"Wake up, dumbass."
Cruz Blackwell opened his eyes and took in the pristine leather loafers that could only belong to his clotheshorse brother Phin.
What the hell?
A full freaking marching band erupted inside his skull, the pounding so fierce he closed his eyes, focused on not puking all over said loafers.
Phin’s voice. Definitely. To maximize his wake-this-fucker-up efforts, little brother added a not-so-subtle toe to his ribcage. But Cruz? All he cared about was the hardwood floor pressing against his cheek.
Apparently, he’d decided his suite's kitchen would be a good slumber spot. Man, his head hurt.
If he could stay here, or maybe crawl to his bed, in a few hours he’d be okay.
That’s all he needed. More sleep.
"Get up," Phin said. "Zeke is on the warpath. You’re missing a meeting. And Christ on a cracker, did you seriously pass out on your kitchen floor?"
They had a meeting? He opened his eyes again, focused on the hem of Phin’s dress slacks for a few seconds until the haze cleared. But that marching band? Brutal, those fuckers.
"As the song says," Cruz grumbled. "Jack Daniels kicked my ass."
Phin let out a sigh. "Yeah. I see the bottle there next to you. The fucking floor, dude? Are you in college again?"
Gathering every ounce of strength, Cruz lifted his head. Big mistake. The room whirled. His stomach along with it. If he’d had any food in his belly, he might have blown chunks on baby brother’s fancy shoes.
What kind of an asshole misses a meeting when he’s employed by his family?
Jesus, he needed to get his act together. Lately, everything was changing. Even his drinking habits. Considering he’d gotten wasted on a Wednesday night.
What kind of an asshole does that?
Rolling to his back, he stared up at the ceiling, concentrating on stabilizing his rioting system.
Phin’s head appeared over him. "Grab a shower. We’re all waiting on you."
Ha! Good one. He could barely lift his head and now he was supposed to attend a meeting? This was the problem that came of cohabitating with family and having their workplace just steps away. Sure, each lived in separate suites with full kitchens, but they were all under the same giant roof.
Today proved if he didn’t come out of his suite, someone would bang on the door and check on him. A friendly gesture, but could a guy not sleep in?
Cruz cleared whatever kind of muck clogged his throat, blinked a few times, and said a silent thanks when a spot on the white ceiling came into focus. Lord, his body despised him right now. "When did this meeting get scheduled?"
"Zeke texted last night. We have a recovery. Last-minute deal in Nashville. And it’s happening today."
I don’t think so.
Maybe, if he hydrated all morning—what the hell time was it?—and power napped, he might be functional. At least he had a plan.
He inched himself to his side and levered up, pausing with each infinitesimal movement to steady himself. To his left sat the empty Jack Daniels bottle. Some friend you are.
Once upright—no chunks blown—he slumped back against the lower cabinets and his head flopped forward. In his current condition, he considered it a win.
"The fridge," he croaked. "Gatorade. Get me one."
Phin took three steps and ripped the door open. "Are you still drunk?"
Yeah, I am.
No way he’d admit that. "Just get me the fucking Gatorade and give me ten to shower. Tell Zeke to keep his shorts on."
"Oh, that’ll go over well."
"I heard that."
Just when Cruz thought he had a plan . . .
Holding the Gatorade, Phin swung his head sideways. Cruz didn’t bother. He didn’t need to see the derision in Zeke's eyes. Cruz simply rested his head back against the cabinets and focused on Zeke’s jean-clad legs.
"What the hell’s this?" Zeke asked.
"It’s under control," Phin said, shifting slightly in a useless attempt to hide the empty Jack bottle. "We’ll be down in ten."
Had to love Phin. Always ready to schmooze their way out of a situation. Still, Cruz wasn’t gonna let him take the heat. Not when he’d screwed up so royally.
"I see the bottle," Zeke said.
Of course, he did. Finally, Cruz reclaimed the set of brass balls his father always said he’d inherited from him, peered up at Zeke and—yep, there it was—all his hollow-eyed disappointment.
"I fucked up," Cruz said. "Won’t happen again."
Zeke cocked his head. "What’s going on with you? We’re running a goddamned business and you’re hungover?"
Cruz wished it was only a hangover. He resisted sharing that factoid.
"It was one night," he offered in a lame defense.
At this, Cruz found the strength to meet his brother’s challenging gaze. He could deny it. Get all righteous about it, blathering on about how Zeke didn’t know what he was talking about, but . . . really?
Big brother wasn’t an idiot. The guy was a freaking mind reader sometimes and Cruz was in no condition to talk his way around being intoxicated from the night before.
All he could do was shift Zeke’s attention. Nothing got big brother more excited than fresh business. "What’s this recovery?"
"A painting. In Nashville. You’re our pilot. Can you fly today?"
Well, the jig was up now because he could barely remain upright, never mind piloting a plane.
A double disappointment. Excellent.
"I guess that answers my question." Zeke squatted in front of Cruz and poked a meaty finger at him. "I’m gonna see if I can cover your ass, but it’ll only be this once. Be ready to fly tomorrow. In case you forgot, we’re a team. You’re costing us time and money."
