(Brantley Walker: Off the Books #9)
by Nicole Edwards
With wedding plans underway, Brantley Walker and Reese Tavoularis are attempting to create some balance between work and life. After a busy summer, they’ve finally slowed down enough to take a breather. At least until the hacker extraordinaire—a.k.a. Jessica James—jinxes them. The next thing they know, they’re in New York City, tracking down one of their own. With rocky relationships between task force members on the rise, the mission can only be described as complicated, if not entertaining. But not for everyone. For Reese, bad memories are stirred up, forcing him to face his past. A trip that is relatively straightforward in scope turns out to be anything but. Only when it’s obvious they’ve been sent off course does Brantley begin to question the motive.
Excerpt from OFF COURSE (unedited excerpt)
The sliding door at the back of the house flew open, dragging Brantley Walker’s attention from the iPad in his hands to the woman taking refuge inside his house.
“Hell, yes! I smell coffee!”
He set his tablet down and regarded his best friend with a frown. “Not from outside, you didn’t.”
“Pregnancy nose, B. Keep up.” Jessica James, a.k.a. JJ to anyone who knew her, slid the door closed harder than necessary. “Tell me there’s coffee, B.”
“Is that really a thing?”
Her eyebrows slammed down. “Coffee?”
She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.
“Can you track scents like Tesha?”
Amusement glittered in her eyes. “I see what you’re doin’.”
“What am I doing?”
“You’re tryin’ to distract me. That, or you’re stalling. Which is it?”
“Why would I do either?”
“You don’t want to share your coffee.”
He flashed a smile and picked up his mug. “You can’t have coffee.”
“Sure I can.” She rushed toward the kitchen island, moving as fast as her pregnant belly would allow. “Just don’t tell Baz.”
Although JJ was the one to put herself on a caffeine diet, she’d enlisted Baz to hold her to it. And Brantley got the feeling JJ was just as worried about disappointing her baby’s daddy as she was overdosing her unborn baby to caffeine. Love really did look good on her.
Brantley glanced out the door to ensure Baz wasn’t standing there, ready to bust him. He knew if the man caught him supplying coffee to JJ and their unborn daughter, he would not be happy. It was bad enough that each week he had to hear at what stage their child was in—based on the book JJ was reading, at twenty-nine weeks, the baby was now over a foot long and close to two and a half pounds. He seriously doubted something that size needed the caffeine.
“Come on, B,” JJ pleaded. “I promise, the peanut won’t care.”
Peanut was the nickname they’d given their unborn child back before they found out the sex of the baby. Now that they knew, he wasn’t sure why they didn’t refer to her as princess or baby doll or some other unnecessary nickname. It would’ve been simpler if they’d given her a name already. Then Brantley could start learning it, and he wouldn’t risk forgetting by the time she arrived.
If she ever got here. No one told him that pregnancies—while being nine months long—felt like they lasted an eternity. He couldn’t remember his sisters’ pregnancies dragging on like this. He couldn’t imagine how JJ felt.
The coast was clear, so Brantley set his mug on the counter and turned to the refrigerator.
“Oh, I love you, B.” JJ pulled out a stool and dropped her laptop bag on the countertop. “More than you could ever know. Cream, please.”
He grabbed the bottle off the top shelf, shut the door, and turned back to his best friend.
“I swear, I won’t tell—”
He passed over the bottle.
JJ frowned. “What’s this?”
“It’s the only form of coffee I’m allowed to give you.”
“This is juice, Brantley.”
He flashed another grin and picked up his mug.
“I can’t believe you’d betray me like this,” she pouted.
“I can’t believe you didn’t steal my cup when you had the chance.”
JJ glared at the mug in his hand. “I would have. If I’d … thought about it.” The glare shifted to his face. “And if I’d known you were a Judas.”
Brantley pointed toward the back door, which was now sliding open as Sebastian Buchanan, the father of the peanut and the manager of JJ’s coffee intake, stepped inside. “Talk to him about it. I’m just doin’ what I’m told.”
