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Cricket is used to relying on no one but herself. Working two jobs to get through nursing school, she has no time for anything but studying and paying the bills. When three hot cowboys give her a night to remember, she believes it's just that. One night. For Sutton, Archer and Lee, Cricket's the one who got away. Hell, she's The One. Period. When fate puts her back in their arms, they'll stop at nothing to keep her. This is book three in the Steele Ranch series. If you like hot cowboys, you (and Cricket) get three in this one. They're hot, they know exactly what they want and nothing will stand in their way. A standalone read, this is MFMM—it's all about the heroine.
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Copyright © 2018 by Vanessa Vale as Roped
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author's imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from both authors, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover design: Bridger Media
Cover graphic: Bigstock: millaf; Storyblocks
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Note From Vanessa
Hitched - Chapter One
About the Author
Also by Vanessa Vale
“You’ve got ten minutes,” Schmidt growled, pushing an outfit at me. “Put this on and come back out. Find some shoes that fit.” He pointed to the floor behind me. The thump of the base from the song blaring in the main room came through the floor, the thin walls. The scent of stale beer and smoke lingered.
I glanced about at my new reality. The space was small, an oversized closet. A fluorescent light bar affixed to the ceiling cast everything in a harsh glare. Two moveable hanging racks flanked me, lingerie and the skimpiest of outfits hanging from them. Red lace, shiny metal lamé, cheerleader and schoolgirl skirts along with midriff baring tops. On the floor were a variety of fuck-me shoes with at least four-inch heels in all colors of patent pleather.
I glanced down to what he’d shoved in my hands. A nurse’s outfit. A white dress—if it could be called that, with short sleeves and even shorter hem—with Velcro closures on the front instead of buttons. Beneath it, I was to wear a white bikini top, made up of two tiny triangles, and a matching G-string, also white, which had a red plus sign right on the front as if my crotch was the source of medical help.
My stomach roiled at the thought of what they expected. I couldn’t go out there and strip! I couldn’t even put the outfit on.
“I can’t do this,” I said, pleading. One last time. I’d been doing it for the past two hours, ever since they’d taken me from my apartment.
“You don’t have a choice, sweetheart.” Schmidt—I assumed it was his last name, but it was all I knew him by—was in his fifties, built like a whiskey barrel, and had a cigarette dangling from his lip. I’d seen the gun in the waistband of his pants. Nothing unusual since it was Montana and everyone carried, even little old ladies, but I didn’t think his was as much for protection as enforcement of his wishes.
While he hadn’t laid a finger on me, I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do so if he wanted. Same for his sidekick, Rocky. Especially after Rocky had grabbed me and dragged me out of my apartment and to my car. I’d had no choice but to drive us to this seedy place on the edge of town. I’d had thoughts of jumping out at a stoplight, but I knew he’d just drag me back, pissed off.
Maybe it would’ve been better to have jumped into an intersection instead of being where I was now. I couldn’t get past Schmidt since he was almost as wide as the doorway, but even if I could, Rocky was looming behind him. And with both of them armed, I didn’t risk it. I didn’t think they were killers, but I didn’t put rape past them. Their way to persuade me most likely involved me on my knees or on my back.
“I paid you the amount I owed,” I reminded him. Again. Desperation laced my words.
He laughed at that, his eyes roaming over me in my jeans and plain t-shirt. “Not the interest.”
“I paid that, too. Twenty percent.”
He grinned, slowly shook his head as if he were talking to an idiot. Maybe I was one since I was standing in the back room of a seedy strip club. “Sweetheart, I told you, it’s compound interest. Didn’t you learn anything about that in the fancy college classes you borrowed money to take?”
The anatomy and physiology class I’d taken covered how his ACL would be torn if I kicked him in the knee the way I wanted, but it hadn’t had any quizzes on being screwed over by a shifty loan shark. I’d been so stupid taking money from him. I could practically see the diploma I’d worked so hard to get, except a new transmission had put me behind, no matter how many extra shifts I’d worked.
