For three years, ballet teacher Natalie Taggart has lived across the hall from grumpy, reclusive, sexy Greer Wilde. Save for a handful of hellos and the occasional heated glance, they never spoke to each other.
Until the morning Greer lands on her doorstep, bleeding, beaten, and bullet-riddled.
Greer doesn’t need or want her help. He has only one goal: revenge. And nobody—not his brothers, and certainly not his too-hot-for-his-sanity next-door neighbor—is going to get in his way.
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Too Wilde to Tame
Wilde Security Series
By Tonya Burrows, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Tonya Burrows
All rights reserved.
Greer Wilde slumped over his drink like a man who'd had one too many. In truth, he'd been nursing the same glass all night, but he needed to hide his face, and the best way to do that was to pretend he was pissing-himself, couldn't-lift-his-head drunk. The man he was following had been his father's best friend at one time, and he looked too much like David Greer Wilde Sr. to pass as anyone but his son.
Or his ghost.
About an hour ago, he'd purposely let Richard Mendenhall see him. Just a brief glimpse, but good ol' Rich had gone sheet white, which told him a lot about the state of the guy's conscience.
Guilty. As. Fuck.
Probably why the guy was drinking his way through a cheap bottle of vodka right now.
Does it help? Does the vodka help you sleep at night? Help you look yourself in the mirror after you orphaned five kids?
The story that his parents were killed in a gas station stick-up gone wrong was bullshit. His father — a career military man, who had spent a good portion of that career in black ops — wouldn't have been taken out by some lowlife punk looking for quick cash.
No. In the deepest part of Greer's soul, he'd always known there was more behind their deaths than he'd been told, but at fifteen, he hadn't been able to do anything about it. He'd been just a kid, and he had four brothers — Reece, Vaughn, Cam, and Jude — all counting on him to keep their family together.
But he wasn't a kid anymore, and if something happened to him now, his brothers would be okay. They had Wilde Security, and Reece, Cam, and Jude were even married to good women who would keep them in line. Vaughn ... well, when he'd left home three months ago, Vaughn was struggling, but he'd eventually be okay, too. The rest of the family would take care of him. Which left Greer free to pursue the one thing he'd dreamed about for years, the thing he'd trained himself mercilessly for, hardened himself for.
He lifted his gaze enough to check on Mendenhall. Guy was still drinking and didn't appear to have plans to stop any time soon.
Wincing, Greer shifted positions on his stool and let his body droop forward over his glass again. It wasn't hard to act the part of a drunkard when every cell throbbed with pain. A new trickle of blood leaked from the gunshot wound in his side, sliding in a hot trail down his stomach to soak into the waistband of his jeans.
Damn. Must have popped open the hurried stitches he'd put in.
It was kind of surreal, being back in the States. This hole-in-the-wall bar, where the most dangerous thing was a rowdy drunk, was so far removed from the a war-ravaged country he'd been in less than twenty-four hours ago. In Syria, you couldn't tell the good guys from the bad, and the bad guys from the civilians. He'd spent the last several months sleeping with one eye open and one hand on a weapon, ready to jump into action at the smallest indication of trouble. And still that constant alertness hadn't helped save one of his men. His friend. He'd jumped like he was trained to, and the whole fucking world had crumbled down around them anyway. Nobody had seen the attack coming, and there wasn't much a guy could do when mortars were raining down from the sky except bend over and kiss his ass good-bye. He still wasn't sure how he'd made it out of there ...
And wished like hell he hadn't.
No. Greer grabbed the glass in front of him with a trembling hand and gulped down the rest of the contents. He had to shut out all the noise in his head. Had to shut out the recent past and focus on his mission, right here and now. After years of dead ends, he was only feet away from the man responsible for his parents' deaths.
At one time, Rich had been a big, happy guy. Always had a quick smile for everyone, and was always up for a touch football game whenever he came to visit, but the man sitting at the end of the bar now in no way resembled the one from Greer's memory. He was stooped and balding and looked older than his sixty-some-odd years. Watching Rich out of the corner of his eye, Greer had to wonder if his father would have aged well or would time have been as cruel to him as it had to this piece of shit?
For years, he'd been so sure his parents' deaths had been because of something his father knew or did with the military. He'd worked his way into the Rangers and then into some of the most secretive black ops units in the world — all hoping to catch a whiff of anything that would point him in the right direction. He never had.
Until the diary.
He reached inside his coat and touched it, stroked a finger over its soft leather cover. His mother had always been writing things down. She'd kept meticulous baby books for all five of her sons, a daily planner, and a personal journal. He and his father had picked out this particular journal — pale blue, her favorite color — for her 39th birthday shortly before her death, and in the months that followed, she filled its pages with her final words.
Words that, after all these years, had pointed her son to her killer.
He checked on Rich again.
The stool was empty.
Shit. Where'd the guy go?
