Welcome to the Jungle by Lauren Short by Lauren Short - Read Online



Nick Thane had retired from taking on impossible missions for cold hard cash long ago. But when he is called upon for one last job, to deliver a ransom and rescue wealthy heiress Rose O'Dell, he knows he has no choice but to accept the dangerous task. Throwing a spanner into the works is the fact that he and Rose share a passionate, heated history, and he is the last person she wants riding to her rescue. Nick will have to face his past, not only the pain he caused Rose, but also personal demons he thought were long dead. For Nick this mission is unlike any other: This time it's personal.
Published: Torrid Books on
ISBN: 9781633555815
List price: $3.99
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Welcome to the Jungle - Lauren Short

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May 2008...

She heard the soft rustling of clothing in her half-asleep, groggy state. True she had always been a light sleeper, but some instinct, something deep inside, compelled her to open one emerald green, sleep-heavy eye. The same instinct she later supposed was what had told her to keep very quiet, to not let it be known she was waking.

Her eyes flicked to the clock on the nightstand, blinking in the shadows. Three-forty a.m. flashed out at her. She could see quite well by the moonlight pouring in from the windows—windows that had been opened after their several rounds of heated lovemaking in order to cool their sweat- slicked flesh.

Nick, the other party in that intense encounter, was very quietly shuffling around the room, and if she had been truly asleep before, there was no way she would have heard him.

He was positively gorgeous, even in shadow—all hard, sleek muscle and dark hair.

A part of her wanted to speak, wanted to ask what he was doing awake at this hour; why he was sneaking about the hotel room; but another larger part told her to keep silent, do not move, don’t let him know. Nick obviously had no idea she was awake.

He very quietly moved around the room, as silent and stealthy as a shadow, his gorgeous face completely hidden by the gloom that surrounded him.

Rose watched him through half-lidded eyes as he moved picking up his jeans, shirt and socks—the man rarely wore underwear, too constricting he told her—and slid them all silently into place. She watched the muscles in his back flex as he did up the buttons on his shirt, and Rose O’Dell let a silent, single tear cascade down her cheek.

She knew he was leaving her. Nick Thane, the man she had shared her heart with, and her bed, for more than six months. The man she had allowed into her soul was sneaking away like a thief in the night.

She nearly laughed out loud when he took his shoes in his hands. It was such a cliché; a man leaving his lover’s arms, zipping up his trousers and creeping away on tiptoe. She lay there watching him without uttering a sound or making a move. Yes, a part of her soul was screaming at her to stop him, to beg him to stay. But her pride was greater than that. Nick Thane was leaving with her heart; she would keep a shred of dignity.

As the door clicked shut behind him, and for the rest of the night, Rose stared up at the ceiling, aching and hurt. Only when the first rays of morning pierced the horizon and trickled through the gossamer curtains did she allow the tears to finally fall.

Chapter 1

You what! Sophia practically screeched at Nick, causing him to physically wince.

He had had to explain it all, in thorough detail, after she had heard that message. If Sophia let him live after what he had just revealed he’d be surprised.

A few weeks had passed since he had left Rose. Since he had crept out like a thief in the night, and the ache in his gut hadn’t lessened one jot. Now, to top it off, he had his brother’s fiery wife on his case. He should have deleted that bloody message.

Nick, I do not know why you left like you did. Rose’s soft voice not yelling or crying, but filled with hollow iciness, penetrated the room from his small black answering machine.

If you wanted to end it you could have just been a man and told me to my face, but apparently I didn’t even deserve that much respect. If my father was the reason, well you’re not much of a man at all now, are you? I have put the rest of your stuff in a box and I’ll drop it off at your brother’s on Saturday evening, so you will not have to see me. Goodbye, Nick.

The hard tone of accusation in her voice caused him to cringe inwardly, the coldness lacing her voice like a knife in his heart. But after Sophie, his outspoken sister-in-law, had found that message and played it, well, he was in a whole new world of trouble.

He hadn’t even known why he had kept that anger-filled message, or why he had replayed it over and over. It certainly wasn’t because he missed her or the sound of her voice. It definitely wasn’t because even though her tone in the message was flat and filled with pain, hearing it helped to ease the loneliness in his life. No, those were definitely not reasons why he hadn’t immediately deleted the message, he told himself over and over.

And now, after Sophie had played it, nosey as she was, he certainly wished he had. Nick had had a lot of explaining to do, and when he finally finished his sorry tale, Sophia had gone off at him, the more colorful of her language not appropriate to be repeated. She couldn’t believe what he had done to the young woman she had gotten to know so well, whom she had truly believed would be the one to finally make her bachelor, some might call womanizing, brother-in-law to settle down.

You’re not getting any younger, Sophia had pointed out sardonically, once all the yelling had stopped, once she had finally caught her breath and Nick’s ears had stopped ringing. Sophia told him he was an idiot, that he loved Rose and Rose loved him, and sneaking away in the night was a dirt bag thing to do. She told him he was a coward for not facing Rose and his true feelings.

Of course he had tried to calm his furious sister-in-law, tried to explain his reasons—which were noble in his mind-- but Sophia simply reminded him that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Nick reminded his well-meaning but interfering sister-in-law that his love life was none of her business.

