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Authors: Lily Harper Hart

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BOOK: Deadly Prospects
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Mandy listened as Ally told her a story. When she was done, Mandy was shocked. “Why didn’t you call the police?”

“What could the police have done?”

“Well, why didn’t you call us?”

“I didn’t want to ruin your Saturday,” Ally said. “I’m getting the locks changed today – or tomorrow, if it comes to it. It’s not a big deal. Nothing was stolen. A robber isn’t going to come back to the scene of the crime.”

“Probably not. So, wait, Jake stayed on your couch?”

“Yeah, he was worried.”

“How did he see you naked?”

“I took a bath. He fell asleep in the interim. He thought he heard a noise and that I was already back in the bedroom. He was investigating when I was leaving the bathroom. I was so surprised, I dropped my towel.”

Mandy barked out a laugh. “That’s hilarious.”

“He hit his head on the door trying to look away.”

“Well, that’s horrifying,” Mandy said. “What did he say?”

“Omigod, I’m so sorry.”

“And what did you do?”

“I dropped my towel again and walked into the bedroom.”

“Why?”

“I just wanted to see what he would do,” Ally replied.

“And what did he do?”

“I have no idea. I just left him standing there with his mouth open.”

“And now what are you doing?”

“I’m asking you for advice,” Ally said. “I haven’t seen him yet today.”

“Oh,
that’s
why you’re calling so early,” Mandy said. “Well … let me think a second.”

“Maybe he didn’t like what he saw,” Ally said. “That’s the only explanation I can come up with.”

“That might not be it,” Mandy said. “Go out there naked again this morning and see what happens.”

“That’s your advice?”

“Yeah, Jake’s a red-blooded man. There’s no way he can see your body in the light of day and not want to jump it. Just brush your hair first. Oh, and brush your teeth.”

“I think that’s a terrible idea.”

“You won’t know if it will work until you try.”

Mandy stilled when she heard James clearing his throat behind her. She turned, her body rigid, and fixed him with a tight smile. “Um, Ally, I have to go.”

“What? Why?”

“Because your brother has been eavesdropping,” Mandy said. “And he doesn’t look happy.”

“Oh, crap.”

“You’ve got that right.” Mandy disconnected the phone and fixed James with her brightest smile. “Have I told you today how much I love you?”

James’ jaw was clenched. “Get dressed.”

Seven

Ally poked her head out of the bedroom and listened. She’d followed Mandy’s advice and brushed her hair, but she needed to cross the hallway before she could brush her teeth. When she didn’t hear anyone stirring, she scurried into the bathroom and shut the door.

When she finally deemed herself presentable, smoothing her tank top and cotton sleep pants to the best of her ability, she reentered the hallway. Ally’s mind was jumbled as she walked the short hallway. What if Jake had left in the middle of the night? What if the sight of her naked body had given him nightmares? What if he was still asleep on the couch? Ally had no idea which prospect terrified her the most.

To her relief, she found Jake still slumbering on the couch. When he wasn’t aware, relaxed, he was even more appealing. His face was always handsome, but there was a certain wariness about it in waking moments. In sleep, he was open … and beautiful. Ally took a moment, absorbing a sight she thought she would never see again, and then let a small sigh escape.

Jake stirred. “What are you staring at?”

Ally regained her equilibrium. “Who says I’m staring?”

“I can feel you over there watching me,” Jake said.

“I think the question you should be asking is: Why am I pretending to be asleep,” Ally shot back.

“I’m not pretending to be asleep,” Jake replied. “I just haven’t decided if I’m awake yet.” He opened his eyes, focusing on her. “How did you sleep?”

“Good,” Ally lied. It wasn’t the truth, not even in the slightest. She couldn’t tell him that thoughts of masked marauders breaking into the house wasn’t what plagued her dreams, though. “Thank you for staying.”

“I wouldn’t have left you,” Jake said, his voice soft and husky.

Ally collected herself. “Do you want breakfast?”

Jake leaned up on one elbow. “You cook?”

Ally narrowed her eyes. “Why does that surprise you?”

“Because I’ve met you,” Jake said. “I’ve never once seen you cook.”

“You’ve only seen me in the office and in my brother’s apartment,” Ally said. “I don’t usually cook in someone else’s home.”

Jake pursed his lips. “What are you going to cook?”

“Liver,” Ally said, making a face.

Jake laughed. “I’ll be there in a second.”

By the time Jake entered the kitchen, he found Ally already busy at the stove. There was something adorable about watching a woman cook a meal while she was still wearing her pajamas – and he was momentarily swept away by the sight of her.

