The protector, p.6
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       The Protector, p.6
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           Jodi Ellen Malpas

  then I’ll…I’ll…I’ll…”

  “You’ll what?” I ask, adopting my Elvis sneer. Who the hell does he think he’s talking to?

  He comes right in close, nose to nose with me. The safe distance doesn’t seem to be applying now. The pulse in his tense jaw is detectable, even though I’m staring his hard gaze down. “I’ll put you over my knee,” he whispers menacingly. “And spank your fucking arse bright red.”

  My arse muscles stiffen, and once again I’m struggling to contain this bizarre cocktail of disgust and lust. “Excuse me?” I breathe, taking one step back to escape his closeness.

  He straightens to full height and rolls his shoulders, like he could be trying to rid a weight resting there. “Just don’t try to give me the slip again.”

  “Or you’ll spank me?”

  “It was a figure of speech.”

  “An inappropriate one, don’t you think?” Please say no. Please say no. Please say no. I don’t know what I’m thinking.

  “Yes,” he mutters, looking around us, high and low, scoping every space there is. He has a fixed glower in place as he does it. “Why are you here?” he asks.

  I look across to Heather, seeing her mouth lax and her champagne flute poised at her lips. “I’m meeting a friend.”

  Sharp follows my line of sight and sighs. “Heather Porter.”

  “How’d you know…?” My words disintegrate. Of course he knows. Pulling my braid over my shoulder and landing him with a contemptuous glare, I leave him on the pavement and make my way over to a dumbstruck Heather.

  “Give me that drink,” I say, throwing myself into a chair. She either doesn’t hear me or totally ignores me, so I reach across the table and grab it myself. Swig! “Hello!”

  She looks at me, all what the fuck?

  “Don’t,” I say, shaking my head. Swig!

  “Is that him?” she mumbles, not averse to pointing her glass at him. “The bodyguard?”

  “Yes.” Swig!

  “Oh, fucking hell.”

  “I know.” Swig!

  “Where’s the billboard?”

  I swallow. “Huh?”

  “The billboard.” Her eyes dart, genuinely looking around.

  “What billboard?”

  “The one he’s just fallen out of?”

  I snort my repulsion and swig yet again. “He’s a twat.”

  “A fit twat.”

  “Heather, this is not an appropriate conversation to be having about my bodyguard.”

  “Give me a break!” she laughs, properly amused. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about him in bed. He’s solid. Tall. Gorgeous.”

  I look over my shoulder when Heather’s delighted stare starts to move, clearly following Sharp. He’d better not be coming over here! He’s not. He sits down a few tables up, looking huge in the small chair. And he might look relaxed, but I can see every muscle strung under his shirt and trousers. He’s like a giant tiger, poised and waiting for an attack. “Not at all,” I mumble quietly, more for myself than Heather. “Anyway, he’s greying at the temples.”

  “Oh!” Heather chuckles, and I return my attention to her, swiping up more champagne. “And now she’s searching desperately for reasons to find him unattractive.”

  “I don’t need to search. There are plenty to choose from.”

  “Like?”

  “Like he’s bully, for a start. Heavy-handed and forceful.” I know deep down there was no intent to hurt me or scare me, and he didn’t. What’s actually scared me each time he’s come close, spoken, or touched me, is my reaction. The internal battle I’m having while fighting to maintain a strong front is exhausting me already.

  And he’s been with me for less than an hour.

  Twenty-four/seven? And for how long?

  I shrink in my chair and have another sip of my fizz. “Change the subject,” I plead, and instantly regret it when Heather’s lips straighten. There’s only one other subject that should be addressed right now, and I can’t decide if it’s more of a situation than the man sitting behind me and why he’s sitting behind me.

  “Saffron saw him. Said he looked well,” Heather says tentatively, and wisely, too. Or maybe she shouldn’t have said it at all. I don’t need to hear that. Saffron doesn’t know the nasty details.

  As far as she and everyone else is concerned, Sebastian led me onto his dark, cocaine-lined path. That’s bad enough, and all anyone needs to know. Sebastian is a model, too, chiseled in the face as well as in the body. He makes girls drool…but he’s troubled. Terribly troubled, and he got me into trouble, too. He has an addictive personality, as well as an addictive nature. But he’s a lost cause. Even his parents have given up on him.

  “Is he clean?” I ask.

  Heather shrugs. “Saffron said his eyes were clear and his body not as strung as it always used to be. But who knows?”

  “Hmmm.” I look off into the distance, reflecting on those dark times.

  “So, where’s he sleeping?” Heather cuts into my thoughts before they take hold, and I’m grateful. But her question confuses me…until she nods past me.

  I find myself peeking behind me again. He’s watching me like a hawk, intensely. The shaky breath that escapes me is barely evident, yet my instinct tells me he detected it all the same. Then our eyes meet and he shifts on his chair. Conjuring up a filthy look, a stupid defense mechanism, I aim and fire.

  “Good question,” I mutter, watching his eyes fall to my mouth. I don’t mean to, really I don’t, but my betraying tongue slips out and slides across my bottom lip. Sharp shifts in his seat again, his nostrils flaring as he looks away.

