Deadly Conflicts (Hardy Brothers Security Book 21)

Deadly Conflicts
Hardy Brothers Security Book Twenty-One
Lily Harper Hart
HarperHart Publications

C
opyright
© 2016 by Lily Harper Hart

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

1
One


W
ill you help me
?”

Jake Harrison glanced up from the blue tape he was affixing to the wood trim in his basement and focused on his girlfriend. Ally Hardy was many things. She was beautiful, with long brown waves that cascaded past her shoulders and expressive brown eyes. She had a smile that could light up an entire room, or turn men into drooling maniacs. She had a mouth like a sailor (which he enjoyed when it was just the two of them alone in their bedroom at night). She was rarely one to ask for help, though. Sure, she would wheedle and cajole whenever the mood struck, but she seldom came right out and asked for help.

“Sure,” Jake said, leaving his task and moving to Ally’s side as she stretched out a canvas to cover the couch. They were upgrading their basement – which included a fresh coat of paint – and they were getting everything ready so Ally’s brothers could help Jake tackle the task in a few hours.

Jake grabbed one end of the canvas and held it as Ally tugged on the other to get it in an appropriate position. They draped it over the couch and when finished, Jake shuffled to Ally’s side and slipped his arm around her waist before giving her a kiss.

Ally’s eyes widened as they shifted in his direction. “What was that for?”

“Can’t a man just want to kiss his girlfriend?”

“Yes, but you usually don’t kiss me when you’re being a slave driver.”

Jake chuckled. She was dramatic. When they first got together he worried that theatrical flair would ultimately be what drove them apart. Now he adored it and only found it annoying on rare occasions. “I’m not being a slave driver,” he said. “You were the one who insisted we needed to paint the basement. That means work has to be done. You can’t just snap your fingers and make it magically happen.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Ally said, jutting her lower lip out. “That would be a great power to have. I could be a genie and live in a pretty bottle.”

“And I’m a big fan of the outfit,” Jake teased, wrinkling his nose as he tugged her closer. “I also like the idea of you having to do whatever I want.”

Ally made a face that was supposed to be stern, but Jake found it adorable. “So … what? Are you saying you would prefer I do every single thing that you want when you want it? Every little thing?” Ally ran the tip of her finger down the center of Jake’s bare chest. It was early summer in Michigan, which meant it was warm but not hot yet, and the duo managed to work up a sweat toiling on household chores.

Jake involuntarily shuddered at Ally’s touch. “I have a few ideas for wishes.”

“So, no mind of my own, huh?” Ally looked mildly disappointed.

“I didn’t say that,” Jake countered. “I said I have a few ideas for wishes I want you to grant. I also have a few images of a specific outfit in my head and now I just can’t shake it. I prefer a mouthy woman, though.”

Ally pressed her lips together in an effort to keep from laughing – but ultimately failed. “So you want me to mouth off while granting you wishes?”

“You have no idea how much I want that,” Jake said, laughing as he pulled Ally close and pressed a firm kiss to her mouth. “Too bad it’s not October. I think we know what your Halloween costume will be this year, though.”

“Ah, ye of little faith,” Ally said, shaking her head as she playfully clenched Jake’s butt into her hands and gave it a good squeeze. “I have no doubt I can find exactly the costume you’re looking for.”

“Ah, I see my little wish granter is rubbing something besides a lamp, huh?” Jake looked intrigued at the prospect as he darted a quick look at the clock on the wall. “We have an hour before your brothers get here. That’s plenty of time. Rub away and start wishing, angel.”

Jake slammed his mouth against Ally’s, eliciting a soft moan as he swept her toward his chest. It was only when they came up for air a few moments later that Jake noticed Ally’s flushed features and furtive eyes.

“Let’s go to the bedroom,” Jake whispered, brushing his lips against Ally’s cheek. “I have plans for you.”

“I have plans for you, too,” Ally said, taking a step away from her boyfriend and causing him to frown. “They’re for tonight, though.”

“There’s no rule that says we can’t do both,” Jake pointed out, extending his hand. “Join me on the wild side.”

Ally looked torn instead of pleased, causing Jake to furrow his brow. “I can’t.”

