That it might end badly for everyone involved never once crossed Garrett’s mind. He wasn’t the sort of man who liked to pause or calculate the odds or consider such minor details like consequences for one’s actions. Consequences happened whether a man acted or not. Life in the military chasing down renegade Indians and the occasional outlaw had taught him that. But in special cases, like this one, consequences had little to do with the choices he made. Right now his only consideration was making sure his brother fought out of… whatever he’d just battled his way into, because Cullen was all the family Garrett had and to Garrett, family was everything.
Also, bar room brawls were fun. Especially those that involved as many beautiful combatants as this one.
A few minutes ago, Garrett had been at the Singleton’s Mercantile, stacking up all the supplies he seriously hoped they’d be able to pay for on the wood-plank sidewalk, when he’d spotted Cullen running down the middle of the street. The last time he’d seen him run like that, they’d been in the middle of a shootout with fifteen hostile Sioux braves and their commanding officer had just fallen off his horse with bullet holes and more arrows in him than a porcupine had quills. All these years later, Garrett still remembered thinking that. Those memories had a lot to do with the jolt of adrenaline that shot up his spine and down his legs, forcing him to drop the canvas sacks of flour and beans he’d been carrying before he tore off running down the street after his brother.
Garrett was too far back, however. He saw Cullen duck into a dusty side alley between the furrier and saddle shop, but by the time Garrett reached the far end, he’d lost sight of him. It was the scream that led him the rest of the way, straight down the street into the two-story white whore house with the bright red shutters: The Red Petticoat Saloon. He’d been meaning to pay this place a visit once he got up the cash, he just hadn’t known it would be under these circumstances.
The brawl was well underway and Cullen smack in the middle of it when Garrett pushed through the Red Petticoat’s swinging doors. Tables were broken and chairs upturned. Shards of glass were scattered across the liquor-splattered floorboards, crunching under his feet as he took in the utter chaos. Beautiful combatants was right. Soiled doves they might well be, but this was one brothel not stocked with wilting wallflowers.
Of the dozen or so scantily clad ladies poised in various states of shock and disbelief, only a handful of women had rushed to join in the fight. He saw Cullen, leaping over the bar in pursuit of a Mexican man trying his best to keep the fight clear of the ladies—none of whom were helping him reach that end. He saw Chinny—little Chinny, the China girl Cullen had rescued from drowning only one week earlier, standing no bigger than knee-high to a very injured cricket—limping around the bar as fast as her wounded knee would take her, to get between the two men. He saw the brothel’s blonde madam leap on his brother’s back, sparking Cullen’s involuntary defense reaction that ended with her being flipped through the air. He saw Cullen’s shock as, mid-flight, he recognized his assailant as female and, too late, tried to soften her landing. He broke a table with her, which in turn redoubled the Mexican’s rage. The wind knocked out of her, she lay gasping and sucking at air while the two men threw themselves at one another with renewed vigor.
He saw the sheriff’s redheaded wife, still wearing her pink petticoats, swing a bottle at Cullen’s head, but Chinny caught her arm and shoved her back. The redhead fell, but she came up again, shouting at Chinny, “Are you crazy?” just before she grabbed a chair instead.
Chinny grabbed the chair too, and the two wrestled, each woman hell-bent on wresting it from the other. Having spent a week in that headstrong little China girl’s company, it didn’t exactly surprise Garrett that she could (wounded or not) hold her own in a physical confrontation.
“Stop this! Stop this right now!” Wooden spoon in hand, a dark-skinned woman stood blocking the kitchen doorway, the whites of her wide eyes visible all the way around as she alternated between yelling at Cullen and fighting to hold back the two small Indian boys who were equally intent on breaking free of her to get into the thick of the brawl.
He saw the brunette throwing bottles from behind the bar, the two blondes—one armed with a chair and another with a billiard cue (really cute that one, hair all done up with pearl teardrops, bright red dress with the skirts tied up so high that he could see the ruffles of her drawers and neckline cut so low that each heaving breath gave him a sneak peek of pink rouged nipples)—watching Cullen beat the tar out of their Mexican friend and wondering if they really ought to join in or not.
Loved the nipples. Absolutely loved them.
And then Garrett saw her. The slender, brown haired, green eyed woman who let out that high-pitched Indian war cry just before she leapt— leapt!—from midway down the staircase onto the bar, and from there onto Cullen’s back. Hers was a state of fantastic undress: black corset loosely laced over the top of a thin-strapped camisole; bright red petticoat tied back to show off the ruffled drawers and stockings she wore as she wrapped her legs around Cullen’s waist. Almost like a lover, if only she hadn’t also latched an arm around his neck and hooked her fingers into his mouth, pulling as if she wanted to rip his cheek apart. Too pale to be a true Indian, too sun-bronzed to be the well-bred white woman her facial bone structure suggested, she yanked Cullen’s head back, clearing the way for either the Mexican or the redhead and her chair to get the upper hand.
Blood, as they say, is always thicker, especially when it came to life or death, or even mismatched bar fights. Garrett had no idea what might have started this, but he tapped his hat down low so as not to lose it, planted his foot on the seat of the only chair in the saloon still standing upright, and launched himself into the fray. The target he fixed on was the little “savage” on his brother’s back. “Yeeeehaaah!”
