Authors: Raen Smith
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Crime Fiction, #Organized Crime, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
Liam: Branded Brothers
By Raen Smith
Copyright © 2013 Raen
All Rights Reserved.
Cover design by
Stephanie Nelson of Once Upon a Cover
This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is
Table of Contents
Two Years Ago
The red pin on Charla Taylor’s
screen indicated she’d arrived at her location, but the dirt path winding
through the thick evergreens didn’t show much promise. She craned her neck and
squinted through the trees, attempting to get a visual on the house. There was
no mailbox or address marker in the grass. Just a dirt path and GPS pinning her
at N2387 Lake Drive.
She turned the wheels of her Corolla, leaving a swirling cloud
of dust behind her as she followed the path. The trees flanked her on both
sides, overgrown and dangerously close to scratching the car, as she wound down
the drive until there was a break in the trees. In the center stood a quaint
log cabin, stark and lonely as if it didn’t belong in the wilderness
surrounding it. Its wood was a weathered grey in contrast to the small area of
freshly cut grass around it. A pot of red petunias sat on the bottom step of
the porch. She breathed a sigh of relief and pushed forward.
This could be exactly what she needed - a bit of peace and
quiet to let her breathe. No one would find her here, or at least they’d have
one hell of a hard time. She was only one hour away from her hometown, but Mud
Lake was as desolate as rural Illinois came. The only sign of life she’d seen
was a small gas station and connected food mart about five miles away. The
nearest city, Blackwell, was in the suburban outskirts of Chicago and a solid
thirty minutes away.
Before she shifted the car into park, a man wearing a cowboy
hat and knee-length bathrobe appeared at the front door. She grabbed the newspaper
on the passenger seat and scanned the advertisement one last time.
caregiver needed for man in late fifties diagnosed with disease that makes him
forget everything. No smoking, no pets. Good sense of humor required. Must be
willing to drink Guinness. Free room and board on Mud Lake. Hourly rate
negotiable based on qualifications. Bonus points for a young, beautiful woman
who seeks the comfort of a Silver Fox.
She wasn’t exactly sure what “comfort” meant in this
context, but she figured she’d at least check it out. If he ended up being an
old sleezball, she’d hightail it out of here without ever looking back. Charla
had learned at an early age to be adept at not looking back.
The newspaper fluttered back to the passenger seat. She
couldn’t beat the prospect of getting a free place to stay along with an hourly
wage. Freshly graduated from a nursing aide program, her reality was that she’d
find a job working in a nursing home for eight bucks an hour. The Silver Fox
was looking like a viable alternative, bathrobe and all. She just prayed he
didn’t let it fly open because she doubted he wore anything underneath it. She
sighed and glanced at her reflection one last time in the rearview mirror. She
tucked a wily strand of hair behind her ear, doing her best to qualify for
those bonus points, before stepping out onto the dirt path.
“Welcome!” the man called, lifting the cowboy hat and
tipping it toward her. A silver streak ran thick through his black hair.
Silver Fox front and center,
Charla thought. “What’s a pretty young lady
like you doing here?”
“Hello,” Charla called to him with a small wave. “I’m here
about your advertisement. I called yesterday, but no one answered. I thought
I’d stop by and see if you’re okay.”
“Well, isn’t that so?” he asked, putting his hat back on his
head. He shut the door behind him and leaned up against the porch railing. The
bathrobe split open at his knees, dangerously close to exposing more than she
needed to see. “I bet you’re thinking you’ve already earned a bump in pay just
for being beautiful.”
“Maybe.” She smiled.
The man must be delirious too.
was sure all he saw were her long olive-toned legs stalking toward him. That’s
what most men saw. “I’m Charla Taylor, and I’m guessing you’re the Silver Fox.”
His mustache twitched upward, and he grinned a wide smile
that lit up his face. He looked like Burt Reynolds in
of many movies she’d seen growing up way before she should have. Her mother had
a penchant for Burt Reynolds and mustaches.
“Otherwise known as Jack Davis,” the man said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said, stopping at the
bottom of the stairs. She looked down at the wave of petunias cascading down
the pot. “You put these here?”
“Yes, ma’am. Every summer,” he replied. “I grow ’em in the
back. Only damn plant I’ll ever grow.”
She nodded her head. “They’re beautiful.”
“So are you.” He gave her another twitchy smile.
She cringed, trying to gauge if he was serious. A laugh
seemed close to his lips, but she wasn’t sure. “I’m going to be completely
upfront with you so I don’t waste your time.”
“Shoot, I love me a girl that gets straight to the goods,”
he said, slapping the porch railing.
“I meet all the qualifications of your posting, except that
little bit about comfort. If by comfort you mean sex, I’m not your girl.
Otherwise, I’ll throw down a Guinness with you, shoot the shit, and wipe your
ass,” she said, putting her hands on her hips.
His face curled up into a scowl. “You know you’re the
twenty-first person I’ve seen in the last three months?”
“Oh yeah?” She nodded her head, figuring the twenty-second
would be pulling up the dirt path some time later today or maybe tomorrow, just
to turn right back around and welcome lucky number twenty-three.
