Deadly Vacation (Hardy Brothers Security Book 10) (14 page)


“I think we should pretend that everything is normal,” Boyd said. “If you tip your hand that you know what’s going on, you’re just making yourself a bigger target.”

“You want us to go out in the open?” James was incensed. “You want me to put my wife in danger?”

“I want to pick a restaurant that’s close to the hotel and have you eat in the open on a patio,” Boyd said. “We’ll have undercover officers watching you every step of the way. If we’re lucky, someone will make a move and we can grab them.”

James wasn’t convinced. “That’s my wife. That’s my future sister-in-law. She’s carrying my future niece or nephew.”

“We’ll be watching,” Boyd promised. “I honestly think we’re safer going this route than holing up. If you hole up, people might become desperate.”

James turned to his brothers, conflicted. “What do you think?”

“I think we’re strong together,” Finn said. “We’ll keep them safe.”

“We’d better,” James said. “If anyone touches one hair on any of their heads … .”

“It won’t come to that,” Boyd said. “We won’t let it.”

“You’d better not,” James said. “If any of them gets hurt, you’re going to have to use that task force to stop me from killing anyone who ever threatened my family. I can promise you that.”


“This is going to sound like an odd request from me, but can you please not wear a skirt tonight?”

James hadn’t said a lot since he’d returned to their room, and Mandy was concerned. She didn’t press him on what he’d discovered, even though she was dying to find out the specifics. “Okay. Can I wear my cargo pants and a tank top?”

“That’s fine, baby,” James said, running his hand through his hair nervously. “You haven’t asked me what happened today.”

“You don’t want to tell me,” Mandy said.

“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you,” James said. “It’s just … bigger … than we all thought it was.”

“So, why are we all going out to dinner?”

“We need to eat.”

His answer was evasive, and Mandy knew he was hiding something. “Is that why there are cops crawling through this hotel suddenly?”

James stilled. “How do you know that?”

“I work in a courthouse,” Mandy said, pulling on her green cargo pants and fixing him with an unreadable look. “I know how to spot a cop.”

“Do you think anyone else can spot them?”

“I’m going to bet Sophie has,” Mandy said. “I’m also going to bet Emma hasn’t. That’s probably a good thing, right?”

“It is,” James said. “Emma can’t find out what’s going on. We talked about it this afternoon. She can’t relax when she knows something is wrong. Every thought she has registers on her face.”

“Don’t tell her that,” Mandy said. “She thinks those acting classes she took make her ready for an Oscar.”

James smiled. “You’re being awfully agreeable.”

“I know you think I’m a pain in the ass,” Mandy said. “I know I am. I don’t mean to be. It just happens sometimes. I can’t explain it.”

“Baby … .”

Mandy held up her hand to silence him. “I know that you’re good at what you do. Actually, I know that you’re the best at what you do. If you don’t want to tell me, then I figure I don’t need to know.

“This isn’t like when you hid where we were going on our honeymoon,” she continued. “That was a stupid thing to hide, by the way. This is something else. I trust you more than I’ve ever trusted anyone in my entire life. I know you’ll do what’s right. You don’t know how to fail, so you won’t.”

James pressed his eyes shut for a moment. “Every day of our life together I think this is the moment,” he said. He opened his eyes and focused on her. “I think this is the moment where it’s impossible to love you more than I do. Every single day you blow that expectation out of the water. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“I know.”

James grinned. “I’ll tell you what’s going on after dinner. I just need you to act natural when we’re out. Don’t stare at the cops who are watching us. I know you’ll see them. Just … don’t.”


“Then, when we get back up here, I’ll massage you for an hour and fill you in,” James said. “For the next hour, though, I need you to act like a happy wife on vacation.”

“James, just for the record, I am a happy wife,” Mandy said. “This vacation leaves a little to be desired, though. You are going to have to bring me back.”

James barked out a laugh. “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go, wife. I’ll take you to the ends of the Earth, and I’ll be happy to do it because you’re at my side.”

