Authors: Rhonda Nelson
Case #125: A Retirement-Home Robber?
Notes: Jeb “The Professional” Anderson is sent undercover to investigate thefts at a seniors residence. But what happens when a sexy suspect steals his heart?
Former military man Jeb Anderson accepted a job at Ranger Security to regain some control over his life. But when he goes undercover to investigate a series of thefts at a retirement home, his number one suspect completely unravels his control...and sends his libido sky-high!
As far as massage therapist Sophie O’Brien is concerned, Jeb is infuriating. Still, she’d like nothing more than to find out just what’s underneath Jeb’s reserved exterior—and his clothes! Because if he’s half as talented as his nickname implies, letting him uncover all her secrets will be very, very satisfying....
Just in time for the holidays, fan favorite
is giving Harlequin Blaze readers two more books in her bestselling series
MEN OUT OF UNIFORM!
These hot Southern heroes
have spent years taking
anything the military could throw at them and they
always came out
top. So why do they get knocked
off course by the first sexy woman who crosses their path?
#717 THE PROFESSIONAL
#724 HIS FIRST NOELLE
There's nothing like a man in
or out of it!
To tell you the truth, I haven’t given a lot of thought about
where I’ll spend my older years, but I sincerely hope that it’s somewhere like
the fictional Twilight Acres featured in this book. The residents are all young
at heart, with enough money in the bank for the expensive things they couldn’t
afford in their youth. (And not all of it is strictly good for them!) They’re an
interesting bunch with lots of life experience, history and a whole lot of
sass…which is more often than not directed at the hero and heroine.
When several residents of Twilight Acres realize that they’ve
all had expensive pieces of jewelry stolen, one of the families calls in Ranger
Security’s Jeb Anderson to get to the bottom of the thefts. Having been given a
brooch by one of the ladies, massage therapist Sophie O’Brien inadvertently
winds up at the top of Jeb’s suspect list.
Jeb is autocratic, irritating and unbelievably mysterious,
and Sophie wants nothing more than to crack that cool reserve and tap into the
heat she feels bubbling just below the surface. And once she does…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A Waldenbooks bestselling author, two-time RITA® Award
RT Book Reviews
Reviewers’ Choice nominee
and National Readers’ Choice Award winner Rhonda Nelson writes hot romantic
comedy for the Harlequin Blaze line and other Harlequin Books imprints. With
more than thirty-five published books to her credit, she’s thrilled with her
career and enjoys dreaming up her characters and manipulating the worlds they
live in. She and her family make their chaotic but happy home in a small town in
northern Alabama. She loves to hear from her readers, so be sure to check her
, follow her on
and like her on Facebook.
Books by Rhonda Nelson
322—THE EX-GIRLFRIENDS’ CLUB
549—BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY
579—IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE
594—THE WILD CARD
615—REAL MEN WEAR
688—BLAZING BEDTIME STORIES, VOLUME VII
“The Steadfast Hot
711—BLAZING BEDTIME STORIES, VOLUME IX
For quintessential Southern lady Jean Hovey, who makes me cornflake cookies and provides emergency plotting advice. Hugs, my sweet friend. Love you!
twins?” the nurse asked as she peered skeptically into the bassinet.
Olga Montrose, the RN who'd assisted with the delivery, nodded, a smile on her lined face. “They most certainly are,” she confirmed. “The blond one came first, then the dark-haired one less than two minutes after his brother. That's fast, particularly for a natural birth.”
The nurse harrumphed under her breath. “They don't look like any set of twins I've ever seen,” she said. “Even fraternal twins typically bear some sort of resemblance. These boysâ¦don't.”
Olga couldn't argue there, so she didn't try. She'd been working the maternity ward for over thirty years and had seen all manner of babies come into this world. Perfect and imperfect, big and small, identical twins and those of the fraternal variety.
But even she had to admit she'd never seen anything quite like the Anderson boys.
Weighing in at exactly seven pounds eachâordinarily one was smaller than the otherâand both twenty-three inches long, they couldn't be any more different in appearance. The oldest boy, Jeb, was fair-haired, with startling especially blue eyes, even for a newborn, and had a visible dimple in his right cheek. The younger twin, Judd, had inky black hair and eyes that were so dark blue they already appeared brown and the same dimple as his brother, only on his left cheek. Exact opposites, but mirror images.
