HANDCUFFS AND HAPPILY EVER AFTERS SERIES
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When you get time off for bad behavior, romance is the last thing on your mind—but good old-fashioned lust is a whole different story…
Life undercover isn’t exactly one big party—not when you’re a DEA agent—but it sure beats a desk job. Except when you screw up big and someone has to go in and clean up after you. In that case, even paper-pushing sounds better than babysitting an erotic romance writer with as many enemies as there are euphemisms for “throbbing manhood.”
I’ve been taking down drug dealers for so long, playing bodyguard to a woman named Shoshanna Lehump sounds like nothing more than a giant pain in my ass— and being partnered with the gorgeous egotistical jerk I never should have slept with in the first place was making a bad situation even harder–especially when he pursues me as diligently as we’re supposed to be pursuing the bad guys…What’s a girl have to do to get a happy ending anyway?
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“Is your name even David?” I asked as I yanked my panties back on.
“Is yours Melanie?” he inquired, buttoning his jeans.
“I asked first,” I countered, wondering for the umpteenth time why being an idiot came so easily to me.
We dressed in silence. I glanced around the hotel room and felt the need to do damage. Unsure whether I wanted to damage him or myself, I decided to get the hell out before I did something else I would regret.
“You know, I can’t believe I’ve been sleeping with you on and off for a year and I don’t know your real name,” I said as I slipped my gun into its holster on my hip, promising myself I would never lay eyes on his ridiculously gorgeous nude body again
“Back at ya, Ice.”
“Like your eyes, pretty girl. Icy blue and cold. I figure since you’re not going to tell me your real name, I’ll just give you one that fits.”
“How about I call you, Ass?” I snapped. What in the hell was wrong with me? He hadn’t forced me to do anything I wasn’t more than willing to do. True, he hadn’t given his real name, but neither had I.
“I’ve been called worse,” he chuckled, revealing even white teeth and an orgasm-inducing smile. “When will I see you again?” He adjusted his bulletproof vest and slipped his knife back into his boot.
“Let me think,” I purred, enjoying how my change of tone stopped him in his tracks and piqued his interest. “Never. You will never see me again. I’m not interested and I’m tired of screwing someone I can’t trust to tell me his real name.”
“Turn about is fair play,” he grinned. He checked his gun and secured it at his hip. “And I think you were pretty interested twenty minutes ago when I made you see Jesus.”
“Oh. My. God. You did not just liken sex with you to a biblical experience,” I sputtered. His ego was bigger than his dick and his dick was nothing to scoff at.
“If the shoe fits…”
“Listen, David,” I ground out between clenched teeth. “You’re a decent lay and all, but you’re not that good. I’m turning over a new leaf and I’m done having meaningless sex with asshats.”
“Good luck with that, Ice,” he replied, enjoying himself too much for my liking. He beat me to the door and flipped the lock. “I’ll see you around,” he shot back over his shoulder as he walked away.
“Don’t bet on it,” I muttered and grabbed my purse.
“Oh, baby, I’m a gambling man,” he laughed as he disappeared from my sight and hopefully my life.
I slumped down on the sex-destroyed bed and dropped my head into my hands. I had to get my damned life together. Was this all I had to look forward to? Mind blowing sex with assholes not named David? The sex had been biblical, but the after-shame was getting debilitating. I was far better than this. What would my mother think? Or my brother, for that matter? I shuddered at the thought. I was an accomplished woman at the top of my game and I deserved more than I allowed myself to have.
Done. I was done.
I grabbed my handcuffs, which had unfortunately been put to very obscene use about a half an hour ago, and left. I considered leaving my non-traceable Go-Phone in the room so there was no chance of another hook-up, but I needed it for work. With one last wistful glance at the sin-bed, I walked out of that room and into my new and improved life.
Three Months Later
The office was small but tidy. My gut clenched in anticipation of the dressing down I was about to receive. I glanced at the organized stacks of paper waiting to be filed sitting neatly next to a pile of romance novels. I grinned and grabbed one—anything to take my mind off my latest major fuck up. I’d been out of the hospital for nearly a month and I was ready to work again. I just needed to take my stern talking to and get on with it. I paged through the book and snorted. Why my boss kept this crap here was a mystery to me. I wondered if he read them.
Romance was for people who believed in fairy tales, and I didn’t. Life was real and most people were bad. I skimmed the book and rolled my eyes. Nobody looked that good first thing in the morning, and making out without brushing your teeth at seven am was not my idea of a good time. Damn, the sex was pretty good though.
