It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet, and I knew which option I was veering toward.
Rounding the corner, my legs ache from exertion, letting me know I’ve probably run more than the usual nine miles, but there’s a little way left to go, so I don’t stop.
Instead, I mull over the dilemma, knowing there’s no solution I can willingly face, or I would have done it at any point during the last two years when the same issues arose. It was as though I enjoyed the tightened noose I’d put around my neck.
Having prided myself on successful assignments for more than a decade of growing my security business, a sought-after firm in New York. The most long-term client we’ve had, is an infuriating nuisance. Though I’ve tried to hand the job off to others many times, it always backfires in my face because she prefers me.
Huffing in the cool morning air as I pound the ground beneath me, the cold sweat clings to the back of my shirt.
Sometimes running helps.
Other times, like today, it’s something to do to keep me steady and in control.
I live a solitary life. Some would accuse I live for my work, and they might be right. Drinking only when I want to, I don’t date, getting what I want from women when the urge takes me. Socializing is kept to a minimum. My family isn’t huge, so there aren’t many gatherings to attend, though I see my nana every week to make sure she’s okay and has everything she needs. Luckily, it’s easy to pay for services to ensure she is taken care of.
I like my life the way it is.
It’s taken me years to get to a place of comfort, unbothered by others.
So what if I’m a workaholic? How can that be a bad thing?
It’s not a disconnect. It’s self-preservation. Or so I thought.
And then this client happened and shot all the shit I knew out of the water.
Having spent my early twenties, as most men do, obsessed with using their dick and getting wasted, chasing pussy and not giving a damn about the future, I’d started my business out small and grew it myself. It centered me, gave me a purpose, and now I’m thirty-seven, it’s hard to recognize that person from a decade ago.
Bodyguarding is a full-time endeavor.
I’d entered Columbus Circle to Central Park more than an hour ago, taking the looped areas most joggers take. But at stupid o’clock, when I prefer to run, it wasn’t so busy that I was tripping over slow bodies.
I’m not fond of mouth breathers being too near when I need quiet to think.
Getting a call at 6 a.m. to let me know she insisted on leaving the apartment. Again. Lying in bed this morning with only enough sleep to stop my brain from malfunctioning, I could feel my blood pressure rising through the fucking roof. Picturing her in those tight pink yoga pants she prances around in each morning. I could only imagine the barista’s eyes bugging out of his young head when he saw her waltzing into the coffee shop, a smile on her face, happy to see everyone and talking like they were old friends.
I put out that fire with one call, but had to come for a run before I knew the next flames would appear.
They always do.
For two years, I’ve been putting out fires left and right.
Not even raging bonfires.
But flickering flames, every single day.
Every other job I take is a cakewalk.
Senators, celebrities, dignitaries. Nothing goes wrong. I hire only the best ex-military people who know how to handle themselves and protect those we’re paid to keep alive.
Nothing goes wrong.
And we’ve all been in dicey situations where our skills came to the forefront. I’ve dealt with enough crazies over the years, and nothing interfered with my professionalism.
She intimidates my people because she’s too nice, too giving, and caring, with no spatial awareness of what personal boundaries she might be crossing.
She wants to know their life story. What makes them tick, laugh, and cry?
She tries to help them, feed them, give advice to better their lives.
I’ve never known anyone to give that much of a shit about another person and not expect a thing in return.
It’s always something, even when I’ve made it known they’re there to do a job, not become her best friend.
If there was a modern-day Pollyanna, then she was it.
And then I feel a vibration at the top of my arm, and a sigh coats out of me as I come to a slow stop, my lungs burning as I rub a hand through my damp hair and yank the phone from the holster sitting on my bicep.
“Yes?” I bark. Expecting what Tony on the other end is going to say.
“Boss, you’re needed.”
Of course, I am.
The groan gusts out of me like a downpour.
I should stop to take a shower first, but I don’t.
It’s as though my feet know where we’re going and take me there against my will. So by the time I was let into the exclusive building in the financial district by the security guards I vetted personally, and took the elevator up to the 10th floor. I’m cold with sweat clinging to the damp, hooded running jacket.
