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One hot holiday, p.15

One Hot Holiday, page 15

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  Nothing has happened so far. Just me hiding.

  She peeked through the window near the door and saw—wait, was that Blair? Yes, it was definitely the brunette that she’d met the night before, and Blair’s fiancé stood a few feet behind her.

  Blair caught her peeking out and waved happily at her.

  Haley stepped back.

  The knock came again.

  How the hell had Blair found out where she was staying? Haley grabbed her phone and called Spencer. She’d programmed him into her phone the night before, and he answered her on the second ring.

  “Okay, the couple I met last night at the park—they are at my door right now.” She spoke quickly. Probably too quickly. “This is making me nervous as hell because how did they know where I was? What if they’re working for Drew? What if—”

  “They’re working for me,” he revealed quietly. “They’re Wilde. You can let them in. It’s okay.”

  She didn’t move to let them in.

  In the background, she heard some sort of announcement—kind of like a doctor being paged. Was he at the hospital?

  “I told them to show you their identification. I should have called you first. I’m sorry.”

  “Yes, a call would have been good. It would have prevented a heart attack.” She put a hand to her chest where her heart frantically raced. “I’m guessing you haven’t found Francis yet?”

  “No, but I’m heading in to talk with Cody right now. I want to make sure there is no detail he’s overlooked about the attack.”

  Yes, great plan.

  “I’ll be back with you soon,” he promised her.

  She put down her phone and unlocked the door.

  Blair beamed at her. “Haley!” She threw her arms around Haley and pulled her in for a big hug. “We’re Wilde agents, and we’re here to keep you safe,” she whispered. “I have my ID in my pocket, and I can show it to you—”

  Haley pulled back and kept a smile on her face. “I just spoke to Spencer.” Her gaze darted to Blair’s fiancé. She couldn’t remember his name. Had she even been told his name? Everything was so jumbled. “He told me you’d be stopping by.” She waved them in. “Come inside.”

  They slowly headed inside.

  She bolted the door behind them. Then spun around. “What in the hell is happening?”

  They’d both lost their smiles.

  “You never know when someone’s watching,” Blair’s fiancé told her. “Always good to keep an act in place.”

  “Who are you?” Haley demanded.

  Blair blinked. “I’m Blair. This is my partner, Linc. I gave you my real name last night. I try to be as real as possible with people.” She took a step away from Linc. “We’re just definitely, definitely not engaged.”

  “You should be so lucky.” Linc winked at Blair. Then he sobered when he focused back on Haley. “You’re in good hands. You don’t have a single thing to worry about.”

  She nodded. Waited a bit. Nothing else was said. So she had to ask, “Are you crazy?”

  Linc’s brow furrowed.

  “My ex is a crime boss with connections to plenty of dirty cops. I was shot at recently. The guy who tailed me from New York—and the man possibly behind the shooting—escaped from a jail cell.”

  Linc nodded. “Yes, all true.”

  She fought the insane urge to scream. “I know it’s true, and I know that means I have lots of things to worry about.”

  Now he winced. “I was trying to be comforting.”

  “I told you,” Blair muttered, “you don’t do that well. You’re supposed to leave the comforting parts to me.”

  His mouth hardened.

  Haley stalked past them. “I have to do something.”

  “Staying alive is something,” Linc immediately assured her. “Staying alive is something very, very important. And with a guy like Bradley after you, staying alive can be tricky.”

  She spun and gaped at him.

  “Again…” A sigh from Blair. “Another of your less-than-strong areas. Tact. Tact.”

  “I am the most tactful person I know,” Linc boasted as his hand lifted. He pointed at Haley. “You stay alive, then the bad guy loses. That is the most important thing here, don’t you get that? If you die, then the sheriff will probably flip the hell out and your crime boss ex will get killed.”

  What? Her gaze darted to Blair. She’d rather deal with Blair than Linc.

  Blair gave her a hesitant smile. “Hi. Can we start over?”

  “My head is hurting.”

  “Totally understandable given the circumstances, but you have nothing to worry about. Like, literally, zero worries. Linc and I are very good at our jobs.”

