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Authors: Amber A. Bardan

For His Protection

BOOK: For His Protection
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For His Protection

Amber
A Bardan

 

Personal Protection series, Book
Two

For years Tyler has longed, lusted
and burned for the girl who saved his life. He’ll do anything to have
her—including hire her as his bodyguard. But when the girl of his dreams turns
out to have a dark streak he never could have imagined, he’ll need more in his
seductive arsenal than sweet talk—he’ll have to find out just how far he’s
prepared to go to get her.

Brooke has been through the kind of
hell that doesn’t make it into most people’s nightmares. She’s strong, she’s
fierce and she believes the only place any man in her life belongs is wedged
under the toe of her shoe. Ty is the one man to get under her skin and send her
mindless with desire. He’s also a spanner in her life that could undo
everything she’s worked for. She wants him—but can a man like Ty handle the
kind of fantasies she has in mind?

 

A Romantica®
contemporary erotic romance
from
Ellora’s Cave

 

For his Protection
Amber A Bardan

 

Chapter One

 

It only happened for a few moments each day. When the sun sank
to that precise point where the city of Seattle turned pink then orange then
darkest blue. Tyler swirled his scotch and gulped it down. It didn’t burn, just
as the view from the top floor of the Black Trident building didn’t warm him
the way it should.

Nothing fucking could.

“Ty?”

Tyler didn’t turn but the glass in his hand came close to
shattering. “Just tell me, Saul.”

“We found her.”

Tyler spun around, slammed his glass down on his desk and strode
to where his president flopped a file on the conference table. His calf muscle screamed
with that first step but settled into its familiar ache. Tyler spread his hand
over the folder but didn’t open it. Could only stare at it. His heart galloped as
if he’d back-flipped his way to the table. “You’re sure, you’re absolutely sure
it’s her.”

Saul stroked the neat gray hair on his chin. “It’s her.”

“I want to know everything.”

Saul’s gaze flickered for a moment but he nodded and
gestured to the table. Tyler raised his hand and let Saul pick up the file.
Saul spread the papers across the table. One shiny image caught Tyler’s eye and
he dragged it closer. Blood thrummed in his ears, almost blocking out the sound
of Saul's words. Dammit, he should have opened it when he was alone. Now he
could barely stand upright. That face staring up at him from the photo was like
a punch in the gut. Even grainy the photo portrayed her features exactly as he
remembered them. Those eyes—those lips—that halo of buttercup blonde—the image
he still saw hovering above him every time he shut his eyes. He still heard the
promises flowing from her lips into his soul. For an instant he was twenty
again.

“She moved back to the city three years ago. Changed her
last name to Yates.” Saul tapped the photo in front of Tyler. “Tuesdays and
Thursdays she co-teaches women’s self-defense classes in the mornings.” He
dragged across another photo.

Tyler watched the photo slide. The woman in the image wore camouflage
pants, a black tank and a black baseball cap, her ponytail cascading out the
back. He frowned. Who was this woman? Hardly the soft angel he remembered.
Could she have changed so much?

“Sundays she runs fitness boot-camp.”

“Day job?”

“She works for Crowe Security.” Saul picked up another paper
and handed it to Tyler.

Tyler scanned the document and nodded. “Good. This is good.
I can use this…” He glanced at Saul. “How many death-threats have I received
this week—hell, how many have I received today?”

Saul’s graying brows twitched. “I haven’t kept count, Ty.
But since the community center, let’s assume it’s higher than usual.”

Tyler grinned, slow and smug. So sue him—he liked winning—it
was in his blood. This win would be the sweetest of his life. “Give Crowe
security a call. Black Trident Enterprises’ security needs have changed,
my
needs have changed.”

Saul sighed and scooped up the papers. He didn’t need to
state his disapproval—Tyler heard it all in that one breath.

“You got something to say, Saul?”

“I’m thinking this might not be the wisest course of action.
I know how you feel about this girl but do you really think that a woman who
has gone to so much trouble to hide, even changing her last name, is going to
like this?”

Tyler straightened and tugged his tie then shifted his gaze
out the window. The ache in his chest overtook the ever-present pain in his
leg. “She had no reason to hide from me. I sent her one letter, one letter in
five years. That’s all.” He closed his eyes briefly. That letter. He tried not
to think about what he’d written. Yet the memory filled him with equal parts
shame and pain. He—Tyler Black—so desperate, so needy. He had bared himself so
completely only to be met with endless haunting silence.

“She doesn’t need to like it but she won’t be hiding
anymore.”