“You like eggs, right?”

It took Jake a moment to realize she was speaking. “What?”

“Do you like eggs?” Ally repeated the question.

“Yeah, I like eggs.”

“Hash browns? Bacon? Toast? Do you like those things, too?”

“I do,” Jake said, sitting down on one of the kitchen stools on the other side of the counter. “I like all that stuff. I’m not going to be convinced you can cook any of that until I see it.”

“You’re a nonbeliever,” Ally said. “I don’t like skeptics.”

“I believe you can do anything you set your mind to,” Jake said. “I just don’t believe you’re really going to cook breakfast.”

“Well, I’ll show you,” Ally said, stalking to the refrigerator. “I am an excellent cook.”

Jake watched her, amusement flitting across his face. She had a certain … presence. She didn’t realize it, but she sucked up all of the energy in a room. She absorbed it, and then she sent it back out with a happier bounce.

It didn’t take long for Jake to absorb the fact that Ally’s idea of making breakfast included banging pans on the stove, rattling bowls on the counter, and slapping food every which way she could. Surprisingly, twenty minutes later, Ally was sliding a full plate in front of him.

“See.”

Jake picked up his fork and sampled her offerings. The hash browns, although from a bag, were perfectly cooked. She hadn’t asked how he wanted his eggs, but her over-easy offerings were cooked thoroughly and delicious. The bacon was crisp, just how he liked it. And the toast? It was cooked but not burnt. No one likes burnt toast, he told himself, and yet everyone seems to try and serve it. Everyone except for Ally, that was.

“Okay,” Jake said after tasting everything. “I stand corrected. You’re an awesome cook.”

“I’m awesome at everything I do,” Ally said, sliding her own plate of food to the other side of the counter and taking the seat next to him. “I’m just plain awesome.”

Jake smiled. “Eat your breakfast.”

“You eat your breakfast.”

“You can’t even be quiet when you’re eating, can you?”

Ally opened her mouth to argue, but Jake shoved a piece of toast from his own plate into her mouth. “Eat your breakfast, Ally.”

The next few minutes were blissfully quiet – and comfortable – and neither realization was lost on Jake. There was something about Ally’s mere presence that comforted him. The banging on the front door jostled them both out of their reverie.

Jake was on his feet, his stance wary. “Who would be here this early?”

Ally sighed. “I’m guessing it’s James and Mandy.”

“Do they always visit you this early on a Sunday morning?”

“No,” Ally said. “I just have a feeling.”

Jake watched her walk to the front door, worry twisting his insides. She seemed sure she knew who was on the other side of the door, but how could that be? His internal danger alarm wasn’t dinging, but still … . “Ally, wait.”

It was too late. Ally was throwing open the door, her hands on her hips and a petulant look on her face, before he could finish his thought.

James pushed Ally to the side and stalked into the house. “I can’t believe your house was broken into and you didn’t tell me!”

“I’m sorry,” Mandy said, giving Ally a quick hug. “I didn’t know he was listening when you called. That’s why I went into the other room.”

“It’s fine,” Ally said, waving off Mandy’s concerns. “I expected you when our conversation was so abruptly cut short.”

“He’s in a mood,” Mandy warned.

“I noticed.”

“You two know I’m in the room, right?” James said, his gaze finally landing on Jake. “What are you doing here?”

Jake dropped his napkin on the counter and fixed James with a stoic look. “I didn’t think she should be alone. I slept on the couch.”

James’ brown eyes traveled to the piece of furniture in question, like he was making sure, and then he turned back to Ally. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“Nothing was stolen,” Ally replied. “Jake thinks we interrupted whoever it was. It’s not like a robber is going to come back to the scene of the crime.”

“I’m still your brother.”

“So? I have three brothers. I didn’t call Grady or Finn either. Suck it up.”

“Suck it up?”

“Yes, suck it up,” Ally said. “This is my house. I made the decision.”

James turned on Jake. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“I … I don’t know. I wanted to. She said not to,” Jake replied.

“And you listened to her?”

“She’s very convincing when she wants to be.” Jake knew the explanation was lame, but he didn’t have an excuse.

“James,” Mandy warned. “Ally is an adult.”

“You’re not a part of this,” James snapped. “This is
my
family.”

Mandy took a step back, rearing as if she’d been struck. “Sorry. I didn’t realize I was the outsider here. I guess I’ll be leaving.”

James scowled. “Oh, don’t you start.”

“You can bite me,” Mandy spat back. “I know you’re angry, but you don’t get to talk to me that way. I don’t deserve it.”