  “I’ve protected a crown prince,” Linc revealed in a stage whisper. “Half the country hated him. I made sure he kept breathing.”

  “Fabulous.” Haley didn’t look away from Blair. “What am I supposed to do? Just stay locked up in this cottage?”

  Linc and Blair shared a long look. “Well, as to that…” Blair cleared her throat. “Linc has a plan he wanted to run by you.”

  “Okay. Good. Now that’s something.” She squared her shoulders. “What’s the plan?”

  “I think you need to go to a remote, deserted spot,” Linc announced.

  Blair pressed her lips together.

  “And wait for the bad guy to come and get you,” he concluded.

  Silence. All thick and heavy and suffocating.

  Linc rocked forward onto the balls of his feet. “What do you think of that?”

  “I think I’d like to see proof that you’re Wilde agents.” She motioned toward them. “IDs, badges, whatever you’ve got.”

  “We don’t have badges.” He looked offended. “We’re not cops. We’re part of the best security firm on the East Coast.” He handed her his ID.

  So did Blair.

  She scanned them. “The best security on the East Coast wants me to go to a deserted, secluded area…and wait for the bad guy to come and kill me?” Haley looked up. “Am I following along correctly? Getting all the details in order?”

  “Oh, no, no, no.” Linc took his ID back from her. Tucked it into the back pocket of his jeans. When he moved his arm, his jacket parted, and she saw his shoulder holster and gun. “You’re not going to die. We don’t get paid if you die.”

  Blair squeezed her eyes closed. “That crap is not funny. Tact, Linc, tact.”

  He sniffed. “A deserted area means that no civilians will get drawn into the crossfire. Seclusion means we can set up a controlled environment so that we’re ready when the bad guy approaches.”

  Wait… “You’re talking about setting a trap?”

  He flashed a killer grin. “That is exactly what I’m talking about.” He nodded approvingly. “See, I know you’re brave enough to do this. You turned the guy in back when you were living in New York, didn’t you? Ran right to the cops with your evidence. That takes balls. Big ones.”

  She frowned at him.

  “So I figure you’ll be up for this challenge. You’ll want to stop the bad guy before any of the innocent locals get drawn into the crossfire. We take you to a secluded spot—by the way, I already have it picked out, there’s a Christmas tree farm about ten miles from here that is shut down and will be perfect—and we wait for the bad guy to make our holiday by stepping straight into our trap.”

  Haley glanced over at Blair. “Is he serious?”

  “He is, but there is no way—no way in the world—that Spence will go for this plan.” She tossed a glower at Linc. “As I have told him three times already. Spence isn’t just going to let his girlfriend waltz into the sights of the shooter. He wants her locked down and safe. He doesn’t want her to be target practice for the bad guy.” A wince. “And since Spence is paying the bills…”

  “Wait!” Haley held up her hand. “Spencer is paying you to protect me?”

  “Well, sure.” Linc strolled around the den and started poking at various things. “Not like Wi
lde Securities is free. I mean, you want the best, you pay for the best.”

  Her temples throbbed. “You’ll send the bill to me.”

  He stopped poking and glanced at her. “It’s a really high bill, and your boyfriend has the cash to handle it. No big deal.”

  The throbbing got worse.

  “I mean, dude is rolling in the dough. Old family money and shit. Seriously, don’t worry about it.” Linc waved away her concerns.

  She wasn’t waving away anything. “You’re sending me the bill. I’ll pay it. I can do it on installments or something.” She didn’t have old family money, but she had pride. She was paying her own bills.

  “Of course…” Linc’s voice was way too casual. “If we set our trap, you won’t need protection any longer because we’ll catch the bad guy and you’ll be safe.”

  “You think I don’t see you trying to manipulate me?”

  He blinked, all innocence. There was nothing innocent about him. He was like six-foot-two and one hundred eighty pounds of manipulation.

  “Look, buddy.” She marched toward him and jabbed him in the chest with her index finger. “I don’t buy the smile and the scruffy good looks. I don’t go for that type.”