Of course, that made me think about not David, the egotistical wonder dick. I hadn’t Go-Phoned him and he hadn’t Go-Phoned me and since we hadn’t made any other strangers-with-benefits rendezvous, I hadn’t seen him in months. That smarted a little bit, but it was for the best. Great sex was great sex. I could get that anywhere. Although, he’d kind of ruined me. I hadn’t slept with anyone but him in over a year. Whatever. At least he didn’t know that.
I nervously tucked a strand of stiff blonde hair behind my ear. Where in the hell was Steve? I knew I had it coming. I’d blown my cover twice in six months and that didn’t bode well. I’d considered cutting my hair and coloring it before my meeting to show my boss, yet again, how easily I could disguise myself, but I figured a wig would do the trick.
Blonde wasn’t really my color, but the last time I’d gotten an ass-chewing, I’d worn a red wig. Men preferred blondes according to Marilyn Monroe and although Steve was gay, I figured being blonde couldn’t hurt.
The ruckus in the hallway yanked me out of my pity party.
“This is ridiculous,” a female voice shrieked. “You’re not a fag. You fathered our two children and slept with me for…”
“Enough,” my boss Steve ground out. “We’re divorced and I am happily re-married. You’re not allowed here, and if I have to get a restraining order, I will.”
“You can’t marry a man. It’s against God’s will. You’ll burn in hell and you’ll deserve it,” his not so lovely ex-wife hissed.
“Jesus Christ, Helen. You need to leave now before I do something I will regret. Although there’s not much I would regret at the moment.”
“I’ll leave,” she said airily. “But you’ll come back to me. Take this and read it. See the light, Steve. When you do, I’ll be waiting.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” he muttered.
I heard her heels clack down the hall. And that right there was why I would never get married. I’d rather chew glass and swallow it than deal with that kind of bullshit. Not that I’d get a divorce because I’d realized I was gay, but there were myriads of reasons not to be involved with anyone. Ever.
“Sorry about that,” Steve sighed as he entered the office and tossed the Bible she’d obviously given him into the trash. “That was stressful to say the least.”
“Um, are you okay?”
“I’m just dandy.” He grimaced and took a seat behind his desk.
My boss Steve was a great looking man in his late forties. Sandy blonde hair and built like a brick shit-house. An ex-Navy Seal. From what I knew about him, he could kill a man with his bare hands, and I was fairly sure he’d been tempted to do just that to his ex-wife. He had two kids that he was devoted to and a husband that he adored. Clearly that didn’t sit well with his ex-wife.
“Sorry you had to hear Helen mouthing off,” he said.
“No problem,” I said, feeling awful that I was adding to the weight of problems that had very obviously landed on his shoulders. “So, um…you wanted to see me?”
Steve tented his fingers, rested his chin on them and stared at me. I fidgeted with my wig and put the novel back on the edge of his desk. Fuck, why wouldn’t he say something? Never one to let a silence live out its life…I filled it.
“So I know you’re a little unhappy with me at the moment, but I had no choice. Back up was stalled in traffic and the fucker was going to get away. I had to move. He sold to kids,” I said at light speed in an effort to make him see there had been no other way. “Three sixteen year olds had already OD’d and he was scheduled to get a shipment that would hook and kill God knows how many others and I …”
“Do you have a death wish?” Steve asked quietly.
Shitballs. Yelling I could take. Yelling I could understand and process. Quiet was bad, really bad.
“It seems to me that you do,” he said and tiredly ran his hands through his hair. “You broke procedure and could have been killed.”
“But I wasn’t and I…”
“This time,” Steve interrupted me in a hard voice that shut me up quick. “This time you weren’t killed, by sheer luck…not skill. You blew your cover with a cartel that wants your ass and will stop at nothing to get it.”
“I stopped a thirty million dollar transaction and I won’t apologize,” I told him, adjusting my wig, which had slipped forward due to the fact I’d forgotten to pin the stupid ugly thing on.
“Show me your stomach.”
Goddamnit, I didn’t have time for this. “My stomach is fine,” I replied, straightening the neat piles on his desk.
“Show me your stomach.”
I heaved a put-upon sigh and reluctantly lifted my shirt to reveal an angry jagged red scar. I’d taken a knife to the gut in my latest assignment gone awry. Of course the other guy had fared much worse…like six feet under worse. Luckily his knife had missed all my major organs and arteries.
