“Think you can keep ignoring my messages, Shane Morgan? Got news for ya, shithead.” With an aim that underscored why she was Hope Fall’s reigning strike queen, Layton LaRue landed her bowling ball dead center in his truck’s windshield. Damn good thing he wasn’t inside the vehicle. Woulda been a bitch getting the glass out of his hair and beard. Shooting him a stiff middle finger, Layton pivoted and stalked back into the Bowl ‘N’ Brew.
Shane blinked out of his daze. In his younger days, he might have had a stronger reaction. That was the problem with being a magnet for psychos. Their crazy became the norm after a while. Prime reason he drove a twenty-year-old beat-to-shit pickup. A few key jobs and the occasional baseball bat to his headlights wouldn’t get the better of him.
Still, a bowling ball? That was a new one. Layton was nothing if not creative.
Grunting, he swung his focus to the driver’s side window. The custom pink bowling ball sat behind the wheel, displaying a Fuck You scrawled in black Sharpie.
The scuffle of footsteps drew his gaze away from the carnage. Looking vastly amused by the commotion, Wayne Baxter leaned on his cane, a wad of tobacco puffing out his left cheek. “Beyond me why none of these broads ever aim for your nuts.”
Yeah, he was mighty grateful for that miracle.
Wayne spat on the sidewalk before squinting at Shane. “You still plannin’ on coming inside?”
“Do I look that stupid?”
“Want an honest answer or not?”
Growling under his breath, Shane waved the old geezer off and yanked open his door. After tossing the bowling ball toward the curb and brushing off his seat best he could, he climbed into the cab and considered his options. No beer in his fridge, and he wasn’t much in the mood for hitting up the store for a six pack. His brother, Theo, was probably parked on some backroad, looking for unsuspecting speeders to bust. He’d be zero help. His cousin, Dante, always had a stash of Buds in his house or pole barn, though.
“And we have a winner.” Crooning along with his good buddy, Garth Brooks, he cranked the wheel and burned rubber out of the Bowl ‘N’ Brew’s parking lot. He made it to the outskirts of town before spying the familiar red and blue strobe of cruiser lights in his rearview mirror. Groaning, he eased off the gas and drifted to the side of the road. A few seconds later, Theo pulled up next to him. Not much need for rolling down his window, what with the windshield missing, but he did it anyway. “Whatsup?”
Theo offered him a droll look. “Could ask you the same thing. Too cheap to buck up for air-conditioning?”
He knew his brother was only fucking with him. No doubt the whole county knew what had gone down within seconds of Layton and her bowling ball giving him the F You. “Does save me the hassle.” That being said, it woulda been helluva lot more convenient if she’d busted out his windshield during August instead of ball-freezing mid-March. Thankfully his wolf side made him slightly impervious to the cold.
“Stay put. I’m pulling up in front of you.”
“You better not have ideas about ticketing me.”
“Tempting, but I’ll give you a free pass for now.” The cruiser moved forward and Theo left the lights running. Naturally. Wouldn’t want any looky-loos missing the day’s entertainment. A moment later, he sidled up to Shane’s door and leaned his head through the window, blatantly scoping out the situation inside. He shook his head. “You need help. You know that, right?”
“Why? You offering a hand to clean up this mess?”
“I’m not talking about Layton’s mess. I’m referring to yours.” Theo slid his polarized Ray Bans off and tucked the earpiece inside the collar of his uniform, all without once removing his gaze from Shane’s. “There’s a reason you keep getting into these situations.”
“Yeah, I’m a magnet for crazies.”
“No, you hop from woman to woman, and we both know why.”
Despite the confrontational words, his brother’s tone held no trace of his typical gruffness. It would have been welcome. Better than having Theo’s sympathy. Because he knew damn well where that was coming from. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Dumbass, you need to. The fact you won’t is the reason you keep spinning your wheels and never break free of this dysfunctional pattern you’ve established.”
“Christ. You sound like one of those self-help books.”
“How would you know? Not like you’ve ever read one.” Theo released the window frame with a growl and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. Probably the only thing keeping him from reaching inside the cab and strangling Shane. They’d been in enough knock-down-drag-outs in their days, he easily recognized thinly-reined restraint when he saw it. His brother dropped his focus to the road and kicked at something with his boot. “Would ya at least consider going to talk to somebody? If you don’t want to open up to a stranger, maybe Kinsey could help you out.”
Hell to the fuck no. The last person he wanted poking around in his brain was Lilly’s hotter than shit sister. He already suspected she had some kind of weird ideas about him. Probably the number of times his truck had been damaged by psychos didn’t help the situation. Either way, Kinsey always hoofed it in the opposite direction of him whenever they crossed paths. He could only imagine her reaction if he showed up on her doorstep looking for therapy—not that he fucking needed it. More than likely she’d lock the door on him. Or call Theo to escort him off her property. Probably that last option, seeing how his brother and Kinsey were practically best buds.