  He looked down at her finger. “What is your type?” His gaze lifted. “Let me guess…it’s tall, dark and dangerous? A SEAL who gets off on adrenaline even while he craves a stable home and family ’cause he never really had that growing up?”

  Her eyes narrowed.

  “Linc,” Blair cut in. “Watch your ass. Shit that I tell you in confidence isn’t to be shared.”

  “Um. Sorry.” But he didn’t sound it. “Blair knows him, you see. He was almost her partner before she got saddled with me. I got her to spill the deets to me over coffee. Your guy is all about the danger. He hides it, though, with a slow drawling voice and that friendly sheriff veneer. Look past it, and you’ll see you’ve got a very dangerous new lover.” He considered that. “Though I suppose your last lover was dangerous, too. Hmmm. You know what? I do think you have a type.”

  “And I think you’re trying to push me. It’s almost cute.”

  His lips started to curve—

  “Almost,” she snapped. “But I don’t like being manipulated. I had far more than enough manipulation when I was with Drew. You want my cooperation? Then you talk straight with me. You don’t try to play games.” Her hand dropped. She focused on Blair. “You think a trap will work?”

  After a moment, Blair nodded. “It’s obvious that you’re the guy’s target. I mean, he did try to shoot you.”

  “And if I’m in the open, you and your partner can keep me safe?”

  Another nod. “It’s our job. We’re very good at our jobs. Even if one of us…” Her gaze cut to Linc before she added, “Can be a little hard to manage.”

  Haley still wasn’t on board. “How do we know the bad guy will come for me? I mean, I could just go to the tree farm and stand there for hours.”

  “You could,” Blair agreed. “And in that case, you’ve wasted an afternoon. Nothing more. But Linc and I think you’re being watched. We think the attacker is waiting for a moment of weakness in order to strike, so if we give him that moment of weakness…”

  “He’ll come in.” Her mind clicked through the possibilities. Options. There actually weren’t many. “How does it work? I mean, what’s the exact plan?”

  Blair and Linc shared another long look. They seemed to do that a lot. A whole silent communication thing. Then Blair said, “You and I will head to the tree farm. They aren’t selling trees so no one will be there, but you and I can act like we’re tourists taking some pics. I’ve already put down that cover story in town. Linc will tail behind us. He’ll make sure he’s not seen but that he’s in position. I know, I know, he can be a lot to handle, but the man is good at his job.”

  “I appreciate that,” Linc responded. “You’re a lot, too, but I love you.”

  Blair’s eyes widened. “He…doesn’t mean that.” Her cheeks flushed a bit. “We’re not…not involved. You can trust us. Linc will stay out of sight until we need him. We’ll get the attacker, and—”

  “You can be back to watching your sheriff singing karaoke at the local bar by nightfall.” Linc appeared expectant as he waited on her.

  If only things could really work out that easily. But…

  What did she have to lose?

  Um, my life. If she got shot. If the bad guy fired at her again. If—

  “Oh, did I mention we came bearing a present?” Linc tapped his chin. “It’s still in the car. My bad. I’ll be right back.” He hurried out.

  Blair sighed. “I promise, he’s not as bad as he seems. He kind of grows on you, if you give him a chance.”

  Haley crossed her arms over her chest. “If this was your life, would you be trying to trap the bad guy?” Before Blair could answer, Haley gave a rough laugh. “Wait, of course, you would. You trap bad guys for a living, don’t you?”

  “Normally, I’m more about protection. But the best way to protect someone is to eliminate a threat. And Linc, well, he used to be an Atlanta Detective, so he’s always wanting to take the offensive in cases.” A pause. “I would take this option, by the way. Because the guy opened fire when you were on the beach. That tells me he’s desperate. If the shooter really is your ex, if Drew Bradley is getting his hands dirty because he wants to take you out personally, then this is your chance to send him straight to hell. Or, you know, jail. Which I think would be the same thing for a pampered jerk like him.”

  Linc came rushing back toward her. He had a big package in his arms. It was wrapped in green and gold paper and tied with a bright, red bow.

