The Secret Life of Bryan (8 page)

BOOK: The Secret Life of Bryan
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But in the end, he knew he’d do them again.

“So?”

What did Bruce expect him to say? That he wanted Shay enough to change his life and settle down? Idiotic. “So I’m not interested in getting involved with any woman right now.”

“Sounds to me like you’re already involved.” Bruce smiled with satisfaction.

“You better hope you’re wrong,” Bryan told him, “because after I catch the son of a bitch who jumped you, I’m walking away. And
you’re
going to be left to deal with her.”

Thunderstruck, Bruce said, “And she’ll think that I’m you….”

“Exactly.”

“All right, all right.” Bruce held up his hands. “Then stay away from her.”

And therein lay the biggest problem: He didn’t want to. “Easier said than done. She’s pushy.”

“So you keep saying,” Bruce grouched. “You telling me you can’t handle one little woman?”

Despite the seriousness of their conversation, Bryan grinned. “She isn’t all that little. In fact, she’s as tall as me.”

“Really?” Bruce rubbed the disreputable whiskers that couldn’t seriously be called a beard. “Maybe I could clean up, drop in and see for myself.”

Bryan’s chair scraped back and he towered over Bruce. “Do
not
even think it.” Only to himself would Bryan admit that it wasn’t just fear of his brother getting hurt that motivated him. He didn’t want Shay rubbing up against Bruce, maybe coercing him into a kiss, maybe even…

Unconcerned with his brother’s bluster, Bruce raised a brow. “You’ve got me curious.”

“Curious enough to get yourself killed?” And he played his ace in the hole, the one thing he knew got to Bruce quicker than most. “To maybe endanger those women, too?”

“No.” Bruce turned quiet, thoughtful. “But I’m going to be keeping an eye on things. No one recognizes me because they think you’re me. Keeps them from looking too close. I’m safe. But I want you to stay safe, too.”

“Don’t worry about me.” Bryan churned with anticipation. “When I finally meet up with your villain, I’ll be able to lose some of this tension.”

“If you ever meet up with him. He could be long gone by now. It could have been a random attack, an attempt to steal from me, when I had nothing of value.”

“You don’t believe that any more than I do.” He stared at Bruce while thinking things through. Now that Shay had entered the picture, he felt more desperate than ever to see an end to things. The less time he spent around that one, the better for his sanity.

Bryan rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Ah, hell. Maybe I should call that damn spook, Jamie Creed, see if he has any leads.”

Bruce leaned forward with new interest. “The guy from Visitation? The one you told me lived on the mountain and showed up just to give cryptic clues to problems?”

“Yeah. That’s him.” When he’d been in Visitation chasing down that bastard Bruno Caldwell, Bryan had found his hands full dealing with Joe Winston; Joe’s woman, Luna; and crazy Jamie Creed. In some ways, he missed them all. He definitely missed Visitation.

“I thought you didn’t believe in Jamie’s supernatural skills.”

“I don’t. The guy was creepy, but lucky at guessing stuff.” Bryan snorted. “The women sure fell for him, though.”

“Maybe you could consult him.”

Bryan stared at Bruce as if he’d grown two heads. “I was being sarcastic. No way in hell am I asking that lunatic anything. The last time I spoke with Joe, he carped on and on about Jamie. Not that Jamie comes off his mountain any more often than he ever has, but he’s there, like a damn scar that won’t heal, bugging the hell out of everyone.”

“Bugging the men, you mean.”

“Yeah.” Bryan took a long gulp of his Coke. “Don’t worry about your pesky enemy. I’ll take care of him. And then some.”

That alarmed Bruce, enough that he pointed his finger at Bryan. “You’ll follow the law.”

“Right.” After he gave some payback for the injuries done to his brother. That should be easy enough to accomplish. Few people gave themselves up without a fight. Bryan stretched, trying to relieve the tension in his tight muscles. “I’m beat. I think I’ll turn in.”

“Meaning I have to get lost?”

“Or camp out on the couch. I don’t care.” In fact, he’d prefer Bruce stayed where he could keep an eye on him.

“No, I’ll go home. Or rather, to my temporary home. I’m enjoying all this cloak and dagger stuff, actually. Slipping in and out of shadows. Being in disguise. I can see why you’re drawn to it.”