How inconceivably bizarre.
Both boys had thrashed around in their bassinets and wailed until, at a loss, Olga had put them in one together and the caterwauling had instantly stopped, as though a switch had been thrown. Presently the two lay facing one another and, though it was impossible, she got the distinct sense that they were somehow communicating. Ridiculous, she knew. Stillâ¦
She'd never seen a pair of twins more different or more distinctly bonded and knew a fleeting pang of sympathy for their parents.
For whatever reason, Olga suspected the two of them were going to be more than a handful to raise. Anyone charged with the dubious task of their upbringing would need lots of patience, fortitude and divine intervention.
With one last look at the pair and a shake of her head, she muttered a heartfelt, “Thank God it isn't me,” then went on about the rest of her duties.
Former Ranger Jeb Anderson was more accustomed to dodging bullets and IED’s than a geriatric retiree with a Dale Earnhardt complex, on a tricked-out scooter, but luckily it took the same skill set.
“Move it, sonny!” an old man bellowed at him, narrowly avoiding Jeb’s ankle with his back tire.
Interestingly enough, he wasn’t certain what had been more dangerous—the potential bombs or these vision-impaired senior citizens on the only form of transportation they were legally allowed to drive without a proper license.
Another older gentleman roared up next to him, his scooter candy-apple red with custom orange flames shooting down the sides, racing flags winging along behind him on the back. A cloud of Old Spice suddenly enveloped Jeb, making his nose burn and his eyes water.
“Psst,” the older player stage-whispered, darting a covert look around them. He leaned closer. “You want to score some V?”
Jeb blinked. He wasn’t altogether certain what V was, but he was relatively sure that he didn’t need to score it.
“V,” the man repeated impatiently, evidently in response to Jeb’s blank look. “The Tent-Maker, the Rocket Launcher, Vitamin V, the Miracle of Manhood,” he added with a suggestive waggle of his bushy brows.
“I get my next script in a few days and I can spare a couple of pills. Two for fifty. What do you say?”
Fifty dollars for two pills? Seriously? He’d say that was highway robbery. Of course, he wasn’t familiar with the street value of Viagra, so for all he knew this was actually a bargain price. Fortunately—
—he wasn’t in the market for any sexual performance enhancement drugs, so he merely shook his head and the gentleman moved on.
Because Lex Sanborn—a fellow friend and former soldier—had warned him in advance that some of the jobs that came Ranger Security’s way were a bit unorthodox, Jeb hadn’t batted a lash when the three founding members—Jamie Flanagan, Brian Payne and Guy McCann—had told him that his first assignment with the firm would be to try and locate a jewel thief at an exclusive retirement home for those clients who needed specialized care.
Jeb considered working with the three legendary Rangers a real privilege. Known as The Specialist, Brian Payne’s unmatched attention to detail, cool, unflappable confidence and keen observation skills had set the gold standard for every Ranger serving in Uncle Sam’s army. With a supposed genius IQ and more brawn than even the traditional soldier, Jamie Flanagan was a force to be reckoned with, one who had married Colonel Carl Garrett’s granddaughter. He grinned. That sure as hell took nerve. And Guy McCann’s almost providential ability to skate the fine line between sheer genius and stupidity and always come out on top was still locker room lore.
He couldn’t be working with finer men—men who
him, who knew precisely why he’d gone into the military and why he’d ultimately elected to come out.
Jeb released a tense sigh and battled the images back, the horror of his friends’ broken bodies.
team, the one
was supposed to protect, and yet he was the only one to survive. He swallowed.
He’d be lying if he said there were moments when he sincerely wished he hadn’t.
And then the inevitable guilt of that followed, imagining the pain his death would have caused his parents, his family, but most particularly his twin brother, Judd, who’d joined him in Ranger School and was currently still serving, but at present on a much-needed leave. Time hadn’t permitted Judd a state-side visit, but he’d been able to manage a trip to Crete. It was odd being so far away from his brother, Jeb thought, as though he was missing an imaginary appendage.
Because they looked so different—Heaven and Hell more than one person had joked over the years—they’d never struggled with having their own identity, but the twin thing, the bond between them, had always been substantial. Had they not been so close, sharing that connection might have been a curse, but Jeb could honestly say he’d never resented the tie. Anything that Judd might have picked up from him was something he would have shared anyway.
