Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James

  their usual pushy-ass selves. I love it on the business side, but when it comes to seein’ them do it to my family? Not so much. I’m sure they meant well, because they’re all caring women, but their execution left a lot to be desired, huh?”


  “How was my baby girl last night?”

  “Restless. I ended up sleeping in her bed. Then she was up early. She had a meltdown before lunch, but I attribute it to her being tired. We came to visit Grandpa. She curled up with him to watch cartoons and conked right out. It’s been an hour since I left the two of them. I was about to head back to check on them when I was waylaid by the tiger moms.”

  Renner stopped outside the door and ran his hand through his hair.

  “How are you doing, Daddy?”

  “Tired as hell.” He smiled. “But I haven’t been lugging a baby in my belly the last nine months, so I ain’t complaining none, because Tierney is the one who has that right.”

  “So everything went okay?”

  He rolled up his shirtsleeves. He had finger-shaped bruises on both of his forearms. “No nail gouges or scratch marks this time for me. It went faster for her, but she had back labor for half of it, so she was in a lot of pain.” He briefly closed his eyes. “It fuckin’ killed me to see her like that. Even knowing she’d gone through this before, I just felt so damn helpless watching her go through it again.”

  Harlow’s heart seized at hearing the distress in her brother-in-law’s voice.

  “But then, immediately after she pushed our son out, she was fine. Fine,” he repeated, as if trying to convince himself. He looked at her. “She’s an amazing woman and I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

  She threw herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. “I’m so glad Tierney found you, Renner. You’ve given her everything in life she’s ever wanted.”

  He patted her back. “Thanks, Harlow. And no offense, but I’m already dealing with a hormonal wife and a distressed daughter. I need you to be the one female in my world to stay on an even keel, okay?”

  She nodded.

  “So before we see if Goldilocks and Papa Bear have awoken, let’s go over the plan for the rest of today.”

  “Hit me.”

  “I know you’re dyin’ to see the baby, so I thought if you wanna head into town and spend time with Tierney and Rhett in a bit, I’ll do daddy and daughter stuff with Isa. Then I’ll bring her back into town with me so she can meet her baby brother and see her mama.”

  “Then what?”

  “If you wouldn’t mind hanging around in town while Isa’s visiting the hospital, when we’re done, you can pick her up and come home with her. Feed her, bathe her and tuck her in. I’ll be home later tonight.”

  “You’re not staying in the hospital?”

  Renner shook his head. “Tierney won’t rest if I’m there and she needs it. I’ve got stuff to handle around here in the morning, but I can bring Isabelle with me. They’re planning to release Tierney and Rhett late tomorrow afternoon.” He glanced over his shoulder. “But we’re keeping that on the down low to give Tierney time to settle in at home before people start dropping by.”

  Harlow remembered after Isabelle’s birth a steady stream of well-wishers showed up at Renner and Tierney’s place, adding to their happiness but also to their exhaustion. “Sounds like a plan.” She rubbed her hands together. “I can’t wait to get my hands on that baby boy.”

  “I figured.” Renner knocked twice before he opened the door to Gene Pratt’s room.

  “Daddy!” Isabelle shrieked, and started to launch herself off the bed.

  Renner raced to catch her. “Whoa there, be careful,” he said, scooping her into his arms. “I’m taking you to visit Mama in the hospital and we don’t need a trip to the ER beforehand.”

  Isabelle placed her hands on her daddy’s cheeks. “I missed you.”

  “I missed you too, baby girl.”

  “You didn’t make me waffles today.”

  “Waffles tomorrow morning, I promise.” He kissed her forehead and nuzzled her blond curls.

  “With whipped cream and sprinkles?” Isabelle pressed.

  “As many sprinkles as you wanna dump on. You just can’t tell your mom.”

  Isabelle giggled. “K.”

  Harlow felt herself getting weepy again. What was up with her crying at the drop of a tissue lately?

  “Hey, Gene. How you feelin’ today?” Renner asked.

  “Blessed that Tierney is doing well. Happy that my sweet Isabelle kept her grandpa company for a bit.” He winked at his granddaughter. “We’ll have milk and cookies next time.”

  “Any chance you’ll be heading to the hospital to see your daughter and grandson?”

  He shook his head. “My executive assistant, Karen, is coming tomorrow, so she and I will need to catch up on business things. So I’ll wait to see him—them—until they’re home. But feel free to keep those pictures coming.”

  “Me’n Grandpa took a selfie and sent it to Mommy.”

