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Authors: Lois Greiman

His Bodyguard

BOOK: His Bodyguard
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Nathan stared at the roomful of bodyguards.

The walls were lined with chairs that seemed to groan beneath the weight of the applicants. The fellow to Nate’s immediate left had a neck like an Angus bull and an expression that was only slightly less friendly.

He cleared his throat. “Good morning.” It seemed strange suddenly—he could entertain a crowd of thousands without breaking a sweat but felt totally at a loss with this hair-knuckled lot. “We’ve had a few security problems recently. I guess that’s why you’re all here.”

Old Angus neck was staring at him with an unwavering gaze. “So I guess we’ll have to beef up our defences.” When he was uncomfortable he had a habit of telling bad jokes.

“So I’ve decided to throw you all in the ring together and let you duke it out. The survivor’s got himself a job.”

The room went absolutely still. A few men turned their eyes aggressively to their neighbors, and one brute actually cracked his knuckles.

Suddenly he heard a tiny sparkle of laughter. It wasn’t the deep-throated chuckle of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the sweet, quicksilver giggle of a woman. Nathan swiveled quickly about-face. And there she was, sitting just to the right of the door, her eyes bright with humor. She was like a light in a very dark place. He smiled. She smiled back.

Nate pointed to the woman.
“I want her.”

Dear Reader,

I have some very exciting news! In May of this year, we are launching a great new series called Harlequin Duets.

Harlequin Duets will offer two brand-new novels in one book for one low price. You will continue enjoying wonderful romantic comedy-type stories from more of the authors you’ve come to love! The two Harlequin Duets novels to be published every month will each contain two stories, creating four wonderful reading experiences each month. We’re bringing you twice as much fun and romance with Harlequin Duets!

This month Cheryl Anne Porter delights us with
FROM HERE TO MATERNITY,
part of our Right Stork, Wrong Address miniseries. Up-and-coming ad exec Laura Sloan is in over her head when she finds an abandoned baby in her office,
and
her first love on her doorstep. Suddenly she’s got two males to contend with—and she hasn’t got a clue what to do with either one of them! Also out this month is Lois Greiman’s dangerously funny
HIS BODYGUARD.
It’s not very often a macho hero is forced to hire a female bodyguard. Watch the fireworks as Nathan Fox is charmed and captivated by petite, curvaceous Brittany O’Shay—and deeply chagrined when she does, in fact, save his life.

Once again, I hope you enjoy Love & Laughter. And don’t forget to look for Harlequin Duets, on sale in April!

Humorously yours,

Malle Vallik

Associate Senior Editor

His Bodyguard
 
Lois Greiman

What Inspires Me…

Being raised on a North Dakota cattle ranch, I grew up with an appreciation for all things country—from animals to wide open spaces to country music. So this book was a very natural step for me. It’s peopled with the kind of characters I love—people with close family ties, a solid idea of what is truly important and a flavorful sense of the ridiculous.

His Bodyguard
was a joy from beginning to end. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

—Lois Greiman

To Cary Bardell—
the most selfless person I’ve ever met.
Thanks for being there for me
more times than I can recall.

1

“S
URE
. I’
LL GET A BODYGUARD
.” Nathan Fox rose from behind the table of The Cowboys’ tour bus and thumped his coffee cup onto the counter. “Soon as hell freezes over.”

“Dammit!” Sarge Bartel swore with feeling. “I don’t work my butt off just so you can—”

“Hey,” Paul Grand interrupted. Dressed in nothing but a pair of loose shorts, he glanced up from behind his newspaper. “Looks like you’ll have to be hiring someone then, Nate. ‘Cause it says here that it was twenty below zero last night in North Dakota. Isn’t that where you’re from? Hell, North Dakota?”

“That’s
Hill!
” Nate corrected.

Paul Grand may have the unerring timing of a superstar drummer, but he had the tranquil soul of a hermit. His love of music, and not his thirst for fame, had brought him here. He was the inevitable peacemaker amongst The Cowboys. That quality, however, had never convinced Nathan to treat him with more dignity than he did anyone else unlucky enough to cross his path.

