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Bad Boys of Summer
By Lori Foster Erin McCarthy Amy Garvey
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLucius Ryder took aim at the front porch area of the home where Mary Seeder's son held her at knifepoint in the six-hour standoff. Lucius didn't want to shoot the dumb-ass punk—but he would if it came to that.
Beneath the IIIA vest, ballistic helmet, and various pads, sweat gathered, making him itch. Material clung to his flesh. The friggin' athletic cup started to chafe. Even before daybreak, the August heat rose and humidity sweltered. But on the chance this could resolve peacefully, he'd wait another six hours before taking an impatient shot.
Unless the kid started to move that knife.
Until now, the son hadn't been visible. He'd hidden in the house, and only phone calls and reports from neighbors told them how critical the situation might be. Then suddenly, under grayish daybreak and emergency lights trained on the house, Steve Seeder dragged Mary onto the rickety front porch.
Out of the corner of his eye, Lucius detected a low, slinking movement at his right. He didn't take his eyes off Steve; he didn't dare. He trusted his backup to alert him to any additional danger.
Through his radio headset, he heard, "Just a dog, Lucius. A mangy mutt, big as a horse, but it doesn't seem threatening."
A stray dog. Just what this day didn't need. If the animal got too close to him, he'd probably end up with fleas.
"Get the hell off our property or I'll kill her! I swear I will."
Speaking of animals ... Lucius narrowed his eyes over the son's rabid warning. According to neighbors, Steve Seeder had a temper, yet Mary Seeder always took him back in. This time, however, she accepted him back with conditions, which included no smoking. She'd even gone so far as to throw out his last pack of cigarettes.
To a nicotine addict like Steve, it took only that to push him over the edge. Now, thanks to his rage, Steve had added a new slew of charges to his parole revocation warrant.
Despite the expertise of the SWAT team, standoffs were always iffy. Someone could die. Lucius would do his best to ensure it wasn't Mary.
The dog leaned against Lucius's leg. "Easy, bud." Lucius didn't have the heart to nudge it away, but he couldn't divert his attention to it, either.
It circled Lucius, putting itself in his line of vision. With one quick glance, Lucius took in the bone-skinny structure with short, chocolate-brown fur that darkened to black on its face, tail, and feet. Scars, ticks, and burs marred what otherwise would have been truly beautiful coloring.
The animal smelled Lucius from every angle. Because Lucius didn't want his position pinpointed, he said to the dog, "Go on now."
That black face turned up to him, and for a split second, Lucius looked into the dog's eyes. So much expression shown there that Lucius felt oddly connected.
With an eerie vigilance, the dog turned its head and made note of Steve and Mary on the porch, then began inching forward. Oh shit.
"Come here, dog," Lucius whispered, but to no avail. The dog continued forward.
Lucius waited—tense, alert. The knife Steve held at Mary's throat would also be good for throwing. He wanted Mary safe, but not by sacrificing a dog, damn it.
The second the mutt hit the clearing, Steve stared in disbelief. To no one in particular, he shouted, "What the hell is that hound doing here?"
Lack of fat left lean muscles exposed all along the dog's frame—muscles now taut with readiness. Steve yanked on Mary, and the scruff on the dog's neck rose in warning.
"You call that a police dog? What a joke." While scoffing, Steve inadvertently eased the knife a scant half inch away from Mary's throat.
The dog quivered in anticipation before slowly sinking back on his haunches in a semi-crouch. He could have been cowering—or taking a stance.
Lucius put his money on the latter.
Gleeful at the prospect of causing more pain, Steve dragged Mary a few feet toward the porch edge, raised his booted foot, and prepared to give the dog a vicious kick.
He wasn't quick enough.
A sudden, ferocious snarl made Lucius's hair stand on end and in the next second, the dog attacked. He caught Steve's pant leg, ripping the material while jerking and growling, forcing Steve off balance.
Mary bolted, throwing herself off the porch in awkward haste. She landed on the weeded lawn, screaming and hysterical. With Mary free of the threatening hold, the SWAT team swarmed in, and Steve Seeder had no choice but to give up. The dog released him and eased away.
In seconds, the standoff ended without bloodshed.
No one touched the dog. No one had to. Black ears perked in interest, he watched the proceedings until everything calmed, then started to saunter off the same way he'd come in.
With everything now under control, Lucius gave all his attention to the animal. The poor thing had the look of a greyhound—but Lucius suspected it was starvation, not breeding, that exposed the dog's rib cage. Patches of abuse showed through the dark, matted fur. Head down in a posture that epitomized sadness, the dog retreated.
Hell, Lucius had never seen such a long face on a mutt. He couldn't bear it.
Soft and low, he whistled. The dog halted, ears perked.
Lucius hunkered down to one knee. "C'mere, boy."
Sharp shoulder blades flexed as the dog looked back with heart-wrenching hope in his mournful brown eyes.