“Jesus Christ, Candace,” he muttered. “That’s it. I won’t go to your funeral, young lady.”
“You’re not my dad,” I shot back, worried about where the conversation was headed. He never called me Candace…always Candy or kid or idiot. Not Candace.
“Nope, I’m much worse. I’m your boss.”
“So what are you saying? I’m fired? I’m reassigned? I’m what?” I asked in a voice I didn’t recognize.
“You need a break. You’re too involved—lost your objectivity,” Steve said, watching me closely. “The drug dealers and the kids are hitting too close to home.”
He was right and he was wrong—not that I’d admit the right part. I was an undercover DEA agent because my sister had died from a drug overdose when we were little more than kids. My brother Mitch had become an agent first. Needless to say, no one was overjoyed when I chose the same profession. My mother’s fear of losing another child had almost debilitated her, but doing nothing had almost destroyed me. It was my way of paying tribute and it fit me. I was good at it. I needed it. I’d had to fight my parents and my brother on my decision. To this day, I felt their disapproval and doubt. It mattered to none of them that I’d been at the top of my recruit class, spoke three languages fluently and had more weapons expertise than even my hotshot big brother.
My boss Steve had been the only one who had believed in me after I’d come out of training. He’d taught me the finer arts of jimmying car doors and disguise. He’d taught me the difference between revenge and justice. He’d been harder than hell on me and I loved and appreciated every moment of it. He’d believed in me and now he didn’t…
“I know I screwed up and I promise you that I…”
“Save it,” he said, slapping a folder down on his desk in front of me. “This is your medical report. To say that you’re lucky is an understatement. This…” He pushed the folder toward me angrily. “This is proof of what being emotionally involved can do. It makes you sloppy and useless to me.”
I said nothing. He was right. I was a constant blur of motion. Trying to fill up holes I couldn’t define.
“There is strength in stillness and order. Protocol exists for a reason. Staying centered and uninvolved means you live to see another day,” Steve said, pulling out another file.
“I know all that,” I insisted. God, if I lost this job I had nothing. Less than nothing.
“Intellectually, maybe,” he conceded. “But you’re a liability to me at the moment and you’re in no shape physically to go undercover.”
“So you’re firing me?”
“Hell no,” Steve chuckled. “You’re one of the best agents I have. Once you’ve healed and gotten your head back on straight, I’ll kick your ass and send you back out.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and my tense body went slack. Fuck, I’d thought my life was ending. In that moment I understood how much my work defined who I was. Whether that was good or bad, I had no clue…it simply was. Certain that sharing my revelation with Steve would be a bad thing, I kept my mouth shut. Difficult, as there was a silence I was tempted to fill.
“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked myself as well as my boss.
“Do you want to go to your parents?”
“God no,” I shouted and then slapped a hand over my mouth.
Steve’s eyes narrowed and he waited. He knew my parents. He knew my brother. Hell, my brother Mitch had been one of his best agents until he fell in luuurrve and got out to become a plain old boring cop.
“If my mom knew about my stomach, she’d lock me in the house and go into a deep depression. I’m twenty-six and I will not go back,” I snapped.
“A family that loves you is not the worst thing in the world,” Steve said in his fatherly tone. I hated the fatherly tone.
“Yeah, well, a family that disapproves of what I do isn’t going to be too excited about a knife wound in my belly. Just sayin’.” I grabbed the silly romance novel and changed the subject. “You read this crap?”
“No, Kevin does,” he laughed.
Kevin, Steve’s partner, was every bit as good looking as Steve. Many straight women had shed real tears upon learning the two men were gay and happily committed. Where Steve was intense and brooding, Kevin was light and joyful. They were wonderful parents to Steve’s kids—far better than his religious zealot ex-wife, Helen.
“Well, these books are ridiculous. Happily ever after’s don’t exist,” I snorted.
Steve shook his head sadly. “Ah, you have much to learn, Candy.”
“Give me a break,” I snorted.
“Exactly my plan. You’re going on light duty until the doctors and I deem you ready for the field again.” He opened the folder in his hand and skimmed the contents.
“Light duty? You’re kidding me. Do you want me to file and answer phones?” I asked sarcastically.
“Nope,” he grinned. “I’d like to keep my business. Your social skills leave much to be desired.”
