Brighter Than the Sun Page 2

Rusty shrugged. “Details. Not like you’ll have to prove your culinary prowess, and it was all I could come up with on such short notice.”

Zoe’s jaw gaped in awe. “Rusty, how on earth did you accomplish all this? Isn’t this . . . illegal?”

Rusty didn’t look overly concerned. “What can I say? I have mad tech and hacking skills. I impressed even myself this time.”

“I have no idea what to say. This is . . .”

Rusty gave her a cheeky grin. “Brilliant? Genius?” She made a show of blowing on her nails, a devilish gleam in her eyes. “Oh, and by the way, after you got your BA, you also graduated with an MBA from DePaul University. I didn’t want any similarities to your past reality.”

“I think I’m kind of afraid of you right now,” Zoe said, though some of the panic that had been ever present since hearing of her intended fate from her scumbag ex-lover eased, and for the first time she began to feel . . . hope.

Rusty rolled her eyes. “It’s just as well you can’t tell anyone what I’ve done because it’s not like my overbearing brothers would ever believe I was more tech savvy than my geek-god brother, Donovan. Not to mention a certain asshole sheriff who’s the bane of my existence and hasn’t missed any opportunity to demean and insult me over the years but then inexplicably decided to give me the most delicious kiss of my life. Not that there’ve been that many.”

Zoe winced in sympathy. She was the only person Rusty had confided in about her love/hate relationship with Sean Cameron, the sheriff of the county she lived in.

“Apparently we both suck when it comes to men,” she said lamely.

“No, sister. We don’t suck. They do,” Rusty said emphatically.

“I’ll drink to that,” she muttered.

Rusty leaned forward and squeezed her hands, sympathy brimming in her eyes. “He’s an asshole, Zoe. And not worth your time or regret. You did nothing wrong. He played you. That’s on him. Not you.”

“Doesn’t make me any less stupid,” Zoe muttered.

“Well, join the crowd. I should have knocked Sean’s teeth out when he pulled that stunt and especially since he apologized and said it never should have happened. But noooo. I stood there like a moron. God, I’m mortified to this day and avoid him at all costs.”

“So you said you had the perfect plan,” Zoe said, purposely turning the subject away from what was clearly a painful, embarrassing memory for Rusty.

Rusty’s eyes lit up as she smiled. “I have the perfect plan. You’re going to come home with me and stay for a while. You know. A friend I met at a conference while in college and kept in touch with. Marlene and Frank will love you and take you in just like family.”

Zoe’s expression became troubled. “That’s not a good idea, Rusty. I don’t want you or your family exposed to any danger. You’ve already risked far too much.”

To Zoe’s surprise, Rusty laughed. “I realize we’ve both kept our secrets during our friendship—you keeping the fact your father is involved in organized crime, and me? Well, let’s just say that the very safest place for you to stay until we figure out a better plan or nail Sebastian’s sorry ass to the wall is with my family. He doesn’t stand a chance against my brothers, not to mention all the people who work for them.”

Zoe’s eyebrows went up in question.

Rusty held up fingers as she ticked off her points. “Apart from the fact that the asshole sheriff is exceedingly protective of our family and is an adopted family member much like myself, my brothers kick asses for a living. They’re all ex-military and someone would be a fool to ever cross them in any way, and once you come home with me as a friend? Well, consider yourself a member of the Kelly clan. Their motto is ‘no one fucks with the Kellys,’ and trust me, sister, that isn’t just an idle boast.”

“What on earth do they do? I mean, apart from kicking asses for a living and being ex-military.”

“They run an organization that takes a wide range of assignments from personal protection to hostage retrieval to messy jobs the government doesn’t want to soil their hands on but don’t mind throwing KGI under the bus for in order to achieve their purpose. They’ve done fugitive recovery, rescue missions, obliterated terrorist organizations, and that’s when they aren’t meeting their significant others while on a mission.”

Zoe studied her for a long moment. “You’re not joking, are you?”

Rusty shook her head. “Nope. When I say they are the ultimate badasses, I am not in the least bit exaggerating. Wait until you meet them!”

“Uh, maybe that’s not a good idea,” Zoe mumbled. “I’d feel better staying to myself as much as possible.”

Rusty shrugged. “If you come home with me, it’s inevitable you’ll meet them at some point. Just be yourself and act casual. If you start acting all weird and jumpy then they’re going to get suspicious, and that’s the last thing we want.”

“So you aren’t going to tell them about . . . me? I mean, the truth?”

Rusty’s eyes grew earnest. “I would never betray your confidence, Zoe. You’re my friend, and as far as they’re concerned, we’re friends who met in college and you’re visiting me while we decide what to do with our degrees and futures. The less they know, the better. In fact, no one but the two of us ever needs to know the truth. That’s how fuckups happen. I’m going to keep you alive no matter what it takes. I won’t let that asshole get his hands on you.”

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