Excerpt: Murphy's Law
Book 1: The Bounty Hunters
The sexiest woman he’d ever seen just walked into the bar.
Murphy’s heart stopped for two seconds, and then it drummed in his chest. He swallowed hard when her big blue eyes latched onto his stare. He shifted his weight in the chair, dropping all four legs back to the floor. It jarred him enough to come out of the haze as she marched toward his table.
What in the hell was she doing here?
His insides tightened and a curl of desire coiled low and deep.
He allowed his gaze to travel over her. Her long black hair flowed as she wove her way to him, dodging the crowded noisy tables mostly filled with men. In a black tank top, jeans, boots, and black belt with a turquoise belt buckle hugging her hips, she wore it better and hotter than any other woman could hope to. Dynamite comes in small packages, he thought, acknowledging the undeniable white-hot tide of swift, encompassing lust whenever she was near.
She halted on the other side of his table. Her seductive perfume wafted to him. Every muscle in his body jumped to life.
He lifted his mug of beer and took a long swallow. Reaching out with his foot, he kicked the leg of the chair opposite his, shoving it to her. “Have a seat. Want a beer?”
The little grimace that shot through her didn’t escape his notice. Yep, she was lying. Again. Why in the hell was she trying to pretend she was her twin?
“So what’s shaking?” he drawled. “You called me.”
Taking a seat, she refused to meet his gaze, glancing at something just over his left shoulder. “I need your help.”
His gut kicked. “Trouble?”
“You know how it goes.” Her slight shrug and the way she drummed her black painted nails on the table top mimicked her twin’s actions to a tee. Her playacting could win an award for the way she nailed her sister’s tone, nonchalance attitude, and I-could-give-a-fuck look. But he knew different.
She couldn’t mask the subtle differences, even if she were aware of them. The way her right eyebrow arched just a tad higher, the unmistakable way she fought an approaching grin, the way her body moved with a little more swing in the hip, the way she tasted, and the way her body felt beneath his. But most importantly, the way his body responded to hers in or out of bed.
But she didn’t know it.
Murphy motioned to the waitress for a round.
“Not talking yet?” he baited, half of his mind working overtime on why she’d need his help. She hadn’t needed him for the last two years, so why now?
The waitress plopped down the mugs. He handed her a ten. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks, honey. You could give these guys lessons. Cheap bastards,” she muttered, sashaying to the next group calling for her.
“Drink up,” he said, downing his second beer, and then sliding it away. He picked up his third mug of the night and tasted the fresh, cold brew. She sipped hers and he noted the way she covered the shiver of disgust.
One more difference he could rack up. She hated beer while her sister had a fondness for it, joining him for a round on occasion.
Still, she remained silent.
“So, pretty lady, tell me, why you need the services of an ex-bounty hunter.”
Echo Weatherly swallowed hard. Could she pull this off? Every part of her longed to tell Murphy the truth, end the charade here and now. But she didn’t have the luxury.
Too many people she cared about would get hurt.
So she played the game. “Who says I need your services?” To herself, she said, please service me. But to him, she flicked him an uninterested look, masking how her body came to life around him, how swirls of heat curled in her center. She didn’t have to gaze at him now to know his hot, green-eyed stare took in every detail of her.
“What do you need me for?”
Everything. Where had that come from? Images of his hard, taut, naked body teased her mind. Had she known him before? Why was he comfort and danger at the same time?
With her throat dry, she took another small swallow of the ale. It didn’t help. Staring at the beads of condensation sliding down the frosty mug she still held, she clamped down on a fresh wave of fear. No, she couldn’t do this, not to him. He may have run Murphy’s Law in the past, or so she’d been told, but that didn’t mean she could use him and all his expertise to get what she needed and get her family out of trouble. She’d find another way. “Give me a minute while I use the can.” She nearly winced at the use of her sister’s language and eased out of her chair.
For a brief moment, she met his hot, questioning stare. Something in her jolted. How could he make her warm all over with just one look? Was that why she wanted to protect him from this mess? Why did keeping him safe flash through her just now?
Retreating to the hallway where the restrooms were, Echo searched for a way out. Had she been there before? Was there a back door out of this place? Time ticked away like a clock on a bomb.
Heading to the unmarked door near the end of the corridor of doors, she heard the whisper of footsteps only a second before he cornered her in the wood-paneled hallway. She twisted around to face him.
“Going somewhere?” He moved a step toward her. Echo backed up, hitting the wall.
Murphy stood inches away, his broad shoulders blocking her escape. Easily, too easy in fact, he placed his hands on the wall behind her, trapping her. She should have guessed his next move. What the hell kind of self-defense instructor was she anyway?
“Cat got your tongue, sweetheart?” he drawled. His woodsy, outdoor scent slammed into her senses.
