The 9-Month Bodyguard
And then the strangest thing happened.
A wave of heat passed over Austin, a tangible thing tingling across his skin. He saw flashes of purple and green behind his eyelids, brilliant, jeweled prisms of color momentarily blinding him. His blood rushed, pounding in his ears until frantic thumping was all he heard. Suddenly he became intensely aware of the feminine softness below him, molding to every contour of his body as if she’d been made for him. Oh, yeah. A promise of sex, hot and sweaty enough to boggle the mind, pored off her.
Silver looked up at him, her gorgeous eyes wide with surprise, fear and something else. Something…aware. Of him. As a man.
Their gazes locked and nothing short of unbridled lust roared between them. All that friction of a few seconds ago had abruptly morphed into something so steamy it set him on fire. She looked ready to come apart in his hands. In fact, a moan slipped out of her throat that was all about raging pleasure. Unseen by the press, her hips undulated beneath his, and he realized his male flesh was so hard he was in danger of busting his trouser zipper.
He swore under his breath.
Her pupils dilated until her eyes were nearly black with raw need. He wasn’t in any better shape, himself. Small problem: he was the bodyguard, and a whole bunch of cameras were very publicly recording every second of this.
“You okay?” he muttered.
She nodded, looking shell-shocked.
“I’ll get up first, then I’ll help you to your feet and pull you behind me. Keep my body between you and the photographers, okay?”
She nodded again.
He started a quick push-up when a voice shouted from nearby, “Get the hell off my girlfriend!”
Austin came smoothly to his feet and turned to face this new threat. A beefy guy a little shy of six feet tall was barreling toward them. Austin assessed the threat in an instant. More beer gut than muscle. Had barroom brawled just enough to think he was a hotshot, but lacked the balance of a trained fighter. This guy would use bluster and bullying to hide his actual lack of physical skill. A lot of noise, but not a lot of true threat.
Austin reached down and lifted Silver, as light as a feather, to her feet. He tucked her protectively against his side away from the cameras. The paparazzi had already turned their lenses on the loudmouth, and predictably, he was preening for them.
“Who the hell are you?” Austin growled.
“I’m Mark Sampson.” Bluster Boy jabbed a finger toward Silver. “Her boyfriend. And take your hands off her, jerk wad.”
Jerk wad? He hadn’t been called that since junior high. Austin allowed his amusement to show on his face. Interestingly enough, Silver huddled more closely against his side, making no move to distance herself from him in front of this boyfriend of hers. Most women would be leaping away from another man, especially with a hotheaded idiot like that for a boyfriend.
Sampson bristled. “Get away from her before I make you do it.”
A new round of flashes exploded. He could see the headline now. Brawl Over Pop Singer. He sighed. Seemed as if he was getting off on the wrong foot with everyone on this assignment. But Bubba could damned well come and try to make him unwrap his arm from Silver, who was now trembling beneath his protective hug.
“Please,” she whispered frantically from beside him. “Don’t make a scene.”
As if they hadn’t already made a big scene? But then he glanced down at her. Abject terror shone in her face. She was really scared. For him? Surely not. For Bubba? Maybe. But that didn’t feel right, either. What then? Did this have to do with her sister’s murder and the unspoken reasons he’d been hired to protect her in the first place?
He murmured under his breath, “For you, I won’t kick this guy’s ass right now. Let’s get out of here, though.”
“That’d be great,” she murmured back gratefully.
He guided her toward the lobby. Or at least he started to guide her. Sampson stepped forward aggressively and blocked their way before they’d gone two steps. “Get your hands off my girl!”
Austin gave the guy a withering stare but spoke calmly enough. “I’ve been hired to protect Miss Rothchild. I’m not making a move on your lady, so relax already. You’re making a scene and you’re making Miss Rothchild uncomfortable.”
If anything, Sampson got even redder in the face and swelled up into an even bigger bullfrog. “I’m her bodyguard! Now, for the last time, get away from her!”
Sampson reached up and grabbed Austin’s hand, physically throwing it off Silver’s shoulder. Were it not for the paparazzi eating this whole thing up, Austin would’ve ripped the guy’s arm off then and there. But as it was, Silver threw him a panicked look, and he didn’t have the heart to make her any more miserable than she already was.
