The 9-Month Bodyguard
She darted around his desk to lay a big hug on him, just like the old days. The tears of gratitude that came to her eyes seemed to surprise him as much as they surprised her. She whispered, too choked up to speak any louder, “Thanks, Uncle Saul. I promise I won’t let you down this time.”
For just a moment, he returned the hug. Then he cleared his throat and set her away from him. “Now. About music,” he said briskly. “I’d better be the one to make the call to your old label. The way I hear it, you didn’t part on the best of terms.”
Silver grimaced. Now there was an understatement. She’d been fired and escorted out of the record company’s building by armed guards. In retrospect, she’d probably deserved worse. As she recalled—vaguely—she’d been stoned out of her head at the time.
She took a deep breath. “Actually, Saul, I’ve been writing some of my own stuff. Maybe we could use some of that—”
He cut her off with a slashing hand through the air. “Nobody ever builds a decent career on their own stuff. Three or four bigname, girl pop singers have taken time off recently. There’ll be plenty of good songs lying around waiting for a big, sexy voice.”
“No buts. Your father told me to launch your second career, and that’s what I aim to do. You leave the music to me, baby doll.”
She wanted to tell him she wasn’t a baby doll anymore. She was a grown woman, dammit, and she didn’t want to do the same old music she’d sung the last time around. She wanted to do something new. Something more soulful, more…grown up. But Saul was first and foremost her father’s man. And, he’d been a dear about the scheduling problem. He’d canceled a huge act for her. Like it or not, she was probably going to have to go along with him on the music thing.
She sighed. Time for more of that maturity stuff.
“…stop by tomorrow, and I’ll show you the stage. We’ve made quite a few changes to it since you last were on it.”
She winced again. The last time she’d sung on the Grand stage seven years ago, she’d been too fried to hit a note, had forgotten lyrics left and right and had topped off the disaster by being booed offstage. Not one of her more stellar moments in her meteoric fall from grace.
“I’ll be here first thing tomorrow. And Saul…thanks. For everything. This means the world to me.”
He gave her his first genuine smile. “I’m counting on it, Silver Girl. If you don’t fill the house every night, I’m gonna lose a fortune. Those British prima donnas would’ve sold a lot of tickets.”
“Gee. No pressure there.”
He quirked a pragmatic brow. “Music’s a tough business. Art be damned—this is about dollar signs. You sure you want back in the game?”
She took a deep breath and answered, certain for the first time in a long time about something. “Yes. I’m sure. This is exactly what I want to do.” The only thing in the world she wanted to do as much as be a mother was sing. Good Lord willing, she’d find a way to do both.
She let herself out of Saul’s office, blissfully happy, and ran smack dab into a living wall of muscle. “Whoa, I’m sor—” she started. And then she looked up. Austin Dearing. “—Oh. It’s you.”
“If you want to play games with me, Miss Rothchild, I’m telling you now you’re going to lose. Please don’t try to ditch me again.”
“I didn’t try to—”
He cut her off. “I’d highly recommend never fibbing to me. I have an alarming tendency to turn into a serious bastard when I get lied to.”
She muttered under her breath, “You’re already there.” Rather than stand around arguing with this mountain of a man, she turned and stalked back toward the casino. If he wanted to tag along, that was fine with her.
Austin tagged along all right. He was half tempted to jack her up against a wall by the shirt front and explain a thing or two to Miss Fancy Pants. She didn’t seem to grasp that it was not part of his job description to chase around after his subjects like a puppy on a leash. She might be a celebrity, but her life now rested in his hands…not the other way around.
She barged out into the explosion of color and sound that was the casino’s gambling floor, and his irritation intensified. The place was a security nightmare. Cut-throughs and niches were everywhere, and an assailant could be lurking in any of them. There was so much commotion in here that a guy like him couldn’t possibly see a threat coming with his vitally important peripheral vision. Surely there was a way around the casino in a hotel this size. She needed to take an alternate route, dammit!
