Read Deadly Vacation (Hardy Brothers Security Book 10) Online
Authors: Lily Harper Hart
James already had visions of his naked wife playing through his head when he hit the main floor of the guesthouse. It was going to be a great week, and he couldn’t wait to watch her explore a lifelong dream.
“Holy crap! It is hot here,” Sophie Lane said, fanning a New Orleans street map in front of her face as she looked around the busy street. “Did you know it was going to be this hot?”
Her boyfriend, Grady, ran his hands through his shoulder-length hair and shrugged. “Louisiana in the summer? I had a pretty good notion it was going to be hot.”
The group had arrived in the city a few hours before, and after getting settled into their hotel rooms, they’d agreed to walk some of the main streets and get dinner together. No one wanted to spend every night together, but a family dinner to kick things off sounded like the perfect way to start their vacation.
“It’s just so humid,” Sophie said. She turned to Grady. “I hope you know, I’m probably going to be wearing my hair up every single day – and don’t expect a lot of makeup.”
Grady snorted. “I would be happy if you never wore makeup. I think I’m going to have to wear my hair up, too.”
“Or you could cut it, like a real man,” Finn teased. As the youngest Hardy brother, he liked to mess with his older siblings. While James’ hair was a medium length, Finn opted to keep his shorn close to his scalp. Grady’s hair was a constant source of amusement with all of his siblings.
“Don’t hate the hair,” Grady warned. “You’re just jealous.”
“Yes, don’t hate the hair,” Sophie said, running her fingers through it lovingly. “It’s too pretty to hate.”
Grady scowled. “Not pretty. My hair is manly and handsome – just like me.”
“I stand corrected,” Sophie said, lightly kissing his square jaw. “They should bottle the testosterone in your hair and sell it on the Internet.”
Grady graced her with a smoldering kiss. “Both me and my hair are going to be getting manly with you later. You know that, right?”
“I’m counting on it.”
“Oh, get a room,” Finn groaned, wrapping his arm around Emma’s narrow waist.
Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, Emma looked fresh and excited. Her long auburn hair was full of bounce, and her makeup was perfectly in place. She was pregnant, but it was still early, and she wasn’t showing yet. The fact that she looked like a model – which she was – drove Mandy crazy as she looked her up and down.
“You don’t look like the heat bothers you at all,” Mandy grumbled.
“It’s not that bad,” Emma said. “I’m just excited. I’ve never been out of Michigan. This is … an adventure.”
Finn ran his hand down the back of her head. “It is an adventure,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”
“I know,” Emma said. “I can’t wait. What should we do first?”
Mandy shifted her gaze to James. “Do you want to look around or eat first?”
“Eat,” James replied without hesitation. “I’m starving.”
“You’re always starving.”
“I’m a growing boy,” James said.
“I’m with James,” Grady said. “Food first.”
“Fine,” Mandy conceded. “Then we’re doing some shopping.”
James groaned. “You surely know the way to a man’s heart, baby.”
“Oh, come on,” Mandy said, her eyes pleading. “It’s New Orleans. We can listen to music, too.”
James pressed his forehead to hers briefly. “I didn’t say no. You’re going to owe me some outrageous sex later, though, especially if you plan on emptying my wallet.”
Mandy faltered. While she brought limited funds into the marriage, James paid for the bulk of everything in their life. “I … I don’t need to shop.”
James immediately regretted his joke. “You’re going to shop, wife. You’re going to spend money. If I see you not spending money, I’m going to spank you later.”
“But … .” Mandy worried her bottom lip with her teeth.
“Everything I have is yours,” James said. “Literally. I didn’t mean to rain on your parade. I was just joking.”
“We’re definitely going to shop,” Sophie agreed. “If the men don’t like it, they can just get over it. I don’t like watching football on Sundays, or baseball every other day of the week, but I do it. They can just suck it up.”
“Oh, I love you, too,” Grady crooned into her ear.
James linked his fingers with Mandy’s, tugging her close to his chest. “If you feed me, I’ll watch you shop.”
“Fine,” Mandy said. “I don’t want to hear any complaining, though.”