“Yeah? You never do what you’re told,” she grumbled. “Why start now?” JJ turned a sweet smile on Baz. “If I break up with you, I’ll get coffee.”
“True,” he said. “But then you won’t get my—”
JJ slapped her hand over his mouth, cutting him off.
Baz slowly moved her hand from his mouth. “I was gonna say eggs Benedict. You won’t get my eggs Benedict. What did you think I was gonna say?” Baz asked, feigning innocence.
JJ rolled her eyes and glanced at Brantley. “He does make really good eggs Benedict.”
Brantley’s upper lip curled. “If that’s some kinda double entendre, I’m gonna throw up.”
“Double entendre? For what?” JJ asked, eyes wide and sparkling with payback. “Did you think I was thinkin’ about his—”
Baz saved the day this time, placing his hand over JJ’s mouth so that the word was muffled.
Brantley watched her eyes, noticed the smile a second before Baz pulled his hand away and wiped his slobbery palm on his jeans.
“Penis!” she blurted.
“JJ,” Baz scolded with amusement.
“Penis, penis, penis,” she sang.
Brantley couldn’t help himself; he choked on a laugh.
“Jesus, JJ.” Baz’s face was as red as his T-shirt.
“What?” She looked at Baz. “It’s not a bad word. He likes penises as much as I do. Plus, he’s got two. One he was born with and one he takes to bed every night.”
JJ looked at him and cocked her head, daring him to disagree.
Knowing she was attempting to embarrass him, Brantley waited until she took a sip of juice to look at Baz, nod, and deadpan, “It’s true. I like penises.”
JJ snorted, then reached for a paper towel to wipe her mouth.
“Now that we’ve got that outta the way,” Baz muttered.
“I can’t believe you’d tease me with coffee,” JJ harrumphed.
“I didn’t tease you. You assumed.”
JJ’s eyes narrowed on him. “Just for that, you’re wearin’ a cummerbund to your wedding.”
Brantley smirked. “I’ll wear whatever you want me to wear. Hell, I’ll go naked, I don’t give a fuck. As long as I’m at that altar, I don’t care.”
JJ rolled her eyes. “You’ve gotten mushy in your old age.”
Maybe. Or perhaps it had nothing to do with age and everything to do with the man he was marrying in forty-three days. If it weren’t for the fact JJ was planning the wedding with his mother and Reese’s, Brantley would’ve eloped by now. He didn’t care about the hoopla; he merely wanted to make Reese Tavoularis his husband.
“Speakin’ of mushy.” JJ opened the lid on the juice. “Where’s Reese?”
“He took Tesha to the vet.”
JJ’s forehead creased with concern. “Somethin’ wrong?”
“Nope. Routine shit. Something about wanting to learn how to brush her teeth correctly.”
“There’s a wrong way to do it?” JJ said at the same time Baz said, “And the vet’s gonna show him that?”
Brantley looked at JJ. “I don’t know.” He glanced at Baz. “Who else would show him? They don’t have dog dentists.”
“You know this for a fact?” Baz said, deadpan.
“I do, yes. Reese checked.”
Baz nodded as though that made sense, then took a sip of JJ’s juice when she passed it to him.
JJ’s eyebrow quirked. “You don’t find that weird?”
At first, he had, yes. The same way he found it weird that Tesha sometimes slept in their bed and that she could get so excited when someone mentioned hamburgers or how “go” now seemed to be a trigger word that made her tail wag ridiculously fast.
But his answer was, “Tesha’s his baby. I just nod and agree.”
JJ looked at Baz. “That’s how it’s done, Detective. Nod”—she nodded her head slowly—“and agree.” Her voice dropped an octave or ten. “Yes, dear, anything you say.” She smiled. “Now you try.”
Baz laughed but turned his attention to Brantley. “You hear anything from Charlie or Jay?”
