The 9-Month Bodyguard
Austin glanced over at the singer, who looked more than irritated. For just a second, her wonderfully expressive eyes looked…haunted. What in the hell was going on that had a wild woman like her looking like that? No doubt about it. She put his protective instincts on full combat alert.
He turned back to her father and nodded firmly. “I’ll protect her with my life, sir.”
“But—” Silver began.
Harold cut her off. “No buts. Austin Dearing is your bodyguard now. Consider him part of our earlier deal.”
Whatever that deal was, Silver subsided immediately. But this time, resentment simmered at the back of her transparent gaze. Didn’t like being pushed around by daddy dearest. But she was thirty years old according to the banner over her head. She could tell the guy to go to hell if he was that big a pain.
Rothchild gestured at one of the waiters passing by. “Take Mr. Dearing’s bag. Check him into the New Yorker Villa and see to it his gear gets up there.” Rothchild glanced over at Austin. “As of now, you’re on duty.”
For his part, Austin nodded and kept his thoughts to himself. Good thing he’d slept most of the way back from Afghanistan on the various flights that brought him here. Jetlag going east to west wasn’t that bad, but he was twelve time zones out of sync at the moment. Of course, Harry Rothchild wasn’t in the business of caring about anyone’s comfort other than his guests’. For his part, Austin was used to the uncomfortable demands of guarding someone else’s life.
Speaking of which, Silver turned away from her father and pushed heedlessly into the crowd. But not before Austin caught the flash of naked fear in her eyes. What was going on with her? The currents of mystery and danger swirling around her were palpable. And it was his job to decipher those currents and deflect them away from her at all costs. Of course, Rothchild hadn’t exactly helped him get off on the right foot with his famously willful daughter. Austin sighed. Time for some serious damage control. And to think, he’d been on the job a grand total of thirty seconds.
Chapter 3 (#uaeb88f87-668a-5d24-a9fd-88a436a672a2)
Silver glanced over her shoulder as a deep voice growled from behind her, “We need to talk, Miss Rothchild.”
At least her father’d had the decency to pick a jailer who was easy on the eyes. He was a big man wrapped in muscle. Good looking in a chiseled, all-American kind of way. Totally not her kind of guy. She liked them dark and dangerous, and always seemed to end up with lean, jaded Europeans. He was all tawny and bronze, with a deep tan and sun-streaked blond streaks. His eyes were dark. Mysterious. Smoking hot, in fact. He looked like a male model for sailing attire.
She so wasn’t stopping to talk to him. He was the living embodiment of everything she hated about how her father was forever manipulating and controlling her life. If Austin Dearing wanted to play bodyguard, he could darn well keep up with her.
She needed to be alone. To assimilate all that had happened in the past few minutes. To figure out how she was going to juggle her secret pregnancy and this incredible opportunity to perform. And then there was Mark. Now she’d have to string him along for even longer, perhaps most of the way through her pregnancy. It would depend on when the shows were scheduled. Yep, that was the key to pulling this thing off. How pregnant would she be by the time the shows happened? No doubt the promoters would want her half-naked and gyrating like she always had. Might be a teensy bit hard to do that looking like Shamu.
She hurried toward the casino, praying that no one would waylay her so Austin could catch up. Thankfully, she’d grown up in this place and knew every slot machine, every twist and turn, like the back of her hand. She zigzagged across the casino practically at a run and made her way to Saul Morgenstern’s office by the Grand Theater. He was the vice president in charge of entertainment and the man who would schedule her gig.
Skipping his anal retentive secretary, Silver used her master key card to let herself directly into his office’s private entrance. He looked up, startled, phone to his ear, then waved her to a chair in front of his desk.
He shouted into the phone, “Christ, Nigel! These changes are going to cost me a million bucks. Newsflash, your boys aren’t worth it…No I’m not giving them an entire floor of the hotel. Just because your band is British doesn’t mean they’re the freaking Beatles!…and you can procure your owned damned call girls for them. I’m not a pimp…Yeah, well use the phone book. Prostitution’s legal in this state, you moron.”
Wow. He didn’t often get that worked up. Some band had really crossed the line, apparently.
Saul slammed down the receiver, took off his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose before he finally said more calmly, “Silver Girl. I gather your father has sprung his little birthday surprise on you?”
He’d called her Silver Girl since she’d been a child. The two of them used to be as close as a beloved uncle and an adored niece. But that relationship, too, had been a casualty of her wild years. He’d overlooked her atrocious behavior far longer than anyone else, but even his patience had run out eventually. Ever since, he’d maintained a frosty distance from her that she’d respected as her just desserts. But she missed him.
“Hi, Saul. I’m sorry you couldn’t make my party. Daddy really went overboard.” She added wryly, “I expect he was trying to make the point to me that, like it or not, I’m an adult now.”
Saul’s mouth twitched, but he didn’t crack the smile that had once come so readily for her. She sighed. “Harold told me about the show here at the Grand. I never thought he’d do something like that for me. I mean, it’s not like I deserve it or anything.”
