The protector, p.4
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       The Protector, p.4
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           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  CAMI

  Logan Tower. The place fills me with dread, because when I’m summoned to Dad’s office it usually means that I’m not going to like what he’s going to tell me. Whatever it is, I will see it as an intrusion. Dad, however, will see it as business. That’s why I’m at his headquarters. His workplace. The center of his business dealings. If the call this morning was regarding genuine father/daughter quality time, I’d be at his sprawling country mansion on the outskirts of the city, gritting my teeth while I endure his overbearing current wife, Chloe, and listening while he fills my head with details of men suitable by his standards. Not mine. His. Which means they’re rich, but also insanely boring and lacking a personality beyond business.

  I hate that I still find a need to work up some bravery each time I’m here. I’ll never bow down to his unreasonable demands and insistences, whatever they may be—like when he tried to force me into studying law instead of fashion, or when he tried to sign me up for The University of London and I defied him and signed myself up for London College. Or like his attempt to fix me up with an associate when I started dating Sebastian. All of his wives have fallen into line, no questions asked, including my mother. I won’t, and he can’t divorce me for it either. He’s my dad, and I love him, but he’s a bully, too.

  I push my way into his office and spy Pete and Grant holding position either side of his desk. They’re not here for show. My father is a ruthless businessman who’s upset a lot of people on his way to the top, like the time he muscled out the ninety-year-old chairman of a chain of retirement homes he bought in a hostile takeover. The man died a week later, and a week after that, one of Dad’s buildings was set alight. Or the time Dad’s rival bidder in the fight to secure the sale of a hotel chain was arrested for sexual harassment of a staff member, resulting in him having to pull his bid. It was suggested Dad paid the woman to make the accusations. The suspicions went unfounded, though I believe to this day that my father had something to do with it. I have no rose-tinted glasses on. He’s callous and ruthless.

  I flip his security a forced smile, which they return through habit, and then I focus my attention on the man sitting between them at his desk, holding court.

  “My little star!” For a man of his girth, he’s up and coming at me surprisingly fast before I make it to the chair. “Give me a hug!”

  I indulge him, suspicious of his overenthusiasm. I’m getting more worried by the second. “What’s up?” I ask, eyeing Pete and Grant. Both evade my eyes. That doesn’t bode well.

  “Nothing, sweetheart.” He releases me and holds me by the tops of my arms, smiling fondly. He’s dyed his hair black again. I wish he would just admit defeat and embrace the silver. He’d look far more distinguished and less like he’s trying to keep up with his latest wife. And that’s pretty impossible, since he’s really pulled out the stops this time and wed a woman a year younger than me.

  I shudder as mental images of Chloe, wife number three and the woman he ditched my mother for, engulf my mind like wildfire. She’s a stunning beauty, but she’s not the brightest. Bless her, she just wants to be my friend. Personally, I’d rather shove nails in my eyes.

  “Take a seat.” He virtually pushes me down into the chair. Then he worries me further, because he doesn’t take up his usual position behind his huge over-the-top desk, where he’s the king of his castle. He pulls up a chair next to me instead and takes a seat, faffing with the solid-gold clip of his tie. “You look particularly beautiful today.” He takes a lock of my hair and tilts his head thoughtfully. “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”

  “You are?” I question warily. What’s going on? I chance a glance over to Pete and Grant again. They give me nothing.

  “And I’d do anything to ensure your safety.”

  Oh, fuck, has a bastard photographer snapped me stumbling out of a bar? Was I flashing my knickers, very unladylike, as I got in a cab? It doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly innocent. Thousands of young women go out partying every night of the year. Unfortunately for me, the paparazzi can make it seem so uncouth. Since my spell in rehab, I only have to sniff a bottle of vodka or be captured blinking and it’s reported that I’m on the road to self-destruction again. Those days are gone, and although I still struggle from time to time, Dad doesn’t need to know that. He’s unbearable enough.

