Deadly Vacation (Hardy Brothers Security Book 10) (11 page)


James was relieved when he caught sight of Mandy. Although, something about the way she was holding herself set his teeth on edge.

“This is Shane,” Mandy said, widening her eyes. “These are his friends Philip and Kent.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” James said. “How do you know my wife?”

“We’ve met a few times,” Shane said, swallowing hard. James was outnumbered, but he was still an imposing figure. “We were just talking to her, man.”

“I see,” James said. “This is a strange configuration for talking to someone. It’s more like you guys are spread out to cut her off if she tries to leave.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Philip protested.

“Come over here to me, baby,” James instructed, gesturing toward her.

Mandy made a move, and Kent adjusted his stance to cut her off again. James extended a finger. “If you touch my wife, I’m going to beat you to within an inch of your life.”

Kent blanched. “I … .”

“Come here, baby,” James said.

Mandy carefully slipped around Kent, giving him as wide a berth as possible, and stepped in front of James. He cupped the back of her head, tilting her face up so he could study her for a moment. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Mandy said. “We were just … talking.”

James gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Did they touch you?”

Mandy shook her head.

“Then they get to live,” James said, returning his attention to the three younger men. “So, do you want to tell me why you’re harassing my wife?”

“We weren’t harassing her,” Shane said. “We were just trying to talk to her.”

“Are these the guys who were staring at Emma over breakfast the other day?” James asked.


“We’ve run into your wife a few times,” Philip said. “It was just a coincidence.”

James arched an eyebrow. “A few times?”

“They were in the voodoo shop the day we bought all the sex stuff,” Mandy said. “Shane was watching Emma. I told him that she was already taken.”

“Is that all?” James was working hard to keep his temper in check. There was no way he was going to explode when they had an audience.

“They … um … showed up the night Emma’s purse was stolen,” Mandy added. “They talked to us while you guys were chasing them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I honestly forgot,” Mandy said. “It didn’t seem like a big deal. They were just three guys flirting.”

“We’re going to talk about this later,” James said.

“Great,” Mandy grumbled. “I can’t wait.”

Kent snickered. “I’ll bet she’s a pain to deal with,” he said. “You probably wish you’d never married her. With a mouth like that, you have to be rethinking your decision every day.”

James ignored the dig. “Do you guys want to tell me why you’ve been following the women in my life around?”

“We haven’t been following them,” Shane said. “We’re staying at a hotel on the main drag. We’re going to tourist destinations. It’s just a coincidence.”

“We’ve had a lot of coincidences lately,” James said. “You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you. The problem is, as attractive as the women in my life are, I have this sneaking suspicion you’re after something else.”

“And what would that be?”

“I don’t know,” James said. “I’m trying to figure it out myself. Why don’t you just tell me?”

“We’re not after anything,” Shane said. “We’re just on vacation.”

“Then you won’t have a reason to be within a hundred feet of my wife ever again,” James said. “That goes for Emma and Sophie, too. They’ve told you they’re not interested. I’m repeating it in case you’re hard of hearing.

“If you see my wife, walk the other way,” he said. “If you see any of us, walk the other way.”

“You can’t boss us around,” Kent said. “You’re not in charge of anything. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there are three of us and one of you.”

“Are you threatening me?” James asked, nonplussed.

“Are you threatening us?”

“I’m warning you,” James said. “I don’t pretend to know everything in this world, but I do know if you go near my wife again, you’ll wish you’d never laid eyes on her.”

“I already wish that,” Kent said. “She’s a horrible and mean witch.”

“Is something going on here?” Grady asked, appearing in the doorframe and studying the scene with inscrutable eyes. “I see you found your blonde.”

“I found her,” James said. “It wasn’t hard to figure out where she went.”

“Why didn’t she answer her phone?”

“She left it at the hotel.”

“Oh, well, I can’t wait to see you two hash that one out,” Grady said. “Who are these guys?”

“Oh, good grief,” Sophie said, pushing into the room behind him. “You guys? Again? Do you have a death wish?”

“You know them?” Grady asked.

“Later,” James said. “We’re just finishing up a discussion right now. Isn’t that right, boys?”

“I believe you were warning us away from your wife,” Kent said.

“And then you were warning me that there were more of you than me,” James said. “It seems the odds have evened up a little bit. I’m going to repeat what I told you before, though, just in case it hasn’t sunk in.

“If you even look at my wife again, if you look at Sophie or Emma, I’m going to hurt you,” he said. “These women are off limits. If you’re looking for some action, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for something else, we don’t have it. Move on.”

“What else would we be looking for?” Shane asked, narrowing his eyes.

“I honestly don’t know,” James said. “That won’t stop me from doing whatever is necessary to keep my wife safe. You should be very aware of that simple fact.”

