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The Watson Brothers
By Lori Foster
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2008 Lori Foster
All rights reserved.
He knew that damned aggravating little giggle anywhere. It was throaty and pure and never failed to set him on edge. He'd listened to it every Sunday for two long months when Pete, his baby brother, had been infatuated with her. That giddy laugh was often directed at him, instead of Pete, as it should have been.
With a heavy dose of dread and a visible grimace, Sam Watson slewed his head away from his whiskey and toward that annoying twitter. Shit. Sure enough, there sat Ariel Mathers. At the bar no less. And there were two men chatting her up.
What the hell was she doing in this dive? He glanced around but didn't see his brother anywhere. As to that, no one particular man appeared to be with her. Huh. The little twit was slumming.
So many times since first meeting her, Sam had wanted to put her over his knee. For leading his brother on at a time when he'd been vulnerable. For flirting with him, Sam, a man much too old for her. And especially for being so damned adorable, he almost couldn't stand it.
And now this.
His palm itched at the thought of it and his mind conjured the image of her over his knees, her tush bared. He started to sweat, knowing that if he had her in such a position, punishment would be the very last thing on his mind. She was so petite that her bottom would be small. And pale. And no doubt silky soft ... Shit, shit, shit.
His eyes burned as he stared at her slim back. She had her hair up with a few baby-fine blond curls kissing her nape. Little gold hoops in her earlobes glittered with the bar lights. The heart-shaped tush he'd so often fantasized over, now perched on a bar stool, was easily outlined beneath the clinging silk skirt of her dress.
At twenty-four she was twelve years too young for him. His mind understood that. His dick didn't care.
She paused in whatever nonsense she'd been uttering to the hapless fool beside her. As she started to look around, Sam twisted in his seat to face the window. Do not let her see me, he prayed. He waited, pretending to be drunk when he was more alert than he'd ever been in his life. He'd nursed one whiskey since coming into the bar, but he'd pretended drunkenness on his way in. Anyone who noticed him would assume he was there to top off an already inebriated night.
Fifteen seconds ticked by, then thirty, a minute — no one approached him. Sam relaxed, but kept his face averted, just in case. No way could he carry off his assignment tonight if Ariel got in the way.
He should have known better than to stare at her. People felt that sort of thing, just as he'd felt the big bruiser at the far booth watching him. He would have liked to order another drink, to call further attention to his feigned drunkenness. But with Ariel sitting there, it would be too risky.
Better to get this over with now, before he did something stupid. Like staring at her again.
Opening his wallet to show the bloated contents — two hundred dollars' worth — he pulled out a ten-dollar tip. He laid it on the table, stumbled to his feet and staggered out the door.
Once outside, he deliberately started across the street toward the abandoned, shadowed building where he would supposedly retrace his path home — and where his backup could clearly see him. Sam took his time, singing a crude bawdy tune about a woman from Nantucket, who according to the men, liked to suck it. It was a favorite limerick from his youth and he knew it by heart, but this time he missed some words, slurred a few others.
He pitched into the brick wall, laughed too loud, and started off again, only to trip over a garbage can, causing an awful racket. He gave a rank curse, stepped in something disgusting that he didn't want to identify, and dropped up against the side of a broken, collapsible fire escape.
Sam was fumbling for a more upright position when a meaty paw grabbed his upper arm, filling him with satisfaction. The perp had taken the bait.
"Give me your wallet."
Jolting around, Sam acted surprised, then spat in the big chap's face, "Fug off."
A ham-sized fist hit him in the side of the head and he saw stars for real. Jesus, he hadn't expected the fellow to get nasty so quick. Most of the thefts in the area — and there'd been plenty of late — had been done without any real personal damage.
Across a six-block area that covered three bars in Duluth, Indiana, more than twelve muggings had taken place in less than a month. It wasn't the best part of the city, so muggings weren't uncommon. But twelve? And all against men carrying substantial amounts of money. That smacked of premeditated, organized activity, and grabbed the attention of the police.
Sam twisted away, but was brought back around for another punch, this one in the gut. He bent double and almost puked.
Because he knew the guys would never let him live it down, he managed to keep his supper in his belly where it belonged. Just barely.
Where the hell were they anyway? Taking their own sweet time?
Before Sam could decide to take another punch or sneak in one of his own, a female banshee cry split the air, making his ears ring and his hair stand on end. Two seconds later his perp got hit from behind by a small tornado and the momentum drove him straight into Sam, against the side of the metal stairs. It felt like his damn ribs cracked.
Everyone started struggling at once and they went down in a heap, Sam on the bottom so that his head and back hit the hard, gravel-covered ground with jarring impact. The wind left his lungs in a whoosh.
While supine and wheezing, Sam got a good look at the familiar blond clinging tenaciously to his perp's hair with one hand while trying to use her purse like a club with the other. Sam couldn't quite tell if she was attempting to bludgeon him to death, or scream him into submission.