  “Dad.” I lean forward, ready to plead my innocence and once again reassure him that I never plan on going back to those dark places. “I’m not—”

  “Just listen to me for a moment.”

  Much to my own surprise, and undoubtedly to my father’s, I do. I shut up and let him say whatever’s on his mind, because my Spidey senses are telling me it’s serious. “I received something yesterday,” he says.

  “What?”

  He sighs, taking my hands, like a show of support. I don’t like it. Not one little bit. I’ve seen my father’s many dispositions, but I haven’t seen this one. He’s worried. “A message.”

  “A message?” I question. “What kind of message?”

  “A threatening one.”

  I could laugh. My dad is threatened daily, which is why he has Pete and Grant flanking him constantly. Why is it such a worry now? “And?” I ask nonchalantly.

  “And they’ve threatened you.”

  I recoil, my mouth snapping shut. I don’t need to ask anything more. His words, plus his potent stress right now as he holds my hand, looking at me with apologetic eyes, tells me he thinks this one is serious.

  I can feel resentment stirring in my gut, and he knows it. I try to disconnect myself from my father’s business as much as possible. I work hard, make my own money, and strive to make my own way. The only hold I allow him to have, and, granted, it’s a big one, is my apartment. Or his apartment. It’s his, but I insist on paying rent. The fact that it goes out of my bank account and falls into another of my accounts, along with the fifty thousand he deposits monthly, is inconsequential. I haven’t touched a penny of it, and I don’t plan to.

  My half-brother, TJ, on the other hand, works for our father. He’s involved in all the business dealings, and is following in Dad’s footsteps as a hardcore businessman, though he’s far more likeable than my father. Everyone says it. And I love him dearly, but he thrives on being the son of one of the richest, most powerful men in London. He wants to be a part of it all. He’s our father’s son, that’s for sure. Why isn’t he the one being threatened? Not that I would wish it, not ever, but it would make more sense.

  “Now listen to me, sweetheart.” My father proceeds with caution, probably expecting the proverbial bomb of expletives to explode from my mouth at any moment. If I could form a sentence, I would, but I can’t. My mind is a muddle of nothing. What does this mean? “It’s just idle threats, I’m sure,” he goes on. “But I’ve taken precautionary measures, nevertheless.” His hand comes up and cups my cheek, his pudgy thumb stroking my cheek soothingly. “I can’t be too careful with my little star, can I?”

  I just stare at him, and through the fog of confusion and shock, I manage to comprehend one thing. He doesn’t think this is an idle threat at all. “Okay,” I say.

  He can’t hide his astonishment. His daughter, the one who he refers to openly as a “defiant live wire,” has just bowed to him and his precautionary measures. Past the astonishment I see relief, though, and that only emphasizes how serious he thinks this is.

  “Good girl.” He leans in and kisses my forehead affectionately before standing and flicking a demanding finger to Pete. “Get him in.”

  I throw a frown across to Pete, catching him executing a sharp nod of his big head on his thick neck, before he strides out of the room.

  Him? Get him in? “What’s going on?” I ask, sitting up in my seat as my father slumps in his.

  He says nothing, and instead starts tapping away on his iMac, looking intently at the screen. “Grant, have my car ready in a half hour.”

  “Yes, sir.” Grant makes tracks, passing me without a word or
look and exiting swiftly, leaving me and Dad alone in his office. I can’t remember the last time I was alone with my father. He always has either his minders or his dumb new wife stuck to his side.

  Resting back in my chair, I look at the man across the desk, my father, and try to read him. Now, I can’t. All of his worry and stress seems to have slipped away. “Dad, will you—”

  The door to his office swings open, and my head swings around. Pete is practically filling the doorway, his face not quite there, but very close to a scowl. What’s got his beef?

  He steps in. “Sir,” he mutters, moving to the side, revealing…

  A man.

  All the moisture in my mouth evaporates. Gone. Dry as a bone, making it impossible to speak the words that are stuck on my tongue.

  Who the hell is that?

  Him?