“For now, I’d just be happy with a bayou ride that doesn’t end up with me in the water and a trip to the wax museum where I can actually look at the horror stuff.”

“You’ll get it,” James promised. “Now, give me a kiss. I want to hold you for the five minutes we have to burn before we head down to dinner.”

Mandy clicked her heels together and saluted. “Yes, sir.”

“You’re so damned cute. Get your ass over here.”


really hungry,” Emma said, smiling as the waitress delivered a full plate of food to her. “I have no idea what’s going on, but this city has really amped up my appetite.”

Finn smiled at her. “I’ve never seen you eat like this. It makes me … happy.”

Emma stilled, her fork halfway to her mouth. “Me getting fat makes you happy?”

“You’re not fat,” Finn said. “You’re pregnant.”

“You were too thin before anyway,” Sophie said, reaching for the big platter of crawfish they’d ordered to share. “You made the rest of us mortals feel fat because you were a rail.”

“She’s right,” Mandy said. “It was distressing.”

Due to tacit agreement, Mandy and Sophie had agreed to keep up the bulk of the conversation for the duration of the meal. The men interjected statements from time to time, but their biggest concern was appearing relaxed.

“You have nothing to be distressed about, baby,” James said, rubbing the back of her neck. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Oh, I beg to differ,” Grady said, his eyes twinkling. “My Sophie is the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“They’re just posturing, sweetheart,” Finn said, shooting a playful wink in Emma’s direction. “You’re the prettier than every other woman in the world combined.”

“You guys are all freaks,” Emma said, reaching for some crawfish. “I know this makes me a bad vegetarian, but knowing they’re bugs doesn’t make me feel guilty about eating them.”

Mandy smiled. “Knowing you call them bugs makes me reticent to eat them.”

“They’re good,” James said, cracking one in half. “They’re awesome. If you could cook, I would suggest making them when we get home.”

“I can cook,” Mandy said. “You know darned well I can cook. I made you breakfast after the first night you slept on my couch. You loved it.”

“You can make breakfast,” James conceded. “Your other cooking endeavors have been … interesting.”

“I make great kabobs.”

“Chopping up vegetables and meat and shoving them on sticks is not cooking,” James said. “It’s … skewering.”

“I marinate them in red wine, too.”

“I stand corrected,” James said, grabbing another crawfish. “You’re the best chef ever.”

“Cooking is a waste of time,” Sophie said. “If God had wanted us all to cook, he wouldn’t have invented takeout.”

“Takeout is the best invention ever,” Grady agreed. “My Sophie can’t cook, and she’s proud of it. She does know the best takeout in all the land, though.”

“I can cook if I want to,” Sophie protested.

“When I met you, you had thirty Lean Cuisines in the freezer and a jar of mustard in the refrigerator,” Grady said. “The only one who has ever cooked in that kitchen is me.”

“And you look good doing it,” Sophie said. “You wear an apron and everything.”

“I only wear an apron so I don’t ruin my clothes,” Grady clarified.

“Sometimes he wears nothing but the apron,” Sophie said, her eyes sparkling. “Those are my favorite nights.”

“James doesn’t cook,” Mandy said. “He doesn’t even pretend to cook. He likes to grill.”

“Men love to grill,” Sophie said. “There’s something about an open flame that turns them on.”

“Finn cooks,” Emma said. “He cooks more than I do.”

“That’s because you would sit around and eat raw fruit and vegetables all day if I didn’t cook,” Finn said. “That’s not food to me. That’s stuff you skip at a buffet.”

“I happen to like fruit and vegetables,” Emma said. “We never had them growing up. My mom would pick up fast food and drop it on the table. I never ate anything that wasn’t fried.”

The table sobered. Emma’s childhood was always a stark reminder of the horrors other people had to overcome.

“Peter hired a cook,” Sophie said, opting to distance the conversation from Emma’s admission. “We had four-course meals every night. He liked to surprise me with odd things.”

