Mad Love (A Nolan Brothers Novel Book 4), page 1
Table of Contents
A Nolan Brothers Novel ~ Book Four
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Books available in the contemporary romance series about the Nolan brothers (in chronological order):
Beautiful Ruin (Noah and Mina ~ available now)
Sweetest Mistake (Luke and Emily ~ available now)
Dirty Play (Jack and Haven ~ available now)
Mad Love (Leo and Prue ~ available now)
Last Heartbreak (Shea and Isobel ~ coming soon!)
It was the first thing Leo Nolan remembered.
Since those earliest fractured memories of his mom’s illness and death when he was five years old, fear had gnawed and festered inside him until it was all he knew. All that made sense. All that mattered.
He longed to destroy The Fear, and had spent most of his life trying to do just that. But of course, The Fear could not be destroyed. So the day he turned eighteen, he decided he’d had enough of being afraid and chose to become the feared instead.
He became a US Marine.
The fire of combat taught him that, although The Fear could not be conquered, it could be tricked into usefulness—for a time. He became the best there was at fooling it. Deception became his game, madness his playing field. There were no rules, only the desperate, reckless will to survive.
Now, four years removed from a decade of service in combat zones around the world, he hadn’t just been to hell and back, he was a permanent resident. The Fear was real. It lived inside him. Every time he thought of them. Every time he tried, but failed, to make the next drink his last. Every time he recalled the reason she’d died was because of him.
Every. Fucking. Time.
Which was every minute of every day.
He was The Fear.
So it shouldn’t have unnerved him as much as it did to receive the phone call from his good buddy and former comrade Owen.
“You want me to do what?”
“I need you to check up on my sister,” Owen said. “I think she’s in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
Immediately, Leo wished he could take back the question. He didn’t care what kind of trouble Owen’s sister was in. All that mattered was that he not be responsible for her—or anyone else’s—well-being in any way, at all, ever. Not ever again. Never.
The weight of Owen’s heavy sigh through the phone only intensified Leo’s resistance to the cause. “Nothing too serious, I hope. She pissed off some internet trolls and they’ve been harassing her online. Gideon’s looking into them, but I want to make certain nothing has carried over into real life.”
Leo dragged a suddenly trembling hand through his hair. “Why don’t you just ask her?”
“I have. She swears she’s fine, but I fully expect her to lie to me.”
Leo yanked on the ends of his hair. “What makes you think she won’t lie to me?”
“Oh, she will.” A hint of laughter infected Owen’s tone. “That’s why I picked you. Well, that and you live in the same city.”
Leo had no idea what city Owen thought he lived in anymore. For the past four years, he hadn’t lived in any one place longer than a few months, preferring to bounce around instead.
“I’m not asking you to babysit her,” Owen said. “Just do some recon, make sure things stay quiet for a few days. I’ll be home at the end of the month and will take it from there.”
Denials screamed inside Leo’s skull. “I don’t know….” Desperation clawing at him, he paced the living room floor at his brother’s house where he’d been staying. “Maybe Claymore can help you out.”
“I don’t want Claymore’s help. I want yours.”
“But why?” The words rasped from him.
After a beat, Owen responded, “I trust you.”
Leo drew up. “Don’t you trust your sister?”
“It’s not that.” Owen seemed to pick his words carefully. “She’s a bit naïve sometimes, that’s all.”
Except that wasn’t all.
“And… soft-hearted. You could say a little… fragile even.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Owen was quick to add. “She’s the baby of the family, and well, you know how girls can be….”
The only thing Leo knew was that if Owen’s kid sister wanted to play damsel in distress, she’d have to find some other poor sap to act the hero. He opened his mouth to say exactly that, but Owen beat him to the punch.
“I need your help, man.” Through the phone, Owen’s voice deepened with a shadow of fear. “I promise, I won’t ask anything of you ever again.”
The weight of inevitability settled around Leo’s shoulders, cementing his feet to the floorboards. Owen had been there for him more times than Leo cared to count. He didn’t want to turn his back on his friend, but The Fear rose up to choke and silence him.
Then, while he stood there, powerless and mute, his sister-in-law, Emily, waddled into the room, her large, heavily pregnant belly leading the way, and the despair he’d wasted the last four years trying to move past ripped through him. All he could do was stare while the agony rolled over him in sickening waves.
Finally, with a vicious wrench, he twisted away from the sight of her.
“Fine, I’ll do it.” He despised the telltale quiver in his voice. “Where do I find her?”
Prudence Lockhart leaned to the side, causing her desk chair to groan.