“Hill, North Dakota! Shows what you know of God’s north land, you confederate traitor,” Fox said and turned toward the door. But he stopped in midstride. “Geez!” He started slightly, then bent for a better view between the window’s narrow blinds. “Where’d that crowd come from? And a banner. Paul…” He squinted as if reading. “Paul Grand…Fan Club! No kidding? Hey, Paul,” he said and turned toward the table, but the drummer was already crouched behind his paper like a whipped cur, his face pale and his baby blues round.

“What?” he rasped.

Nate glanced out the window, then back. “Well, it ain’t more than a dozen or so folks. But they’re heading this way. ‘Less you want to greet them in your boxers, you’d best pull on some jeans, son.”

Paul jerked to his feet, backed stiffly toward the wall, and tripped over a tawny, oversized cat who yowled in outrage and shot for the bedroom.

“You’re joking!” Paul wheezed.

Nathan shook his head once, turned toward the window, then back with a shrug. “Well…yeah, guess I am.”

“Bloody hell!” Paul sagged against the wall like linguini that had failed the test. “Someday that sick sense of humor’s gonna get you killed, Fox.”

Nathan drew in the sweet sight of Paul’s humiliation and chuckled. “My mom always said, never kid a kidder. That’s
Hill,
North Dakota.” He removed his hat for a moment to place it reverently over his heart. “Home of the free and the brave.”

“Bloody hell,” Paul repeated, but weakly this time, his Kentucky accent barely discernible as he melted back into his chair. “Don’t get him a bodyguard, Sarge. If someone’s got it in for him, they sure enough got their reasons. Let ‘em at him.”

Nathan replaced his hat and headed through the bus’s mini-kitchen. “You kidding? My fans love me.” He stopped at the door. “And you know why?”

Silence. At the back of the bus, Jimmy Fry wandered groggily from the sleeping quarters.

“Because I’m just a damned nice guy,” Nate said.

It was a quote so old no one remembered who had said it the first time. But Nate pretty much held the record for repeating it since.

“Shut up, Fox,” said the boys in tired unison.

Nathan ducked outside with a grin.

The heat of the morning sun struck him like the kick of a mule. Okay, he didn’t necessarily long for the subzero temperatures
of home, but a little breeze might be nice. How did these southern guys breathe down here?

“Hey!” Sarge yelled, following him. “We’re not done with this!”

Nate kept walking. The heels of his Justins rang on the concrete and his huge team-roping belt buckle shone in the sun as he strode toward the hotel. “I told you, Sarge. I don’t need a bodyguard.”

“And I told you. Either you get yourself some security or you get yourself a new manager.”

“Consider yourself fired then,” Nate said and stepped into the hotel.

Sarge snorted as he edged through the door, his ever-present clipboard in one brawny hand. “Yeah, and who’ll interview the new recruits?”

“Thought you’d do that,” Nate said, striding down a hallway.

“And who’d hire my replacement?”

“You.”

“And who’d clean up the mess when the new guy screws up?”

“Guess that’d have to be you, too,” Nate said.

“Damn right!” Sarge agreed. He turned belligerently at the door to the small conference room they’d rented and scowled at Nate. “I didn’t mind giving up the spotlight so you could become a damned country idol, Fox, but I’ve made this band work and I ain’t about to let you—”

“Not this again!” Nathan groaned and reached for the doorknob, but Sarge blocked the door with a beefy shoulder.

“You ain’t going to get yourself snuffed out while I’m running the show.”

“Snuffed out?” Nate leaned back on a slanted heel and failed to hide his grin. “You know what the shrink said ‘bout you reading them Sam Spade books, Sarge.”

“I’ve showed those letters to the police. They don’t think death threats are so funny.”

“The police don’t think anything’s funny, Sarge. If they have a sense of humor, they get tossed off the force.”

Sarge’s scowl deepened, causing more wrinkles to form below his flattop haircut.

“It’s the truth. Saw it on
Cops,
” Nate said and reached for the door again.

