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Bad to the Bone
By Wendy Byrne, Robin Haseltine
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Wendy Byrne
All rights reserved.
Clarity rocked Sammie Murphy as her butt slammed to the floor. Proving her theory once and for all where her brains were located.
Then again, what she saw looking back at her didn't involve any brain cells at all. While she struggled to maintain her dignity, a much different area of her body kicked into gear. And it had nothing to do with rational thoughts of any kind.
She didn't consider the twelve glass mugs she carried as the collision occurred. The fact they miraculously had been saved from crashing to the floor wasn't even a passing thought. Her only focus at the moment involved trouble.
Mountains and mountains of trouble.
There were vices. And then there were V-I-C-E-S. For some people it was food. For others it was booze or gambling.
Not her. Sammie had the much more lethal variety. What stood before her was the epitome of her particular V-I-C-E.
The guy had bad boy written all over him. From the bandanna he wore over dark hair to the five o'clock shadow on his face, from the piercing black eyes to the biceps made of granite and the long legs, well-defined and visible through the tight fit of his jeans, he was one heaping dollop of trouble. She could see it, sense it, and smell it with every fiber of her being.
He took the wobbly tray from her with one hand while he held out his other to help her up. She grabbed on and tried to ignore the fireworks sparking up her arm. As soon as she got steady on her feet, she let go and scooted away. No sense tempting fate.
Her willpower was for shit when it came to this particular vice. One touch was enough to sway her to the dark side.
Think safe. Think predictable. Not this guy before her with a silver earring in his ear and an enigmatic smile.
"Are you all right?" Deep and sensual, his voice sent shivers racing down her spine. Her head spun while her hands felt clammy. This could not be good.
Damn. Couldn't he have a squeaky feminine voice, or at the very least some kind of good ol' boy drawl? Either one would be enough to sidetrack her hormones, at least temporarily.
"I've got this." Reinforcing her take-charge statement, she retrieved the tray from him and shook off the sparks arcing between them. Had to be her imagination. She didn't have time for flirting, even if she couldn't help but notice his gaze trailing up her legs.
Self-conscious, Sammie yanked down her jeans skirt, scurried to an upright position, gathered what remained of her dignity, and made her way behind the bar. Absorbed in the mundane tasks of setting up, she kept her focus off the fact Mr. Trouble followed right behind.
"Those swinging doors should have hazard lights around them." His lips curved almost in a smile, revealing a set of nice white teeth. "I didn't think —"
"Really, I'm fine." She didn't need the distraction of a flirty way-too-good-looking-to-be-for-real guy messing with her head right now.
"At least the beer mugs made it out alive."
She couldn't help but smile. "There's that." Sammie pulled at the towel in her hands to avoid looking at him. But she couldn't seem to keep her gaze averted — sort of like a train wreck. She needed him to step away from the bartender but couldn't think of a way to get that done, especially since she didn't want him to.
She tamped down the lustful sensations running rampant through her body. He was so close she could practically see the testosterone floating in the air. She pushed back the carnal thoughts spinning through her head even as his sultry vibe threatened to suck her in.
Leaning over onto the bar top, he moved his face inches from hers. Every nuance popped into her awareness: dark, thick eyelashes surrounded those deep coal-colored eyes, prominent cheekbones brought an angular quality to the shape, a straight nose nestled between those cheekbones, a strong jaw complimented the sharp edges, but the slight curve of his mouth pulled everything together.
"I think it would only be fair if I let you knock me on my ass. That way we'd be even."
She didn't even want to think about his no doubt spectacular ass. Miraculously, she resisted the urge to ask him to turn around. Instead she channeled her inner biotch. "I have a fifth-degree black belt and could knock you on your ass if I choose to." She tried to sound smug, obnoxious, and completely unapproachable.
"A woman to be reckoned with. I kind of like that." Those slightly curved lips of his bent up in a smile.
Tiny little goose bumps broke along the length of her arms as she fought for leverage. She wasn't looking for a lover, boyfriend, companion, or even a friend while she was down here. Frankly, she didn't need the distraction or the drama it would inevitably entail.
The only thing she wanted to do was untangle this mess involving her uncle ASAP and leave Key West as quickly as she'd come. While it wasn't much, at least in Providence, Rhode Island, all the barflies knew her, respected her, and didn't even try to tempt her with their bad boy charm.
Instead, ten minutes behind the bar at Murphy's and she'd encountered her first challenge. Rather than be dissuaded by her disinterest, he seemed intrigued.
His long fingers tapped a rhythm on the bar as a lump formed somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Why her?
He was drop-dead gorgeous with a giant dollop of sexy on top. And she had to admit the man had moves. Despite his charming behavior, he had to be a bad boy. There was no other explanation for her intense attraction.
Because bad boys were attracted to her like spaghetti sauce to a white T-shirt. They'd draw her in with their smooth-as-silk ways and then slam, bam, thank you, ma'am, she'd be crying in her pillow when they broke her heart.