  My eyes are burning with a mixture of delight and curiosity. Oh my days, he’s stunning—so tall, solid under that grey suit, but not bulky, and his long legs are spread a little, his stance wide. He looks powerful. Strong. Fucking delicious.

  I open my mouth, willing some moisture there, swallowing continuously while my eyes remain locked on his handsome face. His jaw is sprinkled evenly with dark stubble, his short, un-styled hair matching but with flecks of grey at the temples. And his eyes. Dark, dark brown, and they’re watching me with equal intensity. I shift in my chair, my mind screaming at me to say something. But nothing’s working except my ability to appreciate the ridiculously fine man standing on the threshold of my father’s office.

  He takes just a few long strides with those long legs and makes it to me. My head lifts as he comes closer, the magnetism of his eyes holding me in place, until he’s standing over me, straight-faced and so serious. A big palm extends toward me, and my eyes fall to it. “Jake Sharp,” he says, those two single words licking the entire length of my spine and having it snap piece by piece until it’s stretched straight and I’m sitting bolt upright. It’s fucking hot in here.

  I seize his hand, seeing my slender fingers surrounded by his large capable ones, and the strangest feeling comes over me. My hand. It feels so safe held in his—a stupid notion, of course.

  But it’s not there for long. He drops it, his arm retracting speedily. My eyes lift to his, and I just catch a frown and a dazed shake of his head before he turns toward my father. “We’re good to go?” he asks flatly.

  This strange man’s presence is tangible. It makes Pete and Grant and all their brawny muscle seem laughable.

  “Look after her,” my father says.

  “She’s in safe hands.” Sharp flicks a strange look down to his big hands and turns them over.

  I’m compelled to grab them and trace every single one of the many lines on his palms. In safe hands. One of his hands felt very safe wrapped around mine, so I can only imagine how safe I’d feel with his whole body enveloped around me.

  Who is this Jake Sharp? I find my muscles going lax, my body melting into the chair. I might stop by Dad’s office more often if this man is now on his payroll.

  Maybe Dad’s replacing Pete or Grant. Maybe he’s realized that he needs speed and agility rather than pumped-up muscle. Maybe…

  My train of thought drifts to nothing as Dad’s words come back to me. Look after her.

  I’m standing before I know it, but my legs don’t seem quite ready to support my weight. I stagger right into Sharp, colliding with his tall frame. He doesn’t budge, remaining tall and stable. His only detectable movements are stealthy arms that come up fast and catch me.

  “Careful now,” he murmurs softly, handling me with ease until I’m steady on my own two feet again. “Okay?” He looks at me, but gives me nothing.

  I immediately miss the warmth of his broad chest. He is just about the most perfect man I’ve ever seen, and that’s an achievement, given I’ve had shoots with more beautiful men than I care to remember. But he’s a man. A proper man—big, strong, mature. The crisp, stark-white collar of his shirt and perfectly knotted grey tie can’t conceal the primal energy practically thrumming from him.

  Oh God!

  I fight some composure and turn to my father. “What do you mean, look after her?” I ask.

  “I’ve hired Sharp to watch you,” he explains. Sharp coughs next to me, and Dad rushes to rephrase that. “He’s your bodyguard for the foreseeable future. The best protection money can buy.”

  “Excuse me?” I splutter. “He—” I throw an arm out in the general direction of Sharp, and my hand collides with his solid bicep, having me retract in shock. Fucking hell, he’s like Action Man. “He’s my bodyguard?”

  “Yes.” My father nods decisively.

  “No.” I laugh, looking up at Sharp. “No offense intended.”

  “None taken,” he replies, completely unfazed, like he fully expected to be subjected to this little family drama. I look away, unable to focus on him for too long for fear of bursting into lusty flames.

  Dad’s face is tight with the frustration that’s been absent since I arrived. “Camille Logan, this isn’t up for debate. I’ve hired Sharp to protect you, and you will not be difficult about it!”