“Social skills are for civilians and fucktards,” I snapped, unfortunately proving his point.
Steve cocked his head to the side and waited for me to bury myself deeper. I was a loose cannon, but I wasn’t stupid. I stayed quiet. Difficult, but possible.
“God help the man who tries to tame you,” he laughed and removed several sheets from the folder.
“No man will ever tame me,” I told him confidently. “Romance is for sissies.”
“How exactly should I take that? As a slur on my manhood or on my sexual preference?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“No, I…shit. Um, I meant that it’s, you know…” I mumbled and felt the heat crawl up my neck.
“Candy, you’re missing out on a few things in life. Like a life mainly. I want you to take this light duty time to ease up and live a little. Have some fun, for God’s sake.”
I had no freakin’ clue what he was talking about. A life? I had a life. I saved lives. And I had fun. I, um enjoyed tons of things, like…Whatever. This was ridiculous
“Just give me my pansy-ass light duty assignment and let me get back to work.”
Steve observed me critically for a moment, then went from father mode back to boss mode. “Fine. A dear friend of mine has received some threats on her life. I’m fairly sure they’re innocuous, but Kevin is freaked out and wants protection for her.”
“You want me find and eliminate the threats?” I asked, my expression hopeful. Maybe light duty wouldn’t suck as much as I thought.
“Not exactly,” he said, folding the papers in his hands and placing them inside the romance novel I’d just made fun of. “I want you on her and watching for trouble.”
“You want me to be a bodyguard?” I gasped, unable to hide my shock and dismay. I was an undercover agent, for shit’s sake. Not a rent-a-cop babysitter.
“Yep,” Steve said, ignoring my stinky attitude. “Sue is a professor and an author. She’s scheduled to headline an author’s convention in a week and I want you on her. Innocuous or not, a threat is a threat.” He handed me the book with a smile.
“Wait, I have to guard a woman named Sue who writes trashy romance novels, because someone may or may not want a piece of her?”
“That sounds about right,” he said. “Oh, and she goes by Shoshanna. Shoshanna Lehump.”[AC2]
I waited for the punch line, but it didn’t come. Who in the hell would go by the name Shoshanna LeHump? She sounded like a stripper.
“You’re serious,” I said, pinching my thighs to keep from laughing just in case he was.
“As a heart attack. Shoshanna married Kevin after her husband died so he could get his green card. They divorced when we met. Shoshanna actually officiated at our wedding ceremony. You remember, the one you were invited to, but couldn’t come because you were recovering from being shot in the ass.”
That was a low blow. I hadn’t been shot in the ass by anyone. It was actually quite big of Steve to state it that way. I had shot myself in the ass. I’d been testing a new firearm. The gun had been faulty. Hence, when I put it in my back pocket, it went off and I shot myself in the ass.
“I’m a little confused,” I said, ignoring his comment about my ass debacle.
“In a round about way, Kevin and I met because of Shoshanna. We owe her.”
“She introduced you guys while she was married to Kevin?”
“No, no,” Steve laughed. “But that does sound like something she would do. She’s our angel because if she hadn’t married Kevin, he would have been deported and we never would have met. She’s the reason my life is full.”
I was so tempted to roll my eyes, but I adored Kevin. And I loved Steve. And they loved each other. Hell, Steve sounded just like my pussy-whipped brother Mitch. He’d fallen in love with his fiancee Kristy when we were all on a bizarro drug bust that involved Bigfoot. Kristy had nothing to do with the crimes. She was with a crew of loonies searching for Bigfoot, a project that was unknowingly the cover for a nasty drug cartel. At first I didn’t like her, but she proved herself in the end. Of course, it also helped that she didn’t really believe in Bigfoot.
“So what’s with the trashy novel?” I asked as he handed it over.
“Shoshanna wrote it. I would suggest you read it so you get a feel for her. Inside, I’ve put a list of potential suspects. You can question them this week before you leave for Wisconsin.”
I looked the list over. Several professors at the U where this Shoshanna gal worked seemed to have rather large issues with either her success as an author or her subject matter. And there was some old woman named Evangeline O’Hara, who had been blackmailing Shoshanna for stories for what looked like twenty years.
“Holy shit,” I muttered. “Here’s your threat. This O’Hara woman has a motive like I’ve never seen.”
“I’d tend to agree if she wasn’t still in jail,” Steve said. “Her calls and mail are monitored.”