He grinned, his crooked teeth yellow. He had me, and I had a very good feeling the compound interest would never go away. I was fucked. So damned fucked.
“That outfit’s special, just for you since you’re studying to be a nurse and all.”
I was nauseated, realizing he remembered why I’d borrowed money from him in the first place. It hadn’t been to pay for a drug habit, dammit! It was college, to fucking better myself! How long had he been keeping an eye on me?
“I don’t know how to strip,” I said, licking my dry lips, stating the obvious. I could barely dance; my friends always teased me that I had no rhythm.
“You take your clothes off every damned day,” he countered. “It’s not that hard, and as long as you show those big tits and tease the guys with a glimpse of a tight pussy at the end, no one will know.”
Tears burned at the back of my eyes. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Sweetheart, you’re the Virgin Nurse. Everyone’s going to love watching you get your stripper cherry popped out there. You only have to strip until your debt’s paid.”
“Two thousand dollars?” I replied. “That’s one-hundred percent interest and a hell of a lot of stripping.”
He lifted a beefy shoulder. “You can take customers in the back room. Lap dances pay more, especially if you give them a happy ending.”
Gag. I knew what he meant. Fucking strangers or sucking their dicks for extra money. A happy ending for me would be to walk out of here and never see him again.
“You can show me how good you are after closing.” He winked and I threw up a little in my mouth.
I wasn’t a virgin and I liked sex a little wild, but there was no way I was doing anything with him, or anyone else in this place. I slowly shook my head, my eyes wide.
“I can go to the police,” I added, although the threat, I knew, was empty.
His smile shifted to lethal. “Tell anyone and sucking dicks for a twenty isn’t all you’ll be doing. Hope you liked that semester of school. Payback’s a bitch.” He just smiled. “Ten minutes.”
He stepped back, slammed the door shut, making the metal hangers rattle.
I gulped, let the tears fall. Shit, shit! I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t stand before a roomful of strange men and dance, let alone take my clothes off. I’d been naked in front of guys before, but those times had been completely different. Consensual. Fun. A little wild. No, a whole lot wild. But this?
I had money. Now. Not at the beginning of summer semester when I’d borrowed from Schmidt. Last week when I’d received the official letter in the mail, I hadn’t believed it. My father, whom I’d never known, had died and left me money. Lots of it. But if I told Schmidt about the inheritance, he’d want more than the two grand. He’d never leave me alone and that was why I kept it a secret. I wanted to tell him, desperately, so I could get out of here, but at this point, I doubted he’d even believe me.
I’m the heiress to the Steele fortune.
Yeah, right. He’d seen my apartment, my older car. Hell, I’d borrowed money from him. No millionaire needed to borrow money from a loan shark.
The door opened and I jumped, the G-string sliding off the hanger and falling to the floor. “You’re not changing.”
Rocky. Schmidt was definitely in charge and he was all business. I didn’t doubt he fucked the women who worked at his club, but he wasn’t like Rocky. Rocky was all sick leer. Handsy. He’d take me right now if he could get away with it. And he scared me more than the boss.
He bent down, picked up the G-string so it dangled from one of his fingers. “I can help.” His slick grin made my stomach roil.
“I’m going to be sick.” I put a hand over my mouth. Perhaps it was the look on my face or the way I probably turned a funky shade of green, but he jumped back and pointed to the door across the hall. I bolted for the ladies’ room and into the back stall, leaned over the toilet and dry heaved.
The song switched and I knew my turn was coming closer. With one hand on the stained white wall, I caught my breath.
Finished, my stomach hurting, I stood, realizing I still held the hanger with the nurse’s outfit. No way in hell could I put that on.
“Five minutes,” Rocky shouted, pounding on the door. He might have wanted to help me get into the sexy nurse’s outfit, but it seemed he drew the line at holding my hair back as I threw up. He’d remained in the hall. For that, I was grateful.