She stretched a tad more, peering into the far corner of the room. “Four hundred and thirty-six.”
Collapsing back in the chair, her satisfaction was short-lived. After all, she’d known before she’d begun counting that there were 436 carpet squares covering the floor of the Cambridge Science Institute’s reception area.
It wasn’t the first time she’d counted them.
A glance at the wall clock pulled a groan from her. An hour remained in the workday.
On a typical day at the Institute, Prue answered the phones, scheduled meetings for the staff of scientists, and kept the coffee brewed. She always completed her duties with time left in the workday. Hours, usually. To fend off boredom, she often helped Amanda with her work in payroll, or cleaned the staff break room, but this Friday afternoon, in the middle of summer, she’d finished all such tasks and was one of only a few people who remained in the building.
Hence she counted the carpet tiles.
But the thrill of the count was long gone. She feared she was going to have to start naming the squares.
A scowl pulled at her features as she eyed the floor. So what if her job didn’t challenge her? Or that the most interesting part of her day involved p
She sighed heavily in the empty room.
Sally, Louise, Natasha—
The soft jingle of her cell phone saved her from her fate. She dove for the desk drawer where she had stashed her purse and retrieved the device from a side pocket. Anticipation bubbled up when she opened the private message sent to her social media account. Maybe Paul had something new to share.
You stupid bitch, you need to stop with your insane attacks. You’re going to regret—
She closed the app without reading the rest.
It wasn’t the first time she’d been a target of harassment online, though she didn’t recognize the username behind this particular note. The threats, which began about a month ago, now came in droves. At first they’d disturbed and frightened her, but then a pattern emerged and she started tracking which of her posts generated the strongest attacks. Now the menacing messages only served as proof that she was getting closer to the truth.
She slid the wire-bound notebook from her purse and laid it on her desk. A thrill chased through her as she flipped to the last pages containing her scribbled handwriting. For the first time in years, she’d taken up work of her own. It was the only project she’d cared to undertake since Aron King ripped her world out from under her feet, but before then, she’d spent hours filling notebooks with her studies. Everything from chemistry and physics to quantum theory and nanotechnology. But these days, she was focused on only one thing.
One man, actually.
Her mind churning over the seemingly disparate notes she’d scrawled, she turned to her desktop and logged in to her social media account. While she posted the latest nuggets of information from her notebook, she frowned at the monitor, puzzling over the pieces that refused to fit together.
Absorbed as she was in her project, the last hour of her workday melted off the clock, and, with a jolt of surprise, she realized she’d remained at her desk more than an hour past the close of business. Now she was late for dinner.
She shut down her computer and snatched up her purse and notebook on her way to the building’s back door exit. Outside, heat from the summer sun radiated off the asphalt as she crossed the nearly empty employee parking lot. Drawing in a lungful of fresh air, she lifted her face to the sky and relished the sun’s warmth on her skin.
Not so long ago, she’d only been able to observe the sunshine and gentle summer winds from within hospital walls. One of her sharpest memories from that time was wanting to be outdoors again, enjoying something as simple as a beautiful summer day. The wish had marked the moment her recovery veered away from illness and back toward health.
But as she approached her car, her peace was shattered.
The driver side door stood slightly ajar, and she pulled up abruptly. Through the windows she saw the interior of the vehicle had been trashed. Her dirty laundry had been ripped from its bag and strewn throughout the car. The contents of her glove compartment and center console were scattered among the mess, and her coin tray, filled with quarters for the laundromat, was empty.
Someone had broken into her car.
Panic squeezed Leo’s chest with painful spasms while sounds from the hotel tavern swirled around him. Propped on a barstool at the end of the bar, he clutched a tumbler in his white-knuckled fist and stared down into the amber liquid.
He hadn’t had a drink in more than two months, mainly to test whether he could do it. It’d ended up being one of the hardest things he’d ever done, and now his tenuous resolve for sobriety had snapped. All because he’d agreed to play bodyguard to Owen’s kid sister.
What the hell had he been thinking? Lord knew he couldn’t be trusted to keep anyone safe from harm.
He snagged the glass and swallowed several large gulps of the smooth whiskey.
Alcohol was like an old lover he kept coming back to. Though he’d later regret the lapse in judgment, she gave him what he needed to get through the dark, lonely moments. Beer for those times when he couldn’t afford to get drunk but couldn’t bear to stay sober. Wine to curb the sadness. Vodka to cool the rage. Whiskey to dilute The Fear. None, however, no matter the quantity, managed to truly black out the memories, and his search for The One continued.
The bartender stopped in front of Leo. “How we doing tonight, sir?”
