The protector, p.12
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       The Protector, p.12

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
 

  She keeps her mouth shut and her attention forward.

  “Home?” I repeat, this time clearer and louder. Again, nothing. Great. So I’m being punished with the silent treatment now? I hate that it bothers me. “Camille,” I say, loading my voice with authority as we come to a stop at some lights. “Would you like me to take you home?”

  The light changes to green, but I stay exactly where I am. I’m not moving until she answers me. I could take her straight home, regardless of where she wants to go, but something silly inside of me wants her to acknowledge me. Speak to me. Stupid? Yes. Proud? Most definitely. She’s rubbing off on me, for fuck’s sake.

  Car horns start blaring around us, drivers cursing out of windows and throwing hand gestures. I ignore them all. I’m not bothered. I’ll stay here all day if I have to. Camille, however, is looking increasingly embarrassed by the whole noisy spectacle, shifting in her seat uncomfortably. “The light’s green,” she mutters, refusing to look at me when she knows I’m turned in my seat, facing her.

  “Very observant of you.” I shouldn’t be sarcastic. That won’t help. I should have known her compliant behavior wouldn’t last long.

  Her face twists as she turns toward me, her jaw tight. “Why are you being difficult?” she asks seriously, car horns still going loopy around us.

  I gawp at her in disbelief. Me? “Camille,” I laugh lightly, trying to rein myself in before it breaks into a belly laugh. She’s a case! “I’m asking you a simple question.”

  “Yes,” she grates. “I want to go home.”

  “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” I pull away swiftly and leave the noise behind.

  “Don’t patronize me,” she spits, and I smile on the inside. I fully expect a fuck you at any moment.

  But weirdly, and quite surprisingly, I don’t want her to hate me. It’s a revelation. Most women hate me after only a few hours in my company, usually after I’ve kicked them out of my bed. They’ve never cost me a thought. Camille, however, is costing me lots of thoughts. Inappropriate thoughts. Painful thoughts. Annoying thoughts. I quietly groan. What I wouldn’t do for a drink right now. I haven’t had a drop for days. Drinking helps me relax. And I haven’t run for too long. Running soothes me.

  I haven’t fucked for what feels like forever.

  Fucking helps with…well, fucking is fucking. It’s a means to an end. I shift in my seat, my cock beginning to swell no matter how hard I try to talk it down. I’m just one big fat bag of pent-up man. None of this has ever been a problem on any previous jobs, but I wasn’t shadowing Camille Logan on those jobs. It wasn’t a daily battle to control my…

  I shake my head furiously, flicking her a glance, just to check that she hasn’t caught sight of my awkward shifting. I find her gazing out of the passenger window, deep in thought. Part of me wants to leave her be, to let her have her quiet time, but a selfish part of me—a misplaced instinct—wants to know every tiny detail currently whizzing through that smart mind of hers.

  Because I need to know if any of her thoughts are matching mine. Thoughts that are wrong. Thoughts that I shouldn’t be having. And maybe then I won’t feel like I’m going slowly crazy.

  Chapter 12

  CAMI

  After Jake’s driven me home, I spend the rest of the afternoon in my room going over the offer from the investor, hoping to find some redeeming clause that will make it more appealing. It’s wasted time, I already know that, but it’s a great ploy to avoid Sharp. I feel guilty, like I’m betraying Heather by even touching the offer. When I left her outside the café, after Jake had very nearly put Stan in the hospital, she commented on the way Jake looked at me. I brushed it off, yet obsessed about it the entire journey home. I’ve seen the way he looks at me, too. I’m trying not to think about it. And I’m failing.

  Once I’ve tossed the offer aside, I call my agent to confirm my decline. Then I lose myself for a little while longer updating my portfolio. Anything to avoid him.

  And then I’m out of things to do. And I’m thirsty. It takes too long for me to muster the courage to leave my room to fetch some water, but once I have, I scurry across the lounge toward the kitchen like a rat up a drainpipe. I feel his eyes on me the entire time.

  After filling my glass, I make quick work of getting back to my room without searching him out. I nearly make it before my treacherous eyes betray me and flick to my sofa. Our eyes meet. My heart jumps. My hand pauses on the handle of the door into my room. And the water in my glass definitely swishes a little from my trembles.