Heart pumping hard, roaring blood through his ears, Greer leapt up and ignored the sharp tug of pain from the gunshot wound in his side. He scanned the bar and spotted Rich's bald head ducking out a side door. Cursing under his breath, he shoved through the small crowd and into the parking lot. If he lost his chance because he was all up in his head and sentimental, he needed an ass kicking. Or another ass kicking, since he'd already gotten a good one in Syria.
This wasn't about sentiment anymore. It was about justice and how there had been none for his family.
He caught sight of his target walking fast across the parking lot toward the street. "Rich!"
The man froze and whirled around, eyes bugging out of his pale face. "D-David?" He shook his head. "No. Can't be. Y-you're dead."
No, I'm not a ghost, motherfucker. But I'm about to be your judge, jury, and executioner. He reached under his jacket and set a hand on his gun. "We have something long overdue to discuss."
The attack came from his left — so unexpected he lost his balance and landed hard on the concrete, his gun skidding away from his fingers. He raised his arms, trying to protect his head from the rain of kicks and punches slamming into him from all directions. One connected with his side and the rest of the stitches securing his bullet wound popped open. Blood immediately soaked through his shirt.
There were at least three attackers, and he thought he heard laughter as he struggled to defend himself. Rich's laughter?
Motherfucker. He had this planned all along, and Greer had all but skipped into his trap.
A steel-toed boot glanced off his temple, but he was more concerned about the gleam of a blade that had appeared in one of his attackers' hands. In the seconds after he saw it, he felt the cold slide of it against his neck.
He struck out blindly, hoping to knock it away. Got another slice along his arm, but the knife went flying, so that was a win if he'd ever had one. He kicked with both feet, landed a blow to one attacker's groin. The man crumpled to his knees, and Greer got a good look at his face. Short dark hair, wide brown eyes, thin lips under a peach-fuzz mustache. No, not a man, after all. Hell, he was just a kid.
The kid scrambled to his feet, glanced around, and bolted away liked a scared little rabbit. Good. One less punk he had to worry about.
Another steel-toed kick plowed into his temple and he arched in pain, losing track of the kid as his vision flared white then faded to gray. Yeah, that blow did it. He was going to lose consciousness and probably die right here in this parking lot, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do to stop it.
Any other time, he'd welcome the sweet relief of death, but he hated the thought of going out like this — fucking hated it — and struck out one last time. Desperate. Imprecise. His groping fingers found the knife on the ground by his side and he swung it up, connected with something solid. He thought he heard a scream of pain, but he wasn't aware enough to know how much damage he'd caused. He was just glad he'd hurt the steel-toed bastard one time before it was over.
His brothers were going to be okay. This would hurt them, but they'd pull through. Hell, they'd be better off in the long run without him. He kept that thought front and center in his mind as his limbs grew heavy and unconsciousness swept him away.
He hadn't planned to live much longer anyway.CHAPTER 2
Last night was endless.
Natalie Taggart groaned as she dragged herself out of her Fiat, then took a moment to stretch in the crisp April morning air. Her midnight to five a.m. on-air shift had gone well enough, despite a couple weirdo callins — but that came with the territory when you were the late-night talk DJ. It was after she got off air that everything went to shit. If there was something not broken at the station, it broke on her right then, which had caused some serious timing issues with the morning drive show. Rick and Lou finally got on the air after a full forty minutes of dead airtime.
They were all going to get their asses chewed when the station manager found out.
But that was a worry for later. Right now, all she wanted was to take Jet out for his morning walk, then cuddle up to his one hundred pounds of golden fluff and sleep for a solid eight hours.
Of course, she wouldn't get eight hours. She only had five until she had to leave for the dance studio to teach her evening class, but a girl could dream.
Which class did she have tonight? She scrolled through her mental schedule as she stretched and hoped it wasn't toddler night. She loved those little munchkins, but she just did not have the energy to wrangle them all into something resembling a ballet class.
It was ... Friday. Right? So no toddlers, thank all the gods of dance. Tonight was the ten-to-thirteen-year-olds. They could have attitudes, the little prima donnas, but she definitely felt better equipped to handle them than the toddlers. And then she was off for the weekend. Two blissful days of no radio, no dance classes. Just her and Jet and maybe a Netflix binge.
She couldn't wait.
She grabbed her oversize bag out of the car, got halfway to the front door of her apartment complex, and realized she'd forgotten her travel coffee mug in the cup holder.
Dammit. She'd need that when she woke up.
Changing directions, she backtracked to the car and unlocked the door with the fob. She was just reaching in for the travel mug when she sensed a looming presence close in behind her. She started and bumped her head on the doorframe.
"Hey, Aunt Tally. It's just me."
"Andy?" Rubbing the sore spot on her head, she straightened and faced her nephew. Then, for good measure, she punched him in the shoulder. "Don't sneak up on people, you little brat! What are you doing out at this time in the morning?"
Guilt flashed across his features before he ducked his head. He scuffed the toe of his Nike across the pavement. "I ... uh, need somewhere to crash for a few days."