“I think this was all just a misunderstanding that escalated,” Philip said, holding his hands up. “We didn’t mean any harm.”

“Then you should go,” Grady said, moving away from the door and giving the three men a clear shot to the exit.

The men fell into line and filed out of the room. When Kent was about to move past him, Grady leaned forward. “We’re going to be your worst nightmare if you don’t take my brother’s advice,” he said. “Stay away from our women.”

Once it was just the four of them, Sophie arched an eyebrow. “Your women?”

“You’re a woman and you’re mine,” Grady said. “You’re my woman. Get used to it. It’s never going to change.”

Sophie shot him a rueful smile. “You’re cute when you’re proprietary.”

“I’m cute all of the time.”

Mandy took the opportunity to glance up at James. “Are you going to yell at me?”


“Do you want to yell at me?”


“Are you just trying to hold yourself back because I was almost eaten by alligators last night?”

James rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“I love you.”

James didn’t respond. Instead, he pushed Mandy in front of him. “Let’s get out of this place. I’m tired, and I’ve had just about enough of this stupid town. I can’t wait to get home at this point.”

“I’ll bet you really do wish you hadn’t married me sometimes,” Mandy said. “He was right, wasn’t he?”

“The only thing I wish is that I could marry you every day for the rest of my life,” James said. “That was the best day I’ve ever had.”

Mandy waited.

“I also wish I could gag you and tie you to my side on a daily basis,” he added. “I could never regret marrying you.”

“Are you sure?”

“I love you, baby. You are a huge pain in the ass, though.”


that was a fun trip,” Mandy said, ducking into the bathroom before James had the chance to unload. “I’m going to take a bath.”

“No, you’re not,” James said. “We’re going to have a talk first.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to yell.”

“Talking is not yelling.”

“It is the way we do it,” Mandy muttered. She shuffled out of the bathroom and threw herself into a chair dramatically. “Okay, let me have it.”

“I need you to keep your cell phone with you at all times,” James said. “It’s not going to do you any good if you’re out without it.”

“I was with you,” Mandy said. “I didn’t think I needed it.”

“Just keep it with you for the rest of our time here, okay?”

“Okay.” Mandy waited for a moment. When James didn’t continue, she was flummoxed. “I … is that all?”

“That’s all.”

“You’re not going to yell at me for getting separated from you in the museum?”

“That was my fault,” James said. “I was playing around, and I should have put that aside given what was going on. You can’t be blamed for that.”

“You’re really not going to yell?” Mandy still wasn’t convinced.

“I have no inclination to yell at you,” James said. “You’re safe. You’re here. You haven’t been eaten by alligators. You haven’t been threatened at gunpoint. Today was a good day. Can we leave it at that?”


James lifted his eyebrows, surprised. “What?”

Mandy didn’t answer him. Instead, she unbuttoned her skirt and let it drop to the floor. Her shirt, bra and underwear followed seconds later. James watched her, his face unreadable as she stripped. When she was done, she moved toward him. “I love you,” she said. “I didn’t mean to get separated. I was just screwing around, too.”

“I know that. I … what are you doing?”

“I’m ready to make up.”

James pressed his lips together, struggling to keep the smile from his face. “We didn’t fight.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t make up.” Mandy ran her finger down the side of his face. “Take your clothes off.”

“Are you going to be bossy tonight?”

“I thought we could both boss each other around.”

James grinned, but he did as he was told. Once they were both naked and facing each other, neither one of them made the first move.

“What are we waiting for?” James asked.

“I don’t know,” Mandy admitted. “You usually like to take the initiative.”

“I’ve never known you to be shy.”

“Good point,” Mandy said. She moved up to him and pressed her hand to the spot above his heart briefly. “You once told me this was mine.”

“It is,” James said.

Mandy slipped her hand lower and wrapped it around his hard length. “Is this mine, too?”

James squirmed under her touch, and his eyes flashed with need. “Always.”

“Forever,” Mandy said.

“Forever,” James agreed, covering her mouth with his. He moved his arms up her bare back and then snapped her body to his. “Now, I’m going to take charge.”

Mandy arched an eyebrow. “I thought we were sharing that tonight?”

“You’re not moving fast enough,” James said. “When you catch up, you can be the boss.” He scooped her up into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. Mandy let him situate her on her hands and knees, smiling when he moved in behind her. Instead of entering her right away, James rubbed his length against her warmth and pulled her body flush with his.

They were both on their knees, and James tilted her head to the side so he could kiss her as he plunged inside. He kept one hand on her hip and the other around her chest, his fingers lovingly cupping her breast. “I’m glad you’re anatomically correct,” he whispered, shifting his hips so he could move in and out of her. “This wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if you weren’t.”

