Mary Daniels doesn’t let anything get in the way of her job acquiring rare artifacts for her wealthy boss. But this particular obstacle—huge, hard-muscled, unashamedly masculine—is impossible to ignore. Stuck in a cramped car with Brodie Crews for hours en route to their new assignment, Mary feels her carefully crafted persona—and her trademark self-control—is slipping, and she won’t allow it.
Brodie can’t imagine what secret in Mary’s past has left her so buttoned-up, though he’d dearly love to find out. Maybe then she’d trust him enough to explore their explosive chemistry. But he needs this job, so he’ll play by her rules and bide his time…until an enemy determined to outwit them strikes and he needs to get close—in every way—to protect her. Otherwise they could lose much more than a precious collectible. They could lose it all.
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Mary Daniels huffed as she continued to climb the rock path on the hillside, her briefcase in hand. Had she known that the Mustang Transport courier service was inaccessible unless a person planned to hike, she wouldn't have worn one of her nicest blouses. Or a skirt. Or the low-heeled shoes that were now starting to rub her heels raw.
Being short and excessively curvy made it difficult to find clothes that fit in a way to play down her proportions rather than emphasize them. She thought she'd succeeded, but now ...
She had the awful suspicion that she'd started to sweat.
Worse, as she looked around at the not-impressive surroundings, she very well might be overdressed.
Tendrils of her hair, always a little frizzy, began to spring loose from her topknot. With the late-morning July sun full on her face, no doubt her freckles showed stark against her flushed skin.
But finally, finally, a building came into view. Granted, it looked more like a garage with an office attached than an elite business, but she went where she was directed, conducting the business assigned to her, with the people her employer chose.
She reached level ground — and froze, stunned.
The building sat to her right, but to her left stood a man, his naked upper body under the hood of a junker as he worked on ... well, something. The engine maybe. He wore ridiculously faded jeans that almost fell off his hips, with work boots. Muscles flexed in brawny arms and his broad back glistened in the sunshine.
No man had ever left her breathless, but she'd never seen a man like him before. Suddenly her clothes felt too tight and her lungs seemed to have stopped working.
Behind him, a woman tickled her fingertips down the groove of his spine to those low-slung jeans, across his butt and ...
Mary gasped as the woman reached under him for a bold fondle.
A big lazy gray dog, which she hadn't even noticed, lifted its head and gave one vaguely interested, "Woof."
The man didn't appear to notice being sexually stroked in the light of day, out in the yard, while working on a car — but with the dog's bark he glanced at her and away — and quickly came back for another, more assessing look.
Good Lord. Her heart stalled, then shot into a gallop.
Slowly, he straightened. His dark brown eyes, framed by crazy thick lashes, locked on her. Grease streaked parts of his broad, hairy chest, down solid abs, even across a flat stomach bisected by that same downy hair ...
It suddenly struck her where she was looking and she ripped her attention back up to his face.
Though his mouth curled in a sign of amusement, his granite shoulders flexed as if in anger. Without releasing her from his stare, he cleaned his hands on a rag, then swiped a wrist across his forehead beneath a bandana he'd tied around unruly brown hair.
The woman, a stunning blonde in a barely-there sundress, stepped in front of him to ask her, "Who are you?"
Mary stiffened. The woman's suspicious tone made it clear that she'd intruded on an intimate moment.
An intimate moment, out in the yard of a business, in broad daylight.
Struggling to focus on anything else, Mary noted the dirt racetrack beyond the people. Adjacent to that property she saw a drive that probably wound around the hill and to the main road below — which meant she had parked below and climbed those awful stone stairs for no reason.
Well, really, they needed a sign with some directions for customers.
Movement in the building drew her gaze and she spotted an attractive man — a clean man fully dressed — stepping out from behind a desk.
Thank God. "If you'll excuse me," she said to the woman, and hurried to the door.
The gentleman from inside beat her to it, opening the door with a smile. "May I help you?"
