Ed likes to keep his nose out of other people’s business. He works hard to be a good friend, son, brother, and employee. When he served in the military, he was the best soldier he could be. So when his former commanding officer asked for a favor, giving his recently released niece some guidance, Ed vows to help. But there’s a problem. She’s feisty, impulsive, and stubborn. And Ed can’t stop fantasizing about her.
Emma resents her uncle pushing his way into her life. She knows she’s capable of fixing her own problems and is sick to death of hearing about Uncle Cain’s star soldier. He refuses to shut up about how perfect Ed is. He has a good job, is a dependable man, and he did what Emma can’t seem to do: adjust flawlessly to civilian life. When she meets him, she’s frustrated to find out that he’s perfect on the outside, too. His hard body, smooth dark skin, and calm attitude draw her in. Anxious to find a flaw, she’s willing to look everywhere for one.
The longer Emma stays in his life, the closer she gets to unraveling his secrets. Can Ed continue to hide the truth about the darkness that consumes him? Or will he be forced to part with the sexy little spitfire that’s brought joy and happiness to his life?
Through the thick throngs of bar patrons, Ed watched her stumble around the pool table, cue in hand. The guy she’d been hanging off of moments before groped her ass when she went by. Ed took another sip of his water. He’d been watching her for over an hour, and he was sure she was the right girl.
Emma Berk was not what he’d expected.
She aimed the cue ball and shot it toward a solid, which in turn scuttled across the table and into the corner pocket. Again not what he’d expected.
For the fifth time, he checked the picture on his phone. It almost didn’t look like the same girl. In the photograph she was well groomed, looking directly at the camera, her brown hair pulled back and mostly hidden beneath her khaki colored cap, her uniform pristinely pressed.
The girl he was looking at now was a complete mess. Ed guessed her hair hadn’t been brushed in a few days, and the makeup that was smudged under her eyes didn’t look as though it had been applied today. She wore itty bitty shorts that barely contained her ass cheeks, and if not for the sports bra she was wearing anyone would be able to see her breasts through the giant, gaping armholes of her draping tank top. In addition to the sports bra, the shirt revealed glimpses of the black ink that decorated her torso. To top it all off, she was completely hammered.
It shouldn’t have surprised him. Not after everything Cain had told him.
Earlier that week, Cain Berk, Ed’s former commanding officer, had asked to meet. Since leaving the army, Ed had kept in touch with Cain. Over coffee one evening they’d had a long chat, a few laughs, and then Cain had asked for a favor.
He’d shown Ed a picture of Emma, his niece, and explained what a difficult time she’d been having adjusting to civilian life. Following in Cain’s footsteps, she’d enlisted in the army, and spent several months in Afghanistan during Operation Attention, helping to train the Afghanistan National Army.
Now she was back in Canada, refusing to get a job and spending every night carousing. Cain was concerned her behavior was getting out of hand, and after she’d been arrested for indecent exposure, Cain had called Ed.
Ed really had no idea how he was supposed to help. Cain wanted him to try talking to Emma, but Ed didn’t think that would do any good and seeing her now, he knew she wouldn’t be open to the idea of anyone giving her advice. But for his commander, he was willing to try.
He’d come to the Wellington in hopes of doing a little surveillance. He was supposed to call her and set up a meeting next week, but first, he wanted to get an idea of who Emma was. After studying her for all of five minutes, he was pretty sure that a peaceful coffee meeting wasn’t how it would go down.
Vacating his bar stool, Ed approached the billiards room. He found an unoccupied spot along the wall and leaned against it, casually enjoying his ice water, all the while watching her and wondering just what Cain expected him to do.
Anytime she wasn’t bending over the table she was leaning against the big bruiser. Ed hadn’t liked him on sight. It wasn’t just his greasy hair, thick ears, and potato-like nose, it was the way he kept groping Emma. Although she was encouraging the tanker, he was taking advantage of her inebriated state.
Her friends didn’t seem to be too bothered by it. It was difficult to tell who from the crowd was with Emma, but Ed was sure of three—a guy and two girls. If the situation turned ugly, they wouldn’t be able to provide much aid to their friend.
Ed wasn’t sure if he should step in and try to convince Emma going home with that gladiator was a poor idea, or if he should leave her alone. Really, what did he care if Cain’s niece had horrible taste in men and ended up with some kind of disease from her lack of sense?
But, he cared because she was drunk. She wasn’t capable of making the right choice. Someone needed to make it for her. He debated on whether to intervene or call Cain to come collect her. While he teetered over his options, she spotted him.
Across the room, she leaned over the table to line up her shot and her gaze clashed with his. She paused as her stare ran over the length of him. Ed refused to be intimidated by her bold appraisal of his body. Keeping his stance relaxed, he lifted his glass to his lips and took a long drink, his gaze never leaving hers.
Briefly, her eyes narrowed. She attempted to compose herself and ignoring him as best as she could, took the shot.
The cue ball went wide, knocking into a few other balls, scattering them in such a way that it lined up the next shot perfectly for the opposing team. The ensuing string of curses Emma released would have made any navy man proud.
Glaring at Ed, she shoved the pool cue into the hands of her male friend. She stomped over, stopping with her face mere inches from his, and demanded, “What’s your problem?”
Even though the smell of stale beer assaulted his nostrils, Ed grinned. “I don’t have a problem.”
She cocked a hip and propped her fist on it. “You keep staring at me.”
“That sounds like your problem, not mine.”
Through narrow eyes, she continued to study him until she groaned. “Oh, no! You’re Ed, aren’t you?”
That made Ed smile wider.
“Whatever my uncle told you, you can just forget about it right now. I told him, and I’m telling you, I don’t need any help.”