Read an Excerpt
"You're not the girl I was expecting." Choking down the immediate surge of irritation that raced through her, Eryn McAdams studied the tall man blocking her path into the hotel suite. She'd just come from a day filled with dealing with macho security types treating her like a "girl." She was only here now as a favor to a friend. It just went to show that no good deed went unpunished. She sheathed a cutting remark and took a breath as she surveyed the guy blocking her way.
At least six foot three or four, he was broad shouldered, narrow waisted and muscular. His physique belonged to an athlete, but the shortcropped blond hair and slategray eyes that possessed laser intensity screamed of a military background. The gray suit fit him perfectly and his silk tie was knotted precisely. The soft brown leather shoes held a shine. If he hadn't come across so blatantly obnoxious, he would have been attractive.
Eryn stood her ground defiantly. "Number one, I'm not a girl, I'm a woman. Number two, I'm the woman you're getting tonight."
The man kept his arms folded across his broad chest and didn't move. "Where's the other girl? The one we hired?"
Eryn couldn't believe the guy was being so particular. Renee had told her she'd never had a facetoface with anyone connected to the bachelor party and had only talked to someone named Toby. "She's not coming."
"She's sick. She called and asked me to cover your party."
The man's mouth tightened. "Not my party."
"Somehow, that doesn't surprise me. You don't seem like the partying type." Or the marrying kind. But somewhere in the back of Eryn's mind, that place where she kept foolish thoughts, a bright he's available light just flashed on. She ignored it. The last thing she needed tonight was man trouble. But ignoring the attractive male in front of her was hard.
The gray eyes narrowed. "Business must be good if you can sass all your customers this way."
"I'm in a business where I'm not going to take a lot of crap or disrespect. You can't pay me enough for that." Eryn hated putting the gig at risk, because Renee was a single mom and needed the money, and she'd said that bachelor parties could pay really well. Only a really good friendship and a godson would get Eryn so close to naked in a roomful of strange men.
"Cal, Cal. What are you doing, dude?" Another man, younger than the guy blocking the door, stumbled over and tried to lay an arm around the big man's shoulders. The effort was wasted because he wasn't tall enough and he was amicably drunk. He was dressed casually, jeans and sport jacket.
"Callan. Not Cal." The big man's voice remained soft but carried definite authority. He was a man used to being obeyed.
"Okay Callan." The newcomer drew back his arm. "But, chill, dude. Don't hassle the stripper. We're all here for a good time, and I paid good money for her."
Eryn counted to three. "I'm not a stripper." She didn't want Renee or herself to be disrespected. Entertainment was a job, a profession. The audience had to know its place up front. "I'm here as an exotic entertainer. A dancer."
Back when she'd first arrived in Las Vegas, she'd worked as a dancer for a while. Her career still suffered from that from time to time as coworkers discovered her past, but that history also allowed her to be good at her current profession. During her dancing days, she had always been very clear about the job description.
"And you paid for the performance, not me." She was also always very clear about what was paid for.
The drunken man smiled and shrugged. "Sure, sure, honey. No foul. Keep your shirt on. At least for now." He laughed at his own joke and glanced at the bigger man. The big man's sober expression never wavered and the man's good humor disappeared.
Callan didn't take his gaze from Eryn. He had deep, penetrating eyes. "She's not the entertainer you hired for this."
At first, Eryn thought the big man had referred to her as an entertainer as sarcasm, but there was no hint of that in his voice. She locked her gaze with his out of stubbornness and tried not to notice how beautiful his eyes were.
"That right?" The man shoved his hand out to Eryn and smiled. From the automatic way he smiled, Eryn felt certain he was a professional salesman. "I'm Toby. Best man. I'm paying for the party."
Eryn shifted her attention to Toby and put on a highwattage smile. She could almost hear Renee whispering in her ear. Always be polite to the guy paying the bill. Renee had taught her that when she'd first gotten into the business. Plus, shifting her attention from tall, dark and obnoxious helped dial down the unexpected interest that had flared up.
"I'm Candy." She shifted her makeup kit and travel bag to her left hand and took Toby's hand in her right.
