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Authors: Diane Bator

Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction

Hardheaded Brunette (2 page)

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
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Sweat cascaded off his long, dark lashes, dripping in front of his eyes like waterfalls before rolling down his shiny chest. "Hm. Suit and tie on the beach, eh, mate. You've got to be cops." His accent hinted at Australia.

"You're smarter than you look," Thayer muttered.

Fabio stopped just outside of poking distance of the sword. "That's a beautiful weapon you have. Is it Japanese?"

The man's eyebrows rose. "This old thing? It's just a training sword, mate."

"Are you a
kendoka
?" Fabio leaned closer to examine the sword.

"A what?" Thayer stepped back.

"A
kendoka
." The blond man rolled his eyes. "A student of
kendo
, Japanese fencing." He turned to Fabio and bowed then spoke in what sounded to Gilda like fluent Japanese.

Fabio gave him a blank stare then winced. "Sorry, mate, I'm out of practice."

"No sweat." He nodded. "Am I under arrest then?"

Thayer's nostrils flared. "Not yet, but the more you keep talking and waving that thing around, though, the odds increase."

Fabio grunted and extended a hand. "Detective John Fabio."

"No kidding." The sweaty man's pale green eyes widened as he lowered his weapon. "You're John Fabio? Holy crap. It's an honor. I've heard a lot about you from Mick Williams, mate." He stuck out a hand, his arm heavily veined and more muscular than both Gilda's legs combined. "Kane Garrick."

"
The
Kane Garrick? I thought you looked familiar. I've seen you fight a few times." Fabio chuckled. "You're gushing about me and here you are an MMA legend in the flesh. I thought you retired. What are you doing kicking around Sandstone Cove?"

"I came to hang out with my buddy Razi Mauli." Kane grinned. "You know him?"

Marion leaned on Gilda's shoulder. "Uh-oh, he knows Razi. This could get awkward."

Considering Razi hadn't even seemed to notice Marion yet, Gilda doubted that.

"Know him?" Thayer snorted. "Boy, do we."

Kane examined him and smirked. "You're Thayer, right?"

"He is, unfortunately." Gilda elbowed Thayer in the ribs, knocking him aside. "I work with Razi. He's a good friend. By default you must know Mick Williams."

Kane raised his eyebrows as he studied her. "Ah, the elusive Gilda Wright. Mick told me about you over pints last night, but he's held off introducing us. Now I see why, love. He's afraid to lose you to the likes of me."

Warmth spread from Gilda's cheeks down over every curve to her toes. Marion was right about things becoming awkward.

With a sly wink, Kane grinned. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Gilda. It sounds like we may be working together soon. Mick wants me to teach a few classes at the new school, and rumor has it you're the best and the prettiest receptionist in town, love."

If her cheeks got any warmer, she might spontaneously combust. With her luck, Kane would probably gladly help to smother the flames. Stop, drop, and roll on the beach with a guy like Kane wasn't exactly what she had in mind when she woke up that morning.

"And this pretty little lady must be your partner in crime." Kane turned and bowed. "Marion, isn't it? You're not what I expected."

Marion, for the first time Gilda had ever heard, giggled.

Thayer snorted, stepping between Gilda and Kane, as if to shield her from further smoldering leers. "Do you have a license for that thing?"

"If you mean the sword, I don't need a license. It's a training sword." To prove his point, he poked Thayer in the chest with the tip then winked at Gilda. "Other parts of me are much more lethal."

"I think I need a drink." Marion fanned her face and sat on the sand.

"Dull." Fabio grabbed the blade with one hand. "The worst thing this sword would do is leave a nasty welt. It's still sharper than you though, Thayer."

Kane handed his katana to Thayer and held his hands up at his sides. "Go ahead, mate, take the first swing. I'll even let you strike me."

Thayer reddened and held out the hilt of the sword. "I believe you. I don't need to slash you to prove anything."

"Not even to Gilda?" Kane asked.

Thayer flared his nostrils and lowered his eyebrows. "No."

Kane grinned. "Then you don't need to know she thinks you're a fool, mate."

"You know I could arrest you for slander." Thayer stuck his fists on his hips.

"Correction. You could sue me, not arrest me. But only if it isn't true." Kane glanced at Gilda. "Is it, love?"

Gilda shook her head and lowered her voice. "No, he's just trying to make you incriminate yourself."