Tony opens the door after checking it is me, and I stride inside, arching a brow at him, silently accusing his pussy-ass of fearing a little girl.
Tony is ex SAS, for fuck’s sake. He’s been to war zones; he guarded the last president and traveled on the tour bus with a one-hit-wonder pop star who caused holy hell with drugs and hookers, but Tony panics around one British woman who likes to chat.
“I should fire you,” I rumble as he scrapes a hand over his dark hair, half-smiling.
Not midday and yet already it has been a long fucking day.
Though, most of them are when your entire job is keeping another person alive.
“Nah, you like me around too much, boss,” he jokes. “You know she prefers you. I’ll be outside,” he adds and makes his escape. It was noted he carried a container of food with him. Pussy.
Advancing into the sprawling three-bed apartment, my gaze clocks on the people already here. Her place is rarely empty of bodies. It gets claustrophobic as fuck, but she likes the company.
Today it’s her assistant, a manager, and a publicist. They call out hellos, but I only jut my chin in greeting. Without coffee, I can’t be responsible for the unfiltered sarcasm to come out of my mouth.
And then there she is.
Strutting out of the bedroom.
Grey yoga shorts, a flowing shirt billowing around her stomach.
And a ready smile when she sees me.
At that moment, I feel every one of my thirty-seven years.
Like an old man looking at a rare diamond.
A twenty-five-year-old British bombshell.
Katarina Young. The it-girl in the modeling world. On every billboard and catwalk. Wanted by men, coveted by thousands.
The bane of my fucking life.
Okay, she’s not.
She’s a good client, hardly whines at all, no matter what I tell her to do for her safety.
But it doesn’t stop my back teeth from clenching together the closer she gets.
This irritation isn’t new.
It bore life the week I started guarding her.
Katarina’s smile brightens, and it changes the atmosphere in the room. It constantly changes the mood, especially within my veins.
My teeth clench harder.
My day of solitude has gone to hell. I at least expected to see her in some form of trouble if I had to come in on my one day off this month.
Instead, she keeps smiling, and I scowl.
“Why am I here?”
Her eyes round but don’t lose any of the twinkle. She sips from a tumbler of whatever smoothie it is today. Katarina is big on smoothies instead of actual chewable food. Some dumb advice from one of her shit-for-brains team who hired a nutritionist that told her it would be the end of the world if she dared to gain a pound.
“Don’t ask me. One minute I was talking to Tony, and then he’s crying on the phone to you.” She shrugs.
That meant she’d over shared or pushed her little nose into Tony’s business and badgered my elite bodyguard to death.
Turning on my heel, I head for the door.
My shadow is behind me as she slurps on the end part of the smoothie.
“Don’t go anywhere,” I warn. “Tony is outside. Don’t bother him; he’s here to work, not get life advice from a little girl.”
“Hardly little, but I won’t talk to Tony, seeing as he’s so sensitive and needs daddy to hold his hand.” I hear the amusement in her voice. When I shoot a glance over my shoulder, she’s looking at my ass. Her gaze travels up slowly until our eyes meet.
“You’re terribly sweaty, Iceman.”
My nickname on her lips goes through me like an atom bomb detonating, and my jaw cracks from how tight I’m grinding it.
“I’ll be back. Don’t move your ass from this apartment, Katarina.”
She laughs at the silent or else tacked on at the end.
Not the first time I’ve had to threaten the modeling world princess.
Safeguard the client at all costs. Never allow them to grow attached. Don’t form personal connections. It’s bodyguarding 101. Until supermodel, Katarina Young, sashayed into my life with her optimistic smiles. She’s a good girl. I’m not the right man for her, no matter how under Katarina’s spell I am. Keeping her safe is easy. It’s my only priority. She’s become vital to me. But keeping my hands off her is the real mission.
MINE TO LOVE
I believe people come into our lives for a reason. Danger brought Hunter Madsen into mine. And I’m praying love keeps him there. Hunter wants to protect me and I want everything else from him. His love, most of all. Can I get my monosyllabic, sometimes cranky bodyguard to fall under my British charms? I’d bet all the tea and crumpets I could.