Authors: Lily Harper Hart
Deadly Ever After
Hardy Brothers Security
Lily Harper Hart
All Rights Reserved
Most men feel some trepidation when they’re staring down the barrel of a gun – and that’s what a wedding feels like to many. They may love their fiancée with every fiber of their being, but the idea of pledging forever to one person is still enough to give them pause.
James Hardy was having the opposite problem.
“Wipe that smile off your face.” James’ younger brother, Finn, was giving him a hard look.
James shook his head, snapping himself out of his reverie. “What?”
“You have a goofy look on your face,” Finn said, rubbing his hand through his closely cropped brown hair. “What were you thinking about? Let me guess, something blonde?”
James didn’t bother to be embarrassed. He
been thinking about something blonde, and he was hoping the job he was currently working wouldn’t last too long. He had plans for his blonde later that evening, and he was starting to get anxious. “I was just trying to decide what I was going to pick up for dinner.”
Finn rolled his eyes. “You’re getting sappy in your old age.”
“How is picking something out for dinner sappy?” James challenged.
“Because the smile on your face had nothing to do with dinner,” Finn said.
James shrugged, glancing around the crowded park. “So?”
“Nothing,” Finn said. “I just can’t believe you’re so … relaxed.”
“Why wouldn’t I be relaxed?”
“Because you’re getting married in two weeks,” Finn said. “I can’t believe you’re not panicking.”
“Honestly? I can’t believe I’m not either,” James admitted. “I’m not, though. I’m just ready to do it and get it over with.”
“Yeah, you might not want to phrase it that way when Mandy is around,” Finn said, chuckling. “I don’t think women like the idea of getting a wedding over with.”
“That shows how much you know,” James said. “Mandy is ready for the wedding to be over with, too. Her mother is coming next week, and that’s got her more worked up than the wedding.”
“What’s wrong with her mom?” Finn asked. “I remember her being a nice woman. She used to pick Mandy up at the house all of the time, and she always made a point to talk to me.”
“I don’t know,” James said. “Mandy’s just … agitated by the whole thing.”
“Maybe she’s nervous about getting married,” Finn said.
James tilted his head, considering. “I think she’s nervous about her mom coming down here. Her mom has some very specific ideas about the wedding, none of which Mandy wants. I think Mandy’s looking forward to getting married.”
“And the honeymoon,” Finn teased, taking a step away from his brother and scanning the crowd again.
The brothers were working a political rally in downtown Mount Clemens, the county seat of Macomb County, a northern suburb of Detroit. James was the owner of Hardy Brothers Security, and a sheriff’s candidate had hired the firm to act as crowd control at a rally.
The primary was still months away, but the race was heating up. Since the current sheriff was mired in turmoil and scandal, something the Hardys had helped to uncover, candidates from all over the county were circling like sharks. One of those candidates, Jackson Danes, had placed the Hardys on retainer for a variety of appearances over the course of the next few months. He was feeling confident. Since these rallies rarely got out of control, James had been happy to see the money roll in – especially since he had a new house and a wedding to pay for.
“I am definitely looking forward to the honeymoon,” James agreed. “Two whole weeks of sun and nudity.”
Finn snorted. “Where are you taking her?”
James narrowed his eyes. “Why do you ask?”
“It was just a question,” Finn said, averting his gaze.
“You’re such a bad liar,” James said. “I know you’re fishing.”
Finn blew out a sigh. “Mandy asked Emma to ask me to find out. It’s driving her crazy that you won’t tell her where you’re going.”
“Doesn’t it bother you that she’s going round the bend on this?”
“You’re having fun torturing her, aren’t you?” Finn asked.
“Torture is a strong word,” James said, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck. “I did find her going through my underwear drawer the other day. She said she was just folding them, and then she tried to distract me with sex, but I knew what she was doing.”
“Did she distract you with the sex?” Finn asked.
James winked. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re disgustingly happy,” Finn said after a moment. “It’s nice.”
“I am disgustingly happy,” James said. “I’ve never been this happy. I’ll be even happier when the move is done.”
“Yeah, when is that happening?”
James had surprised Mandy with a ring and her dream house on the same day almost two months before. Despite her ardent pleas to move into the house the day they took ownership, James had managed to put her off while the house underwent a minor spruce. Now they had decided to remain in his apartment until after the honeymoon, but there were still tons of things to be tackled on that front, too.
“We’re not moving in until we get back from the honeymoon,” James said. “We still have to go furniture shopping, though, and I’m not looking forward to that.”
“You’ve shopped with Mandy,” James said. “It’s always a big … thing. I told her to pick out whatever she wants, but she proceeded to pout and bat those big, blue eyes at me, and now we’re going furniture shopping together this weekend.”
Finn barked out a laugh. “Well, look at it this way, you’ll be able to christen every piece of furniture you buy.”
James’ eyes brightened. “Hey, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“See, you do have something to look forward to,” Finn said.
James took a step away from his brother, the glint of something on the roof of a nearby building catching his eye.
“What kind of furniture does she want?” Finn asked.