“When do I complain?”
Grady and Finn snorted in unison, causing James to shoot them dark looks.
“Come on,” Mandy said, sighing. “Let’s feed James before he gets grumpy. I’m actually looking forward to sampling some of the cuisine myself. I think we’re going to have a great night.”
James reached over so he could pinch his wife’s delightful rear. “I know we’re going to have a great night. Let’s go.”
the weather isn’t the only thing that is hot here,” Sophie said, uncapping a bottle of water and downing half of it before coming up for air. “Wow. That food was amazing, but my tongue feels like it’s on fire.”
“I have a solution for that,” Grady said.
“What?” Sophie asked, her eyes wide with hope.
“You can lick something else later,” Grady said, smiling.
Sophie poked him in the ribs. “If the food is too hot, that’s going to be way too hot.”
“And that’s why I love you,” Grady said, pulling her in for a kiss.
“I thought the food was pretty good,” James said. “I’ve never had crawfish before, but I’m definitely having it again while we’re here. What about you, baby?”
“I loved the crawfish,” Mandy said, her eyes sparkling. “I didn’t think it was too spicy.”
“That’s because you’re used to me,” James teased, slinging an arm over her shoulder.
“You’re probably right,” Mandy said.
James shifted his attention to Finn and Emma. “Did you enjoy dinner?”
“I did,” Finn said, rubbing Emma’s stomach ruefully. “I think the Creole seasoning might be a little much for my poor fiancée’s delicate system right now.”
Emma’s face was flushed, and sweat was positively pouring off of her. While the heat didn’t appear to affect her, spicy food was another story.
“Are you okay?” Mandy asked.
“I’m fine,” Emma said, waving off everyone’s concern. “I just want to sit down and have a bottle of water.”
“We can just go back to the hotel,” Mandy offered.
“No,” Emma said. “You can shop. I just need to sit for a few minutes and let the food digest.”
“I don’t think my kid likes spicy food,” Finn said, leading Emma to a metal bench and settling her on it before sitting beside her.
“Since it’s your kid, it will probably be a picky eater,” Grady said.
“I’m not a picky eater,” Finn protested.
“You’re kind of a baby when it comes to food,” James said. He studied Emma for a moment. “Is your stomach upset, or is it just the spices getting to you?”
“It’s just the spices.”
“Maybe we should get her a malt or something?” Grady suggested. “That should cool her down.”
“That’s a good idea,” James said, scanning the assorted booths on display along the street. “Why don’t Mandy and Sophie start their shopping, and we’ll get Emma something to cool her stomach off? If everything goes as planned, Emma will be able to join the other hens in a half hour or so.”
Mandy arched an eyebrow. “Hens?”
“Go shop,” James said, patting her rear and pushing her forward. “You have exactly two hours, and then I’m taking you back to the hotel. I’m dying to try out that huge tub.”
“Two hours? It’s New Orleans. This city never sleeps.”
“Yes, but we do,” James said. “We have to be up early tomorrow. We’ll be able to go out some nights, but we still have to work. You seem to forget that, wife.”
“Oh, I didn’t forget,” Mandy said. “I’ll make sure you get a good night’s sleep tonight.”
“See, you have naughtiness written all over your face,” James said, wagging a finger in front of her nose. “Something tells me you’re going to have me up all night.”
“Are you going to complain about that?”
“No,” James said. “Go shop. I’ll find something cool for Emma to drink.”
Mandy smiled, and she turned to the kitschy displays with bright eyes. “Okay. We’ll check back periodically.”
James waved her off. “Spend as much money as you want.”
you feeling any better?” James studied Emma worriedly. She’d stopped sweating profusely, but her face was still pale.
“I’m fine,” Emma said. “Please stop worrying about me.”
“It’s kind of hard for us to do that,” Grady said. “You’re carrying the next generation. We have to worry. That’s our job as uncles.”
“You’re very sweet,” Emma said. “I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, though.”
“You’re not ruining anyone’s fun,” James said. “Mandy can only carry so much. I figure I’m going to have to ship stuff home. It’s a good thing Ally is going to be there.”
