The protector, p.14
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       The Protector, p.14
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           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  have mourned the loss, or possibly scorned her for it, but she takes a firm hold of my hand instead and I lose all cognitive thought. My legs are still working, but everything else ceases to function. The softness of her delicate hand in mine feels too good to be safe. My heart bucks in my chest as I try to reason with myself. Her blond hair sways across her dainty back as she bumps and shimmies in front of me, taking the levels of torture I’ve endured all night to new heights. I can behave as professionally as I like, but my cock and all other vital organs aren’t playing along. Resistance is key. Being sensible is paramount.

  I fall into a haze of conflict, unable to fathom what it is about this girl that has unearthed all of these feelings in me—feelings that have been dead for years. Since I took this assignment, I’ve tried to be strong, fought to find reason through the confusing feelings—to keep things in perspective. Now I fear the feelings are becoming stronger than my ability to fight.

  Camille swings around to face me as we reach a long corridor, her hair wafting in slow motion. She’s still smiling. I’ve never shed a tear in my adult life. Toughness was trained into me and emotion was something I forgot long ago. I was happy that way. This girl is fucking all that up. She’s dangerous to me. I could cry with fucking frustration.

  “Are you coming in?” she teases, flexing her fingers for me to release. I look down, thinking how perfect our two hands look entwined together, and squeeze a little, frowning as I do. What the fuck is happening to me? I drop her fast and step back, just as Saffron joins us.

  She gives me the once-over before she speaks. “I might need to get me one of these.”

  “Saffron!” Camille says scornfully, nudging her giggling friend.

  “I’m not sorry.” She flips me a wink before taking Camille’s hand. “You going toilet?”

  “If I’m allowed.” Cami looks at me seriously, and I find the strength to pull on my poker face.

  “I’m coming in.” I’m not being a sicko. I’m just not comfortable with Camille out of my sight.

  “You can’t!” she gasps, truly horrified. It goes way over my head. “You’ll be arrested!”

  “Camille, do I look like a man who would get a sick thrill from a few women peeing behind cubicle doors?”

  “No, but the other women might not agree!” She looks to Saffron as she commences dancing from one foot to another again. “Come on.”

  I move forward. “Ca—”

  Her whole palm slaps over my mouth, and I freeze, watching as her drunk eyes glaze over. What is that? Desire? She quickly backs off, her blues clearing somewhat as they drop like stones to the floor. “There’s no danger in there,” she murmurs quietly.

  I force my heart to even out its beats. I can’t bear this. “Then you won’t mind if I check, will you?” I say clearly, evenly, watching as her head starts to nod jerkily. No objection? No fight? And, more significantly, no sass?

  This is too much. I’m a sexually frustrated mess. I move past her and push the door to the ladies’ open, going to step inside…until the screams start. It takes a lot to make me jump, but it seems a gaggle of alarmed women does the trick.

  “Fuck!” I release the door, just catching the looks of the few ladies at the mirror. Understandably, they aren’t happy. “Just go,” I snap impatiently at Camille, waving a pissed-off arm to the door. “And be quick!”

  Both girls disappear into the ladies’ quickly, and I plant myself opposite the door, my back to the wall. Tonight has taken everything out of me. I’m fucking exhausted. Mentally and physically. When this assignment is over, I’m going to drink a crate of Jack, sleep for a year, and fuck for two.

  The door opens and two ladies exit, tossing looks somewhere between attraction and disgust at me. It’s nothing I’m not used to.

  “Ladies,” I say for the sake of it as they flounce away.

  I crane my neck, spotting Camille in the mirror brushing at her cheeks, just before the door closes again. She looked flustered. A lot how I’m feeling. My arms come up and fold across my chest, my foot beginning to tap impatiently. A few moments later, another two girls exit. Camille’s still there, faffing with her hair. I roll my eyes and silently promise her one more minute before I go in and remove her.

  It’s the longest minute of my fucking life. I realize she won’t be best impressed if I go charging in there, but my fucking heart is beginning to throb uncomfortably. Fuck it. She’ll get over it. I push my back from the wall and slam my palms into the wood, shoving the door open. It hits the tiles behind, but I’m not sure whether the noise is a result of that, or whether it’s a result of my head exploding.

