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The Man I Want to Be (Under Covers)

By:Christina Elle

To Ninny, who passed just before this book went to print. I wish  everyone could have a grandmother as funny, smart, sarcastic, honest,  off-the-wall, crazy, and loving as you. Thank you for being there each  and every time I needed you.

And to Keith. For taking me on that catamaran ride in Mexico and  swearing you knew how to drive the damn thing. Next time just accept the  lessons.

Chapter One

Weddings sucked.

Okay, maybe they didn't suck so much as they blew.

No. They didn't do that, either.

All right, fine, weddings were okay. What wasn't okay was being stuck on  a secluded island, at a ritzy, exclusive resort with no escape,  surrounded by people with nothing but "love," "happily ever after," and  "forever" on their minds.

Bryan Tyke stood in his untied black combat boots in the pristine, white  sand, scowling at every passerby. He'd be goddamned if he was going to  walk around in flip-flops like everyone else and burn the shit out of  his feet. Fuck that. It was enough that he was here. He wasn't going to  act happy about it or dress the part.

His best friends and DEA teammates, Ash Cooper and Luke Calder, were  getting married this week. Not to each other. To women. Women that had  bamboozled the men into thinking married bliss actually was a thing. Big  whoop for them if they wanted to buy into that idea. Tyke didn't.  Forever wasn't in the cards for him. Not now. Not ever. He'd been close  to marrying once, and well … he didn't think about that anymore.

Back to the island wedding. Instead of going to the courthouse or  eloping to Vegas like normal people, his friends insisted on dragging  their guests thousands of miles for a fun-filled week of games, dinners,  and carefully rehearsed nuptials.


Tyke sipped his Mexican beer from the all-inclusive bar-the only thing  making this whole experience tolerable-watching one of the resort  staffers coordinate a badminton competition for the wedding guests.

Tyke turned to his most practical (and last remaining single) DEA  teammate, Jason Reese. "Explain to me why we aren't Jet Skiing right  now."

Reese sipped from his cup of orange liquid topped with a green umbrella,  looking at ease in his bright Hawaiian shirt and salmon-colored shorts.  "Because Ash said we had to be here or else he would cut off our balls  and shove them down our throats."

Tyke winced at the memory. "Ah, right."

"I'm very fond of my balls." Reese turned his attention to the sandbox  filled with badminton nets. "Plus, I actually think the competition will  be enjoyable."

"Of course you would," Tyke said. "You love this kind of shit."

Jason pressed his sunglasses, which sat on top of his actual glasses, farther up the bridge of his nose, then shrugged.

"Man." Tyke took a better look at his friend. "Why the fuck are you  wearing two pairs of glasses? You look like a ninety-year-old woman with  cataracts."

Reese touched his face as if he'd forgotten about the items he'd just  adjusted. "My prescription sunglasses broke before we left. So … " He  shrugged again. "Does it really look that bad?"

The flicker of nerves on Reese's face was a first. The team often joked  that Reese was more robot than human because he rarely showed emotion,  was always calm under pressure, and could calculate anything in his head  in milliseconds. The vulnerability made Tyke pull back.

"Who gives a shit what you look like?" he said. "Who are you trying to  impress? Have you taken a look around?" Tyke did a wide sweep of the  beach area. "Everyone's either from the nursing home or already married  with ten kids."

Reese wasn't listening, instead his gaze was fixed on a cute blonde  about twenty yards away, laughing with her just-as-cute brunette friend.  Sorority sisters of one of the brides, if he remembered correctly.  Tiffany and Hillary. Candy and Tandy. Or some shit.

The blonde was wearing a slim-fitting white sleeveless shirt that showed  off her full rack and short hot-pink bottoms that drew attention to her  long, tanned legs. Tyke couldn't fault Reese for admiring her.

She just wasn't tempting enough for Tyke.

He was more of a redhead with curves in all the right places kind of guy. Or at least he had been once upon a time.

Guilt spiraled its way down his throat, taking residency in the pit of  his stomach. But like he'd done so many times before when the inkling of  his past inched back, he pushed it aside the best way he knew how. With  alcohol. Tyke downed another long swig of beer, closing his eyes and  relishing the cold liquid coating his insides like a balm. It cooled him  off for a second before the hot Mexican sun pelted down, and he started  sweating again.         



