Authors: Em Petrova
“You kissed her? Hell, that’s nothing like the kiss I got,” Quint said as if she weren’t standing there wishing she’d given them each mouse poison.
Carter gained his feet. Quint straightened. All of a sudden, she pictured her whole trailer trashed by a brawling pair of team ropers.
“Enough! Take it outside and rest assured that neither of you will be laying a hand, lip—or any other body part you want to find still attached to your body—on me!” She twisted her hand in the cloth covering Quint’s chest. His warm, steely flesh beneath ignited her, but she managed to propel him toward the door, open it and shove him out.
When she returned for Carter, she found him grinning at her with that slow, bad-boy smile that made all her lady parts sit up and beg. Pushing through her need, she latched onto his ear.
He yowled. She tossed him out after his buddy and slammed the door. Then she whirled, panting, quivering with pent-up need to straddle not one cowboy but two, and ride herself into a state of full exhaustion.
Her gaze settled on the box of medicine they hadn’t taken with them.
Grabbing it, she stomped to the door and hurled it out at their astonished faces. When she slammed the door again, she couldn’t stop a small giggle from escaping. Now that they knew she’d toyed with them both, they could go off and beat each other up.
Or snore and nose-whistle each other to death.
Her laugh burst out, freeing some of her tension after being trapped with two sexy cowboys she couldn’t decide between. Now she wouldn’t have to make a choice, because they were both off the table. In one swoop, she’d ended things before they’d begun.
No, she didn’t have a cure for what ailed them in her medicine box, but now she could set to work on fixing her messed-up head.
Carter stared at Bella’s door, a half-smile creeping over his face. “Damn, she’s a tornado a man would want to roll around with for all his years.”
“Too many bullets shooting out of that pretty lipstick-coated mouth, but damn if I don’t want to stay here and take a few more hits.” Quint shook himself and then looked at Carter—hard. “You finally going to admit you want her?”
“I never denied I do. I just don’t think it’s your business.”
“It’s my business when she’s playing with both of us. She let you kiss her?”
“Yeah.” Carter drew up to his full height, meeting his friend’s challenging tone.
“What else did you do with her?”
Carter wasn’t about to admit that Bella had shut him down and avoided him ever since. “None of your business.” He turned and started walking away.
Quint’s strides ate up the distance in a blink. “Did you sleep with her?”
“You’re not very bright, are you? I’ve been in that hotel room with you for weeks. Do you honestly think if I had Bella in my hands, I’d spend less than a full night loving her?”
Quint snorted. “So you haven’t had her.”
Slowing his gait, Carter shot his friend a look. “Have you?” He didn’t want to hear the answer, yet he wasn’t about to chase a woman who was spoken for. If there was a glimmer of a chance with Bella, though…
“I’m of the same mind as you, bro. I wouldn’t come back to a hotel room and listen to you snore if I had.”
They walked in silence for a minute, meandering through the parking lot to their truck. Carter glanced at the meds he’d scooped off the asphalt. “Think she means to kill us with these pills so we leave her alone?”
Quint’s low chuckle echoed the amusement Carter felt. Their friendship had survived everything from losing streaks to injuries to bad attitudes. They wouldn’t let a woman get between them.
Except she obviously liked both or she wouldn’t have let them close enough to grab her and kiss her. Bella was savvy enough to evade them if she’d really wanted, and she didn’t want to. Carter had detected the rapid rise and fall of her chest while in the trailer. Her lowered lashes, the way she dashed her wet, pink tongue over her lower lip…
Unless he was totally off, she was turned on by them being there.
“Look, I’m not feeling great about any of this. Just keep your distance today, okay?” Quint tugged his cowboy hat lower over his eyes.
“Oh that’ll be easy considering we’re stuck in a truck together.” Carter tried to tip the scales of his partner’s grumpiness, but Quint just glared at him from under the brim of his battered hat.
“You can take the meds first. Hopefully Bella was wrong and you can knock yourself out.”
Irritation was a long snake slithering through Carter’s chest. “Fine by me.”
