Branded As Trouble
- Author: Lorelei James
- Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
- Year: 2009, Mar 25
- Genre: Western Romance
- Series: Rough Riders Series, Book 6
- Amazon Listing: Branded As Trouble
- Available Formats (As of 08/29/09):
It’s hard to trust the future when you’ve been branded by the past.
Rough Riders, Book 6
As a walking advertisement for the tattoo shop she’s set up in a small Wyoming town, India Ellison is well acquainted with preconceived notions. Despite the odd looks and off-color comments about her off-color hair, life is good. She’s clean and sober, dotes on her sister’s kids and, best of all, spends most of her free time with her best buddy, cowboy Colt McKay.
Reformed bad boy Colt never expected three years of sobriety to lead to three years of abstinence. Curbing his craving for booze and random sexual encounters is nothing compared to the ever-increasing craving for his hot-tempered, hot-bodied best friend, India. Too bad she’s his A.A. sponsor. Too bad she hasn’t a clue that Colt’s been head-over-bootheels in love with her from day one.
After an unexpected, steamy interlude, all India can think about is riding the sexy cowboy instead of her motorcycle, even when Colt is determined to show her a slower ride is worth the wait.
Or are they risking their friendship for a fling that could burn them both?
Warning: this romp features nekkidness the cowboy way—sex with boots on and with boots off, dirty sex against a dirty pickup truck, bare-assed sex on a bear skin rug, graphic language, unfortunate aim with a nail gun, and improvisational use of whips and whipped cream.
In celebration of his first year of sobriety, Colt McKay climbed on the back of a bull and rode for a full eight seconds.
In celebration of his second year of sobriety, Colt McKay climbed in an airplane and parachuted out.
In celebration of his third year of sobriety, Colt McKay had hoped to climb on a woman and end his self-imposed sexual abstinence of the previous thirty-six months.
He imagined soft candlelight, soft kisses, a woman’s soft skin and a soft bed beneath him.
At least that part of his fantasy had come true. Colt was in bed. He was even laying face down on a puffy tie-dyed quilt with a woman beside him. However, he was not basking in the afterglow of red-hot sex, rather, he was grimacing in pain from the sensation of a red-hot poker jabbing him in the butt for the millionth time.
“Fuck. That hurts.”
“Almost done. Two more quick stitches and you’ll be good to go,” Doctor Monroe trilled in that annoyingly chipper voice of hers.
Go. Right. Where the hell was he supposed to go?
Snip snip. Murmured words. Everything was going fuzzy. With his previous substance abuse issues he’d refused the torturous Doc’s painkillers, so he figured the adrenaline high was wearing off and he was about to crash. Hard.
Great. Just what he didn’t need. To look even more pathetic, helpless and weak.
“See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Colt lifted his head and glared at the woman with the whiskey-rough voice who’d dared to speak to him. Any other time the remorse swimming in those amazing sapphire eyes would sway him to be soft and sweet with her.
Not now. Maybe not ever again.
He kept his tone cool, even when he wanted to scream his fool head off at her. “Not so bad? For who? Jesus Christ, Indy, you shot me in the ass. It don’t get a whole lot worse than that.”
“It was an accident.”
“Why did you come barging in like that anyway?” India’s pulse skipped when he cranked his head around and glared at her. Again.
“Are you serious? Three punks were hassling you. You were by yourself. At night.”
“So? It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. Besides, I had it under control.”
“Sure didn’t look like it. Why didn’t you shoot them with the nail gun?”
“I would have if I’d thought of it.”
Dr. Monroe said, “Well, whatever her intentions were, you’re very lucky she had a bad angle and the nail only went through the dermis and not into the bone.”
“Done.” The smell of antiseptic burned strong for a second. The sound of ripping paper was followed by the snapping removal of latex gloves. Dr. Monroe said, “You sure you don’t want a painkiller, Colt? That local anesthetic will wear off in another two hours.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I thought you’d say that.” She patted him on the shoulder. “I’ll swing by tomorrow to check on you to make sure there’s no infection.”