  Harlow laughed. A three-year-old and a sixty-five-year-old snapping selfies.

  “I’m sure your mama appreciated that, because she misses you.” Renner kissed Isabelle’s forehead again. “We’re gonna git. See ya.”

  After they left, Harlow snagged the walker and brought it to her dad. “You ready?”

  “Can we skip the walk today? I’m tired.”

  “Nope. You just had a nap.”

  “Then I’m not using the walker. Get me the cane.”

  “Sure.” His incision had healed enough that he didn’t need either, but forcing him to use the rehab tools ensured he’d take a slower pace. “It’s a gorgeous day. I thought when we finished, you could wait out on the patio for your daily dose of mud.”

  Her dad smirked at their code name for the Mud Lilies.

  It still threw Harlow, seeing this easy side of her rigid father. Before, he’d rarely smiled unless it was his Snidely Whiplash type of grin and that had always scared her.

  “Give me a few moments to lose the invalid look.”

  His need for an impeccable appearance hadn’t changed. “No problem. I’ll wait in the hallway.”

  Harlow closed her eyes, devising a plan. It’d be a short PT session today. The hospital was thirty minutes away and she was anxious to see Tierney and meet Rhett.

  Suddenly a shadow fell over her and she opened her eyes.

  Hugh’s hands were beside her head on the wall. And he was too close for comfort. “What?”

  “I fucking hate it when you walk away from me when I’m talkin’ to you.”

  “We were done talking, Hugh.”

  “No, we haven’t even started.” He paused. “Is that all you see this as? A hookup?”

  She sighed. “Are we back to this? Then, yes, if we ever have sex—which is looking less likely the more you push me—it’ll be no strings, no promises, no guarantees of a repeat. I can’t make it any clearer than that.”

  His response resembled a growl more than a word.

  “Harlow?” her dad said from the other side of the door.

  “Right here.”

  But Hugh elbowed her aside to hold open the door so Gene could hobble through.

  “Thanks, Hugh. I’m surprised to see you here.”

  “I’ve been hanging around hoping to continue my earlier conversation with Harlow.”

  What in the hell was the man doing? She stepped between Hugh and her dad. “We finished that conversation.”

  Her dad sent her a sideways glance. “Doesn’t appear that Hugh’s done talking.”

  “Since your daughter won’t listen to reason, maybe if I make my intent clear to you, she’ll be more inclined to believe I’m serious. See, I acted like an ass to her a few years back. And she believes that jackass thing I did defines the type of man I am. It doesn’t. Not then, not now.”

  Omigod. He was not going there.

  “I’m not a wham-bam kind of guy. Since your daughter and I are involved
, there’ll be no sneaking around. Just giving you a heads-up, so you’re not surprised when you see us together. All. The. Time.”

  And . . . he went there.

  “Also, we’d appreciate it if you kept this to yourself. With Renner and Tierney dealing with a new baby and other matters, we’ll tell them about our relationship when things settle down for them. All right?”

  Then Hugh flashed her a challenging grin.

  Her dad looked at her, concern in his eyes. “You sure about this, Harlow?”

  She sent Hugh a cool look. “Yes, I’m perfectly happy keeping all of this our little secret, since there’s nothing to tell.”

  “You let me know when you get it sorted out,” her dad said.

  Then she addressed Hugh. “Don’t you have cows to kill or something?”

  His gaze narrowed.

  “Come on, Dad. Let’s get your PT done.”


  Harlow managed to put the whole pushy way Hugh acted out of her mind while she tended to her dad. After she settled him and Vivien on the patio with a bottle of pinot grigio, she drove into Rawlins.

  For the next two hours she laughed and cried with her sister as they marveled at the newest addition to the family. She listened to Tierney talk of babies and day care and preschool issues. Made the appropriate noises when Tierney questioned whether she should work as much with two kids. By the time Tierney got around to asking Harlow specifics about her upcoming plans, Renner arrived with Isabelle and she dodged the questions.

  But she didn’t have that same luxury of blocking out the Hugh situation as she killed two hours in the grocery store, waiting to take Isabelle home.

  Okay. Break it down. Why would Hugh work so hard to try to convince her he wasn’t a love-’em-and-leave-’em asshole?

  One, he wanted to have sex with her again.

  Duh—no-brainer there.

  Two, he liked spending time with her because they had so much in common.

  She snorted out loud at that idea.

  Think, Harlow.

  But nothing came to mind.

  So it was just about sex between them.