Jake was suspicious. Painting day had been on the books for more than a month. She was up to something. “Why not?” Jake adopted a reasonable tone even though he was ready to pounce. He had a sneaking suspicion Ally was about to weasel out of work they both agreed they needed to complete if they wanted to make their house a true home.

“Because … um … Mandy called and she needs to spend time with me so I promised we could go somewhere alone to talk,” Ally blurted out.

She was a terrible liar. Jake liked that about her. He appreciated her effort on some occasions, though. This was not one of them. “Mandy, huh?” Jake ran his tongue over his teeth as he debated how to proceed. Mandy Avery-Hardy was Ally’s best friend from childhood and now her sister-in-law to boot. She married Ally’s oldest brother, James, more than a year before. Whenever Ally was cooking up mischief, she opted to include Mandy. That was metaphorical cooking, of course. Mandy was a menace in the kitchen and Ally was too bossy to allow anyone else to help her when she decided to play chef. “And why does Mandy need to spend time with you?”

Ally wet her lips, surprised Jake questioned her on the matter. “It’s female stuff. You know … that time of the month.”

Now it was Jake’s turn to make a face. Whenever Ally wanted to make him uncomfortable and distract him she mentioned “female stuff.” As if that was supposed to be a deterrent. “You realize I grew up with sisters, right?”

Ally bobbed her head.

“That means I know all about ‘female stuff,’” Jake said. “I know about it because my sisters used to torture me with descriptions I never wanted to hear. There’s nothing you can say to surprise me.”

“Fine.” Ally blew out a frustrated sigh. “If you must know, Mandy and James are having issues and she needs a sisterly perspective so she can handle my brother.”

Jake wasn’t convinced. “I talked to James an hour ago and told him to bring some beer when he came over here,” he said. “Mandy was giggling in the background during the call and it was pretty obvious she was naked because James kept getting distracted.”

“I didn’t say they were having bedroom issues,” Ally shot back. “They’re having emotional ones.”

Jake refused to back down. “They were cooing ‘I love you’ to one another between every sentence he said to me.”

“I … .” Ally was caught. They both knew it. “Fine! I don’t want to paint. I don’t like it. I think it smells bad. Instead I’m going shopping with Mandy to entertain myself. Are you happy?”

“Yes.” Jake pressed a firm kiss to the corner of Ally’s mouth, catching her by surprise.

“What the … ?”

“I was going to suggest you find something to do elsewhere anyway, angel,” Jake said. “I love you more than anything, but you’re going to be a distraction here. If you’re out of the house we can knock this basement out in two hours flat.”

“And then finish your beer upstairs while watching the baseball game,” Ally surmised.

“You’re wise and beautiful,” Jake teased, poking her ribs. He could tell she was feeling pouty because he wanted her out of the house. It didn’t matter that she had the same plan. “This works out best for everyone. I can get the work done with your brothers and you can have fun at the mall with Mandy.”

Ally tilted her head to the side, weighing her options. “I’m offended that you don’t want me here.”

Jake arched a challenging eyebrow. “Is this really the hill you want to die on?”

Ally held up a finger to silence him. “I’m offended that you don’t want me here, but thrilled that you have no problem with me going out with Mandy instead of helping you paint. I’m considering it a wash.”

“Awesome,” Jake said, his lips quirking as he struggled to keep from laughing. “Are you going to give me a kiss before you go? I’ll miss you terribly if you don’t.”

“Okay.” Ally happily moved her hands back to Jake’s rear end and squeezed again. “Don’t forget me while I’m gone.”

“I could never forget you,” Jake said, kissing the tip of her nose. “I love you too much for that.”

Ally beamed at the words.

“It would take at least three skipped chores for me to forget you,” Jake added, groaning as Ally punched his stomach. She may be lithe and beautiful, but she learned to punch from her brothers. “I was joking, angel!”

“And to think I was going to spoil you when I got back tonight,” Ally huffed. “I was going to buy a genie costume while I was out.”

Jake’s eyes lit up. “If you find one, get one in purple. I think you look best in purple.”

The admission surprised Ally. “I’m not sure I’m buying anything for you.”

“Oh, Ally, that would be a gift for both of us,” Jake said, opting to be the one to grab her butt this time. “I promise it’s a present we’ll both enjoy.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You do that.” This time the kiss Jake offered Ally was soft and full of earnest longing. “I love you, angel.”

