Click to subscribe to the newsletter to be notified when Tempting Little Tease is LIVE – here!
Or if you are in the US text – JKenner to 21000
Tempting Little Tease is Story # 4 in the Blackwell-Lyon series.
Tempting Little Tease - Buy Now
About this StoryStory Type Book Series Blackwell-Lyon Place in Series Story #4 Genre Contemporary Romance
A man is nothing without a code.
And he’s less than nothing if he breaks his own code.
That’s what my father always told me, and with his chest full of medals and an office papered with commendations, General Christopher Anthony Palermo knew a thing or two about honor.
I like to think that I do, too.
My whole life, I’ve walked the straight and narrow, following but never crossing those lines in the sand. The lines called trust and ethics and good old-fashioned decency.
I respect the law and the system. I don’t break my friends’ trust or toy with a woman’s heart. I don’t stand by doing nothing when I see injustice, and I’m willing to get my hands dirty for something I believe in.
I won’t stand for being used, and I don’t tolerate those who prey on misfortune. I fight fair, but anyone who comes after me or mine better expect to get knocked down.
School. War. Work. Family. Doesn’t matter. I’ve held fast to those tenets my entire life.
Then she slips into my bed, and suddenly I can’t keep my code without breaking my code. Around her, everything I know about my life and myself flips completely upside down.
And I honestly can’t even tell if that’s a bad thing, or something very, very good.
“In other words, you stopped this thief with your ass.” Brody Carrington grins at me. “I’m impressed, Leo. You always were resourceful.”
“What can I say? I go the extra mile for my clients.”
He holds out his beer bottle. “To Leonardo Vincent Palermo. Fastest ass in the West.”
I raise mine in response, then clink. “Aw, shucks,” I drawl. “You’ll make me blush.”
He laughs, then takes a long swallow. We’re drinking Loaded Coronas, a specialty drink at The Fix on Sixth, a favorite Austin bar that’s just a few blocks from my office.
My best friend, Brody Carrington was the first client I brought over to Blackwell-Lyon Security after I started working there about six months ago, and last night I was working a case he’d referred to us.
Simple enough, really. The client was Brody’s friend, the right hand of one of the United States’ senators from Texas. The Senator’s ramping up for re-election, and he suspected that there was someone on his staff selling his secrets and strategies.
It only took a few weeks to confirm the breach and finger the thief. The team and I outlined a plan. We had the Senator plant some cheese, and I lurked in the darkened office, waiting for our rat.
Of course, none of us expected that the rat would break a fifth floor window and try to escape by shimmying down the drainpipe. And since I’m nothing if not devoted to my work, I took off after him, leaping onto the pipe myself, then loosened my grip about halfway down so that I’d slide the rest of the way fast enough to catch him.
To be clear, I hadn’t actually planned to knock the prick unconscious with my butt, but you can’t argue with success. And I’ll be sure to thank my trainer the next time he loads up the barbell for a fresh set of squats. Buns of steel. That’s me.
“That’s twice you’ve come through for me.” Brody takes a long swig of his drink, then asks, “Want to try for three out of three?”
I lean back in my chair, chuckling. “You’ve got another job? Brody, my friend, you’re attracting assholes like flies.”
“Nah, this one’s a gimme. Seriously. Pure escort duty, nothing more.”
“I can’t believe I’m turning down the chance to take you to the prom, my friend, but I’ve been going non-stop for months. I’m taking a couple of weeks for some R and R.”
“Yeah? Where are you heading?”
“Not far. Just South Austin and my house. I’ve been in this town almost half a year, and the garage is still full of boxes.”
He shakes his head in mock reproach. “You are a sad specimen, my friend. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I get enough adventure on the job,” I remind him. “To be honest, I’d originally planned to head up to Dallas and see my folks, but Mom talked Dad into one of those Alaskan cruises.” My mother loves to travel, but Dad says he saw enough of the world bouncing all over it during his years in the service. Now, he just wants to stay at home, spending time with his friends, the dogs, and the woman he adores.
He loves my mom too much to stick to his guns, though. And they compromised with Alaska. “Because a cruise is the only way to go to multiple destinations without having to repack your damn suitcase,” he’d told me.