"Yes, thank you." She wanted inside — away from the caveman, the model, and the grueling heat, but he stood there, inadvertently blocking her way. He was as tall as the caveman, not quite as bulky but still very fit, wearing a polo shirt and khakis.
Attractive, yes, but not overwhelmingly so like the other one. "I'm here to discuss business with Brodie Crews."
The man smiled. He didn't look like a Neanderthal. He wasn't covered in grease. And best of all, he wore a respectable amount of clothes.
But he said, "I'm Jack Crews." Looking beyond her, he said, "Brodie?"
Oh. Oh no. Dread crept over Mary. No, no, no.
The scent of grease and heated male alerted her to his nearness before a rumbling deep voice said from right behind her, "I'm Brodie. What can I do you for?"
At his deliberately misspoken question, little Red whirled, her expression aghast. She looked ready to faint. Or maybe scream.
Odds of her running away were high.
Brodie grinned — then winced at the pain in his head.
Her mouth opened, but nothing came out. She closed it again, breathing deeply from flared nostrils.
Gorgeous mouth, he noticed. Full lips that looked a little pouty when he doubted this woman knew how to pout. As he stared at her, more freckles appeared over the bridge of her narrow, hoity nose. Her eyes were vivid blue, like the midday sky or sapphires or ... hell, he was too hungover to pinpoint the exact color of her eyes.
Her hair though, he could nail that: Fire-red. And curly.
His gaze swept over her body quickly, but a glance was all he'd needed to realize she was stacked and doing her best to hide it.
Jack cleared his throat and the woman jumped as if his brother had goosed her. She looked back at Jack with longing, then at Brodie with distaste. "You're Brodie?"
Never had a woman said his name with such disappointment. True, he wasn't at his best, but still ...
Just then, Gina's boobs smooshed up against his sweaty back as she draped herself over him, trying to stake a claim.
"Brodie," she whined in his ear. "About tonight.?"
There'd be no shrugging her off, so he said to Red, "'scue me a sec," and turned to walk toward the car. After a smug look shot at Red, Gina came along.
He hadn't gone far enough away not to be heard, but it was his best stab at compassion. He shoved his hands in the back pockets of his sagging jeans. "I already told you no. No for tonight, no forever. Let it go, okay?"
"No buts. Jack and I share a lot, but not that."
He heard Red gasp again, heard Jack growl, and then the office door opened. Brodie glanced their way in time to see his brother escorting the scorched redhead inside.
Why the hell did that bug him so much? Because she came here for me.
"Jack was a mistake. I want you, Brodie."
He rolled his eyes. Now she was insulting his brother? Did the woman not know his feelings on family?
"This isn't a carnival. You don't get a ticket for all the rides." Her pout was deliberate and perfectly practiced. If she hadn't screwed his brother, he might've been interested. "Go home," he said, a little more gently. "We're not happening."
Without bothering to look at Gina again, he turned to Howler. The dog had sprawled in the scant shade of the Mustang, catcher-mitt paws in the air, junk on display, one loose lip drooping down to touch a floppy ear. "C'mon, boy. Let's go cool off."
Howler opened one eye, grumbled and closed it again.
"I'm going to get lunch."
That got his attention. The dog's long bony legs flailed in the air as he frantically struggled upright, lumbered to his feet and ran over with a "Woof."
Quiet voices reached him as Brodie stepped inside; Jack's calming, Red's rushed in denial. The brush of cooled air played over his fevered skin, drying the sweat on his body and tightening his nipples. He went past Jack's office, glancing in only long enough to say, "Be right back."
He saw Charlotte, his and Jack's secretary, who was more like a little sister since they'd known her forever, fetching cold bottles of water.
He leaned in to whisper, "Don't let her flee, okay? I gotta wash up but I'll only be a minute."
Brows up, Charlotte snorted. "I'm not your pimp."
Brodie cocked one brow. "She wants to hire me, brat."