They’d been more than brothers—they’d been best friends from the womb.
And this was the first time in either of their lives that their feet hadn’t been on the same path. Or even the same continent, for that matter.
No doubt that was going to require more adjustment than anything else. Selfishly he’d hoped that Judd would make the switch with him, but that was hardly fair. Though his younger (by two minutes) brother had gone into the military initially to follow Jeb, Judd had thrived in the Ranger School and had developed a passion for serving that had defined his life just as much as it had Jeb’s. Like himself, he knew Judd would stay there until he could no longer do the work to the best of his ability. He just hoped it didn’t involve a tragedy, especially one that came with a heavy burden of guilt.
He wouldn’t wish this hell on anybody.
Rather than linger on what he couldn’t change, he sighed and tried to focus once more on the job at hand.
Twilight Acres looked more like a trendy resort than a glorified nursing home. The grounds were meticulously kept, featuring live oaks, sugar maples and weeping willow trees, lots of perfectly cut grass and flower beds bursting with blossoms. In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday there were potted mums, bales of hay, dried corn stalks and bunches of Indian corn artfully displayed around the grounds. Wrought iron lamp posts were positioned closely along the especially wide sidewalks and the heart of the community had been fashioned to look like an old town square. There was a beauty salon, a barber shop, several diners, a drug store and movie theater, a florist, a dentist and a doctor’s office, a small grocery and what looked like a ’50s era soda fountain.
A large gazebo with assorted benches, chairs and tables enabled residents to sit and play a game of chess or checkers or simply relax with a drink and talk. Uniformed staffers periodically refilled drinks and offered snacks.
For those residents who still liked to cook, there was a community center with a kitchen adjacent to the pool area and even a small, steepled white clapboard church at the end of the street. A community garden and greenhouse enabled residents to grow some of their own food and flowers, and the houses themselves were quaint and picturesque, all of them equipped with front porches and connected with a maze of sidewalks that encouraged access to neighbors. Meals were always available and the community provided cleaning and laundry services. Specialized vans carried the seniors to local attractions and made sure any off-site doctor’s appointments were never missed.
All in all, the developers of the community appeared to have thought of everything and wanted their residents to genuinely enjoy their golden years. Jeb had been told the waiting list was a minimum of two years long and no amount of money, so-called donation or other motivation would move a person into a better position.
Given the seeming impartiality and incorruptibility, it seemed odd that they’d have a thief in their midst, but the facts didn’t lie. Over the past three years more than a quarter of a million dollars in jewelry had been taken, more often than not from those residents who suffered with bouts of dementia. He grimaced, feeling his anger spike.
It took a particularly heinous sort of person to do that, in Jeb’s opinion, and he looked forward to helping do his part to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Hired on by the most recent victim’s family—Rose Marie Wilton, who lost a diamond and emerald brooch which had been designed by the infamous Tiffany Company for Rose Marie’s own grandmother—Jeb was coming in undercover and would be posing as the grandson of Foy Wilcox, whose central location and popularity would make it easy for Jeb to blend in and investigate. Foy had one of the few houses with a guest bedroom and had been considered ideal for Jeb’s purposes.
Consulting the house numbers, Jeb located Mr. Wilcox’s residence and noted the red scooter with the orange flames parked by the front door with a dawning sense of dread. His lips twisted.
Naturally, the Viagra pusher would be his host.
Jeb mounted the steps and with a resigned sigh, knocked on the door.
“Is that you, Mary?” Foy called, a happy note of expectation in his voice.
Jeb opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off.
“Come on in and make yourself at home, my dear,” he said. “I’m changing and will be ready to go in just a minute.”
Because he didn’t see an alternative, Jeb opened the door and let himself into the spacious living room. A cursory glance revealed quite a bit about his pretend “grandpa.” Foy was a fan of original art, high-end electronics, leather furniture and remote controls given the half dozen that lay on the stand next to his recliner. Jeb was strongly reminded of the so-called boardroom at Ranger Security, which had the same sort of man-cave feel.
The scent of fine cigars and some sort of disinfectant spray hung in the air and various photographs—some in color, some in black and white—lined the mantelpiece, presumably family, at least one a bride.
