Exclusive First Chapter: Celebrating Love by Maryann Jordan
Saints Protection & Investigation
A private investigation business, pulling together men from the CIA, FBI, ATF, DEA, Border Patrol, SEALs, and police, devoted to the missions that no one else wanted or could solve.
Nick Stone - a stoic, dedicated FBI agent. His life was neat and orderly, just the way he liked it. Bayley Hanssen - a vivacious romance novelist and bookstore owner, thrived on chaos.
When the two collided when he was on a stakeout, she turned his life upside down. Disenchanted with the political posturing of his superiors, the lure of working for the Saints became a reality, as he discovered life with the fun-loving Bayley was just what he needed.
When human traffickers struck close to home, Nick and the Saints fought to keep Bayley safe.
****Due to scenes of an explicit sexual nature and language that some consider crude, please be warned - for 18+ only! If you do not like alphas with heart who fall instantly in love with strong female characters while dealing with real life issues...again be warned!!*****
The dark room, lit by pink and blue neon strips of light around the bar, the edges of the ceiling, and over the dance floor gave the second-rate nightclub an eerie glow. The music-if you could call it that-pounded out a heavy beat, but it appeared the dancers did not mind the lack of quality. Most appeared drunk, high, or just out to get laid.
Blinking to keep the room in focus, while hoping his eardrums would not burst, Nick Stone sat at the bar, his back to the corner so he had a perfect view of the whole space. Lifting his glass to his lips, he tossed back the watered drink, signaling to the bartender to send another one his way to keep up appearances. Fuckin' hell...this sucks.
So far, the only people he had tagged were the two other agents moving through the crowd. Janice, with the rockin' body-and very married-was dressed to kill and on the arm of the other agent, Tom, looking every bit the couple out for a fun night. And here I am, sitting in the corner, nursing my drink.
As his gaze roamed the crowded club's inhabitants, he began to categorize the patrons. There were the women, trying too hard-either heavy make-up, overly tight clothes, or working their plastic surgery-but with a desperation in their mannerisms. High-pitched giggles. Hands on the man buying them a drink. Opting for a fake-coy expression.
Then there were the older men, standing tall as a woman walked by. Checking out the ones they thought they had a chance with. A few with a white ring of skin around their finger where a wedding band would have been before they ditched it as they entered the club.
The young men, certain they had all the answers to the world's problems and on the hunt for an easy-lay. And as much as Nick gritted his teeth at their actions, he knew they would have no problem finding what they were looking for. A no-strings-attached night's pleasure...or just a quick fuck against the back wall.
Sure, there were some that appeared to be there to have a fun time with friends but, on the whole, Nick was harsh in his jaded judgements having spent years with the FBI. And the only reason he was here tonight was to assist a team, shorthanded when one of the agents went on paternity leave.
Terrorists...something on the evening news for most people who got jacked-up when something happens, but have no clue of the thousands of man-hours of investigations to combat the threat living right among them. And with the money the drug cartels are filtering through to terrorists-
Nick's sardonic musings came to a complete halt as his gaze settled on a woman sitting at the other end of the bar. Yellow blonde hair, naturally falling down her back in waves and pouty, ruby lips wrapped around a straw as she sucked a fruity drink. Her red dress fit her curves and while it was hard to see how tall she was from where he was sitting, he could only imagine her legs going for miles.
The whole package captured his attention, but what held his gaze was her eyes. Summer-sky blue. They were clear. Sharp. And, definitely taking in the scene. He did not get the feeling that she was on the prowl-more like...studying? It looked like she was studying the scene laid out before her. He watched her fiddle with her cell phone before she took a few selfies at the bar. Shaking his head, he wondered if she was waiting on someone or stood up by someone, although he could not imagine what fool would stand her up.
Knowing he needed to be watching the crowd for the possible meeting of one of the cartel members with the terrorist that the team had their eye on, he forced his gaze back over the people crowding the dance floor. Rubbing his hand over his face, he wondered how they could stand the loud music. God, when did I get so old-
Janice approached the bar, standing next to him as Tom paid their tab. Speaking cautiously, she said, "We're leaving. It appears our suspects are not making the contact tonight."