  She could work with that—or around that in this case. She’d let him think he was wooing her, convincing her that theirs was a real relationship. Truth was, they were both stuck at the Split Rock. Him by choice. Her by circumstance. There were worse ways to spend her time than skin to skin with a hot cowboy who wanted to prove he could satisfy her between the sheets.

  Chapter Ten


  The numbers weren’t adding up.

  Nothing added up today.

  Hugh dropped the papers on the table and leaned back in his chair. His concentration was for shit.

  And he placed the blame squarely on the hot-bodied blonde he couldn’t get out of his mind.

  Why would he want to hide their relationship? And why was that what she preferred?

  It’d taken guts for him to march up to Gene Pratt and announce his intentions. Hugh might’ve looked calm on the outside, but his insides had been quaking like an aspen.

  Maybe it bothered him that Gene hadn’t seemed to care one way or another. But he imagined apathy was a far sight better than the treatment Renner had received when he and Tierney announced they were involved.

  Four soft raps sounded on his screen door. Hugh squinted at the clock. Who’d be dropping by at ten o’clock at night? An emergency always warranted a phone call first.

  “I know you’re home, Hugh,” Harlow said through the screen door. “I can see you sitting at the table.”

  “Come on in.”

  She opened the door halfway and slipped inside. Then she frowned at the door before facing him. “I didn’t notice before that you fixed the squeak.”

  “Damn thing drove me crazy.”

  “It served a purpose. Then again, it’s probably never worried you to live alone in a secluded cabin among a different set of strangers every week, being that you’re a big, strong manly man and all.”

  Hugh cocked his head. “Am I supposed to take that as a compliment or an insult?”

  “Just stating a fact. When I lived here, I wanted the door to squeak. It was my alarm system.”

  “Did you have many problems with breaking and entering?”

  “No, because my squeaking door alarm scared would-be burglars off.”

  He grinned. Then his smile faded. “Why’re you here, Harlow?”

  “To apologize for being snippy with you today.”

  “Snippy?” Count to ten, man. She’s here. Don’t fucking blow this. He exhaled a long breath. “Darlin’, snippy is when you ask me to do something for you, I don’t do it on your time frame, and you snipe that you may as well do it yourself.”

  “That’s actually a dead-on definition.”

  “You were plain damn defensive with me when we were alone and when I talked to your dad.” He paused. “Why?”

  Harlow twisted her fingers together in front of her. “Because I felt guilty, all right?”

  “You felt guilty about what?”

  “About what happened in the barn. I shouldn’t have let it go that far.”

  “You telling me you regret me goin’ down on you?”

  She looked at him, her cheeks the same luscious shade of pink as her lips. “At the time? No. But in the aftermath . . .”

  “You decided the next time you saw me, you’d give me what-for about it?”

  “No, Hugh. As soon as you saw me, you dragged me off and kissed me like it was your right. It caught me off guard. Last night, immediately after you rocked me on the tool bench, I had to leave. Today my focus was split between worrying for my sister and taking care of a three-year-old. I haven’t had time to process anything that happened between us.” She straightened her posture. “But rather than giving me that time, you took matters into your own hands. You told my father that you and I were together—before you even asked me if we were.”

  Goddammit, she was right. He was always fucking up with her.

  Harlow ran her hands through her hair. She looked tired and stressed. And he hated that he’d willingly and willfully contributed to that.

  Rather than demand, “So we’re not together?” he said, “I’m sorry.”

  She studied him in silence.

  “Harlow. Talk to me.”

  “Do you have any booze? Besides beer? Or wine?”

  “Maker’s Mark.” When she didn’t shudder, he said, “Want a slug?”


  “Have a seat. I’ll bring it over.” He grabbed two lowball glasses from the cupboard along with the bottle. He poured them each two fingers of whiskey and carried the glasses to the living room.

  Harlow sat on the couch, her knees pulled up to her chest. She held out her hand. “Thank you.”

  “No problem.” He didn’t ask if he could sit by her; he just did.

  She sipped and swallowed. Sipped and swallowed. Then she leaned forward and set her glass on the table. “I’m still lost, Hugh.”

  He waited to see if she’d tack on anything else. When she didn’t, he said, “What can I do?”

  “I don’t know if there’s anything anyone can do.”

  That’s when Hugh had a lightbulb moment. Harlow had felt lost before she’d gone to Denver to deal with her father’s health crisis. Before she’d returned to the Split Rock. Before he’d kissed her and pressured
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