Mandy shifted her hands back so she could grip his muscled thighs, relishing the way they flexed as he moved. James shifted the hand on her hip to her moist core and rubbed her, never removing his mouth from hers as they joined in synchronized movement.

They came together a few minutes later, gasping for breath, and James was gentle as he lowered her to the bed and snuggled up behind her. “I could never regret marrying you,” he said. “My life would be nothing without you.”


“What’s that noise?”

James rolled over onto his back, instantly alert. “It’s the fire alarm.”

“Is the hotel on fire?” Mandy shifted next to him.

“I don’t know,” James said, pushing himself off the bed. “Get dressed, baby. We have to leave the room to make sure.”

Mandy fumbled in the dark, trying to find something to pull on. Eventually, she settled for a pair of James’ boxer shorts and one of his oversized shirts. James put on his jeans, not bothering with underwear, and grabbed another T-shirt. He found Mandy’s tennis shoes by the end of the bed and handed them to her wordlessly.

Once they were both dressed, they moved toward the front door of the room. James paused long enough to scan it. “Where is your purse?”

“It’s still in the safe.”

“Good,” he said. He linked his fingers with hers and grabbed the keycard off the table by the door. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Someone probably pulled the fire alarm as a joke.”

“What if the hotel is really on fire?”

“I won’t let you burn, baby,” James said. “Don’t worry about that.”

“I’ve been through a real fire,” Mandy said. “This doesn’t feel the same. Don’t worry.”

James gripped her hand tighter. He hadn’t forgotten about the previous fire. He never could. That was the first time he’d had to consider a life without her. “I’m not worried,” he said. “I have you with me. Don’t let go of my hand. No matter what.”

“I’ll never let go of you.”

James paused long enough to give her a deep kiss. “Right back at you. Come on. Let’s make sure everyone else is safe.”

Grady and Sophie were already in the hallway, their hair tousled from sleep – and probably something else – when James and Mandy joined them.

“What do you think?” Grady asked.

“Is all your stuff locked in the safe?” James asked.

“I double-checked,” Grady said. “I have my wallet. We both have our phones. Everything else is locked up.”


“You think this was on purpose, don’t you?” Mandy asked.

“I’m not ruling anything out,” James said. “I don’t like it. We’ve had far too many coincidences. Something feels off. Where are Finn and Emma?”

“We just got out here,” Grady said, grabbing Sophie’s hand. “Let’s get them. Stay close to me, sugar. I agree with James. I don’t like this.”

Grady’s hand was poised over Finn’s door when it opened. Finn pulled back slightly, surprised, but then his stance relaxed when he saw who was outside. “I don’t like this,” he said.

“Join the club,” James said grimly. “Is everything locked up?”

“It’s been locked up for days,” Finn said, pushing Emma out in front of him. Her hair was a mess, but her eyes were alert. “We need to make sure Emma is in the middle of all of us. Just in case.”

James nodded. “We’ll put them all in the middle of us.”

“Emma is more important,” Sophie said. “We should make a circle around her.”

Grady growled in the back of his throat. “You’re all important.”

“You are,” James agreed. “I still want Emma and Finn in the middle. Grady, you and Sophie go first. We have to go down the stairwell instead of the elevator. Emma, you walk behind Grady and next to Finn. I’ll be behind you, and Mandy will be next to me and behind Finn. Stick close together, but not so close that you trip the person in front of you. Got it?”

“While I’ll admit that this seems fishy, don’t you think we should try to make it to the street without everyone panicking?” Sophie asked. “You’re acting like this is a military excursion.”

“And that’s how we all survived while we were overseas,” James said pointedly. “Just do as I ask.” His face softened. “Please.”

“Okay,” Sophie said. “Let’s go.”

The stairwell was dark when they entered, the only light coming from the emergency blocks on every landing.

“Don’t go too fast,” James ordered. “We don’t want anyone to trip and fall. Just take it nice and slow. It’s only five floors.”

They started their descent, and James’ hand was like a vise as he clenched Mandy’s fingers. The trip was made in silence, the only sounds accompanying them consisting of the scuff of shoes against cement and excited breathing.

Once they hit the main floor, Grady pulled the door open and glanced out, scanning in both directions before gesturing for everyone to follow him. They grouped together again when they hit the lobby. There were a lot of displaced guests milling about, most of them angry. It was clear there was no fire.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” one of the bellboys said. “Even though there isn’t a fire, everyone has to go out to the street until the fire department clears the building. It’s the law.”

“I want to go back to bed,” the woman said. “I want that infernal noise turned off, and I want to go back to bed.”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” the bellhop said, his tone firm. “That’s not a possibility. You have to go out to the street like everyone else. It shouldn’t take the fire department too long to clear the building. We have to follow the rules, though.”

James exchanged a quick glance with Grady and then nodded. “Let’s go,” he said. “Everyone stay close.”