Was there a twelve-step program for women who were tempted by men most likely to lead them on a one-way journey to hell? If not, maybe she could start one. There could be subchapters in each state. Surely there were more than enough women —
"I didn't expect Murphy's to be open. I heard Jack was in jail for dealing."
His comment broke through her runaway thoughts. "Entrapment, pure and simple." She spat out the words while a rush of tears formed in the corners of her eyes. The image of Jack rotting in jail made her heart ache even as the sense of powerlessness tunneled through her. "My uncle would never sell drugs."
Uncle Jack was one of the good guys. He was her rock. Her anchor. What would she do without him?
"You seem pretty convinced."
"Jack is a wonderful, giving person. He —" Sammie's voice trailed off as emotion clogged her chest, making it difficult to breathe. Defending her uncle to this guy or anyone was a lesson in frustration. No one could understand the relationship she had with Jack. He wasn't just her uncle, he was her parent, friend, confidant, supporter, and mentor all rolled into one big ball of unconditional love. Talking to him made her feel safe, secure, and all warm and fuzzy inside.
Besides, it wasn't as if this guy could do anything to help the situation. She needed to save her energy for those who had the ability to keep her uncle out of prison.
"I've never seen you around here before."
"I live in Rhode Island. But I'm here to help him out."
A flush of guilt riddled her spine. She and Jack had had a minor disagreement during their phone conversation a week ago. It was nothing serious, but she still felt the resultant bouts of what if.
He held out his hand. "Enrique Santana."
When she grasped his hand, calluses along the tips of his fingers brushed her knuckles. A visual of him running those fingers down her arms rose to the surface, and her face flushed.
"Sammie. Sammie Murphy." Pheromones seemed to be dive-bombing her as she struggled to regain a sense of sanity.
"I've never known a woman named Sammie before." Popping a pretzel into his mouth, he focused on her eyes while a smirk curled up the corner of his lips. "Short for Samantha?"
"Nope. I've lived my life stuck with a boy's name."
Sweat trickled down her back as the sun filtered through the windows. Wiping her brow, Sammie drew down a tap, filling another round for the men at the bar. Three ceiling fans, and the air-conditioning could not compete with the heat of the Florida sun and rocketing hormones raging inside her.
The gods of serendipity were knocking at her door, trying to tempt her. The devil on her shoulder tried to convince her how wonderful a walk on the wild side would be for her well-being — relieve stress, put a zing in her step, make her forget about her troubles. But the angel wagged her finger, then stomped her foot to ensure Sammie paid attention.
"Believe me, no one would mistake you for a boy."
She'd become immune to sexual rhetoric. So why was her body was doing a crash and burn at the moment? Trouble, trouble, trouble.
"Flirting with the bartender won't get you a free drink, so don't even try." She smiled and tried to stop focusing on those amazing biceps and shut off her imagination as she envisioned the six-pack beneath his T-shirt.
"I'm just getting warmed up. Sooner or later you'll find me irresistible."
"That's what all you pretty boys say." Sammie tried to control the tremble short-circuiting her nerve endings, leaving her whole body feeling like a giant mass of quaking Jell-O.
Looks were never an accurate measure of a man's character. In fact, she was convinced there was some sort of inverse correlation: the more handsome, the more destructive.
This guy sitting before her, with long, dark, sexy hair and an erotic smile that made her body shiver, would no doubt be the same. Not to mention that small silver earring he wore making him look dangerous. And sexy as hell.
Enrique Santos — or Enrique Santana, his undercover persona — had followed the drug trail all the way from Miami to Key West, where he'd arrested Jack and put him behind bars. This was his coup d'état. His ticket to bigger and better things. And, more importantly, redemption for the last couple years of screwups. Nailing the son of a bitch spearheading the drug trade around here was a fast ticket to gaining back his good reputation.
Curiosity had brought him to Murphy's tonight. He wanted to know what kind of front Jack had that allowed him to escape the law for so long. No doubt he laundered some major money through the place, as well as squirreling it away overseas.
The fact that his niece was now taking over and keeping business as usual at the bar made Enrique wonder if she was doing the same.
After working the case for seven long months, he was more than ready to fold up shop and be done with it and reap the rewards of his hard work. Now, he felt compelled to see if Ms. Murphy was somehow involved as well. It wasn't over until the fat lady sang, as the saying went. And he'd be damned if he was going to do this bust half-ass.
Hell, she could be the brains of the outfit, for all he knew. But in that case, would she be dumb or naive enough to pick up where Jack left off without so much as a hiccup in the action? He'd seen criminals do a lot of stupid things, but going back to business as usual a few scant days after a bust would be ludicrous. Then again, maybe this particular Murphy thought she could divert attention with her good looks and innocent demeanor.
Ah ... hell no.
Enrique had been down that road before. It sure as shit wasn't going to happen again.
