Deadly Illusions (Hardy Brothers Security Book 3)

BOOK: Deadly Illusions (Hardy Brothers Security Book 3)
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Deadly Illusions

 

 

Hardy Brothers Security
Book Three

 

 

By Lily Harper Hart

 

 

Text copyright © 2014 Lily Harper Hart

One

“That is the last time Mandy gets to pick out the movie,” Grady Hardy grumbled as he left the local multiplex.

“What are you talking about?” Mandy shot back, her blonde hair flying as she jumped on top of the nearby curb so she could balance herself and work off excess energy. “That movie was phenomenal.”

“Where was the plot?” Grady challenged.

“Why do you need a plot?” Mandy countered. “You’ve got a psycho with a knife, and a bunch of buxom girls who can’t act, but their impressive racks more than make up for it by being all bouncy and distracting. That movie is right up your alley.”

Finn, the youngest of the three Hardy brothers, chuckled. Mandy’s enthusiasm for horror movies was legendary. He had no idea why Grady thought she would choose something different.

Grady’s girlfriend, Sophie, shuddered as she laced her fingers with those of the middle Hardy brother. “I thought it was awful. All that blood.”

“Fake blood,” Mandy countered, continuing her balancing act as she moved down the curb and jumped to the next.

“All the screaming,” Sophie tried again. Grady moved her dark waves away from her face, dropping a kiss on her temple to soothe her as she snuggled in closer to him in an attempt to ward off the chilly night air.

“That’s half the fun,” Mandy replied, the cold seemingly serving as nothing but a minor aggravation as her unzipped hoodie flapped behind her in the wind. “If they didn’t scream, you wouldn’t know they have enough brain cells to be scared.”

Finn couldn’t help but agree. The movie had been terrible. The naked eye candy more than made up for it. He had no idea why Grady was making a fuss. He’d seen Sophie jump so many times throughout the flick that it was obvious Grady wasn’t going to have problems getting lucky tonight, especially if he used warding off her nightmares as an excuse.

“I don’t get why the radiation was enough to deform the killer, but not bad enough to tip the government off that there was an inbred freak killing people in the woods,” Finn said.

“Maybe the cops knew,” Mandy said, her blue eyes sparkling excitedly. “Maybe they were just scared of him. Maybe one of them was his father – and we won’t find out until the sequel.”

Finn tilted his head to the side, rubbing his short-cropped hair thoughtfully as he regarded Mandy. “You’ve given this a lot of thought.”

“I know my horror movies,” Mandy said, extending her arms as she started to teeter.

That’s when the eldest Hardy brother swooped in, wrapping his arm around Mandy’s slim waist and hoisting her off the curb. James pulled her flush with his chest. “Listen, daredevil, you’re not picking another movie for the group.”

Mandy rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

James dropped a short kiss on Mandy’s lips before lowering her to the ground. “I’m not joking. That movie was awful. And, as a man who has sat through an entire movie library of your version of ‘awesome,’ this movie was more stink than all of those other movies combined.”

“You liked it,” Mandy scoffed. “You gripped my hand twice because you were so scared.”

It was dark outside, the only light coming from the overhead lamps in the parking lot of the cinema, but the color rushing up James’ cheeks at his girlfriend’s teasing was obvious to both of his brothers.

“Were you scared?” Grady asked, tilting his head so his shoulder-length brown hair dipped below his right shoulder. “Did you need the tiny blonde to protect you?”

Sophie smacked Grady lightly. “Don’t make fun of him. That movie was terrifying.”

“I was not scared,” James said, his tone forceful. “I was trying to cop a feel. There’s a difference.”

“So, basically you’re saying that in the case of a masked killer with a deformed face – or zombies – you’re going to let Mandy take point,” Finn said, smiling widely. As the youngest Hardy brother, he was often the butt of their jokes. He was also the one who knew the easiest way to get under his brothers’ skin.

James reached over and smacked the back of Finn’s head. “Don’t try to be cute.”

Finn smirked. “I’ll leave that little endeavor to the blonde,” he said. “So, does anyone want to go and get something to eat?”

Grady and Sophie were already at his truck, their lips pressed together. Grady pulled away long enough to shake his head. “Sophie needs some consoling,” Grady said. “I think my services are going to be needed elsewhere.”

Sophie pinched his arm, but she didn’t argue.

Finn shrugged, glancing over his shoulder to find James wrestling Mandy off the curb again.

“Are you trying to break your neck?” James grumbled.

“You’re such a mother hen sometimes,” Mandy said, but she didn’t protest when he lifted her off the curb.