Wincing, the would-be robber reached back, caught her shoulder, and flipped her over his head. The next thing Sam knew, Ariel's behind was atop his face, her thighs pressed to his ears. Her dress had fluttered open and there was nothing more than a thin layer of silk keeping his nose from glory.
Damn it, why did things like this happen to him at all the wrong times?
He fought for air, breathed in her warm musk scent, and managed to shove her rump a few inches off his face. He was just in time to see the same meaty fist that had dazed him now headed straight toward her very tiny and very cute nose. Outrage exploded inside him.
He was supposed to be drunk, an easy mark.
He was undercover for the night.
But goddammit, no way could he let her get hurt.
Moving quicker than any drunk could, Sam caught the oversized fist in his own, gave one evil, toothy grin — which was somewhat smothered by Ariel's bottom cheeks — and twisted. Hard.
He heard crackling and then a loud pop.
The startled shock of pain on his target's face abruptly turned to one of sheer agony, accompanied by a guttural roar. Sam wanted to break his damn arm. Maybe a leg, too, just for good measure.
How dare he attempt to hit a woman?
Sam was still considering the possibility of doing more injury, when his backup finally charged onto the scene with a cliched, "Hold it right there!"
Hold it? They had to be fucking kidding, right? He had a woman straddling his neck, an unethical bastard trying to strike her, and they wanted him to hold it?
He gave the fist another squeeze, then shoved, causing the man to shout and recoil on the ground in the fetal position, cradling his impaired wrist.
Sam didn't have a chance to move Ariel before Fuller Ruth, one of the cops working the undercover sting with him that night, caught her under her arms and lifted her up and away. Sam got a bird's eye view of her more womanly parts in silky panties while her high heels poked him in the abdomen, the thigh, and damn near his groin.
"You okay?" Fuller asked her, while still letting her dangle in the air. Fuller was as big as the assailant, but unlike the assailant he had a very fastidious nature. He kept his brown hair well trimmed, his clothes wrinkle free, and he was always clean-shaven. His blue eyes were so pale, they reminded Sam of a Husky.
Ariel clutched at the front of her dress where it had gotten torn. "Put me down, you oaf. I'm fine."
Fuller set her on her feet, but then had to grab for her again when she turned in a rush, trying to get to Sam.
"Hey lady, easy now. Just come with me."
Fuller attempted to lead her away, but she turned on him, too, thumping him on the chest. "Turn me loose! I have to see if he's all right." In her fit, she forgot about the tear in her dress and the whole right side drooped down, exposing the top of one pale breast and a good bit of her beige, satin bra.
"Hey! Stop that." Fuller looked to be playing patty-cake with her the way he swatted at her flying fists. "Damn it, lady, you're spilling your purse. Just settle down. He'll be all right. Let the officer check him."
The officer he meant was Isaac Star, half Native American, half junkyard dog. People considered Sam dark, but that was until they saw him next to Isaac. Much leaner than Fuller, Isaac had the blackest hair and eyes Sam had ever seen. He was currently snapping handcuffs onto the giant, who yelled and complained of a broken arm. The big sissy.
"Let — me — go."
It was a toss-up who made more noise, the perp or Ariel. Since he was supposed to be a drunken slob, Sam couldn't very well just sit up and explain to her that he was plenty fine, other than the damage she'd inflicted. He did, however, work his way to his elbows to mutter drunkenly, "Whass goin' on?"
Isaac grinned at him, making himself look like a pleased sultan. "I just saved your sorry ass, my man. This goon was set to roll you for your wallet."
Feigning confusion, Sam patted his chest, his front pants pockets, and finally his ass until he located the pocket holding the packed wallet. He wrested it out, held it up, and said, "S'that right? Thank you, of'ser. Got my paycheck inside."
Isaac was lean, but his size was deceptive. He was strong as an ox. He pulled the giant to his feet with no effort. "Not too smart. Stay put while I stick this guy in the car."
Not more than twelve yards away, two official police cars lit up the block with flashing red and green lights. To the spectators, it looked as though the cops had just happened onto the mugging — not like the whole thing had been planned.
As soon as Isaac had the giant out of hearing range, Sam pulled himself to his feet. For the benefit of onlookers, he stood there weaving, but he gave one barely perceptible nod to Fuller, who then let Ariel go with a shrug.
She launched herself at Sam, big tears glistening in her hazel eyes, her mouth open to blast him with questions, with mothering concern that he neither wanted nor needed.
Sam grabbed her close, squeezed her so tight she couldn't say a single word, and growled into her ear, "I'm working, goddammit, so you better have a good excuse for this stunt."
"Working?" she squeaked out.
Damn, it felt good to hold her so close. He shook his head and tried to ignore the way her belly pressed into his crotch, how her breasts flattened on his chest, and how her soft hair smelled so sweet.
Better than half the customers from the bar who were now out front to watch the proceedings. Sam had to keep his head, because he had to keep his cover. "That's right, and since you jumped into the middle of things, you damn well better play your part." That said, he slumped into her, forcing her to stagger under his considerable weight. She was five-two, maybe. He was six-three and outweighed her by damn near a hundred pounds.