As he lifted his drink to his lips, he nodded slightly, saying, "I'll follow shortly." Watching them walk out of his peripheral vision, he kept his gaze on the crowd. The energy flowing from the dance floor left him more tired than when he arrived. The past few sleepless nights made staying awake for a late night stakeout more difficult. But he also knew when he left the club, his mind would probably continue to work over his cases and sleep would be elusive once more. A sudden movement to his right startled him and he jerked his gaze over as someone began to speak.
"Hi! I've been watching you and I swear, you look like you'd rather be anywhere else but here. Well, maybe not anywhere...I mean, it would have to be somewhere much quieter and maybe brighter. Not too bright...just maybe less neonish. Although, neonish can be really nice, depending on the colors. If it's red and green, well that seems more fitting for a department store at Christmas. Pink and purple are great, but kind of feminine...don't know how much guys like dancing with babydoll colors flashing all around. But pink and dark blue gives off a great vibe and since the name of this place is Neon, I guess you just have to go it, if you're into that sort of thing which, by the way, you seriously look like you could give a rat's ass about the vibe of this place."
Nick blinked slowly-twice-but the non-stop-talking apparition was still standing next to him. Giving a mental shake, he recognized the gorgeous blonde from the other side of the bar but, for the life of him, he had not noticed when she approached.
His eyes dropped to her fuck-me heels, up her long, tanned legs, to the way the red dress hugged her hips. Dragging his gaze continually upward, he viewed the tantalizing tops of her breasts peeking out from the dress' scooped neck. Just a hint of cleavage...not enough to give away the whole package, but enough to make a man want to drop at her feet to slowly peel the dress from her body, revealing the treasure beneath. His gaze finally landed on her face, the blue eyes mesmerizing as they stared back at him. Her pink lips were curved in a wide smile as she placed her hand on her hip, before throwing her head back in laughter.
"Good grief, mister," she said. "You gonna just stare or ask me to have a seat?"
Startled out of his mute perusal, he stood quickly and offered her a hand up onto the barstool. Even in her heels, her eyes only came to his mouth level, surprising him. She had seemed taller while throwing sass his way. The whiff of something fruity-lemony-wafted by as her hair moved over her shoulder. The delicate scent, so understated, appeared in contrast to the evervescent woman and he leaned in slightly to inhale once more, before sitting back on his stool.
"Uh...can I buy you a drink?" he offered, uncertain what to say. Not one to hang out in bars, he assumed an offer of a drink was acceptable protocol.
"Nah, but thanks anyway," she said, her eyes still pinned on him. Shrugging, she added, "I can tell this is not your thing."
Waving her hand around, she explained, "You know...being here...in a club. Anyway, it's not really my thing either." Leaning forward, she whispered, "I'm here for the research. I know I could probably get the same info from a Google search or watching a video on YouTube, but this gives me such a feel for this place. Not that I haven't been in clubs before, but that was back in college when I was like most students...young and stupid!" Laughing again, she placed her hand on his arm and leaned in close. "But I've been watching you. And you've been watching the crowd, just like me."
Bristling, he refuted, "I don't know what you mean. I'm just here having a drink."
Lifting one eyebrow, she tapped her fingernail on the back of his hand. "Uh huh. Yeah, right." Suddenly, both eyebrows lifted in surprise. "Oh, wait, you probably think I'm going to blow your cover or something." Leaning in again, she said, "Don't worry about that. You look much more natural sitting here with a woman than you did by yourself pretending to drink."
Nick stared at the beauty, uncertain if she were sincerely smart or a talkative goof or both. Clearing his throat, he repeated, "I appreciate your company, but I'm afraid you have me pegged wrong."
"Hmmm, I wonder," she smiled. "Well, anyway, it's nice to have someone to talk to besides the bartender. Who, by the way, seems to be shooting me glares since I moved from his section." Laughing again, she said, "He never had a chance, poor guy." Turning her full attention back on him, she said, "Like I said, I haven't been in a club in ages, so this is research for me."