  All from just one dash of eye contact. He quickly returns his attention to his laptop. The atmosphere is thick. Horrible. He knows I’m annoyed, but what he doesn’t know is why. He thinks he knows, but he’s wrong. I’m not angry because he could have ruined my relationship with the press. I’m angry because I like having him around. I’ve quickly become used to him. Always there, shadowing me. I feel safe. Safe from Sebastian, safe from the paps, and safe from the stupid threats because of my father.

  I push my way into my room and immediately start pacing up and down, looking at the door constantly. I feel like a prisoner in my own home. Scared to roam free for fear of catching his eye or, worse, accidently brushing past him. I sigh and pluck up the courage to confront him, prepared to voice my fake grievance just to clear the air.

  Heading out of my room again, determined, I find him nowhere to be seen. I check the kitchen, finding no life, and finally conclude that he must be in the spare room where he keeps his things and showers. But he still insists on sleeping on the couch. I look down the corridor and force my feet to move, knocking lightly on the door when I reach it. I wait for any kind of indication to enter, but hear nothing, not a peep from beyond the door. So I knock again, this time a little more firmly. Nothing.

  “Jake?” I call, bringing my ear closer to the door. “You in there?”

  I get no reply.

  Taking the handle, I turn and push the door open a fraction, peeking through the gap. There are no signs of life. I glance over to the bathroom. I can’t hear the shower or movement coming from there.

  “Where is he?” I ask myself, pushing my way into the room until the whole space comes into view. The bed is still perfectly made and on the end are a few piles of his clothes, folded and placed with precision. His bag rests next to them, the zipper gaping open. There’s something silver lying on top, catching the setting sun shining in from the window.

  What is that? I glance over my shoulder as I creep forward, unable to stop myself. I should get out. I’m invading his privacy. But the knowledge that this might shed some light on the mystery and darkness that surrounds my shadow is far too tempting to resist. Besides, he knows so much about me. It seems only fair I have the same advantage.

  As I get closer to the bed and the open bag lying atop of it, I can tell the silver is from a picture frame. A picture frame? My breath catches in my throat. A photo?

  Another quick check to the doorway tells me I’m still alone. I stand in front of the bag, a good ten feet away, oddly scared to go any farther. The sensible side of me, telling me to walk away, is being hampered by the compulsion to see the picture in that frame.

  I crane my neck as far as I can, one side of the picture coming into view. I’m holding my breath when I see a happy face appear. Jake’s face. My teeth clamp down on my bottom lip to stop any tiny gasp of surprise. He’s smiling brightly, his eyes twinkling, his perfect teeth on full display. I’ve never seen him smile like that, and his eyes are always so dark and serious. He looks so happy in the picture, and wondering who is on the other side of the photograph creating that happiness, I take the step needed to bring the whole frame into view. A beautiful woman with long, glossy black hair is cuddled into Jake’s side, laughing. My heart squeezes as I pick up the frame. Jake’s in combat trousers and a khaki T-shirt. He looks lethal behind his happy smile, his arms solid, the material of his T-shirt stretched across his biceps.

  “What the fuck!” Jake’s lo
ud boom sends my nervous strumming heartbeats into heart attack territory, and the picture falls from my grip. I jump and swing around, my palm on my chest, my eyes wide and frightened.

  He’s standing in the doorway, annoyed, his chest heaving.

  “I’m sorry,” I sputter, my cheeks heating under his fierce glare. “I thought—”

  “You thought you’d snoop through my private belongings?” He strides forward and snatches up the picture, stuffing it in his bag and zipping it closed.

  “Who is she?” The question I have no right to ask just tumbles right out, surprising me.

  “None of your business,” he snaps and stomps into the bathroom. “Get out.”

  I flinch at his harshness, swallowing down the unreasonable hurt that it’s spiked. I would love for shame to overshadow my curiosity about the photograph, but it hasn’t. That woman made him happy, and she’s clearly not in his life anymore. Who is she? And, more interestingly, what happened to make him react so violently to my inquiry about her? My tangle of thoughts is interrupted when he appears in the bathroom doorway. I can’t look him in the face. My eyes plummet down his body so all I see are his perfect feet. His perfect bare feet.

  “You’re still here,” he says, gruff but calm, those feet bringing him closer to me.