Sarge knocked it shut. “Goddamn it, Fox!”

Nathan groaned, removed his Stetson, and wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. “Geez, it’s hot down here.”

“Damn straight,” said Rover, just passing by with a foam cup of coffee. “Back home we’d still be shoveling snow.” The whites of his eyes were a distinct shade of pink, and he looked like he’d slept under a truck somewhere, but for a guitarist he was pretty steady. Of course, guitarists were judged differently than normal people. Still, he’d been around from the beginning, long enough to remember what it was like to freeze their butts off pitching manure during a frigid North Dakota winter. It made the travel, the Mississippi heat, even the lack of privacy, a little more tolerable.

“Listen,” Nate said, remembering, with some nostalgia, when Sarge sang lead and used to crack a grin now and then. “I’ll give the bodyguard thing some thought. But I’ve got an interview with a lady from the
Catfish Journal.
Heard she’s a looker.” He sighed. “It’s a tough job, but…You know. ‘Fraid I don’t have time for a bodyguard just now.”

“That’s what you said last month,” Sarge reminded, his tone testy.

Nate grinned as he pulled the door open. “That don’t make it any less true,” he said and took a step inside.

But when he glanced around, his smile faded. He stepped back out and let the door close behind him.

“Sarge?”

“Yeah?” Sarge’s tone had turned from testy to nasty.

“Why are there a dozen men with fat necks in there?”

Sarge’s blond brows were low over his icy blue eyes, and his chin, Nate noticed, jutted forward like the jaw of a bulldog on steroids. “Because I told them to come.”

“Why?”

“Because you need protection.”

Nathan Fox ground his teeth. Why had he decided to become
a musician? He could have been anything—a sidewalk caulker or a guy that makes galoshes…or a pig farmer. He’d always liked pigs. “Listen, Bartel,” he said slowly. “I’ll tell you what I need. I need some time off. I need a full-time cook, and I definitely need a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad. What I don’t need is a bodyguard.”

“The hell you don’t!”

Nathan glanced through the window, then ducked back and grimaced. “Geez, they look like they’ve come for a damned funeral. Only, they haven’t decided whose yet.”

“Then hire one of them, so it ain’t
yours.

“And what about my interview?” Nate asked.

“She’ll wait.”

“Where is she?”

“She’ll wait,” Sarge repeated.

They glared at each other for a moment.

“You’re one pushy bastard,” Fox said.

“And it’s made you a pile of money.”

Nathan considered arguing that point After all, he’d like to think he had something to do with his own success, but Sarge
had
started the band. It had been his own decision to eventually slip into a managerial position. He was, Fox had always admitted, first-rate at the job. Unfortunately, he was about as personable as sandpaper.

“What do I have to do?” he asked.

“Just go in there, talk to ‘em, let me know which one suits you.”

“None of them suit me. You choose.”

“And have you spend the next six months complaining about my choice? Not hardly. I know you better than that”

But not well enough to realize just how much this entire situation irritated Nate. He knew he should do something about the security problem. But dammit, it was bad enough that he had to hire someone to drive his bus, book his gigs, and answer his mail. Now he needed someone to protect his person? Just because a couple of guys were bored enough to send him a few crank letters? What was next? Someone to floss his teeth? Chew his food? Cut his toenails? It was too
much, taking away another little piece of his independence. Taking away another piece of himself.

“You want out of it, just say the word.” Sarge’s voice was low. Not for a moment did his icy gaze shift from Nathan’s face. “Maybe it ain’t worth it to you no more.” His posture was stiff and there seemed to be almost a breathless hopefulness in his tone. For the first time in over a decade together, Nathan wondered if
Sarge
had had enough.

“You don’t have to keep at it, you know,” Nate said.

“You saying
I
should quit?”

“I know you’ve been pretty stoked up about things.”

“And you’re not at all worried?”

“They’re just letters.”

“And the accidents?”

Nathan shrugged. The motion relieved a bit of his own tension but seemed to do nothing for Sarge. “Just accidents. Sure no reason to pull out.”

