The 9-Month Bodyguard
Army Captain and Delta Force Team Commander, Austin Dearing, stepped out of the taxicab into the blast furnace heat of Las Vegas. Jeez. And it was only May. He’d hate to see this place in August. Of course, after living in full body armor in parts of the world where daily highs frequently topped one hundred twenty, Vegas wasn’t so bad. But he was still grateful to step into the air-conditioned cool of the Rothchild Grand Hotel and Casino.
He looked around the gaudy lobby curiously. He liked his creature comforts well enough, but the job he’d been sent here to do overshadowed his appreciation of the beautiful, leggy women cruising the joint, sharklike, in search of fresh meat. In his world, this was what was known as a target-rich environment.
A silicone-enhanced bleach-blonde purred at him, “May I help you, sir?” She was almost tall enough that at six foot four, he didn’t have to look down at her.
“I’m looking for Harold Rothchild.”
A startled look flickered across her face, but she replied smoothly enough, “Is Mr. Rothchild expecting you?”
“Yes, he is.”
“One moment, sir.”
She pulled out a cell phone and made a discreet phone call. “He’s at his daughter’s birthday party at the moment. Would you care to wait in his office?”
“I’m under orders to report to him as soon as I get here, no matter what he’s doing.” The actual phrase Rothchild had used was more obscene and involved interrupting him even if he was having intimate relations with his wife. Austin snorted. Even an Army grunt like him was couth enough not to repeat such a thing to a lady, though.
Another discreet phone conversation.
“Mr. Rothchild’s assistant says you’re to go to the party. Would you like to check into your room first? Maybe freshen up a bit?”
He clamped down on his impatience. His orders were to see Rothchild immediately. Not after he took a nap and got pretty. Fingering the beard stubble of his past twenty-four hours’ worth of travel, he said firmly in his commanding officer voice, “No. I’ll see him now.”
The blonde twittered, signaling how turned on she was by his display of manly resolve. Groupie alert. Women were forever hanging out at the places Special Forces soldiers frequented, trying to land guys like him. Usually, he could spot ’em at a hundred paces. But this one had snuck up on him. He’d lost his touch. Been out in the field too damned long. Two years since he’d taken a minute off. Only reason he was on leave now was because of his busted left eardrum. He’d blown it when an explosion had gone off too close to him a few weeks back. The doc said it would take several months to heal. Which meant he was left cooling his jets for a while.
Thankfully, his commanding officer, General Sarkin, knew him well enough to know that sitting on his butt for months would drive him completely crazy. With his entire unit deployed overseas, it wasn’t like there was anything on a stateside Army post to keep him busy. So, Sarkin had arranged for this special assignment.
Austin had never heard of Harry Rothchild, but he damned well knew who Silver Rothchild was. Her father, eh? Austin sympathized. His daughter was possibly the most notorious wild child of the past decade. The dossier Sarkin had given him said that Rothchild was worth hundreds of millions and the Grand Casino was the crown jewel of his hotel empire. He had a big family, which he kept close by, including several daughters. One of them, Candace, had been murdered a few months back, which was why Austin supposed he’d been hired to play nursemaid to Rothchild’s third daughter—the troubled Silver.
He’d fought the cream puff assignment, but Sarkin had been adamant. Ultimately, he’d been a good soldier and sucked it up. It wasn’t an official job, of course. The military didn’t make a practice of babysitting spoiled little rich girls, thank you very much. But when a man with the stature of General Sarkin, who held the future of a guy’s career in his hands, asked him to do something off the books, the guy did it, like it or not.
And it was only for three months. Just until his ear healed and he was cleared to go back into the field. He could put up with pretty much anything for three months.
The busty blonde opened a door marked Private, and the sounds of a party in full swing slammed into him. The shock of it was a physical blow. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in a gathering of people this large and boisterous. Claustrophobia closed in around him. So accustomed was he to the desolate, wide open mountains of Afghanistan that he’d been patrolling for the past two years, he could barely force himself into the crush.
Three months. He could do this.
He waded into the crowd. Using his height to look over the partiers, Austin searched for the florid face of Harold Rothchild from the dossier. There he was. On the far side of the room on some sort of raised platform.
A hand groped Austin’s rear end, and he pivoted sharply, prepared to take out the assailant. A brunette leered up at him. He stood down, relaxing his hands from their knife-blade rigidness. You’re back in the real world, Dearing. Cool it.
Easier said than done. Those lightning fast reflexes, the total lack of hesitation to kill, were the reason he was still alive and kicking. Lecturing himself about the rules of engagement for this particular type of jungle, he managed to cross the dance floor without causing anyone bodily harm.