“Wasn’t that what the tetanus shot was for?”
“No. The only reason I’m not admitting you to the hospital is because of the…delicate nature of the wound’s location. The gossipmongers in this town would have a field day with this incident, especially in light of your previous reputation, so I understand why your brother thought it’d be best if you were treated here.” Her eyes narrowed. “That said, if you feel feverish and uncommonly sore at any time in the next twelve hours, you’d better get this butt to the ER. Pronto.”
India said, “What does he do now?”
“Sleep. As much sleep as he can get. Motrin every six hours, if he’ll take it.” Doctor Monroe stood and fastened the metal clasp on her black medical bag. She said in a low voice, “I’m going to suggest you leave him be, India. Is there someone else who can keep an eye on him?”
“What? He’s in my guest room!”
“I know, but you seem to…agitate him and he needs to rest.”
Heat scorched her cheeks. Dammit. She wasn’t completely inept when it came to caring for another person. She could do this Florence Nightingale shit.
Cam McKay ambled over. “After I drop the doc off, I can come back and watch him tonight if you’d like.”
“Stop whispering. I’m right here in the room,” Colt snapped.
India and Cam exchanged a look. When Colt attempted to lift up off the mattress, Cam put his hand in the middle of Colt’s back and gently held him down. “Whoa. Take it easy.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to agitate you any more than I already have,” India retorted sweetly.
Colt locked his gaze to hers. She withheld a shiver at the command in the dark blue depths. “India stays. She’s the one who went all psycho carpenter on my ass, she can damn well take care of me.” He flashed her a smile reminiscent of a shark about to bite. “I sorta like the idea of you playin’ fetch and carry for me, sugar.”
“I’ll just bet you do.”
“Now that it’s settled, we’re off.” Cam set Colt’s cell phone within reach. “I’ll check on you later.” To India, he said, “You need anything, call my cell, not the station, okay?”
“Okay.” She followed Cam and Doc Monroe down the staircase that opened into the back parking lot. She slid the deadbolt on the door and flipped the lock.
Man. What a wacky night. India sucked in a deep breath to quell her sudden bout of nerves. It didn’t make sense she was jumpy. She’d been alone with Colt McKay hundreds of times in the last three years.
But not after you shot him in the butt.
The whole thing bordered on surreal. Three guys had stumbled in demanding matching tattoos. She’d told them to leave, pointing to the sign she didn’t ink anyone under the influence. After sweet-talking her didn’t work, they’d become belligerent. India had dealt with enough drunks she took it in stride when they threatened her with macho bullshit. As if that Neanderthal behavior would somehow get her to change her mind? Please.
She’d just about convinced them to leave, when Colt and Cameron burst in. Colt’s hostile posture was bad enough, but Cam had just gotten off duty with the Crook County Sheriff’s Department and still wore his uniform. And his sidearm.
The guys panicked and ran out the back door, knocking over a makeshift sawhorse table loaded with tools.
Cam gave chase as well as a prosthetic-wearing cop could.
In the melee, Colt bent over to pick up the tools and India grabbed the big framing nail gun. As she was trying to avoid stepping on screws scattered like tacks, she tripped over the compressor hose and fell…right into Colt. More specifically, right into Colt’s butt. Upon contact with a solid surface, the nail gun’s triggering mechanism released a three-inch screw. Right through Colt’s Wranglers, penetrating the bottom of his left butt cheek.
Colt hadn’t screamed in agony. He’d just dropped to his hands and knees, asking her to put the nail gun on the counter.
By the time Cam returned, Colt’s wound was seeping blood. Cam, being the levelheaded sort, tried to convince Colt to go to the hospital. Colt refused.
After a few minutes of fruitless arguing, Colt did the damndest thing. He pushed to his feet, snagged a pair of pliers from the jumbled tool pile and headed up the back staircase to India’s apartment, almost at a dead run.