  “Then you need to clarify, because if Mr. Gorgeous-Pants over there is staying at your place, then I might, too.”

  “He’s not,” I say clearly, resolutely, as I find my friend again. She isn’t helping. Not one bit. “Tell me the plan for Saffron’s birthday,” I order, wondering how we veered back onto Sharp.

  “Well, it’s at The Picturedrome.” She grins. “Flashy cow hired the whole place out. Bet Daddy’s paid for it.”

  I roll my eyes. Unlike Heather and I, our friend Saffron doesn’t think twice about squandering her father’s money for such luxuries. “And she claims to be independent?” I could laugh.

  “I know,” she agrees. “But you’re not so independent now, either, are you?” She nods past me again, but this time I refuse to look. I just need to pretend he isn’t there.

  He’s not there. He’s not there.

  I fight the urge to turn and get a fill of his lovely face, wondering how we managed to veer off subject to Sharp again.

  My wondering is silly.

  It’s not like he can be ignored.

  Chapter 7

  JAKE

  You can’t protect someone who doesn’t want to be protected. You need compliance and cooperation. She’s giving me neither. And it makes me want to wring her beautiful, obstinate neck.

  After she hugs her friend good-bye and sashays to her car, she leads me on another merry dance around London, all the way to her apartment in Mayfair.

  I pull down into the underground car park, only to find no available spaces. I see the smug look in her eyes as she collects her shopping bags from the trunk of her Merc…so I dump my Range Rover behind it. She can’t go anywhere if I’m blocking her in.

  Once she has rounded up all her bags and heaps of files, she pivots and her smug smile drops like a rock. I slide out of my car, pulling out my bag behind me. I came prepared. I answer her question before she can ask. “I’m sleeping here, in case you were wondering. It’s part of the contract and your father has insisted.”

  Her lovely lips straighten. “This is a violation of my human rights.”

  “Take it up with your father. I have my orders.”

  “Well, I’m ordering you to leave me alone.”

  “You’re not paying me, Miss Logan.”

  “How much?”

  I raise interested eyebrows at her. “That’s
confidential.”

  “So you will literally do anything my father tells you?”

  “Within reason,” I reply.

  “Is running me a bath within reason?” She smiles sarcastically while I fight off the mental images that cute quip spikes.

  “Depends if you want me to get in it with you.” I cock my head, looking to be waiting for a serious answer.

  She snorts. It’s so cute, I almost crack a smile. Then she gives me a filthy look before she pivots haughtily and hustles away. “You wouldn’t fit.”

  Not so cute.

  I barely stop myself from rolling my eyes and start to follow her through a solid steel door and into a lobby, where big, elaborate gold mirrors hang at every turn. I have a good look around, confirming what I already know from my background checks. Card entry, three cameras, two elevators, one concierge. Daddy owns this building, and I’d put my last pound on the fact that Camille Logan doesn’t pay the going rate. I nod politely at an intrigued doorman, who nods right back. Then I wait for the elevator to come, standing a safe four feet from Camille. The doors are mirrored. Avoiding her reflection is a killer, so I divert my gaze and continue scoping out the building. Revolving doors, not very secure, despite the card entry, and a doorman who looks like he could be the twin of the old boy who protects Logan Tower.

  A faint ding indicates the arrival of an elevator, and I do the gentlemanly thing and allow Camille to enter first when the doors slide open. Then, just as I’m about to breach the threshold myself, the doors close in my face.

  I swear, I only narrowly miss head-butting the glass, but I manage to catch the satisfied smirk on Camille’s face before I lose sight of her. “For fuck’s sake,” I mutter, dropping my bag to the ground and clenching my fists. Breathing in some patience, I crick my neck on my shoulders and close my eyes, repeating a calming mantra.

  Don’t strangle her. Don’t strangle her. Don’t fucking strangle her.

  I’m tempted to put a bullet in my own head and put myself out of my misery. What the fuck have I signed up for? The other elevator arrives and I collect my bag and step in, pressing the button for the top floor. The lift travels way too slowly for my liking. She’s out of sight. She should never be out of sight.

  “Pain in my fucking arse,” I mutter. But she’s a pain in my arse for oh so many different reasons than I imagined—irritating, annoying, painful fucking reasons.

  I step out when the elevator finally reaches the top floor, finding what I knew I would when I round the corner in the corridor. Apartment 30’s door is firmly shut. I can guarantee the bolts, chain, and dead bolt are all engaged, too. Two minutes and I could be in, but I decide against utilizing my skills and instead rap the wood calmly. I’m not surprised when I get no answer, so I knock again, ensuring I maintain a calm, controlled persona. It’s hard when on the inside I want to kick the door in and wrap my palms around her slender, lovely neck.

  She remains quiet on the other side. “Fuck’s sake.” I pull my gun out and aim it at the lock, thinking this will be far quicker than trying to reason with the silly woman. Then a scrap of lost reason muscles past my building frustration and advises me against it.