And on that sizzling-hot August dawn, Sergeant Lucius J. Ryder became the owner of a very heroic pooch.
The knock on the door startled Bethany Churchill so that she almost fell off the couch. With blurry eyes, she squinted at the kitchen clock on the far wall. Barely seven A.M.! Another glance at her sister's bedroom door showed that Marci slept on.
Wrapping herself in the borrowed sheet, Bethany hauled herself off the couch and went to the door. She put one eye to the peephole, and moaned at the sight before her.
Big, tall, sexy male.
No, no, no. She didn't need this, not today, not right now, not before caffeine.
Without opening the door, she called out, "What do you want, Luscious?" Her teeth snapped down on her tongue and she mentally cursed. "I mean, Lucius."
At the sound of his deep laugh, her head hit the door with a thump. Damn the other women in the building for giving him that ridiculous nickname. So he was SWAT. And brave. And he looked downright luscious. Luscious Rider, they called him, a name that seemed strangely apropos to her sleepy brain.
Not that Lucius, the egomaniac, ever complained over the endearment. Nope, he soaked in female adoration as if it were his due.
"Bethany, I take it?"
How could he always tell them apart? More than one guy had been confused over time. More than one guy had insisted he didn't have a preference, as if she and her twin were interchangeable, especially if Marci proved unavailable.
But not Lucius.
He behaved very differently with each of them. Issuing an obvious challenge, Bethany said, "Yeah, so?"
"Open the damn door."
His head hit the wood this time. "I need to see Marci. Now open up."
Of course he wanted to see Marci. The men always wanted to see Marci. Her twin had a charisma that somehow hadn't entered Bethany's gene pool. "No. She's asleep." And I'm in my underwear, and I haven't yet recouped enough from a bad week and a long night to face you.
Another couple of hours sleep, at least three cups of coffee, then she might be ready to square off with the hunky landlord.
A hesitation, then, "When did you get in, Bethany?"
Uh-oh. She knew that tone of his, a tone he never used with Marci. "Midnight. Why?"
"You realize you're breaking the rent agreement by imposing on your sister so often?"
Go screw yourself, Sergeant, she mimed to herself—but she didn't dare say the words aloud. After all, he was the landlord, and Marci really liked her apartment. "I'm only here for a few days." Or weeks. Maybe even forever, if she didn't find her backbone. "No big deal."
"It will be a big deal if you don't open the door."
"And I have an emergency."
Now more awake, Bethany put her eye to the peephole again. Lucius looked rumpled and tired, but in a good, cozy and warm way—not panicked. Definitely not injured. Her suspicions rose. "What kind of emergency?"
From behind Bethany, Marci yawned, then said, "What's going on?"
Well, shoot. They'd awakened her sister. "I don't know." She glanced over her shoulder at Marci. "It's Lucius. He wants in for some reason."
"I have an emergency," Lucius yelled, proving the paper-thin walls did little to protect privacy.
Also in a T-shirt and underwear, Marci strode forward and edged Bethany aside. As if Lucius Ryder saw her in a state of undress every day, Marci opened the locks, removed the chain, and swung the door wide without a hint of modesty.
It was then that Bethany detected the beastly howling coming from Lucius's apartment across the hall.
"What is that?" Bethany asked, at the same time Marci said, "Oh my God. That's a dog, isn't it?"
"A dog?" Wrapped in the sheet, Bethany joined Marci in the doorway so that they stood side by side.
Lucius started to explain, but his mouth snapped shut. He went on alert. His exhaustion disappeared. From Bethany to Marci and back again, his gaze went up and down one, then the other.
Finally, one brow raised, he said, "Yeah, see, I brought a dog home and—"
Shoving past him, Marci ran to his apartment, yanked open his door, and disappeared inside.
Lucius flicked one more scorching look over Bethany's sheet-covered frame, then started to follow Marci across the hall.
Without thinking it through, she snagged onto his upper arm. "Oh no, you don't." No way was she leaving "Luscious Lucius" alone with her sis—Wowza. The man had very impressive biceps. She couldn't even get her fingers around him ...
He stared at her hand up to her face, a question—or maybe a suggestion—in his green eyes.
Recalling herself, Bethany scowled. "You," she said, filling that single word with warning, "are waiting for me to come with you."
"I'm a gentleman." He leveled a very hot look on her. "I always wait for the lady to come."
Her mouth dropped open. Visuals crowded her brain. She started to speak, and squeaked instead.
Oozing satisfaction at her reaction, he grinned. "But in this instance, I can't. You see, the dog—"
Flustered and somewhat feverish, Bethany pulled him inside. "I'll only be a minute." With that dismissal, she raced the few feet across the teensy living room into Marci's bedroom.
Hurrying, so he wouldn't leave without her, she dropped the sheet and bent to fetch her jeans from the floor.
