Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Bodyguards, Inc Part 1 by RJ Scott


Bodyguard to a Sex God #1
Summary:
Bodyguard Adam Freeman draws what everyone else thinks is the short straw at the convention for a procedural cop show - as bodyguard to TV actor Logan Brady. Or as the Internet has labelled him, Logan 'Sex God' Brady.

Logan is taking part in a convention at a London Hotel for his show 'Night Cop' and someone is threatening his life.

Adam gets more than he bargained for when his client combines coming out of the closet with them both trying to stay alive.


The Ex Factor #2
Summary:
When Bodyguard, Ben Collins, finds Daniel Lincoln in a room, hiding and hurt, he doesn't immediately think Daniel is the victim of abuse. Daniel is good at pretending and being a finalist in a TV singing competition he seems like he has it made.

But something about Daniel calls to Ben's need to protect and he hands Daniel a card to contact him if ever Daniel needed help. Abruptly, after one frightened phone call from Daniel, Ben is racing to Daniel's aid and what he finds is a horror he can't imagine.

Daniel is trapped in a relationship where anger and controlling hate are the only emotions he is given. When his boyfriend crosses the line and leaves Daniel vulnerable and broken there is only one man that he wants to call.

The sexy bodyguard who promised he could help him.

Max and the Prince #3
Summary:
Bodyguard Max Connery is used to being mistaken for being younger than he is.

Being carded every time he buys a beer is usual. Even though he's just turned twenty eight and has two tours in Afghanistan as a pilot under his belt.

When a threat is made on the life of a prince attending University in the UK, Max is the perfect choice to blend in with the mixed house of students and to keep Prince Lucien safe. Even if it means joining the swim team to be by his side.

But, when death visits the halls, abruptly this job is a long way past keeping the prince happy and safe. Instead Max has to keep Lucien alive.

Undercover Lovers #4
Summary:
Even if Ross and Kyle make it out of this alive, will the secrets in Kyle's heart stay safe?

Kyle gets caught up in a case that is entirely unrelated to Bodyguards Inc. Not only does he abruptly need time off, but he has to have absolute trust and complete support from Ross without being able to tell Ross a thing.

CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer needs Kyle's help with a case of a geneticist and a missing formula. Trouble is being led right to Kyle’s door, endangering the life of the team he has built and the man that he loves.

Going undercover, with Ross as his fiance, is the worst kind of torture in so many ways, but it is the only answer. Kyle and Ross may well live through this but Kyle is convinced his heart won't survive.


Another great series by Miss Scott.  Even though each story is a standalone with the exception of characters being mentioned in passing or cameos, I'm writing an overall series review and each book easily deserves a 5 bookmark rating.  Many of us have some kind of bodyguard fantasy and with Bodyguards, Inc the reader gets a peak into the life of the occupation.  Each book has a little bit of everything, mystery, intrigue, drama, love, with definite levels of hotness throughout.  You might be thinking that what you have here is the Kevin Costner/Whitney Houston movie Bodyguard with a gay twist, the truth is there are some similar elements but really, this series has so much more depth and appeal with every page.  Some say that relationships that are born during times of crisis and danger are not always everlasting but I think relationships, be it friends or lovers, can be built at any time and in these tales the author shows us how true it can really be.

RATING: 

Love's Design #5 (Coming Christmas 2015)
Summary:
CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer is not welcome back home. After what his superiors call 'the UK incident', Stefan is told to stay where he is and cool his heels. Taking on an easy assignment with Bodyguards Inc. seems like a good solution to keep him sane.

Stefan is used to life throwing him curveballs, and it’s just another day at the office when new client Kirby Devlin and his nephews need help. Now he has to keep Kirby and the kids alive, all while protecting his own heart. Easy. Right?


Bodyguards Inc Volume 1 
Summary:

Bodyguard to a Sex God #1
The Ex Factor #2


Bodyguard to a Sex God #1
Chapter 1
“Hey, Blondie.”