  I sigh and tuck my gun in the back of my trousers. “Camille, this door is really pretty,” I say quietly, knowing she’s on the other side, probably with her ear pressed to the wood. “Would be a shame to damage it.” I notice a looking hole and smile to myself. Then I slowly lean forward, bringing my eye closer and closer until it’s pressed up against the small cylinder of magnifying glass that runs through the wood. There’s a scuffle and a burst of activity directly behind the door. I chuckle to myself. The girl is impossible. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

  “Fuck you!”

  My head drops on my shoulders, jarring my neck as I weigh up my options. I can either break this door down, and lower myself to her childish approach to this situation, or I can show her that this situation isn’t going anywhere, no matter how difficult she is. And I mean the threatening, anonymous-message situation. Not the potent chemistry that’s bitten me on the arse and chewed until it hurts. Women have served one purpose to me and one purpose alone. Neither frustration nor fury is that purpose. In fact, those two exact emotions are why women and I are best kept on limited time spans. Camille Logan has already overstayed her welcome in my life.

  Looking down at the carpet, I decide against any further sparks tonight and sit my tired arse down, ready for a long fucking night. With my back resting against the door, I pull my phone out and send a quick update to Logan, only just stopping myself from tagging on the end that his daughter is a headstrong little madam. I do, however, tell him that the ex-boyfriend is back in town.

  Then I pull up my contact list. And my heart jumps. Abbie’s name stares up at me, and my finger hovers over the dial icon, lowering and lifting time and time again. Contact will serve one purpose. Spiking memories. I don’t need those. I laugh out loud, a cold, chilling laugh. The memories are always there, torturing me daily, but I don’t need to fuel them. I don’t need to go back to places that are only going to enhance the agony and the hatred for a woman who tore me apart and sent my life into a downward spiral.

  I chuck my phone to the side and press my head into the wood behind me, looking up at the ceiling as I fight to clear my mind. My phone starts ringing, a welcome distraction from one of my regular internal battles, and I look to see Logan’s name. I’m not surprised. Before I connect the call, I put my ear to the door, hearing distant movement. She’s not listening.

  “Thought you’d call snappily,” I say in greeting.

  “Sebastian Peters.” There’s pure venom in Logan’s tone that I can fully appreciate. I’ve read all the shit on the Internet. “He nearly broke her.”

  “Is this why you’ve hired me?” I ask outright, thinking maybe Camille was onto something.

  “No, you know why I’ve hired you. You’ve seen the message, but it won’t hurt for you to look out for Sebastian Peters.” There’s an edge to his tone that reeks disgust. Yes, I’ve seen the message, but why do I get the feeling I haven’t heard everything? “He has a fondness for cocaine. I don’t want that shit anywhere near my daughter again.”

  “Right,” I breathe, thinking protection against ex-boyfriends isn’t what I signed up for. I’m a bodyguard. Not a counselor or a therapist. It’s not my job to stop Camille Logan shoving cocaine up her nose if that’s what she wants to do. But I fucking will.

  “I’ll call you if I have anything to report. You should extend the same courtesy to me.” I hang up before he can confirm that he will, and shift one way, and then the other, trying to get comfortable, my legs extended at full length in front of me.

  After ten minutes in that position, my knees come up, my forearms resting on them. Ten minutes later, my gun is stabbing at my lower back and my arse is starting to go numb. I’m being paid, I remind myself. A lot. I can endure this shit. I’ve been in worse places in worse conditions.

  I close my eyes and imagine thorns from overgrowth severing my cheeks as I crawl on my elbows through wild terrain, and before I can stop my mind from spiraling, it moves on to the vision of my comrades, Danny and Mike, lying dead in the dirt. I feel the deep ache of a bullet buried in my shoulder. The smell of death invades my nose, and the screams of innocent civilians fill my ears. Then a clear mental image of her face reminds me of how I came to be amid the anarchy. The anarchy that I caused.

  I snap my eyes open and catch a labored breath, wiping away a bead of sweat from my forehead. “Damn.” So much for being distracted. I curse Camille Logan for not allowing me to do my job as I reach to my back, pulling my gun out and laying it next to my thigh. Resting my head back again, I try to distract myself by sprinting through all of the information I have. Which isn’t very much.

  There are a pile of wronged businessmen who have fallen into financial ruin after hostile takeovers by Logan. Any one of those could be looking for revenge. Quite simply, Trevor Logan
has a lot of fucking enemies. I feel like I’m diving into a pot of possibilities with not a clue of where to dive deeper. Add to the situation that I have a gut feeling Logan is withholding information, and I’m in all kinds of a mind tangle. Then there’s the ex-boyfriend. Technically not a suspect but definitely a threat. Threat? Yes, a threat. He’s a threat to Camille’s health, possibly her life if he gets his hands on her again. Which makes him as equal a threat as the potential threat. So I’ll treat him as such. The message Logan showed me. That paper was too perfect. On that thought, I grab my phone and send Lucinda a quick message.

  I don’t think Logan is giving us all the relevant information. The threat was printed on paper that looked like it had come fresh out of a ream. He said it arrived yesterday by courier. Check the CCTV at Logan Tower.

  I click send, and as expected, I get a reply within seconds.

  Interesting. I’m on it. On another note, I’ve been through Logan’s e-mails with a fine-toothed comb. Nothing suspicious. No