He took a step away from her. But not before murmuring, “I’m going to go talk to the hotel security guys for a few minutes, and then I’ll meet you at the costume lady’s office. Don’t leave the hotel without me, okay?”
She nodded, trust shining in her eyes. He didn’t question it, nor did he examine too closely the surge of protectiveness that bubbled up in his chest. He just knew that something big had happened between them, lying together on the floor a few moments ago.
Sampson elbowed him aside, and Austin stepped back readily, without giving the guy the satisfaction of a response. The paparazzi closed in on Silver and Sampson like a pack of sharks in a feeding frenzy. Austin frowned. Sampson ought to be doing something to keep them back. It was a blatant breach of personal security to let that many strangers surround a subject so closely. But the guy seemed more interested in getting his own arm around Silver’s shoulders and posing for pictures than in keeping his girlfriend safe. The pair stepped out onto the front steps of the casino and paused again for another round of pictures. Sampson seemed acutely aware of the best lighting and camera angles for the paparazzi and more than happy to give the press exactly what it needed.
Austin shook his head. Surely guarding celebrities wasn’t that different from guarding heads of state. No matter how famous and camera-worthy a subject was, no self-respecting bodyguard let would their principal stand still in an exposed position like those steps for this long.
And why wasn’t the guy’s gaze scanning the area in search of possible threats at a minimum? Bubba was supposed to be her bodyguard! Silver actually looked eager to go…and if he wasn’t mistaken, it was Sampson holding her back. No bodyguard would physically stop their subject to pose for the press! It was insane! What kind of training had this guy—
A fast-moving target hurtled out of the shadows off to one side of the lobby toward the front door.
Silver and Sampson had their backs to the attacker!
Austin lurched into motion, sprinting for all he was worth. But his heart sank even as his thighs churned frantically, propelling him forward. He was too far away to save her. Time slowed as the horror of an attack on his principal unfolded before him. He couldn’t get between her and the attacker in time. Her beautiful eyes, her smile, her soft body beneath his flashed helplessly through his mind’s eye.
He opened his mouth to scream at Sampson to throw himself on top of her.
But it was too late.
The deafening report of a gunshot exploded in the lobby.
Chapter 4 (#uaeb88f87-668a-5d24-a9fd-88a436a672a2)
Silver froze as the world went mad around her. She registered a flash of motion. A shout of warning from behind. And then an explosion of noise so loud it made her teeth hurt. A giant sheet of glass crashed down a few feet behind her, showering her with shards of exploding glass.
People screamed and were running and ducking and falling everywhere. She didn’t know what to do. Everyone around her melted away, leaving her standing all by herself in a sea of glass, marble and glittering chrome. The torrent of crystal prisms fell like rain around her, each with its own rainbow of slivered light trapped within it. So pretty. The thought floated through her head, completely detached from reality.
Mark was a dozen feet away, cursing at the top of his lungs. He was turning in circles, as if he was looking for somewhere to run and hide but couldn’t decide which way to go.
And then something hit her from behind. It felt like a freight train had just slammed into her at seventy miles per hour. It drove her to the ground, face first, crushing her in darkness and suffocating weight. Panic struck her then. She couldn’t breathe! She had to run! To get out of here, away from this insanity. To protect her baby!
“Let me up!” she tried to scream. It came out no more than a breathy gasp devoid of sound.
“Are you hit?” a deep voice asked sharply in her ear.
Austin. A wave of relief washed over her, so powerful and warm it nearly made her faint. “I don’t think so.”
He shouted from above her, “Sampson! Clear the lobby! Set up suppression around the exterior perimeter so the subject can be evacuated!”
“Huh?” Mark obviously didn’t have the slightest idea what Austin had just told him to do.
Violent swearing erupted in her left ear, much of it dealing with Mark’s questionably human parentage and complete lack of training. Then Austin was giving her instructions, urgent and low. “We’re getting up and running like hell. We’re gonna zigzag back and forth so the gunman has less of a shot at you.”
Gunman? Gunman? Was that what that noise had been? A gunshot? Ohmigod.
“Let’s go!” Austin bit out.