The Secret Life of Bryan

IT DIDN’T MAKE ANY SENSE

He was a damn good bounty hunter because, despite the sob stories he always heard, he could stay untouched. He had a keen sense of right and wrong, of his own terms of justice, and he never confused the issues.

At the moment, he was lost in confusion.

He knew only one way to make women feel better, but he doubted that would work in this instance.

Then she turned her face up to him, drawing in a slow, shuddering breath. Her gaze was soft and liquid, her lips open.

And somehow, despite his intelligence and cynicism, despite his loyalty to his brother and everything he knew to be right and wrong, he let her kiss him.

And damn it, he even kissed her back.

Lori Foster’s Books

Too Much Temptation

Never Too Much

Unexpected

Say No To Joe?

The Secret Life of Bryan

When Bruce Met Cyn

Just a Hint—Clint

Jamie

Murphy’s Law

Jude’s Law

Anthologies

All Through the Night

I Brake for Bad Boys

Bad Boys on Board

I Love Bad Boys

Jingle Bell Rock

Bad Boys to Go

I’m Your Santa

A Very Merry Christmas

Bad Boys of Summer

When Good Things Happen to Bad Boys

The Night Before Christmas

Star Quality

Perfect for the Beach

Bad Boys in Black Tie

Truth or Dare

The Watson Brothers

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

The Secret Life of Bryan
Lori Foster

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.
http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

To Barb, Patti, and Morgan.
Good people, good friends,
and obviously, good sports.
Happy hooking!

Chapter One

“N
asty, nasty weather.”

Shay Sommers sent her best friend, Dawn, an impatient look. She’d been commenting on the weather for the past ten minutes. Probably her idea of a subtle hint to go. The weather was furious, but then, so was Shay. And she wasn’t ready to leave. Not by a long shot.

Dawn pushed back her chipped coffee cup and got right to the point. “Come on, Shay. It’s getting dark outside. And I’m cold. There’s no point in hanging out here any longer. Leigh’s on her way to the clinic, and you know Dr. Martin will take good care of her.”

“Of course she will.”

“Shay,” she said, dragging her name out. “The guy is long gone.”

“Probably.” Shay drummed her fingers on the scarred countertop. “You should go. Make sure Leigh is taken care of. Tell Eve to send the bill to me. I’ll check in with you later.”

Dawn’s deep black eyes narrowed. “And what will you do in the meantime? Hang around here all night, terrorizing the neighborhood with your frowns? Plotting revenge?”

No answer was answer enough.

Dawn groaned. “Damn it, Shay. She’ll be all right now, thanks to you. At least she’ll be better than she would have been if you hadn’t decided to take up this project.”

Shay made a sound of disgust. “Project.” Her fingers continued to drum and her frown grew fierce. “It always seems like such a ridiculous word when it’s applied to real people.”

Dawn squeezed Shay’s hand, and her voice gentled. “I know you want to help, Shay. But you can only do so much.”

“It’s not enough.”

“And you’re not everyone’s mother!”

“I’ve been thinking…”

“Lord help us.” Dawn sighed and dropped her head into her hands. “Let me guess. You want to do more than set up a shelter. You want to get personally involved.”

Scowling, Shay said, “You know, you have an irritating habit of making my every plan sound stupid.”

“Gee, I wonder why that’s so easy to do?” Dawn said. Shay’s mouth opened and Dawn snapped, “Okay, okay, forget I said that.” She held up her hands in mock regret, which did little to relieve Shay’s forbidding expression. “But let’s face it, Shay, you don’t belong here. You’re already spread too thin.”

Shay shrugged that off. Somehow, she’d work it out. She had to.

Dawn leaned forward. “Find a manager, let him or her handle the details.”

“No way.” Shay knew only too well how difficult it was to find a good manager, someone sympathetic and understanding, someone honorable. “This is too touchy. I knew it existed, but…Leigh is so young. Even with the heavy eye makeup and that skimpy outfit she wore, I could tell she was little more than a kid.” She drew a deep, painful breath, and whispered, “But she’d been prostituting herself.”

Again, Dawn took her hand. “Just as I used to do. Until you saved me.”

Shay rolled her eyes. Dawn still suffered misplaced loyalty. Shay hadn’t saved her. Dawn had saved herself, and she’d turned into a best friend along the way. “Go on, Dawn. I’ll catch a cab home. Later. I want to hang out here awhile yet.” She wanted to see if there were any more young ladies like Leigh. If so, maybe she could reach them
before
they got hurt.

Dawn glanced around the dining room, then over to the bar. “I’m telling you, it’s not a good idea.”

“It’s an excellent idea.”

“Yeah. If you’re in the market to buy or sell sex.”