“You’re making me an old man,” James said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Can’t you ever just sit still?”

“I thought you liked it when I squirmed,” Mandy said, her eyes flashing as she pushed out her lips into a flirty little pout.

James kept his arm around Mandy’s waist, not letting her feet touch the ground as he carried her toward his Ford Explorer. “Oh, I’m going to make you squirm, baby.”

Finn watched them cavort, his heart pinging as he wished – not for the first time – for someone to share little moments like these with. Both of his brothers had found love and contentment – and they were the ones not looking for it. Finn, who had always been open to the concept, was now the one left behind.

“I take it you two aren’t up for a snack either?” Finn asked.

James didn’t answer, but Mandy, who was still hiked up in his arms, shook her head over his back shoulder apologetically. “Sorry. I have to console James so he doesn’t have nightmares.”

James smacked her rear, opening the door to his Explorer and tossing her into the passenger seat. As he was moving around the vehicle, he paused. “I have a job for you tomorrow.”

The brothers were all partners in Hardy Brothers Security, a business James had started after his stint in the Marines a few years before. After their own military tours ended, Finn and Grady had joined him in the suburban-Detroit business – and the brothers had made quite a name for themselves in the region. Finn grimaced. “What? I hope it’s not a chauffeur’s gig. That last one was … uncomfortable.”

James barked out a laugh. “You didn’t like the sheik trying to run a harem from the backseat of the limo?”

Since they were in the security industry, the list of tasks the Hardy brothers were asked to perform was large – and often tedious. Finn wasn’t looking forward to whatever job his brother had enlisted his talents for the next day.

“It was one of the worst nights of my life,” Finn admitted.

“Well, tomorrow should be better,” James said. “I just need you to run security in the Madison’s Marina booth at the boat show down in St. Clair Shores. It’s a long day, but it’s not exactly taxing.”

That didn’t sound too bad – which meant there was probably a catch. “Why would a marina need security?”

“They’re having some promotion where they’re raffling off a three-carat diamond for people who sign up to buy one of their 2015-model boats,” James said. “You just need to make sure someone doesn’t steal the diamond before it’s raffled off. It’s a two-day job.”

“Where is the diamond going to be?”

“In some glass-covered thing in the middle of their display,” James said. “It should be easy.”

“It sounds boring,” Finn said.

James shrugged. “Hey, look at this way, at least there will be boat models to ogle.”

Finn brightened. That
was
a bonus. He might not find a soul mate there – but he would certainly find a date. Things were looking up.

Two

Finn had no idea who decided to host a boat show at the end of February – but he was sure whomever it was needed psychiatric help.

Michigan was mired in one of the worst winters on record, and yet the hall where the boat show was being held felt like the furnaces of Hell were heating it.
Where had all of these people come from?

Finn ran a hand over his forehead, wiping away the beaded perspiration on his brow. He’d been sitting in a folding chair watching a diamond encased in Plexiglas for so long he could have sworn his ass had fallen asleep.

The boat show was swamped with people – most of whom Finn was convinced were only there because they were dreaming of summer. The economy in the area was still stagnant and even though Macomb County, located northeast of Detroit itself, was located on the edge of Lake St. Clair, only a small portion of the population could actually afford a boat.

If you’ve never been to a boat show, picture fifty different booths with fifty different boats on display in one big room without partitions. There are just as many salespeople as visitors – and each salesperson is trying to sell an idea more than an actual product.

In an effort to draw attention to their booth, various marinas and stores hire some hot young thing to parade around in a bikini to catch the attention of the assembled masses. The men were happy to engage in some small talk – while they’re wives were busy shooting the models dark looks whenever they thought their husbands weren’t looking.

It was a thankless gig for the models.

Finn enjoyed watching them, though. Every one of them was beautiful – some at a level above beautiful, bordering on exquisite. The one Madison Marina had employed, for example, was a fine specimen of the opposite sex.

She had long, dark hair, which was shot through with fascinating red highlights that twinkled when the overhead lights hit them just right. Her brown eyes were thoughtful, and when she was talking to people she forced them to reflect interest and welcome. When she thought no one was looking, though, they clouded over with an internal sadness that Finn found both interesting and heartbreaking.

And her body? Since she was wearing one of the smallest bikinis Finn had ever seen, there wasn’t a lot left for his imagination to fill in. She was tall, about five-feet, eight-inches of lithe beauty. Her chest was ample – and if the jiggle was any suggestion – they were all real.

Finn found himself watching for the jiggle, looking forward to it every time – and then internally cursing himself when he realized what he was doing. He was no better than the other leeches ogling her like a piece of meat.