They climbed into the truck and slammed their doors. Carter popped two pills and chased them with a bottle of warm, flat soda. Then he settled down for a long drive with his moody friend. Unfortunately, Bella wasn’t wrong about the medication. Carter was wide awake and thinking very clearly—about Bella’s sweet lips and the way she’d looked into his eyes.
May the best man win.
The pretty bartender pushed an ice-cold longneck in Quint’s direction with a wink. “Haven’t seen you in here, Cowboy.”
He tossed a bill onto the bar for the beer and hooked his finger around the bottle. “Just passin’ through.”
“With the rodeo? I see plenty of cowboy hats in here tonight.” She glanced around.
He nodded. “You ever rodeo?”
A high-pitched laugh escaped her, the sound putting him off as fast as a case of crabs. He turned from the bar before she answered, but she called, “Never rodeo’d but I ride the mechanical bull like a pro!”
He waved and headed deep into the crowd. Yeah, she was cute enough. If he got past her laugh, he could score her. Trouble was, since he’d set his sights on Bella, no woman was good enough.
After a long, tense drive with Carter at his side, he was ready to cut loose a little. He couldn’t really be angry with Carter, but he didn’t feel all that friendly with him at the moment either.
He passed his buddy’s table with a chin-nod of recognition. Carter returned it with a jerk of his head. Quint sauntered up to a few guys standing in a half-circle around the mechanical bull the bartender had mentioned.
“That thing looks rickety. I bet it breaks down in the first rotation.” The low twang of a true Colorado cowboy drew Quint’s attention.
He thrust his hand at Buck Calhoun. “Haven’t seen you in the past three towns. What the hell happened to you? We thought you fell out of rodeoing.”
Buck gave him a crooked smile and shake of his hand. “Nah, just a hiatus. Had to take care of family business. We’re back now and looking to win. Isn’t that right, Ash?” He thumped his own team roping partner on the shoulder, and Asher nodded agreement.
Quint looked closer at Asher. The man’s normally tanned face looked pale, and strain revealed itself around each eye in the form of dark shadows. Whatever that family business was must be on Asher’s end, because Buck didn’t look as affected as his friend. And the Calhouns were a tight group. Five brothers and a sister, all competing in different events. Rumor was they were trying to earn money to save their ranch.
Another guy in their ring hooted, and Quint turned his attention from the state of mind of his competitors to the mechanical bull. A spotlight lit the mangy leather hide covering the nuts and bolts of the bull.
“It’s time to spice things up here tonight!” an unseen person announced through the speaker system. The country music was lowered, and women flocked to the area, nudging each other to get in line.
Quint brought his beer to his lips. This would be fun. He was never one to turn a blind eye to a pretty girl, even if none of them matched up to Bella’s perfection.
“Best score of the night wins a Snappy’s Bar T-shirt and free drinks for the rest of the night!”
“Oh fuck no.”
Quint looked up to see Carter beside him, his face mottled red with fury. Following Carter’s gaze, he felt his throat close around the beer he’d just swallowed. A violent cough erupted from him as he set eyes on Bella right at the head of the line.
In skin-tight jeans and a plaid top knotted at her midriff, she was striking. Add that sliver of tanned belly and a hint of cleavage and she was walking sex.
And she was about to compete. Every man in the joint would be drooling over her, but that couldn’t happen. Quint didn’t have enough stamina to beat the shit out of every man here.
I’ll give it the old cowboy try, though.
He set his beer on a table behind him and folded his arms across his chest. Carter issued a low growl. “Dammit, this can’t end well,” his friend said.
No, it would end
well, with Bella riding the bull with all the sex appeal of an exotic dancer. Which of course was the real problem. She was targeted enough without exploiting herself.
When she tossed her hair, laughing, Quint narrowed his eyes at her. She was a little too flushed, her eyes a little too bright.
“Is she drunk?”
“Tipsy, I’d say. Son of a bitch.” Carter’s jaw muscle worked as he looked on.
