Excerpt: River Road

Book 2 : The Callahan Brothers

Blue Bayou (Callahan Brother Series) by JoAnn Ross

Chapter One

“You didn’t tell me Kendall brought in the FBI,” she murmured to Randy.

“He didn’t.”

“Then you want to tell me who else would be wearing a suit and tie in this heat?”

The New Orleans humidity had hit like a steamy fist the instant she’d entered the jetway. Amazingly, the man’s white shirt didn’t appear to have a solitary wrinkle. The full Windsor knot of his dark blue tie was precisely centered beneath his starched collar.

Randy followed her gaze. “He certainly does stand out. But what makes you think he’s your bodyguard? Perhaps he’s picking up a prisoner. Or his wife.”

“He doesn’t have a wife.”

“How would you know that?”

“Just call it a hunch.” Surely a man with a loving woman in his life wouldn’t look so hard. A man with a family–wife, kids, and a mutt who’d dig holes in the lawn and fetch sticks–wouldn’t appear so unrelentingly rigid.

Definitely FBI, Julia decided as he squared his broad shoulders and began walking toward them.

“Welcome to Blue Bayou, Mr. Hogan,” he greeted Randy. “I admire your work.” He held out a huge bear paw of a hand. His nails were neatly trimmed, not manicured, but squared to precision that suggested a controlling nature. “I’m Finn Callahan. Nate apologizes for not coming to the airport to welcome you himself, but something came up.”

“Nothing vital, I hope.” Charles’s brow furrowed at the idea that something might disrupt their shooting schedule.

“Just a little dispute over some traps,” Finn assured him, then turned to Julia. “Ms. Summers. If you’ll come with me, we’ll get your bags.”

She gave him a sweet, utterly false smile. “How lovely of you to offer. But that won’t be necessary, Special Agent Callahan.”

Those killer blue eyes hardened and his dark head dipped in a slight nod. “Good guess.”

“Oh, it wasn’t that difficult,” she said with a careless shrug. There was no way she’d let him know that her stomach had taken off like a roller coaster the moment she’d spotted him. “You’re obviously not a local cop, and since I’m neither visiting royalty nor a member of the Presidential family, that rules out the Secret Service. Which leaves the FBI.”

And there was no way she could spend the next two weeks in close proximity with this man. “I’m terribly sorry about wasting your time by bringing you out here today, but I won’t be needing your services.”

“Dammit, Julia,” Randy complained. “You can’t refuse a bodyguard.”

Finn, who’d so far managed to keep his damn eyes out of trouble, couldn’t resist this challenge to check out the body in question. Having rented a tape of last season’s show last night–just to check out the cast of players he was going to be stuck with for the next two weeks–he’d admittedly been surprised by the woman now simply dressed in a waist-skimming white T-shirt and low-slung jeans.

That bikini picture, along with the over-the-top bad girl character she played and the news she was going to be the next Bond Girl, had given the impression that she was some larger than life sex goddess.

Even though he, more than most, knew appearances were deceiving–Lawson was Redford handsome, with a deceptively easygoing outward manner that had allowed him to lure the girls in the first place–Finn was having trouble picturing this slender woman as the voluptuous seductress he’d watched giving her pool guy the ride of his life in the shallow end.

The corporate honcho, Kendall, weighed in.

“It may be your body, but it’s not your choice. Your contract with Atlantic Pharmaceuticals forbids any behavior that might jeopardize your ability to perform.”

“That clause refers to off-the-set behavior,” she argued. “It was only put there by the insurance company lawyers to keep me from breaking my neck skiing or skydiving.”

“Since the parameters aren’t spelled out, the wording encompasses all dangerous behavior,” he countered. “I’ve no doubt that the legal department would consider refusing protection after receiving threatening notes an unsatisfactory risk.”

Finn had gotten her unlisted number from the director last night. Frustrated when all he’d gotten was her answering machine, he’d left his number so she could fill in the huge gaps Kendall had left out. When she hadn’t bothered to return his calls, he’d spent the past eighteen hours getting more and more pissed. This conversation did nothing to improve his mood.

“If you don’t want him, Julia, can I have him?”

When the Barbie doll blonde he recognized from the show’s credits as Felissa Templeton put a French manicured talon on his arm and offered him a come-hither-big-boy smile, Finn decided Nate was going to owe him big time for this one.

They were beginning to draw attention. He turned to the others, who were watching the little battle of wills with undisguised interest.

“The limo’s waiting to take you all on to Blue Bayou. Why don’t you go ahead, and Ms. Summers and I will catch up with you at the inn.”

It was not a suggestion, but an order. One which not a single person questioned.

“That’s very good,” Julia murmured as they headed off like a herd of sheep. “You didn’t even have to pull out your gun.”

“I tend to save my gun for the bad guys. Along with the bright lights and rubber hoses.”

She folded her arms, drawing attention back to those breasts, which while not as full as they appeared on TV, were still pretty fine. “That isn’t terribly reassuring, since I suspect you consider the entire population to be bad guys.”

“Potential bad guys,” he corrected as he took hold of her elbow and without utilizing force, began moving her forward. “And for the record, I was playing sandlot ball with my brothers when the Feds busted your parents. Which means there’s no way I could have been involved.”

While he may be on the SAC’s shit list and in OPR’s sights, Finn still had plenty of friends at the Bureau, who’d stayed late and pulled her hippie parents’ thick FBI jacket.