"Aww, and you think I'm innocent of all charges." Kane patted her hand. "That's so cute."

She grimaced. "You know he's itching to snap those handcuffs on you for no reason." What woman wouldn't want to cuff a man like Kane?

As if he read her mind, Kane flashed a sly smile. "And right when I'm about to give him a good reason to, love, here you are protecting me."

Yes, she was. "What was I thinking?"

Kane chuckled. "You were probably thinking about putting those cuffs on me yourself."

Gilda's face burned. She forced her gaze toward the lake, away from Kane's bare, broad chest and damp hair.

"Hand me your sword." Fabio cleared his throat and broke into the conversation. He set aside the stick and took the katana. "I'll give it a try."

Kane picked up the stick and blocked Fabio's swing without much obvious effort. "So, how are things? Last I heard, you got shot, mate. Mick said you made a solid recovery though."

"Mick's lousy at keeping secrets." Fabio took another swing.

Kane blocked again, glancing at Gilda with a sly grin. "Especially about women."

Gilda gritted her teeth and glared. Suddenly she itched to take a swipe at him with the training sword, dull or not.

Marion leaped to her feet and pushed her way between Kane and Gilda. "You leave her alone. She's Mick's girlfriend, and you don't stand a chance." She tossed her hair. "On the other hand, I'm single."

While Marion seemed smitten, Gilda's gut churned. She already had mixed emotions about Kane. Handsome and built like a bodybuilder, he seemed to make himself a little too comfortable—particularly as he draped his arm across her tanned shoulders to lead them all to Phoenix Martial Arts.

Before they'd walked up the beach five feet, a lean woman dressed in black yoga pants and a short purple tank top stormed toward them. Her long chestnut hair glistened with golden stripes and fluttered around her face in the breeze coming off Lake Erie.

"Uh-oh." Kane sidled over until Gilda was in front of him.

The woman stopped in front of them and folded her arms, enhancing the already impressive cleavage that threatened to spill out of her low-cut top. Her dark pink lips jutted out in a dramatic pout. "Kane, what on earth did you do this time?"

Thayer came to an abrupt halt. His mouth dropped open as he stared and stammered. "I…we…this guy…"

Kane leaned down until his face was near Gilda's and he peered over her shoulder. "Aww, crap. Protect me from this one, will ya, mates? This is the rare Tasmanian She-devil."

The woman huffed. "Is that what you're calling me these days?"

Gilda tried to shrug Kane off. "Are you crazy?"

"Well, I don't have the market cornered on crazy," Kane said. "I'm just an innocent by-product, although I am doing everything I can to perpetuate the myth. If you can get me away from her, I'll be indebted to you forever, love."

Gilda inched away. "You
are
crazy."

Kane sighed. "You would be too if you'd lived my life, love, especially with that she-devil."

"Police?" A smile bloomed on the tall woman's face like a summer rose and her sky blue eyes lit up. She toyed with her hair and batted her fake lashes. "Did you get in trouble again, Kane? I can't leave you alone for a moment, can I?"

Kane's face reddened as he scowled. "No, but it would be nice if you would."

"I should let them lock you up." She laughed.

"That would get me away from you for sure then." Kane held out his wrist to Fabio. "Take me. I'm yours. I'll even invent a charge for you to slap on me."

"Excuse me. How do you know this man?" Thayer puffed out his chest and brushed back his short, blond hair, assuming what Gilda not so affectionately called his peacock pose. "He was caught wielding a dangerous weapon on a public beach. I could charge him with several misdemeanor offences related to the sword alone."

The woman seemed amused. "Trust me, his weapon isn't lethal. Neither is the sword."

Gilda raised one eyebrow. Fabio had already proven the sword wasn't lethal. She didn't want to know about any other "weapons" Kane could be armed with, but Marion tilted her head to study him from head-to-toe with keen interest.

"You are such a liar." Kane grunted as he retrieved the sword from Fabio. "It seriously couldn't hurt anyone, mate. Well, not the way I was using it, anyway."

"More to the point,
he
couldn't hurt anyone." The woman latched onto Kane's other arm. "For a flashy MMA fighter, he's a total pussycat. Even his trainer couldn't turn him into a real man."

Marion snorted and shot the woman an evil glance.

"And who are you?" Fabio asked.

"I'm his girlfriend, Mena Trava. Am I under arrest too?" She didn't bother to stick out a hand, just her chest and lower lip. "Do you need to search me, Officer?"

