The 9-Month Bodyguard
All of a sudden his bulk was gone, replaced by light and air and an awful sense of exposure that made her want to curl up in a little ball with her hands over her head and never move again. But then Austin was pulling at her, yanking her to her feet. She managed to stay vertical and keep up with his zigzagging run until they burst out from under the covered overhang into the blistering late afternoon sun. Austin paused, looking around quickly.
“Hey! Let go of her!”
“Give it up, Bubba. You don’t know a damn thing about being a bodyguard. Get out of my way before you get your girlfriend killed. Let me do my job.” Austin sounded like he’d about had it with Mark.
Austin was dragging her forward again, toward a long, black stretch limo parked on the far side of the sweeping circular drive.
“That’s it, pretty boy!” Mark shouted. “You and me, right here, right now—”
“Shut the hell up, Sampson.” And with that, Austin yanked open the back door of the limo and surprisingly gently pushed her inside. Her heel caught on the thick carpet and she stumbled, landing on her knees on the carpeted floor as something big blocked the light behind her. The door slammed shut, and yet again, Austin banged into her.
“Oomph,” she grunted as she went down on her side.
The glass panel between them and the driver was sliding down. A pale, shocked face stared at them from under a chauffeur’s cap.
“Get this car moving if you don’t want to get shot!” Austin ordered the driver in a tone of command that brooked no disobedience. The vehicle lurched into motion violently, dumping Austin on the carpet beside her. Tires screeched, and the vehicle made a sharp turn before accelerating powerfully.
She blinked over at Austin, lying no more than a foot away from her. His eyes were green, a deep, shadowy shade like the darkest part of a forest. She said dryly, “We have to stop meeting on floors like this.”
He grinned back at her. “I haven’t been horizontal this many times with a woman without being in bed with her since…ever.”
In bed with him? Whoa. Now there was a thought. A tingle of that same electric attraction that had about jolted her out of skin the first time he’d tackled her shot through her now.
His pupils dilated hard and fast. All of a sudden, his gaze went so black and hot she could hardly bear to look at him. Other details started to register. His arm, heavy and muscular, lay across the indentation of her waist. And his leg was thrown across hers. If she leaned forward just a little bit, she could cuddle up against that big, brawny chest of his. Her face would fit in the strong curve of his neck, and his shoulder would make a perfect pillow for her head. A lock of his hair had fallen across his forehead, and her fingers itched to reach up and push it away.
“Are you okay?” he asked so tenderly it made her heart ache a little.
“Yeah.” And then an awful thought hit her. “Are you okay?” she blurted, alarmed. Her hands splayed across his chest of their own volition, searching frantically for injuries.
He grinned then, a lopsided thing oozing so much charm it ought to be illegal. “I’m fine. I’d have been glad to take that bullet for you but no, I’m not hit. Thanks for asking, though.”
Her hands stopped, somewhere in the middle of all those acres of muscle. “Take a bullet for me?” she repeated blankly.
“Yes. I’m a bodyguard. It’s what I do.”
Another one of those lethal grins. “Well, the idea is to avoid either one of us getting shot in the first place, but if it comes down to you or me, it’s my job to take the hit.”
She shuddered at the thought of deadly lead slamming into this man and erasing that smile forever. “Don’t take a bullet for me, okay?”
He drew her closer against him, and funny thing, she had no desire whatsoever to resist. That volcano of heat and lust that had erupted between them back in the casino exploded again, spewing steam and fire and molten images of sex with him all over the back of the limo. She’d been no saint in her day and had certainly partaken of meaningless sex just for the sake of it now and then. But never, ever, had she been bowled over by an attraction to any guy this instantaneous and this incendiary.
Her entire body felt liquid, flowing over and around him, seeking to engulf every inch of him. His arms tightened around her like tempered steel bands, and his desire rose to meet hers, towering every bit as powerfully as hers. For an instant, fear flooded through her. What had she unleashed between them? It was so big, so overwhelming, she wasn’t entirely sure she could handle it. She looked up, and Austin was staring down at her, looking every bit as stunned as she felt. Well, that was something, at least. Somehow, the idea of him being blown away, too, calmed her.
