Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James

  “Ah. So you fucked once. One of you regretted doing the nasty, the other one didn’t and that someone got pissed off, resulting in the hate fest?”

  Hugh choked on his beer.

  Both Riss and Ike looked between him and Harlow suspiciously.

  “No?” Harlow continued studying them. “I give up. What happened between you two? We need to know—it will affect all of us in this working relationship.”

  Putting them on the spot meant he’d finally hear why these two were oil and water.

  “Business deal gone bad,” Ike said without looking at Riss. “We both got fucked over. Some of us more than others.” He showed Riss his teeth, but it no way resembled a smile. “Would you like a beer?”

  “While I’m out driving a semi? Uh, no. I’ll pass.” Riss faced Hugh. “You wanna check out this rig so I know if it’ll work?”

  “Sure. You gonna bitch if Ike weighs in?”

  Riss returned Ike’s totally fake smile. “Probably.”

  “Let’s go.” Hugh put his mouth on Harlow’s ear. “I’m sparing you the rest of the sparring. Hold our seats. If we’re not back in ten minutes, call the sheriff, ’cause I’ll be dealin’ with a double homicide.”


  “Kiddin’.” He kissed the hollow behind her ear, breathing in the hint of her perfume. “Be right back.”

  Riss left first. Hugh followed on her heels and Ike brought up the rear.

  Hugh jumped inside the double-decker semi. Checked all the loading ramps and mechanisms to make sure they worked right. “This is your rig? Not a lease?”

  “It’s mine. I bought it last year at an auction.”

  “It’s great. More than I expected. I’m good with it.” He glanced at Ike. “You?”

  “You’re the boss. Whatever you say goes.”

  “For Christ’s sake. Knock it off. Both of you. I don’t need the people I’m relying on to help me run things smoothly to be the cause of drama, angst and bullshit. Understood?”

  They both nodded.

  “We’ve gotta be in Kansas by ten a.m. on Friday. That’s a fourteen-hour haul, so we’ll take off Thursday at noon.”

  “Where will I be loading? At the Split Rock? Or over at Jackson’s paddock where he keeps the bulls?”

  “Jackson’s. I don’t need to tell you to allow plenty of time for us to load up, because these bulls haven’t been out since last year.”

  She whistled. “I’d heard Renner had cut back on events, but I hadn’t imagined it’d be that much. This is the first outing? And it’s almost the end of July?”

  He forced a cheerful note into his voice. “Took us all by surprise. Anyway. We’ll load you up first before we get the horses. Then we’ll caravan and decide on rest stops as we go.” He looked at Ike, leaning against the back wheels. “Anything to add?”

  Ike shook his head.

  “Any questions, Riss?”

  “I’m sure questions will pop up as I’m on the road. But there’s nothing else I can think of right now.”

  “Good.” He thrust out his hand. “Thanks for agreeing to do this on such short notice.”

  “No problem. See you on Thursday.” Riss climbed up in the cab. She honked as she pulled away.

  Hugh and Ike crossed the road in silence. Before they walked back into the bar, Hugh said, “You gonna tell me what’s really goin’ on with you and Riss?”

  “Sure. As soon as you tell me whether it was you or Harlow who had regrets after the first time you fucked.”


  Ike stopped at the bar for a shot and Hugh paid their bar bill.

  Hugh turned the corner and saw Harlow wasn’t alone. And she seemed annoyed.

  His irritation skyrocketed when he recognized the guy encroaching on his woman.

  Tort Franklin.

  The man didn’t look up until Hugh cast him in shadow. “Oh, hey, Hugh.”

  “Tort. There a reason you’re sitting that fucking close to my girlfriend?”

  “Girlfriend? Really? Huh.” The bull rider took his own sweet time getting to his feet.

  “Tort was just telling me that he was the last contestant to ride BB,” Harlow said slyly.

  “You didn’t ‘ride’ BB,” Hugh scoffed. “You got on him in the chute and BB refused to get up, so they gave you a different bull.”

  “From what I hear, BB’s prime days are past anyway.” Tort threw back his shoulders, trying to make his five-foot-five stature intimidating. “Not that I’ll need to put your stock to the test, since I’m far ahead enough in the standings after Cowboy Christmas to take a break.”

  Bully for you.

  “You sure you don’t wanna dance with me, Harlow?”

  “Yes, she’s fucking sure,” Hugh snapped.

  “Big man, with the big mouth, I wasn’t talking to you.”

  “And as of right now, you’re done talkin’ to her. Now beat it before I beat on you.”