“Like what?” Mandy asked.


“What’s that?” Emma asked.

“Snails,” Sophie replied, making a face. “Of course, he didn’t tell me what they were before I ate them.”

“What did they taste like?”

“Little rubbery balls,” Sophie said. “They were saturated in butter, though, so I ate them. Once I found out what they were, I was horrified.”


“They were bugs.”

“You’re technically eating bugs now, sugar,” Grady pointed out, gesturing to the crawfish in her hand.

“These are cuter bugs,” Sophie said. “Plus, I’m an adult now. I’ve realized some of the best things in life aren’t always what they appear to be. You, for example. When I first met you I thought you were a total jerkwad who bedded women for sport.”

“He was,” James said, smiling. “The second he met you, though, that was all over with.”

“I heard the same thing about you and Mandy,” Sophie challenged. “Grady says you slept with women once and then ran. Then you got reintroduced to Mandy and you were reformed within an instant.”

James cast a sidelong look at his wife. “I wasn’t reformed,” he said. “I was … found.”

Mandy leaned forward and kissed him. “You’re going to get really lucky tonight.”

“I got lucky the moment you loved me,” James said. “What happens tonight will just be frosting on the cake of my life.”


let’s get out of here,” James said, dropping some money on the table to cover the bill. “I’m ready to relax a little.”

“I thought we were relaxing,” Emma said.

“He’s talking about a different kind of relaxing, sweetie,” Finn said, poking her in the ribs. “We’re going to relax when we get back to the room, too.”

“Oh,” Emma said, her eyes widening. “I never think of that as relaxing.”

“What do you think of it as?”


Finn cupped the back of her head and gave her a sweet kiss. “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“No, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“I’m the best thing that ever happened to anyone,” James said, pointing to the small gate that would lead them off the patio. “Can we go?”

“You’re so grumpy,” Emma said, moving forward. “You would think you’re sex deprived with all that grumpiness.”

Finn realized what was about to happen before Emma’s hand hit the gate, but it was already too late. “Emma.”

She didn’t turn around, and she was already on the other side of the gate – separated from the rest of them – when a dark figure moved in behind her.


She moved to turn around, her eyes widening with alarm, but the figure had a hand around her throat and a knife to her chest before she could finish the movement. Shane petted the back of Emma’s head as she stiffened against him.

“Well, I see we have a new predicament,” he said, focusing on James. “It seems I’m touching one of your women, and yet I’m still alive.” He clucked in a taunting manner. “You’re not as big and tough as you think you are.”

Emma made a heartbreaking sound in the back of her throat. If Finn didn’t know better, he would think she was choking. “It’s going to be okay, sweetie.”

James remained calm in the face of Shane’s overt action. “You’re probably right. I’m going to give you a new offer.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Let her go.”

“How is that an offer?” Shane asked.

James pursed his lips, considering. “Okay. You’re right. Let her go and I won’t beat you to death.”

“You’re not in the position to make threats,” Shane said. “In fact, you’re not in the position to do anything. I have an offer for you.”

“I’m not interested in listening,” James said.

Finn’s face was anguished as he watched Shane run his fingers through Emma’s hair. “James … .”

James ignored him. “Let her go, or I’ll kill you.”

“I don’t think you can back up that threat.”

Boyd moved in behind Shane and pressed the barrel of his gun against the back of the man’s head. “I think you’re wrong.”

The color drained from Shane’s face as he realized what was happening. “I don’t … .” He dropped his knife to the ground and held his hands up, resigned. “Great.”

“I’d hit you,” James said. “I think my brother would hate that, though.”

“And why is that?” Shane sneered.

Finn vaulted over the fence and approached the man who had threatened his future. “Because I’m going to do it myself.” Finn slammed his fist into Shane’s face, and before the man hit the ground, he had Emma in his arms. Instead of tears and recrimination, though, Emma’s face was flushed with excitement.

“And you guys thought I couldn’t act.”

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