Wrapped and Strapped by Lorelei James

  After he’d finished a late night in the barn office, he dragged ass up the hill. Working on paperwork wasn’t his idea of fun. As he started to cut around the pool and head to his trailer, he noticed the pool gate was wide open—a serious breach of the rules. Acting as resort security wasn’t his idea of fun either, but someone had to shut the gate.

  He paused with his forearms on the fence. The sharp tang of chlorine wafted to him on the summer breeze. The light from the bottom of the pool reflected upward, creating wavy, silvery patterns across the water. He watched the movement of the shadows across the concrete, taking in the peaceful sight.

  He hadn’t seen Harlow, perched on the edge of a chaise, until she said, “So it isn’t music that soothes the savage beast, but water?”

  His startled gaze zipped to her. “I’ve gone from Grumpy to Beastly?”

  She laughed. “You looked beastly when you first walked up, but less so now.”

  “And here I was hoping the darkness hid my big, nasty teeth. Sadly, there’s nothin’ I can do about the claws and the horns.”

  Another soft laugh. “Keep it up, and you’ll convince me you aren’t Grumpy either.”

  Hugh smiled at her. “Why’re you swimming so late?”

  “I just closed the bar. I’m restless. I thought a swim might take the edge off.”

  I know what’ll take the edge off . . . and there’s only one part of you that needs to get wet for it.

  He was such a fucking pervert.

  Harlow stood up from the lounge chair and sauntered over to him. She’d wrapped herself in a towel, making it impossible to get a peek at that tiny red bikini she usually wore. Yeah, knowing that made him a perv too. “You worked late. And you seem tense. Maybe you should join me and we’ll take that edge off together.”

  Fuck yeah.

  Clutching the towel with one hand, she reached up and ruffled his hair. “You had straw or something trapped in there.” She didn’t drop her hand; she merely moved her fingers down to pet his beard. “It probably seems silly, but I didn’t know beards were so soft. I assumed the hair would be coarse. Like on your arms and legs and chest.” She continued stroking. “Or between your thighs.”

  “You’ve been wondering what my pubic hair feels like?”

  “I don’t know why I said that.” Her wide blue eyes locked on to his. “Would you believe me if I said you’re the only one I say such outrageous things to?”


  Harlow ran the backs of her knuckles across the edge of his beard. “What does it feel like when it’s wet?”

  Jesus. His dick was now fully hard from her teasing touch and words. “Harlow—”

  “Sorry.” She dropped her hand. “I’m big on tactile sensations.”

  “You don’t say.”

  Her eyes danced with mischief. “You too?”

  “Yep.” Hugh leaned over the fence. “What’s the softest thing you’ve ever felt?”

  “Bunny fur. You?”

  Was there anything softer than the dewy petals of a woman’s pussy? Nope. But not something he’d share. Now if she asked about the hardest thing? He’d drop his britches and show her his cock. “I’d agree with fur.”

  “That’s not what you were thinking.”

  He lifted a brow. “You a mind reader?”

  “No. But you had a dirty gleam in your eye that I really like.”

  He stared at her. This woman confused the hell out of him.

  “Come swimming with me,” she urged. “I promise I won’t tell anyone you were having fun, so you can maintain your brooding cowboy vibe.”

  “I don’t brood.”

  “Then prove it. Be daring and do something out of the norm. Come swimming with me.”

  “I don’t have a swimsuit.”

  “Neither do I. But no one else is around.” She unhooked the towel and it hit the pool deck.

  Then Harlow was standing in front of him completely fucking naked.

  “Skinny-dip with me. Ditch your clothes and your inhibitions and jump in with both feet.”

  Her body was beautiful. What would it be like to touch and taste such perfection?



  His tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth.

  “Ah, I’m getting a little cold standing out here in just my skin.”

  Hugh couldn’t look her in the eyes. “Then you’d better get in the water and warm up. Don’t forget to shut off the lights and close the gate when you’re done. Night, Harlow.”

  He wandered to his trailer in a daze. Had he really just seen—and fucking turned down—a chance at putting his hands on that fan-fucking-tastic body of hers?


  You’re not a pervert; you’re an idiot.

  He’d ditched his clothes and climbed in the shower, letting the warm water fall on him as he jerked off furiously, imagining that he’d had the guts to take her up on her offer . . .

  Hugh shook himself out of the memory and entered the main reception area of the Split Rock.