“I love you, too.”

“I can’t wait to boss you around.” This time Jake was ready for Ally’s punch and he hopped back to evade her as she scorched him with a murderous look. “Have fun shopping. I’ll be naked and ready when you get home. I’m sure you’ll be eager to do my bidding.”


S
O
, WHY
aren’t you helping again?”

James Hardy finished unloading a twelve-pack of beer in a cooler and glanced at it before grabbing another six-pack from the refrigerator. He shifted a sidelong look in his wife’s direction as she hovered on the other side of the counter island.

Mandy Avery-Hardy was blond, fair and feisty. She had eyes blue enough James got to set sail on them every evening. He loved every single thing about his wife. Even he had to admit she possessed a lazy side when it came to domestic work, though.

“I would help – no, I really would – but Ally needs someone to talk to so I thought I would go out with her while you guys paint,” Mandy explained, her face reflecting worry even as she failed to maintain eye contact. “She is my best friend, after all.”

“You’re a terrible liar, wife,” James said, opening the freezer and returning with a bag of ice. “You don’t like painting and neither does Ally. You both cooked up the need to emotionally support one another as a way to get out of work.”

Mandy narrowed her eyes. “That is a horrible thing to say about the woman you supposedly love more than anything.”

“I
do
love you more than anything,” James confirmed. “I love you more than I’ll ever love anything else, too. I can promise you that.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re still full of crap,” James said, upending the bag of ice and dumping it over the beers in the cooler. “You and Ally hate doing housework so you’ve decided to go shopping and leave us with all of the work. Admit it.”

“I have no problem admitting it,” Mandy replied, her tone taking James by surprise. “It’s not my basement and it’s not my chore. I didn’t agree to paint anything. You agreed for both of us.”

“Ally is your best friend,” James reminded her. “I thought you would want to help.”

“You’ve tasted my cooking, right?”

The conversational shift was enough to give James pause. “Yes.”

“I paint worse than I cook,” Mandy said. “Do you want to risk having to fix everything I do or just let me do my own thing this afternoon?”

James grinned. He couldn’t help himself. There were times love overwhelmed him when he looked at her. She was everything he never knew he wanted … and so much more. “Do your own thing,” James said, leaning over and kissing her cheek. “As long as you know the thing you’re going to be doing tonight is me, we’re good.”

“Oh, smooth talker,” Mandy teased, smirking as she ran her index finger over James’ cheek. She’d fallen in love with him when she was fourteen and he was eighteen – not that he noticed her at the time. When he left to join the military, she figured she would never see him again. Life is funny, though, and when they met as adults things tilted for both of them. There was no looking back, not that either of them wanted to change anything about their world. “I’ll gladly do you later.”

“Oh, you’re so sweet,” James deadpanned. “Such lady talk … I swear.”

Mandy giggled as he pulled her in for a hug. They were used to spending their weekend days together. Family members teased that they were tragically co-dependent, a charge neither of them denied. Now faced with the fact that they would be separated for the rest of the day, Mandy felt strangely sad at the prospect. “I’ll miss you.”

James cupped the back of her head. “You’ll live. We’ll make up for lost time tonight.”

“Then I’ll really miss you.” Mandy rolled up to the balls of her feet and pressed a smacking kiss to his cheek. “I’ll miss you so much my heart might die without you.”

“Cute,” James muttered, tightening his arms around her small frame. “What are you going to do while I’m slaving away painting?”

“We’re going to the mall.”

James frowned. “You have no idea how much those words frighten me,” he said. “Those are the scariest words in the English language.”

Mandy knit her eyebrows together. “Can I ask you a question?”

James groaned. “Oh, you did it, wife! You managed to get the two scariest sentences ever invented wedged into the same sixty seconds of time. I bow down to you. You’re surely an evil wizard.”

Mandy chuckled as she grabbed the sides of James’ cheeks and held his face steady so she could kiss him senseless. The exchange went on for a long time. If they hadn’t shared a late morning in bed, it would’ve ended in a different manner – with neither of them getting to their proposed outings – but they were both satiated and looking forward to the evening for a repeat so they ultimately separated.

“I love you,” Mandy murmured, her eyes momentarily serious.

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