Lucius spoke right behind her. "This could be a wet dream except that I'm wide awake and there's a dog pissing all over my floors."
Squawking, Bethany yanked the jeans up so fast she tripped herself and landed on the side of the bed. She bounced right back up again—no sense in testing things—and turned to fry him with a glare.
He stood with one muscled shoulder propped in the bedroom doorframe. His jeans looked well worn and comfortable, and his T-shirt read: I quit the band. Now I just play with myself.
She sneered at the shirt. "I bet that's appropriate."
"Wouldn't you like to know? Maybe fodder for some dreams of your own?"
Absolutely ... not. Well, okay, maybe a little. Bethany drummed up a convincing snort, pretended disinterest, and rummaged in a drawer for more clothes. If the apartment weren't so minuscule, she might have found a smidge of privacy. But Marci liked the small place, the inconspicuousness of it, and the anonymity it afforded her.
"What are you doing?"
Grumbling as much to herself as to him, Bethany said, "I'm getting Marci some clothes, too."
"Not on my account, I hope."
Don't look at him. Don't look at him. Her teeth locked, making speech difficult. "She probably doesn't even realize what's she's wearing."
"Or not wearing?"
Obviously, he'd noticed. "She wasn't trying to entice you, Sergeant. It's just that Marci's never understood her own sex appeal."
That made him laugh, but not in a ha-ha way.
"What's so funny?" she demanded.
"You think your sister is sexy?"
"You know she is." Good grief, he'd all but swallowed his tongue when he saw her.
"She looks exactly like you, Bethany."
Heat crept up her neck. "No—"
"Exactly like you."
Clutching another pair of jeans, Bethany straightened. Damn it, so they were identical twins. That's not what she meant and he probably knew it. "There's a big difference."
"It's an attitude thing."
The second she turned, his gaze skipped over her again, lingering in inappropriate places before settling on her face. "You wanna explain that?"
She didn't, but since she'd talked herself into a verbal corner ... "Men have always noticed Marci, while she remains oblivious to them."
"And you think they don't notice you?"
How the heck had she gotten herself embroiled in this stupid conversation at such an ungodly hour with the stud of the complex? "Look, forget I said anything."
"Not on your life."
Pigheaded, stubborn, macho ... "You've eyed Marci, haven't you? You're aware of her as a woman. I know it's true, so don't try to deny it."
"I've eyed you, too." His voice sounded like rough velvet. If rough velvet could talk. "And trust me, babe, I know you're all female."
"I am not your babe."
"More's the pity."
"Lucius," she warned, but her heart tripped at the way he said that, as if he actually wanted to get something going with her. Which he didn't. At least, she didn't think he did.
He shrugged. "I'm not blind, gay, or too old to fantasize, so yeah, I've noticed you both. But Marci is a fruitcake and you've formed some grievance against me, so I mind my manners."
Those words, in that particular tone, left her mute for an extended moment. He'd sounded almost complimentary. Then she kick-started her brain and stiffened with affront. "If you consider your current behavior mannerly, I'd hate to see you being rude."
He melted her with a long, hot, dark stare. "I haven't mentioned that enticing lace I saw on your panties, now have I? Or the fact that you're not wearing a bra and it's pretty damned noticeable. Or that you look like a woman who's just rolled out of bed, all sexy and warm and soft." His mouth quirked at her wide-eyed stupor. "If that's not polite, I don't know what is."
She had to get out of the bedroom.
It had always been that way with Lucius. From the first day she'd met him, they shot sparks off each other. Marci adored him, but according to her sis, their relationship remained strictly platonic. He teased Marci, and Bethany had seen him flirt with every female that came into his vicinity.
But it seemed different with her. Somehow ratcheted up a notch or two.
She didn't know how to take him, given he'd known Marci first. Had her sister been oblivious to Lucius's amorous attempts, so he chose to focus on her instead? Wouldn't be the first time. She should be used to it by now, but no way would she ever accept being second pick. Ever.
Not even for Lucius Ryder.
So despite the sparks, she did her best to keep their relationship platonic, too. Her efforts often seemed antagonistic, but then, she'd never had to deal with such an awesome case of admiration before. Sergeant Ryder was a walking dream of a man.
On the way out of the bedroom, Bethany snagged his arm again. "I don't harbor any grievances against you," she felt compelled to admit.
She just resented the fact that he had an earlier association with Marci, and that women seemed to gravitate to him. Most of all, she resented the easy camaraderie he had with her sis. She couldn't admit any of that, though, so she said instead, "It's just that I don't appreciate how you always poke fun at Marci."
He stopped, which meant she stopped. In fact, the sudden brakes nearly took her off her feet.
Frazzled, she turned to him and snapped, "What?"
"Your sister claims to be a pet psychic."
Excerpted from Bad Boys of Summer by Lori Foster Erin McCarthy Amy Garvey Copyright © 2006 by Kensington Publishing Corp.. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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