  Before his eyes had fully adjusted from the blinding brightness of the sun to the dark hallway, he nearly knocked Harlow on her ass as she barreled toward him.

  He clasped her upper arms to keep them both from hitting the carpet. “Whoa, there. What’s your rush?”

  When Harlow’s gaze snared his, he saw her baby blues were damn near indigo from anger. “I’m in desperate need to find a bigger pillow to smother my father with.”

  “I thought you hated violence,” Hugh drawled.

  “I thought so too, but apparently even a pacifist has limits and I’ve reached mine. Now move it or I’ll practice my first act of violence on you.”

  “C’mere, slugger.” He towed her around the corner, crowding her against the wall, blocking her from view of the guests. His body cast hers in shadow and being this close to her reminded him of how small she was. “Take a moment and settle down.”

  “You just love manhandling me, don’t you?”

  “Yep.” But he noticed she wasn’t attempting to flee from him for a change. “What’s Daddy doin’ that’s ruffled your pretty feathers?”

  “Being a bigger pain in the ass than usual. It’s not my fault he’s stuck in his room. He’s bored, but he doesn’t ‘feel like’ reading, watching TV or working on his laptop.” She let her head fall back. “And I didn’t pack my tap shoes for this trip because I didn’t think I’d need to entertain him.”

  Hugh laughed.

  Harlow looked at him strangely.


  “You laughed. You never laugh.”

  “Not true. I laugh around you because you crack my ass up.”

  That earned him a sweet smile. “At least you think I’m funny. I’m sure not tickling my dad’s funny bone today.”

  Hugh’s brain stuck on the word bone. Why, yes, sweet darlin’, I’d love to play a little slap and tickle with you, and then bone you to take your mind off of all your troubles.

  “I get that he hates being cooped up,” she continued. “But it was his choice to come here and not return to Chicago to recuperate. Since Tierney is busy gestating baby number two, I bring his granddaughter to visit and play games with him every day. Lainie is here three times a week doing his rehab. Renner’s even roped Tobin and you into stopping by.” Her gaze hooked his again. “Mandated visits from the boss, I assume?”

  “I don’t mind, Harlow.”

  For the first time since they’d been in the hospital in Denver, she touched him, placing her hand on his chest. His heart skipped a beat. “I appreciate it. He’s a difficult man on his best days and those have been few and far between.” She wrinkled her nose. “So I don’t put much stock in his claim that he’s missing all his lovely lady friends in Chicago. That was today’s complaint, by the way, that sent me over the edge.”

  “Maybe he is some kinda ladies’ man.”

  “You did not seriously just say that to me. Eww. That’s not something I ever want to
picture.” Harlow broke eye contact and dropped her hand from his chest. “Anyway, thanks for keeping me from committing patricide. I’m feeling much calmer.”

  “Good.” He tucked a flyaway section of her hair behind her ear. “How much longer are you gonna avoid me?”


  “I haven’t pushed because you’ve got a lot of family stuff on your plate. But that don’t mean I’m giving up.” He slid his hand around the left side of her neck, resting his thumb on the pulse point beside the hollow of her throat. “I wanna spend time with you.”

  “Doing what?”

  Fucking you until you can’t move without remembering my body on yours. “Ah. Normal date stuff.”

  “Such as?”

  “Such as you come over and I cook you supper. Then we’ll play cards. Or we’ll sit in front of a fire pit. Or we’ll go horseback ridin’ in the moonlight.”

  “What if I’m not interested in any of that?”

  “Then I’d go with my first choice of stripping you bare, tyin’ you to my bed and acquainting myself with every single inch of this wicked, sweet body of yours.”

  Beneath his thumb Harlow’s pulse pounded double time at his last suggestion.

  He lowered his head and placed a soft kiss on that spot. “Anything you wanna do, hippie-girl, tame or wild,” he murmured against her skin, “I’ll make it happen.” Then he stepped back, knowing he’d probably gone too far.

  The heat in her eyes morphed into a challenge. “Tell you what. If you can round up some lovely lady friends to keep my dad company a couple of days a week, I’ll agree.”

  “To what?”

  “Anything you wanna do, cowboy, tame or wild,” she cooed in that breathy, fuck-me-now voice.

  “No foolin’?”

  “Not even a little bit. So what do you say?”

  That’s when Hugh realized Harlow was confident he couldn’t deliver.