Grady led the way through the lobby doors, and the group didn’t break from their little formation until they’d isolated themselves far enough away from the rest of the crowd that they would notice someone approaching.

Once they’d covered every angle, James drew Mandy in front of him and rested his chin on her shoulder. “It’s okay, baby.”

“I’m more worked up by your vigilance than anything else,” Mandy said. “You’re making me nervous.”

“I would think, after having to find your way through a smoke-filled apartment building by yourself, you’d have bad memories of fire alarms.”

“I didn’t have time to be scared that night,” Mandy said. “I was fixated on getting back to you. I never doubted I would.”

James sighed. “You’re so strong sometimes. I forget that.”

“I never forget how strong you are,” Mandy said.

“You make me strong,” James said. “When you have something you can’t bear to lose, you’re willing to do anything to keep it safe.”

Mandy glanced over so she could study Finn and Grady, who were both mimicking James’ movements as they wrapped themselves around Emma and Sophie. “I guess we all feel that way.”

“We do,” James said. “That’s what family is all about.”


minutes later, the fire marshal declared the hotel was safe and let everyone back inside. There was a line for the elevator, so James directed everyone back toward the stairwell.

“You have to be kidding,” Mandy grumbled. “You want us to climb up five flights of stairs?”

“You’ll live,” James said. “I don’t want to wait for the elevator, and I don’t want to be in an enclosed space with ten other people.”

“Fine,” Mandy said. “If I die from this, though, I’m totally blaming you.”

James rolled his eyes. “I’m glad you’re back to your mouthy self. All of that heartfelt schmaltz we were sharing outside was totally unlike you.”

Mandy pinched his side. “I meant everything I said.”

“I know you did,” James said, patting her rear as he sent her up the steps in front of him. “Don’t worry. If you fall, I’ll catch you.”

“That’s the way it’s been with us since the beginning,” Mandy said, huffing as she started to climb the steps. “You always catch me.”

“That’s not true,” James said. “I just refuse to let you fall.”

Once they hit the fifth floor, James directed his brothers to push the women into the middle of their group again. There were four rooms on their level, and as far as they’d been able to ascertain, the fourth room was empty.

“Go to Finn’s room first,” James instructed.

“What are you expecting to find?” Mandy asked.

“I’m not sure,” James said. “Just do it.”

Finn opened his door, and his face was placid as he looked inside. “It’s been tossed again.”

“Check the safe,” James instructed.

Finn squeezed Emma’s hand briefly and then left her with his brothers while he moved to the safe. He punched in a code and opened it. “Everything is here.”

James nodded. “Is anything missing?”

“We didn’t have anything out,” Finn said. “They just went through the suitcases and tossed the clothes everywhere.”

“Good,” James said. He glanced at Grady. “How much do you want to bet that our rooms have been tossed this time, too?”

“I’m not taking that bet,” Grady said. “I already know the answer.”


you okay?” James asked.

They’d photographed all the rooms as evidence before cleaning up and returning to bed. Mandy hadn’t bothered to change out of James’ shirt and boxers, and when James pulled her close, he didn’t like the clothes separating them.

“I’m fine,” Mandy said.

“You know you’re safe, right? The door is locked. I put the metal brace on. No one can get in here.”

“I’m always safe when I’m with you,” Mandy said. “I’m okay. I’m just … thinking.”

“What are you thinking about?”

“I’m just trying to figure it all out,” Mandy said. “I don’t understand what’s going on. We haven’t done anything out of the ordinary.”

“I know.”

“It’s frustrating,” Mandy said.

“What’s frustrating is that you wanted to come to this city and have a good time and everything has been ruined for you,” James said. “I promise when we get another chance I’ll bring you back. It will just be the two of us. We’ll do it all over again. We’ll do it right.”

“Nothing has been ruined, James,” Mandy said, resting her head on his chest and brushing a kiss against his jaw. “Despite all the crap, I’ve had a good time. I’ve seen the city. I’ve eaten the food. I’ve listened to the music. What has been ruined?”

“You had a fantasy for this trip,” James said. “Have any of those things come true?”

“Well, we’ve had tons of dirty sex.”

James’ chest rumbled with laughter. “I do love you, wife.”

“I love you, too,” Mandy said. “We should get some sleep. You have to be up for work in a few hours, and I have a feeling you’re going to want to brainstorm with your brothers over breakfast.”

“You know me well,” James said, kissing her temple. “Just do me a favor, please.”

“What?” Mandy’s voice was already sleepy.

“Take that shirt off. I like to feel your skin.”

“Are you really in the mood for that?”

“No,” James said, chuckling. “I just like to feel your skin against mine.”

Mandy sat up long enough to strip the shirt off and dump it beside the bed. “You’re a strange man.”

“Love will do that to you, baby.”

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