It was a lie, of course. Just one of many Leo told these days.
“What brings you to Boston?”
“Visiting some friends,” he mumbled.
The lies were the only thing that gave him comfort. They were soft and soothing, and he unashamedly wrapped himself with their fuzzy warmth. Alcohol made the lies believable, and for that, he’d love her forever.
“You need another?”
Leo nodded and downed the last drops of liquor before sliding the empty tumbler across the bar.
While he waited for his drink, he checked his cell phone again. Relief rattled through him that no new messages had come in, including none from Owen, who was supposed to text Leo the sister’s address.
A freshly poured whiskey appeared on the bar before him and he wrapped his hand possessively around the stout glass. It seemed he’d been given a night’s reprieve from his unpleasant task.
Tomorrow, when Owen sent the information, Leo would stop by the sister’s house, make sure she wasn’t dead, and do not one single thing more. If she was in trouble, or needed help, Owen was going to have to find someone else to deal with it.
Leo was too busy tending to the one and only item on his to-do list. He signaled the bartender.
Drink and stay drunk.
By the time the police finished their report, the sun barreled toward the horizon and Prue’s stomach grumbled with hunger. Rather than return to her apartment to change out of the peasant top and fitted capri pants she’d dressed in for work that morning, she drove straight to the hotel where her sister, Faith, was staying while in town for a professional conference.
She parked near the restaurant’s front entrance and scurried inside. In the soft lighting, she scanned the crowded room until she caught sight of Faith waving at her from the far side of the bar.
Prue picked her way through the crush of bodies, then collapsed on the barstool next to Faith.
She expelled a sharp puff of air. “Sorry I’m late.”
Older by two years, Faith had inherited their dad’s light hair and their mom’s ample curves, while Prue got her mom’s darker coloring but missed out on the curves.
Faith pushed a red daiquiri at her. “What is going on?”
“Someone broke into my car.” Prue reached for the daiquiri.
Faith gasped. “What? Are you okay?”
Sucking on her straw, Prue nodded.
“Do the police have any idea who did it?” Faith asked as she scooped a slice of cheese pizza onto a plate and slid it in front of Prue.
“Not yet, no.” Prue used the straw to stab at the icy concoction in her glass.
Faith’s large round eyes narrowed to slits. “But you do.”
“I do not.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “You’re a terrible liar.”
As a trained journalist, Faith sniffed a story in everything. For the longest time, Prue assumed her sister’s ability to ferret out all her secrets was due to the strength of their sibling bond. Now she knew otherwise.
“C’mon, spill it,” Faith urged.
Prue pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. At one time, she’d have jumped at the chance to talk to someone, anyone who would listen, about her latest research project, but those days were far behind her. Now she didn’t like to share. Not anything. Not with anyone.
Faith nudged Prue with her elbow. “I’m just going to keep asking.”
“All I have so far are suspicions,” Prue admitted.
“Suspicions are good.” Faith lif
But Prue hesitated. She sipped her drink while she sorted through what information she would disclose, and what she preferred to withhold from her sister.
“Do you remember that coup attempt in Montenegro last year?”
Faith sucked on her daiquiri straw. “Not at all.”
“Well, according to some news reports I read, the coup was led by one of the losing candidates in their national election, and he had help from a whole host of bad guys. Mobsters and drug dealers from all around the world kicked in the cash, and a group of American mercenaries provided the military support for the attempted overthrow.”
Faith’s gaze sharpened.
Prue shifted in her seat. “So anyway, I started tracking some of these bad guys, their business ties and dealings, and the same names kept popping up.”
“Okay.” A frown tugged at Faith’s features. “But what does this have to do with your car being broken into?”
“I’m getting to that. Do you remember Blackstone?”
Faith’s conspiratorial zeal turned to pity. “Oh, Prue.”
“This is about Aron King?”
“No. Yes, but it’s but not like that.”
Doubt tainted Faith’s expression.
“It’s about what he’s done—what he’s doing,” Prue said. “Right now.”
“So this isn’t about what happened between you two?”
Faith appeared unconvinced. She leaned forward and captured Prue’s gaze with hers. “Look me in the eye and swear to me that you are not still hung up on that jerk.” She cringed. “You aren’t, are you?”
Bitter bile rose in Prue’s throat. Faith thought Aron had broken Prue’s heart, and in all honesty, he had. Just not in the way her sister believed.
“I most certainly am not still hung up on that jerk,” Prue said. “That was years ago, and it has nothing to do with any of this.”
“What is it you think he’s doing, exactly?”
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