer than I remember. Have you always had this?”

  “I’d originally started growing it to hide the weight I’d put on. After I lost the weight, I kept it.” He captured her hand with his and kissed the center of her palm. Then he resumed the leisurely stroll.

  Harlow was craning her neck to see inside the pens. “Where are all the animals?”

  “We don’t have any right now that need doctoring. A couple of heifers got into the bull’s pasture and will calve out of season that we’re keeping an eye on.”

  “So no baby horses?”

  “Not this year. Tobin’s been wanting to breed Dream Killer, since she’s a helluva bucker. But he’s waiting to see what Renner does with the rodeo stock contracting side, since she’s one of the reasons we get rodeo contracts.”

  “What’s the other reason?”

  “BB, our bull.”

  She laughed. “The one that Tierney stole?”

  “Jesus. Your sister was crazy to do that. But it was goddamned funny.”

  “She’s always had a better sense of humor than people have given her credit for.” Harlow shot him a sideways glance. “I suspect people who know you say the same thing about you.”

  Hugh shrugged.

  “What’s that?” She pointed to a closed door in the far back corner.

  “Tack room.”

  When he opened the door, she said, “No one locks their doors around here. I find that really bizarre.”

  “Says the girl from Chicago.”

  “Theft happens outside of big cities.” Harlow walked into the room. “I’d think with all these saddles and other leather stuff you’d want to lock it up.” She wandered to the workbench and tilted her head to look up at the rafters. “I love the scent of leather.”

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