Unable to keep up with her conversation that bounced from topic to topic, he simply asked, "Research?"
"I'm a writer." Scrunching her nose, she corrected, "Well, a part-time writer. It's really hard to break into making serious money as a full-time writer, but I'm working on it."
"Yeah, you know...I sit down at a computer and type words onto paper that all come together to make a story?" she replied with a glint in her eyes. "But are you just going to parrot what I say? If so, that's a damn, boring conversation."
Her silky hair swayed, capturing his gaze, as her laughter filled his ears once more. He opened his mouth to tell her he knew what a writer was, but she did not give him a chance.
"But, alas, I still write on the side while working in a bookstore." She threw her hands to the side and expounded, "Well, bookstore, coffee shop, and writing extravaganza!" Her expression suddenly serious, she leaned in closer again, her eyes pinned on him, "But let's talk about you. Catching any bad guys tonight?"
Feeling the heat of a blush rising to his cheeks, Nick grimaced. "Miss, I'm afraid your imagination has run wild. I'm simply here to enjoy my drink." Under the uncomfortable feeling of melting under her stare, he continued, "But since my drink is almost finished, I'll bid you goodnight."
Her brilliant smile erupted as her eyes landed on his mostly-full glass. "Finished? If you say so, but please don't leave on my account." She twirled around on her barstool and stared out over the crowd. "What I was looking for tonight was the chance to see people interact, pick-up lines, dancing, even the way people dressed. To quote my dear Agatha Christie, ‘Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.' I love Agatha, don't you?" she asked, her smile wide.
Nick blinked again, unable to produce an instinctive response to her question, but before he could ponder her rapid-fire train of thought, she continued.
"Now take that woman over there. Hot body, but the faint lines around her eyes tells me she has a bit of age on her but her boobs are really sitting up high. So...boob job. Unless, of course, she's got a really amazing bra, but I gotta tell you that I've never seen any bra that could hold up her melons that high!" Throwing her hands up, she quickly continued, "Hey, no judgement here. Just an observation. And that man over there at the edge of the dance floor. He sucks his stomach in every time a woman walks by." Giggling, she added, "That's like doing an ab-crunch every minute or so. He's gonna be sore tomorrow!"
Nick turned his attention back to the enigmatic woman, torn between wanting to keep staring at her beauty and shutting her up with a kiss. Whoah...no kissing strange women met at a cheap nightclub...no matter how kissable those lush, pink lips were.
"And see the tall, redhead on the dance floor...the one in the itty-bitty dress that is halfway up her ass due to that guy behind her grinding his thing against her? Well, she's not into him. You can tell, because her ass may be getting down and dirty with the dude behind her, but her eyes are on that blond, beachy-looking guy over to the side." Taking another sip of her drink, she turned her eyes back toward Nick. "That's why I knew this wasn't your typical scene," she added, her blue eyes back on him. "There's a bit of desperation here, don't you think?"
It did not matter that her assessment of the club was exactly the same as his, he kept silent, tossing back the rest of his drink.
"But then, there are those here just out to have fun, I suppose. I've got friends who go to nightclubs all the time." Leaning over, she wrinkled her nose as she added, "But I just can't get into the dancing. I'm not very coordinated, but dancing nowadays just seems to be for girls to shake their ass around a lot and guys to get their crotch rubbed on." Offering a slight shrug, she said, "I've been to some nice ones, but have to admit they are more upscale than this."
"So why pick this place? Can't you do your research at a nicer club?" he asked, thinking that one with more security would be preferable.
"But my story is about a couple that meets under unusual circumstances in a cheap night-club. So, I needed to come here. Of course, I did some research on area clubs first. I wouldn't dare go to one in a bad side of town...I'm all about research but not I'm not stupid, after all. And I didn't want one that was too close to the university, filled with frat boys looking for a quick fuck up against a wall...or ugh, in a bathroom." Pinning her eyes on him again, she said, "Now, that's something I just can't see doing. Do you know how many germs are in the typical public bathroom? And to just drop your panties and have your bare ass on a sink? Nope, not me! I always have to pee, but I try to hold it when in a place where dubious activities have been going on." She flashed her grin at him and added, "You men can just use a urinal, but us girls have to think about what we're sitting on." Laughing, she amended, "Or hovering over."