“Someday you’re going to watch me die, Miss Charla. Probably
sometime sooner than later,” he said, leaning over the rails. She could smell his
musty cheap cologne five feet away. “Are you okay with that?”
“Yeah, you wouldn’t be the first,” she replied, folding her
arms across her chest. She hadn’t thought about the prospect of watching him
die. She hoped it would be different watching someone die the second time
“You’re hired!” Jack yelled as he clamored down the stairs.
He stopped at the last step, giving her a long serious look. “And I was joking
about that sex thing.”
“Good,” Charla warned. “I don’t like liars or cheaters.”
“I’m tamed, Miss Charla. Been that way for a long time. But
a guy’s gotta try, doesn’t he? I’m glad to see you got that good sense of humor
about ya. There’s something about you, girl. I knew it the second you opened
your mouth.” He wrapped his arm around her. “The first thing I’m going to do is
give you an envelope. I trust you, Charla, which means more than you’ll ever
know. You see, I don’t trust anyone, not even myself.”
Then she followed him into the cabin, never looking back, a
long way from home.
The sealed envelope was burning a
hole in her back pocket. One cranberry vodka wasn’t enough for Charla so she
ordered another, hoping the second would give her the courage to hand over the
envelope she’d been holding onto for the last two years. She simply needed to
follow the directions written on the front:
To be delivered to Liam Murphy
in the event of my death.
She tried to block out all the crazy shit Jack muttered on
his deathbed. She was the only person there holding his hand when he died, and
he was right - he
died sooner than later. Much earlier than she’d
anticipated, but it wasn’t the time frame in which he died that was troubling
her. It was everything he had said before he died. It was so unbelievable, so
the Jack she had come to know and love over the last three years. He was
delusional and downright insane during his last days, spouting off names and
events that surely couldn’t have happened.
It was the Alzheimer’s
, she reminded herself as the
bartender walked toward her carrying the liquid courage. She ran her fingers
through her long chestnut hair that had plumped into a mess of waves. She had
driven the thirty minutes in the stifling June humidity to get to the Dirty
Leprechaun in Blackwell to find Liam Murphy. The air conditioning of her
somehow-still-ticking Corolla had stopped working five minutes in, but she didn’t
bother to rant about it or slam her fist into the dash like she usually did.
She expected it. Her luck had been all-out shit for the past two months.
“Another cranberry vodka for the lonely woman at the end of
the bar,” the bartender said, placing the drink in front of her. She tried to
ignore his bright cobalt eyes that studied her. He was the type of guy she
needed to avoided. The dark, brooding kind with tattoo sleeves and a black
fitted shirt ready to burst at the seams. She spotted a red, green, and white
flag near his right wrist. Irish. Check. Military dog tags. Check. No wedding
ring. Check. A cocky smile whipped on top. Check. It was a recipe for disaster.
She had managed to deter his attention thanks to a pair of tattooed men at the
other end of the bar while she slammed down her first drink. But the men were
gone now, leaving just Charla, the dangerously good-looking bartender, and the
low beat of the Dropkick Murphys in the background of the Irish pub.
It was getting so goddamn hot.
She fanned out the bottom of her tank-top, trying to avoid
eye contact. The cotton clung to her, suffocating her skin. She became overtly
aware of how the fabric dipped just below the top of her breasts. They weren’t
the objects that usually drew attention from men, even though the handful sat
high and tight. If Dotti was any indication, they’d avoid gravity and the years
of sagging and aging that plagued most middle-aged women. And Charla’s legs,
her best asset, would stay lean and long. She hoped they were the
things she inherited from her mother.
The smoldering eyes of the bartender steadied on her, but it
wasn’t the usual ogling of a man who had too much to drink. He studied her face
with curiosity, like he wanted something from her. She stared back, convincing
herself it was all in her head.
Give him the damn envelope and get the hell out of here
But her hand refused to reach into her back pocket.
He held onto the drink and leaned across the bar, waiting
for her response. She finally looked up and saw the dark lines of the familiar
tattoo peeking out of the top of the unbuttoned Henley. The rest of the
interlocking circles were undoubtedly inked near his heart. She was now one
hundred percent positive he was the man she was looking for. He was the closest
Liam Murphy she had found in a quick on-line search. His address was listed as
the apartment above the Dirty Leprechaun.
She studied the tattoo, following the lines into his shirt.
The ink was dark and clearly redone. She wondered how long he had the tattoo
and how many times he had it touched up. Jack hadn’t gotten his redone in at
least twenty years. His was faded and distorted with the wrinkling of his skin,
but she could tell it was the same design. Intrigue snaked through her.
“The drink’s on me,” he said with a rasp. Their eyes locked,
sending a shiver down Charla’s spine. It was exactly what she didn’t need. She
didn’t need trouble by the name of Liam Murphy.
“No, you don’t have to,” she replied, trying to keep her
voice steady. She shouldn’t be nervous. She usually never was around men like
this, but there was something about Liam that put her on edge. A sexy curiosity
that made her squirm in her seat. Maybe it was the fact he hadn’t eyed up her
breasts yet. Or maybe it was the fact that he was the mysterious recipient of a
letter she held onto for three years. Standing before her was the elusive Liam
Murphy. He was the only person who would read the words Jack wrote. “I don’t
need any handouts. I take care of myself.”