She relaxed once more in his arms, her trust restored. This was not ops normal for him, either. Something gigantic had happened between them. She hadn’t imagined it.
Wonder filling his dark gaze, he murmured, “I’ll do my level best not to have to take a bullet for you. But rest assured, I will do it if necessary. I’ll die for you.”
The import of those simple words slammed into her like a boulder. She stared at him for a long time, trying to absorb what it truly meant. Finally she managed to mumble, “Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me. Ever. Do you really mean it?”
His gaze locked with hers, as he clearly weighed what she’d just said. Was he trying to figure out if she was talking about other bodyguards, or about more? Much more. All of a sudden, she wasn’t sure, herself, just how much she’d meant by the question.
He answered so low she almost didn’t hear him over the sound of pavement beneath the tires. “Yeah. I do mean it.”
Now, that definitely sounded as if he was talking about more than keeping her alive. And darned if her pulse didn’t race even faster, her heart pounding even harder against her ribs.
He reached up to push a strand of white-blond hair out of her face. He whispered, “You’re even more beautiful in person. And I’ve always secretly thought you were a knockout. Are you really real?”
Her breath caught in her throat. “I’m just a normal girl who’s been lucky enough to live an extraordinary life.”
He smiled as if he didn’t quite believe her. If she didn’t know better, she’d swear the guy was a little starstruck. “How ’bout you? Are you real? I thought superheroes only live in comic books.”
His grin was a little unbalanced. “I’m just a regular guy who’s been lucky enough to get some extraordinary training.”
“I think there’s more to you than that, Austin Dearing. A whole lot more.”
“I could say the same of you, Silver Rothchild.”
She gazed deep into his eyes. Shockingly, she didn’t see deception. Not an iota of greed or social climbing or self-interest. Was this guy for real? Everyone always wanted something from her—money or fame or a leg up on an entertainment career. Was it possible that he liked her just for her? That all those sparks zinging back and forth between them were real?
A rumble of laughter vibrated deep in his chest. “I have a sinking feeling that you’re going to lead me on a merry chase before this is all said and done.”
She grinned up at him. “Sounds like fun.”
He sighed, but the smile didn’t quite leave his eyes. “If I’m going to do my job, we need to get a few things straight between us.”
She couldn’t resist. She snuggled her hips against his—and gasped at the feel of him, huge and hard between her thighs. “Everything feels straight to me.”
He closed his eyes tightly for a moment. When he opened them, she was disappointed to see that he’d shifted into business mode. “I was trying to talk to you about the rules of engagement we’re going to operate under when you kept running away from me.”
“I wasn’t running away from you!”
He quirked an all-too-knowing brow. “What would you call it?”
She replied defiantly, “Creative avoidance.”
His crack of laughter inexplicably warmed her heart. She liked making this man happy. Wanted to get to know him better. To explore this thing between them. What was up with that? He was her father’s lackey. She ought to hate his guts. But somewhere in the past five minutes, in the midst of their heated argument and diving for cover, something had changed between them. Radically. It was almost as if someone had waved a magic wand and cast a spell over the two of them. Talk about going from zero to sixty in two seconds flat…
His arm lifted away from her waist. The movement felt reluctant, like he didn’t want to let her go. That was lovely. He sat up and helped her twist around and sit up without coming out of her dress. And that was lovely, too. Considerate. Far too few people in her life showed her simple courtesy not because she was a rock star but because she was a human being.
She scowled at her dress as she gave the dowdy thing one last tug. It figured that she’d meet the man of her dreams the one day she was wearing something this goofy looking—her, the ultimate fashion diva, who never appeared anywhere without looking like the cover of the latest pop culture magazine. But her father had a cow whenever she wore anything even remotely sexy, and she hadn’t wanted a fight with him at her birthday party. So she’d chosen this high-necked, long-hemmed, multilayered affair in a demure shade of pink.
“Shall we go for the gusto and actually try using the seats?” he asked wryly.