I had to get out of here, out of this. I’d borrowed the money, yes. I knew, going in, that it was probably stupid, but I’d paid Schmidt back in full. On time. Worked overtime to do so. I never did drugs in my life, didn’t even drink. Had never smoked a cigarette. I’d seen too much in my time in foster care to know what all that did to people and quickly learned no one else was going to take care of me. All my money went to my bills and to school, so I could get my nursing degree and get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck existence.
But Schmidt just wanted to fuck with me, to drag me down. To make extra cash off the backs of those who unfortunately got involved with him. I’d paid him back. I was tired of being taken advantage of. I wasn’t having it, not again.
I stepped out of the stall, looked around. Dingy mint green tile, a cracked mirror. Not enough women came to the strip club to warrant a remodel. But unlike the closet, there was a window. A small one, but a way out. I went to it, fiddled with the latch, then glanced over my shoulder. Rocky could come in at any time. He would, I knew, in less than five minutes if I didn’t come out.
I flipped the worn lock, put my palms on the middle part of the frame and pushed. It shifted, but the paint was old, the wood swollen, my efforts producing a loud creak of protest. Glancing over my shoulder once again, I wondered if Rocky had heard it. Hopefully, the heavy beat of the music hid the noise. A draft of cool air hit me from the small opening I’d created, spurring me to get the thing open. Two inches of freedom and my adrenaline surged. The window was small, but if I could get it open, I could squeeze out. I would, no matter what. I pushed and worked it open, more, then more still until I could fit through.
I shimmied, squeezed, pushed and worked myself through the opening, putting my hands out to block my head as I fell the few feet to the pavement. Looking around, I got my bearings. I was in the parking lot, the dumpster in front of me, meaning I was on the far side, away from the entrance. It wasn’t dark yet, maybe seven o’clock or so. While the lot was partially full, no one was around. No one witnessed my escape. I just had to hope the place was too low-class for security cameras, at least on this side of the building.
I stood, wiped my hands on my jeans to get the grit off, then ran toward my car. I still had my leather purse slung crosswise over my body. With fumbling fingers, I grabbed my keys from within, looked back to make sure Rocky hadn’t found me missing yet. I only had a minute or two at the most.
Once in my car, I prayed that it would start. They didn’t see me much as a threat, knowing that they could intimidate me—or hurt me—if I didn’t keep coming back night after night and strip until the damned debt was paid. They didn’t need to hold me hostage to keep me a prisoner.
No fucking way. I wasn’t coming back. Ever. I had to get out of here. Out of this parking lot, out of town. I started my POS car and sped out of the lot, barely slowing to make the turn onto the street. My heart jumped in my throat as I saw in the rearview mirror Rocky’s head sticking out the open bathroom window, his eyes murderous.
I couldn’t go home, not even for clothes or the money I had hidden. They knew where I lived and no doubt that would be the first place they’d look for me. All they’d do was grab me and bring me back, the next time with a little more anger and aggression. Probably have a little fun with me first. They’d underestimated me tonight, thankfully, but I knew they wouldn’t a second time.
I put my foot to the floor at the far side of town, the buildings receding behind me. I needed to get lost. Hide. I knew just where to go.
It had been a long fucking day. A T-bone accident on the highway had shut the westbound lanes down for two hours. Miraculously, there’d been only minor injuries. Then Mrs. Bickers had called after lunch. I’d lost the coin toss with the other sheriff on duty and had been the one to stop by and check on her stove’s pilot light. The octogenarian had nimble fingers for a woman her age and my butt had been pinched not once, but twice this time. Then there was the domestic violence case on Hawkins Creek Road. Barlow was a quiet town and I liked it that way, content to steer clear of the shit bigger cities dealt with twenty-four hours a day. Today, though, was a reminder that shit went down everywhere, even in rural Montana.
