Hotter Than Ever (Out of Uniform)

By: Elle Kennedy

Dedication

Dylan fans, this one is for you!





Prologue

Three Months Ago

“Your friend looked wrecked,” Claire McKinley said as she followed her future brother-in-law into the darkened front hall of his townhouse. She bent down to unlace her sneakers, feeling Dylan Wade’s green-eyed gaze boring into the top of her head.

She expected him to make a bitchy remark, inform her that his friend’s state of mind was none of her beeswax, but he did none of the above.

“Sophie taking off like that really shook him up. Shook me up too,” Dylan confessed.

“Yeah, me too. I keep thinking about what would’ve happened if we hadn’t found her…” She shuddered. “Oh God. Imagine losing a child.”

The silence that followed was surprisingly free of tension. Weird. Since the moment they’d met, she and Dylan could barely be in the same room without sniping at each other, but almost losing that little girl at the carnival had been so very sobering. Tonight, Claire had witnessed a different side to Dylan. He’d been focused, self-assured, calm under pressure. Which was double weird, because normally he was a cocky, antagonistic asshole, pardon her French.

He was still watching her, even as he kicked off his boots and shrugged out of his blue button-down shirt, which left him in a snug white T-shirt and cargo pants. Claire couldn’t help herself—she swept her gaze over his handsome face and incredible body, so hard and muscular and annoyingly drool-worthy. Chris was in great shape too, but there was something thrilling to be had from the knowledge that Dylan’s ripped six-pack came from bona-fide SEAL ass-kicking, and not the gym that Chris visited three times a week.

Your fiancé’s brother…

The little reminder jolted her out of her thoughts. Oh for heaven’s sake, she had no business admiring this man’s chest, no matter how deliciously ripped it was.

She cleared her throat. “Anyway, I’m going to bed.”

“At nine o’clock? Gee, dear, did all the excitement get to you?”

Claire frowned. Of course. She should have known he couldn’t maintain the cordial act for long. “Annnnnd he’s back.”

“You know you missed me.”

His roguish grin succeeded in raising her hackles—and making her heart skip a beat. She ignored the latter response and took a step toward the doorway.

“Missed the smartass remarks and not-so-veiled barbs about my character? Sorry, can’t say that I have. Good night, Dylan.”

“’Night, honey.”

Her back stiffened. She’d told him on more than one occasion how much she despised it when he called her honey. She was not this man’s honey.

As she stalked down the darkened corridor, a flash of silver winked up at her, drawing her gaze to the two-carat princess-cut diamond on her fourth finger. The engagement ring Christopher James Wade had slipped onto her finger nearly five months ago. Usually the sight of that gorgeous sparkling ring brought a smile to her lips. Tonight it just pissed her off. Chris had pissed her off. He’d convinced her to join him on this overnight visit to San Diego, promising they’d spend some time together after he wrapped up his meetings, but what had he done instead? Deposited her on his brother’s doorstep and abandoned her to hang out at a country club with his colleagues.

Cut him some slack. He’s got a lot on his plate.

Claire forced her muscles to relax. She entered the guest bedroom and sat on the edge of the double bed, releasing a weary breath. Chris did have a lot of headaches to deal with. For the past year and a half, he’d been working his butt off to fix the mess his mother had made.

The mess that Chris’s brother couldn’t be bothered to help clean up.

Anger rippled through her as she dwelled on the sheer selfishness of that. She understood that Dylan was serving their country, but he couldn’t be bothered to offer some assistance? Maybe send some money home every now and then? Someone ought to give that jerk a real tongue-lashing.

What’s stopping you?

Claire’s brows dipped in angry contemplation. Why shouldn’t she confront Dylan? After all, Chris refused to do it. He insisted that as the man of the house, it was his responsibility to take care of their mother, not Dylan’s. But enough was enough. She’d promised Chris she wouldn’t interfere, but her fiancé wouldn’t be killing himself at work if his brother would just step up and carry some of the load.

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