  My stomach drops into my feet, taking my heart and lungs with it. How the fuck did Sebastian Peters get in here without me noticing?

  His hand flies forward and connects with Camille’s cheek on a sharp slap. “You stupid bitch!” he yells, shoving her to the floor. Her cheek hits the edge of the sink on a deafening crack. “Do you think I’m not good enough for you? You’re mine!”

  I snap. My palm is squeezing his throat before I realize I’ve moved, and I’m walking him the rest of the way across the ladies in that hold. The force of his back hitting the wall sends vibrations up my arms and into my chest. And before I’ve even registered it, I’ve delivered two sharp, accurate cross hooks—one to his eye and one to his cheek. The sensations feel good. So fucking good. I draw my gun and yank the slide back, then ram it into his temple. He doesn’t know what’s hit him. Literally. He’s gasping for breath, his fingers grappling at my hold on his throat.

  “Let me help you out,” I snarl, forcing the gun into his flesh some more. “There’s currently a Heckler VP9 aimed at your pretty little head. It’s going to make a mess when I blow your fucking brains out, and I’m probably going to be locked up for the rest of my fucking life, but I’ll go happily with the comfort that you’ll be dead.” I raise my knee and slam it into his balls, making the little runt squeal in agony. “Does that hurt, Sebastian?” I deliver another blow, sadistically relishing in his pain.

  “Please,” he sobs, drool and snot dribbling down his chin pathetically. He’s sniffing constantly, his eye puffing up and his nose displaying hints of red around his nostrils. I know the deal. I bet he feels invincible when he’s loaded up to his eyeballs on coke. Not so invincible now.

  I blink. I shouldn’t have, because my fleeting darkness gives me a swift replay of his hand connecting with Camille’s cheek. Rage consumes me. I’ve killed many men. I’ve done what’s needed to be done. I was detached, hidden far away out of sight and feared by thousands. I was the sniper. I was the unknown. I was calm, cool, and collected. Dangerous for all of the right reasons.

  That all changed when she fucked me over.

  I made sure everyone in my path saw the hatred in me. It didn’t matter that my vengeance was misdirected. Raining holy hell on the enemy felt like my only available outlet. I needed an outlet for the anger and hurt. The hurt she’d caused me.

  So I took myself out of the concealed darkness on the edge of the danger zone and put myself in the field. That day, I looked into the eyes of a man and saw fear before I killed him. I didn’t care. I became reckless. Stupid. I was so stupid. My selfish need to lash out resulted in the deaths of two of my own men. Two faces that’ll haunt me forever. Two men who left behind wives and children. Two good men. I wasn’t a good man. It should have been me. Self-loathing and guilt—it’s plagued me. Has done so ever since.

  That’s not going to be an issue today. My meltdown back then was because a woman fucked with my head. I can feel a similar rage rising in me now, except I’m perfectly lucid with it. I know exactly what I’m doing.

  I holster my gun and release Sebastian’s neck, and with one more crushing kidney punch, he crumples to the ground like a sack of shit, whining and whimpering on his way.

  “You’re not going to be working for a very long time, pretty boy.” My foot comes out and delivers a precise kick to his ribs.

  Holdin
g back from killing the fucker is the hardest challenge I’ve faced.

  Chapter 14

  CAMI

  I’ve never seen violence so raw and damaging. And yet something deep and scary inside me knows he’s holding back. He could finish this in a second. He’s making Sebastian suffer. The power of his fist is clarified with each ear-piercing crack.

  Time stops, the sounds blurring into nothing. If it wasn’t for the furious burn of my cheek and pounding of my head, I would think I was dead. I feel dead. Defeated. Shocked and weak.

  Sebastian appeared from one of the cubicles as if from nowhere. Just one refusal to entertain his pleas for a second chance made him flip. Just one attempt to push past his threatening stance spiked the flash of anger in his eyes that I’ve seen before when he’s been high. But his violence pales in comparison to what I’m seeing now.

