A Snippet from Chapter One
A Blacktop Cowboys™ Novel~Lorelei James~A Signet Eclipse book
Like a total chickenshit, Celia was hiding in her hotel bathroom.
Kyle. The guy she’d known since she was six years old.
What the hell was wrong with her?
Because the Kyle waiting for you is not the same Kyle you’ve known your entire life.
She dabbed concealer over the bruise on her cheekbone. Contrary to her sister-in-law Janie’s claims, Celia hadn’t been in love with Kyle Gilchrist since her childhood—she’d simply loved to annoy him.
Even when Kyle was a teenage boy, it took a lot to rile him, unlike her brothers, who were easily provoked. Armed with childish logic, Celia made it her mission to get under Kyle’s skin as often as possible.
She’d drawn hearts emblazoned with her name on every one of his school notebooks.
He’d retaliated by stringing up her My Little Pony collection from a tree.
She’d pushed him into the stock tank.
He’d held her down and tickled her until she peed her pants.
She’d put a snapping turtle in his gym bag.
He’d tied her to the tire swing and spun her until she puked.
All harmless pranks that demanded retaliation.
The problem was—Kyle still brought out every combative instinct she owned. Her first impulse was to goad him into an argument, or to fight back when he goaded her, which happened frequently since he’d never outgrown that juvenile behavior either.
But that had all changed three weeks ago with a kiss. An incredible kiss.
Tanna had dragged her to the annual New Year’s bash at rodeo legend Del Montoya’s ranch outside of Stephenville, Texas. Celia hadn’t known many people, so she’d been secretly happy to run into Kyle the first day of the two day party.
Maybe it was the free-flowing alcohol, but she and Kyle hadn’t sniped at each other once. The lead rope tied around the door handle of Tanna’s horse trailer meant her friend was getting lucky that night, so Kyle let Celia crash in his camper. They’d talked and laughed until the wee small hours.
The next day Kyle and Tanna were competing in the private rodeo, leaving Celia at loose ends. In the late afternoon she’d headed to a small pond to watch the sunset. It’d struck her how alone she felt most the time, no matter whether she was surrounded by people, on the road, or in the arena—or even at home in Muddy Gap.
Kyle had tracked her down and somehow sensed her melancholy. The ease of the previous day’s conversation lingered, especially when they talked of home. Of frigid nights and miles of snow. Of the splendor of orange and purple Wyoming sunsets splashing across a pale gray winter sky.
When she mentioned the New Year’s Eve festivities, Kyle asked, “Have you picked a cowboy to kiss when the clock strikes twelve?”
“I’ve had enough drunken, forgotten kisses to last me a lifetime.”
“If that’s the case, you could always lay a hot, wet one on me,” he’d said with a silken promise. “I guarantee an unforgettable kiss.”
“Like I said, Kyle. Been there, done that.”
“But not with me,” he insisted.
“Been there, done that with you.” Celia locked her gaze on his. “You were the first guy who ever kissed me.”
Kyle shook his head. “Trust me, I’d remember that.”
“Trust me, you forgot. After a night out partying with Hank, you stumbled into my room instead of the guest bedroom. You stripped naked in front of my sixteen-year-old virgin eyes and crawled into my bed. When I tried to move, you grabbed me and kissed me. With tongue and everything.”
He wore an appalled look. “I did?”
“Yep. Then you rolled off me and started snoring. I snuck out and crashed on the couch upstairs. You weren’t in my room the next morning. You never said a word about it, which meant you didn’t remember, because we both know you’d’ve been a total dick if you had. But that doesn’t change the fact you were my first kiss.”
“Jesus, Celia. I don’t remember.”
“It’s not like I could forget. Besides, it’s over and done with.” She turned away but Kyle didn’t allow it.
His hands cupped her face. “Let me make it up to you by kissin’ you at midnight tonight.”
“I’ll be totally sober, I promise. And this kiss?” He’d lazily, erotically traced the outline of her lips with his thumb. “Will blow your mind.”
And it had. Holy shit, had it ever.
Celia shivered, remembering being wrapped in his arms. His mouth so sure on hers as the clock struck twelve.
Four loud raps on the bathroom door startled her out of her trip down memory lane.
“Celia? You all right? You’ve been in there half an hour.”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Be right out.”
She exhaled a slow breath and studied her handiwork in the mirror. She’d tried to play up her boring gray eyes, adding black eyeliner, drawing attention away from the bruises that liquid face makeup couldn’t camouflage. Extra blush brightened her pale skin. Bronze lipstick highlighted her mouth. She couldn’t do much about the white bandage on her forehead, unless she gave herself bangs. Since her three and a half feet of blond hair was her best feature, that wasn’t happening.
She popped a mint in her mouth and opened the door.
Kyle turned from the window and inspected her head to toe. When he continued to stare at her, without uttering a word, without a single change in his facial expression, a tiny kernel of dread bloomed in her gut.
“What? Do I look like death warmed over or something?”
“Then why are you staring at me?”
He crossed the room, stopping a foot from her. “Seems I’ve known you forever, Celia. Then other times, I look at you and I feel I don’t know you at all.”
“So I don’t look like a hundred-and-fifty-pound steer got the better of me today?”she joked, unnerved by the male heat darkening his eyes.
“Nope. You ready?”
“For what? The concert doesn’t start for three hours.”
“I meant are you done in the bathroom? I need to get cleaned up. I’m not exactly in concert attire.”
Kyle preferred dressing in traditional western shirts, so his upper-body physique wasn’t obvious . . . until those long sleeves were stripped away to reveal his muscular arms. His biceps and triceps were beyond simply well defined. Yet his truly spectacular forearms always drew her attention.
Her gaze met his. Kyle’s eyes were an unusual hue, somewhere between summer-grass green and pine green. With gold flecks that reminded her of dappled sunspots reflecting off a crystal clear mountain lake.
“You feelin’ okay?”
What was wrong with her? Salivating over his arms? Becoming mesmerized by his eyes? Maybe she had knocked a screw loose when she’d smacked into the ground today.
Right. Keep telling yourself that. He’s the reason you came to Vegas. You haven’t stopped thinking about him or what that kiss meant for the last three weeks.
She cleared her throat. “I’m still a little wonky. So if I say anything weird”—like compose an ode to your tight little butt—“chalk it up to a head injury.”
Then he was nose to nose with her. “I shoulda forced a damn pain pill down your throat so you’d be sacked out instead of planning on goin’ out.”
Happy that snappish Kyle was back, she poked his shoulder. “I’m not missing Devin’s concert. I’m not missing the private after party at the casino either. So if you’re determined to be my keeper tonight, Kyle, you’d better keep up.”
“Remember you said that, kitten. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
Yeah, we’ll see about that.
A minute after she heard the shower kick on, she snuck out.