  “I’m going.” As I step back, finally convincing my body to move, I reluctantly raise my eyes to his. I don’t find the anger I expected. I find remorse. But I can’t fathom whether it’s remorse for that woman, his past and the fact that I’ve seen a hint of it, or whether it’s remorse for yelling at me.

  When Sharp closes his eyes and swallows, I conclude that it’s all of those things. “I’m sorry,” he breathes.

  “Don’t be. I shouldn’t have pried.” I wholeheartedly mean it, but my regret goes deeper than my disregard for his privacy. I’m more regretful because I’ve spiked questions about my shadow that I don’t expect will be answered. His past has nothing to do with me, yet the burning need to know is there and I can’t help it.

  “She’s an ex.” He says the words quickly, and I recoil, surprised. “She…” His words fade to nothing, and he recoils now, too, evidently shocked by his semi-offer of an insight into his past. He seems to shake himself back to life, looking a little lost in the moment. “She’s nothing.” He glances away.

  She’s nothing, but he still carries her picture around with him? I offer a forced smile and move to leave, but his hand shoots out and clasps my arm, stopping me. I don’t mean to, but I flinch. It’s hard not to react when a simple touch sends a warmth so intense to your heart.

  Looking down at his hold of me, he falls into a trance, virtually burning holes in my flesh from the hardness of his gaze. Then his fingers flex a little around my arm, and every nerve ending I possess fizzles, my breathing becoming shallow. It brings back memories of him holding my hand in Dad’s office, how amazing and calming it felt. I want to know how it would feel to have his whole body wrapped around me. I got a hint when he pinned me to the floor the other morning. And when he seized me and moved me from the path of the security guard in Harvey Nic’s. And when he picked me up off the floor when I tried to paint his toenails. I want more of a hint.

  We both look up at each other at the exact same time, our stares meeting and holding. Then his face starts to come slowly toward mine, his eyes flicking down to my lips. I hold my breath, arrested by anticipation. He’s going to kiss me.

  I’m about to move forward, too, but the sound of my phone ringing in the background breaks the moment. My muscles lock, and Sharp withdraws quickly.

  “You should get that,” he says quietly, looking away. The difficult atmosphere returns full force.

  I move quickly, keen to escape the awkwardness, mentally cursing my arse off as I walk away. So fucking stupid! Oh my God, what was that? What have I done? I mentally beat myself around the head a few times as I scurry away.

  Finding my phone, I see Mum’s name flashing up at me. I fold a little on the inside. I’ve avoided her all week, knowing she’ll be unaware that Dad’s having me shadowed, and the reason why. She doesn’t exactly hold my father in high esteem since he dumped her for a younger model. The knowledge of anything untoward, especially where I’m concerned, will not be taken well. I don’t need an earache over this. I don’t need her to rant on about my father and his questionable business activities. Anyway, she turned a blind eye for the twenty-two years they were together, when she was living the life she was accustomed to. She’s still managing to live that life, thanks to a good investment after a less than satisfying settlement in her divorce, but now she’s living the life with a shitload of bitterness attached.

  “Mum.” I try to sound as chirpy as I can, waiting for the scorn I deserve for being missing in action this past week.

  “There’s my girl.” Her soft, well-spoken English accent makes me feel a little better. “I was beginning to think you’d left me for your father.”

  I smile, just as Sharp breaches the entrance to the lounge, looking no less emotionally detached than when I left him a moment ago. Though I can see faint curiosity in his expression, wondering who’s on the other end of the line. “Never, Mum,” I say, telling him without actually having to tell him.

  “How are you, sweetie pie?”

  “Been checking the magazines?” I ask, knowing she’s a sucker for all the gossip, even if it’s sensationalized by the media. She’s asking because she’s spotted Sebastian crawling out of a bar.

  “I know you’ll be wise.” She has true belief in her tone. It actually helps. Unlike my father, she has faith in me. “I have a free evening,” she goes on, making me smile. That’s a rarity. She’s a social butterfly, spreading her time far and wide between women’s clubs, tennis clubs, bowling clubs, and endless ladies lunches. I’ve been on one of those ladies lunches. Only once, and I swore never to again. A table full of bitter and twisted women slamming their ex-husbands over cute sandwiches and champagne isn’t my idea of time well spent. “Meet me for a spot of dinner.”