  I really do believe that Jake Sharp could kill any man with his bare hands. The precision of each hit, the punishing blows.

  “Jake.” I push his name past my thick tongue and watch as he releases Seb and lets him crumple to the ground as he searches me out, as if he’s just realized I’m here. When he lays his eyes on me, he straightens to his full height, seeming taller than ever before, and gives me a stare full of resolve.

  Then he stalks forward, bending when he reaches me, and lifts me into his arms silently. He pulls me into his chest and looks down at me, his dark eyes glazed and haunted.

  The lump that’s settled in my throat expands and bursts, because through my shell shock, I manage to conclude that what’s just happened wasn’t only Jake doing his job.

  His nostrils flare before he centers his attention forward and stalks out of the club with me cradled in his arms. The music is still loud, but I can see people whispering to each other as I’m carried through the crowd, Jake’s grip becoming firmer with every stride he takes. My eyes are heavy, and my heart is full of hope.

  Hope that I never encounter Sebastian Peters again. And hope that Jake Sharp stays with me forever to ensure it. To protect me from him. From everything.

  * * *

  The bright lights of my foyer make me squint, the harsh glare too much for my tired vision to tolerate. My body is rising and falling in flow with Jake’s long paces, and my arms are back around his neck. There are many thoughts tangling my mind right now, but the loudest one is telling me to hold on tighter. To never let him go. I’ve had a lot to drink, but the delivery of a stinger of a whack and a crack to my cheekbone from my fall have done a great job of sobering me up. I’m tired but with it, foggy but clear.

  After getting us into my apartment, Jake takes me straight to my bedroom and places me on the end of the bed. Then he turns and starts to walk away.

  “How did you get that bullet wound?” I blurt, desperate to know more that will clue me in to what just happened in that bathroom. He was there but wasn’t.

  He stops but keeps his back to me. “I was shot in combat.”

  War. “You were in the army.” I state it as a fact, since it is, but I feel it’s a good starting point to try and coax more from him.

  He nods, turning around to face me. “SAS.”

  I feel my eyes widen. “Like a spy or something?”

  “I was a sniper.”

  My mind goes into overdrive. “Is that why you’re not in the services anymore, because you were wounded?”

  “Something like that,” he mutters, looking past me, like too many bad memories are invading his mind.

  “How did it happen?” I ask, hungry for more information.

  “Bad judgment.”

  I bite my lip, my mind racing. I’m taking in all of his uncomfortable vibes right now and concluding that however that wound occurred, it haunts him. I can see a shimmer of sweat forming on his brow and he seems to be in a little bit of a trance, just the mention of his wound affecting him severely. And then he flinches as if shaking off a memory. It confirms my thoughts. He has flashbacks. I’ve heard of it, men coming home from war with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I’ve heard how they battle demons and nightmares and lose sleep. Jake’s had those moments. I’ve seen him take the pills.

  The silence becomes uncomfortable, but before I can’t think to remedy it, Jake turns and walks away.

  “It only happened a few times when we were together.” My quiet declaration comes from nowhere and with no further explanation.

  He doesn’t need one. The tensing of his shoulders as he comes to a stop and the tangible simmering rage speak for themselves. I don’t know what’s come over me; I swore I’d never tell a soul, but a deep-seated need within me wants to tell Jake.

  “I wouldn’t care if it happened once and he sacrificed his life in apology.” He growls the words. “I’d find a way to bring him back to life just so I could kill him again. Once is one time too many. Don’t try to defend him.”

  “I’m not telling you because I’m defending him. I’m telling you so you don’t think I’m a pathetic walkover.”

  “I don’t think that!” he snaps as he paces to the door, his fury obvious.

  “Then what do you think of me?” I ask, and he stops. “How do you see me, Jake? A weak little woman who needs looking after? A spoiled little brat? A materialistic, self-centered female with no appreciation of what it’s like to go without?”

  He swings around, outraged by my accusations. “No! Exactly the fucking opposite, actually!”

  I jump off the bed, squaring my shoulders in an attempt to look as imposing as possible. It’s laughable when I’m faced with Jake’s stats. “What happened in that bathroom?” I ask, hitting below the belt. I don’t care. I want to know.