  Tort scowled, muttered something and took off.

  Before Hugh reclaimed his seat, Harlow stood. “I want to leave.”


  “Because I don’t like it when you do that.”

  “Do what? Warn off a jackass who intended to put his wandering hands all over you?”

  “I don’t need you to bulldoze your way in and pee circles around me, Hugh. You don’t own me. I can take care of myself.”

  “Great. But guess what?” He got right in her face. “When I’m around? I take care of you. And that includes chasing off dickheads like Tort who have the reputation of bein’ forceful in their attentions with the ladies.”

  Harlow glared at him.

  He glared back at her.

  “Aw, am I witnessing a lovers’ quarrel?”

  Fuckin’ awesome. Like he needed to deal with Harley tonight. He faced her and maneuvered himself behind Harlow, drawing her body against his. “No. Just an intense discussion.”

  “In other words . . . a lovers’ quarrel.” Harley looked at Harlow. “I saw Tort putting the moves on you before your white knight stormed in and rescued you.”

  “Actually, I think Tort came to the table because he thought I was you,” Harlow said.

  Dammit. He really didn’t need Harley running her mouth.

  Harley fastened her gaze on Hugh’s. “Yes, that’s been a problem in the past. Not only when I’ve been mistaken for someone else, but when I’ve been a substitute for someone else too.” Then her gaze pointedly moved to Harlow.

  Any moment he’d wake up from this bad dream.

  Harlow subtly disentangled from him and stepped forward to hug Harley. “That sucks. I’m sure your fiancé only has eyes for you, especially since you look fantastic. Is that outfit from Wild West?”

  “Of course. As soon as I pulled it from the box, I knew I had to have it.” Harley went off on a tangent about clothes and other shit, assuming she had Harlow’s full attention. Harlow wore a look that might’ve passed as interest, but Hugh recognized it as a mask for her anger.

  Directed at him.

  Your own fault, dumb fuck. You should’ve told her.

  He didn’t trust Harlow’s benign expression when she looped her arm around his. “It is sad we don’t see more of each other at the Split Rock. We’ll have to do that girls’ night out that you suggested. I’ve always suspected we have a lot in common.”

  Shit. He was fucked. Seriously fucked. Monumentally fucked.

  Harley said something as Harlow led them toward the door. His pulse pounded so loudly that’s all he could hear.

  Once they hit the fresh air, his head cleared. But he knew better than to discuss this in the parking lot of the Buckeye where anyone could overhear them.

  He opened the passenger side first and she climbed in without looking at him. Even after he’d started his truck and they were on the road, the silence continued.

  Finally at the entrance to the Split Rock, she said, “Drop me off at my trailer.”


  “Fine. I’ll walk from here.”

  And she bailed out.

  Hugh rolled down the window and crept along behind her. “Jesus fucking Christ, woman, get back in the goddamn truck.”

  “No.” She stoically marched down the gravel road leading to the employee quarters without acknowledging him at all.

  He pulled over and parked, knowing if he didn’t catch her before she went inside, she’d lock him out. And as much as kicking down her door appealed to him, he wouldn’t do it.

  Before she reached the planked walkway, she whirled around and yelled, “You slept with her!”

  He didn’t respond, due to his shock that Harlow was shouting at him.

  “When? How long did it go on?” Immediately she held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter.” Then she spun back around and stormed off.

  “Harlow. Wait.”

  She wheeled around and marched up to him. “Are you going to tell me you can explain?”

  “No need, because it’s pretty fuckin’ obvious why I slept with her.”

  That startled her.

  He moved in. “It happened over a year and a half ago. Right after she started workin’ here. Before I knew she had a boyfriend.”

  She held up her hands to ward him off. “Stop talking! I don’t want to hear this.”

  “Tough shit. You need to hear it and you know it.” He slipped his hand around her wrist and towed her down the walkway.

  Tobin sat outside his trailer in front of his fire pit. He asked, “Everything all right?” as Hugh dragged Harlow past him.

  “Fine and fuckin’ dandy,” Hugh snapped.

  Upon reaching Harlow’s trailer, he stepped aside so she could unlock the door.

  “You are not coming in here,” she said snottily.

  “Try and stop me.”

  She made a frustrated noise and stomped inside.

  He followed her and locked the door behind them.

  Harlow stood in the living room, her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

  Hugh squared off against her, his hands on his hips.

  “Well? Spit out what I need to know.”

  “Which part do you want to hear first?”