Cam and India raced after Colt and wrangled him to the closest horizontal surface—the bed in the spare bedroom—and Cam called his good buddy Doctor Monroe. India wondered just how good of “friends” Cam and the doctor were because the doc showed up within ten minutes.
After Doctor Monroe pulled the nail out, she administered a local anesthetic and a tetanus shot, which appeared to cause Colt more discomfort than the injury.
India forced herself to watch him get stitched up even though it was only three stitches. Blood and needles were part of the tattoo business and had never bothered her. So why did the sight of Colt’s blood cause her stomach to heave?
You weren’t close to barfing. You sucked down too many Red Bulls, that’s all.
If that was true, why was she cowering outside the room?
Guilt? Fear he’d light into her now that they were alone?
Screw that. Colt couldn’t make her feel any worse than she already did.
She snuck back in and perched on the folding chair next to the bed Doc Monroe had vacated.
Colt’s hair was damp and disheveled. The muscles in his jaw were bunched tight. His chest rose and fell quickly with every shallow breath. His entire body rivaled the bedside table for rigidity.
India wished she could soothe his pain. Would it relax him if she smoothed the frown lines from his feverish brow? If she ruffled her fingers through his glossy black hair would his eyes close in bliss? If she rubbed his broad shoulders would he groan with satisfaction? If she placed her lips on his would he welcome her kiss?
Kissing him? Where the hell had that idea come from? Colt was her buddy, her best pal, her sounding board, her client. Not to mention her A.A. sponsoree. She shot him a quick glance.
Sometimes that fact was a damn crying shame.
No doubt Colt McKay was a fine-looking man. Too good looking to be honest. He had the face of an angel—a fallen angel to be sure—a sinful smile rivaling the devils for temptation, the muscled body of a disciplined athlete, and more charms than a damn jewelry store. He was, simply put, perfect.
Perfectly off limits, not that he’d ever given any indication he’d be interested in her beyond friendship.
There’s the real reason to cry.
Colt’s fiery blue eyes focused on her.
She had no earthly idea what raced through his brain when he looked at her like that, but she liked it. She set her hand on his shoulder, jerking it when he flinched. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. It just surprised me, that’s all. You never touch me like that.”
Do you want me to touch you like that? “I’m…” India blew out a frustrated breath. “Dammit, Colt. I’m sorry. So freakin’ sorry. I’m such a klutz. I didn’t mean to shoot you in the butt.”
He merely stared at her.
“You could kiss it and make it better.”
“Funny. Does it hurt?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
She winced. “I’m sorry.”
“If you’re not gonna pucker up, I’d be grateful for some Motrin.”
India leapt to her feet. “No problem.” She hustled to the nightstand for a glass of water and shook out two orange pills. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Colt popped the pills and took a big drink. The second gulp left him sputtering and water droplets clung to the bristle on his cheeks.
Without thinking, she wicked the moisture away with her fingers.
“God. Your hands are so cold.”
“Sorry.” India moved her hand but Colt caught her wrist.
“Don’t stop. It feels good.”
“Yeah. My face is on fire.”
When she stroked his face, from his forehead to his chin, he expelled a long sigh. India couldn’t tear her eyes away from how Colt’s sharp facial features contrasted with his full lips. For the longest time she just touched him, studying him, sort of like she was seeing him for the first time.
Finally, he said, “You’re quiet.”
“You sound surprised.”
“I am. You’re never quiet.”
“So talk to me.”
“Think you’ll be better by meeting night?”
“Talk to me about anything but A.A.” He shifted his position. “Tell me about the last tattoo you did.”
“Nothing too exciting. Another college girl bringing in a Chinese symbol her friend had found online that ‘means’ something significant.”
“In other words…”
“Complete and total bullshit. For all I know—and all she knows—I could’ve tattooed the Chinese symbol for outhouse above her butt.”
Colt laughed softly.
Encouraged by his laughter, she kept talking. “A couple days ago a big, burly biker came in and wanted a bumblebee done on each thigh above his kneecaps.”
