Agent Tall, Dark, and Dangerous here had been lurking behind the dweeb of her dreams. Hard to believe would be rank understatement. How had he managed to pull the wool so far over her eyes?
Maybe the clothes didn’t make the man, but they had damn well camouflaged him. Romulan cloaking device, move over. For the first few weeks, at least, she’d totally bought into his if-it-looks-like-a-greasy-goofball-and-acts-like-a-greasy-goofball shtick.
A real head-shaker, that, because looking at him now, nobody in their right mind would put nerdy and Price in the same sentence. This Price brought a whole new set of adjectives to mind—rugged, shrewd, and untamed, for example.
Sexy as hell, for example.
She might have stood a snowball’s chance keeping her hands off his sexy self if the sexy were all on the surface, but the man had undercurrents, which, at this particular moment were broadcasting loud and clear, and they were singing her song.
George Price—for want of his real name—obviously played deep and played to win. He’d seen too much to believe he could save the world, but he’d wade in fists flying and guns blazing to rescue the occasional corner. If push came to shove, she doubted he would yield an inch he didn’t know he could wrest back later.
As her gaze wandered the room, Candy had to appreciate the irony. Color me the new Lois Lane, she thought with a wry smile that slid absently over a mountain of leather, chains, and grungy salt-and-pepper dreads sitting two tables away. The latest woman to go to bed with a dork in glasses, only to wake up next to the Man of Steele. Enjoying the analogy, she glanced back at George and missed the biker’s answering grin, gap-toothed and delighted.
“They’re sure about the timing?” When George leaned forward to rap his knuckles on the table, Candy realized she’d missed important information. “No-shit sure?”
“No shit,” said Gep.
“Sure about what?” said Candy.
“Convince me,” said Price.
“Well, seems old Moss came a hair-trigger away from blasting a couple of them the first time they showed up in person. Guess he thought they were popcorn poachers and hauled out the twelve gauge. They’ve been real careful about giving him plenty of notice ever since.”
Candy grabbed George’s arm. “Hold it! Hold it one hot second! Are you telling me Moss almost shot somebody?”
He ignored her, nodded at Gep. “Okay, set it up.”
Set it up. The missing pieces fell into place with an almost audible click.
“You’re talking about the ambush.” She studied each face in turn. “You know—courtesy of Moss’s big mouth and itchy trigger finger, you know—when the growers are going to show up, either to check the crop or run the harvest.” She waited a beat. “Well? When does the balloon go up?”
“That’s not information you need to know,” said Price. She smiled agreeably, nodded, reached for her beer. Unfortunately, he snatched the bottle before she could give him a Bud Light shampoo treatment. “Government business, baby.”
“Government business, my butt.”
“God knows, it’s a fine one.” Before she could react, he whipped out The Smile, shifted it into coaxing mode. “Do me a favor, okay? Put your curiosity on hold, this one time?”
“Will you tell me later?”
“Sure. If by later you mean after.”
“Gee, thanks. Why don’t I wait and read about it in the paper?”
“There you go.”
“Look, pal, I didn’t say I—”
“No, you look. I won’t be able to focus, if I have to keep one eye on you. Plus, if you stick your nose in and wind up hurt, I’ll probably have to kill somebody.”
“Hmm.” She had to be one sick puppy if his threat of retaliatory violence could make her go all mushy inside. “Okay, forget I asked.”
No concession at all, since she could always pay her own visit to Moss.
“Thanks.” He picked up her hand, brushed his lips across her palm. That might’ve pricked her conscience if said conscience hadn’t been well insulated with the conviction she’d be snooping for his own good.
Tension she hadn’t noticed before in her shoulders and neck eased when she heard how many DEA agents would be involved, eased still more during the reassuring discussion about body armor and choppers. She might not know the when, but the what would obviously be as well choreographed and precisely timed as a performance of Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet. Scenarios she’d studiously avoided imagining—like the ones where George got hurt or, God forbid, killed—drifted closer to the realm of Highly Unlikely.
No worries, she told herself resolutely, eyes once again roaming aimlessly around the bar. No worries at all. Planning an intimate post-op celebration—one involving body oils and whipped cream—she smiled, but the smile died a quick death when the beefy biker she hadn’t realized she’d been staring at nodded, climbed to his feet, and hitched up his leather pants.
Uh-oh, she thought, as he lumbered toward their table, and nudged George with her elbow. “Excuse me, but—”
“Almost done here,” he assured her, gently squeezing her hand. “Couple details to go over.”
Candy eyed the behemoth bearing down on them. Did a creature that weighed close to two-fifty and resembled an amorous grizzly on a bad hair day qualify as a detail? She had a strong, unpleasant hunch they were about to find out. Scary Hairy was almost on top of them.
Candy sat up straight, her fingers fluttering frantically in George’s grip. “Heads up, guys. I think we’ve got—” Company? A problem? She didn’t have time to decide.
“You ready to split, sweet mama?” Coming from what seemed like a mile above her head, the biker’s voice was a slow growl-drawl reminiscent of John Wayne on steroids and downers.
Gep went still. George went still. Every soul in Hog Heaven went still as George’s head turned left, angled up.
“The lady is with me.”
The grizzly’s beady eyes never left Candy’s face. “Got a full tank of gas and a bitch seat on my Harley.” A grubby plate-sized paw tipped with oil-rimmed fingernails reached down to wrap around her arm. “So let’s ride. I wanna be in Bakersfield by sunrise.”
Candy was about to suggest he and his sunrise visit a place even hotter than Bakersfield when Price firmly removed the offending paw from her arm and stood.
“Maybe you didn’t catch my drift,” he said, oh so softly. “Let me see if I can make it simple. Like you.” He laid a hand on Candy’s shoulder. “Mine.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I’m his,” and simply beamed at George when he flashed her an exasperated look.
Hairy nodded ponderously. “Sure. Sure, I know how it is. You were his when you walked in, then you saw me. And smiled. So you don’t wanna be his no more. You know ol’ Bear will take good care of you.”
George’s head swung in her direction. “You made eye contact with a guy named Bear in a biker bar? You smiled at him?”
“I didn’t know his name was Bear,” she snapped, “and I didn’t smile at him, I smiled toward him. Big difference.”
“What in the hell did you find to smile about in this dump?”
“If you must know, I was thinking about after. What we’d do?” She waggled a finger between them. “You and I?” When the light still didn’t go on, she raised her eyebrows suggestively. “How we’d, you know, celebrate?”
Gep chuckle-coughed into his hand as Price nodded.
“Something to look forward to,” he said, and turned back to Bear. “Look, pal, you’ve made a mistake. Not your fault, so we’ll call it bygones. But the lady is happy where she is.”
“Bygones, my ass. Bear wants her. And what Bear wants, Bear takes.” He tried to shove past his lighter opponent, only to find himself face to face with an immovable object.
“Here we go,” sighed Gep.
“Over my dead body,” George informed Bear, pleasantly.
Bear shrugged. “Okay,” he said, and lunged.
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