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Authors: Lora Leigh

Wild Card

BOOK: Wild Card
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Wild Card

By

Lora Leigh

WILD CARD

Copyright © 2008 by Lora Leigh.

ISBN: 0-312-94579-5

EAN: 978-0-312-94579-4

St. Martin's Paperbacks edition / September 2008

I
once knew a girl who claimed to be Irish. Whether the story she told me of Wild Irish Eyes is
true or not (she wouldn't admit either way

),
it still in part inspired the idea for this book
.

So thanks to her and other Internet friends. Stories told, hours of laughter, What Ifs, and

precious memories. The world is open to us now, as are stories true or imagined, and laughter

with those across the seas, across the nation, or across the street is but a click away.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Special thanks to Natalie, Jennifer, Melissa, Kelli

the best sis a writer could have

Roni,
Janine and Annmarie, Chris and Jess. For the hours of reading, your comments, and your

suggestions. I couldn't do it without you
.

And special thanks to my editor Monique. Who doesn't mind to snap the whip, or listen to the

ideas.

And to my family. Who put up with me when I'm on tight deadlines. My husband Tony who

makes certain I eat, my son Bret who makes my coffee, and my daughter Holly who listens to

me gripe when I get behind.

I couldn't do it without you.

PROLOGUE I

Nathan sat beside his grandfather, Rory Malone, on the crude front porch of the shack he lived

in. Nathan was only ten, but he knew exactly why Grandpop didn't live with him and his

parents. Because Nathan's father, Grant, was ashamed of him.

"He's too fucking Irish," Grant would rage for hours after visiting with his father. "He uses that brogue like it's something to be proud of."

And God. forbid that Nathan should let a hint of that brogue free, though he practiced it as

often as he could away from his father.

Nathan's father didn't like being Irish. He didn't like people knowing he was Irish. If he could

ship Grandpop off somewhere, then Nathan sometimes thought that his father would do it. But

Grant Malone couldn't make Rory Malone do anything. The old man was as wise as the

mountains and the cliffs around them, and just as stubborn.

"Nathan, my boy, look at that sunset." Rory pointed out the majestic colors that washed over

the mountains. "Almost as pretty as Ireland, she is. Almost." And Nathan heard a whisper of

homesickness in his grandpop's voice.

"Why don't you go back?" Nathan asked. "Dad says you have enough money to live

anywhere."

He looked at his grandfather's weathered face. The bright blue eyes, just like Nathan's, brighter

than Nathan's father's and without the hints of green his father's had.

Grandpop smiled. A strange, sad little smile.

"Because my Erin is here." He pointed to the small graveyard.

There. Nathan's grandma, Erin Malone, was buried. On one side of her were buried the two

sons they lost in Vietnam, his uncles, Riordan and Rory Jr.. and the daughter that had died of a

fever, Nathan's aunt Edan.

"Grandma wouldn't want you to leave?" Nathan frowned. His grandma was dead, what would

she care?

"Oh, now my Erin, she'd smile down on me no matter where I walked." Grandpop smiled that

little smile again. "But I'd be separated from her, and I'd feel that separation in my soul, you

see?"

Nathan shook his head.

Grandpop sighed. "You have the Irish eyes, boy. One of these days, you'll see from eyes, not

your own, feel with a heart outside your chest. Wild Irish eyes. Nathan. When you love, love

well and love true, and take care, lad, because those Irish eyes are windows into not just your

own soul, but the soul of the one you love." Grandpop looked out at his Erin's grave. "And

when you lose that heart, you can't leave the places where your memories are the best. And if I

left her, I'd not be buried beside her."

Grandpop stared back at him then, and Nathan felt his chest grow tight at the thought of ever

burying his grandpop in the hard, bleak soil.

"Wild Irish eyes," his grandpop murmured then. "My father gave me the same warning I give

you now, boy. Don't lose the one you love. You lose a part of your soul when you do. The

legacy of those eyes will ensure it."

Nathan frowned. That didn't make much sense, but maybe he'd ask his uncle Jordan about it

later. Uncle Jordan still remembered his mother. He had been five when she died, just before

Nathan's birth. But Uncle Jordan was in Houston right now on summer break with Nathan's

older uncle Doran and his family.

"So my eyes are bad?" Nathan finally asked.

"Not bad." His grandpop sighed. "Not bad at all, boy. You'll see one of these days. One of these days, you'll see. Wild Irish eyes see what they shouldn't see, but even more." His grandfather

stared down at him sadly. "The one who holds your soul, who holds your heart." He thumped

Nathan's chest. "They see through you as well."

"Dad doesn't have Irish eyes then?" Grant's eyes had flecks of green. He always frowned. He

always growled.

Worry flickered over Grandpop's face. "Your dad is a good man." He repeated what he always

said.

"Is he, Grandpop?" Nathan thought about the baby sleeping in the house. The tiny baby that

Grandpop said was his brother. The baby Grant Malone denied. "Little Rory should have a dad

too."

Grandpop touched his head gently and said softly, "Nothing is as we think, boy. There are

always layers, and layers, shades of gray and shades of black or white. You gotta find why, not

see what."

"Because he doesn't love us," Nathan whispered, accepting it as only a child can.

And Grandpop hook his head. "Layers, son. Remember that. There's always what you don't

know and what you don't see. And love doesn't always do what we think it should. Just

remember that, and you'll do fine."

And he grew. He looked for layers, he looked for shades of gray. Nathan Malone matured,

became a SEAL, and the layers drifted from his mind. But they were there. Always shifting,

always moving. Until the day he saw hell. And from the ashes of hell, he learned there were

layers he never knew existed.