* * * * *

Brooke gazed at the man she trusted most in the world, her
mentor, role-model and now boss, Connor Crowe, as if he were hell’s one true
spawn.

Oh damn, damn him, damn him.

“Exactly where would you like that inserted?” She smiled her
sweetest ice-cold smile. “Boss.”

Connor grinned and tossed the hot-pink Venetian mask to her.
She caught it mid-air.

“You can save that grin for your fiancée—it doesn’t work on
me,” she said.

If any grin had a hope of
working
on her it was
Connor’s. The man was a freaking masterpiece. Tan skin, short dark hair and
muscles that had a way of making the ladies ooze their pheromones all over
themselves. If she were interested in men, she might’ve noticed. As it was, as
it had always needed to be, their relationship was a friendship based on trust
and things such as—not fucking coming on to each other.

“Where’s my consummate professional, Brooke? Think of it as a
uniform.” Conner sprawled on the opposite side of the limo that had been sent
for her and tapped the manila file in his lap. The smart-ass had the nerve to
grin wider.

Brooke’s jaw tightened. “I wore this thing, didn’t I?” She
tugged on the glittering—yes, freaking
glittering
—pink folds of the
floor-length gown itching its way over her body. “Some asshole’s
Barbie
fantasy. What is this, Connor? Are you pimping me out now?”

Connor snapped forward but didn’t touch her. Connor never
touched her except when they were training. He knew that boundary. One of the
reasons he was the one ray of hope in her world that all men weren’t evil.
“Hey, anyone touches you in a way you don’t like—hell, anyone
looks
at
you in a way you don’t like—and I pull you out.” He leaned back. “You told me
you could do this, Brooke. You said you could work your unique skill set but if
you can’t, if it’s too much, I’ll pull the plug now.”

He would too. Biggest account of his career and he’d
compromise it for the sake of his protégé.

“No.” Brooke shook her head and slipped the mask on. “I want
to do this. Plus I can handle myself, you know that.”

“Shit, Brooke. Don’t be breaking some poor schmuck’s legs because
he happens to notice you’re stunning.”

Her cheeks warmed. She knew he didn’t mean it as flattery.
He was just stating a fact. “I won’t, don’t worry. I’ll get this account for
you. So what do I need to know?”

“According to Saul Morgan, president of Black Trident,
they’ve had some serious threats in the last few days, most particularly toward
their CEO—” He paused and looked at her from under lowered brows. “And he’s
reluctant to appear as though he can’t look after himself. Hence you.”

Brooke adjusted the mask, trying not to imagine what she
looked like. “I’ll be his perfect little trophy girlfriend. Want me to giggle
now?”

Connor ignored her. “His name is Ty, he’ll meet you inside
and brief you after the event. I’ll have your bags delivered to his place.”

“Fantastic. How will I know this masqueraded peacock?”

Connor’s mouth twitched and he handed her an invitation from
his inside jacket pocket. “He’ll be wearing a purple mask.”

“Of course he will.” Brooke matched his smirk and took the
invitation then opened the door and slid out.

“And Brooke?”

She ducked her head back inside. “What?”

“Just remember, close this deal and I make you partner.”

Brooke swallowed and tucked a thick gold curl behind her
ear. “Consider it done.”

* * * * *

Brooke handed her invitation to the doorman and stepped into
the foyer. Holy-shit-balls these people took their masquerading seriously.
Bodies pressed around her and flowed toward a grand ballroom. Every face hid
behind some gilded, feathered, freakish, bejeweled monstrosity. A long hooked-beak
mask caught her eye. She shuddered. Creepy factor of too-damn-much. Who knew
people still did this crap? She assessed the room that served as an enormous
foyer, gaze flicking corner to corner. One exterior exit, four security guards
at the door. She scanned the ceiling—and at least two cameras.

And this guy summons a bodyguard now?

She followed the crowd into the ballroom then paused. Her
breath caught on her lips. Hundreds of lights hung from a high ceiling, casting
the throng of masked dancers into moving, glistening night creatures. A low,
hypnotic beat thundered through the floor, up her heels, along her legs. Either
she’d stepped onto a movie set or someone had slipped her acid.

A gush of warmth blew her hair back off her shoulders. Her
attention flew to the row of open doors along the rear wall. Now this room was
a problem. The rear expanse of the ballroom opened to gardens. No security.
Perfect.
She stepped around the dance floor and searched the perimeter for the
purple-masked-peacock so she could keep an eye on him. Not that she knew who or
what she was protecting him from anyway. Normally she had a little more to go
on but she figured she’d find out soon enough.

