The protector, p.24
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       The Protector, p.24
 

           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  shocked. I’m Jake Sharp, for fuck’s sake! Arsehole extraordinaire! I don’t love, I screw.

  My thoughts grind to a screeching halt and I physically recoil. Lucinda frowns at my sudden, unprovoked jerk, watching me as I rewind through my thoughts. When I find what I’m looking for, I double over and nearly throw up. Love? Camille Logan has a habit of reducing me to a pussy, and she’s done it again.

  Love.

  Fucking love? Where the fuck did that come from? I start laughing in my bent position, while trying desperately to locate a logical reason for me using such a stupid word. I love her hair. I love her eyes. I love how she looks when she’s lost in her thoughts. I love how strong, determined, and passionate she is. I love…

  My amusement gets dowsed by more heaving.

  I fucking love her.

  “Jake?” Lucinda’s hand rests on my shoulder, sending high-voltage electric shocks though my bloodstream. I straighten and jump back, away from her. There’s alarm on her face and her hand hovers in midair where my shoulder was a moment ago. “You okay?”

  “Fuck.” I curse and slam my palms into the side of the drinks cabinet, dipping my head and fighting with my chaotic mind, trying to force it to straighten out.

  You love her.

  I feel so fucking stupid. And like I’m going mad. I love her—so fucking much—it’s the only reason there is to explain the tatters my heart is in right now. I’m panicking, scared that I’m going to lose her.

  “Jake, for fuck’s sake!” Lucinda’s impatient voice half pulls me from my mental breakdown.

  I search her out, just so she can see the sincerity in my eyes. She’s gonna need to see it. “I’m in love with her, Luce.”

  She gapes at me for a few moments before she finds her voice. “Oh, fucking hell,” she whispers, knocking back her drink. “Oh, Jake.”

  Her words say it all. She’s one of the only people on the planet who knows my personal history, as well as my professional one. She knows the magnitude of the situation I’m faced with. She knows what Camille must mean to me for me to put myself in this situation. “Yes,” I agree. “Fucking hell.”

  “Does she know?” She’s not talking about the fact that I love her, though I plan on making sure Camille knows how I feel the second I find her. Lucinda is talking about the thing that might stop Camille from returning my love. The thought cripples me.

  “She knows I was in the SAS; she knows there was another woman and personal emotion had me relieved of duty.” I find a chair and slump into it.

  “But she doesn’t know about…” She drifts off, knowing I can’t face hearing the words.

  I shake my head. How can I expect someone else to understand if I can’t wrap my mind around it even now, four years later?

  “Camille’s father has been digging into me, too,” I tell her.

  “It’s not censored information, Jake. If he wants to find out, he will. If he doesn’t already know all about it.”

  “Camille’s still in danger, Luce. Three days are up. They said time’s up! I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but I need to find out.” Calm. I need to keep calm.

  She nods, taking a deep breath. “Then we will,” she asserts, heading for her study. “Get your arse in here, you lovesick pony.”

  I smile to myself and get to my feet, following her in. “Have you found out anything more?”

  “Yes, and it’s interesting,” Lucinda pronounces, and I look over to find her lowering to see the screen of her laptop better.

  “What?” I’m across the room to her before she can begin telling me.

  “Logan’s wife is pregnant.”

  “What?”

  “Yep. Her GP records show a visit four weeks ago. And I bet it ain’t Daddy Logan’s.”

  “Oh, fuck.”

  “Indeed. She also popped in Selfridges on her way home from the doctor’s office and bought a pair of Louboutins.”

  I look at her in utter amazement. “How the fuck do you find this shit out?”

  She shrugs. “Who the fuck wears Louboutins when they’re pregnant?”

  I shake my head in despair, finding it hard to focus on anything except where Logan’s taken Cami and what he’s told her. I dread to think. He’s a manipulating bastard, and though I know my angel has her own mind, the confusion she’s going to be feeling now will be playing games with that. “Is any of this even fucking relevant?”

  “I don’t know! I’m looking into everything!”

  “My relationship with Cami isn’t the only reason he’s sent me packing. What’s he hiding? What the fuck was attached to the e-mail that was deleted?” I pull my phone from my pocket and dial Cami again.

  It goes straight to voice mail and I curse my arse off. “What the fuck is going on?” I yell, getting more and more frustrated by the second as I stalk toward the door, thinking none of this shit actually matters to me. What matters is that I get Cami back and protect her from her father. He can sort the rest of the shit out himself, as long as I have Camille and she’s safe. And to think he sees me as a risk to his daughter? His death is becoming more brutal by the second. “Keep an eye on that e-mail account.”

  “Jake, where are you going?” Lucinda chases after me, but I don’t look back. Screw the agency. Screw my job. And screw the fucking police. “Don’t do anything stupid, Jake!”

  I laugh to myself. Stupid? I’ve fallen in fucking love. I couldn’t be any more stupid than that.

