Read an Excerpt
Wilde Nights in Paradise
A Wilde Security Novel
By Tonya Burrows, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Tonya Burrows
All rights reserved.
Really. Fucking. Slowly.
Jude Wilde groaned and leaned back in his office chair. Maybe leaving the Marines hadn't been the best decision of his thirty years. Of course, nobody could ever accuse him of having good decision-making skills, so there was no sense in breaking that tradition now.
Still. Had it really been only a month since he got out? At least the Marines, with all of their political BS, had offered stimulation, distraction, entertainment.
He scanned the mostly empty office space of Wilde Security — industrial gray carpet, banged-up metal desks, walls that may have been white back in the days of Nixon — until his gaze found two of his older brothers, Camden and Vaughn.
"You know," he said, "this P.I. stuff is not as cool as it seems in the movies."
Ever competitive, the twins were busy arguing over another game of Battleship, and he got no response.
Sighing, Jude tilted his head back and spun his chair around and around until his stomach started to spin right along with the ceiling. He stopped. Straightened. Wobbled. Glowered at his brothers again. "Guys, seriously, I'm so freakin' bored. I'm gonna lose my mind here."
"Quick, hide the matches," Camden said and finally looked up. "And the scissors, paper clips, and anything else shiny or pointy."
"Can't have little brother hurting himself," Vaughn added with a shit-eating grin, then proceeded to sink Cam's sub.
Jude grabbed a sheet of paper from the blank pad on his desk, wadded it up. He sent it sailing toward the twins and had the great satisfaction of watching it nail Vaughn in the face before it bounced and smacked Cam on the side of the head.
Jude held up his arms. "Goaaal!"
The twins shared a glance, communicating in their freaky nonverbal way, and — oh, shit! — he had just enough time to leap out of his chair before they launched across the office.
Two against one, just like when they were kids. Even calling on every ounce of military training he possessed, Jude didn't stand a chance. Still, a friendly brawl with his brothers was a helluva lot better than stewing in his own boredom. A good wrestling match always livened things up, especially if he could turn the twins against each other. Then he'd sneak out of the fray, sit back, and watch the show.
Cam went in low, tackling him around the middle while Vaughn went high. The combined force of four hundred pounds of muscle made for a jarring impact and wrenched the air from his lungs, but he still croaked out a laugh.
"Guys, you're getting soft —" An elbow plowed into his gut. "Umph."
All right. Time to weasel his way out before a blow landed farther south. He grabbed two handfuls of someone's T-shirt — ah, Camden's. Perfect — and yanked the fabric up. Blinded, Cam lost his balance and slammed fist-first into Vaughn, who growled and shoved his twin hard. The three of them went down in a cursing knot of flailing limbs. Cam shrugged out of the tangled shirt and grabbed Vaughn in a headlock. Jude took the opportunity to scramble out from under the dog pile, skull dragging across the carpet until a polished shoe blocked his path.
Wincing, he gazed up from the glossy Italian leather, followed the crease of perfectly pleated trousers and the gray pinstripes of a silk tie to meet his second-oldest brother's glowering hazel eyes. "Reece. Hi."
At the sound of Reece's name, the twins jumped apart like repelled magnets. Cam was still shirtless and had earned himself a swollen lip. Vaughn would be sporting a black eye by the end of the afternoon. Both were breathing hard, and Jude had to bite the inside of his cheek to stifle a laugh. Those two were just too damn easy to rile up.
Reece's mouth turned down at the corners. A small frown, but enough to tell Jude just how pissed big bro was. Yet Reece effortlessly smoothed his expression into a pleasant smile and turned to the man standing beside him, who looked like a cover model for GQ with his streaky, salon-styled blond hair and straight, bleached teeth.
"Mr. Burke, these are our investigators, my brothers Camden, Vaughn, and Jude. They practice their hand-to-hand combat techniques daily and often test each other with surprise attacks. Unfortunately, that sometimes means a scuffle breaks out in the office."
"In the office?" Burke looked down his straight nose at Jude, a slight sneer pulling up the corner of his mouth. "That's highly irregular."
"And what makes us the best at handling irregular situations." Reece waved an arm toward the back of the building, where Greer, their oldest brother and founder of Wilde Security, held court. "If you'll follow me, Greer's office is this way. He's anxious to talk specifics with you and your client."
The office door shut behind them, and Jude said, "Ruh-roh."
"You are such a little shithead," Vaughn replied and touched his already-swollen eye.
"Yeah, but you two make such easy targets."
Cam parted his lips, no doubt to lash out with a retort, but the office door opened again, and Reece reappeared. Ruh-roh was right. Reece's gaze all but singed as he zeroed in on each of them in turn.
"Cam, put on a goddamn shirt," he snapped. "Vaughn, go ice your eye. And you." He pinned Jude with a finger, much the same as their father used to when they were kids. "You better fucking behave. Kenneth Burke represents a big client. We're talking a bigger payday than we've ever seen, and you are not going to screw us up." The for once in your life part went unspoken. It never had to be said. They all knew Jude was the family fuck up, and he'd made his peace with that.