PROLOGUE II

Sixteen years later

Nathan Malone sat at his desk in the office of the garage/ service center he owned and watched

the young woman talking to one of his mechanics.

She didn't look happy. She looked frustrated. Sun-streaked blond hair fell to her shoulders, a

beautiful swath of waves that glistened in the sunlight. Nicely rounded, not too slender. She

had a butt to die for beneath the black skirt she was wearing, and breasts that rose temptingly

beneath a maroon blouse.

Slender heels completed the outfit. He wondered if those were hose or stockings she was

wearing. She looked like a stocking woman.

Finally, she threw her hands up, looked around, and her gaze caught his. Her nostrils flared in

determination and she moved quickly past the protesting mechanic to the door of his office.

He watched as the most amazing vision stalked across the floor and planted her hands on his

desk, glaring at him.

"Look, all I need is a wrench," she said forcefully. "Just loan me one. Sell me one. I don't care.

But if I have to go much farther in my car, I'm going to find myself hitchhiking. Do I look like

I want to be hitchhiking today?" She spread her arms out from her body as she straightened, her

pretty gray eyes cloudy, distressed, her pink lips tight as the mechanic moved in behind her.

"No, ma'am, you don't." Nathan shook his head, his gaze moving over her appreciatively before

he looked around her at the mechanic. "Is there a reason why we're not looking at her car?" he

asked the other man.

Sammy's eyes narrowed. "Garage bays are full, boss, I told her that."

"A wrench," she ground out between her teeth. "Just loan me the blasted wrench."

She was frustrated. Perspiration clung to her forehead, glistened at her cheeks. Then her

expression smoothed with obvious control.

"Look, really." Her voice softened and he was enchanted. Right there, to the sound of a sweet

Southern belle, Nathan Malone lost his heart. "I really just need a little bit of help here. I swear.

My job interview isn't going to wait for me. I promise, I won't take long."

She smiled, and he felt his world tilt on its axis. A sweet curve of her lips, a hint of

nervousness, frustration, and worry lingered in the soft curve. But she smiled at him. Hell, he

felt like a teenager again.

He moved around the desk and held out his hand to the door. "Show me the car. We'll get you

back on the road."

"Boss, we're packed," Sammy protested.

Nathan ignored him as the young woman turned and preceded him to the door. He was

watching her ass as she walked and it was the damnedest view. His hands itched to touch her.

Itched to cup those curves and feel them flex beneath his hands.

"I'm Sabella." She flashed him a smile over her shoulder. "I really appreciate this."

That Georgia accent was going to make him come in his jeans. No way was he going to hold it

back if she kept talking to him.

This one was his.

"It's going to cost you," he drawled as he popped open the hood to her little sporty sedan.

"It always does." She sighed. "How much do you think?"

She looked worried. She was definitely a woman with a goal and intent on getting there. Pretty

polished nails, just enough makeup to highlight her features, and pretty soft lips.

"Dinner." He grinned back at her, catching the surprise in her eyes.

"Dinner?" Wariness filled her voice.

"Just dinner," he promised. For now. "Tonight."

She stared back at him for long seconds, those gray eyes seeming to sink inside him, to search,

to warm places inside him he didn't know existed. Let alone knew they were cold.

Finally, her lips tipped into a charming, flirtatious grin.

"The bad boy of Alpine is asking me out to dinner?" she said mischievously. "I believe I just might swoon."

"That's not me. That's Sammy." He pointed to the mechanic. "I'm just a poor mechanic and

Navy SEAL." The girls loved SEALs. Anything to impress her.

"Nathan Malone, the SEAL with the wild blue eyes and the heartbreaking grin," she stated. "I know who you are."

"But I don't know who you are," he stated somberly. '"I'd love to find out."

That look again. Intense, probing. "Dinner," she finally agreed softly. "I'll meet you."

Whatever he could get. "Piedmont's." He named the most expensive restaurant in town, which

wasn't saying much. "Seven."

"Seven it is. But I'll never make it if you don't fix my car."

Sabella kept a knowing smile to herself. She had a feeling if she just told him what was wrong

with it, he'd never believe her anyway. She let him piddle around, find the loose hose, and

tighten it. There, just like she said, all she needed was a wrench. Her daddy had taught her how

to work on her own car a long time ago. Unfortunately, her own wrench was missing.

So she let him fix it. She played helpless. Because she liked the way he looked at her, the way

his wild blue eyes darkened just a bit, seemed more neon in his tanned face.

"Seven," he reminded her as he closed the hood and stared down at her. "I'll be waiting on you."

"And I'll be there," she promised. Because there was no way she was going to miss this. She'd

seen him in town often enough, she'd even fantasized about him a time or two after glimpsing

him.

The hot SEAL. The bad boy of Alpine. Every woman she knew at the college lusted after him.

And Sabella decided, in that moment, Nathan was going to be hers.

Two years later

"Oh my God, Bella, what have you done?"

Bella jumped as she turned to face Nathan, seeing his wild eyes, his pale features, his hard, buff

body stalking across the front yard, his chest slick with sweat, bits of the grass he had been

cutting sticking to his jeans as he strode furiously to where her car met the back of his truck.

"It's just a little dent, Nathan. I promise…" Her heart was in her throat. Not in fear. He would never hurt her. But he sure knew how to pout when he wanted to.

"A little dent." He gripped her shoulders, moving her aside as he stared down at the crumpled

fender as it sank into the bumper of his truck.

It was an accident. It was all his fault. If he hadn't been wearing those butt-snug jeans and boots

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