He gritted his teeth. “I’ll pass. And if you so much as think of bringing up the possibility to her I’ll kick your ass.”
“Relax. I won’t say anything. It’s up to you to make the necessary first step. I can’t do it for you.”
“Again, I’ll pass.”
“Goddamn it, you’re a stubborn jackass.” His jaw tight enough to crack a walnut, Theo snatched his Ray Bans from his collar and resituated the sunglasses on the bridge of his nose. “If the windshield isn’t fixed the next time I see you in town I will ticket you.” With that parting shot, he stalked back to the cruiser. A moment later, the lights ceased their strobing and the vehicle departed in a spray of snow-caked gravel. Of course several of the loose stones pelted Shane’s front grille. One even flew through the nonexistent windshield and landed in the passenger seat.
Grumbling, he grabbed the rock and chucked it outside. He definitely needed an icy cold one after this bullshit. With that mission locked squarely in his noggin, he stepped on the gas and made the usual ten-minute drive to Morgan’s Ridge in a little under eight. Too intent on scoring a well-deserved frosty to properly celebrate hitting that land record, he climbed from the cab and slammed the door behind him, giving Dante and Lilly plenty of warning that they had company. He’d already busted them in the act once and had no desire to repeat the experience any time soon. In his defense, the last place he’d expected them to be going at it like rabbits was in the damn garage. Hell, why have a comfy king size bed if you were gonna nix it for a wobbly stack of Morgan’s premium kibble ‘n bits dog food?
He jogged up the porch steps and rang the bell. Gone were the good ole days when he could just walk inside. Even if the door was unlocked, no way he’d risk it after the garage nookie incident.
In less time than it took him to shake his head at the awkward memory, the door swung open and his cousin squinted at him. “Thought you had bowling today.”
“Decided to take a break this week.” Or however long it took for Layton to move on from her plans to decapitate him with a bowling ball. “If you’re busy, I’ll make myself useful by grabbing a beer and taking Chevy for a walk.”
His cousin cracked the door open wider and motioned for him to come in. “Lilly went with Jamie to check out a new yoga studio in Harbor Springs. Could use the company while she’s gone.”
Shane scraped any stray slush from his boots onto the entrance mat and then stepped inside the spacious timber-framed cabin. “Yoga, huh?” Guess that explained how she was so…flexible. He’d assumed it was a cat thing. Which naturally had gotten him to wondering if Kinsey possessed the same bendy qualities.
Thank Christ the saying wasn’t ‘Curiosity killed the wolf’, because that would surely be his fate if he was boneheaded enough to appease any of his kinky musings where Kinsey was concerned.
He lifted his focus from the mat and caught Dante’s narrow gaze. “Uh, what’s up with the murder eyes?”
“You better not have been thinking about Lilly in yoga pants just now.”
“What the hell gave you that idea?”
Dante banged the door shut behind him. “You know that cartoon where the drooling wolf is looking at his prey and there’s a giant ham hock hovering in a bubble over his head?” He jabbed his finger against Shane’s chest. “That was you a moment ago.”
“I wasn’t thinking about Lilly.” Just her sister. Grimacing, he smacked his cousin’s hand away and shrugged out of his jacket before stowing it on the antler rack.
“Good. Because I’d—”
“Remove my tonsils via my nose. Yeah, I know.” He finger-combed his hair. “And you know me better than that. I might not be a saint, but I’d never move on someone’s mate, much less yours.”
Dante appeared appropriately shamefaced by that reminder. “Sorry. Been a little on edge lately. Doesn’t give me the right to take it out on you.”
He stopped futzing with his hair and frowned. “What’s up?”
His cousin averted his gaze. “Probably nothing.”
“When it comes to you that’s never the case. You’re the least likely one to get worked up over something without a good reason.”
“But that’s it. I don’t know if there’s an actual threat.”
Threat? Woah. “Now you’re starting to worry me. Is this something to do with Lilly?” It had to be. Protective as Dante was of the pack, his mate would always be his top priority.
“Let’s go into the living room.”
Uneasiness brewing inside him, he tailed Dante to the couch and copped a squat. Instead of claiming his usual spot on the opposite end, his cousin chose the La-Z-Boy, though he didn’t recline it. He perched on the very edge of his seat, like he wasn’t sure he really wanted to sit, and rubbed his nape, the lines of tension furrowed into his brow deepening further. “I can’t shake this uneasy feeling that the Gifford pack is planning retaliation for locking up Anna.”
“They’d be the dumbest bastards alive if they attempt anything.” It wasn’t merely words designed to hopefully reassure his cousin. It was the absolute truth. Admittedly, the Gifford boys were born with rocks for brains, but even they knew the epic hell they’d face if they so much as disturbed a single hair on Lilly’s head. He stretched his arm across the back of the couch. “Besides, the Giffords have been plenty quiet the past two months. Doesn’t seem like they’re itching for a fight.”
“That’s precisely what has me concerned. And suspicious. It’s not like them to tuck their tail between their legs, much less stay away from town. I don’t like it.”