"Greer wants you three in here for this," Reece continued. "So pull your act together and at least pretend you're professionals."
Jude snapped into a salute. "Yes, sir."
Reece just shook his head and shoved back into the office, grumbling something under his breath about little brothers. Dude really needed to loosen up. It must be exhausting to stay wound so tight twenty-four/seven. Sometimes shit happened, and no amount of planning in the world stopped it from happening, so why worry? That was Jude's philosophy. Have fun when life was good. Bend over and take it when shit got bad. And never, ever look back. Bridges burned for a reason. He made sure of it because the past hurt too damn much.
One of the twins socked him in the shoulder as they passed.
"Good going," Vaughn said.
"Now he's gonna be in a pisser of a mood all day," Cam added.
"When isn't he?" Jude wondered aloud as he fell into step behind the twins. Reece's middle name was Stick-Up-The-Ass, and his smiles were few and far between.
But if smiling was a rarity for Reece, it was a completely foreign concept to the eldest Wilde brother.
Greer sat behind his disaster area of a desk, faint scowl lines creasing his forehead, his eyes narrowed in displeasure. Even though he'd been out of the military for almost a year, he still wore his dark hair shaved to the scalp.
And he looked like Dad.
The similarity smacked Jude in the face, and he stopped short just inside the door, struggling against an immediate urge to apologize for ... well, everything.
Sorry I never listened, Dad. Sorry I caused you and Mom so much heartache.
Sorry I killed you.
No. He shook his head. Not Dad. Greer. It was Greer sitting there, watching him with those dark, dark eyes.
Jude turned away to shut the office door, needing that extra second to school his features back into an affable smile. His cheeks hurt, the muscles pulling, and he worked his jaw to loosen everything up until he could smile without wanting to scream.
Yup. Bridges burned for a reason.
With his usual smile firmly in place, he faced his brothers, who studied him with expressions ranging from worried — the twins — to disinterested — Reece — to completely unreadable — Greer. Burke, the new client, sat regally in a wood fold-up chair in front of Greer's desk and acted like they were all too far below him to rate much of his attention.
"Go over it again for my brothers," Greer told the man.
Burke's gaze shifted to the twins, who no doubt made an intimidating pair if you didn't know them. They both grinned like cats in sight of prey, and Burke sniffed disdainfully. "To be perfectly frank, this is a waste of time and money."
"Again," Greer commanded in his Army Ranger voice.
Burke pursed his lips. "Of course. I'm a lawyer, and the family I represent is facing a sensitive problem ..."
Jude lounged against the wall and dipped a hand in his pocket, jiggling the ring he carried with him everywhere as he settled in for what was sure to be a mind-numbingly long story. If he had a dollar for every time a client came to Wilde Security in the past month with a "sensitive" problem ... Well, he sure the hell wouldn't be working here.
Aruba was nice this time of year. Or any time of year.
He'd be lounging on a white sand beach with a sissy frou-frou drink — because what else did you drink in beach fantasies? — and a beautiful woman cradled in his lap. A blonde. Yeah, but not an out-of-the-bottle blonde. Natural, with golden tones that matched the gold flecks in her light brown eyes. She'd be wearing a purple string bikini with ties at the hips, and as he offered her his drink, he'd reach down and pull the knots loose. She'd laugh and take off her square, black-framed glasses —
Wait. No. His Aruban fantasy woman did not have glasses. Or a purple string bikini. Or anything else that he associated with ... her.
And yet he could picture it — and her — so clearly, he could almost smell the vanilla spice perfume she always used to wear.
Everyone in the room turned toward him, and he cursed again, silently this time. Greer's eyes narrowed in warning. Reece made a low grumbling sound in his throat. The twins both struggled to maintain their professional faces.
"Sorry." He scrambled to find a plausible excuse for his outburst, but all he came up with was a pathetic, "Saw a big-ass spider. Hate those things."
Greer waved a dismissive hand. "Go on," he said to the client, who appeared even more contemptuous now than before.
Jude pushed away from the wall and made himself pay attention to the man. He couldn't screw this up or his brothers would murder him. So no more fantasies about Aruba or ... her. He smiled at Burke, turning his internal charm-o-meter up from stun to devastate. "Yes, please, Mr. Burke, go on. I apologize for the interruption."
Burke opened the briefcase on his lap and produced a slim folder, handing it to Greer. "I'm sure this is not necessary, but my client insists we hire one of you to protect his daughter. I have the file right here."
Pushing aside a stack of papers to make room, Greer opened the folder. On top lay a dossier with a photograph of a woman clipped to it.
A blond woman.
With square, black-framed glasses.