  Chapter 22

  CAMI

  I’m numb, dying slowly on the inside as I listen to my father reel off what’s happened. Jake’s gone. It doesn’t make any sense. I was locked in that room for half an hour, banging to get free, and when Dad finally let me out, Pete and Grant looked worse for wear and Jake was nowhere to be found. What the hell happened?

  “Let me take you home, my little star.” Dad’s arm comes up around me, and though the urge is there, I don’t shrug him off. Quite honestly, I’m not sure what I should be doing. “You’ll be safe with me.” He starts to lead me from Jake’s apartment, waving Pete and Grant ahead of us as we go.

  I look at my father, my mind a mess of confusion, and see genuine concern on his face. Concern for me? He’s my dad. There’s no one in the world who I should feel safer with. Yet the fear in me isn’t showing any signs of lessening. “Who are you keeping me safe from, Dad? Men you’ve bankrupted? Sebastian? Jake?”

  “All of it, sweetheart.” He hugs me into his side and kisses the top of my head. “I’m keeping you safe from all of it. He was no good for you, sweetheart. Too old, a quitter, and a failure. He realizes that now.” We enter the elevator and Grant pulls the bars across with his good arm before turning and handing something to my father. A phone. My phone.

  “No one is good enough for me,” I murmur to myself, looking at the two large backs of the men in front of me. Jake would have them on the floor by now if he was here. He wouldn’t let them take me.

  So where is he?

  “Give me my phone,” I say to Dad as he slips it into his jacket pocket. He completely ignores my request, not even entertaining me with a fleeting glance. I frown at him as the elevator jolts and the ear-piercing screech of the sliding metal doors echoes throughout the derelict factory floor. I use my slight stagger into my father’s round body to my advantage, slipping my hand into his jacket pocket and taking my phone as he steadies me.

  One second I’m being escorted to my father’s car, and the next I’m in a dead sprint, running toward the daylight on the other side of the factory, my phone in my fisted hand.

  “Camille!” Dad roars.

  I ignore him. My instincts are telling me to get away from my father—a man I should naturally feel safe with.

  I burst into the daylight and quickly assess my surroundings, seeing nothing but more old factories, wasteland, and water. I look across the Thames as I run, finding the city too far away for comfort. It’s only just across the water, but too far nevertheless.

  “Da
mn it!” I curse, glancing over my shoulder when I hear the thunderous pounding of Pete and Grant following. Neither are built for speed, even when they’re uninjured. But that comfort doesn’t slow my pace. I keep running, feeling like my life is depending on it.

  * * *

  My lungs are burning by the time I make it to a river bus on the pier. The journey across the Thames feels like it lasts a year, but the ride gives me time to try to clear my head. Or let my thoughts become even more jumbled. I turn my phone back on and scroll through my contacts, but I don’t find what I’m looking for, the one thing I need. Jake’s number has vanished from my phone. Gone. I curse and try to breathe some calm into me, interrupted a few times by my father attempting to ring. Rejecting a call has never been so easy.

  I look up as the boat chugs into the dock, deciding there’s only one place I can go. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I need my mum.

  I dial her number and hold my breath as I disembark from the river bus, my bag dangling from my hand. “Camille?”

  “Mum,” I exhale, detecting concern in her voice.

  “What’s going on? Why would your father be calling me?”

  I shrink on the spot. I can only imagine how desperate he is to find me if he resorted to calling my mother. “Mum, can you come and get me?” I refrain from feeding her need for information. It’s neither the time nor the place, and I’m worried Pete and Grant could appear at any moment and manhandle me into Dad’s car.

  “Where are you?”

  “Canary Wharf Pier.”

  “What in good heavens are you doing there?”

  “It’s a long story, Mum. I’ll tell you, but please just come and get me.”

  “I’ll send my driver this moment,” she says, making me sag in relief. I’ve never known her to back down with such ease. “Wait outside the Hilton, sweetie pie.”

  “Thanks.” I hang up, unable to help myself from constantly looking around me, checking that the coast is clear. I must look like a jumpy, paranoid waif, standing here all disheveled, my eyes darting. The paps would have a field day.

  Feeling a little more at ease with the knowledge that Mum’s driver is on his way, I walk over to a nearby café to get a coffee. The caffeine is a welcome hit to my tired brain as I wander around the pier toward the Hilton, still remaining super alert.

  All kinds of scenarios are rolling through my mind—what I’ll do if I see Dad or either of his two minions, what they’ll do, what any of the passersby will do if I scream bloody murder if one of them tries to force me into Dad’s car. I didn’t bargain for this. He’s always tried to control me and I’ve managed to keep his strong will at bay, but this time is different. He’s never taken things this far. Following me? Digging into the background of who I choose to see? The sense of intrusion is infuriating, but that’s nothing compared to the devastation of thinking he’s possibly succeeded in chasing Jake away. I know Jake’s struggles. His flashbacks, his anxiety attacks. My dad using his knowledge of Jake’s problems as ammo will play havoc with Jake’s frame of mind. It’ll make him question himself. Question us.

