Authors: Susan Hayes
Evernight Publishing ®
Copyright© 2014 Susan Hayes
Cover Artist: Sour Cherry Designs
Editor: Laurie Temple
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For my parents, for believing in me.
For my best friend Karen, for putting up with my special brand of crazy,
And for my readers. Thank you for visiting the worlds I create. Without you, my stories would never come to life.
Wilde Brothers, 3
Copyright © 2014
Lia Archer edged her way back from the dance floor, doing her best to escape notice. It was time for the bouquet toss, and the last place in the world she wanted to be was out there with the gathering mob of eager, single, women who were ready to throw down over a bunch of flowers.
Weddings really weren’t her thing, but Danny had begged her to come so he didn’t have to go alone. She’d known Danny Chapman since they’d attended the police academy together, and in all those years, she’d never found a successful way to turn him down. Danny was tenacious, charming, and not above a little blackmail if the situation called for it. Getting her to come as his date to Ben Wilde’s wedding had required all three, as well as a favor to be named later.
Given the fact Danny had abandoned her more than an hour ago to flirt with the Maid of Honor, Lia planned on making it one
of a favor. At least he’d checked with her first, and then begged forgiveness, which was the only reason she hadn’t skinned him alive. Well, that, and Lia really didn’t think the bride would appreciate it if she murdered one of the other guests with her bare hands.
Bloodshed at a wedding has to be considered a bad omen.
She glanced over at Danny and admitted to herself that it was hard to stay mad when he so very clearly smitten. She was all for romance and falling in love, just as long as it happened to someone else. Relationships, like weddings, really weren’t Lia’s thing. Her mom was starting to lose hope that she would ever be a grandmother, a fact that Lia was painfully aware of, given that it came up in every conversation she and her mother had. Lia couldn’t make her parents understand that she had other priorities right now, and promises to keep. Everything else was just a distraction.
Lia reached the edge of the crowd without incident and headed straight for the arched doors that led out onto the balcony. She wasn’t really dressed for the cold, but she’d gladly risk frostbite for a few minutes of solitude. Though the terrace was lit, it seemed very dark after the dazzle of the ballroom she’d just left. Everything from the linens to the floral arrangements had been done in shades of white and silver, and fairy lights had been hung everywhere. The entire room looked more like an ice rink than a ball room. After all the light and glitter, the soothing darkness was like a balm to her senses.
She found a corner that was out of the wind and leaned up against the wall, wrapping her arms around herself for warmth. The streets of downtown Chicago stretched out below her, rivers of red and white light created by the flow of traffic up and down the streets. The deck and railings had been swept clear of snow, but there was a metallic tang to the air that told her it would snow again before dawn. The thought made her shiver. Despite being Chicago-born and raised, Lia wasn’t much for winter weather. Maybe next year she’d finally use up some of her vacation time and book a trip to somewhere tropical. She could stretch out on a beach somewhere, sink her bare feet into the sand and take a week to do nothing but relax and catch up on her reading.
Like that’s going to happen
She hadn’t taken a vacation in years, never wanted to take the time away from the job, or her parents. She’d lost the luxury of relaxing the day her older brother died in a robbery gone bad. That was the day everything changed.
It had been years since it happened, but the thought still brought tears to her eyes. She blinked them away before they could wreak havoc on her makeup. The last thing she needed was to be caught crying out on the balcony.
“Detectives do not cry,” she muttered, a wry smile tugging at her lips as she leaned further back into the shadows. Muffled cheers and laughter reached her ears, indicating that the bouquet toss was coming to an end. A few more minutes and it should be safe to go back inside.
The sounds of merrymaking grew louder as the door opened and someone joined her out on the balcony. Despite the dim lighting, Lia could see that the new arrival was male, with a handsome profile, strong jaw, and short, dark hair. Even with his shoulders hunched against the cold, it was obvious he was tall and well built. He could have been a cop, there were certainly plenty of them here tonight, but something about him told her he wasn’t. Maybe it was because he hadn’t checked his surroundings before walking over to the railing, or the fact he was standing with his back to the door so there was no way to know if anyone was coming up behind him.