The muscles all the way down Quint’s spine tightened. If Bella wasn’t a hundred-percent in possession of her wits, she’d be hit on by more creeps than he’d be able to fend off.
But Carter looked more than willing to take on a few.
“Our first rider is Miss Bella Roberts! This championship barrel racer has been known to ride a bull or two in her lifetime. Ready, Bella?”
She nodded, her hair tumbling around her shoulders. When she raised a hand to wave at the crowd gathered around the bull, her top pulled tight across her breasts, revealing a small opening big enough for Quint to slip his finger inside.
His cock hardened at the thought of all that warmth radiating off her skin. He tried to catch her eyes, but she wasn’t paying attention to anything but the bull. With a sexy flip of her leg, she straddled the beast.
“Fucking hell,” Carter groaned.
I know the feeling.
Quint’s jeans were suddenly two sizes too small. His balls started to throb.
When she wiggled her fine little ass to situate herself on the back, Quint felt his eyes roll back in his head. If he looked around, he’d see every man in the same state. Well, except maybe Asher, who was married with two kids. But a man would have to be dead not to notice Bella.
She shimmied down toward the neck, which pointed sharply to the floor. Around the bull a bunch of foam cubes would cushion her fall, but he’d seen her ride a flesh and blood, pissed-off bull. She’d have to be a lot drunker to land in the foam.
The music started with the first whip of the bull. It swung backward, she compensated with one arm waving in the air. Her breasts pushed out. Her fucking thighs gripping the sides like a champion.
Quint’s need compounded, and he found himself grinding his teeth. The bull started whipping her, and Bella kept her seat, rocking up and down. Hell, an eighty-year-old woman would look sexy on a mechanical bull. The action was sexy as hell. But since it was Bella, every man—and probably a few women—were riveted on her.
Carter nudged his fly, adjusting his own boner. Fuck, this was bad. Real bad.
Quint’s vocal chords ached to yell for the charade to stop, but Bella rode out her full eight seconds. Ten. Twelve.
“Time’s up!” he hollered.
Someone elbowed him in the back. “Hey, buddy, don’t make them stop her.”
He turned to glare at the guy but had no idea which man in the sea of faces had struck him. Twisting back around, he welcomed the blare of the buzzer. Bella’s hair trickled into her eyes, and she tossed it back like a fucking porn star.
To dismount, she lay back on the bull and made a show of rolling into the foam. A half dozen men rushed forward to offer her a hand up, but Quint and Carter were there first, hauling her bodily out of the foam pit and dragging her several feet away.
She focused on Quint and then Carter. “You guys better keep your distance.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to ask why, but then the buzzer sounded and another woman was in the spotlight. She didn’t ooze sex appeal like Bella or even stay on very long. When she was tossed into the foam, only one man was there to pick her up. Another took her place.
“How’d I do, boys?” Bella had another drink in her hand. Where had she gotten it?
Quint’s protective instincts were suddenly a wild animal, pacing back and forth in front of her. He stared down a man, daring him to try anything. When he glanced over at Carter, he saw him standing bodyguard too.
At least he had backup. The strangeness of the situation hit him—they both wanted Bella but in protecting her, they were a solid wall no one could breach. That familiar sense of camaraderie flooded Quint.
“You did fine, Bella,” Carter said tightly when she asked a second time.
“Just fine?” She swigged.
Quint had never seen her drink very much. What was bringing this on? It couldn’t be their encounter earlier and their admission that they’d both kissed her.
She was as effervescent as ever, fizzing with life and energy and liquid sex. “I kicked ass up there. I’m winning those free drinks.” She tipped her glass into her mouth and swallowed the contents in one big gulp.
Again, Quint’s balls clenched, but he ignored it. Someone else tried to put a fresh glass into her hand, but Quint knocked his hand aside. The drink sloshed onto the floor, and Bella pressed her beautiful lips into a pout. Each freckle seemed to beckon to him.
Jesus, she’s killing me.
Too easily he pictured her lips wrapped around his cock. Not tonight, though. When she came to his bed, she’d be totally sober.