Two things happened at the same time: A wave of heat swept through her and she jerked her gaze to his burning stare. Sweetheart? Did he and her sister…?
“Don’t get any ideas, Echo.”
She sucked in a sharp breath. How did he know?
“Yeah, that’s right. I know.” His silky voice, low and husky, made her toes curl in her boots. “I can spot you a mile away, beautiful– in the dark, in a crowd, in a damn war zone.”
Beautiful? Why did that tug at the fringes of her thoughts? Had he called her that before? God, she wished she could remember.
Shifting, he placed one of his hands on her throat. The light touch felt like electric currents skittering over her skin. His swift intake of breath gave him away. He’d felt it, too. With his thumb, he traced the line of her neck, moving along her jaw, and then to her bottom lip.
Everything in her tingled. She should stop him. But she didn’t want to. Then another idea, a very dangerous idea, flittered to life. Sticking out her tongue slightly, she licked his flesh.
He groaned. A waft of the beer he’d had drifted to her. On him it would most likely taste much better. Addictive even.
“Let’s get outta here,” she whispered, still warring with herself over what she had to do.
“Your cabin. It’s private.” And exactly where she needed him to be in another hour.
If she’d drawn a target on his back, it would not have been more glaringly obvious; she’d just set him up.
Murphy’s mind whirled with thoughts, some beating more so with each pulse as he settled behind the steering wheel of his old truck with her beside him on the bench seat. Why had she come to the bar disguised as her twin? Why did she need his help? Most of all, why the hell now, after two years of amnesia, did she come on to him?
The engine purred as he headed out of town and to his mountain cabin tucked away in the hills. Private? His body ached with need. Until tonight, he’d kept it carefully under wraps.
The farther away from the bar they drove, the more tension filled the air.
“Second thoughts?” he murmured, sliding a glance her way. He made out her rigid shape in the dark.
“Nope,” she said, her voice tight and small.
“Liar.” He called her out and eased to the side of the dirt road. His hand was on the gearshift when he heard the unmistakable cock of the hammer on the revolver.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she warned.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. His Echo pulling a gun on him? His gun! “Easy now,” he said softly as if he spoke to a jittery horse. But his warning bells went off, high alert. With the slip of her finger, she could blow his head off. He stared down the barrel of the .357 magnum he’d secured under the seat in the locked truck when he went into the bar earlier. He’d taught her how to shoot with this same gun. Now, the irony of it didn’t escape him. His own rule, one of his Murphy’s laws, whispered through his head: always know where your weapon is at all times. “Tell me what you want.”
“Drive,” she commanded.
“Just as soon as you point that away from me.”
“Not gonna happen.”
“Christ, Echo, we could hit a bump and you’d fire on me. Then where would we both be, huh?”
The metal clicked, the familiar sound of the hammer returning to its rightful place.
He could breathe again. “Now if you just tell me–”
“Both hands on the wheel and drive to your cabin.”
With every fiber of him objecting, he obeyed her. He clenched his jaw as he eased his foot off the brake and continued the drive. “You know, I’m a sure thing. So mind telling me why you’re kidnapping me?”
Even in the darkness, he sensed her jerk back at that.
The wheels in his head churned. “Where’s Storm? Where’s Timmy?”
Her loud gulp bounced off the walls of the truck.
“Are they safe?”
“No,” she whispered.
Murphy’s heart dropped to his knees.
Echo shook in the shadows. Her trembling came on swift and intense. The sweat on her palm made the metal gun slick and loose in her grasp. She grabbed it in both hands. She fought against everything in her to aim it directly at him. “Go,” she said, blinking several times. Were they tears or just perspiration stinging her eyes now?
Her head hurt, another headache pounding away. Flashes of images, like a psychedelic light show, blared through her mind. Were they memories? Or nightmares?
He was there, smiling, laughing. Then he was gone. Others came and went, people she didn’t recall, her sister and nephew, but, always whenever she saw him, he elicited this violent reaction.
That wasn’t the only reason she stayed away from him.
“Talk to me. What the hell are you involved in?” He sounded far away.
Along with a kaleidoscope of pictures pulsating, so too were the sharp daggers of pain snapping whip-like tears in her injured brain.
Lately, with each episode, her heart pounded faster and she tasted blood. Yelling, and then screams–hers, she was certain–followed. The smell of gunpowder filled her nostrils. The vile combination caused bile to rise in her throat, nearly choking her.
“Just drive,” she bit out.
“Christ, Echo!” She could sense he gripped the wheel tighter. “I am not the enemy. Got it?”
“You could have fooled me,” she said, fighting another wave of nausea.
“You don’t remember shit,” he said. “You don’t even know who I am.”
“Danger,” she countered. “I know it when I feel it.”