“He’ll enjoy it,” Brody says. “That was the last trip Karen and I took.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling like an ass. “I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have mentioned Alaska at all if—”
“I know. It’s fine. And it’s a good memory. There will always be things that remind me of her. And one of these days, the memories will be happy.” He lifts his beer bottle with a shrug. “At least that’s what everyone tells me.”
I flounder a bit, wishing I had some way to erase the sorry from my friend’s eyes. Karen passed away just over three years ago, the victim of a late diagnosed brain tumor. The speed with which she had declined had been a blessing and a curse. She suffered less, but Brody barely had time to wrap his head around what was happening before she was gone.
A few months later, he’d quit his job as a detective with the Dallas Police Department to take over as CEO of the family business after his father retired. He’s consistently said that he made the switch for his dad, but I have my own theories. I think he loved his work so much that it was a painful, daily reminder of how much he’d loved Karen. And how much he’d lost when she passed away.
I also think he regrets leaving, though he’ll probably never admit it. Brody’s not the desk jockey type. Nor does he like playing office politics. So far, though, he’s shown no sign that he’s thinking about pulling up stakes.
“You’ve got that apologetic look in your eye,” he chides me. “Seriously, it’s okay. Buy the next round and hear me out about this job, and we’ll call it even.”
“Fair enough,” I say, then signal for Eric, the bartender, to send over another round.
“You remember Sam, right?”
“Sure,” I say, smiling at the memory of his kid sister. “Remember ninth grade? She was, what? In sixth? I thought your mom was going to skin us alive when she learned we ordered Sam to do all your chores so you could come over to my house.” The very well-built Myers twins lived behind my house, and my room had an excellent view of their pool.
“It was worth it, though,” Brody said. “I wonder what the twins are up to these days…”
“I haven’t thought about them in years. Sam, either, to tell you the truth. I don’t think I’ve seen her since we graduated.”
Technically Brody’s stepsister, Samantha Watson had moved in with Brody when her mom married Brody’s dad. She was two and he was five. By the time I met Brody freshman year, there was nothing “step” about their relationship; they were siblings, through and through, and he was the big brother who both harassed and looked after his kid sister. She’d been a gawky pre-teen, and I don’t think I ever saw her when she wasn’t either buried in a book or a computer game.
And since Brody and I were as close as brothers, Sam became my pseudo-sister, complete with arguments and teasing and sass.
She was a good kid with a snarky sense of humor, and the fact that she needs help from a guy who works in the security business worries me.
“No, no,” Brody says when I tell him as much. “Nothing like that. She needs an escort to a wedding.”
Brody shrugs. “I told you it was no big deal. She was planning on going stag, then she found out her ex is going to be there. She’s—well, honestly, she wants to go with someone who’ll pretend to be her fiancé.”
I sit back, amused. “She trying to make this guy jealous?”
“No, no. Unless she’s totally bullshitting me, she’s not interested in him anymore. But I guess he said some nasty things when they broke up and she wants to take him down a peg. Show him that he was just a stepping stone to the real thing.”
He holds up his hands as if in surrender. “It’s stupid game-playing, but Sam doesn’t date much, and this guy hurt her. It’s not socially acceptable for me to beat him up in a dark alley, so I decided I’d back her plan.”
“And rope me in,” I add with a smile.
“That was her idea, buddy, not mine.”
“Really?” A waiter I haven’t seen before delivers our second round, and I take a long swallow, enjoying the burn from that first hit of rum filling the neck of the bottle. “Why?”
Brody shrugs. “I’m guessing it’s because you’re the second best thing to me.”
I raise my brows, and he laughs. “I mean that she’s not looking for a fling, just someone who’ll play the part. Obviously, she can’t drag along her real brother, so she wants the runner-up.”
“A guy she can trust.”
He nods. “She always thought of you as safe, but she doesn’t know you like I do.” He spreads his hands, as if asking what can you do?
I cross my arms over my chest, trying not to let Brody rankle me. Especially since he speaks the truth.
“I promised her I’d ask. But dammit, Leo, don’t agree unless you can handle the job. And by that I mean not handling my sister.”
Anger flares inside me, red and ripe. “Pull it back a notch,” I say, my voice low and edging toward dangerous. I can see in his eyes that he knows he pushed me a little too close to the line. “Do you really think I’d go there?”
