Authors: Lily Harper Hart
Hardy Brothers Security
By Lily Harper Hart
Text copyright © 2014 Lily Harper Hart
Grady Hardy leaned over the pool table, his shoulder-length brown hair dipping low, and lined his cue up with the ball. He pulled the stick back, letting loose with a quick tap, and shooting the white orb down the table at a high rate of speed. The triangle of colored balls at the end scattered on impact, several balls racing into open holes.
“Nice break,” his brother, Finn said, glancing around the green-felt rectangular expanse thoughtfully. “You want solids or stripes?”
It was a weekday night, and the brothers were opting to stay in and play pool rather than go out and pick up women. For tonight anyway – tomorrow, of course, was a different story.
“I’ll take solids,” Grady said, striding around the table to gauge his next shot.
“How long do you think James and Mandy will be gone?” Finn asked.
The Hardy brothers were hanging around their brother’s apartment – mostly because he had a refrigerator full of beer, a massive flat-screen television, and a highly-entertaining gaming table – while their brother and his girlfriend were out for the night.
“James said he was taking her to dinner and then dancing,” Grady said. “I’m thinking they could be late.”
Finn quirked an eyebrow. “Dancing?”
“Our brother is voluntarily out dancing?”
“I know,” Grady said. “I can’t quite believe it myself. I guess that’s what love does to you.”
“I like Mandy,” Finn argued. “I think she’s good for him.”
“I like Mandy, too,” Grady replied. “I just can’t believe how quickly she’s whipped James into shape –
being the operative word.”
Finn snorted. “It’s not like she nags him or anything. I think he just likes making her happy.”
“Which freaks me out,” Grady admitted. “I would never have considered James to be the type of guy that would go out of his way for a woman.”
“Mandy isn’t a normal woman,” Finn reminded him. “Mandy is … special.”
Grady paused at the end of the table, gripping his pool stick and leaning forward, his face thoughtful. “I think he’s really happy,” he said.
“No, I mean
“I know what you mean,” Finn said.
James Hardy had reconnected with Mandy Avery a few months back. The Hardy brothers knew Mandy from their hometown, Barker Creek, which was located in northern Lower Michigan. She was younger than them – but she’d still been an honorary member of their family for years thanks to her close association with their sister, Ally.
After military stints, all three Hardy brothers settled in suburban Detroit and opened their own security company. After an attempt on her life, Mandy approached the brothers for help – and sparks flew between the blonde woman and eldest Hardy brother the minute they laid eyes on each other again after more than a decade apart.
Despite a few bumps along the way, they’d been pretty much inseparable since. A fact that left Finn and Grady without their wingman – not that they begrudged their brother his happiness.
The brothers jumped when the apartment door flew open, revealing James in the doorway. He had his arm around Mandy’s waist, supporting her, and he didn’t look happy.
“What happened?” Grady asked.
James raised his eyebrows but didn’t immediately answer. Instead, he led Mandy into the bathroom – depositing her on the floor next to the toilet – before wandering back into the living room.
“Is she sick?” Finn asked, peering into the bathroom.
Mandy responded by bolting upright and immediately vomiting into the toilet.
“Oh, gross,” Grady said.
“What happened?” Finn pressed.
James dumped a small, white bag on the pool table – not caring that he was interrupting his brothers’ game – and then stripped his black leather jacket off, dropping it on the nearby couch. “Food poisoning.”
“That was quick,” Grady said. “Where did you take her?”
“The Embers,” James said. “She wanted crab legs.”
Grady leaned back so he could get a clear view of Mandy, who was still kneeling in front of the toilet and resting her head on the white seat. “She doesn’t look so good.”
“Yeah? Well the doctor says she’s going to feel like death for the next twenty-four hours,” James said, running his hand through his mid-length brown hair.
“You already took her to the doctor?”
“I took her to emergency care,” he said. “She got scary sick. Like …
“In your truck?” Finn asked, revulsion washing over his face.
“No, in the restaurant.”
Grady fought the mad urge to laugh. “So, let me see if I understand this, you dropped two hundred bucks on dinner, watched your girlfriend puke in the restaurant, and then you took her to urgent care?”
“Wow, what a fun evening.”
“Why aren’t you sick?” Finn asked.
“I had a steak,” James replied. “It’s the seafood making her sick.”
“Well, that’s what she gets for ordering the most expensive thing on the menu,” Grady teased. “It’s karma.”
James moved away from him tiredly. “Open that bag and read the instructions on the box.”
“What is it?”
“Something the doctor gave me,” James said. “It’s supposed to make her feel better.”
