Read Losing Ladd Online

Authors: Dianne Venetta

Tags: #romance, #women, #southern, #mystery, #small town, #contemporary, #food, #series, #tennessee, #cozy

Losing Ladd (4 page)

BOOK: Losing Ladd
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Jack sized up the Whiskey Joe’s lounge
crowd. Unlike the bars in Nashville, this place was cramped in
size, poorly lit and smelled like they hadn’t cracked a window in
years. Two couples were seated at high-tops located on the opposite
side of a dance floor while a few guys sat hunkered over the bar.
Pretty slim-pickings. What did he expect for a Wednesday night in a
Podunk town?

As he cruised to an open center seat,
a guy three stools over threw back a swallow of his drink. His
profile caught Jack mid-stride and he practically stumbled. Medium
build, sandy blond hair, bright royal blue button-down, but it was
the guy’s mannerisms that rang familiar.

Was that Ladd? Smacking a
hand to the bar, Jack’s focus zoomed in on the man.
Well, I’ll be...

It is! That’s Jeremiah
Ladd
. Without hesitation, Jack walked over
and asked, “Jeremiah?”

Maintaining a hand on his glass as it
sat on the bar, the man looked up. Light brown eyes were framed by
hard lines. It took a second, but the mistrustful gaze melted away.
“Jack Foster?”


One and the same,” Jack
replied happily.

Swiveling on his seat, Jeremiah opened
into a smile. “Wow. How long has it been? Ten, twenty
years?”

Jack leaned a hip against the bar and
said, “Gotta be at least twenty. Last time I saw you, you were on
your way out of town with the cops nipping at your
tail.”

Jeremiah chuckled, easing back in his
seat. “Now you know I didn’t have anything to do with robbing that
gas station.”

Jack smiled. He didn’t care one way or
another. “Did they ever catch up with you?”


Nope. Never
did.”

Glancing to a bartender making his way
over, Jack asked, “Mind if I join you?”


Have a seat,” Jeremiah
offered and squared himself with the bar.


What’ll it be, sir?” the
bartender asked. No more than twenty-one years of age, the kid
looked barely legal to serve alcohol. For a moment, Jack felt old.
A brief moment. Flicking a glance to Jeremiah’s glass, the amber
liquid glimmering in the dim light, Jack ordered, “Jack Daniels.
Neat.”


Coming right
up.”

Jack half-watched the kid as he
grabbed a black-labeled bottle, uncapped it and poured the whiskey
into a glass. Jeremiah took another sip from his drink as the
bartender delivered Jack’s. “Start a tab?”


Sure.”

Without another word, the
young man headed back down the bar to a cash register where he rang
in the sale. Then he grabbed a paper ticket and jotted down a note.
Jack pulled a deep swallow of whiskey, a whiff of alcohol flaring
his nostrils as the liquid fired down his throat.
That was a long time coming
.


So how the hell have you
been, Jack? Last I heard, you were carousing the streets of
Nashville.”


Was, until some
sweetheart sicked her ill-tempered boyfriend on me.” Jeremiah’s
laugh was quick and hearty. “Damn near busted my jaw and got me
fired.”

Raising his glass, Jeremiah smirked.
“Broads.”

Jack grunted. “Speaking of broads, I
hear you and my ex had a bit of a run-in last time you were in
town.”


Is that what she called
it?”

Jack shrugged. “She wasn’t doin’ the
telling, but I gathered you two went at it over the
property.”


Ladd Springs belongs to
me,” Jeremiah said, a veil of anger dropping over his gaze. Thinly
veiled, it was palpable. “She and her daughter swindled it from
Ernie before he died, and I aim to remind them of the
fact.”

The venom spitting from Jeremiah’s
eyes gave Jack pause. Maybe the rumors were true. He’d heard
Jeremiah had threatened to kill his old man. Looking at him, he
believed every word of it. Jeremiah’s hazel eyes were grayed. Flat.
“Delaney and I had our own run-in a while back.”

His interest caught. Jeremiah lifted
his brow. “What kind of run-in?”


She pulled a gun on me
and had her little boyfriend jump me.”