After several hours, she took a break – sliding into a chair a few feet to his left and opening up a bottle of water. Finn searched his mind for something to talk to her about.

“Could it be any hotter in here?”
Great. Talk to her about internal climate control. That will impress her.

“I think the air conditioner is broken,” the woman replied. “I guess it’s good I’m practically naked.”

Finn, who had been gazing at her shapely thighs, immediately snapped his attention back up to her face. Up close, she obviously fell into the ‘exquisite’ category. Her cheeks were round, her chin narrow. She had one of those faces that could drive a man to distraction – which was the problem currently facing Finn. Both her body and face were warring for dominance in his mind. He didn’t know where to focus.

“What are you doing here?”

“Huh?” Finn shifted uncomfortably. “What did you say?”

The woman smiled, her eyes telling Finn she knew exactly what he’d been thinking. “I asked what you’re doing here.”

“I’m running security,” Finn said. “The Madisons hired our firm to make sure no one absconded with their diamond. I’m Finn, by the way. Finn Hardy.” He extended his hand.

The woman shook it. “I’m Emma Pritchard.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Emma nodded, her long hair shaking around her shoulders. “Are they really worried that someone will steal the diamond?”

“It’s always a danger in a situation like this,” Finn said, shrugging. “I don’t think there are a lot of hardened criminals running around here. Hard times make people desperate, though. It’s just added security for their investment.”

“And that’s what you do? You run security?”

“I’m partners with my brothers in Hardy Brothers Security out of Sterling Heights,” Finn replied. “We’ve been in business for a few years now.”

Emma narrowed her eyes, considering. “That name sounds familiar to me.”

Finn bit the inside of his mouth. Hardy Brothers Security had made the news in two high-profile cases the previous year. He wasn’t sure which one she was referring to. He decided to take a guess. “Yeah, we were involved when the sheriff’s assistant, John Madison, was taken down in the fall.”

Emma cocked her head to the side, clearly trying to remember. “You guys saved the news reporter, right? What was her name?”

“Sophie,” Finn said. “Yeah, my brother is the one who saved her.” Finn had been present, too, but he didn’t want to brag. At least not yet.

“That’s right, Sophie Lane,” Emma said. “That was a big deal. I’m glad she’s okay.”

“She’s great,” Finn said, smiling.

Emma must have misread the smile. “Oh, is she your girlfriend? Is that why you were involved?”

“No,” Finn said, shaking his head. “She’s my brother’s girlfriend.”

Emma’s smile warmed – or maybe Finn was just hoping his imagination wasn’t running away with him. “Oh.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty much joined at the lips now,” Finn continued. “They’re pretty cute.”

Emma smiled. This time Finn was certain it was real. “I don’t think that’s where I know the name of your security firm from, though. Were you guys involved when that guy tried to kill the clerk at the courthouse? That was you, right?”

Finn chuckled. “That was us, too. That was my brother, James, though. I wasn’t even there for that one.”

“And the clerk there survived, right?”

Finn nodded. “Yes, and now she’s joined at the groin with my other brother.”

Emma laughed, the sound almost musical to Finn’s ears. “So, what, you guys go around saving women and then dating them?”

“That seems to be our current standard operating procedure,” Finn acknowledged. “At least where my brothers are concerned.”

“And what about where you’re concerned?” Emma asked.

“I’m still debating my options,” Finn replied, leaning back in his chair and stretching his long legs out in front of him as he fixed Emma with a cheeky grin.

Emma made a face. “You think you’re pretty cute, don’t you?”

Finn faltered, not sure how to respond. “I’m sorry?”

“You think you’re cute,” Emma repeated. “It’s written all over your face. You’re trying to be smooth and charming, hoping that tales of the Hardy brothers’ exploits will impress me and let you into my bed for a night. Am I right?”

Finn’s face was burning. “You’re the one who asked how you knew our name.”

“I am,” Emma said. “Although, to be fair, you’re the one who has been staring at me for the past two hours. Oh, did you think I didn’t notice? I’m not blind.”

Finn shifted in the hard, metal chair uncomfortably. “I was watching the diamond.”

“The diamond isn’t in my cleavage,” Emma said, getting to her feet. “Like I said, though, you’re cute. I bet a few of the other models would be completely willing to fall for your shtick.”

The emotion flowing through Finn now was anger – not embarrassment. “For a woman who makes her living by trying to get people to look at her, you’ve got a funny way of reacting when they do. Sorry if I offended you, though. It won’t happen again.”