  “A Christmas gift?” Haley was confused. Again. She reached for the package. Slowly opened it.

  She blinked at the gift inside.

  “You want to know the real gift that keeps on giving?” Linc asked her. “It’s a bulletproof vest. You’re welcome.”

  Another sigh slipped from Blair. “We wrapped it—”

  “I wrapped it,” Linc cut in. “And you told me I was doing a shit job.”

  “You were.” She cleared her throat. “We wrapped the vest because a gift fit the cover. No one saw us bring it inside, and now you can put it under a coat and be safe.”

  “While we spring our trap.” Linc appeared pleased as hell with himself.

  Haley touched the bulletproof vest. The gift that keeps on giving, huh?

  Her spine stiffened. “Let’s do it.”

  Chapter Fourteen

  And that was how Haley found herself walking through a sprawling Christmas tree farm, a bulletproof vest hidden beneath her sweater and coat, and the scent of rich pine filling her nose.

  Blair was at her side, talking casually, but Haley sensed the tenseness in the other woman’s body. She knew that Blair was completely focused on her surroundings. Haley was, too. She might not have Blair’s training, but she was hyper aware.

  Haley was also pretty much scared as hell. She supposed that was normal, though, when she was trying to lure a killer to her.

  “Because of all the trees, he won’t have an easy shot at you.” Blair’s voice was low. She smiled as she pointed to a nearby tree and took a picture. “He’ll have to come in close. That’s one of the reasons why Linc wanted to use this place.”

  The trees swayed gently as the breeze seemed to increase. Haley glanced up. The sky was darkening. Storm clouds were heading her way.

  Such a bad sign.

  They’d been out there for about forty minutes already, and there hadn’t been so much as a sign of anyone else. The place had been dead quiet and—

  A twig snapped.

  ***

  “We’ve got us a situation.”

  When Titus spoke, Spencer glanced up from the computer monitors. He’d been reviewing every bit of security footage that he could find. He’d even used Eric’s tech team to tap into some of the camera feeds when the official channels had been too slow for him.
>
  He was pretty sure that he’d caught sight of Francis Callaway and the accomplice who’d helped the guy escape the jail cell. Only, in that one, faint shot he’d gotten—a shot from behind the sheriff’s station—it had almost looked like the accomplice was holding a gun.

  Threatening Francis?

  “Do you know where your favorite New Yorker is right now?”

  “What the fuck?” Spencer’s spine snapped straight. “She’s under the protection of two Wilde agents.” She’d better be under their protection. He’d sent them to the cottage to keep an eye on her. Titus knew all about the Wilde agents. Spencer trusted him completely, so he’d updated him right after they’d arrived in town.

  “Uh, yes, she’s under their protection, but do you know where they are?” Titus winced. “Judging by your expression…no. And that’s why I said we have a situation.”

  Spencer strode toward him. “Tell me. Now.”

  “They were spotted out near the old Christmas tree farm. I am seriously doubting that they all wanted to go for a stroll, so when a patrolling deputy caught sight of Blair Kincaid’s rental car out there and notified me, I thought you’d want to know.”

  Fury hardened Spencer’s body. “Why the hell would they take her out there?” But he had a suspicion, one that had better be wrong.

  Titus’s tense features said he had the same suspicion. “It’s a deserted spot, and if I were looking to lure in the bad guy—”

  Spencer surged past him. “They’re fucking using her as bait.”

  ***

  Blair pulled her gun, but she kept it down low, hidden behind her body. She also moved so that she was in front of Haley.

  And Drew Bradley just stepped out from behind a tall cypress tree. Just waltzed out. He was dressed casually, in jeans and a long-sleeved button-down, one that stretched across his shoulders. His dark hair had been swept back, and he smiled at her, revealing his perfect teeth.

  “Get your hands up!” Blair blasted at him.

  Drew frowned at her. But he lifted his hands.

  Haley could only shake her head. He’d walked out of the trees. Like it was nothing.

  “I don’t have a weapon on me.”

  His voice was charming and easy, but then, he was charming. If a snake was charming. He took a step forward.

 
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