  “I’m a grown woman,” I say calmly, holding onto the temper that’s dying to be unleashed. “I have a busy schedule—modeling contracts to fulfill, meetings to attend.”

  The dismissive huff that my father releases does what it always does when he shows such disregard for my career. “You mean looking pretty for the camera?”

  “And negotiating a deal on my new fashion line,” I add, reining my temper in. “And getting it off the ground, and building my profile outside of my modeling career.”

  “Camille, how many times have I got to tell you?” My father sighs. “You and that silly friend of yours are wasting your time. There are plenty of fashion brands out there already.”

  I grit my teeth. He just doesn’t get it. “Then one more won’t hurt, will it?” I flick my eyes to the hulking man standing next to me. “I doubt Mr. Sharp will appreciate having to endure the simplicities of my pointless career.”

  Sharp looks out the corner of his eye to me. “I endure what I need to.”

  “How’s your runway walk?” I ask seriously. Let’s see if he’s aware of what he’ll be subjected to. “Maybe I could use you in a campaign.” I can tell by the slight hitch of his eyebrow what he thinks of that. Good.

  “Maybe you can give me a tutorial.” His face is suddenly as serious as mine. “Since you’re the expert.”

  “Are you offering?”

  “Are you asking?”

  I only just hold back my gawk. He’s being sarcastic. I huff to myself. Two can play that game. “Strike a pose.”

  “If you’re lucky,” he says quietly, straightening his shoulders.

  I clamp my lips shut, rummaging through the corners of my muddled mind for a smart retort. “I think you’d look good in a skirt.”

  “I’m told I have great legs.”

  My damn eyes plummet to his legs. Long, powerful legs with thick thighs. I drop my gaze to the floor quickly. How did this happen? Why am I engaging with him?

  I shoot a glare back to my dad. “I don’t want or need a bodyguard following me around randomly.”

  Sharp shifts next to me, clearing his throat. “It won’t be random,” he states evenly, looking down at me again. “It’ll be constant.”

  If I didn’t know better, I’d think he’s relishing in this. “Constant?”

  “Twenty-four/seven.” There’s an evil glint in his dark eyes that I suddenly want to knock out. “I’ll be shadowing your every move.”

  I feign nonchalance and return my attention to my father, furiously ignoring the thrilling rush of desire that nearly veers me off course. “You will not invade my privacy,” I say calmly, retrieving my bag from the floor. “And no way are you telling me what to do.”

  “I will not stand for this!” Dad shouts. I don’t even flinch. His patience is wearing thin. I don’t care. So is mine.


  I have no idea what I expected when my father told me that he’d taken precautionary measures in light of the threat, but this creature wasn’t it. Maybe a driver, or a curfew. I could live with a curfew. Give me a curfew!

  But him? I take a quick peek out the corner of my eye, seeing Sharp’s doing the same to me. I quickly look away. No, it’s not happening. To have him near twenty-four/seven? All of the men I’ve ever worked alongside have to work hard to portray intensity in a photograph. Sharp exudes it naturally. It’s beyond masculine. It’s almost too much to stand. And it’s…so fucking hot.

  “I refuse to be shadowed by one of your minions.” I turn and walk away, hearing my phone chime in my bag, as well as an audible grunt of frustration from my father. Rooting through my huge bag as I continue on my way, I pull out my phone and see a message from Heather.

  Sebastian is back in town.

  My heart stops in my chest, and my feet skid to a halt by the door. I stare down at the message, hoping the words might shift and form another message. But after reading it for the fifth time, I’m still going over the same horrific words. This can’t be happening.

  My ex is back? This is bad. So, so bad.

  I’ve finally gotten back on my feet. It’s taken everything out of me to find myself again, and now he’s back in London and all of my stability that I fight daily to maintain is suddenly rickety. I damn the traitorous tears that pinch the back of my eyes and start to breathe deeply, but as I begin reasoning with myself, telling myself over and over that I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been before, something starts to seep into my mind.

  I turn to confront my father as it all slots into place. He
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