Her gaze paused mid-sweep. A prickle itched the back of her
scalp. Eyes on her. Watching, staring eyes. She turned and faced the shadowy
figure standing in front of the open doors. He stood so still the air, the
room, moved
around
him. A sheer white curtain rose at his back but he
didn’t move, he was still as death. She couldn’t see his eyes and something
told her it was better she didn’t.

Darkness fell over him, coating him in stripes of black. Her
heart took up space in the base of her neck, pulsing there as if her ribs had
let it fly away. A mask concealed the top half of his face. Not beaked or
feathered like most of the others, just neat and flat against strong bones.

He moved, just one step forward—toward her. There was no
mistaking it, the way his attention fixated on her, not just with his gaze but
with every flex of his body he moved toward her. Light flowed over him and the
saliva on her tongue went dry and sticky. A black suit clung to his body.
Shoulders wide but not bulky under a simple, snug jacket. The lapels, a
different fabric from the rest of the jacket, shined. No tie. Everyone wore a
tie but him. Yet he looked as if he was the one this elaborate set had been
created for, the most refined attendee of all.

She glanced back at his face, her breathing heavy. Why would
he be staring at her? He nodded, a slow dip and rise of his angular chin. Light
hit the deep purple of his mask.

Ah, fucking purple.

Her heart flowed back down to its rightful place.
Of
course.
She glanced down at her dress. The dim, shifting light brought out
the reflective threads, made the fabric shimmer like something from Cinderella.
He’d have known her the moment she stepped in. It was his dress, after all. At
least the one he’d sent for her. Here she was thinking—whatever the hell crazy
thoughts she’d been thinking—and he was simply her client waiting for her.

She straightened her shoulders and moved through the room,
weaved around the bodies toward him. He’d gone into statue mode again. She
stood in front of him and everything she was supposed to say left her head. He
just looked at her, stared at her too hard. His eyes were dark behind the mask,
his hair neat and groomed and slicked back from his face. But it was those eyes
she couldn’t stop looking at.

“Brooke.”

Not a question, a promise. His lips seemed to move in slow
motion when he said her name. The way they tightened at the
Br
—then
parted at the
k
—almost as if he’d been saving the word up on his tongue.
Intimate, too damned intimate.
She drew every bit of bone and muscle in her
body up to her five-foot-ten-inch height. He still stood taller by two or three
inches but she wasn’t small. He needed to know that now. She was tall and
strong and professional. He had no right to intimacy. He should call her by her
last name until given permission to do otherwise.

“Mr.—” She paused. She didn’t even know his last name. “Mr. Ty?”

He smiled, not a full smile, just a closed-lip one that
tugged up at one side. “It’s just Ty.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t been briefed properly. Can we find
somewhere to talk?”

He shook his head. Just like that he dismissed her request.
“Not now. We have plenty of time for that. Right now I need to dance.” He held
out his palm. Held it out as if he expected her to take his hand, as if he actually
expected her to dance.

She took an unsteady step back. The music droned softly
enough to hear him perfectly yet the bass seemed too high. It vibrated in her
calves.

“I don’t dance. I don’t do touching either for that matter.”

He closed the space, bringing himself even closer. She
stepped back with her left foot but stopped herself from raising her arms. No…she
didn’t need to take a fighting stance in the middle of a goddamn charity ball.
She didn’t do this, didn’t let men do this—close in on her. Get closer than
she’d like. She stared at the perfect little buttons on his shirt. His scent
cut through the wash of perfume in the air, clean—clean and crisp and
expensive.

“But Brooke, I’m expected to dance. I was guaranteed that
you’d be able to blend in, that you wouldn’t stand out, that you could be
natural.”

Her lips trembled. Fuck it, was she nervous? When was the
last time she’d allowed someone to put her off balance?

“I can look natural. I’m very good at my job.” She raised
her gaze to his and forced confidence into her lies. “Which is why you don’t
want to dance with me. I’m no good at it. It certainly won’t look natural.”

“I’ll take my chances.” He stepped in, grasped the fingers
of her right hand and placed his other hand on her waist.

She stiffened at the touch but it was too late—he’d swept
her onto the dance floor. The crowd closed around them but he moved them
through the mass of whirling bodies. Her senses focused in on the hand on her
waist, everything in her telling her to push it away. Her heart rose again but
this time the beat was painful. She forced herself to breathe and move with
him. To not look like a freak who’d lost it because a guy had his hand on her
waist. She let him move her. And goddamn, this man could lead. Just his hand
around hers and the one on her side and he could direct her anyway he wanted.

BOOK: For His Protection
9.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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