  So wrong.

  And, damn, was it ever hard not to grin like an idiot, because he totally had this one in the fuckin’ bag. “I accept your challenge.”

  “You do?”

  “Yep. So we have a deal?”

  “If you can deliver? Absolutely we have a deal.”

  “Done. Let’s officially seal it.”

  She offered her hand.

  He laughed. “Nice try. But you know that ain’t gonna fly with me.”

  Harlow opened her mouth to protest and Hugh swooped right in. Taking the kiss he wanted. No sweet peck or gentle tease. He devoured her. Twisting his tongue around hers. Sucking on those full lips. Tasting the heat and need that was Harlow. Giving her back that same fire. Reminding her that the desire between them hadn’t cooled one fucking bit in the past three years. If anything, it burned hotter than ever.

  Her lips clung to his even after he eased back.

  When their eyes met . . . Damn. It was all he could do to not toss her over his shoulder and run like hell to the closest bed.

  She scraped her fingers over his beard. “Your kisses still drive me wild.”

  “Same here, doll.” He placed his hand over hers, turning her palm to nip the base of her thumb. “I’m supposed to tell you your sister is resting and Renner is with Isabelle.”

  “Oh. That’s good. It’s hard to be upbeat with Isabelle when my mood is crap.”

  He kissed the center of her palm and reluctantly dropped her hand. “Make sure to tell your dad he’ll have a visitor tomorrow. A female visitor. That way he knows to slap on some cologne and wear pants.”

  “Confident, aren’t you?”

  “No. Just determined to make this situation easier on you.”

  Her eyes softened. “My, my, stock boss Pritchett. You learned to sweet-talk a little in my absence.”

  “Like it?”

  “No. I always preferred your dirty talk.” She sidestepped him and walked away without a backward glance.

  Hugh shook the lust from his brain and pulled his cell from the leather holster on his belt. He scrolled through his contacts and hit Dial.

  Tobin answered with, “S’up, Hugely Grumpy?”

  He snorted. “Need your help.”

  “Name it.”

  “You still in the office?”


  “On my way.”

  He’d kissed her.

  But she could admit it hadn’t been as much of a surprise as the first time he’d put that warm and skilled mouth on hers.

  Harlow paused outside her father’s room, still needing a minute to find her balance. Because Hugh certainly had always excelled at catching her off guard.

  Especially back then. She’d never known where she would run into him. Or what his mood would be. But she’d never forget the first time he’d kissed her three years ago . . .

  Normally Hugh wasn’t around the lodge unless Renner forced his presence. So it’d surprised Harlow to see him on a perfect summer night sitting on the bench between the lodge and the barns, watching the sun drop behind the rock as he drank a beer.

  Her decision whether to sneak away or approach the bear was out of her hands when he turned and looked at her. Then he’d scooted over in invitation.

  Harlow swung a leg over the log bench and sat next to him. “Hey. I never see you hanging out here where you might have to talk to people.”

  “I talk to people plenty when I’m on the road.”

  “When did you get back?”

  “Two hours ago.” He sipped his beer. “Why? Didja miss me?”

  “Yes, like you’d taken a piece of my soul with you.”

  Hugh snorted. “See why I don’t seek out human company? Animals don’t talk back.”

  “Did you miss me?” she asked sweetly.

  “Yeah, I was hopin’ to run into you so I could return that piece of your shrieking soul because that fucker is annoying,” he deadpanned.

  “Damn, Grumpy. How much have you been drinking? That was actually funny.”

  “I try.”

  “So do you crack jokes when you’re using your cattle prod to torture livestock?”

  He lifted a brow. “Torture livestock?”

  She bumped him with her shoulder. “Kidding. Since Renner became my brother-in-law, I’m better informed about the care men and women in the world of agriculture bestow on their animals. I don’t just spout off a knee-jerk response about cruelty to animals.”

  “Huh. That didn’t sound sarcastic.”

  “It wasn’t. I’ve learned not to blindly believe in organizations’ propaganda. Some people never bother to check the legitimacy of the organizations’ claims.”

  “And you do?”

  “That’s what I do, Hugh.” She laughed. “Didn’t mean to make that rhyme.”

  “So you ain’t a PETA person?”

  “Some of their ideas are sound, but some of them are so whacked-out . . .” She shook her head. “While I love animals, I’m far more interested in the betterment of humans.”

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