“Stop?” She jerked her hands out of his grasp. She slapped his chest with the flat of her hand and stared at him in frustrated fury. “You want to stop . . .
“No. What I mean isâ”
She slapped his chest again, and then leaped to her feet. “I'm through here. I'm going back to Texas. I've had enough of the craziness of Indian Territory. And you.”
She turned her back on him, crossed her arms over her stomach, and burst into tears. And that made her feel even worse. She was trying to be brave and strong and decisive. Now she looked like a weak-willed ninny. She didn't even carry a real revolver like a scary Colt .45. No, she'd let them foist a little .32 on her like the novice she was, and she'd been pleased as punch. A fresh flow of tears ran down her cheeks.
She wheeled around to face him, stomped her boot, and unbuckled her gun-belt. “And I'm not wearing this stupid baby gun a moment longer.”
“I bet you've been laughing at me since the moment I strapped it around my waist.”
She shook the .32 in its holster at his face, and then threw it on the ground at his feet. The revolver went off, a bullet narrowly missing his boot while the sound ricocheted off the canyon walls. They both leaped back and the horses shied away.
“What's wrong with you?” Lucky picked up the revolver, smoke curling from the open end of its leather holster. “You almost shot off my foot.”
“Do you think it might have done that much damage?”
“Yes! No need to sound proud that you almost maimed me.”
“I didn't realize it had that much firepower.”
“Of course it does. It's a lethal weapon.”
“It looks like a baby compared to your .45.”
“What the hell does this have to do with . . . do you want to trade guns or something?”
She cocked her head, sniffed loudly, and wiped the moisture from her cheeks. One thing for sure, the crack of the .32 had scared the tears right out of her eyes. “You'd wear a .32?”
“I've got one in my saddlebags right now. Plus a derringer and three Colt .45s.”
“Why on earth do you need so many guns?”
“I've got six shots in a revolver. Do you know how long it can take to reload?”
She shook her head, having no idea.
“If it's one against many, it takes too damn long.” He gave her a hard look. “Back in the War Between the States, a partisan ranger had four or five .44s and several bowie knives on his body at all times.”
“He must have rattled when he walked.”
“He rode. And he fought until he died or the war was lost.”
“I'm sorry. That wasn't nice of me. My daddy died in that long, bloody war.”
“We all lost people close to us.”
“I'd better apologize for throwing down my gun, too.”
“You're tired, frustrated, and hungry. So am I.”
“That's true.” She wanted to put her weakness behind her and forget about her tears. “Let's eat.”
“I'll gather some wood and build a fire.”
It didn't take her long to spread the blankets and set out their meager fare of jerky, cheese, crackers, and canteens of water. He had a campfire blazing in no time.
After she sat down, he settled across from her, as if he thought it best to keep his distance. He took off his gun-belt, but kept both revolvers within easy reach. She wondered if she'd ever get her .32 back, but she wasn't going to ask for it. She did feel mollified that it could do more damage than she'd thought, so perhaps it wasn't so embarrassing after all.
“I wish we'd had a chance to eat at Burnt Boggy.” She bit into a piece of cheese and followed it with a dry cracker.
“A steaming bowl of beef and beans would've tasted good.”
“Even better, I wish we could eat at Mama Lou's.”
“Don't even mention it.”
When silence descended between them, she didn't try to break it. She was still embarrassed over her outburst. She felt as if all her senses were heightened. And the place over her heart tingled, so she absently rubbed it. She sighed, wondering if her life would ever get back to normal, or even near normal.
“What is it?”
“I'm usually a lot more dependable. I don't know what's come over me.”
“It's partly my fault. But you've had a lot of shocks, too.”
“I hope I don't see another rattlesnake up that close.”
He chuckled. “Too close for comfort?”
“Too close for anything.”
“Remember when I told you that I'd give you a wedding night?”
“It seems like a long time ago, but yes.”
“I'd like to marry you first.”
She felt her breath catch in her throat, and then she took a great gulp of air. “Let's see. I met you a few days ago. We're in the middle of nowhere. No justice of the peace or minister is in sight. That's easy to say when you know it's impossible.”
“If we could get married, would you marry me?”
“You don't need to marry me to get full milking rights to this cow.”
“Don't belittle yourself.”
“Then don't ask stupid questions.”
“How would you feel about spending the rest of your life with me?”
“I don't even know you.”
“I'm trying to protect you.”
“And I'm trying to have a wedding night. Is there something wrong with me that I can't get any man to spread my thighs and ram it home?”
“Crude doesn't become you.”
“Virginity doesn't become me, either.” She clenched her fists in frustration. “I guess I'm just going to have to get a smooth stick or a piece of fruit like a banana. If I wait much longer on a man, I'll be dead.”
“That'd be an unnecessary waste.”
“For me, yes.”
“Lucky, I can't take any more tonight. My nerves are jangled. I'm going to roll up in my blanket and get some sleep.”
“No, you're not.”
“And why not?”
“I've got something much better in mind.”
Lucky watched Tempest across the campfire. She'd had him off balance from the first. She'd burrowed deep into his mind, his emotions, and his body. He didn't regret it. He simply wanted to focus on her and make things right.
Once they'd joined forces, every action they'd taken had twisted and turned his emotions until he hardly knew which way was up. He could only surmise that the trouble was two unaligned Rattlers sparking off each other and releasing enough energy to fuel several train engines.