“You don’t need any more drinks, Bella.” Carter’s rough tone suggested he wasn’t immune to her pout either. Damn, she was so cute.
And every grind of her pussy against that bull was emblazoned on his memory. He’d be beating off to it for a month.
So will every guy here.
She started to walk away, but Carter snaked his arm around her shoulders and tucked her solidly against his side. It would normally bug the shit out of Quint, but right now, he just wanted Bella safe from any predatory males who didn’t have the same morals they did. She was safe in their hands—at least until she had the wits to say yes. Then it was game on, and they’d love her long into the next morning. Hell, the next week.
Wait—what was he thinking? They weren’t a team when it came to the bedroom.
He shot Carter a glare for having his arm around Bella, but he didn’t remove it. She wiggled out from under his arm, and Quint took the opportunity to snag her in his hold. God, she was all tight, wicked curves that he couldn’t touch.
“We need to get her out of here.”
“No, I wanna see if I won!” She leaned heavily against him even as she pushed up the brim of Carter’s hat. He looked at her in surprise. “You’re too pretty to hide under your hat.”
He gave Quint a self-satisfied smile that Quint wanted to knock off his face. But at least she was staying put right now instead of trying to escape. He didn’t want to pick her up, toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of here, but he would. Tempting as it would be, he wouldn’t even cop a feel.
“You guys feel better?” she slurred.
“What?” Quint leaned closer, catching a scent of her underlying honeysuckle smell even if it was buried beneath the notes of too many drinks.
“Your…” she waved a hand in front of her face, “stuffy head. Did it go away?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. Why don’t we find a table and sit down?”
“No, I have to stand here and intimidate the other women. It’s a trick we all do, watching each other compete.”
Damn, she was a force to be reckoned with. A hurricane wind of temper and untamed female. The idea of her standing by watching her competitors made him smile.
Two more women took their seats on the bull—and then their backs in the foam pit. After everyone had taken a turn, the announcer held up the trophy T-shirt. “The winner, with the best score and technique, is Bella!”
She jumped up and down, the side of her heel landing on the toe of Quint’s boot. He steadied her, but she launched herself forward to claim her prize. As soon as she accepted the T-shirt, she wrapped it around her neck like a scarf and took a drink in each hand. Before he and Carter could stop her, she tossed back both shots.
“Jesus Christ. Let’s get her out of here before she needs her stomach pumped.” Quint looped an arm around her and dragged her out of the spotlight.
“No, I’m not finished here. I have to take my victory ride.”
“Not in this state, you’re not.” Carter’s tone was an electric fence, forbidding her to question it.
She did anyway. “You don’t own me. Nobody owns me.”
“Of course not, Bella. But you’re not safe here.”
She looked around. “What the hell are you talking about? I don’t see any ninjas.”
Quint couldn’t stop the bark of laughter from escaping. “Time to go, darlin’.” He plucked her off her feet. Carter took her by the calves and together, they carried her through the crowd of protestors.
* * * * *
“She’ll be more comfortable in her trailer,” Quint said, a squirming Bella between them.
“Yeah, but we don’t have her key.”
“It’s probably in her pocket.”
“As much as I like the thought of digging through her pockets, I’m not going to. It wouldn’t be gentlemanly. That means we’re taking her to our room.” Carter had been gnashing his teeth for the last twenty steps. The feel of her round, hard calves in his hands invited images of throwing her legs over his shoulders and sliding home.
“Put me down!” Bella grunted and tried to rip herself from their holds. Quint adjusted his grip. She kicked wildly, and Carter let her legs slip. Before she hit the ground, he caught her.
“Let me have her, Quint. You go ahead and open the motel room door.”
Quint nodded and they set her on her feet. She started to tip over.
“Oh no you don’t. Face-planting on the asphalt isn’t good for your pretty face. C’mon, sassy pants.” Carter whipped her over his shoulder and started walking. Quint strode ahead, and in no time they’d reached their motel. The slightly greenish glow of the overhead light illuminated their door.