  After half an hour, keeping myself as concealed as possible while I wait for my ride, the Bentley pulls up and Mum’s regular driver gets out and opens the back door for me.

  “Miss,” he says, nodding as I hurry over and slip into the backseat.

  I’m not surprised my mother hasn’t come along for the ride. She needs a good couple of hours to primp and preen herself before she’d even think about letting herself be seen in public. My request was too urgent and she sensed it, yet her distressed daughter on the end of the line still isn’t enough for her to brave the outside world without her lippy and her hair styled. And here’s me in last night’s clothes, no makeup, and my hair tangled haphazardly into a loose braid. She’ll be horrified.

  I smile my thanks to my mum’s driver as he shuts the door, and once again return to my phone, staring down at the screen. Why hasn’t Jake called me? I feel like I’m clutching at straws, clinging to something that’s fading fast.

  Not many people in the world would take on my father, but I thought Jake was one of them. Unaffected, unbothered, and unimpressed by my dad’s status. My head meets the glass of the window and I watch the bustle of London pass me by, wondering where the hell I go from here.

  * * *

  My mother doesn’t greet me at the door in a rush to comfort me. Sighing, telling myself I shouldn’t have expected anything less, I wander down the entrance hall of her obscenely plush apartment in Kensington, the only thing she has left from my father. It’s lined with elaborate gold-gilded frames, all displaying intense oil paintings of various English countryside landscapes. So over the top. So my mother. I enter the even more elaborate lounge and sigh. A giant rug takes up the center of the room with two roll-top couches perched precisely opposite each other, both with gold, intricately calved legs and two fringed velvet cushions sitting neatly at each end. The vivid colors of the room—royal blues, greens, and reds—have always given me a headache. Today is no different.

  “She thinks she’s the bloody queen,” I mutter, hearing the chink of china coming from the kitchen. Don’t even get me started on the kitchen. It’s a busy mess of designer utensils, gadgets, and deep carved wood. She doesn’t even cook.

  “This way, Maria,” Mum calls, entering the room, followed by her housekeeper, who’s carrying a tray of tea. “Camille!”

  “Mum,” I say, the strangest feeling coming over me. I feel all tearful all of a sudden, but I put it down to the familiarity of her face. She looks as perfect as ever in a pale blue skirt and cream blouse.

  “Well, look at the state of you!” she cries, looking me up and down, her face a picture of alarm. “You look like a homeless stray!” She points for Maria to place the tray on the gold-plated coffee table and then shoos her away.

  I burst into tears, the gravity of my situation suddenly hitting me like a kettlebell to my face. He’s gone. Just gone, and I have no explanation to help me try to come to terms with it. My arse hits the firm seat of mum’s couch, my face landing in my palms.

  “Camille!” Mum cries, her court shoes padding across the rug to me. She lowers next to me and puts an arm around my jerking body, patting at my shoulder. “Now, now, sweetie pie. Has this got anything to do with that strapping man who was photographed carrying you out of The Picturedrome?”

  I shrink into her half-embrace and mumble my confirmation, sniffling constantly. “Dad hired him.” I hiccup over my words. There’s no holding back now. Mum can shred my father with her words all she likes, and I hope she goes all out. I hate him.

  “Hired him?”

  “As a bodyguard. Dad received a threat.”

  She scoffs, for good reason. “Your father receives those weekly, darling.”

  “It was directed at me this time. He said Jake was a precautionary measure, but I didn’t want a man following me around. Sebastian’s back in town. I thought Dad was being underhanded. So I tried to give Jake the slip a few times.”

  Mum smiles knowingly. “My sassy little Cami.”

  I return her smile. “Then some photographs were delivered to my apartment—photographs of me.”

  She frowns, so I go on.

  “Like proof I was being watched. It made it all very real.” I shrug, watching her beat down the curses she wants to fire off that my father would no doubt hear from the other side of town. “Jake and I got…close,” I add quietly.

  Mum’s face softens in an instant, and her hand comes down to my knee and squeezes lightly. “He’s a very handsome, strong man, Camille,” she says. I study her, knowing there’s more to come. “And a little older.”

  “He’s thirty-five. Just ten years older than me. Dad’s twenty years older than you.”

  Mum ignores my defensive retort. “So Daddy Dearest has laid down his demands, I expect.” She can’t mention my father without a bucket load of venom in her tone.

  “He says Jake’s no good
for me. He thinks that because he was relieved of duty in the SAS, he’s a failure.”

  Mum hisses. “Ooh, your father is immune to failure.” Every word is laced with sarcasm. “Where’s Jake now?”

  I’m unwilling to admit that I don’t know, so I explain everything that happened at Jake’s apartment instead. The sympathy on her face when I finish is too much to bear. Tears pinch at the back of my eyes. “Why is he doing this?” I whisper hopelessly.

  She sighs and leans forward, pouring each of us a cup of tea in her posh china. “Because he is a narcissistic control freak. That’s why, sweetie pie.”

  “Why did you marry him, Mum?” I ask the question outright for the first time ever. It’s a desperate search for something to
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