The 9-Month Bodyguard
Sometimes it got really old having a public past like hers to live down. With a long-suffering sigh, she replied, “There you have it. The list of people who want to see me dead is long and distinguished. Take your pick of who the gunman could be.”
For a moment sympathy shone in his eyes. But then his gaze went flinty hard. “Never fear, honey. I’ll figure out who he is and take the bastard out. Nobody shoots at someone I’m responsible for and lives to tell about it.”
She sank deeper into the plush seat, taken aback at his abrupt shift of mood. Maybe Mark was the one who ought to be worrying about ticking this man off, and not the other way around.
“What’s the Tears of the Quetzal?” he asked abruptly.
“It’s a diamond. It’s set into a ring, and my father calls it his most prized possession.” As Austin quirked a skeptical eyebrow, she added, “It’s a super-rare stone that changes color. It’s called a chameleon diamond. When you heat it up it changes from violet to green.”
“Cool.” A pause. “Why do the police have it?”
She sighed. “Candace borrowed or stole it—depending on who you talk to—the night she was murdered. The ring was gone when her body was found.”
Austin’s face lit up. “So if the cops have the ring, maybe that means they’ve got a lead on her killer.”
Silver replied fervently, “I hope so. That would be great news.”
“Yeah, but if the police are closing in on her killer, the guy’s probably hiding or on the run.”
His question sobered her sharply. “I dunno.”
“No idea at all?” he asked.
Austin went silent, tugging absently at his left ear and staring out the window broodingly. She didn’t interrupt his thoughts, whatever they might be. She’d like to think a little of his steely resolve to keep her safe had to do with their two intimate exchanges, but that was probably wishful thinking. Now that she was sitting up in her own seat, not in physical contact with him, the crazy attraction of before seemed a little hard to believe. She’d been scared and high on adrenaline and had overreacted. Yeah, that was it. Her temporarily heightened senses explained it.
But they didn’t explain the thick sludge of disappointment that abruptly chugged through her veins. It had been an amazing feeling while it lasted.
A few minutes later the driver swung smoothly past the Grand’s acres of swimming pool and tennis courts and into the black maw of a gated entrance that looked like it led to a parking garage.
Before their rear fender had barely cleared the entrance, a reinforced steel gate was already sliding closed behind them. Darkness closed in. The limo spiraled down a long ramp, and then light flared ahead. She spied a familiar silhouette and started. Her father was down here personally to meet them? Either she was in big trouble for her display to the press, or Austin was about to get fired.
Reluctantly she reached for her door handle. Time to face the music.
A big, warm palm clamped down lightly over her hand. “Lesson number one in being a good protectee. Never get out of the car first. I will always get out before you and have a look around. Please don’t come out until I tell you it’s safe. Ever. Got it?”
She looked up at him, startled. Mark had never made her go through any routine like that. “So you’re pretty much always going to be a gentleman and get my door for me? I think I can get used to that.”
That killer grin of his flashed briefly, then was replaced by an expression more akin to sympathy. He seemed to understand that she was joking about this security procedure to hide her dismay at the seriousness of the situation.
His finger brushed her temple, pushing back that pesky strand of hair again, and then the quick, light touch was gone. But the earthquake it left behind continued to shudder through her for several long seconds. Whoa. No adrenaline heightened senses could explain away that.
Eventually her breathing restarted as she stared at the back of his head. Who was this guy whose casual touch made her all but orgasmic?
“Here we go,” he muttered.
As advertised, Austin stepped out of the vehicle and paused directly in front of the door. Heck, she couldn’t have gotten out even if she’d wanted to. It did, however, give her an excellent and isolated view of his buns. Tight. Muscular. Made for driving into a woman strongly enough to know she was with a man—
Good grief! She had to get control of herself! Heat climbed her cheeks just as he murmured, “Okay, you can come out.”
Her heart all but palpitating, she took the hand he offered and climbed out of the limo. Sheesh. She was a mess.
Her father exclaimed, “How’d you get her to do what she’s told like that? I’ve been trying for twenty years and never got her to behave.”
Without stopping to think, she snapped, “He said please.”
She wasn’t in the habit of sassing her father—she never won and it wasn’t worth the hassles to follow. But it had been a rough day. She braced herself, waiting for his explosion. But today Harold made no comment at all. Which was testament to just how upset he must be over the shooting.
She was stunned when he merely turned to Austin and said quietly, “I suppose it goes without saying that I’m grateful to you for pulling my little girl out of there.”
Her jaw dropped. Her father never said things like that! She frequently wasn’t at all sure he actually felt softer emotions like love or concern for his family.
Harold passed a small white object to Austin. “Your room key.”
Austin nodded his thanks. “You understand that nobody is to know that she’s with me. Nobody. The staff can just think that I eat like a horse and like to make my own bed for a few days.”
Harold nodded. “It’s taken care of.”
“And maybe you could thank Mr. Coddington for letting us commandeer his limo like that.”
Harold grinned. “I know just the thing. I’ll give the guy a fat stack of thousand dollar chips, which he’ll promptly lose back to me at the tables.”
Silver snorted. That was vintage Harold. Give someone a generous gift that he knew was going to come right back to him. But then he did surprise her by pulling out his wallet, extracting a thick wad of hundred dollar bills and handing them to the limo driver. “Here’s a small token of my appreciation for helping save my daughter’s life.”
Silver stared as the driver stammered his thanks. Well, knock her over with a feather!
Austin said, “Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Rothchild,” Austin said. “Fire that Sampson guy. He’s worthless as a bodyguard.”
Harold grimaced. “Believe me, I’d get rid of him if I could. But I don’t employ the guy. You’ll have to take that up with Silver. He works for her.”
Austin’s eyebrows shot up, but he made no comment to her. She got the distinct feeling they were going to converse more on the subject very soon, however.
While Austin steered her toward the elevator, she chewed on her father’s vehement comment about Mark. She’d had no idea Harold disliked him that much. Why hadn’t her father said something to her about it before now? Although, to be brutally honest with herself, if she’d known it would tick off her father, she might have made the relationship with Mark real just to get her father’s goat.
Maybe Harold wasn’t as dense as she thought he was. Maybe he’d finally learned not to push on the subject of her boyfriends and let her discover their schmuck-like qualities for herself. And they always turned out to be schmucks in the end. The sad fact was she had terrible taste in men. It was why she’d taken the drastic measures she had to have a baby.
As the elevator door slid shut, Austin called, “Thank you for your help, Mr. Rothchild.” Examining both sides of his plastic key, he asked, “Where’s my room?”
“Lemme see.” She took the card and turned it over. Wow. The New Yorker villa. It was one of the Grand’s four incredibly swanky penthouses that shared the roof of the forty story tall hotel. “You’ve got one of the penthouses. You put your key card in this slot to activate the elevator to the top floor.” She demonstrated, and then passed the key back to him. With a quiet, powerful whoosh, the elevator shot upward.
The metal encased space took on a heavy silence she had no interest in disturbing. At some point, Austin was going to start asking her questions—lots of them—and not a one of them was going to be easy to address.
The door opened on a quiet, oak paneled hallway lit by lamps on console tables. Fresh flower arrangements and thickly padded carpeting added to the overall ambience of European style.
“Let me guess. You want to get out of the elevator first, too,” she mused.
“Fast learner,” he murmured as he stepped out and took a hard look around.