For a moment, we just look at each other. Two men who know each other better than most brothers, and sometimes that can be a dangerous thing. For a moment, it seems as if the whole bar has fallen silent. Then Brody shakes his head. More of a twitch, really, but it’s enough. Then tension shatters like glass, and we both pick up our bottles.
“Fuck, man,” he says. “She’s my kid sister.”
“She’s an adult now,” I remind him. “And I am, too.”
He cocks his head and says nothing.
I lift my upper lip. “Asshole. I may not be a monk, but I can keep it in my pants when I want to.”
“Can? Or will?”
“What the fuck, Brody?” I mean, come on. Brody’s supposed to be my best friend. Which, I guess, does mean he knows me better than anybody. So maybe his concerns are legitimate.
Or maybe they’re not. Lately, I’ve gotten a bit tired of riding the hook-up train. I haven’t fucked a woman in over two months. And I’m not sure if I’m getting bored with the whole damn thing, or if I’m just ready to settle down.
Honestly, both options scare the shit out of me.
“What?” I say, realizing that Brody’s been rattling on about something.
“I said I’m sorry. I was being an ass. But she’s my sister, so just promise me, okay? Make me feel better about asking you this, because I swear I’m only doing it because Sam asked me to. I know you, man.”
“If you did, you’d know there’s no way in hell I’d make a pass. She’s like a little sister to me, too.”
“So is that a yes? I can tell her you’re in for this crazy scheme?”
I shake my head, not in response, but in bewilderment. “Crazy is right. Honestly, Bro, it’s a little off the wall.”
“Can’t argue with that, but if you get past the crazy, it sounds like a great deal. It’s a destination wedding. A long weekend in Fredericksburg,” he adds, referring to a charming town in the Texas Hill Country that has become famous for its local vineyards, restaurants, and shopping. “Go up Friday. Come back Monday morning after the wedding. You drink. You eat. You sit around and read. You’ve been going a million miles an hour since you moved to Austin, right? And you can unpack anytime. How often do you get the chance to go on an all-expense paid vacation where the alcohol is included?”
It’s a fair point. And I’ve been managing just fine without all the crap that’s still in those boxes.
“Remember her freshman formal right before we graduated?” he prompts.
I scowl. “Now you’re playing dirty.” She’d worn a denim jumper over a long-sleeve T-shirt and Doc Martin shoes. A more confident girl could have pulled it off, but Sam was the geeky, shy girl.
I never knew exactly what happened that night, but when she couldn’t track down her parents or Brody, she’d called me, begging me to come pick her up. I did. I’d taken her home, but not before taking her into the center of the gym for one dance. It had been a slow song—Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing—and she’d practically shaken in my arms as everyone watched us.
Then I kissed her, walked her off the dance floor, and took her to Whataburger for fries and a shake.
“You were like her knight,” Brody says. “A knight who flipped off the rest of the freshman class.”
“She was a good kid who didn’t deserve to be teased.”
“True that,” Brody says. “She was such a gawky thing back then.”
“From what I saw last Halloween on your feed, she still is.” I’m rarely on social media, so I miss a lot, but from what I can tell, Sam hardly ever posts pictures. Or maybe Brody just never shares them. Last year, though, he’d shared one of her posts after a Halloween party. Honestly, she’d looked pretty much the same. Adorable, but gawky.
Brody chuckles. “I forget you haven’t seen her since senior year. But seriously, you changed her life that night. Because of you, she had a much better sophomore year. People remembered that hot shit Leo Palermo was her date that night. It mattered.”
I suppose it did. By senior year, I was definitely up there in the high school social strata. I was into sports, made solid grades, and was on the Student Council. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I’ve got my dad’s dark, Italian looks and a decent build.
“You know, that formal was the last time I saw her.” I’d gone to college out of state, and by the time I moved back to Texas, she was in Seattle working at some video game company. “Has it really been that long?”
“Time flies,” Brody says. “Remember after you brought her home? I’d just pulled up from a date with somebody, and she told me what happened and how you were her hero, and I said—”
“That one or the other of us would always be there for her. I remember.”
“And then we went off to college and abandoned her,” Brody adds. “Pretty shitty of us really.”
“Is this your way of guilting me into helping her now?”
I have to laugh. “Okay, give me her phone number. I’m not saying yes, but I’ll at least get her take on this scam.”
“You should talk to her in person.”
“When’s she flying in for this shindig?”
“She’s not,” he says. “She’s already here.”