He shot a look at her. Too bad she couldn’t see his expression in the darkness. “It’s what I did, not who I am.”
“Is that what you think?”
“I know it.”
“Just like you know what happened two years ago?”
She swallowed past the lump in her throat.
“Can’t deny that, can you?” he muttered. “Hold on, I’m turning off the road.”
He twisted the wheel, the tires bumping from dirt to dirt and potholes. Echo braced her back against the dashboard. Her stomach lurched. She broke out in a sweat. “No funny stuff, cowboy,” she warned. Why did she call him that?
Murphy jerked his head to her. For a moment, time froze. An image of him, lightning quick, rushed through her mind. Shirtless. Worn jeans. Boots.
It was gone just as quickly as it came.
But the heat whooshed through her. Fire. Danger.
Easing on the brakes, he said, “We’re here.” He leaned over and turned off the key. The engine shut off. The quiet stormed in the cab. “Who put you up to this?”
She bristled at his astuteness. Even she realized nothing much got past Thaddeus Murphy. “What did you do with the money you stole?”
Silence pulsed all around him as he moved through the darkened cabin with a gun at his back.
“Not so fast,” she said.
He blew out a hot breath, but followed instructions as she directed him to turn on the lamp, setting it on low. The dim arch of light barely reached the tips of her boots, but he stared at her hard. “Mood lighting?” He tried to remain calm. Well, as calm as any man could with a .357 magnum trained on him.
“Smartass,” she muttered.
“Hey, everyone likes a little ass,” he countered, assessing the distance between them.
If he leapt at her now, he’d never reach her in time to shove the gun away. No, she may not remember ninety-nine percent of the details during the patch of time, but she damned well recalled how to shoot. He saw to that himself.
With a great deal of coaxing from her sister, Echo had relented, allowing him to teach her. Retraining her, impressed with her reflexes and her inherent instinct and skill sets, he’d noted how easy she’d picked it up again. She’d land him in one fell swoop.
“In the bedroom,” she said, nodding her head toward the back of the rustic cabin.
“What, no foreplay?” he baited.
There, she tried to stop the grin, but he saw it, short and sweet. Just like her.
Inwardly, his gut clenched. Outwardly, he backed up, leading her to the master bedroom. “I take it you brought protection.”
Her mouth twitched again.
“Or do you just want to get down and dirty?” He backed into the darkened bedroom now.
“On the bed.”
“I have my answer.” He forced a smile.
“I don’t have mine.” That steely quality in her voice warned him. She wouldn’t settle for anything less than the truth.
“You wouldn’t have to ask the question if you remembered who I am.”
“Since my memory isn’t going to magically return in the next few minutes, why don’t you humor me and answer.”
Pent-up fury flashed in him. He gritted his teeth. Why didn’t she trust him? Why did the son-of-a-bitch who killed his brother and sister-in-law have to rob him of Echo, too?
“I didn’t steal a damn thing,” he bit out.
The heat of his anger whooshed over her. She jerked back. “Why do they say you did then?” She didn’t want to believe them, couldn’t imagine Murphy could do such a thing. But they’d been convincing.
“Who, damn it?” He grew still. “Christ, when did they contact you? How? Where’s Storm and Timmy?” His questions drilled her like a spray of bullets.
“They have them,” she choked out.
Murphy sunk to the edge of the bed. In the dim light from the moon slipping between the parted curtains, she watched as he dropped his head into his hands. Pain rolled off of him. She wavered, pointing the gun down and taking a step closer.
Lightning quick, he clamped down on her wrists, jerking her aim to her right. Her finger slipped. The trigger went off. A shot blasted in the silence. Ringing pulsated in her ears. The bullet hit metal, pinging.
He grabbed her around her waist, bringing her down on the bed. He rolled her beneath him. His quick actions prompted her own.
She fired again. The shot hit the wood beam, ricocheting off it.
“Fuck!” he shouted. “Drop the gun!” He squeezed her wrist harder.
A dagger of pain sliced through her. “Go ahead, break it,” she yelled back.
“Don’t tempt me,” he said. He slammed her hand into the mattress.
Her grip loosened. Metal slipped. He knocked it out of her hand. The gun clattered to the floor.
Suddenly, she became aware of him half on top of her. The length of him pressed into her thigh. Her heavy breathing matched his. An ache of need rushed through her. How could she even think about wanting him now?
Echo bucked under him. He barely moved. “I can poke your eyes out with my fingers, maim you with a knee, or kill you with the heel of my hand. Which one would you prefer?”
His chuckle surprised her. But not more than his easy acquiescence as he shifted and eased off her. When he stood, he offered her his hand.
Before she could decide whether to take it or not, the distinct sound of the cabin door opening rang in the air.