He breathed in a lungful of cold air and then braced his hands on the top of the rail, staring down at the city below. Lia didn’t want to disturb his solitude, but she didn’t feel right lurking in the shadows either, so she cleared her throat softly and then spoke. “I see I’m not the only one who needed a break from the festivities.”
He turned his head to look directly at her, and she had the unnerving sense he’d known she was there all along. “I decided that discretion is the better part of staying single and made a break for it before the garter toss. I’m not superstitious by nature, but I didn’t feel the need to tempt fate, either. I’m Nick, by the way.”
Lia stepped out of the shadows, shivering as the wind wrapped its icy fingers around her the moment she left her bit of shelter. “Lia. I’m out here for much the same reason. I didn’t want to risk accidently catching the bouquet, so I snuck out.”
He grinned and patted the railing beside him. “Not looking to be the next one down the aisle?”
“Nope. Besides, I could do without getting stabbed with someone’s high heel or popped in the eye with a stray elbow. Those bouquet tosses get a little rough!”
“I’ve noticed,” he said, and she felt a flush of warmth as his gaze moved over her like a physical caress. Lia had dressed carefully for tonight, picking an outfit that flattered her figure while being on the modest side. Lia wasn’t model gorgeous, but she knew she was pretty, and being attractive wasn’t an asset in her line of work. The job went smoother when she was just “one of the guys.” She knew other female officers who made their looks work for them, but Lia had just never figured out the knack. Instead, she kept her chocolate brown hair in a short pixie cut, wore minimal make up and dressed to downplay her figure. It usually worked, but as Nick’s eyes met hers, she got the feeling he’d seen right through her ruse…and her clothes.
“Bride or groom,” he asked and it took Lia a moment to regain the use of her tongue. Something about the way he was looking at her had made her brain short circuit.
“Neither. I’m just here as a friend’s plus one.”
The corners of his mouth turned up just a little and a flicker of something that might have been satisfaction flashed in his eyes. “If you were my plus one, you wouldn’t be out here alone.”
“I’m not alone. I’m with you. And like I said, he’s just an old friend.” As she looked up at her handsome companion, Lia knew this man definitely classified as a distraction, the kind she did her best to avoid. For once, she was tempted to let herself be distracted.
“No, you’re not alone. You are cold though.” He shrugged out of his suit jacket and draped it over her shoulders, letting his fingers linger on the back of her neck for brief second before withdrawing to a safe distance again.
“Now you’re going to be the one to freeze,” she said, already reaching up to give it back to him. He turned to face her and caught her hands between his.
“Keep it on,” he said, his tone brooking no argument. The way he spoke seemed familiar somehow, but she was certain they’d never met before. There was no way she could have forgotten someone who looked like that. Nick was just the kind of man she used to go for, cocky and good looking. All that was missing was a tattoo or …she glanced up at his ear and chuckled softly as she caught sight of his gold hoop earring.
“You’re laughing? I thought I was being pretty smooth, myself.” He gave her a lopsided smile and curved his fingers a little tighter around her hands.
“Oh, you were very smooth. It’s just that I was thinking you seemed like a bit of a bad boy, all that was missing was ink or an earring, and then I spotted your earring.”
“I’ve got tattoos too. Wanna see?” He waggled his brows at her and laughed before releasing her hands and stepping back to give her space to catch her breath.
Lia’s first inclination was to follow after him.
Flirting with Lia was the most enjoyable part of Nick Wilde’s evening so far. Not that he wasn’t happy to see his brother Ben get married to the love of his life, far from it. But why the fuck did weddings require everyone to wear their most uncomfortable clothing and then sit around for hours on end while eating identical plates of overpriced food and drinking cheap, watered down booze. If he ever lost his mind and got hitched, he’d do it in Vegas. No muss, no fuss and no nosy relations coyly asking the single men if they were next in line to fall in love.