"Yes you are." Toby winked at her.
"But I'm not the entertainer you hired for the evening. My friend ended up sick a couple of hours ago. She asked me to cover for her."
"The other girl was blonde, right?"
Eryn ignored the gender terminology this time. The guy paying the bills was allowed certain liberties, and they stopped where she said they stopped. "My friend? Yes."
Toby leered at Callan. "You ask me, we're trading up. Daniel has a thing for blondes, which should make your sister happy. But I've always been partial to brunettes." He glanced back at Eryn. "And you're smoking hot, baby."
"Thanks." Eryn tried to sound like she meant it as she took her hand back from Toby. She held up her travel bag and makeup kit. "Do you have somewhere I can change?"
"Sure, sure. Right this way." Toby waved her inside the hotel suite.
Callan didn't move.
"C'mon, sarge, let the lady through. We don't have all night." Toby looked uncomfortable and not even close to being demanding. "After all, how many bachelor parties are we going to throw your future brotherinlaw?"
With obvious reluctance, Callan stepped aside. Eryn slid by him with difficulty. Her shoulder brushed against his chest and discovered he was solid as a brick. Before she could completely ease by, he took her bag and kit from her with ease.
"Hey." Eryn reached for her things.
"Let me help you. Bedroom's this way." Somehow Callan turned his body so she couldn't get her property back, and in one long stride he was beyond her reach.
Eryn glared at Toby. "What's with this guy?"
"He's protective of his sister." Toby scratched the back of his neck and looked embarrassed.
"Is she here?"
"No, of course not. What kind of bachelor party would that be?" Bemused, Toby shook his head. "Callan's okay. Just intense. Protective of his sister, protective of his future brotherinlaw, I guess. Jenny, his sister, told me he was a control freak." He held up his hands. "But look, don't worry about things. You're going to come out of this okay. I'm a big tipper. So are the rest of Daniel's friends. This'll be fun."
You better hope so. Eryn wanted nothing more than to get her things back and leave, but Renee was counting on her.
Raising a child alone was expensive. Eryn walked through the expensive suite into the bedroom where Callan had disappeared.
When he reached the bedroom, Callan tossed the travel bag and makeup kit onto the bed. He didn't like surprises and he didn't like changes. Ops, even bachelor parties, were supposed to run smoothly. When things didn't run efficiently, situations got difficult. Or dangerous.
And the woman was definitely a surprise. She was just too competent, unafraid. Normally he liked that in a woman, but tonight she irritated him because he hadn't known she was coming and she didn't seem like the kind of woman who would come out of a cake in a roomful of horny, inebriated men she didn't know.
The makeup kit wasn't locked and he went through it quickly. He'd just picked up the locked travel bag when the woman walked in. She stopped in the doorway and gazed at the open makeup kit.
"I don't like people going through my things."
"I didn't think you would."
She was beautiful. At least fiveten with long legs, a trim build with generous curves, and a headful of curly dark brown hair. Her eyes were bluegreen, as watchful as a cat's. Her mouth was a little too wide, but it looked fine on her. She wore a simple black dress that allowed her to fit in anywhere in Las Vegas's night scene.
Callan swallowed with difficulty and tried to drag his gaze from her, finally managing it with difficulty.
She crossed her arms. "The travel bag's locked."
"Want me to open it for you?"
"Not necessary." Callan took out a lock pick set he'd already palmed and worked both locks. They popped open in seconds. Then he searched through the bag's contents. Panties, Gstrings and an array of neoncolored sexy underthings filled the bag. Just to be sure, he felt the bag's lining as well. Lingering perfume and body powder filled his nose and made him think of how little flesh those lacy things covered.
He forced himself to think of the party as a security op. You're in no man's land here, soldier. In enemy territory. Don't drop your guard.
"I keep an inventory of everything in that bag, so don't think of taking any souvenirs."
The woman spoke calmly, but Callan knew she was angry. If he'd been in her shoesstilettos, and expensive from the look of themhe'd have been angry, too. He shut down the trickle of guilt he was feeling. "Alphabetical or colorcoded?"