“Well, I for one would be A-Okay if those Deliverance rejects never cross my path again.” Not that he didn’t enjoy busting a can of Whoop Ass on those boys. It truly was a highlight of his day whenever the opportunity presented itself. But for the sake of every resident of Hope Falls, he’d gladly deny himself the pleasure.
“Trust me, I’d love it if their exodus was permanent. I don’t think we’ll be that lucky, though.”
The clickity-click of claws drew his focus away from Dante and toward the hall. A moment later, Chevy appeared. He trotted to Shane, his tail wagging the entire backend of his body. The dog dropped a confiscated sneaker onto the braided rug before jumping up onto the couch and situating his head in Shane’s lap for a proper ear rub. Within seconds, loud doggie snores filled the room. Must be exhausting logging in those twenty naps a day.
Giving Chevy a distracted scritch behind his ear, Shane returned his attention to Dante. “On the off chance you might be right about the Giffords, what’s the game plan?” There was no way Dante didn’t already have one in place. He would have started strategizing the instant his suspicions began percolating. Particularly since he had Lilly’s safety to consider.
“If they make a move, it’ll likely be around the date of the wedding. Maybe even shortly before. That puts next week square in the danger zone.”
Shane nodded. “Makes sense. They won’t want Lilly claiming a title in the pack that they see belonging to Anna.” There wasn’t a day that went by that he didn’t thank Lilly for saving them from the unholy merger with the Gifford pack. Though she could be sassy as all get out, Lilly was a good person and infinitely easier to live with than Anna. For Dante’s sake, he was relieved beyond words that his cousin escaped having to mate and marry the devil bitch. Anna was goddamned lucky to only be rotting away in a prison cell. If Dante had gotten his way, she would have been ripped apart for drugging Lilly and leaving her for dead in the woods. “I assume you’re not going to risk having Lilly out of your sight then? I’m surprised you let her and Jamie go to Harbor Springs without you accompanying them.”
“Theo sent Madoxx to shadow them and keep an eye on things. Mad has orders to contact him or me ASAP if he sees anything out of the ordinary.”
Stupid as it was, a pang of betrayal arrowed through him at the news of his brother gaining that coveted spot in Dante’s sacred inner circle of confidence before him. Sure, Theo had the dubious luxury of being sheriff, which entailed him access to certain benefits—like a stable of highly skilled shifters who could track like nobody’s business and crack some bad dude skulls without breaking a sweat. Didn’t mean Shane couldn’t mope about it. Especially since he was still pissed about Theo giving him shit earlier and attempting to guilt him into therapy he didn’t need.
“I was planning to talk to you first, but I ran into Theo at the gas station the other day and figured I should run my plan past him.”
“You don’t have to explain yourself to me. Even if I am your best friend. Or so I thought.”
Dante buried his face in his hands for a second before glaring at him. “You are an annoyingly needy fucker sometimes. Will it make you feel better if I give you a task too?”
His ears perked up like he’d been tossed an entire box of Scooby Snacks. “Hell yeah. Whatever you need, I’m one-hundred-percent the right man for the job.”
“You haven’t even heard what it entails.”
“Don’t care. Consider it done.”
Dante’s tensed frame relaxed a smidgeon. “The Gifford boys aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but they might have enough brain cells between them to realize Lilly is too protected for them to target. It’s entirely possible that they could go after a member of her family. In other words, Kinsey needs a bodyguard.”
Of all the things he’d anticipated coming from his cousin’s mouth, it sure as hell hadn’t been that. “Uh…”
“If you don’t want to do it I can always ask Theo.”
Oh, hell no. His brother wasn’t going to one-up him on this too. “Forget Theo. I’ll handle Kinsey.”
Dante pinned him with a narrow look. “You better keep your dick in your pants where Kinsey is concerned. It’s a daily battle convincing Lilly not to clobber me for some transgression or other. Don’t need her taking a frying pan to my skull because you boned her sister.”
“Kinsey isn’t my type.” The lie slipped out with enough smooth authenticity, it was downright impressive.
“She’s got two legs and stands upright. Makes her precisely your type.”
He nudged Chevy’s shoulder. “Can you believe the way he talks to me?” The dog responded with a loud fart and a flap of his tail.
Dante grunted. “Pretty sure that was him agreeing with me.”
“You have my solemn oath that I won’t so much as have an impure thought about Kinsey.”
The skepticism didn’t budge from Dante’s face. Just when he thought he’d blown his chance of proving himself to his cousin and keeping Theo out of the running for top bodyguard of the year, Dante extended his hand toward him. “Don’t make me regret this.”
That was something he could easily shake on. So he did. Leaning across the couch, he grabbed his cousin’s hand. “Not a chance.” And he fucking meant it.
Because if he did somehow find himself balls-deep in Kinsey Prescott’s pussy? His noggin would be the one requiring a hefty wallop from a frying pan. Goddamn guaranteed.