“You knew Ally’s place was broken into and didn’t say anything,” James charged.

“I found out when you did,” Mandy said. “You found out from eavesdropping, so you found out at the exact same time I did.”

“And would you have told me?”

Mandy worried her bottom lip with her teeth. “Probably not.”

“Because your loyalty is to Ally, not me,” James said. “Don’t you dare deny it!”

“Hey!” Ally’s voice was shrill, causing all three heads to swivel in her direction. “Don’t you dare yell at her! I called my best friend, not your soon-to-be wife. I don’t have to tell you what’s going on in my life.”

“Don’t get involved in our argument,” James seethed.

“Don’t yell at her,” Mandy snapped.

“How did this become my fault?” James asked.

“Because you’re the one acting like an ass,” Ally said.

“I am not acting like an ass,” James said. “I just found out that my sister was in danger. I have a right to be upset.”

“Do you have a right to verbally abuse us because you’re upset?” Ally challenged.

“I’m not verbally abusing anyone,” James said, his voice lowering. “I’m just … .”

“If you’re not verbally abusing anyone, why does Mandy look like she’s about to cry?” Ally asked.

James glanced at his fiancée, the unshed tears apparent. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you.”

Mandy squared her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. Your family is none of my business. You’ve made that clear.” She disappeared out the still-open front door.

James swore. “Well, great.”

Ally was nonplussed. “I don’t feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for her. She’s your fiancée. She’s also my friend. I didn’t call your fiancée this morning. I called my best friend. You eavesdropped, busted into my house and acted like a total jerk, and then made Mandy feel like she’s not even a part of this family.”

“That’s not what I intended to do,” James said.

“It doesn’t matter what you intended to do,” Ally said. “Jake stayed on my couch to make sure I was safe, and you attacked him for it. Mandy tried to be my friend, and you attacked her for it. You’re the one in the wrong here.”

James glanced at Jake, contrition apparent as it washed across his features. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “Thank you for making sure my sister was safe.”

“I planned on telling you,” Jake said. “I don’t care how brave your sister is, I think this whole situation is messed up.”

“I know,” James said, running his hand through his hair. “I just … .”

“Flew off the handle,” Ally supplied. “Like you always do.”

“It must be a family trait,” Jake said, referring to the conversation he’d shared with the eldest Hardy brother the day before.

“It is,” James said. “Ally, I’m sending someone over to change these locks as soon as possible. You’re getting an upgraded security system, too. Don’t bother arguing. Jake, I’m truly sorry. Ally, you’re on my list.”

“What?” Ally was incensed.

“You should have called me,” James said. “I’m not budging on that. I treated Jake badly, and I’m going to be begging Mandy for forgiveness for days. You were in the wrong here, though. You’re my sister, and your safety is a priority. Until you realize that, I’m not interested in talking to you.”

Ally’s mouth dropped open as she watched James stride out the door. When he was gone, she turned to Jake. “Can you believe he just said that to me?”

“You have a family who loves you, Ally,” Jake said, his voice firm. “Don’t throw it away.”

 

JAMES
found Mandy standing on the passenger side of the Explorer. Her face was drawn and grim. Guilt twisted his insides. He felt like a total ass.

Mandy jerked when she saw him approach, turning her head away quickly. “Let’s just go home.”

“In a second,” James said. “I think I owe you an apology.”

“No, you don’t,” Mandy said. “You’re not wrong. Ally is not my family.”

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry,” James said, moving to her side. “That was the worst thing I could’ve said. Ally is your family. Even before I decided to make you my family, Ally was your family. What I said was mean and cruel, and it wasn’t true. I was just angry.”

Mandy wiped an errant tear from her face, refusing to meet James’ studied gaze. “Whatever.”

James grabbed her hand, pressing the palm against his lips. “I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I fly off at the mouth when I’m angry. I don’t mean it. That’s not an excuse. I just … please … I’m sorry.”

Mandy sucked in a deep breath, forcing a smile onto her face. “Let’s just go home.”

James’ heart pinged. She hadn’t forgiven him. She was being stoic, but she was still hurt. “Mandy … .”

“Let’s just go home,” Mandy said. “I haven’t eaten yet, and I’m tired.”

“Let’s go out to breakfast,” James offered, hoping the idea of a greasy meal would soften her up.

“No,” Mandy said. “Let’s just go home.”

James watched her climb into the Explorer, regret coursing through him. He’d totally fouled this up and let his temper get the better of him. Now, the thing he loved most in this world was upset, and he had no idea how to fix it.

BOOK: Deadly Prospects
2.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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