"The list. Is it alphabetical or colorcoded?" She wasn't the only one that could be hardnosed.
"Topographical. Based on how much they cover."
Despite his caution, the comment caught Callan off guard and made him smile. The brunette was quick. Then he scowled. He'd learned that quickwitted women could get a soldier dead in a heartbeat. He stepped away from the bed. "Okay, you can suit up." He headed for the door, but this time she blocked him. He looked down at her. "Either I can go and let you change, or I can stay and watch. Doesn't make any difference to me." But he was lying. He would have loved to have watched.
"It makes a difference to me." The woman stepped aside dismissively and entered the room. "You can leave."
Callan went out and headed for the big room where the party was going to take place. Daniel Steadman, his future brotherinlaw, stood in the center of a dozen guys all getting happily plotzed at a wet bar set up in the corner of the big room.
Daniel was a nice guy. From the few times Callan had met him, Daniel was likable enough. But he wasn't the kind of man Callan generally associated with. All of the men in the room were involved in big business, and that made Callan feel awkward.
He reminded himself that he was doing this for Jenny. His little sister had asked him to keep an eye out for Daniel, in case Toby and his friends got too wild. Jenny wasn't worried about other women, strippers or entertainers, but she was worried about everyone being in Las Vegas and so far from Dallas. Accidents happened. She'd wanted Callan to shepherd the group.
"Hey, Callan. You want a drink?" Daniel, tall and goodlooking, his blond hair carefully cut and styled, waved at the bar.
Callan picked up his Diet Coke from the small table by the balcony doors. "I'm good. Thanks."
"Why don't you come over here and join us?"
"I'm gonna catch a breath of fresh air."
"Okay, bro. I just want you to have fun tonight. I promised Jenny I'd get you to loosen up. I'm kind of big on keeping promises to her."
Callan nodded. Me, too. He opened the balcony door, and went out into the night. He stared out at Las Vegas from the fourth floor. Standing there, he breathed in the stink of the city. Filth and raw sewage he was inured to, but he'd forgotten what smog and privileged pollutions were like. He'd been years from civilized areas, except for the few visits to check on Jenny. He'd come home for her high school graduation, college graduation, a handful of holidays and every now and then when he'd been out of action and recovering from wounds. Or planning a retaliatory move.
He sipped his drink and wondered why he was so on edge. Part of it had to do with Jenny marrying and the fact that he didn't know Daniel as well as he wanted to. But the biggest part of it was that he felt off his game, out of his terrain.
Despite that, he thought about the beautiful woman getting dressed in one of those sexy outfits he'd discovered in the travel bag. He'd liked the way she'd stood up to him and didn't back down, and he'd liked how she'd handled things when she'd found him going through her bags. She was cool and calm.
She was also unexpected, and that bothered him most of all. If there was one thing Callan had learned to hate, it was the unexpected.
"Look, I'm really sorry about that. Callan had no reason to treat you like that or go through your stuff."
"It's okay." Eryn made herself say that even though it wasn't okay. She was used to the wide gulf that separated the whales and major players in Las Vegas from everyone else. Her job at CyberStealth Security put her in that no man's land every day. High rollers or not, though, she didn't show up to get treated like garbage.
"He didn't mean anything by it." Toby looked uncomfortable.
Eryn looked at him and cocked a challenging eyebrow. "He's just a careful guy."
"You mean, paranoid." Eryn had recognized it because that was how she played the game when she was on the job.
Toby shrugged. "Maybe. Tell you the truth, the guy creeps me out a little. I mean, I don't know him. He's Jenny's brother, but I haven't ever seen him until tonight."
"So what's his story?" Eryn refolded her underwear and placed them back in the bag.
"Don't know. He's some kind of soldier. He's been in Africa and the Middle East the past few years. I've heard he's a mercenary or something. You ask me, he's wired too tight." Toby looked at her. "He won't be a problem, though. One call to Jenny and she'll gentle him down."
"His sister can do that?" Personally, Eryn had her doubts. She would have bet that Callan was the kind of man no one could tame.
"That's what Daniel says."
"Ever seen her do it?"