Little?” Jeremiah
sneered. “The guy’s a monster.”

Jack chuckled at the mistake. “Not her
husband. Troy Parker. I think the two have something going
on.”

Jeremiah gaped at him. “The twin? The
bullish one?”


That’s him,” Jack said,
sucking back another swig of whiskey, satisfied to see Jeremiah’s
wheels churn with malice as he connected the dots. Stoke the flame.
Make waves. The more people sided against Delaney the better. “He’s
a punk and I’m taking him to court.”

A grin swept the disbelief from
Jeremiah’s expression. “I wouldn’t mind a crack at that kid myself.
He was taking a hit at my woman when she was in town, and I’d like
to see him pay. What’s the charge?”


Criminal assault with a
deadly weapon should do the trick.”

Jeremiah’s pleasure deepened. “That’s
a felony.”


Should put him away for a
while, give him something to think about.”

With a shake of his head, Jeremiah
chortled, then tossed back another swallow. “Nice to know I’m not
the only one who isn’t a fan when it comes to Delaney Wilkins.”
Nailing him with a fleeting glance, Jeremiah added, “I mean, I know
she’s your ex and all, but that woman needs to be taught a
lesson.”


Agreed. I take it kinda
personal when a woman points a gun at my head.”

Jeremiah nodded. “And you say Troy
helped her?”


Backed her up and made it
two against one.”


Damn.”


You know he knocked your
kid up, right?” Jeremiah’s expression closed, as though he didn’t
have a kid. “Annie's daughter, Casey? He got her pregnant then left
town. Ditched her but he’s back.”

Jeremiah’s gaze soured. “So I
heard...”


Did you also hear that
Annie married my brother?” Jack rubbed his fingers together. “She
hit the jackpot. Cal has money. Big money.”


Really?” Jeremiah drew
the word out as he visibly appraised the situation. “Well, that
sounds interesting.”


Yeah. He’s managing the
new hotel and thinks he’s Mr. Big in town.” Bitterness curdled on
Jack’s tongue. “Well I’m gonna take care of him, too.”


How so?”


The good old-fashioned
way. I’m gonna cause him grief right where it hurts. Delaney, too.
I’ve had it up to here with her,” he said, taking a swipe at his
throat.

Jeremiah rolled his lips and finished
the last of his whiskey. Plunking it down, he summoned the
bartender. Jack finished the last of his and ordered another round
with Jeremiah.

Talk of Delaney and Cal sharpened an
edge in him. It grated on him that Cal had been given the position
as General Manager. What experience did he have? Momma said he
managed a retirement community in Arizona, a far cry from running
an international hotel. Delaney was head manager of the stables, as
if she knew anything about being a boss. She knew horses, he’d give
her. But people?

Delaney’s people skills left a lot to
be desired. Felicity was the rising star. She was young and
beautiful and talented... Jack had been looking forward to
reestablishing a relationship with her and then rubbing Delaney’s
nose in it. He wanted to prove that his daughter took after his
side of the family, with a future beyond the four corners of this
stale town. Who was Delaney to stand between a man and his
daughter, preventing them from forgiving the past and moving
forward?

But she did. Delaney stepped in it
thick, filling Felicity’s head with lies so she turned against him,
too. Grabbing the fresh glass of whiskey, Jack drank deeply. The
alcohol cut across his tongue, raced down his limbs and pummeled
the tension from his muscles. Delaney would be sorry. They all
would.


Well,” Jeremiah offered,
“maybe I can help you out with your Delaney problem.”


Help me out?”


Seems to me we have a
common goal—payback against Delaney.”


You have something in
mind?”

Jeremiah’s grin turned wicked. “Oh, I
have something in mind all right, and the gears have started to
shift.”

Enclosing his palm around the
low-ball, Jack cocked a brow. “You have my attention.”


Jack Foster.” The
familiar purr of familiarity yanked his cord, spinning him around
in his seat. Jillian Devane smiled, a naughty gleam entering her
tiger-eyed gaze as she said, “I didn’t expect to see you
here.”