Shake it off. After a quick exhale, he opened his eyes and glanced  across the sand at ten squares serving as playing fields. Nets were dug  into the middle of each square. Everyone of eligible playing age stood  around the perimeter, waiting to be placed into pairs.

More icebreaker bullshit. Why couldn't he just partner up with Reese and  get this over with? No, he had to mingle and converse with people he  didn't know. This was Samantha Harper's idea. He normally loved the  woman. She was Ash's fiancée and was like a sister to Tyke. But not when  she came up with shit like this to torture him.

The resort worker walked around with a bowl that held cards inside.  There were matching pairs of every color and number. Guests had to pull a  card and then find the person who had the match. That was your partner.  Tyke held a blue number two. So far, no one had shouted his number.

"Red number six," the cute blonde Reese was eyeing up said. "Who has red number six?"

Reese's head kicked back, and he drained the remaining orange liquid in  his cup. He pulled the umbrella out of his drink and slid it over his  ear like a freaking cha-cha dancer. "That's me. See you on the sand."  Reese gave him a wide, excited smile before meeting his partner in the  center of the circle.

Bryan lifted his dark bottle in salute to his friend's retreating back.  "Good luck with that one. You're gonna need it." The woman didn't look  like she had an ounce of athleticism in her body. Cheerleading, maybe.  And being able to kick your foot up over your head only helped in  certain situations. Badminton wasn't one of 'em.

Tyke scanned the group, sizing the wedding guests up. He hated meeting  new people. But he hated losing more, so he needed a stellar partner. No  uncoordinated, flailing-arms-of-a-prepubescent-teenager garbage. He  wanted a real player. Someone who could keep up and play like a man.  Another guy on the other side of the sand stood about Tyke's height but  not as wide. The guy reached into the bowl and pulled his card out.

Blue two.

Blue two.

Say blue two, you lanky son of a bitch.

"Blue," the guy shouted, glancing down at the card. "Number four."


Tyke downed the rest of his beer in one gulp. He waved an arm to catch the attention of a passing waiter.

The waiter approached, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and matching shorts, socks and tennis shoes. "Another, sir?"

"You know what?" Bryan said. "Bring me two. What the hell. I'm celebrating my best friends never owning their dicks again."

The waiter did a double take and tried to laugh. When Tyke didn't reciprocate, the guy's eyebrows furrowed.

"Does anybody have blue number two?" an impatient voice shouted.

That was his card. Shit. Tyke put his empty bottle on the waiter's tray.

"That's me." He pulled out his wallet and handed a ten to the waiter.  "Just bring the beers to whatever shit-box area I'm assigned to."

"Blue number two?" a female voice said behind him. A few soft taps from a  pointy finger landed on his back, below his right shoulder.

He turned.

She was shorter than average height for a woman, but then again,  everyone looked short next to him. She had fiery, bright-red hair pulled  into a messy ponytail on top of her head. Her pale-blue eyes were warm  and welcoming, even smiling.

Then she met his gaze, and something registered in her brain because her blue eyes went icy.

It took him a few seconds longer …

Short height.

Red hair.

Pale-blue eyes.

Oh, fuck.

Kenna McCord.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he asked.

No. No. No. This was all wrong. Usually when Kenna came to him, it was  at night-while he was in bed-after staring at the clock for hours, hard  as steel and unfulfilled, praying for sleep. Jesus, had his visions  gotten so bad that now she was haunting him during the day, too? That  thought, mixed with the guilt still gurgling in his belly, made him  rethink his drink of choice. He should probably switch to water.

He stared without blinking at the apparition in front of him. She wasn't  smiling like she usually did in his nightmares. Instead, the woman's  originally delighted features transformed. Her face caved in, her pink  glossy lips puckered, and auburn eyebrows gathered at the center of her  forehead.

She lifted her foot-why the hell was she picking that up?-and she swung  it with more force than a woman her size should've possessed. It  connected with his shin, just above where his boots ended.