That sent Saul’s gray, shaggy brows up.
It was exceedingly uncomfortable having to maintain the entire conversation by herself like this, but apparently doing this gig was going to involve swallowing a healthy dose of crow, too. She continued doggedly. “He didn’t tell me what you had in mind for the shows. Am I penciled in yet?”
Saul studied her inscrutably. “How soon can you be ready to go onstage? You’ll need to be in tip-top shape, maybe take a few singing lessons. After all these star search shows, singers today are expected to really blow out a song.”
The criticism stung. She’d always had plenty of range and power for any song her record label had given her. She replied evenly, “I’ve been singing again for a while. And I’ve been working out. I’m ready now, Saul. The sooner we do this thing, the better.”
He leaned back, frowning, and said doubtfully, “You’re gonna have to find new material… backup singers…you can use the hotel’s band and orchestra, but they’ll need arrangements…costumes and choreography…”
Her stomach was quickly filling up with lead. What he was talking about could take months. In the past, she’d had an entire crew of handlers who had taken care of all the details of putting together one of her tours. Frankly, she’d done little more than learn the songs and show up for a few costume fittings. But this time, it sounded like Saul expected her to do the bulk of the preparatory work herself. An hour ago, she’d have leaped all over the idea of getting to design her own show. But then she’d found out she was pregnant, and a time bomb—in the form of a looming baby bump—had suddenly started ticking.
She took a deep breath. “Saul, I need to do this show right away. I don’t have time to develop big production numbers or manage a cast of thousands.”
His bushy eyebrows came together over glaring eyes. “Do you want to blow this shot?”
She winced. “No. I really, really want to restart my career, and I fully understand how much is riding on this. But I can’t spend months and months pulling this thing together.”
“Why the hell not, missy?”
She closed her eyes. Much more even than her father, Saul could make or break her comeback based on how he supported her show. The good news was that, in many ways, Saul had been more of a father to her over the years than Harold had been. The bad news was he might very well be out to sabotage her comeback.
As Saul stared down at her hands, she realized she was wringing them until they were an angry red. She stopped. “Saul. I swear I have a life-shattering reason why I have to do this show now. But I can’t tell you. I don’t have any right at all to ask you, but could you please just trust me on this one?”
Skepticism glittered in his eyes.
She sighed. “I’ve changed. I’ve grown up. I’m not that spoiled, snot-nosed brat I was a few years ago.” Did he remember the night he’d called her that? When she’d called him to bail her out of jail before the paparazzi got wind of it, and he’d come down to the police station and told her she could rot in the slammer for all he cared?
The memory of that night gleamed in his gaze, too. “You’re so grown up and committed to your career that you won’t sacrifice your personal plans to do this show right?” he bit out sarcastically.
Desperation made her throat tight. “I hear what you’re saying. You’re absolutely right. But I can’t work around this one. I’d give up anything—everything in the world—except one thing, to perform again. And that one thing makes it necessary for me to do this show in the next few months.”
Saul stared at her long and hard. If he’d figured out what she was making veiled reference to, he didn’t comment on it. Finally, he reached into his desk and pulled out a leather day planner. Saul was old school. No computers or PDAs for him. He did everything on paper. “Lemme take a look at the schedule.”
She exhaled on a massive sigh of relief. This could work if he’d cooperate with her.
“You’re booked for Valentine’s Day next year.”
She did the math fast. Good Lord, she’d be over eight months pregnant by then. “What have you got that’s sooner?”
He thumbed through the pages. “I always book a year or more in advance. But there is one possibility…” He trailed off as he turned to a page near the front of the planner. She peeked across his desk and saw June in block print at the top of the page. That was next month. Hope sprang through her.
“That phone call you walked in on was the manager for Metal Head Dead.”
They were a rock band currently topping the charts. Their reputation was already worse than hers had ever been. And yet, because they were guys, they got away with all the rotten stunts that had deep-sixed her career. In fact, their careers were helped by their wild antics. She put aside her bitterness. The double standard was just part of the business.
Saul was talking again, mumbling to himself. “…would put their knickers in a twist if I canceled their leather-clad butts. And tickets for their show are set to go on sale in three days…We could call a press conference…make a big announcement about your comeback…tickets could go on sale immediately and we could capitalize on the buzz…”
He looked up at her. “You’d have only six weeks to pull the entire thing together. You won’t be able to scrimp on anything…it’s going to have to be a top-notch production or you’ll be a worse has-been than you are now.”
He continued, “I’m telling you, I think it’s impossible to get a decent show together by then. Plus, June isn’t the big tourist season on the strip.”
She replied hopefully, “But it’s hot enough that everyone who is in town is inside and going to shows.”
He shrugged. “I can’t promise sellout crowds with only a few weeks to promote the gig. But if you’re hell-bent on doing this thing right away, I can book you for June.”