The Agent (The Consultants #3) - Nancy Herkness

Chapter 1

Natalie Hart took a sip of champagne and ignored the bride’s attempts at matchmaking from across the wedding party’s table. Alice had seated Natalie next to the best man, Tully Gibson, and kept flicking hopeful glances between them. Since Alice was one of Natalie’s best friends, she knew that Natalie had no intention of ever marrying again. Natalie had also told her friend that Tully wasn’t her type. But she and Tully were the only two singles in the wedding party, and romantic Alice believed love conquered all. So she’d done her best to throw them together during all the wedding festivities.

The bandleader spoke into the microphone. “Let’s get the best man up here for a toast!”

“That’s my cue.” Tully pushed his chair back and rose to his considerable height.

Natalie watched him make his way across the dance floor, his short brown hair and vast shoulders outlined by the golden light of the crystal chandeliers, his custom-tailored tux enlivened by his signature cowboy boots—this pair, a subdued polished black.

He was too big, too confident, and too physical for her. Which was why she did her best to quell the thrill that ran through her body every damn time he put his hand on the small of her back to politely guide her through a doorway. Or when she’d tucked her arm through the crook of his elbow to walk down the aisle and could feel the steel of his muscle against her palm.

Those were nothing more than simple physical reactions.

Tully took the microphone with the practiced ease of a man used to giving business presentations to CEOs, since he was one of the three founding partners of KRG, a multinational consulting firm. The groom, Derek Killion, was the firm’s financial wizard. Leland Rockwell, KRG’s computer genius and the co–best man, sat across from Natalie, looking relieved that he didn’t have to make a toast.

Tully’s area of expertise was corporate and personal security for their clients. Which was why, at the rehearsal dinner, she had almost asked him about the strange, creepy emails she’d been getting. However, she had decided not to impose on him professionally at a celebratory social occasion.

Tully’s voice boomed out in the measured cadence that reminded her of a cowboy. “It’s a great honor to toast the joining of my good friend and partner, Derek, with the beautiful and brilliant Alice. I’m proud to say that they found each other because of a program Derek himself started at KRG, the Small Business Initiative, which offers free assistance to small business owners. How fitting is it that because my partner wanted to give back, he himself received a gift in return? The gift of Alice’s love.”

The audience sighed.

“You know the joke about the accountant with insomnia? When the doctor suggests counting sheep, the accountant says, ‘That’s the problem—I make a mistake and then spend three hours trying to find it.’” Laughter from the audience made him pause a moment. “Well, Alice and Derek are numbers people, so they had to find other”—Tully waggled his eyebrows—“ways to fall asleep.”

More laughter rippled through the room as he turned to look toward the newlyweds. Alice was blushing right down to the low square neckline of her Regency-inspired wedding gown. Natalie noted with pride that the cascading curls she’d created for Alice at her hair salon that morning still draped gracefully over the bride’s shoulders.

“Who knew that a passion for numbers could generate another kind of passion?” Tully continued. “A passion that blossomed into the profound love surrounding these two with a slightly nauseating but radiant glow.” More laughter as Tully pivoted back to speak to the room at large. “For Derek’s bachelor party, Leland and I dragged him on a white-water rafting trip. We encountered death-defying rapids, majestic bald eagles, and scenery that took our breath away. But the sight that really socked me in the gut was when we paddled up to the riverbank for our last night on the river. As a surprise, I flew Alice out to meet us. The look on Derek’s face—and hers—when they saw each other got me all choked up.”

Another sigh ran through the crowd. Natalie wouldn’t have expected the tough ex–FBI agent to get choked up about anything, but his sentiment sounded genuine. It even made her feel a little teary eyed.

“So let’s raise our glasses to the best partner and friend a guy could ask for and the woman who makes him even better.” Tully lifted his champagne flute. “To Derek and