With the sun slowly sinking toward the mountains, I wanted a shower, a beer, perhaps at the same time, then the ball game on TV. With the next few days off, I’d settle for a few beers. That was why, when a car flew by me in the opposite direction, clocked at eighty in a fifty zone, I swore under my breath. I couldn’t let the person go not knowing if they were drunk or not. I couldn’t enjoy the double header wondering if the guy had killed someone. Pulling to the side, I did a U-turn and flipped on the light bar and siren of my sheriff department SUV. I radioed in the call as the car pulled over to the shoulder and came to a stop.
I parked behind it, the SUV angled so I was protected from traffic when I stood by the vehicle, then plugged in the license plate. The small computer display said it was registered to a Christina Johnson, valid tags, address in Missoula. A two-hour drive away, but that was nothing in Montana.
“Evening, ma’am,” I said, as I approached the window. I did an immediate assessment. A woman in her mid-twenties, dark hair. T-shirt and jeans. No scent of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Wearing her seatbelt. “Did you know you were going eighty in a fifty?”
“Oh um, hello, officer,” she replied, her voice nervous. “I wasn’t really paying attention to the speed. Sorry.”
Her nerves and her tense response were both completely normal for a traffic stop. But she was sweating, her dark hair damp at her temples, even with the window down. The day had been warm, but the sun was dropping and with it came the glorious cooler summer night. Her knuckles had a death grip on the steering wheel. In my line of work, I’d gotten pretty used to reading people and she was either high on drugs or freaked out.
“Where are you headed tonight?”
“License and registration, ma’am,” I said.
She shook, as if taking a second to process what I said. Her purse was slung over her body, caught in the seatbelt. I stepped back, using the car to shield myself as she searched. It was a vulnerable moment for a traffic stop as I had no idea what she was going to pull from her bag. Carrying a concealed weapon was legal in Montana—for those with permits—which made me a tad nervous. I had my weapon at my hip, but I didn’t like surprises.
As she did so, I asked, “What’s your name?”
“Cricket. Cricket Johnson.”
Holy shit. There certainly couldn’t be two Crickets in western Montana, could there? My heart skipped a beat and my cock stirred. On a fucking traffic stop, but still. If this was Cricket, the woman Sutton had been looking for, the one we’d claimed together along with Lee that one wild night last summer…
“Here,” she said, holding her license out. Her fingers shook and I had to wonder once again if she were on something. She reached over to get the registration from the glove box, but I checked out her ID. Christina Johnson.
“Cricket a nickname, Christina Johnson?” I asked once she handed me her registration.
“Oh, um, yes. Sorry, I’m never called Christina.”
I remained silent, waited, forcing her to look up at me. She had long, almost pitch-black hair, windblown and tangled. Her dark eyes were wide and she bit her plump lower lip. Beautiful. She all but vibrated with energy. She didn’t look high, but who was to know these days. The Cricket I remembered hadn’t been the kind of woman to get mixed up in drugs, but it had been a year, and it had only been one night. In my job, I’d seen some crazier shit than that.
“Be right back,” I told her, taking her info with me.
I returned to my state-issued SUV, swiped her license in the computer to get her information. I got on the horn and updated the dispatcher, said the traffic stop was complete. Technically, it wasn’t, but I was going into a gray area here, especially since I was off-duty. I pulled out my cell.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I said, when Sutton answered.
“What? Mrs. Bickers pinch your ass again?” my friend asked.
“I just pulled over a woman who goes by Cricket.”
The line was quiet. “Fuck, seriously?”
I glanced at her ID. “Twenty-five, black hair, dark eyes. A chicken pox scar on the side of her left cheek. Really fucking pretty.”
“That’s her. She also has a scar on the inside of her right knee,” he added.
“The lights were out. I didn’t see shit,” I grumbled.
“You felt a whole hell of a lot.”