“In your hot tub,” Grady teased.
“Don’t remind me,” James growled. “Speaking of my wife, where is she?”
Emma pointed down the block to a kiosk with a bevy of brightly colored Mardi Gras masks. “She’s been over there for a long time.”
James followed her finger with his gaze. Mandy was studying a white and gold mask with a great amount of interest. “Why doesn’t she just buy it? She obviously likes it.”
“She’s checked the price tag about ten times,” Finn said. “I think she keeps hoping it will change.”
James sighed. “I shouldn’t have made the crack about the money. She feels like she doesn’t contribute to the household enough.”
“She realizes you’re loaded, right?” Grady asked.
“I just meant it as a joke,” James said. “I don’t care how much money she spends.” He watched as Mandy cast one more remorseful look at the mask and then moved down to the next kiosk. “Dammit.” He started moving toward the mask kiosk.
“Where are you going?” Finn asked.
James ignored him and walked to the stand, pulling the mask Mandy had been eyeing off the wall and handing it to the sales clerk without even checking the price tag. “Can you wrap this, too?”
The friendly girl smiled at him flirtatiously. “Sure. Is it a gift?”
“For your … mother?”
“No,” James said, refusing to play games. “It’s for my wife.”
The girl’s face fell. “Oh. Well, the mask is expensive.”
“I don’t care.”
“It’s been getting a lot of interest,” the girl said. “The woman who was just here stared at it for ten minutes.”
“That would be my wife,” James said, digging inside his pocket for his wallet. “Just make sure you wrap it so she can’t see what it is. I want to surprise her later.”
“You’ve got it.”
Once James paid for the mask, not even cringing at the price tag, he carried the parcel back to where the rest of his family was waiting.
“Oh, you’re such a softie,” Grady teased.
“She gets what she wants on her dream vacation,” James said. “I don’t care what it costs. That reminds me, she really wants to go on one of those haunted bayou rides. I’m going to look at buying tickets tomorrow. Are you guys interested, too?”
“That sounds like fun,” Grady said. “I’m in.”
Finn glanced at Emma worriedly. “Do you think you can take a boat ride?”
“It’s not like it’s going to be on unruly seas,” Emma said. “I want to go.”
“Okay,” Finn said. “With that in mind, though, we’ve had enough for one night. I’m taking Emma back to the hotel and putting her in a hot bath.”
“Will she be bathing alone?” Grady asked.
James smirked and handed the mask to Emma. “Would you mind hiding that in your purse? I don’t want to give it to her yet. I’m going to ship it home tomorrow morning and surprise her with it when we get home.”
“Sure,” Emma said, taking the mask and tucking it into her purse. “You’re a very sweet man. You know that, right?”
“Don’t tell my wife,” James quipped. “I want to wait until I’ve pissed her off before I spring it on her.”
Emma pressed her lips together. “Well, that’s not as sweet.”
“Don’t worry,” James said. “I piss her off constantly. She’ll have it within a week.”
“So, how are you enjoying New Orleans so far?”
Michael Prentiss was the owner of Top Flight Computer Systems, and he was in charge of the upcoming convention Hardy Brothers Security would be servicing. He was an amiable man in his forties, and he seemed excited to see the Hardy Brothers when they arrived.
“We’re enjoying it,” James said, extending his hand so he could shake Michael’s. “It’s a beautiful city.”
“When did you get in?”
“Yesterday afternoon,” James said. “I want to thank you again for the nice rooms. My wife has been dying to see New Orleans, and she’s pretty much ecstatic.”
“That’s great,” Michael said, beaming. “I’d like to meet her. Maybe we can all have dinner before the week is out.”
“That sounds great to me,” James said. “We had a terrific dinner last night. I’d never eaten crawfish before, but it was delicious. Mandy loved it, too.”
“I think everyone loves the food,” Grady supplied. “Well, except for Emma.”
Michael arched an eyebrow. “And who is Emma?”
“My fiancée,” Finn said. “Don’t take it personally. She’s pregnant. Her stomach is all wonky.”
“She’s a model,” James said. “She only eats really bland food as it is.”