His war cry wasn’t half as elegant as hers, but he had her attention from the moment their eyes—and then their bodies—collided. He tackled her, ripping her hand out of Cullen’s mouth (if that hurt, he’d be sorry about it later). Wrapping his bigger body around hers to absorb as much impact as he could, when they hit the floor together, he rolled, crashing into the bar back first, not that she appreciated his chivalry. The minute they flopped to a stop and his arms closed around her, she became a wind-mill of dervish writhing unlike anything he’d ever experienced from any woman before. She kicked (he had no immediate plans to become a father, but he did so like the option; thankfully, she missed), her elbow thumped his gut hard enough to knock the wind from him, and all four of her limbs scrambled to roll him far enough for her to get on top.
It became his new favorite position in an instant; she could get on top of him any time. The king of inappropriate thoughts, that was his first.
That he might actually lose the fight to her was his second, because she was a heck of a lot stronger than she looked.
Garrett lost track of Cullen after that. He lost track of Chinny, the redhead and her chair, the bellowing Mexican as he swung his fists in brutal meat-pounding blows, and the blonde madam as she gasped and wheezed and rolled onto her stomach, crawling to get back into the fight. He lost track of everything except how it felt to have that little savage’s luscious bottom pushing and pumping flush up against his groin as she bucked to evade his embrace. He rolled on top of her out of sheer self-preservation. He sat on her—all right, that was out of pure deviant delight—and one at a time, caught her slugging fists and pinned her wrists together to the floor above her head.
“Behave,” he told her, pointing the sternest finger he could manage just off the tip of her cute little nose. There was no hiding his grin, however. “I mean it now. Behave.”
Those green, green eyes of hers lit with a fury unequal to anything, except perhaps his amusement.
“Behave,” he warned again, as the pink bow of her painted lips peeled back from all her pearly white, savage little teeth. He yanked his finger back before she bit, the snap of all those pearlies clacking together like a spring-loaded fur-hunter’s trap. He was so startled, he laughed at her. That was when “behave” became the least of all her hostile intentions; she bit him. Hard. Sinking her teeth into the soft pad of his right palm, she gave savage a whole new vocabulary, growling and snarling and grinding her jaws to make the pain shoot straight up his arm. It lanced through him to land with a thump of unexpected interest all the way down into his groin. He hissed, but never quite lost his smile, not even when the pink of her lips turned dark with his blood.
She tried to knee him again, but Garrett wedged his legs between hers, anchoring his hips into the cradle of hers while she arched and twisted, growled and ground, her teeth sinking in deeper, breaking more skin. Her wildly kicking feet thumped the floor. Her hips curled and rubbed, the hot core of her femininity grinding against the front of his trousers like a woman in the throes of the most seductive passion.
He probably shouldn’t have found her growls half as cute as he did. He definitely should not have been this turned on, but it had been a long time since his last tussle between any woman’s sheets and this explosive little armful was nothing if not alluring as she squirmed and wriggled and fought to throw him off.
All right, her little teeth were really digging in now. He grinned, showing her his. She growled louder. He couldn’t help it; he laughed. That arching buck of her hips was too distracting; he bucked back, thrusting once before grinding down, letting her feel the full and unapologetic response that her primal savagery had aroused. Those lovely green eyes of hers widened, losing a degree of their earlier fire to swift-rising surprise. He thrust again, catching her leg when she kicked, hefting her thigh up over his hip and pinning it there while he cupped her bottom. Cupped and squeezed. A nice little handful.
She spat his hand from her mouth, sucking a startled breath instead.
Her nipples stiffened, twin peaks creating mouth-watering buds beneath the white cotton of her frilly camisole and above the lifting cup of her black corset. He wondered if she were aware of it. He wondered if she’d rouged them.
His smile softened. He looked at her lips, flecked crimson at the corners with his blood. His hand throbbed. His cock throbbed harder.
“Behave,” he purred one last time. He’d have loved to have said more, except that was when the sheriff showed up and stopped everything with a well-aimed and somewhat deafening shot fired into the ceiling.
“Je-sus Christ,” Jeb Justice declared, the irritation in his voice carrying easily through the sudden quiet that filled the Red Petticoat bar. “What. The hell! Is going on in here?”
The little savage lay tense and unmoving beneath him for all of only four or five cock-enticing seconds, then she began to squirm again. No longer fighting, now she wanted only to break away. Garrett let her go, but in slow degrees—captured wrists first, then all the rest of her temptress’s body. She rolled when he rose off her and scrambled out from under him. He gave her bottom a sharp smack, just a sting to remember him by before she found her feet.
Somewhere in the struggle, she’d knocked his hat off. He found it, stepped on, behind the bar. Shaking off the splinters of broken glass, he replaced it on his head and repaired the unwanted crease in what was otherwise a well-trained brim. By the time he found his feet too, she had fled all the way to the kitchen door. She grabbed up one of the small boys, hugging him to her. She wasn’t exactly hiding, but she had tucked herself behind the wooden-spoon-wielding woman’s skirts before she looked back at him, but he knew he had unnerved her by the way she stared at him over her shoulder.
Her nipples were still perked though, and his cock was still hard.
Garrett saw her hands tighten on her little boy’s back and her whole body shudder when he smiled at her. He touched two fingers to the brim of his hat, not quite tipping it, but it was for her and her alone if only she hadn’t just ducked into the kitchen and out of his sight.
Feisty—his hand and cock throbbed in unison—he liked that.