Silence stretched taut between them, but in a moment Sarge reached for the door.

“Then I guess I got my job cut out for me,” he said, and motioned Nathan inside.

The perimeter of the room was lined with chairs that seemed to groan beneath the weight of the applicants. The fellow to Nate’s immediate left had a neck like an Angus bull and an expression that was only slightly less friendly. Not that Nate was intimidated. It didn’t matter if the guy was beefier than he. But the fact that his
eyeballs
were more muscular was a little unnerving.

Geez, if Tyrel heard his little brother had hired someone to protect him from his adoring fans, he’d laugh his butt off. Not to mention his father, who thought musicians just slightly less masculine than say…ballerinas.

Sarge stepped toward the center of the room. “Thanks for coming,” he said. Nate noticed that his dour expression nicely matched the others in the room. “My name is Sarge Bartel. I’m the one who sent for you this morning. And this here is Nathan Fox.” He nodded toward Nate. “You probably recognize him. And since he’s the one who’s famous,
he’s the one needing a bodyguard. So I’m going to have him do the hiring.”

Nathan glanced around at the square faces, the belligerent expressions, the bulging jackets. Perfect—if he were inclined to hire a hit man.

But the thought of inviting one of these guys to join his crew was ludicrous! Sarge must be kidding. But one glance at his manager assured Nate that that unlikely incident had not occurred.

If it weren’t so sad it would be damned hilarious.

Nate cleared his throat. “Good morning.” It seemed strange suddenly—he could entertain a crowd of thousands without breaking a sweat but felt totally at a loss with this hairy-knuckled lot “We’ve had a few security problems recently. I guess that’s why you’re all here.” He cleared his throat again, feeling foolish. Old Angus neck was staring at him with an unwavering gaze. It gave him the creeps. “So I guess we’ll have to beef up security.” He eyed the Angus’s meaty neck and grinned at his own pun. When he was uncomfortable he had a habit of telling jokes, and when he told jokes he had a tendency to get in trouble. Still, that would be preferable to standing here like an idiot with the tension bubbling like boiled pine tar. “So I’ve decided to throw you all in the ring together and let you duke it out. The survivor’s got himself a job.”

The room went absolutely still. A few men turned their eyes aggressively to their neighbors, and one brute actually cracked his knuckles.

Tough crowd, Nathan thought But suddenly he heard a tiny sparkle of laughter. It wasn’t the deep-throated chuckle of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the sweet, quicksilver giggle of a woman.

Nathan swiveled quickly about. And there she was, sitting just to the right of the door, her strawberry lips tilted and her eyes bright.

Green. Green eyes, he decided. Like a spring meadow. And her legs…they were as long as a Dakota January and
as slim as hope, with her nyloned knees pressed together just so.

She was like a light in a very dark place. He smiled. She smiled back, her expression a mixture of apology and humor.

Nathan leaned toward Sarge. “I want
her,
” he said with a sigh. He knew he was being facetious, knew that somehow his interviewer had snuck in here after all. He also knew that her presence would irritate his bossy manager no end. Sarge liked everything just so. He frowned on spontaneity and hated practical jokes. “Always have a backup plan” was his mantra.

His clipboard, in fact, might be considered his closest friend, and got the lion’s share of his quality time. Even now, it sported a list of names that were neon color-coded in high-lighter and marked with a certain number of stars.

Nathan turned to him now, waiting for his disapproval. But all of Sarge’s attention was focused on the woman.

Silence filled the room, then, “Maybe we should all introduce ourselves,” Sarge said, his tone intense. “Let’s start over on this side.” He nodded toward the woman, his gaze never wavering. Fascinated, Nathan turned his attention back to her.

Her hair, upswept and held in place by the kind of magic only women knew, was the color of a chestnut colt’s. She wore a silk, lime-colored blouse that buttoned down the front. Her golden tan made him speculate whether it went clear to her toes. Just about now he’d give half a year’s income to find out, and screw the interview.

BOOK: His Bodyguard
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