Bryan stared heavenward. “God help us.”

“He always does.” Bruce slapped him on the shoulder, pulled on his tattered jacket, turned up the collar, and slipped out the front door.

Bryan counted to twenty, then followed him out. Bruce didn’t know that he was being followed because Bryan was too good for that. But someone had hurt Bruce once already. No way was Bryan going to let it happen a second time.

When Bruce reached the seedy motel that served as his temporary residence, Bryan waited in the shadows. He kept his attention on the upstairs window until a light came on, and even waited a minute more, just to make sure everything seemed routine before disappearing into the darkness again.

As a bounty hunter, he’d tracked everything from robbers to rapists and murderers. Until recently, he’d been content with the nomadic lifestyle, always on the go, heading wherever the criminals took him. But when his last job, his most important job, had taken him to Visitation, he’d found a home.

Something about the area made his heart feel easier than it had in years. The sun shone down from the sky as if calling to him. Despite the drama that had occurred there, despite crazy Jamie Creed looming on his mountain, it was peaceful beyond belief.

Someday he’d settle there, maybe even get out of the bounty hunter business altogether—if he could find something he was good at. He’d already bought the perfect property—an acre of prime land, nicely secluded and dotted with a variety of trees, close to a clear, churning stream. The water was cold, the fish were fat, and the wildlife liked to hang around.

He’d parked a rusty trailer there, for when he visited. Joe kept an eye on it when he wasn’t around, but the trailer was temporary. In Bryan’s mind, he’d already designed the perfect home. He knew how big it’d be, how close he’d have it to the stream. But until that day, the trailer worked when he wanted to get away.

He hadn’t lied when he told Bruce he was beat, but now the humid night air had revived him, so he didn’t go straight back to the apartment. He wandered the dark streets awhile, wishing the coward who had jumped his brother would show himself. When he encountered nothing more than rowdy teens and bar noise, he found himself drawn back to the safe house.

To Shay.

The rain had finally stopped, but the blacktop streets were shiny and wet, reflecting ribbons of light from street lamps and passing cars. The steady drone of dripping gutters and leaves seemed somehow soothing. Mosquitoes buzzed, fireflies blinked.

He stood a good distance from the house, next to a large oak tree, undetectable beneath the moonless sky. Through the kitchen window, he watched Shay flit about, going from woman to woman. So she’d met them all now, and she seemed to be organizing some kind of gathering.

It looked like…maybe a tea party?

He’d never seen a woman move like her, fluid and unrehearsed, teeming with energy but still so damn feminine it made his teeth ache. Morganna stood and, hefting a bottle of whiskey, poured another round of drinks into chipped teacups. The ladies toasted each other.

Ah ha. No ordinary tea party.

Bryan found himself smiling. Crazy broads. Were they all getting smashed? Was Shay? He knew it wasn’t wise, but he inched closer still, until he could hear the soft buzz of feminine conversation. It had the lilt of women’s voices, but with bawdy comments and a hefty dose of swear words to keep it amusing.

Because he was in the dark and they were in the light, he could view them as easily as a screen in a movie theater.

Amy sat off by herself, sipping her drink and shyly watching the proceedings. Patti and Morganna were egging Shay on. Barb held a mirror. And Shay…he shook his head, then chuckled. Shay was putting makeup on Barb.

Bryan stared harder and realized she’d already done up the other ladies.

Gone were the garish colors, overdone in the extreme. Comically arched eyebrows now held a natural curve. Ruby-red lips were now mauve or pink. All the women looked…pretty. Subtle. Not so much like streetwalkers.

Propping his hands on his hips, Bryan considered what she did and maybe why she did it. He’d seldom seen all the women congregated together. Morganna liked everyone, but because she could talk your ear off, the others sometimes dodged her. Amy was reserved and withdrawn, slipping off by herself whenever possible. Barb constantly bossed the others around. And Patti couldn’t keep her hands to herself.

Yet here they were, all laughing together. Having fun. Sharing company and drink.

Doing their makeup.

It was such a “woman” thing to do, when he hadn’t seen them act that much like ordinary women. Mostly they acted…outlandish. Bryan watched for a few minutes more, then decided to go before he got caught playing Peeping Tom on his own safe house.

Or before he did something stupid, like joining them for a drink.