Nick was nowhere close to drunk after only having two watered-down drinks, but his brain struggled to keep up with the verbal barrage coming from her mouth. A man of few words-carefully thought out words-described him. He knew it. His co-workers knew it. Hell, even his friends knew it. But as maddening as she was, there was something endearing about her.
Before he had a chance to figure her out, she slid from the stool and teetered for a second in her heels. His hand automatically shot out steady her.
Blushing, she assured, "I'm not drunk, I promise. It's been a while since I've traipsed around in heels this high, but I figured I needed to blend into the environment." Beaming her white-toothed smile directly at him, she added, "But it's nice to see chivalry isn't dead!" Leaning over, she patted his arm, "I had you pegged as a gentleman from the get-go."
Turning around, she held up her phone and took several more selfies as she turned in a circle. Placing her phone back in her purse, she smiled. "I'm not really this conceited. I hold up my phone like I'm taking a selfie and then turn it slightly. That way I get lots of pictures all around, but no one gets creeped out." Seeing his head cock to the side, she explained, "For my research, of course. I can go back home and when I need to describe something, I look at my pictures!"
Straightening, she grabbed her purse, threw some bills onto the bar, and said, "Well, I'm off. It was nice talking to you."
"Wait, let me walk you outside," Nick said, suddenly fearful for her to be outside alone. "Just to be safe."
Cocking her head to the side, she nodded slowly. "Sure...thank you."
Throwing more bills onto the bar, he walked at her side although using his left hand to part the crowd while his right hand lightly rested on the small of her back. Stepping past the bouncer at the door, they were hit with the night air, clean and fresh after the overly-warm club interior.
"Prissy's parked around the corner," she said, smiling up at him.
"You named your car?" he asked, his brows lowered.
"Of course! Don't you name things in your life that are important to you? Think about it...she gets me wherever I want to go. I'm not so good about remembering to get her oil changed and things like that, so I guess that makes me a poor Prissy owner. But my brother helps out-he makes sure I'm right on schedule taking care of her."
Once more, not sure how to respond, Nick stared at the animated woman smiling up at him.
"Here's Prissy and as you can see, I parked right under a street light."
Nodding his silent approval while still wrapping his head around car-naming, he noted her blue Prius parked in a well-lit space. His fingers continued to press gently into her back, tingling at the feel of her soft dress. Stopping at her car, his gaze scanned the area as she unlocked and opened the driver's door.
Turning, she smiled up at him, saying, "Thank you for walking me to my car. And for talking," breaking into a chortle, she amended, "or rather listening to me tonight. I hope I didn't keep you from catching your bad guys." Seeing him about to protest once more, she stopped him with her palm on his chest. "Don't deny it." Lifting of her toes, she placed a quick kiss on his cheek before quickly sliding into her seat and closing the door.
Hearing the door locks click, he watched as she tossed a finger wave toward him before she pulled into the street and drove away.
Left standing underneath a street light outside a gaudy nightclub, Nick wondered what the hell just hit him as the scent of lemons hung in the air.
Lazlo Gruzinsky stood in the shadows of the alley next to the club, one hand resting on the back door of a white, panel van and his eyes pinned on the blonde woman getting into the car. The one he had been eye-fucking for the last hour. The one who had been inside taking a lot of pictures, and may have taken one of him. Or the girl he now had. And now that same blonde stood smiling up at some man who had to be some kind of cop, or worse...a Fed. Grimacing, he slapped the back of the van, giving it the high-sign to pull away.
Moving in the shadows to his car, he watched as the blonde climbed into her vehicle and drove away.
As an Award Winning, Amazon International Bestselling and All-Star author, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble Best Selling Author, I have always been an avid reader. In 2013 I started a blog to showcase wonderful writers and finally gave in to the characters in my head pleading for their story to be told. Thus, Emma's Home was created.