His pulse skipped. “Jillian. I didn’t
know you were in town.” Dressed in skintight jeans and strappy gold
heels, her fitted satin tank shimmered creamy gold in the subtle
lighting.

Flashing cat eyes toward Jeremiah, she
replied, “I only just returned.”

Standing abruptly, Jack reached out
for her. “What brings you back?”


Business, darling. Urgent
business that could not wait.” She drew a finger along Jack’s
collar and up his neck, igniting his libido. Deepening her smile,
she said, “It’s nice to know you’ve missed me,
cariño
.”


Who wouldn’t miss a
beautiful woman like you?” Jeremiah asked.

Jillian turned her attention to
Jeremiah. “Sweet talk will get you most everywhere,” she said, her
accent husky.

Jeremiah smiled, more comfortable than
Jack would have liked him. Reaching for Jillian’s hand, Jeremiah
lifted it to his lips and kissed the satiny brown skin. Locking his
gaze to hers, he replied, “It only gets sweeter from
here.”

Jack felt an instant
resentment over Jeremiah’s intrusion. This was Jack’s score, not
his. “Have a seat,” he said, indicating the stool next to
him
. “I’ll buy you a
drink. Care for the usual?” he asked, making sure Jeremiah heard
him loud and clear. The usual, as in
I
know this woman, I know what she likes
.

Jillian smiled between the two. “Yes.
That would be fine.”

As she slipped onto the barstool, Jack
took her in more thoroughly, surprised by her appearance in town.
He imagined her previous hasty departure had something to do with
Nick and Delaney, but he couldn’t be sure. He’d heard talk of
threats and past quarrels but nothing concrete. One thing he was
sure of—he was glad to see her. “So how long are you in
town?”

She smiled sweetly, then pursed her
glossy lips. “Depends.”


Depends on
what?”


On how successful I find
my time in your small town.”

Upon the addition to their party, the
bartender appeared. “What can I get for you?”


The lady will have a
Cosmo,” Jack ordered.

The kid tipped his head and went to
work, drawing a martini glass from an overhead shelf slide, then
reaching for a bottle of vodka, a container of cranberry juice and
some ice. “So,” Jack began, savoring her presence, the spicy
perfume emanating from her body. Her cleavage was prominently
displayed for his enjoyment, impeded only by strips of her shiny
black hair. “What’s on the agenda? Another land purchase? Resuming
your hotel plans?” Before she could answer, he waggled his brow. “I
sure would enjoy seeing Harris Hotels struggle against some
competition.”


They will get what’s
coming to them,” she said, her thick Spanish accent catching on the
“them.”


Sounds more ominous than
business,” Jack observed. Sounded to him more like a vendetta. Was
Jillian jealous? Was that why she was here? During their time
together last fall, Jillian had mentioned she and Nick used to be
partners. Bringing his glass to his lips, Jack wondered if it
included the bedroom. Knowing what little he knew of the woman, it
wasn’t a stretch to assume that partnership included a romantic
interest.

Jeremiah sat idle, though clearly
dialed into their conversation.

Jillian simply smiled, refusing to
elaborate.

The ring of a cell phone rose from
Jeremiah’s waistband. Unclipping the phone, he answered,
“Hello?”

Jack watched Jillian who was watching
Jeremiah. A placid smile sat on her mouth, but Jack detected a keen
interest in the depths of her dark gaze. Did she find Jeremiah
attractive?


See you in a few,”
Jeremiah said, then ended the call. Downing the last of his drink,
he slapped a twenty dollar bill on the bar as the bartender arrived
with Jillian’s chilled red drink. “Been expecting that call and
gotta go.” Sliding off the rear of his stool, he stood and withdrew
a business card from his wallet. “Good to see you again, Jack.”
Handing the card over to him, he said, “Give me a call. We’ll
talk.”

Jack took the card and slipped it into
his back pocket. “Will do. And good to see you, too. Glad to know
we’re of like mind.”

Jeremiah tapped Jillian with a gaze
and grinned. “You bet we are.”

Jillian pulled the angular glass
closer to her. “A friend of yours?”

BOOK: Losing Ladd
5.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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