  “Were you an asshole to Harley after you fucked her, like you were to me?”

  “No.” He paused, trying to calm the fuck down. “I was worse to her afterward. Way worse. Because I knew it was wrong from the start. I wanted her to be you and she wasn’t. For Christ’s sake, Harlow, I even said your name when I was with her. Your name. Not hers.”

  “You did not.”

  “I did.”

  “What did she say?”

  “She was pissed. But I didn’t give her a chance to say anything or nail me in the balls as I got dressed and lit out as fast as possible. I felt guilty as hell. So the next day I went into the clothing store to apologize. Her boyfriend was there visiting. So, yeah, it wasn’t like I could out her as a cheater. We never talked about it again.”

  “Who else knows you fucked her? Renner? Tobin?”

  “Tobin. That’s it. I’d like to think she kept it to herself, but I have no idea who she might’ve blabbed to.”

  “Awesome. That’s just great, Hugh. Now she’s going to hate me.”

  Didn’t look like it from where he’d been standing. That was another ball-shrinking fear. That they’d get together and compare notes.

  “You’ve said your piece. Now go.”

  He closed the distance between them rapidly and latched on to her upper arms, gentling his hold when he saw fear in her eyes. “I want you to think on the fact I was so damn desperate for you that I took a woman who reminded me of you to bed. A year and a half after you left.”

  “You just used her to alleviate your guilt about how things ended between us.”

  “No, darlin’. I used her because I couldn’t have you. At the time she seemed like the closest thing to you—but it turned out she wasn’t even fuckin’ close. There’s never been any woman like you, Harlow.”

  She closed her eyes. “You say that, Hugh. You say it over and over. But here’s what I’m not sure about: Are you trying to convince me or yourself?”

  “I hadn’t been with a woman since that night everything went to hell with you’n me. After Harley? I’ve been ridin’ the goddamned celibacy train, round and round for a year and a half until you came back into my life.”

  Her eyes flew open in shock. “Why?”

  “Because even with me bein’ a dickhead and leaving you like I did? When we were naked, locked in passion and lost in the rush of pleasure that night . . . it’d never been that way for me before. Or since.”

  She said nothing.

  “How about I stop trying to convince you with words and just prove it to both of us with actions instead?” He swooped in, pressing her mouth and her body to his. His hands were in her hair, on her face, moving down to cup her tits, sliding around to grab her ass. He kissed her for an eternity. Until the rigidness in her posture softened. Until she started touching him back in all the ways she’d learned he liked. Then he eased off, and rested his forehead to hers. “I’ll go if you want me to.”

  “No. Maybe you should do a little more convincing,” she whispered against his lips. “Nice and slow.”

  Hugh briefly closed his eyes, glad he hadn’t fucked up with her again. “I can do that.” He tugged her head back; his mouth followed the slim column of her neck to the hollow of her throat, his desire for her a living, pulsing thing.

  “I like your mouth on me.”

  “That’s good, because I like havin’ my mouth all over you.” Hugh planted kisses up the other side of her throat. He nibbled on that stubborn jaw. Teased her lips before rubbing his beard in the spot where her neck curved into her shoulder.

  “I like that you can slow things down when I ask.”

  “Never doubt that, sweetheart. I can stop. Even when I don’t want to.”

  Her soft laugh vibrated against his lips.

  He nuzzled her, but the sweet scent of her skin and the hard pounding of her pulse made him damn dizzy. The smooth skin of her neck affected him like a drug.


  He shifted his focus to her tiny earlobe. Licking the edge, gently tugging on it with his teeth, sucking the soft flesh as if it were her clit. He’d dropped both of his hands to her ass, holding her close but not so tightly that she couldn’t step back if she needed to.

  “Hey, cowboy,” she said, twisting her head, breaking the connection of his mouth on her skin.

  Hugh steeled himself against what he might see when he looked into her eyes. But the heat he saw pooled in those blue depths caused his hope to soar. “What?”

  “You convinced me the way I needed you to.”

  Shit. Did that mean they were done for tonight? “Okay.”

  Harlow placed one hand on his heart and the other on his cheek. “Now I need you to convince me your way.”

  “What’s my way?”

  “Physical. Now give me that side of you where there are no words, where it’s hard and fast and maybe a little desperate. I want us naked, locked in passion and riding that rush of pleasure.”

  His cock was totally on board for that. He had to make sure his head made the decision. “You’re sure?”

  “Positive.” Harlow pulled him to her mouth by his beard.

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