She grunted and nearly fell, until Fuller flattened a hand between her shoulder blades, pushing her upright again. Under normal circumstances, no cop worth his salt would let a drunk manhandle a woman. But these weren't normal circumstances, he wasn't really drunk, and his two buds had already figured out that she was an acquaintance.
Cops were notorious for trying to help each other get laid. If they thought Sam wanted her — which he did, but would never admit to anyone — they'd happily let him take advantage of the situation.
"Yer an angel," Sam said, leering at Ariel's breast with sincere interest. He'd seen more of her tonight than he had in the entire two months she'd been hanging around the family.
He rubbed his nose into her neck, making her lose her balance once more.
She tried to shove him away, but he snaked one hand down her back and grabbed her ass. Oh, now that was nice. Real firm and plump. Not quite as generous as he liked, being he was a dedicated ass-man, but still nice.
She gasped and struggled, but Sam didn't let go. Huh-uh. No way.
Fuller rolled his eyes. There was a limit to how much help he'd give in this particular campaign. "Here now." He dragged Ariel behind him, out of Sam's reach, then held Sam up with one outstretched arm. "You're drunk, man. I hope you weren't planning on driving home."
"Nope. Gonna walk."
"Well, you can thank the lady for being a good citizen and trying to help you."
Ariel stood there, her enormous eyes luminous in the dark night, her hair mussed in what Sam could only call a "just laid" way, and her makeup smudged. She smoothed her skirt with one hand while clutching her bodice with the other.
"That's quite all right, Officer. I did what anyone would have done under the circumstances." She looked at Sam with malice glinting in her golden eyes. "The poor drunken fool might have gotten killed otherwise."
Fuller choked on a laugh. "True, true. Now don't either of you take off, hear? I'll need statements from the both of you."
Ariel nodded. "I'll just wait over there." She pointed one manicured finger at the broken fire escape, then walked a wide berth around Sam on her way there. He noticed she was a bit wobbly on her heels, and concern struck him. Had she gotten hurt? She'd landed on his face pretty hard. He couldn't see her knees beneath the hem of her dress. Maybe she was bruised.
Playing it up, Fuller took Sam's arm and headed him in the same direction. Under his breath, he said, "Don't molest her, okay?"
"Don't be stupid."
"You're looking at her like she's the Christmas goose, but I need you to fill out paperwork, not be behind bars, resting on your lazy ass."
Sam grinned. "She won't be pressing any charges." Fuller pushed him to sit next to Ariel, causing her to scramble farther over on the rough metal step. "Ain't that right, sweetheart?"
She tucked her skirt in around her legs and smiled with false sweetness. "I won't press charges. But I might break your nose."
Fuller threw up his hands. "Young love."
He was gone too quick to hear Sam's rude snort. Ariel heard though, and she pursed her mouth, then slanted a look at Sam.
God, he hurt all over. All he needed was a boner to finish off the night.
Cautiously, every small movement enough to bring on a wince, Sam turned sideways and eased back against the brick wall, then sighed. "I'm too damn old for this shit."
Under her breath, but not under enough, Ariel muttered, "You're in your prime."
Sam stared at her, incredulous. "What was that?" Had she actually complimented him even while sending him dirty looks?
Without looking at him, she said, "Just because you're older than your brothers doesn't make you old, you know."
Sam grunted. Being six years older than Gil, his middle brother, and fourteen years older than Pete, he'd always felt old. Especially after their father had died three years ago with a heart attack.
Sam had tried to help his family cope as much as possible. He'd handled all the funeral arrangements for his mother, supported Gil in taking over the family business, and did his best to console Pete, who'd had the hardest time with the unexpected loss.
There was no denying that Pete had been a happy accident for their parents. Older and more settled when they had him, they'd doted on him in ways they hadn't been able to do with Sam and Gil. By far, Pete had been the closest with their dad.
"Does being on the downhill slide to forty make me old?"
"Hardly." Her voice was tinged with disgust. "And you're only thirty-six."
How the hell did she know that? "And here I thought all teenagers considered anyone over thirty ancient."
Apparently touchy about her age, she jerked around to face him. "Sam Watson, you know good and well I'm twenty-four, not a teenager. Wasn't that your big complaint about my friendship with Pete? That he was two years younger than me?"
Sam stared off toward the cruiser, wishing like hell they'd hurry up. He didn't want to sit this close to her. He didn't want to talk about her and Pete.
His biggest complaint? There'd been so many it was tough to pick a favorite. His baby brother was too young, far too immature, and entirely too unsettled to be getting serious about any one woman.
And Sam didn't exactly consider Ariel old enough either. She'd at least finished a trade school and was working as a beautician. But Pete had college to finish and he needed to do that without distractions of the female variety, which Sam knew were the very worst kind.
Excerpted from The Watson Brothers by Lori Foster. Copyright © 2008 Lori Foster. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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