From the tip of the blond braid trailing down her back to the long curvaceous line of her legs, nothing was logical about her. Especially those Doc Marten boots she wore with tan athletic socks. Most women this far south wore sandals or maybe gym shoes. No woman he knew wore brown leather high-top boots.
Green eyes, a little upturned nose, and a firm set to her jawline let him know she had a stubborn streak a mile long.
It would be easy enough to run a criminal check on Sammie Murphy when he stopped by the office tomorrow. No doubt she'd have a rap sheet a half mile long. From that, he could gather information on what this woman had been doing for the last ten or so years.
Besides, it wasn't as if this side of the Murphy clan was squeaky-clean. Jack's sister, Eileen, and his brother-in-law, Henry Watkins, had been knee-deep in trouble since they were kids. As far as he knew, they'd both been MIA for about ten or fifteen years. But just because they were currently flying off the radar didn't mean they weren't somehow involved, too.
In the meantime, he'd observe. Hell, there were much more difficult assignments than keeping track of a gorgeous blonde, even if she did have a familial history in the drug trade. Over the years he'd learned to watch his back. More than likely, this finely honed skill would come in handy over the next few weeks.
"Is that a tattoo on your shoulder, Sammie?" Something like that would be noted in any criminal record in the likely event she'd lived her life under a slew of aliases.
She pulled the strap of her red tank top back to its position, covering the mark before she turned.
"One of those crazy, impulsive college dares."
College? Seemed odd. Why go to college when the drug business was so damn profitable?
He crooked his finger. "I can't tell what it is." Enrique was surprised when she complied by coming closer.
"Believe me, it's nothing." Her face reddened while she busied her hands by wiping down the bar with a towel. She had that flustered, innocent look down pat. She was good. But he was better.
"Now you have me intrigued." He wasn't surprised when she kept her distance. The coy act might work on some people, but not on him. "I know. It's your first boyfriend's name, Harold or Stanley. No. Maybe Walter." Or maybe some kind of gang insignia. Hooking up with the Hells Angels street gang like Eileen Murphy had at one time was a definite possibility.
"Nothing that smart."
The smile on her face showed she'd relaxed a bit. Enrique secured her arm, gently twisting so her back was to him.
Small, delicate fingers reached back to pull away the fabric. One by one, letters formerly hidden showed across her left shoulder blade.
A laugh spurted out before he could put himself in check. "Is it true?"
"A drunken college moment. What can I say?"
"You must have felt pretty confident." Bad to the Bone was blazoned across the nearly translucent skin of her back. "Isn't that a motorcycle gang thing?"
Smoothing back the fabric, she turned to face him. "Okay, you had your fun teasing the new bartender. Now knock it off before I have to get ugly."
"I can't imagine that." The flirtatious banter rolled off his tongue with practiced ease.
"And is that a tattoo I see peeking beneath your sleeve?" Her fingers trailed along his bicep and flipped up the edge of his T-shirt to reveal the tattoo he'd had put on a couple of years ago when he infiltrated the Cobra gang operating in South Florida. Her gaze went wide, as if she recognized the symbol, but she didn't acknowledge as much.
He didn't get a chance to respond before shouting erupted from the back of the bar. Too much liquor, coupled with guys with too much time on their hands, and fights were bound to happen.
Within seconds, Sammie jumped over the bar top, dispensing with the need to exit through the small swinging door on the end.
Not many men would take on the task of coming between two pissed-off drunks wanting to take a piece of each other, but Sammie didn't seem fazed. Instead, she stood between the men, grasping their T-shirts. "Knock it off." The toned muscles in her biceps flexed as she struggled to keep them apart.
Enrique inched off his seat. He didn't want to show his hand and interfere prematurely, but at the same time had to be ready if the need arose.
The men glared at each other, then at her. "He owes me," one shouted as he pointed to the other.
"Bull. I don't owe you nothing," the other growled and lurched at his opponent.
As Sammie ducked the blow, she brought her elbow straight back, hitting the guy below the rib cage. The force of her strike knocked him back. If the wincing sound he made was any indication, she hadn't pulled her punch.
"Do I have to repeat myself?" Her voice remained calm. She took turns glaring at first one man, then the other.
"I ... I ... wasn't after you. It was him." The big man stammered, pointing at his opponent. "He started it."
His words set off a series of emotions in her as a flush rushed to her face. Her chest moved up and down while she slowly inhaled then exhaled.
"You're out of here. I don't want any troublemakers around this place."
Interesting. Jack Murphy seemed to thrive on trouble, if his history and choice of friends were any indication. If they were so close, why would she be any different?
"Jack wouldn't have thrown me out for that," one of the men mumbled as he walked toward the door.
She placed her hands on her hips but didn't respond to his childish plea. "No fighting. Period. End of discussion." Sammie surveyed the bar, glancing at all the patrons in equal measure.
Excerpted from Bad to the Bone by Wendy Byrne, Robin Haseltine. Copyright © 2015 Wendy Byrne. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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