When he entered the apartment for the second time that night, he was still smiling. The place was silent and empty. He secured the locks, stripped off his clothes and took a quick shower, letting the cool water relax him. He thought about Visitation again—and found himself wondering if Shay would like the area.

Damn it. He would
not
think about her.

But the minute he stretched out naked on the rumpled sheets, she crowded into his brain. If, as she claimed, she wasn’t a hooker, then what did she do for a living? Why did she need to be at the safe house?

And why did she keep claiming to want him?

It was a long time before he finally fell asleep, but even then his subconscious dwelled on her. Somehow sexual dreams, so vivid he could taste them,
taste her,
got slowly tangled into a nightmare.

One minute he was making love with her, both of them breathing hard, gasping, straining together. Then the same intangible force that threatened his brother tore Shay away from him. Bryan couldn’t see the man, couldn’t find him, but he knew he had Shay, that he was hurting her.

Bryan fought to get to her, determined to protect her. Only he turned into Bruce, and he was praying…

With a low, hoarse shout, Bryan jerked upright in the bed. Sweat dampened his throat, his chest and shoulders. His hands were fisted in the sheets, his muscles pulled tight. He struggled against the urge to kill—yet he was alone in the small room.

He had no one to fight but himself.

With a growl, he fell flat again, still breathing too hard, feeling a little sick. His stomach was in knots; his brain throbbed. After a moment, he dug the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. Jesus. A nightmare, a stupid dream. But it had felt so real.

A glance at the clock showed it was six-thirty. No way in hell was he going back to sleep. When his breathing finally calmed, he sat up on the side of the bed.

It was stupid, he knew it was stupid, but still he picked up the phone and dialed Bruce.

Sounding drowsy and confused, his brother answered on the first ring. “H’lo?”

Bryan hesitated.

New awareness filled Bruce’s voice when he said again, “Hello?”

“Sorry.”

“Bryan?”

God, he felt like an idiot. “Yeah. Go back to sleep.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing.” He walked to the window and pushed aside the blinds. The sun was a bright crimson ball that blinded, making its way to the sky. “An idiotic dream. I just…”

“Wanted to make sure I was okay?”

So fucking lame. “Yeah, something like that.”

“Thanks.”

Though he couldn’t see his brother, he knew he had a gentle, understanding smile on his face. “Anytime. Later.”

Bryan hung up before he or Bruce got too sappy. They’d always been close, and there had been times when Bryan had just known his brother needed him. And vice versa. It wasn’t mystical. Wasn’t a special bond of being twins.

It was a bond of being brothers.

Bryan headed for the bathroom, determined to put the stupid dream from his mind.

Of course, he couldn’t. He knew Bruce was okay now, but Shay had been in the dream, too, and he was a man who lived by his gut instincts. Right now, those instincts were nagging him. And the longer he thought about it, the more they nagged. His shower was accomplished in record time. He shaved so fast, he almost cut his own throat.

Finally he gave up, threw on clean clothes, and went out the door in a rush. It was ridiculous, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. He actually jogged to the safe house. His fingers fumbled with the many locks.

He refrained from calling out once he got inside. All he needed this morning was a passel of angry, hungover women giving him hell. He hesitated at the bottom of the steps, but had enough sense not to go up.

No way did he want to invade the somewhat sacred ground of hooker bedrooms.

Coffee. That’d be a start.

He entered the kitchen, faltered in stunned disbelief, and stared. The grin came first, but it was soon followed by a chuckle, and finished with a hard laugh.

 

Shay twitched as something intruded on her peaceful dreams. She started to move, but her neck felt like it had broken sometime during the night. Then her head started aching and her stomach pitched. She moaned.

“That’s what you get for sleeping in a chair.”

Her heart almost stopped.

She ceased all movement.

She didn’t even breathe.

Peeking one eye open, she found Bryan standing over her, his hands on his hips, his dark eyes shining, his sexy kiss-me mouth curled in a grin.

She blinked but he didn’t go away. “Hi.”

His grin widened. “Do you need some help?”

She started to move, and winced. Sounding like a sick frog, she rasped, “I think my neck is broken.”

His hot palm curled under her skull and his other hand caught her upper arm, helping her to straighten. He let go of her far too quickly to suit her.

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