I had. That night was seared in my memory. Sutton meeting the woman of his dreams at the Poulson rodeo of all places, getting her in his hotel room for a wild romp. One night turned into two and he discovered she was into sharing. Wanting to fulfill one of her fantasies, he called me and Lee, had us join them. God, I remembered every bit of that long night; the plump weight of her breasts, the taste of her pussy as I ate her out, the feel of her walls constricting my cock as she came when I’d fucked her ass—she’d even wanted that, the way she’d taken me deep down her throat. The way she’d been pleasured by three men who’d made her the center of their world. It had been…intense, incredible and I’d been lost, almost as much as Sutton, since she’d snuck off. Lee, too.
“I’ve told you for the past year she wanted it, but was nervous. Making the room pitch black gave her the three-guy experience without seeing faces. She’d loved it.”
“Jesus, I know. She got three mouths, three dicks and six hands on her.” All night long.
“And about a dozen orgasms.” I heard him groan just from talking about it. She was the one who got away, sneaking out before dawn, never to be heard from again. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried a police search for the name Cricket. Nothing. She’d been a fucking unicorn. Until now.
“That night is the top of my spank-bank list,” I said, my cock getting hard now, even on a stop. Her record pulled up on the screen. “You said she was hot as fuck. You’re right.” I’d remembered the sweet suction of her mouth, the rippling of her pussy, the breathy moans of her pleasure, but I’d never seen her face. For one wild night I’d been blind, and now I could see.
“Shit,” he groaned, most likely wishing he was in the patrol SUV with me.
“She’s from Missoula,” I told him, reading what was on the small computer screen. “Not even a parking ticket. But something’s not right with her. She nervous. Panicked even.”
“Why did you pull her over?”
“County road thirty-four.”
“I’ll be there in twenty. I’m not letting her get away again.”
I rubbed my brow. “Man, I can’t hold her for twenty minutes for a speeding ticket.”
Right then, she climbed from her car, hurried over to mine. Even in her slim jeans, her legs were a mile long. I remembered how they felt about my waist. I wanted that again.
“Hang on,” I said, pulling the phone away from my ear.
“Look, I did it,” she said when she came up to stand within the space of the open driver’s door, glancing at me, then over her shoulder, as if someone was after her. The two-lane road was all but deserted, only one car having passed since I’d stopped her. “I was speeding, breaking the law. I’ve been bad.” She held her arms out, wrists together. “Slap the handcuffs on me.”
I went from having a semi to fully erect in the span of time it took her to say Slap the handcuffs on me. The Cricket from last year would have loved some kinky restraints.
“Arrest me,” she added with breathy desperation.
But while my dick thought otherwise, she wasn’t talking like a woman propositioning a man. Especially not one she’d had sex with before, not that she knew it. She had no idea who I was. She never saw my face that night. Heard my voice, yes, but it had been twelve long months. Not something to remember. I didn’t remember hers. Maybe if she called out my name in a breathy gasp of pleasure I might, but she wasn’t the least bit aroused. She was afraid. Very afraid. Something had her scared as shit.
I stepped out of the car, forcing her to retreat, and closed the door behind me.
“You want to go to jail?” I asked, assessing her.
No, she wasn’t on drugs. She’d been speeding because she’d been running from something. Someone. The way she glanced down the road in the direction she’d come from, she was worried this person was following. If she was scared enough to ask to be arrested, then I wasn’t going to let her off with a warning and send her on her way to protect herself. No fucking way. If she was scared, I’d take care of her.
Keeping my eyes on her, I lifted my cell to my ear, and lowered my voice. “I’m coming to you. Thirty minutes, and call Lee,” I told Sutton before disconnecting and tossing the cell through the open window and onto the center console.
“I’ll need to frisk you.”
Her eyes widened and her cheeks went pink.
“Turn around and put your hands on the hood.”
She complied, then glanced over her shoulder at me.
Fuck, this was hot. She was all slim curves. I remembered the heavy weight of her tits in my hands, the roundness of her hips, her gorgeous heart-shaped ass. But that had been all by touch. Now I could see all of her. The idea of putting a hand between her shoulder blades to make her ass stick out was all too tempting. She needed a spanking for her reckless driving. I could give her one—would love to get my palm on that pert flesh—but Sutton was the one who dominated best.
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