  “What happened?” he asks, looking at me like I’m stupid. I want to punch him for it. “I beat the shit out of a man who was assaulting you! What do you think I’m going to do? Hold you in place so he gets his aim right?”

  “That’s not the only reason!” I yell. “You were somewhere else! What happened to you?”

  “It’s none of your damn business!” he roars, signs of him losing it again vibrating before me. “You are my client! I am your bodyguard! That’s it! Stop trying to delve deeper! Stop trying to figure me out!”

  I start to shake with fury, unreasonably hurt. Something happened in his past and it’s none of my business. Of course he’s right, but given the fact that I’ve spilled my secrets so willingly to him makes his rejection hurt all the more. I’m not the only one who’s overstepped the mark. I’ve seen him struggle with the chemistry, too! Damn it, I know he’s struggled, too!

  Without warning, my hand sails out toward his face. He sees it coming a mile away, moving fast and catching my wrist.

  We stand in front of each other, staring…and our rage changes into something else. I breathe out shakily and shrug off the goose bumps, watching as his eyes fall to my lips before quickly flicking back up to meet my gaze. Fire crackles between our bodies.

  I try to straighten my thoughts, but I don’t get the time that I need to analyze it all. Jake’s coming at me fast, grabbing me and slamming his lips to mine. I feel like all the pressure bursts out of me, the stress and confusion going with it. His kiss is primal and unforgiving, his hard body forcing itself against my front. I whimper, accepting his power, grabbing at his shoulders while we explore each other’s mouths, hungry and desperate. My hands move to his hair, the pleasure wracking me, making my knees weak. I start to wobble, holding onto him to keep from falling out of his strong arms.

  Oh God, I’ve imagined this for so long. I’ve silently begged to experience it. And now it’s happening, and it’s happening, mad and frenzied, backed by a pile of frustration and desperation.

  “Fuck!” Jake curses and drops me, shooting back, leaving me heaving uncontrollably before him, my lips swollen and raw. He rakes a hand through his hair, pulls a little, turns, and starts stalking around the room. “We can’t do this,” he says harshly. His resolution pierces my heart like a dagger. “It’s wrong. I’m your bodyguard.” He turns
to face me, revealing more determination in the form of a cut, even expression. “Your father will make sure that I never work again.” He mumbles the words, clenching his eyes shut. “And I need a purpose, Camille. I need to work.”

  I feel wretched tears stab at the backs of my eyes, and not for the first time in my life, I damn my father to hell. Jake needs a purpose. He needs to keep his head in the game so it doesn’t wander to other places. Like his past. Like war. Like that woman.

  It kills me, but I say what needs to be said. Not just because Jake needs me to say it, but because I know that he is right. My dad would destroy him if he found out Jake overstepped his professional mark. He’s my bodyguard.

  “I understand.” My heart constricts in my chest as I back away a few paces, before turning to make a hasty escape, desperate to get away from him. I make it to the door on my unsteady legs and grab the handle, pulling it open, but that’s as far as I get.

  A palm comes over my shoulder and lands on the wood with a slap, pushing it closed again. My squeezing heart beats up to my throat, and I swallow, staring at his hand before me, feeling his torso close to my back.

  “I don’t want you to understand,” he breathes in my ear. I close my eyes when his hands rest on my shoulders and slowly turn me around on my shaking legs. “Open your eyes,” he orders. I do.

  My lids peel open, showing him the chaos in my head, the water pooling in my eyes as I try to gather my tattered mind. “I know this is wrong,” I murmur, trying to keep my tears at bay. “I know I shouldn’t be attracted to you like this.”

  He nods mildly, agreeing. “I get it. Trust me; I fucking get it,” he murmurs. “But I can’t think of anything right now but you.”

  He searches my eyes before dropping his gaze down my body, like now he can dedicate as much time as he likes to absorb me in my entirety. And he does. There’s not a piece of me that he doesn’t take in, not a hair on my head that he doesn’t feel or stroke.

  Tenderly, more tenderly than I ever imagined he was capable of,
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