Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(9)


by Abigail Roux

The rest of the family was gathered in the kitchen. Nick’s mother was hunched over the kitchen table, Alana and Nessa sitting on either side of her. Kat and Erin were stalking back and forth like hungry lionesses, and they pounced on him when they heard him coming.

“What did he say?” Erin demanded.

“You’re not going to do it, are you?” Kat added. “You don’t owe him shit.”

Nick’s phone began to ring before he could answer. He glanced around at the five women as he dug in his back pocket. Nessa and Alana were watching him, their expressions full of hope and fear and pain. How many times had Nick seen those eyes—frightened but not sure why, trusting him to protect them.

His mother stood. “Nick, please,” she whispered.

Nick tore his eyes away from them to look down at his phone. “I have to take this.” He grabbed up his coat and turned toward the front door without another word, leaving his family behind to step out into the freezing air. His hands were shaking and he felt like he might throw up in the bushes. The cold air helped to calm him, and he began making his way to the brand-new Range Rover parked at the curb.

“O’Flaherty,” he answered, his voice choked.

“Hey, Irish, you okay?” Ty asked. “You sound like shit.”

Nick cleared his throat and glanced at the house behind him when he got to his car. “Yeah, you just did me a solid, man. Got me out of a tight spot. What’s going on?”

“Well, long story short, you want to be one of Deacon’s groomsmen? All expenses paid.”

“When?”

“Next week.”

“Where?”

“Scotland.”

“Scotland?”

“Scotland.”

Nick stared at the window above him, pursing his lips. “Yeah, okay.”

“Bring a date.”

Nick closed his eyes and smiled. “Okay.”

“And a gun.”

Nick opened his eyes. “Wait, what?”

Ty’s laughter was all the answer Nick got.

Chapter 2

“There’s not a single town name here I can pronounce,” Zane said as he peered at a map inset of the Scottish highlands and Inner Hebrides. He kept pronouncing Hebrides wrong on purpose, and it was driving Ty crazy.

Ty tossed his arm over Zane’s shoulders, leaning back in his chair. His feet were propped on a suitcase. They’d flown into Glasgow via a hellish eighteen-hour layover in Iceland, and now they were waiting at baggage claim for Nick and his date to join them. They were a little behind the rest of the Grady family, who’d chosen to take Theodore Stanton up on his offer to fly in his private jet. Zane hadn’t been able to get off work in time to do it or Ty would have been all over it.

“You don’t need to pronounce it,” Ty said. “Apparently the Stantons own the entire f**king island.”

Zane shook his head. “Private jet, private island, private security force. I’m starting to think Deuce is in way over his head.”

Ty grunted, and a sense of unease fluttered through him again. “I wish I’d been able to talk to him a little more before he left Philly. Nick’s going to be pissed that I don’t know more about what’s going on.”

Zane hummed.

“No, seriously. Nick’s going to kill me.”

Zane began to chuckle. “Maybe this date he’s bringing will make him behave.”

“Or at least keep him distracted,” Ty mumbled.

A few minutes later, Ty caught sight of Nick making his way through the crowd. He stood to go meet him, but stopped short when he recognized the man walking with Nick.

“Doc!” he cried, and wrapped Kelly up in a hug when they got closer. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“You said to bring a date and a gun,” Nick said with a crooked smile. “So I brought a date with a gun.”

Ty laughed and stepped in to give Nick a hug as well. Zane shook both their hands. “How was your flight?”

“Flight was good. Security was rough,” Kelly said.

Ty frowned. If Nick and Kelly hadn’t been able to bring their weapons along, their trip had been for naught. “They give you shit about your gear?”

Nick shook his head.

“No, no, no,” Kelly said before Nick could answer. “The guns and knives and f**king night vision goggles or whatever he has in there, those permits went through fine. It was him they wouldn’t let go through.”

Zane began to laugh despite obviously trying not to. “Why not?”

“The way the new machines are? They take a picture when you stand there, right?” Nick said, raising his arms above his head. “The f**king shrapnel in my thigh makes it look like I have something sharp in my pocket. They kept telling me to empty my pockets, and I was like, ‘I can’t!’”

Kelly began to laugh. “They made him drop his pants. He got whistled at.”

“By you!” Nick shouted.

Kelly laughed harder. Nick rolled his eyes as Ty and Zane snickered.

“Anyway,” Nick said. “How long a drive do we have to this place?”

Ty slung his arm around Nick’s shoulders. “Couple hours. You feel like driving it?”

“I’d rather me do it than you.”

Ty snickered, and Kelly jabbed his elbow into Zane’s ribs. “Never let him drive in a country with left-hand driving.”

“Okay?” Zane said with a raised eyebrow at Ty.

Ty shrugged and winked at him. Nick and Kelly headed for the luggage conveyors to retrieve their suitcases, and Ty slid closer to Zane. “They’re right, never let me drive here.”

“Noted.” Zane’s grin was a warm one. “I can’t believe O’Flaherty brought Doc instead of a real date.”

“The thought of a week at a wedding with a real date probably flat gave him a panic attack.” Ty gave Zane a spontaneous squeeze around the waist.

They gathered their luggage, and Nick and Kelly joined them to head for the rental car counters. Ty told Nick to go to the counter and handle the rental because he knew Nick’s luck. The man was f**king blessed when it came to traveling. He’d been Sidewinder’s “acquisitions specialist,” and he’d been damn good at it. But even beyond skill came luck, and Nick had that in spades.

They’d booked a compact car, but sure enough, Nick came back with a “free upgrade” to a brand new Audi A4 and the counter girl’s phone number. He handed the number to Kelly and the receipt to Ty, then waved the keys as he headed for the door to the parking lot.