The place wasn’t rowdy, Shay noted, merely dark and severe. It suited her mood perfectly. There were a few men, a few women, and the rusty twang of a jukebox. But Shay detected no sense of a threat.

They’d used the phone here to make arrangements for Leigh, then sent her to the clinic. Eve Martin was a formidable doctor who could bully anyone into good health—and often did. She was also a valued friend who repeatedly helped Shay in her efforts.

The excitement was over now, but Shay remained too angry to move. She wanted to understand, to find ways to make things better. She wanted to see if any other young ladies ventured out on this miserably wet September night.

So she stayed, sipping coffee, trying to sort out what had to be done.

Besides, she didn’t want to be alone in her big lonely house with only her anger to keep her company. Even the company of strangers right now was preferable to that. “It’ll be safe enough.” Then she smiled. “I lead a charmed existence and you know it.”

“You’re going to be stubborn about this, aren’t you?”

“If you mean, am I going to insist on having my own way, don’t I always?”

“Yes you do, and it’s damned annoying.”

Shay grinned. They made an odd team, with Dawn small, her skin as black as her eyes, and Shay tall with a pale, almost Nordic appearance. They bickered constantly, and no small wonder.

Where Shay often acted on impulse, driven by her emotions, Dawn was logic and reason personified. Shay trusted Dawn, and that was saying something, because other than family, Shay didn’t trust easily.

They balanced each other, and Dawn did a credible job of keeping Shay in line.

Most of the time.

Giving up, Dawn said, “Do your best to stay out of trouble, all right?” Her stern expression would have been daunting to someone who didn’t know her so well. Shay only grinned again.

“I mean it, Shay. Stay inside, but don’t linger in this place too long. If you run into any problems, call me. Or better yet, call the cops.”

“My own mother doesn’t carry on this much. Will you just go? And stop worrying. I’ll check with you later to see how the girl is doing.”

Dawn took one last disapproving look around, then shook her head and marched away. Shay watched her go, all the while thinking that if all the women she tried to help were half as wonderful as Dawn, she’d know her husband’s money had been put to good use.

Thoughts of her husband, now dead for a little over three years, only tightened the knot in her stomach. She missed him, as a friend, as a companion. But not as a husband. Not as she should have missed him.

That led her thoughts to a dead end, one she visited far too often, so Shay turned her thinking to the problems ahead, to deciding how to handle the situation with the prostitutes. She’d need supplies and a safe place to house the women. A mental checklist formed in her mind.

After an hour had passed and her anger had cooled—but not her determination—she dug through her purse for a few bills, paid her tab and left a generous tip. Her cell phone had long since gone dead, so with change in her hand, she started to the back of the room for the pay phone.

A woman was already there, her body slouched comfortably into the corner on the small bench. She seemed to have settled in for a lengthy chat. Conspicuously impatient, Shay waited several minutes, but the woman did a convincing job of ignoring her, and finally, Shay gave up. Now that she had a definite purpose in mind, she was anxious to get busy.

She left the bar and grill, thinking to search out another pay phone nearby. The rain continued to fall, the wind blowing it against the building fronts and leaving the narrow streets almost deserted. Earlier, when she’d arrived to get Leigh, she’d seen other women she suspected to be working the streets, too. She’d wanted to talk to them, but apparently, the weather had chased them all away.

Huddling under the faded, tattered overhang of the bar, Shay folded her arms around herself and debated what to do next.

That’s when she saw him.

And once seeing him, no way could she look away.

Oblivious to the raging storm, he stood in front of a small, gaudy barroom on the opposite side of the street. Blinking lights surrounded him, forming a soft glow, giving him the look of a dark, too-serious angel.

Despite the rain, his shoulders weren’t hunched, but were straight and wide, his posture confident, even arrogant. Long legs were fitted into snug, well-worn jeans, braced apart as if preparing for battle, though Shay doubted anyone would dare to oppose him.

She knew she wouldn’t.

He stood facing her, staring at her in intense concentration. Although she couldn’t see his eyes, she knew he looked directly at her, that somehow he
could
see her eyes. It was the oddest feeling, like comfortable familiarity, but with the excitement of the unknown.

Rain blew in her face and she thought to close her mouth before she drowned. She felt flushed from head to toe.

In an effort to see him more clearly, she wiped the rain from her cheeks and eyes—and belatedly remembered her makeup. She probably looked a fright now, but she wouldn’t turn tail and run because of it. She wasn’t sure she could leave.

There was no sense of danger, no alarm, only a thrill of awareness that ran bone deep, leaving her breathless and edgy as she instinctively responded to it. Her emotions had been rioting since the call had come in from Leigh. She’d suffered anxiety and urgency, then anger and remorse, all-powerful emotions, only now they were being transformed into something much more exhilarating.