“I’ll interview her.”
“Absolutely and the professors at the U. Sue’s one of the foremost profs of Women’s Studies and these jack offs are trying to get her tenure removed.”
“Possibly. More likely closed-minded bigotry towards her subject matter.”
“Women’s Studies?” I asked, surprised. “What are they? Dinosaurs?”
“Not what she teaches, what she writes,” he corrected my misassumption.
“What in the hell does she write? Porno?” I laughed.
“Some might refer to it as porno, but it’s technically classified as erotic romance,” Steve said logically.
Again I waited for the punch line. Again it didn’t come.
“So, um…is there anything in the university’s by-laws that make her, um…sex books negate her tenure?” I asked. I’d almost said fuck books. Thank you God, that that one hadn’t slipped out.
“It’s somewhat vague, but Shoshanna’s lawyers are convinced she’d win and most of the board is backing her,” he said. “But the controversy is unpleasant and drawing unwanted attention to the university. The longer it goes on, the more precarious her position is.”
“I don’t get it. She would win in court. What’s the biggie?”
“The biggie”– Steve smiled at my choice of word– “is that Shoshanna loves the university and would leave before she caused too much trouble and bad press. It would be a sad day for her, the students and academia if that were to happen.”
“Why would someone hurt her then? Wouldn’t it be smarter to just draw the situation out till she leaves of her own accord?”
“Yes and no,” Steve said. “She’s up for several prestigious awards, and two of the suspects in particular are up for the same award. I don’t really get it, but apparently in the world of academia the more papers with stars on them, the more important you seem to be in that strange sub-culture.”
“You think someone would kill or hurt her for that?” I asked, memorizing the names for later.
“Doubtful, but I’ve seen stranger.”
Steve handed me a card.
“Here’s Shoshanna’s address. You’re expected at dinner tomorrow night. Kevin and I will be there, as well as your brother, Kristy, Rena and Jack.”
That sounded like hell to me. To be stuck in a room with a porno writer and three sickeningly in-love couples would be enough to make me tear my own head off. My brother and his fiancée, Kristy, were bad enough, but their best friends Rena and Jack were down right nauseating.
“I don’t think I can make that,” I hedged, racking my brain for a good excuse.
“You have plans? Cancel them. This is work related, and you need to have a good time occasionally.”
“I have a date,” I blurted out, my mouth way ahead of my brain.
“Bring him,” Steve said, waiting for me to cop to lying.
“Well, um…David is a little weird and I’d, you know…rather not subject him to my brother before I know if he really, um…you know.”
“What does this David do?” he asked.
“I think he’s a…banker.”
“I see,” Steve said, seeing entirely too much.
“Fine,” I huffed, pissed at myself for lying and pissed at Steve for making me. “I’ll come. Is Kevin cooking?”
“You bet.” He smiled his first real smile of the meeting. “Shoshanna can’t boil water and Kevin still cooks for her a couple of nights a week.”
“Oh shit,” I muttered. “What about the cartel that wants my ass?”
“Taken care of. Sent two agents to Mexico and ended it.”
Fuck. I hated that. I hated that two people had to risk their lives to cover my fuck up. Maybe Steve was right. I needed to get my head on straight.
“Are they okay?” I asked.
“Yep. Got back today. Hell of a ride. Been down there three months.”
Three months? “Can I thank them?”
“Nope. These guys are deep cover. They don’t exist in any database. Not going to screw with that. Just know it’s taken care of.”
“Right,” I said, more furious than ever with myself. My vendetta against drug dealers had resulted in two of Steve’s hard core guys having to go to Mexico to clean up my mess. Not gonna happen again. Ever.
“It’s done, Candy,” Steve said, recognizing my frustration. “They’re back and fine, but it could have gone either way. I wasn’t planning on this, but shit happens. Remember that next time you want to go Rambo on a job.”
“You have my word,” I promised.
“Good. Now get out of my office. I have work to do. Oh, and by the way,” he smirked, “blonde’s not your color. Stick with your natural brunette. It’s beautiful.”
“Yes, sir.” I gave him a mock salute and left. His chuckle followed me down the hall as I yanked the itchy blonde wig off my head and tossed it in the trash. I’d been living on luck and a prayer…and that stopped today.
Series: Handcuffs And Happily Ever Afters Series, Book 3
Publication Date: June 19, 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 266 pages
Print ISBN: 978-1601832573