She stared out from the photo, all cool confidence with her hair twisted up on top of her head and her eyes level on the camera, so different from the last time Jude had seen her. Eight years ago, her face had been splotchy and smeared with lines of mascara from the tears streaming down her cheeks. Her hair had been falling out of its clip. Her lips had quivered as she approached him at the bar. He'd fully expected her to slap him and had steeled himself against it, but the pain in her brown eyes as she dropped his engagement ring into his beer had been far more effective than a slap.
Those eyes had haunted him for years.
Jude moved closer to the desk to get a better look and experienced a dizzying sense of déjà vu. No fucking way. It couldn't be her. It couldn't be ...
"What's her name?" Greer asked.
"Elizabeth Pruitt," Burke said at the same time Jude whispered, "Libby."
Burke's head snapped around so fast he must have given himself whiplash. "Do you know her?"
Greer arched a brow, but Jude ignored them both and picked up her photo. The last eight years had been kind to her. Very kind. Even his Aruban fantasy version of her hadn't done her justice. He traced the elegant line of her cheek, remembered doing the same as they lay tangled together on the living room floor of her college apartment with the sun streaming through the open window ...
"Jude!" Greer's sharp voice brought him back to the present, and he forced his gaze away from the photo. "You know her?"
"Used to." He set the photo back on the desk, but it took a lot more effort to let the damn thing go than it should have. "Not anymore."
At that moment, the door opened, and in walked a barge of man that Jude never thought he'd see again. Time had been kind to Colonel Elliot Pruitt, too. Save for the receding hairline that he covered by shaving his head bald, Libby's father hadn't changed. He was still imposing as hell. The gleam of the florescent lights off his scalp only highlighted the fact that at fifty-five, he was still nearly seven feet of solid muscle.
"Mr. Pruitt," Burke said with a tight smile. "I thought we agreed I would handle this — "
"No, I requested you inform me when you would be meeting with these men," Pruitt said.
"I thought it would be better if we handled this as quickly and quietly as possible."
Pruitt shook his head. "This is too important for me to handle by proxy. Now will you excuse us?"
The lawyer snapped his briefcase shut with definitive clicks and stood. "I feel as if I have to go on record as saying both Libby and I think this is a vast overreaction."
"Noted," Pruitt said. "You're dismissed."
Aiming a scowl at the colonel's back, Burke yanked open the door and left the small room.
Pruitt crossed to stand in front of Jude. The man's dark blue eyes took in Jude's faded jeans, beat-up Nikes, and USMC hooded sweatshirt in one long, assessing sweep. "Lieutenant Wilde."
"Colonel." Jude resisted the instinct to salute. As an Officer Candidate struggling through OCS, he'd looked up to this man who had been one of his instructors at the time. Now all he felt toward Elliot Pruitt was an abyss of resentment, and he'd be damned before he showed the colonel one ounce of respect. "Didn't ever expect to see you again."
"Unfortunately, it was unavoidable in this situation."
Okay, this was bad. Ten minutes ago, Jude would've bet his balls that Pruitt would never voluntarily seek him out. Only something earth-shattering would mobilize the colonel into doing so. "What situation? What's going on?"
Pruitt drew a breath through his nose and squared his wide shoulders as if fortifying himself. "Libby's in trouble. She needs protection, and as much as it pains me to admit this, you're the best man for the job." The last was said with a faint sneer.
Jude ignored the flutter in his chest. It wasn't worry. Just ... indigestion. Right. "What kind of trouble is she in?"
"She has a stalker, and the threats are getting more and more personal. We believe someone is trying to get her to drop the charges against Richard 'K-Bar' Niles."
"The gangbanger up for murdering that single mother in Anacostia?" Camden asked.
Pruitt gave one curt nod of acknowledgment in the twins' general direction. "Yes. Libby's the prosecuting attorney, and of course, she's not going to drop it. The case is rock solid, but the trial isn't set to begin until August, and K-Bar made bail. He's free, and if he's not personally terrorizing her, then he's hired someone to do it for him."
"So you want to hire her some protection," Greer concluded.
"I want to hire him." Pruitt tipped his head toward Jude. "He and Libby have a history that will make it all that much easier for him to protect her. His sudden reemergence in her life won't raise any eyebrows."
Jude stared at his former instructor, fury burning hot in his gut. "You want me to pretend to be her lover? Like none of the past shit happened and we got back together?"
"It's a plausible reason for you to be around her all the time."
"No." Dread coiled its greasy fingers around his throat and squeezed. "No, no, no."
Pruitt paid no attention to his protests. "If you agree to my terms," he said to Greer, "he can start tomorrow morning."
"Do I really have to repeat my answer? How about, hell no? That sink in, Colonel?"
"This is not a request, Marine."
Jude got in Pruitt's face, his teeth clenched so hard his jaw ached. How dare the man ask this, after everything? He had some massive, steel-lined balls to come in here and dredge up a past Jude had spent eight years doing his damnedest to forget. "I'm not active duty. You can't order me around anymore. Sir."
Excerpted from Wilde Nights in Paradise by Tonya Burrows, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2013 Tonya Burrows. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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