He stood tall, staring down at Cruz, which was somehow worse than facing that poking finger. The poking finger he could swat at. Get all indignant and tell his brother where to shove it. Considering Cruz could barely move, that was fruitless.
Plus, big brother was right. Cruz had let the team down.
The weak link.
Dad had called that one, hadn’t he?
Zeke turned and his booted feet squeaked against the wood, the sound shattering Cruz’s battered skull.
"I’m sorry," Cruz said to his brother’s back.
"You should be."
Cilla boarded her father’s Gulfstream at 8:15 on Friday morning. This little impromptu Nashville trip, at Dad’s urgent request, put a major kink in her prep time for an upcoming murder trial and none of it sat well.
Her client claimed innocence.
Cilla wasn’t too sure.
It wasn’t her business. Her job was to make sure the prosecution did their job. All while not violating her client’s constitutional rights.
Thinking too hard about guilt or innocence was a rabbit hole she avoided. Otherwise, she’d get caught up in moral judgments that might sway her performance.
She’d learned to focus on the intellectual battle, something she’d craved since her prelaw classes. As for justice, if it didn’t play out in court, the universe would balance the scales.
All she needed now was some extra prep time. None of which she had a lot of on a normal day. Throw in Dad and his never-ending requests and her career as a criminal defense attorney came second to all things Darren Randolph related.
So what that she’d just made the cover of Charlotte Lawyer magazine for the fourth time? Who cared that she was the local legal it-girl?
Despite her father constantly boasting of her success to anyone who would listen, if he needed legal advice, her paying clients didn’t matter.
That was Dad. Always persistent. Never patient. And heaven forbid someone should say no.
As the CEO of the nation’s largest manufacturer of firefighting gear, he'd earned power and influence and wielded both with expert precision.
In short, her father was a bastard.
And she loved him.
At least this trip had been postponed a day, giving her all day Thursday to grind through paperwork. Before Cilla landed in her seat, the one by the galley so she could quickly grab a beverage or snack during flights, her phone rang. She set her briefcase on the small table and eased into her favorite seat—she was nothing if not routine oriented—while she checked her phone.
Not the expected call. She let it go. They had a wheels-up time of 8:30 and the prosecutor on one of her cases had promised to call beforehand about her professional football player client accused of insurance fraud. At least it wasn’t rape or some other crime against women. Give her murders, robberies, and financial crimes all day long. Rape and assault against women? Not so much. Thankfully, after nearly ten years of hard work, she’d put herself in a position to be selective about which cases she took on.
Her phone rang again. Blair Overton. Bingo. She’d get this squared away before they took off and cross a task off her growing list. Check, check.
She picked up the call. "Hey, Blair."
They may have been opposing warriors in court, but Cilla respected the woman’s work ethic and lack of tricks to win a case. Tricks led to appeals and Cilla, being the bulldog she was, never minded that process, but prosecutorial misconduct pissed her off. If they wanted to withhold evidence, maybe casually lose the DNA that would exonerate her client, Cilla thrived on busting them. When it came to the law, for Cilla, there were no gray areas.
Right versus wrong. Done.
Still, all this keeping the prosecution on their toes took time and Cilla wouldn’t mind having a life every once in a while.
"So," Blair said in her usual no-bullshit tone. "Tony Hadley We have a warrant in front of a judge. As soon as she signs it, we’re picking him up."
"Thanks for the heads up. How about I bring him in? As much as I love the theatrics you guys create, I’ll pass on you parading my handcuffed client in front of a bunch of reporters. Besides, it’s football season and I know you’re a fan. We’re not talking about a violent crime here. He’s not going anywhere. Let him play on Sunday, get a win for our home team, and I’ll bring him in on Monday."
A noise sounded and Cilla glanced up, spotted Cruz Blackwell in all his long-legged, studly glory, standing in front of the cockpit door, a backpack slung over his shoulder and his mouth sliding into a cocky grin that only intensified his studliness. Add to the smile his crisp white button-down that hugged his clearly muscled chest and shoulders in all the right ways and a woman might be done for.
The truly shocking thing about her attraction to Cruz might be his hair. She’d never gone for a man with shoulder-length hair, but he had those curls that she’d love to wrap her fingers around while staring into his sultry blue-gray eyes. With her height and the added bonus of high-heels, it would be so easy to do. She'd snuggle up next to him, tip her head back and feast.
The guy was. . .a god.
They’d been circling each other off and on for months now. She’d met him when she’d been hired by Phin Blackwell’s girlfriend, Maddy, an art acquisitions manager who’d been suspected of stealing priceless jewels from the presidential center she’d been employed by.
Cruz had literally chased Cilla down an FBI hallway, asking for her number after she’d yelled at his oldest brother, the agent investigating Maddy’s case. Cruz apparently had a thing for women who yelled at Cam, and it didn’t matter that she’d been in the middle of saving Maddy’s rear. The man knew what he wanted and went after it. No matter what.
That alone made her more than casually aware of him. Since that first meeting, she’d nicknamed him Mr. Delicioso.
And, oh, how she wanted to take a bite of him.
She tended to be surrounded by men who were intimidated by her success or her father. Either way? Boring.
But Cruz Blackwell? Trouble with a capital T.