Haven’t you got your own husband to worry about? he demanded, and of course that caused another round of unbelievable screaming that could have shattered glass. Sophia could raise the roof of the sturdiest barn with the volume she was able to achieve.

Never being one to beat around the bush, Sophia demanded that Nick call Rose and apologize, give the girl an explanation, he owed her that much. Unfortunately, Nick knew that the moment he heard Rose O’Dell’s voice his resolve would crumble like a smashed cookie. He couldn’t have that after everything that had happened, so Nick refused, and Sophia called him all the names under the sun.

Nick’s sister-in-law furiously left him with that message and his guilt, slamming the door so forcefully behind her that ceiling tiles visibly shook.

Chapter 2

Three years later...

Nick couldn’t believe his ears.

You must be insane? Don’t you people know I gave all that up?

Nick shot back the rest of his scotch, letting the amber liquid burn on its way down. Maybe it would help him to believe what he was being asked.

The two men who were unwelcome guests in his home, sitting upon his couch with Max the cat glaring at them, glanced at each other nervously. It was a widely known fact that Thane had retired from this line of work. He now never took a job, no matter what the cause and no matter how much money he was offered. People had begged and pleaded for this man, the number one in his field, to take jobs, and he remained as unmoved as stone.

Nick Thane glared at the two agents, a brow raised mockingly. What on earth makes you think I’d be in any way interested? Risking my neck again, for what? Hero status? Money? Queen and County?

His tone was scathing. Nick knew firsthand that though you could make a lot of cold hard cash with the skills he had, you always gave up your soul, your wellbeing, almost everything. Life outside the job ceased to exist and all you became was your work.

The older of the two men stood as the younger dark haired man continued to stare at him like he’d grown another head, obviously wondering what the hell Nick’s problem was. Nick grinned slightly. The kid was obviously new to the job. He’d soon understand why Nick had turned his back on the secret service.

Mr. Thane, we all understand your reasons for getting out of the game, but there are...well, circumstances in this situation that have forced us to call on you.

Nick ran his long, calloused fingers through his thick, dark hair. There are always special circumstances, bru. Every time one of you lot come to me it’s with special circumstances, and each time I’ve taken one of these jobs it’s either gotten me shot, stabbed or nearly killed.

Turning away from the man, Nick picked up his cigarettes from the coffee table. Stuffing his fingers inside the packet, he quickly selected one, lit it, and took a deep and steadying inhale of tobacco and poison. One of these days he was going to lose it on a couple of these secret service goons. Every time the proverbial pile hit the fan, it was him they came to to clean up the mess.

Exhaling a plume of smoke into the air, Nick raised an eyebrow at the agents before turning away from them. He hung his head for a moment, leaning against the doorframe and gazing out on his land.

The sun beat down harshly as Nick contemplated the landscape. It was truly so beautiful, just what he had always dreamed of whilst growing up dirt poor in South Africa. The gardens were lush, green, immaculate, kept that way by the sprinkler system and his own hard work. Some might employ workers, but he’d rather do it himself, work off any issues he had in sweat and soil.

His house was large—not overtly, but big enough to be roomy whilst inviting. Why did the fates want to throw a spanner into his life just when things had settled?

When he turned back to the two suited and booted men, the older one was holding out a piece of paper to him, a photograph.

This is the reason we are asking for your assistance, Mr. Thane. No one else would do.

When Nick’s eyes rested on the picture, he found all the air was sucked from his lungs. Her smiling face caused the hairs on his arms to stand on end.

Oh yeah, someone up there hated him.

Why did this have to happen now? Now, just when he was settled. Sure he was bored, and maybe a little lonely, but he wasn’t knocking on death’s door everyday anymore. Not like the last twenty years.

He had everything he could have ever desired. Wealth, respect and any woman he wanted. At that last thought a deep frown passed over his face.

Well, all except one. That mocking voice in his mind taunted him as he quickly looked down at the photos he held in one hand. Looking straight back at him were a pair of emerald green eyes flecked with gold. A perfect mouth, sensual and just made for kissing. A straight, dainty little nose and long, wavy blonde hair. It had been quite a while since he had seen her picture, but only days since he had last evoked her image in his mind’s eye.

Rose O’Dell? he asked, forcing his tone to remain flat, casual. He watched as the two agents who were seated on his leather sofa nodded grimly in unison.

Agent Thomas, who was the older of the two and was of course balding and overweight, spoke first. Yes, Mr. Thane. That is Rose May O’Dell. She is the only—

I know who she is. Rose is the daughter of multi-millionaire William O’Dell. Only child, lost her mother about ten years back, heiress to the entire fortune. Always running off on her dad’s dollar to build a well or a church for the poor. What about her? Nick demanded, the sarcasm evident as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the photograph he clasped.

The younger man, named Louis Harp, who had clear blue eyes and a baby face, cleared his throat and stood.

She disappeared from Cape Town in South Africa a week ago. Her father alerted local authorities, but it seems someone is either buying their silence or scaring it into them.

What has this got to do with me, ay? Nick turned and poured himself a rather large whiskey from the crystal container that sat upon the bar.

The detectives exchanged worried, uneasy glances. This was definitely not going the way they had hoped or expected. The balding Agent Thomas held out another photograph to him. Taking it, Nick glanced at the slightly fuzzy image of an enormous, grand house, well, a mansion