James didn’t answer, instead lifting his hand to shade his eyes.
“It’s probably good that you’re going,” Finn said, not noticing his brother’s sudden distraction. “She’d pick out a bunch of girlie stuff. You want furniture that’s actually comfortable.”
James couldn’t detect movement on the roof, but something about the situation didn’t feel right to him. He opened his mouth to tell Finn he was going to go and check out the situation, snapping it shut as realization dawned on him.
“What are you looking at?” Finn asked.
There was movement on the roof now, and James recognized the danger. He didn’t get a chance to tell Finn to move. He didn’t get a chance to yell for everyone to get down. He didn’t even get a chance to worry.
By the time the gunshot rang out, it was already too late.
believe you haven’t bought furniture yet,” Ally Hardy said, lounging on her brother’s couch and flipping through a catalog. “Talk about waiting until the last minute.”
“He keeps putting it off,” Mandy said, settling on the couch next to her best friend. “He hates shopping. I finally guilted him into it.”
“How did you do that?”
“I just pouted until I got my own way.”
“Well, since he can’t stand it if you’re upset, I guess that makes sense,” Ally mused, turning the page. “Hey, what about this book shelf? It’s rustic and round. It stands out. It’s really cool.”
Mandy glanced at the page Ally was tapping. “I like that. Bend the corner down.”
“Look,” Ally said. “There are matching bookshelves with ladders. You have a lot of books. These would look really cool in your office.”
“I like those,” Mandy admitted.
“So, when is your mom getting here?” Ally asked.
“Ugh, next week,” Mandy said, biting the inside of her cheek. “She’s coming the same day your parents are coming.”
“My mom is so excited,” Ally enthused. “She can’t wait. She’s got four kids, but this is her first wedding.”
“Yeah, well, I’m an only child,” Mandy countered. “My mom is obsessed with this wedding. I’ve tried telling her that I don’t want it to be a big deal, but she doesn’t get it.”
“Why don’t you want a big wedding?” Ally asked.
“I just … I don’t think it’s my thing,” Mandy said. “I’m not really excited about the wedding. I mean, I want the wedding, and I want to get up in front of people and tell James how I feel about him, but I don’t think it has to be some big extravaganza.”
“You don’t want to be the center of attention,” Ally said, her brown eyes thoughtful. “You don’t like it when people stare at you.”
“Who likes that?”
“I love that,” Ally said. “I love being the center of attention.”
Mandy smiled. Ally
love that. “Well, you can have a big wedding,” Mandy said. “You can make your mom happy. Maybe, and I’m just thinking out loud here, but maybe you can let my mom plan your wedding.”
Ally giggled. “I’ll consider it.”
“Because she’s driving me crazy,” Mandy said. “I don’t want some big, white dress that’s wider than it is tall. I want simple flowers, simple vows, and simple music.”
“Sometimes you think like a guy,” Ally complained. “I can’t believe you’re not excited about getting married.”
“I am excited to be married,” Mandy said. “I want to be married. I want to be married to your brother. I just don’t want a big wedding. A wedding is not a marriage.”
Ally pinched her bottom limp. “I guess you have a point.”
“Have you and Jake considered taking the plunge?” Mandy asked, changing the subject.
Ally made a face, but her smile was warm and sly when Mandy mentioned her boyfriend. “Jake and I have been dating for a month.”
“Yes, but you’re practically living together already.”
“You and James were together right away, too,” Ally pointed out. “You didn’t decide to get married for a whole year. Just … don’t rush me.”
“You’re happy, though, right?”
“Totally,” Ally said. “I’m blissfully happy. I can’t wait to introduce him to Mom and Dad.”
“Is Jake excited about it?”
“I haven’t brought it up yet,” Ally admitted. “He’s living in ignorance.”
“Is that on purpose?”
Ally shrugged. “He’s shy. I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to trap him. He doesn’t like feeling closed in.”
“What if he doesn’t want to meet them?”
“I guess that’s up to him,” Ally said. “I’m not going to pressure him. Mom will be happy meeting Emma and fawning all over you if it comes to that.”
Mandy made a face. “Oh, whatever. You want to show Jake off to your mom. Don’t deny it.”
Ally sighed, brushing her long brown hair away from her face. “I do want to show him off.”
“Just ask him, Ally,” Mandy said. “He won’t tell you no.”
“He won’t, will he?”
Mandy smiled. Ally’s joy was contagious, and she was truly happy for her lifelong friend. The sound of the phone ringing jolted Mandy back to reality. She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Who is calling on the landline?”
She moved to the counter, a curt reply to cut off a telemarketer on the tip of her tongue. Her face drained of color as the voice on the other end of the phone began to speak.
Ally’s attention was back on the catalog, but when Mandy put the phone back in the cradle and didn’t return to the couch, she finally looked up. “Who was that?” Mandy’s face was so white Ally immediately knew something had happened. She tossed the catalog to the side and got to her feet. “What’s wrong?”
Mandy had trouble finding words, and when she did, her voice sounded alien to her own ears. “James has been shot.”