First Ben and then Tag had gone down in a blaze of hearts and flowers. Ben had been grinning like a lunatic all day, and the last time Nick had seen Tag, his brother was hovering over his pregnant fiancée, Jo, like a hen with her first clutch of chicks. It was all very sweet, but Nick liked his life as is. The tattoo shop was showing steady profits, if he wanted female company he could find it easily enough, and his father had finally given up trying to convince him to “get a real job.”
“Do I want to see your tattoos? Really? Does that line actually work for you?” Lia asked him with a low, throaty laugh that had his cock surging to attention.
“Honestly? Yes,” he confessed and was rewarded with another of her laughs. Fuck, she was sexy. He’d been watching her since the reception started, but he’d kept his distance until he was sure she wasn’t involved with the guy escorting her. He didn’t poach another man’s turf, no matter how tempting the woman might be.
piercings. I think you’re the man my momma warned me about.” There was no missing the heat that flashed in her eyes as she bantered with him.
“That’s entirely possible. Did I mention I have a motorbike, too?”
“The bad boy trifecta. Yep, you’re definitely on her list of men I’m not supposed to talk to.”
Sass and smarts. Fuck, she was getting more interesting by the minute. The last woman he’d dated wouldn’t have been able to spell trifecta, never mind use it in a sentence. Nick inwardly winced as he realized that statement applied to the last few women he’d spent any time with. None of them were half as intriguing as the green-eyed beauty currently standing in front of him.
The deejay started the music again, an ‘80’s power ballad with enough bass that it was easily heard out on the balcony. “So, don’t talk. Dance with me instead.”
She opened her mouth to protest and he caught her hands again, tugging her into his arms before she could say anything. He knew he’d won when she relaxed and let him draw her in closer. He kept a hold of her right hand while guiding her left hand up to his shoulder. When she looked up at him in surprise, he settled his hand on her hip and swept her into a slow waltz across the empty terrace.
“Be still my heart. You can actually dance!”
“A regular renaissance man, that’s me.” He couldn’t help but grin as she followed his lead, his jacket flaring out like a cape behind her as they twirled. Lia fit perfectly in his arms, and he noticed she was tall enough that he wouldn’t have to do more than dip his head a little to reach the sweet curve of her lips. The thought sent a surge of blood straight to his cock.
Nick sucked in a lungful of cold air, trying to cool the fire building inside him. The delicate scent of her perfume filled his lungs, and she choose that moment to shift deeper into his arms, close enough so her breasts brushed against his shirt. She was going to fucking kill him at this rate, and all they’d done was dance.
His slid his hand from her hip to the small of her back, pulling her in closer. She shifted her hand, letting her fingers curve around the back of his neck and he felt a powerful urge to kiss her. The idea was insane. They’d only spoken a handful of sentences to each other. He didn’t even know her last name, but damn it, he already wanted to know what she tasted like, to run his fingers through the tousled spikes of her chocolate brown hair and find out for himself if her caramel-kissed skin was as soft as it looked.
The music slowed and he spun her around one last time, deliberately ending their dance near the shadowy corner she’d been tucked into when he had first stepped outside. When she went to release his hand, he didn’t let go. Instead he walked her backward, into the shadows until she had her back to the wall and her hand was pinned to the bricks beside her head.
“What do you think you’re doing, exactly?”
“Testing a theory,” he told her, caging her body with his as he lowered his head and slanted his mouth across hers, stopping her next words with a kiss. He had only intended to taste her, but then she parted her lips beneath his and all his good intentions vanished like mist caught in a sunbeam. She strained upward, kissing him back as her free hand curved around the back of his neck. One kiss turned into two, then three. There wasn’t any room between them any longer, and when she rubbed herself against the hard ridge of his erection Nick felt a jolt of pure lust arrow through him.