Without changing expression, the man took a calm, measured step toward her, then another, straight into the storm. His movements were unhurried but resolute, and Shay had the feeling he didn’t want to spook her with his approach. Her stomach curled in response, her skin heated. She wasn’t afraid, but then, she rarely felt fear. Not anymore.

Once, long ago, when she’d been a small child, she’d lived in fear. But she’d gotten over that with a vengeance, and now she kept it at bay with bossiness and a will of iron.

At least, that’s what her parents claimed.

Shivering, Shay attempted to smooth her windblown hair, then walked out to meet him halfway. The second she left the protection of the rough-brick building, the rain soaked through to her bones.

At her approach, his step faltered, and when the neon lights flashed again, she finally saw his eyes. They were such a dark brown as to look almost black. They were narrowed and direct, scrutinizing her from head to toe in a most disturbing way. Their gazes met, and momentary confusion gripped her.

Shay stopped, staring back, breathless and uncertain. Again, his gaze dropped, skimming down the length of her body as she stood in a pool of reddish light, getting more sodden with every gust of wind.

When he looked up again, he seemed almost…angry. But why? Hadn’t he wanted her to greet him?

Intent on asking him, she scowled and again started forward. She didn’t get a chance to move far before a deafening crack rattled the air and a blinding burst of electrical light seared the dark night, lingering, sizzling in ominous threat until one entire side of the street—
her side
—fell into utter blackness. Shay knew the lightning must have struck a transformer. The darkness was absolute, the lights from across the street not quite penetrating so far, making it impossible to see, making her more aware of the noises around her, more aware of the man approaching the shadows with her.

The sounds of people leaving the many bars, the hush of excitement as darkness gave leave to wicked possibilities, was nearly drowned out by the raw severity of the storm. Shay turned to look behind her. She couldn’t see them, but the hushed rumblings of curiosity told her that men now hovered in the doorways.

Uh-oh.

Safe within a building was not the same as being outside in a violent storm during a blackout. Her skin prickled with dread. Because she hadn’t lost all common sense, she knew the situation could turn lethal. Crossing the street into the light became a priority, but as she jerked about to do just that, she managed only one step before she slammed into a solid wall of warm, unforgiving muscle.

Large, hard hands closed around her upper arms and held her steady when she would have staggered back. Her own hands lifted to brace against a wide chest. Muscles leaped beneath her fingertips, further immobilizing her.

A voice, so close she felt the warmth of breath and smelled the clean scent of damp male skin, whispered into her ear. “It’s not safe here. Come with me. Now.”

Wow. Not a question, but a command, and a very tempting one—if she was an idiot. Even before she lifted her gaze, her heart tripping with a mixture of anticipation and excitement, she knew it was him.

Across the street, one of the bars turned on floodlights, probably in the hope of scaring away looters. The illumination fanned out over the wet pavement and filtered onto the opposite sidewalk, providing a soft glow. Through the stinging rain, Shay stared at the man, able to make out his features for the first time. And Lord, was he incredible.

This close, she could see the golden specks in his dark eyes, and his thick, almost feminine lashes. Combined, they should have softened his features, but didn’t. He was too intense to be softened in any way.

Dark brows lowered in an expression of grim resolve. His cheekbones were high, his jaw lean with an edge of hardness. Tall, broad shouldered, clean and very commanding, he made a direct counterpoint to most of the men she’d seen in the area, men who skulked about, their postures either humbled or belligerent.

This man was enough to make a woman swoon—if she were the type inclined to such things. But Shay had no intention of closing her eyes for a single instant. He might very well disappear if she did.

His hands still held her arms, his grip firm but not restrictive. And he stood mere inches away, blocking part of the rain with his body. It was that proximity that stifled her usually outspoken manner.

Then another man appeared at her side and said in whining tones, “Aw, Preacher, you sure you want this one? She looks damn fine standing there, soaked to the skin, tall and snobbish.”

Shay stared at the little man in appalled fascination. He was wiry, about five-feet-five inches tall, and looked like a geek, complete with black framed glasses, an old-fashioned haircut parted on the side, and a white short-sleeved dress shirt with the top button undone. As he stared at her, looking her over in a sleazy, stomach-turning way, Shay saw the rainwater bead on his lenses.

He swiped it away and all but drooled at her. “Real wet,” he breathed.

There were too many possible connotations to what he said, so Shay concentrated on the one she did understand, trying to brazen out the situation, trying to maintain some aspect of control. Glaring, she said, “I may be tall, and I’m as soaked as everyone else, but I am never snobbish.”

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