Asking for Trouble (Line of Duty #4)

by Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

If he winks at me one more time, I’m going to introduce his nuts to my size seven stiletto.

Hayden Winstead circled her ankle slowly underneath the bottle-laden table, barely repressing the urge to follow through on that visually satisfying thought. With three glasses of wine humming through her veins, it seemed like a reasonable way to wipe the patronizing smirk off Brent Mason’s face. Knowing Brent, however, needling her until she snapped was his goal, so she’d be damned before giving him an ounce of satisfaction.

The first time they’d met, in this very pub, he’d hit on her using so little finesse, she’d been forced to ask if he was kidding. Granted, they’d both had a few too many drinks that night, but nothing excused the line, “I’m not drunk, I’m just intoxicated by you.” Nothing.

Especially in light of what he said upon bringing her home and seeing where she lived. Ah, now I get it. You only date men in certain zip codes. His comment about her Upper West Side town house still rankled months later. Which is why she’d never regretted her own saccharine-sweet response. Speaking of zip codes, shouldn’t you be getting back to yours? Or is the zoo already closed for the night?

That’s where their acquaintance had begun. From there, it had gone downhill fast.

Really, they should have never been required to share the same oxygen ever again. Life would have been so much easier that way. Too bad their best friends, Daniel and Story, happened to be disgustingly in love. The kind of love that required them to be together practically nonstop, forcing Hayden into Brent’s presence with nauseating frequency.

Case in point, tonight. They all sat in their local hangout, Quincy’s, waiting for Story to return from her first day of work. An outing that put Hayden across from three unavailable men wearing her best damn underwear. Pathetic. A lot of women might have already removed said panties and flung them at their choice of the three NYPD Emergency Service officers. Men in uniform, and all that business.

Hayden’s were staying put.

Daniel Chase, hostage negotiator and former love-’em-and-leave-’em guru, was Story’s boyfriend and therefore strictly off-limits. As if he could even see anyone besides Hayden’s best friend. To Daniel’s right, staring pensively into his beer, sat former military sniper Matt Donovan. Not technically unavailable, but quiet and mysterious enough to give a girl the shivers.

Then there was Brent, explosives expert, or as he referred to himself, “blower-up of shit.” The man in question took a long pull of his beer, watching her the entire time. His confidence that very first night had irked her more than anything. Sure, a six-foot-five police officer built like a brick shithouse probably didn’t get turned down very often by women. Daniel might be the smooth, almost-beautiful one, but Brent had a rough-and-tumble quality to him that Hayden imagined drew women like bees to honey. With full, dark-blond hair and moss-green eyes, he couldn’t be described as classically handsome. More like a rugged sailor left over from a different time. The kind of man who picked up a woman in Times Square upon returning from war and threw her over his shoulder to take home to bed.

And that’s my cue to stop drinking.

Brent saluted her with his beer bottle. “What are you thinking about over there, duchess? Whatever it is looks mighty interesting.”

Her smile almost cracked upon hearing the infuriating nickname he refused to drop. “If I thought you had even a remote chance of keeping up, I’d tell you.”

“That so?” He leaned forward on his elbows, not stopping to acknowledge Matt’s irritated sigh. “Let’s see if I can guess.”

“Please do.” She took a dainty sip of her white wine. “Knock me over with your sparkling intellect.”

He stroked his chin. “There’s only so many things it could be. Planning your next fancy cocktail party, trying to remember if you made that crucial hair appointment—”

Daniel elbowed Brent in the ribs, giving them both a stern look. “Could you two give it a rest for one night? I’ve got enough on my mind.”

“Like what?” she and Brent asked at the same time, before exchanging a glare.

Daniel opened his mouth to explain, then shook his head, shooting another anxious glance at the entrance to Quincy’s. “Nothing.”

“Aw, I know what it is.” Brent clapped a hand onto Daniel’s shoulder. “You’re worried how Story’s first day went. You’re afraid she’s going to vamoose back to California.”

“No shit,” Matt muttered.

“I should have met her at the damn school and walked her here.” Daniel ran impatient fingers through his hair, the cool facade he always kept in place beginning to slip. “She has a terrible sense of direction.”

“Do you want me to call her?” Hayden offered.

Brent shook his head before Daniel could respond. “Nah, just let her quit that horrible job in peace. Then we’ll all go help her pack.”

Hayden sent him a withering look, already formulating what she’d say to him when they were alone. Over the last two months, she’d become acquainted with the ball-breaking dynamic between the guys, but when it came to Story, Daniel had always been particularly vulnerable. When the two met in July, she’d only been planning on staying in New York for a couple weeks before returning to her home in California. Now that their relationship had progressed, she had no intention of going back, but Daniel still spent every free moment making sure she never regretted her decision to quit the teaching job she loved and move three thousand miles to be with him.

She tried once more to comfort Daniel. “You know Story. She probably stopped to pet every puppy between here and the school. She’s easily distracted.”

Daniel leaned back in his chair, eyelids drooping a little, transforming before her eyes into the playboy he resembled. “Don’t I know it?”

Satisfied that she’d taken his mind off the possibility her best friend hated her new job, Hayden took another sip of wine and continued to ignore Brent’s unwavering gaze. She hated it when he did this. Fixated on her and refused to look away. He looked like a hungry wolf stalking a lamb. As though he also couldn’t wait for the opportunity to tell her once again how pampered and pointless he found her posh, Upper West Side lifestyle.

Daniel, all restless energy once again, hopped up from the table. “You guys want another drink? I’m buying.”

“I’ll come with you,” Matt said, shooting a knowing look between Brent and Hayden.

The second Daniel and Matt moved out of earshot toward the bar, Hayden’s glass clunked down on the table. “Could you try just a pinch harder to be less of a spectacular ass**le? He’s worried enough. You don’t need to make it worse with your douche-bag sorcery.”

“I’m making it worse? Why don’t you sew his name into his underwear and send him off to summer camp?” He tilted his head. “Not all of us had nannies growing up. Some of us can take care of ourselves.”

She felt her neck flush as the barb struck home, but she refused to let her reaction show on her face. It would be a cold day in hell before she let him know how much being summed up as a helpless socialite bothered her. “There’s a time and a place for insults. Learn the difference, dickhead.”