  “I have Saffron’s birthday party to go to.” I reel off my excuse easily, since it’s true, yet I hold no hope that it’ll make any difference.

  “Then meet me before. Line your stomach.”

  I cringe as I search Jake out, finding he’s now taken up position on the couch, laptop resting on his long legs. I’m trying to figure out who will be easier to brush off. I know my mother won’t hang up until I agree. Plus, I haven’t seen her for over a week. Yet I can’t very well take Sharp along. That’ll raise all kinds of questions that I don’t want to answer. He’s hardly unnoticeable, with his powerful presence and 6'4" lean frame.

  How can I convince him that dinner with my mother doesn’t require him to chaperone? I’ll sit on that one for a few minutes and work out the best approach. I can’t deny I need some space from him right now. All this awkwardness is becoming unbearable. I can’t seem to say or do the right thing.

  “TJ is coming,” she adds, sealing it for me. I love that my mum treats him as her own, even though he’s a carbon copy image of the ex-husband she hates. She sees the endearing quality in TJ, just like I do, probably because she worked hard to install it into him from when he was a toddler.

  “What time and where?” I definitely see Sharp’s ear cock up as I speak.

  “Marvelous! I’ll have my driver collect you at seven. Look pretty, sweetie pie!” She hangs up and I start chewing my lip, thinking how best to approach this.

  “That was my mother,” I say casually, wandering into the kitchen to get a glass of water. As expected, I get no answer, not only because I’ve not told him anything that he didn’t already know. “She wants to have dinner with me tonight,” I call, pulling a glass down from a cupboard. “Her driver’s picking me up at seven.”

  Again, not a murmur of acknowledgment.

  I scowl at the tap as I fill my glass before wandering back into the living space. Jake’s not there. His laptop is closed and now sitting on the seat wh
ere his arse was looking comfortable a moment ago. I take a gulp of water, as well as a gulp of confidence, then go on my way to find him and tell him how it’s going to be. With every step, I get more and more confident, and I’m not ignoring the fact that I’m less worried about Mum and her questions about who Jake is, and more determined to gain some breathing space from him. I feel suffocated by…I don’t know what, but I know it is not good.

  I’m so wrapped up in my mental pep talk that I forget to knock and walk straight into the spare room. My glass slips straight through my hand and hits the carpet with a thud, splashing water up my legs. “Oh fuck!” I choke, coming face to face with Sharp, naked and with a towel held limply in his hand. He doesn’t move. I don’t move. We’re just staring at each other, my eyes undoubtedly matching Sharp’s. Bugged. Shocked. Useless.

  Cover yourself up!

  I scream the order in my head, trying to shift the command from my brain to my mouth so I can voice it. My mouth isn’t playing ball. But something else is working, and it’s not to be ignored. I bring my legs closer together to try and stop the pulse from breaking out into a full, hard throb, my eyes dropping down his chest. Every tiny bit of air I was storing tumbles past my lips on a lusty gasp. His cock. It’s long, solid, and twitching.

  “Camille.” His soft call of my name barely registers. I’m too rapt by what I’m faced with. Someone save me before I drop to my knees and start worshipping it. “Camille!”

  I jump, so much that my back hits the edge of the door, sending a shot of pain shooting through my shoulder. “Fuck!” I reach up and grasp the top of my arm, dazed and confused.

  “Are you okay?”

  I shake some clearness into my vision, seeing Jake approaching, now with that small towel wrapped low around his tight hips. The definition of his stomach, drifting down into perfect hollows past his lower abdomen, makes me all fuzzy again. “Yes!” I move back, escaping, colliding with the damn door again. “Fuck!” I rub my shoulder. “I’m fine,” I say as I stagger into the corridor. Jake comes to a stop just before the door, a frown marring his face. “I’m going to dinner with my mum,” I blurt, moving away some more.

  “I know.” He runs a quick scan of me, from top to toe, probably checking I’m okay. I’m not. My shoulder might ache, but I’m aching more elsewhere. I need to get away pronto.

  “Her driver’s collecting me. TJ will be there, too. You don’t need to come.” I can tell by his sudden disgusted expression that
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JODI ELLEN MALPAS SERIES:

One Night
This Man

 

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