"No." Thayer blushed.

Gilda rolled her eyes.

Mena held her hands out from her sides and gave him a long, lingering look. "Pity."

Kane shrugged out of her grip and dragged Gilda up the beach. "
Ex
-girlfriend who stalks me everywhere I go. Could you arrest her for me, please?"

"Ex-girlfriend with numerous flexible benefits," Mena called after them.

"Whatever." Kane reddened. He stopped and turned around to face the others. "Can I press charges, mate? There's a long list of lines she's crossed today alone."

Thayer and Fabio exchanged awkward glances but said nothing.

Gilda frowned as Marion tagged after them. Didn't anyone believe in a real relationship anymore? All she'd ever wanted was an old-fashioned, fairy tale romance with a happy ending. What she'd ended up with was Thayer, who cheated on her, and Mick… Well, since her relationship with Mick was still in the infancy stage, she'd have to wait and see. His track record with women wasn't great, and Thayer seemed determined not to let her forget that point.

"Kane and I are here to teach classes at the new martial arts school for Mick Williams. I'm the new yoga instructor." Mena smiled as she caught up to Thayer. "We plan to open a New Age store in town as well."

Kane's face tightened. "What do you mean 'we'? I told you, I don't want anything to do with your wacko voodoo shop."

"We'll talk later, sweetie. I'll convince you to invest in it yet." She stumbled and toppled into Thayer with a squeal then grabbed his arm to keep from falling. "Are you really a cop?"

Thayer reached into his jacket then flashed his badge. "Yup."

"I do like a man in uniform." Mena leaned into him.

Kane tightened his arm around Gilda's waist as Marion caught up to them and lowered his voice. "Actually, she prefers her men out of uniform, if you know what I mean."

"You are so jealous." Mena turned to Gilda. "Are you a cop too, sweetheart? You don't look like you can meet the entrance requirements."

Gilda shook her head, shoving away from Kane. "No, I'm—"

Marion jumped in. "Gilda is Mick's girlfriend and the receptionist at the karate school."

"Mick has a girlfriend now, huh?" Mena arched her waxed eyebrows. "That's interesting. So I guess that means he finally got over his ex-wife and is playing the field again. I've been waiting to hear that news for a long time."

Marion growled. "Back off, sister. He's taken."

"For now." Mena smiled.

Gilda wasn't sure how interesting her romance with Mick actually was, but she certainly didn't like Mena's tone of voice. It seemed Marion had unwittingly issued a challenge.

"Don't let her rattle you, love." Kane took Gilda by the arm. "Mena has an insatiable desire to make a fool of herself everywhere she goes. When it comes to men, she's got pretty low standards."

"Oh, please." Mena batted her fake eyelashes. "Honey, I've got heels higher than your standards, and you haven't kicked me out of your bed yet."

"Not that I haven't tried." Kane sighed. "How many times do you have to swat a mosquito before it gets the hint?"

Gilda glanced at Thayer as she struggled out of Kane's grip. "If you ever find out, let me know."

The two police officers led Gilda, Marion, Kane, and Mena toward the newly renovated warehouse Mick and Razi had purchased for the martial arts school. Just shy of Ponderer's Point, Mena waved and disappeared into the pharmacy.

"Good riddance," Kane muttered.

Marion frowned. "I thought she was your girlfriend."

"
Was
being the operative word there, love," he said. "It's hard to know where a guy like me stands with that one."

Marion leaned closer to Gilda. "A guy like him? He can stand in my bedroom anytime."

When Kane's breath hitched beside her and he reached for her arm again, Gilda bowed her head to hide a smile. Marion wasn't normally one to be so blunt about men in front of anyone, but Kane's attempts to flirt with Gilda seemed to have brought out the worst in her.

Fabio opened the front door of the school and waved the others inside.

Gilda led them all into the once-empty warehouse, now a maze of freshly painted mint green walls, blue tatami mats, and new laminate flooring. She strolled through the front lobby and parent seating area and up the wrought iron stairs to the new yoga studio. "Mick? Razi? You guys up here?"

"It's about time you showed up." Mick glanced up. His shoulders sagged as he placed the last of the new laminate. "I see you brought an entourage."

"Yeah." Gilda winced. "Long story."

"The cops are with you too?" Mick sat back on his heels and wiped his face with one hand. "Oh crap. What did you do now?"

BOOK: Hardheaded Brunette
3.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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