It had to stop. By now, Crawdaddy and most every Rattler must have picked up the energy they were spewing about. He didn't know how Crawdaddy was controlling Haig, but he'd bet nothing else could have sent the man racing away from a big liquor sale. If Haig was truly going to Skullyville, then Crawdaddy must be going after the Soleil Wheel right now. If he got his hands on an unaligned Tempest, nothing could stop him.
Lucky didn't want her to ever feel used by him, but if he didn't do something, she'd be used by Crawdaddy. She was in a vulnerable position, but without a lot of instruction, she wouldn't be able to understand it. He feared she might eventually blame him for all her troubles, but he was going to have to take a chance.
If he was honest with himself, he didn't know how she truly felt about him. With so many forces driving them together while at the same time trying to tear them apart, he couldn't even be sure of his own feelings. He'd only know the truth after the completion of her initiation. Afterward, he dreaded that they might discover everything between them was an illusion. And he wanted her to be his true ladylove.
When his thoughts came back to the present, he noticed she was holding a long stick she'd pulled out of the campfire and rolling the tip of it in the embers. She raised the stick, examined it, and then thrust it back and rolled it some more. Finally she held up a stick about an inch in diameter with a smooth, blackened, rounded end.
She glanced at him. “About the right size, do you think?”
For a moment he didn't understand, and then he realized what she meant. He laughed at her audacity.
“I want to get this just right. Too long? Too short? Too wide? Too narrow? Lots of choices here in the campfire.”
He laughed harder, but she'd woken up his cock.
“If I had a row of outlaws, like those at Burnt Boggy, and stripped them of their trousers, I could compare their generous gifts to womankind. That way, it'd be easier to make an informed decision about the size of my stick.”
He shook his head, coughing as he choked with laughter. Yet his prick was rising up, flooding his body with heat, and preparing to show her the exact right size to perfectly fit her.
“And I'm thinking a little warmth wouldn't be out of place, either.” She batted her lashes over her violet eyes. “You know, a red-hot poker.”
“Tempest, you're playing with fire.” She had to know she was making him hotter than a furnace. Maybe that was her goal.
“If you showed me yours, I bet I could make my stick just right.”
“You don't need a damn stick.” He reached across the fire, jerked the stick out of her hand, and threw it on the campfire.
“It wasn't the right size?”
“I'm the right size for you.”
“You know what that means, don't you?”
“I'm going to have a wedding night, one way or another. You can help, or you can watch.”
When she reached for another stick, he grabbed her hand and jerked her past the campfire and onto his lap.
She looked up at him, eyes wide. “Does this mean no stick?”
“Shut up.” And he followed his words with his mouth so she couldn't say another outrageous thing.
She'd pushed him way past niceties. He thrust into her mouth, needing her so badly that he ached all over. He kissed her, tasting sweetness and tartness as he felt his cock grow stiffer. He pushed his fingers into her tawny hair, knocking out the pins of her chignon to set free her long tresses. He wound her hair around his fist to hold her head in place so he could ravage deeper and harder, nipping and sucking and licking.
But she wouldn't be still for him. She thrust back with her tongue as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, wiggling against him as if she couldn't get enough of his heat.
He couldn't get enough of hers, either. She felt on fire. He massaged down her back, and then up her front so he could cup her breasts. He squeezed, feeling her nipples harden into tight buds against his palms. He wanted to rip away the fabric so he could touch her bare flesh, but he refrained because he had to do this the correct way. When she moaned, he caught the sound in his mouth and thrust harder, needing release, needing completeness, needing her.
Finally, he tore his mouth away so he could look at her face while he continued to toy with her ripe breasts.
She watched him with violet eyes turned deep purple.
“I need you to understandâ”
Must I get my stick?”
He clasped her shoulders and lightly shook her. “Listen to me.”
She pursed her lips at him and made kissy sounds.
He groaned, almost unable to hang on to his composure. He had to get this out quickly, or he'd never make it. “The Moon Rattler started your initiation into the Sun Rattler clan.”
“I thought I was a Ghost Rattler.”
“Are there a lot of clans?”
“Let me finish. We continued it last night. And if we go forward with this, we'll complete it.”
She rolled her head back and forth, eyes closed. “I don't know why you have to talk so much.”
“I'm protecting you. And I'm warning you.”
“Is this what you meant about marrying me?”
“Yes.” He rubbed a thumb across her delectable lower lip. “As Rattlers, we'd be joined together.”
She sucked his thumb into her mouth, giving him a coy look as she nibbled and sucked and teased with the tip of her tongue.
And he imagined her much lower, driving him witless as she plied his prick with her luscious mouth. He groaned, trying to think straight. “It means there'd never be a divorce, not after a year or any other way.”
She let go of his thumb and simply gazed at him. “We aren't married.”
He pressed a quick kiss to her lips. “But do you understand?”
“Let's see. I'm already a Rattler. I've got this strange Soleil Wheel on my chest. And I'm halfway through an initiation into the . . . Secret Order of Sun Rattlers. I see and talk with ghosts. Do I have all that right?”
“Tell me this. If I finally get my wedding night, how much stranger can my life be?”
“There's no going back.”
She put her hands on each side of his face and looked into his eyes. “I don't want to go back. I've never belonged before. I've always been an outsider. I've yearned to be with people like me, only I didn't know any existed. Do you think I could ever in a million years want to be separated from you?”
He crushed her against his chest, feeling his heart beat hard and fast. “You're my ladylove,” he murmured against her soft hair. “If you'll be my bride, I'll give you whatever you want.”
I want only you.”