“I’m ready, Mary,” Foy announced as he returned to the living room. His flirty, hopeful smile capsized when he saw Jeb and he blinked. “You’re not Mary.”
Jeb could state the obvious, too—Foy wasn’t dressed.
At least, not in the traditional sense, and there was nothing conventional about the turquoise and black zebra-striped Speedo the older man was wearing. Even more disconcerting, evidence suggested that Foy was a man-scaper, because other than the slicked back hair on his head he was as bald all over as a newborn. A silk robe and a towel had been tossed over one arm and he wore a pair of rubber flip-flops. Jeb gave himself a mental shake and forcibly directed his gaze to Foy’s face.
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Wilcox. I’m Jeb Anderson, the agent from Ranger Security looking into the jewelry thefts that have been taking place over the past few years. Rose Marie Wilton’s family hired me. You were consulted by my boss, Major Brian Payne,” he prompted.
Foy’s eyebrows united in a dark scowl. “I know who you are and I know why you’re here. I’m not a child, so don’t talk to me like I’m one. I’m old, not ignorant.”
He hadn’t meant to cause offense. They certainly hadn’t gotten off to a good start. “That’s not what I—”
“Yeah, yeah,” Foy said, ignoring him completely as he picked up his smart phone and loaded the calendar. He glanced up at him. “You’re early,” Foy announced. “You weren’t supposed to arrive until four o’clock. It’s three-thirty. Who looks like the dumbass now?”
Jeb felt himself blush. Foy was right. He’d incorrectly assumed that the older man would be waiting for him and, once he’d packed a bag, had decided not to delay his departure.
Clearly Foy, the resident Romeo, had other plans.
A knock at the door made them both turn and Foy’s expression instantly transformed into a smile so smooth Jeb was hard-pressed not to admire the guy.
“Mary,” Foy said warmly, striding forward. “Looking lovely as always. Is that a new cover up?”
Mary grinned, clearly pleased that Foy had noticed something different about her. She was an elegant lady, with carefully arranged blond hair, just enough make-up to hint at a more youthful beauty and finishing-school posture that made her appear taller than her true height. “It is,” she said, nodding primly. Her gaze shifted to Jeb and she smiled expectantly.
“Mary, this is my grandson, Jeb. He’s recently out of the military and is going to be visiting me for a few days. I’m working on my memoirs and he’s kindly offered to take notes for me.”
That was certainly news to Jeb. Memoirs? What sort of memoirs? Though Jeb would like to discount the remark as a good lie—and he suspected Foy Wilcox could spin a yarn with the best of them—there was a disturbing ring of truth to the announcement that made him distinctly uncomfortable.
“How nice,” Mary enthused. A slight frown puckered her brow. “Oh. I hate to take you away from—”
“No, no,” Foy was quick to tell her, shooting Jeb a black see-what-you’ve-done look over his shoulder. “He’s going to settle in and take a nap. He’s exhausted, poor lad. Had a nightmare layover in New York.”
Jeb barely smothered a snort. Excellent liar indeed.
“Well, if you’re certain,” she said, still looking unsure.
“I am,” Foy told her, herding her back out onto the porch, his fingers in the small of her back. “I’ll be back after while, son,” Foy told him. “Make yourself at home. There’s food in the pantry and drinks in the fridge, but stay out of the liquor cabinet. I’ve got scotch in there that’s older than you are.” He settled Mary onto his lap, instructing her to wrap her arms around his neck in the process, then fired up his scooter and took off.
Jeb watched the pair hurtle down the sidewalk toward the pool area and knew a momentary flash of unhappy insight. He imagined his “grandfather” was getting laid with more enthusiasm and much more frequency than he was.
Rather than linger over that little nugget of disappointing information, Jeb decided he’d better call in. Charlie Martin, resident hacker for Ranger Security and new mother, had promised to have some information for him this afternoon.
Considering he was basically working blind, he’d take anything he could get.
* * *
the information in front of him and wished he could give his newest agent more to go on. “Sorry, Jeb. There’s just not a lot here. Whoever is doing this has been at it for at least three years, chooses their items and victims wisely and, oftentimes, it’s months before anyone even notices that their jewelry is missing. The only reason that Rose Marie noticed that the brooch was gone was because she’d been trying to make her will more equitable.” No doubt a fact her heirs greatly appreciated, Payne thought.