“You’ve obviously been reading old files. But that doesn’t mean you have the slightest idea what really happened back then.”

“Our situations may have been different, Ms. Summers, but I do happen to know firsthand how it feels to be a kid and have your entire world pulled out from under you.”

What in hell had him telling her that? He’d been sixteen years old when Jake Callahan, Blue Bayou’s sheriff, had heroically taken a bullet to save another man’s life.

His dad’s death still hurt; Finn figured it always would.

A strong part of him just wanted the woman to have her own way. A stronger part, the sense of personal responsibility he’d learned from his father, knew that there was no way he was going to let her walk away with her life potentially in danger.

“Look.” He reined in his frustration that she wasn’t going along with the program. “It’s obvious that we’ve got a problem here.”

She tossed up her chin. A chin which, now that he was seeing it up close, was a bit too stubborn for classical beauty. “My only problem is that too many people seem to believe that just because I’m good at taking direction, I’ll also take orders.” A woven silver ring gleamed as she skimmed a slender hand through a wild riot of hair that looked as if she’d just gotten out of bed after a night of hot sex.

Finn told himself not to go there. 007 would know how to settle this: he’d toss off some sexy, witty line that would immediately charm the lace panties right off her. Or, even better, he’d just shut her up by hauling her against him and kissing her silly.

Finn momentarily wondered if those lush lips tasted as good as they looked, then ruthlessly shoved the forbidden idea back into a dark corner of his brain.

“I’m not real wild about our situation, either. But my brother’s mayor of Blue Bayou and it might just hurt tourism if some nutcase decides to kill you while you’re in town, which wouldn’t bode real well for his reelection chances. So why don’t we just lay our cards on the table and move on. I’ll agree not to consider you an anarchist if you stop thinking of me as a storm trooper.”

“I’m certainly no anarchist. And neither are my parents.”

She did not acknowledge any willingness not to think of him as a storm trooper. The woman was really beginning to piss him off. Here he’d been willing to compromise, and she was still arguing. And, dammit, now she was marching away again.

“We obviously have different definitions.” He fell into step beside her. “In my book, anyone who threatens to blow up a nuclear power plant isn’t exactly into law and order.”

“Did it ever occur to you that your so-called “book” may be as fictional as my TV show? Besides, they were acquitted.”

“Guilty people have been known to get acquitted.”

Too damn often, to Finn’s way of thinking. Unable to deny the strength of evidence against their client, which included three naked women locked in a dungeon in his basement, Lawson’s damn dream team was now trying to ensure he’d end up in some cozy mental ward instead of the prison cell where he belonged.

“And sometimes innocent people are falsely arrested by overeager cops and prosecuted by ambitious politicians.

Finn rubbed at the boulder-size knot of tension at the nape of his neck. “Sort of like you were, when you were picked up for starting that riot in Sacramento last year?”
“It was hardly a riot. I’d merely joined a picket line of nurses demonstrating against losing more and more of their responsibilities to unlicensed hospital employees. It certainly wasn’t our fault when some thugs hired by the other side started physically harassing us.”

“You’re the one who began the riot by wacking one of those so-called thugs with your protest sign.”

“He knocked down a pregnant woman.” She scowled at the memory. “After that, I’ll admit things got a bit out of hand, but the case would have blown over if some overly ambitious district attorney hadn’t been running for Congress on a law and order platform.”

The newspaper articles he’d found on an Internet search stated the prosecutor had lost his election chances the moment the pictures of Julia Summers being loaded into a paddy wagon, along with a clutch of scrub-clad nurses–one who looked about to give birth to a ten pound basketball at any moment–showed up on the nightly news of every TV station in the state.

“We’re not going to get anywhere arguing the United States judicial system,” he tried to reason with her yet again.

Which was a joke. How the hell did you begin to reason with an actress who’d grown up on a hippie California dope farm, with parents who’d been too busy protesting the system and throwing red paint on army recruiters to ever get around to tying the knot like respectable people? And she appeared to be following in their protesting footsteps.

“The point I was trying to make was that I joined the FBI because I wanted to uphold the law. Not abuse it. But whether you believe that or not, given that clause in your contract, it appears you’re stuck with a bodyguard until this production wraps up.

“As it happens, Blue Bayou’s sheriff’s department is currently shorthanded, so you can either take your chances with some Rent-a-Cop, or put up with me. Now, since I’m a straight-talking kind of guy, I’m going to admit that I’m not real wild about the deal either, since my lifetime goal was never to baby-sit some spoiled, argumentative Hollywood prima donna who never met a wacked-out cause she couldn’t embrace.”

Her chin shot up again. “Protecting nurses’ jobs and patients’ safety is not a wacked-out cause.”

“Okay, I’ll grant you that one.” Finn’s own maternal grandmother had been an LPN at the country’s only remaining leprosarium in Carville. “But my point is, that just in case some nutcase out there has actually targeted you, your best bet to stay alive is with me. Because I’m the best there is.”

“You’re also more than a little arrogant.”

“Thanks. I work at it.”

“Oh, I think you’re being overly modest, Special Agent. I doubt it takes any work at all.”

She turned and began walking away again. Cursing beneath his breath, Finn reminded himself that he two choices: Julia Summers or fishing. Which was no damn choice at all.