"Not anymore, she doesn't. She's doing her best to convince Jack to take the job instead." With a wink, she sidled past him and down the hall to the office with the drinks.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered to her back, apparently not low enough.
Red leaned out the door to frown at him, but was guided back inside when Charlotte entered.
He heard Jack doing introductions. "Ms. Daniels, this is Charlotte Parrish, our assistant."
"Their everything," Charlotte corrected. Then the little witch shut the door so he couldn't hear anything else.
Howler gave Brodie a look, then pivoted to trot after Charlotte, knowing she was the real source of food.
Annoyed, Brodie shoved into the bathroom, but wished he hadn't when the door hit the wall and his head tried to crack and fall off his shoulders.
After digging aspirin from the crooked medicine cabinet, he washed them down with water from the tap, scrubbed his hands with the special soap to remove as much grease as he could, and splashed his face and chest.
One look in the mirror and he knew he hadn't improved things much. He still looked like hell. He thought about getting his shirt from his car ...
He rapidly dried off and sauntered to the office, opening the door and stepping inside just as Red was making her argument.
Charlotte blew him a kiss on her way out.
"Yes, my boss requested Brodie specifically, but that was based off internet research. I'm sure he wouldn't be opposed to hiring you instead —"
"No." Brodie turned a chair to face her profile and slouched into it, his sprawled legs only inches from touching her small feet.
As Red inhaled, her extraordinary chest swelled, her chin tucked in, and her brows came down. It was an impressive show of anger and control.
If he wasn't such a dick, he might have felt chastened.
She slowly turned her head to pinpoint him with her brilliant blue-eyed disdain. "You look inebriated," she stated, her voice a little louder than it needed to be.
"Cuz I was. But that was last night. Now I'm just suffering a hangover." He winced theatrically. "Have a heart and talk a little softer."
"Why," she asked, her voice not one iota quieter, "are you working in the sun if you're —"
"How else will I learn?" Keeping his face straight wasn't easy, but her expression made the effort worthwhile.
Her brows smoothed out, then lifted. "Pardon?"
Jack laughed — and since he was a loving brother, he at least moderated his tone. "Brodie is a big believer in self-discipline."
"More like self-castigation," Charlotte muttered as she returned with a tray of sandwiches and chips on paper plates. "If he suffers the ill effects of his decisions, maybe he'll make better ones."
Brodie saluted her with his water bottle, then took half of his sandwich and offered it to Howler. The dog gulped it down in one big bite, then waited hopefully for another.
"Damn, man. You seriously gotta learn to chew."
Ears up and alert, the dog licked his loose lips.
Red blinked quickly.
Brodie blinked back at her. Mocking. Taunting.
Why, he didn't know, but it just happened.
She rolled in those soft, plush lips and turned away, her curvy little body stiff. "Mr. Crews —"
Jack and Brodie both said, "Yes?"
Her spine straightened even more. Her gaze stayed only on Jack. "I'm quite sure my employer would be pleased to —"
"Jack's not available." Brodie bit into the other half of his sandwich.
Her hands fisted in her lap. "I haven't yet said when I need him."
When she needed him? Smirking, the wheels already turning —
Jack glared a not-too-subtle warning at him, cutting off the joke he so badly wanted to make. Yeah, he got it. They needed the job.
He swallowed the bite and asked, "What're the specifics for the job?"
Somehow, the little prude managed to stiffen even more. She looked ready to break — and damn, how he wanted to see that.
Her attention only on Jack — or so she wanted them to believe — she pulled out a manila folder from the soft briefcase she held in her lap.
Tilting his head, Brodie studied her shapely calves and trim ankles beneath a knee-length skirt. Her skin was pale, her legs smooth, her feet small.
Hell, he'd known plenty of small, smooth, pale women, so why was he getting so twitchy?
"The job is immediate." She slid the folder across the desk.
As she did so, the skirt grew taut over her sexy rump and rounded thighs.
Yeah, he noticed. Hell, no amount of alcohol or morning-after headaches would keep him from seeing something that luscious.