“Your fiancée is a model?” Michael asked, impressed.
“Not for much longer,” Finn said. “She’s got about six weeks before she’s going to have to let that go. I can’t say I’ll miss it.”
“It’s probably hard to have other men ogling the woman you love,” Michael said. “Especially when she’s going to have a baby.”
“She’s not fond of the job anyway,” Finn said. “She’s almost done with school, and after the baby is born, she’s going to be a teacher. I definitely like the idea of her dealing with handsy five-year-olds instead of handsy twenty-somethings.”
Michael grinned. “I can see that.”
James cleared his throat. “So, do you want to show us the room?”
“Right,” Michael said, his face sobering. “I suppose you guys want to get everything done as soon as possible. You don’t want to leave your women alone in a big city if you don’t have to.”
“We live in a suburb of Detroit,” Grady said, unruffled. “We’re not worried about them being alone in a city. We just want to make sure we have plenty of time for all of the security to be in place by Monday.”
“You’re diligent,” Michael said. “That’s why I hired you. This way.” He led the brothers through the lobby and down a long hallway. “We’re not expecting trouble,” he cautioned. “It’s just … with the nature of what we’re doing here … that could be a problem.”
“I guess I’m not a hundred-percent sure what you are doing here,” Grady said. “This is a computer convention, right? Software. Hard drives. Operating systems. What’s the biggest worry?”
“Well, most of the computer systems that we’re going to be highlighting are simple,” Michael replied. “The biggest worry we’re going to have is hacker geeks trying to steal ideas. Cell phones are strictly forbidden, so we’re going to need you to confiscate them if you see them.”
“I guess I didn’t realize how cutthroat computer conventions were,” Finn quipped.
“It’s a big business,” Michael said, serious. “There’s a lot of intellectual theft to worry about. Still, that’s not really why I wanted your firm.”
“And why is that?” Finn asked, casting a quick look at James.
“We’re going to have a locked room,” Michael explained.
“What’s a locked room?”
“It’s for invited parties only,” Michael said. “Most of the people won’t even know anything is going on, but there will be some people here desperately trying to get in that room without an invitation. We need to be rigid with our enforcement.”
“And what’s going to be in this room?” Grady asked.
“A new operating system for surface-to-air missiles,” Michael replied, matter-of-fact.
Grady swallowed hard. “Oh.”
“You have to understand, if the wrong people get their hands on the system … well … it wouldn’t be good,” Michael said. “We’re not advertising the room, or the system. Still, if people want to find out information in certain circles … .”
“They’re going to find out,” James finished. “Let’s take this one step at a time. Show us the main room first. Then we’ll focus on the locked room. We’ll get everything done on time. I promise.”
you feeling better this morning?” Mandy asked Emma, leaning back in the wrought-iron chair outside of the jaunty café and studying her friend with a serious expression.
“I am,” Emma said, sipping from her glass of water. “I think I’m going to have to be careful about what food I eat.”
“That sucks,” Sophie said, rubbing the rim of her coffee mug. “You already have to forego caffeine and alcohol. You’re in New Orleans. You should at least be able to enjoy the food.”
“It’s fine,” Emma said. “I’m just excited to be here. I’ve never been obsessed with food.”
Mandy forked a heaping mound of eggs into her mouth, causing Sophie to smirk. “You’re lucky that way. I’m surprised Mandy isn’t as big as a house with the way she eats.”
Mandy furrowed her brow. “Excuse me?”
“You eat like your husband,” Sophie said. “I love food, but if I ate like Grady I’d have to spend five days a week at the gym.”
“Since we bought the house, I’ve started swimming every day,” Mandy said. “It’s keeping me in great shape. I love food too much to give it up.”
“What are you going to do in the winter?” Sophie asked.
“Force James to have more sex.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’re really going to have to force him.”
Mandy leaned over and pinched Sophie’s arm. “You’re in a mood this morning.”
Sophie jerked her arm away and rubbed it. “I’m in this mood every morning. You just never see me in the morning. It takes me hours to be pleasant.”
“That must be hard on Grady,” Mandy teased.