“In an outburst of passion, some hot chick swore he was the ‘bees knees’ so he demanded the moment be forever immortalized on his hairy skin.”
“You’re kiddin’ me.”
“Of course I’m kidding. Damn, you’re gullible, McKay.”
He gave her a droll look. “Gullible ain’t a word that’s ever fit me, Indy.”
“I don’t imagine it has.” She placed her palm on his cheek. During the three years Colt belonged to A.A., he’d told her some of the things he’d done while drunk or high or both. Granted, his past was tame compared to the shit she’d pulled, not that she’d shared the worst of it with anyone and she suspected he held secrets pretty close to his incredible chest too.
“I hate it when you look at me like that,” he said.
“Umm. Like what?” Like I wanna lick you up one side and down the other?
“Like I’m a lab rat.”
India let her thumb arc over his cheekbone. “Not a lab rat. A guinea pig.”
“Great. That’s so much better.”
“I sketched a new tattoo design I’d like to try on you.”
“Yeah? Maybe once my ass is healed you can turn the puncture wound into one of them cool, fake bullet holes you see on motorcycles and pickup tailgates.”
“Please. I’m an artiste. I have something way better in mind. Something hip-fun-sexy-cool.”
Suspicion clouded Colt’s face. “I already told you. You ain’t tattooing the area around my nipples. Ever.”
“But this new pattern is so awesome. Turquoise and orange outlined in black and red, that looks like flames—”
“No way, no how.”
“Just hear me out.”
“Dammit, Indy, I said no. Why are you so dang fired up about doin’ this?”
“Because you have great nipples.”
Colt’s ardent gaze dropped to her chest. “Bein’s that I haven’t seen your nipples, I’m afraid I can’t return the compliment, sugar. But we could rectify that right now. Take off your shirt.”
“Ha ha.” To hide the fact he’d caught her off guard, and that single hot look caused her nipples to stand at attention, she snipped, “Fine. I’ll just use my super cool new design on your cousin, Blake. I’m sure he’d be up for it. Especially since he’s already here building some shelves.”
“Maybe while he’s debating ink colors, you could convince the slob to pick up his goddamn tools so innocent bystanders don’t get nail shot in the ass.”
Whenever India brought up Blake West’s name, Colt became bad-tempered. Not a reaction she understood since Colt and Blake were related and hung out on occasion.
“While you’re busy playin’ with Blake’s nipples, you could pierce them. With little tinkling golden bells. So he can’t sneak up on his flock of sheep when he ain’t pretendin’ to be a carpenter.”
Why had Colt gone beyond peevish to pissed off? “Look, I’m sorry. I was—”
“Forget it. I’m tired. My ass hurts like a mother and I’m supposed to be resting. So shut the light off when you leave.”
“If you need anything—”
“I won’t.” Colt dismissed her by facing the wall.
Jerk. She had half a mind to retrieve the nail gun so she could nail his smart mouth shut.
You have no right to be indignant.
Still, Colt’s erratic behavior stung. He was usually so even-keeled. So sweet and thoughtful with her. India retreated to her room.
She stared at the glow-in-the-dark stars glued to her walls and wondered if Colt would freak out when she told him about her date with Blake tomorrow night.
Rough Rider Series
- Long Hard Ride (Rough Riders, Book 1) - 2007, May 01 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Rode Hard, Put Up Wet (Rough Riders, Book 2) - 2007, October 23 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Cowgirl Up And Ride (Rough Riders, Book 3) - 2008, March 18 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Tied Up, Tied Down (Rough Riders, Book 4) - 2008, July 08 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Rough, Raw And Ready (Rough Riders, Book 5) - 2008, November 04 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Branded As Trouble (Rough Riders, Book 6) - 2009, March 03 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)
- Shoulda Been A Cowboy (Rough Riders, Book 7) - 2009, August 25 (Samhain Publishing, Ltd.)