She closed her eyes for a moment, gathering strength from her nearly tapped-out reserves. "What did you do now?"
"Nothing!" He actually sounded offended, but going off past experience, that was an act. He only ever wanted to stay with her when he was afraid the cops were going to come knocking, looking for him because he'd hacked into something else off limits. Like the freaking Pentagon.
"Go home, Andy." She shut her car door and walked toward her apartment complex again.
He was right on her heels. "Can't I just stay for the weekend? You can call Grandma and Grandpa and tell them I'm with you and they'll chill out."
She stopped before keying in the code to open the building's front door and faced him again. He had his hands tucked in the front pocket of his hooded sweatshirt, and he seemed to be anxious — which he damn well should be if he skipped going home last night.
"Where were you?" she asked, point blank.
"I was ... uh ... uh ..."
"Tell me the truth."
He flushed a deep red. "Just ... at a friend's house. A girl."
She sighed, and some of the tension seeped out of her shoulders. So it had only been teenage shenanigans for once. "You were safe, right? You used condoms?"
His face got even redder. "Oh, Jesus, Aunt Tally."
"Hey, the last thing you need is a bouncing bundle of joy. Just ask your father. He wasn't much older than you when you came along."
He glanced away. "I don't know where Dad is. I haven't seen him in days."
Natalie's heart squeezed. "Maybe he got a job somewhere."
Andy snorted. "Doubt it."
So did she. Her brother Mathew, Andy's father, hadn't held down a job since he was a teenager. Numbing himself with drugs was more important than trivial things like work or a place to live or caring for his son, which was why her parents now had full custody of Andy.
She studied Andy for another second, then relented. "Okay, fine. But here's the deal. You come in, shower, change, and go to school. You do that, you can stay for the weekend and I'll cover you for last night."
He brightened. "You're a life saver —"
"Ah ah." She held up a finger. "I'm not done. I plan on calling the school every hour to make sure you're still there. If you're not, deal's off. And this weekend, we're going to do some volunteer work."
That brightness dimmed a few degrees, and he grumbled something under his breath she didn't catch.
She shrugged and punched in the door code. "Those are my terms, and you're not going to get better from Grandma and Grandpa. So take 'em or leave 'em. It's up to you."
Andy followed her inside. "I'll take them, but I won't like them."
"It's a start." She didn't bother waiting for the elevator, which was notoriously slow, and took the stairs to her second floor apartment. As she ascended, she dug in her bag for her apartment key. "So ... who's this girl? Anyone I know?"
"No," Andy said in the sulking tone only teenagers could manage.
"Have Grandma and Grandpa met her?"
"No." He hesitated a beat. "I really don't want to talk about it. Can we just —" He broke off abruptly and fell into a shocked silence.
"Just what?" Finally finding her key ring, she glanced up from her bag — and dropped everything. "Oh my God!"
A huge man was unconscious on the hallway floor, blocking the entrance to her apartment.
"Oh my God," she said again and hurried to his side, pulling off her jacket as she went. She bundled it up and slid it under his head. His hair was overgrown and a layer of beard covered his jaw, but under all the hair was a handsome, hard-planed face she recognized. David Greer Wilde, Jr. — her neighbor from apartment 211 across the hall, the one who had been missing since January.
They'd never really spoken before he went missing. Or at least, never said anything to each other beyond the occasional awkward hello while passing on the stairway. He always kept to himself. She'd gossiped with her friends about the handsome recluse next door. The only reason she knew his name at all was because she'd been collecting his mail for his brother Reece, who had stopped by several times looking for him. His family was worried sick. Judging by the looks of him now, they had good reason to be. He was bruised and bloody, and wounds on his arms and neck were still bleeding.
"Andy, get my phone out of my purse and call 911." She gently brushed a lock of his dark, overgrown hair from his face. "David, can you hear me?"
He stirred and opened his eyes to slits but gave no indication that he'd understood her, or even that he was fully conscious yet "Help ..." he rasped.
"It's okay." She soothed more hair back from his face. "You're okay now. We'll get you to the hospital. I'll call your brother, too. Your family has been so worried." She started to turn away to see what was taking Andy so long, but a huge hand shot up and clamped around her wrist. She gasped. He stared up, his nearly black eyes focused intently on her face. Definitely conscious now, but possibly also delirious.
"No. Hospital," he gritted out between bloody teeth. "No brothers."
"I don't want ... hospital. Or — my brothers."
"Why the hell not?"
"Please." His grip loosened as his eyes rolled back. A moment later, he was unconscious again. She sat back on her knees and stared at him.
The guy was crazy. Completely nutso. He very obviously needed the hospital. Possibly a psych screening. And of course his brothers deserved to know he was no longer missing. How cruel to keep that from them.
Excerpted from Too Wilde to Tame by Tonya Burrows, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2017 Tonya Burrows. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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