“He’s opted not to speak to me until after work.”
Mandy chortled. “Oh, that’s true love.” She turned to Emma. “I’m guessing you wake up in a good mood.”
“Generally,” Emma said. “Although, I’ve been having a little morning sickness lately. That’s been rough for Finn to deal with.”
“Have you been having it a lot?”
“A couple days a week.”
“That sucks,” Mandy said. “When I’m sick, James hovers. It’s sweet, but it’s also annoying. When you have to puke, you really want to do it alone.”
“Do we have to talk about puke over breakfast?” Sophie asked, pushing her corned-beef hash around her plate. “You’re going to make it so I can’t finish my breakfast.”
“Sorry,” Mandy said, holding up her hands. “It was just an observation.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “What do you guys want to do today?”
“I think we should just walk around,” Mandy said. “There are tons of stores. We can pick up some brochures, too. There are a lot of tours. I want to go and see some of the cemeteries, and I think there are other tours for the neighborhoods with the really big homes.”
“That sounds good to me,” Sophie said.
“Me, too,” Emma said.
“I also want to go to the voodoo area,” Mandy added, her eyes sparkling. “I definitely want to do some shopping there.”
“Are you going to get a doll and put pins in it so you can threaten James when he misbehaves?” Sophie asked.
“Of course not.”
“I’m getting one for Grady,” Sophie said.
“Oh, that’s horrible,” Emma said. “Grady is so sweet to you.”
“Try living with him,” Sophie said. “Ninety percent of the time, he’s a dream. When he wants to be a pain, though, he’s a total bear.”
“He’s your Grady Bear,” Mandy teased.
Sophie smirked. “I’m going to start calling him that. When he hates it, I’m going to tell him it was your idea.”
“I’m fine with that.” Mandy shifted her attention to Emma, who was nervously studying her plate. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Emma said. “It’s just … that guy over there is staring at me.”
Mandy shifted her gaze two tables over, focusing on the man sitting there. He was young, in his mid-twenties, and his blond hair was still damp from a morning shower as it brushed against the collar of his shirt. When Mandy focused on him, he was staring at his plate. After a few seconds, he lifted his head and his green eyes locked on Mandy’s blue. He immediately broke eye contact.
Mandy turned back to Emma and Sophie. “I think he’s just checking you out.”
“I’m pregnant,” Emma said, scandalized.
“You’re not showing.”
“I have a ring on,” Emma pointed to her finger, the huge engagement ring Finn had presented her with sparkling under the early morning light.
“He’s just checking you out, Emma,” Mandy said. “He’s not committing a crime.”
“Lighten up,” Sophie agreed. “I think you’re overreacting. He’s just checking out a woman over breakfast. Let’s try to refrain from castrating him.”
Mandy giggled, her eyes traveling back to the blond. He wasn’t alone any longer. He had two friends, both about the same age, sitting with him. “Oh, look, there’s one for each of us now.”
Sophie smirked as Emma’s cheeks colored. “Yeah. They look dangerous. They’ve got ‘Mardi Gras wannabes’ written all over them.”
Emma sighed. “I guess I was overreacting.”
“I think you’re just nervous being in a new city,” Mandy said. “How about we finish up and start our walking tour.” She turned to Sophie. “Do you still have your map?”
“You made fun of me when I bought this map at the airport,” Sophie said, digging through her purse. “Now you love the map.”
“I made fun of you because you’re the only person I know who would buy a laminated map before even leaving the airport,” Mandy countered. “I didn’t say the map wasn’t a good idea.”
“Yeah, well, you have to worship the map now,” Sophie said. “And the map owner.”
“You really aren’t a morning person, are you?” Mandy asked.
Sophie shrugged. “I think they should be outlawed.”
Mandy dug into her purse and found some money so she could pay for breakfast. “Let’s go,” she said. “I want to check this city out.”
Sophie and Mandy sandwiched Emma between them as they hit the street, both protectively taking up a flank. Mandy risked a glance over her shoulder once they were down the block and had to swallow her laugh when she caught sight of the blond tracking them. Emma had a way of enticing people – even if she hated it.