Little red ringlets, curled from the humidity, stuck to her delicate nape and dangled around ears decorated only with pearl studs.
Realizing he was taking interested inventory, Brodie lounged further back in his seat and gestured for Jack to open the folder and peruse the contents.
First, Jack set aside the enclosed business card, then looked over what Brodie assumed to be a proposed contract. After a few seconds of reading, Jack asked, "Marigold, Kentucky?"
"A very small town that borders Tennessee. I've estimated it to be a single-day job. Five hours to drive there, an hour to retrieve the item my employer has purchased, then the drive back." She nodded at the papers. "Sign and you're hired."
Jack turned the contract so Brodie could see it, but spoke to the lady. "This says five thousand dollars. For a day job?"
Brodie nearly whistled. That was some serious cash. "What are we picking up? A dead body?"
Soft lips pinched. "Of course not."
"A live body?"
She swiveled her head to glare at him, cobalt eyes trying to cut out his heart.
"Hey, I've seen Transporter."
She inhaled, making her breasts strain the front of that damp, thus sheer, blouse. "What my client has purchased is very important to him. He wants to ensure its safety ... and it needs to be delivered to him by end of day tomorrow."
"Does the contract say what it is?" Brodie asked.
"Does it matter?" she returned.
Jack and Brodie shared a look, but hey, five grand was five grand. If he got there and it was anything shady, he could deal with it then.
Decision made, Brodie enjoyed telling her, "Well, Jack's out."
"True," Jack said with sincere apology. "I have a previous commitment that can't be changed. But Brodie —"
"Your first choice," Brodie chimed in.
"— is absolutely available."
Her eyes narrowed.
Knowing he'd gotten his way, without quite knowing why it mattered, Brodie put his arms back in a relaxed pose, his fingers laced behind his neck so he could pop out some tension without being obvious about it. He really did feel like shit.
Yet the day rapidly improved.
Miss Priss glanced at his armpits, scrunched her face in disapproval and turned back to Jack with a plea. "But —"
"I'm sorry," Jack said.
She disapproved of armpits? Everyone had them, even prissy redheads. Brodie smiled. "I can leave at 5 A.M."
After prolonged hesitation and, he guessed, some teeth grinding, she finally nodded.
Thwarting the lady felt so good, it even took the edge off the drumbeat in his temples as he watched her averted face. "Just give me the address and the name of the person I'll be seeing, whatever other info I need, and I'll get it done."
Silently, she closed her briefcase, slid a long strap over her shoulder, and stood.
Jack came to his feet, too.
Brodie didn't. He tipped his chair back on two legs and watched the frustration play over her face. She wasn't a real beauty, but she was certainly pretty. The hair was a show-stopper. Those eyes, so damn blue they defied description, would always draw attention. And that mouth, even while compressed in annoyance, could inspire fantasies.
Here in the cooler air, her freckles weren't as noticeable.
Shame. They were kinda cute. Maybe sexy even.
All that with curves galore in such a small package, and it was no wonder she affected him.
Brodie forced his eyes off the lady long enough to cock a brow at his brother.
Jack's scowl sent a message loud and clear: if you lose this job by being an asshole, I'll make sure you regret it later.
Knowing Jack, he'd probably take advantage of Brodie's diminished state. Sighing, he decided to attempt some gentlemanly behavior.
But Red beat him to it.
"I'll have all the pertinent details, as well as half payment, with me tomorrow before we leave. We can finalize the contract then."
His chair dropped forward with a clatter, making his head nearly explode. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw to contain his brain, which seemed to be doing aerobics between his ears. When it finally eased up he cracked open one eye.
Both Jack and Red watched him, the first with pity, the second with annoyance.
"We?" Brodie rasped, unsure he'd heard correctly.
"It is my responsibility to ensure the safety of my client's purchases." She looked down her nose at him. "You are merely the transporter."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Driven to Distraction"
Copyright © 2018 Lori Foster.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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