Emma blanched, gripping her hands together as she considered his statement. “You’re right. I wasn’t being fair. That was a mean thing to say.”

“Then why did you say it?” Finn was genuinely curious.

“I have to make a living the only way I can,” Emma replied. “If you think I like this … if you think it doesn’t mortify me that I have to walk around here with my ass and boobs hanging out so I can put food on the table, then you’re wrong.”

Finn swallowed hard. “I … I … .”

Emma waved off his babbling. “It’s not your fault. I’ve had a bad day. The heat in here is getting to me. I just … I get sick of it.”

“Then why do you do it?”

“Because I don’t have a choice,” Emma said. “I can either do this, and save up enough money to put myself through school in two years, or I can sling hash and eggs for more than twenty and never get enough. I’ve decided to debase myself for two years in the hopes of building a great twenty after that. Sue me.”

She started to move away. Finn reached out instinctively to stop her. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Emma sighed. “You didn’t. I upset myself. I always upset myself. It wasn’t you. I’m just … bitchy today. It’s not your fault.”

“I can’t help but feel it’s partially my fault,” Finn replied, going for honestly. “I
was
staring at you.”

Emma snorted. “You’re meant to. It’s not a big deal. I should get back to work.”

When she didn’t immediately leave, Finn tried to think of something else to say. No words would come.

Emma waited a moment and then tugged on her arm. “I don’t suppose I could have my arm back.”

Finn released her, realizing how stupid he must look. “Again. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Emma said ruefully. “You’re just reacting the way the Madisons want every man in this place to react. If you buy a boat, they’ll figure their investment in me was money well spent.”

“I’m not really a boat person,” Finn said.

“No? I am. I would like nothing better than to live on a boat, far away from prying eyes, and finally have just a few minutes of peace,” Emma admitted.

Finn could picture her on a boat – and it wasn’t just because she was wearing a bikini. “Well, when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound so bad.”

Emma shot him one, last apologetic smile and then returned to her post. She stuck her hip out, extended her left leg, and put her hand on her hip. The smile was back on her face, but her eyes were filled with sadness.

Finn returned to his chair, trying hard to fight the urge to look at her again. Her words had shaken him – although he couldn’t quite figure out why. She was clearly an unhappy young woman. Beauty obviously wasn’t everything.

The boat show continued for several more hours, with Finn growing more and more anxious with each passing tick of the clock. He could feel Emma’s melancholy – even though she was almost ten feet away from him – and it was like he was drowning in her overt sadness.

He let his gaze wander over the crowd as he tried to distract himself, his attention ultimately landing on a young man in his twenties who was standing next to one of the pillars near an adjacent booth.

The man didn’t look like a normal boat-show visitor. He clearly didn’t have enough money to buy a boat, his dirty jeans and tattered Converse serving as a testament to that. He was also twenty years younger than the shopping demographic. On top of that, his eyes never settled on a boat – or any of the boating goods being offered by the other vendors. No, his eyes were focused on only one thing: Emma.

The more Finn watched the man, the more uncomfortable he felt. Emma’s beauty had turned hundreds of heads over the course of the afternoon, but this head wasn’t looking in any other direction. Not even for a second.

Finn sat forward in his chair, fixating on the man and forcing all of the other noises and distractions from his mind. Something was about to happen. He was sure of it.

The man, his features hidden beneath the hood of his jacket, was fumbling in his pocket for something. When he found it, he pulled it out. Because his fingers were closed around it, Finn couldn’t figure out what it was. It was clearly too small to be a weapon, especially a knife or a gun. That didn’t mean that it wasn’t something dangerous.

The man shifted his hand up higher, bringing his other hand over to help with whatever endeavor he was trying to complete. Finn was on his feet when he realized that the man had yanked the cork out of a vial, and was now striding toward Emma with a purpose.

For her part, Emma seemed oblivious to the imminent danger. Finn was in front of her within seconds, knocking the man’s hand to the side and grabbing him by the neck in an effort to subdue him.

Emma jumped back, glancing at the plastic casing over the diamond as the liquid landed there. There was a subtle ‘hiss’ when liquid and plastic collided, and then the plastic started to melt.

A woman next to Emma screamed, causing nearby shoppers to panic. In the melee, Finn lost his grip on the perpetrator – and the man managed to disappear into the crowd. Finn started to give chase, pulling up short when he realized he couldn’t leave the diamond.

He risked a glance in Emma’s direction. Her features were white, a balled up fist covering her mouth. Realization was dawning on her.

Finn swooped in to catch her before she hit the ground.

BOOK: Deadly Illusions (Hardy Brothers Security Book 3)
6.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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