And just like that, Baz had redirected the train barreling down the wrong track, bringing their morning back to the work topics they usually discussed when they stopped by the house on their way to the barn.
Brantley set down his coffee mug. “Charlie checked in last night.”
“Is it as hot in Chicago as it is here?” JJ asked.
“No,” he told her before looking at Baz. “Charlie said they talked to the mom who thought she was chatting with a neighbor a few doors down. She admitted she didn’t know who lived there, but whoever was on the other end knew enough about the neighborhood to sound legit.”
It was the first person they’d found who admitted to interacting with the human trafficking ring using social media as their own shopping center. The traffickers infiltrated online groups and posed as members of small communities in order to track the comings and goings of the children they were attempting to abduct. In the past year, ever since the task force had first heard of the problem, the kidnappers had successfully abducted three kids across the country. After the last one, Brantley had assigned Charlie and Jay to the case full-time, with Baz overseeing it.
“What’s that entail?” JJ asked, then formed air quotes with her fingers. “They knew enough about the neighborhood. I mean, did they know that Susie Homemaker put her kid on the bus every morning at eight? Or that Joe Schmoe’s Doberman barks all night long? I don’t get it. How do you trust someone online when you’ve never met them face to face? Don’t they know you can learn far too many intimate details about a person and their habits just from what they post on social media?”
That was the question of the hour. And it was true. People didn’t realize when they complained on Facebook or Twitter about missing their kids because they were spending a week at Aunt Susie’s house that they’d given people a little too much information. Now the bad guys knew to check out Susie, their target’s Facebook friend, to see where she lived. Or when they rant about Fido waking the neighbors when he snuck out the dog door that they’d told everyone there was easy access to the house—through a dog door.
“No idea,” Brantley admitted. “But they’re takin’ the lead on this one. I’m just in the loop.”
“It’s hard to believe it’s been so quiet the last couple of weeks,” JJ noted.
Brantley looked at Baz and sighed.
“What?” JJ’s gaze bounced between them. “What’s that look you just gave him?”
“We’re gonna get a case.”
“How?” She glanced at Baz. “When?”
Baz shrugged. “It’s bound to happen now that you’ve jinxed us.”
JJ’s grin was slow and wide. “Jinxed? Seriously? You believe in superstitious bullshit?”
“Watch,” Brantley told her. “I guarantee within a week, we’ll have a case.”
She rolled her eyes again and grabbed her juice. “That’s not a bad thing, B. It’s what we do. We work cases.” JJ got to her feet. “Now come on. Let’s see what trouble’s brewing at the barn.”
OMG THAT ENDING!
Nicole Edwards has done it again, another stellar read in the Brantely Walker: Off the Books Series. In OFF COURSE we are taken on a trip to New York City to find a missing former team member but things aren't as they seem and as time goes on more questions are raised. But that's not all we are left with a OMG WTF ending that will have you cursing and stomping your feet because we have to wait for the next book to find out what happens, but based on prior releases we wont have to wait to long I'd say a month or two at the most.
This book should not be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading the series in the order it has been released. While each book may revolve around a different case we follow each of the team members personal lives and how they progress through each of the books. In book one, Reese and Brantley are just getting together and in this book they are in full swing planning their wedding, and that is just one of the couples progressions...and believe me when I say it wasn't an easy road to get here for them either.
I recommend this book to readers that enjoy STEAMY Romantic Suspense Reads, Workplace Romances, or MM Romances.
About the Author:
Nicole lives in Texas with her husband and their youngest of 3 children. The two older ones have ventured out in the world on their own. She has a beautiful granddaugther and a rather spoiled grand-puppy.. Oh, she and Colt also have four dogs. Most of the time, you can find her hiding in my writing cave. If she's not there, she's probably hanging out with the family, reading, or watching hockey and football. One thing for sure... Nicole is always trying to have fun.
*Book Teasers and Excerpt are property of Nicole Edwards
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