A low-level hum of panic vibrated in his gut. As a security man, this place made him feel like he’d already failed. Clamping down on the anxiety clawing its way up his spine, he lengthened his stride to catch up to Silver as they neared the front of the place. His impulse was to pick her up, throw her over his shoulder, and get her the hell out of here. Now. He exhaled carefully. Must go easy on this particular client. Break her in gently to the idea of having a bodyguard, without alienating her if at all possible.
“Hey, slow down,” he murmured casually from just behind her. He needed to get in front of her, pronto!
She blatantly ignored him and continued marching on.
“I mean it, Silver. You need to move more slowly so I can clear the area in front of you for threats.”
She spared him an irate glance over her shoulder and didn’t even break stride.
His gaze narrowed. Several extremely unkind names for her flashed through his head. Fine. He could play that game, too.
He grabbed her by the arm and swung her around sharply to face him. She was a tiny little thing, and her weight was nothing in his hand. He took an aggressive step closer and glared down at her. “I tried to do this the nice way. But now we’re gonna do it my way. I’m heading for the nearest exit and getting you under cover, and you’re going with me whether you like it or not. Got that?”
She nervously eyed a cluster of people near the front entrance, most of whom wielded big cameras. “Don’t make a fuss,” she hissed.
“Too late,” he retorted. “I’m making as big a fuss as I damn well feel like. And you are not going anywhere else in this hotel until I say so.”
“I have to go see Stella. She’s the head costume designer,” she insisted. “She’s expecting me.”
“You’re not seeing anybody until you and I get a few things straight,” he replied grimly.
Her eyes snapped and sparks all but flew off her, singeing his fingertips.
She bit out, “Let’s get this straight. I’m the boss. I say where I go and when, and you follow along like a good employee and do as you’re told. You don’t make public scenes in front of tabloid reporters—of which there are a dozen behind me, right now,” her voice rose slightly in volume, “and you don’t do anything to embarrass me. Got that?” She actually had the temerity to poke him in his chest for good measure.
He was so aggravated he could strangle her right then and there. He scowled down at her and loomed even more assertively. “I am not your employee. I work for your father. You’re under my protection, and you’ll damn well do what I tell you to do when I tell you to do it and how I tell you to do it. Have you got that?”
She blanched. “You and me—this is never going to work.”
His jaw clenched. “I’m entirely inclined to agree with you.”
If hate at first sight was possible, this was it. The woman drove him crazy, and he’d known her for two minutes.
He became aware of a surge of movement behind her. The paparazzi had apparently noticed their altercation and were closing in like a pack of hungry hyenas. He swore under his breath. Men in his line of work despised the press almost as much as the public figures they protected did. The last thing he needed was to have his face splashed all over the front pages of the tabloids.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered at Silver.
“Ya think?” she snapped back.
“Hey, Silver!” one of the reporters shouted. “Did you hear that the Tears of the Quetzal is in police custody?”
Another piped up. “Yeah. Luke Montgomery’s fiancée found it in her purse. Do you believe that story?”
Austin frowned. What were these guys talking about? He opened his mouth to ask Silver, but just then, someone moved forward out of the crowd of reporters, jumping abruptly toward her. Austin registered dark hair and a black, burning gaze, a uniform of some kind. Something about the set of the man’s shoulders, the intensity of concentration in his eyes set off warning bells in Austin’s head. Time slowed as the guy lunged in Silver’s direction, and Austin went into high threat mode. If he’d told his men once, he’d told them a thousand times, don’t question your instincts. Act first. Ask questions later.
The guy lowered his shoulder and rammed it into Silver, spinning her around as their bodies collided. Hard. Dear God. The guy had an open shot at stabbing or shooting her at point-blank range in a vital organ! Austin went airborne, flinging himself full length through the air for Silver.
He wrapped his arms around her in a move worthy of the NFL. His momentum knocked her off her feet. While they were still airborne, he twisted to cover her with his much larger body. He released her at the last moment before they hit the floor, catching most of his body weight with his arms so he didn’t crush her.
An explosion of flashbulbs went off nearby.
Austin twisted to look for the assailant, and the guy was rushing past, his right shoulder hunched to hide his face from Austin.