James disappeared into his bedroom, returning a minute later with two pillows and the comforter from his bed. He dropped the comforter and pillows on the floor in the bathroom and then returned to his bedroom. He was gone longer this time, and when he finally came back into view, he’d changed out of his suit and was wearing a pair of knit shorts and a T-shirt. He had a pair of his boxer shorts and another T-shirt in his hand.
“Finn, go down to my office and get the fan off my desk,” James ordered before reentering the bathroom and shutting the door behind him.
Grady shrugged at Finn’s unanswered question, so the youngest Hardy brother did as he was told. Hardy Brothers Security was housed in an office building in Sterling Heights, a city located about twenty miles north of Detroit. James had turned the second floor of the building into his own private apartment.
When Finn returned from his errand, the electric fan in hand, the door to the bathroom was still shut. “What are they doing in there?”
“Well, I don’t think they’re doing anything fun,” Grady said. “I heard her puke again.”
“God, this sucks. She must be miserable.”
The door to the bathroom swung open, and this time James strode out with the black dress Mandy had been wearing for their date draped over his arm. For her part, Mandy was back on the floor, dressed in James’ boxer shorts and oversized shirt, and worshipping the porcelain throne again.
Grady leaned against the pool table as he watched the show. James was back in his bedroom, and Grady could hear hangers moving across a metal rod – which meant James was actually putting the dress away correctly. It was like he was watching one of those weird cleaning shows or something.
James popped back into the living room, motioning for Finn to bring him the fan.
“What’s this for?” Finn asked.
“She likes to sleep with a fan,” James replied. “The one in the bedroom is a pedestal fan. It won’t be able to hit her with any air when she’s on the floor.”
James retreated into the bathroom again, placing the fan on the floor next to the bathtub and plugging the chord into the outlet on top of the counter. He flicked the power button and then adjusted the fan so it was blowing air directly on Mandy’s face. James then opened one of the side drawers in the vanity and rummaged around before moving toward her stooped frame, this time with a hair brush and Scrunchee in his hand. He knelt down next to her, rubbing her tight shoulders for a second, and then brushing her hair back so he could secure it away from her pale face with the Scrunchee.
He left her in the bathroom and returned to his dumbfounded brothers. “What did that box say?”
“Where did you learn to do that?” Finn asked.
James ignored him, keeping his eyes trained on Grady.
“It says that it will help her sleep,” Grady said.
“Well, that’s something at least.”
“It also says she can’t take it until she’s gone at least four hours without throwing up,” Grady said, suddenly nervous his brother was going to take out his frustration on him.
James frowned. “How is that supposed to help? So she has to be miserable all night?”
“It’s food poisoning, man,” Grady said. “I think you’re miserable regardless. You have to just let it run its course.”
James growled angrily and then strode over to the refrigerator – opening the door and returning with two bottles of water. He glanced back up at his brothers. “You guys need to go.”
“Just shut the door,” Grady said. “She won’t even notice we’re here. You can play the winner.” He could hear Mandy gearing up for another round in the other room. “Trust me. She doesn’t care what we’re doing out here.”
James shot him a hard look. “She’s sick.”
James shook his head disgustedly. “You’re not staying here.” He walked through the apartment, shutting the light off in the bedroom and hallway before moving back into the bathroom.”
Grady watched incredulously as James settled onto the cold, linoleum floor next to Mandy.
“You don’t have to stay in here,” Mandy croaked. “This is so gross.”
James rubbed wide circles on Mandy’s back, brushing a light kiss against the back of her neck. “I can live with gross.”
“I don’t want you to see me like this,” Mandy admitted.
“Yeah? Well, I can’t sleep without you. It’s sad, but true. I’d rather be miserable in here with you than miserable in the other room without you. I figured I could tell you sports stories to entertain you.”
Mandy scowled. “You know I hate your sports stories.”
“I believe you said they made you fall asleep,” James corrected. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Grady glanced over at Finn, not quite believing what he was seeing. “Is he going to sleep on the bathroom floor with her?”
“It looks like it,” Finn said, equally flabbergasted.
“That’s going above and beyond.”
Finn nodded wordlessly.
In the other room, James positioned the pillows so he could lean against them. He made eye contact with Grady briefly. “Shut off the light and lock the door when you leave.”
Grady and Finn did as instructed, not risking the inclination to look at each other until they were safely in the stairwell. Once they were alone and away from the frightening tableau playing out in James’ apartment, they burst into uncontrollable laughter.
“If I ever get that way, just shoot me,” Grady said, wheezing because he was laughing so hard. “I’m serious. Just shoot me.”