Austin touched Harold Rothchild lightly on the shoulder. The older man spun around, startled. Hmm. The Rothchild patriarch was plenty edgy. Not to mention he was hiring ridiculously overqualified bodyguards for his kids. What was going on? The dossier hadn’t said anything about why the mogul suddenly wanted someone like Dearing—who specialized in guarding heads of State—watching out for his daughter.
“You must be Captain Dearing. Your commander described you to a tee, I must say.”
At least Rothchild sounded relaxed enough. “Call me Austin, sir. I’m not on the Army’s clock at the moment.”
Rothchild snorted. “You don’t have to tell me. I’m the guy who wrote your first paycheck. It has already been wired into the Singapore bank account you gave my secretary.”
Austin nodded, annoyed. Why did men like this think that men like him gave a damn about money? Just because Rothchild worshipped at the altar of the almighty dollar didn’t mean everyone did.
He schooled himself to patience. Growing up poor had probably made him more cynical than most. But his family had gotten by. And he and his brothers had all turned out fine. They were all hardworking, law-abiding citizens who enjoyed their work. Sure, he could make more money as a civilian bodyguard—a lot more than his Army pay—but that wasn’t remotely why he did his job. He loved his work.
Rothchild bellowed, “Silver, come over here. There’s someone I want you to meet,”
A fist in his gut couldn’t have knocked the wind out of Austin more thoroughly than his first glimpse of Silver Rothchild. Wow. He couldn’t help it; he stared as the pop star made her way to them. Her face, familiar to him from newsstands around the world, wasn’t the most beautiful he’d ever seen, although she was genuinely pretty. She didn’t have the best body he’d ever seen—she was too petite to achieve beauty queen stature—but she was in great shape and shaped great, not to mention he didn’t spot a hint of silicone or surgery. She was one of those rare women with innate sexual charisma, a woman whom men couldn’t peel their gaze away from and didn’t want to. A genuine blond bombshell.
It was, of course, the reason she’d been such a sensation on the pop music scene. Belatedly, it occurred to him that she was actually wearing a perfectly modest dress, not showing a hint of cleavage, nor an inch of extra thigh. Her signature platinum blond hair was twisted up in a clip of some kind behind her head, and her makeup was understated.
Those silver-blue bedroom eyes of hers penetrated right through him as she looked up at him politely. She held out a perfectly manicured hand. “Hi, I’m Silver. It’s nice to meet you.” Her voice was honey sweet, hinting at the million-dollar sound that had made her famous.
Suppressing an urge to stammer, he replied, “Austin Dearing, Miss Rothchild.”
One graceful brow arched at his shift of her name into the formal. She glanced over at her father questioningly.
“This, my dear, is your other birthday present.”
Silver’s startled gaze shot back to his. Chagrin abruptly warmed his cheeks. He was a birthday present? An elite-trained, highly-decorated war hero who led men into the jaws of death on a routine basis? Harold made him sound like a damned trained monkey!
His brows slammed together. Favor or not, General Sarkin could take this job and shove it. He wasn’t anybody’s pet.
Silver murmured in an appalled undertone, “What are you up to, Daddy?”
“Austin is a bodyguard.”
The rosy blush in Silver’s porcelain face drained away, lending a faintly gray cast to her complexion. Austin frowned, his internal alarm system exploding to life. He was missing something, here. Silver Rothchild was deathly afraid of something. Or someone. His protective instincts roared to the fore, jolting his every sense onto high alert. He abruptly didn’t like the press of people around her, didn’t like how exposed she was up on this raised dais above the crowd. He needed to be in front of her, between her and the balcony to his left that was a perfect perch for a sniper.
She choked out, “I already have a bodyguard, Father.”
“And he’s an idiot. Captain Dearing comes highly recommended by a friend of mine. He’s the best. After Candace…”
Rothchild trailed off. Silver closed her eyes in pain, obviously understanding her father’s veiled reference. Austin’s brain kicked into overdrive. Was there more to the Candace Rothchild murder investigation than met the eye? Was the killer targeting other members of the Rothchild family? That would certainly explain daddy bringing in a high-powered bodyguard to protect his most famous child.
Silver seemed to gather herself together. She said more strongly, “I appreciate your concern, Dad, but I don’t need another bodyguard. I’m perfectly safe with the one I have.”
“What about that incident last week?”
“Brakes fail on cars. And Las Vegas is as flat as a pancake. I coasted to a perfectly safe stop.”
“You were supposed to drive up into the mountains that day. What if your brakes had failed then?”
“Well, I didn’t go up into the mountains and everything was fine.”
Austin had to give the girl credit. Her father was a big, intimidating guy, and she was showing pluck to stand her ground like this. Brake failure, huh? In his experience, the brakes on any reasonably well-maintained vehicle never, ever failed of their own volition.
Rothchild turned to him. “Ignore her. She needs a decent bodyguard, and I’m signing your paycheck.”