Adam Freeman showed the office manager his middle finger at the familiar and detested nickname and then crossed to the coffee machine. He was tired and just this side of irritable and Ross Jackson knew exactly which buttons to press to wind Adam up big time. Adam hoped the middle finger would be enough to get Ross to shut up, but no such luck.

“That kind of morning, eh?” Ross offered with a laugh. He sidled up to Adam and bumped shoulders, causing Adam to curse under his breath when hot coffee splashed his hand. “It’s only gonna get worse.”

Adam needed this coffee. He lived on the opposite side of London from Bodyguards Inc., and the traffic on the motorway had been murder, even this early in the morning. He couldn’t fault the premises—a converted barn on the land of the manor house Kyle Monroe had inherited six years ago. But he could definitely fault having to battle every commuter in the city just to get his briefing.

“How can anything be worse than an hour stuck on the M25?” Adam asked wryly. Then he really wished he hadn’t. Sitting down behind his immaculately tidy desk, Ross leaned back in his chair with his long legs in front of him and his hands behind his head. He was the picture of nonchalance yet had an air of knowing something that Adam didn’t.

“The M25 is nothing on this. We had a call-in,” Ross said. “You’re up on a Pretty Boy job.”

Adam closed his eyes and cursed. His absolute worst contracts involved being in charge of what Bodyguards Inc. labeled—off the record—as Pretty Boys. Actors, singers, and in a worst-case scenario, reality TV stars. Every one of them paid well, but dealing with celebrities who had more money than sense all because they epitomized ‘star’ was his idea of hell. The last job—Jesus—that X-Factor runner-up who demanded Adam call him ‘sir’. He'd kept dropping Simon Cowell’s name like he personally knew the guy. In addition, he was arrogant, narcissistic, and had the IQ of a snail. Adam was well out of that particular job.

“Not only that,” Ross continued, “but it’s a science-fiction fantasy convention gig.”

“Convention? Like Trekkies?” Adam couldn’t believe that he’d timed his life so poorly that he was going to be surrounded by people wearing fake ears and speaking Klingon.

“No, like vampires and stuff.”

Adam cursed and Ross just grinned. Bastard. “Is it too late to take some sick days?” Adam said.

“Are you sick, Adam?” The new voice belonged to Kyle, boss and owner of Bodyguards Inc. His drawling American accent was so damn sexy and for a second Adam allowed himself to stare. Adam was fascinated by Kyle’s accent, and hell, he’d let Kyle charm him using just his voice, and maybe his large hands, any day he wanted. Pity the owner of Bodyguards Inc.—or BI as Kyle called it—was so gone on Ross, despite the fact his personal assistant remained oblivious to that fact.

“No. I’m not sick,” Adam said. No point in lying. Kyle could spot a lie a mile off.

“I have a job for you. I’m guessing Ross already gave you the heads-up? Star of an American TV series over here for a convention in London. He’s been receiving threats, had a near-miss with a car trying to run him down, and also had some objects left in his trailer on set.”

“Objects?”

Kyle peered at the list. “Antique knives on two separate occasions, four deliveries of red roses with thorns intact, and one dildo.”

“So it’s a sex thing then?” Adam wasn’t surprised. Actors weren’t renowned for high moral standards. The guy involved probably slept with everyone and had encountered someone just slightly mentally unhinged. Still, that didn’t make terrorizing the man okay so Adam concentrated on the rest of the briefing.

“The network has decided he needs tracking from airport to hotel, through the convention, and out the other side to the airplane home with a handover after one week in the US. This Friday through ten days to a Monday. Good money. You want it?”

Adam considered his options here. If he could just push past the memories of past contracts with similar clients he would be fine. It crossed his mind that perhaps he should ask if there were anything else that he could do instead.

“No chance of a nice industrial threat job? Or maybe I could work the desk for a week?” The joke fell flat as Ross narrowed his eyes at the question. No one went near the desk. That was Ross’s domain and no one else’s.

Kyle shook his head. “Sorry, dude. This is the only new thing on the BI books today. Well, not exactly the only one, but Ed and Lorna both turned Pretty Boy down. So yeah, it’s mostly your decision. If you want it, say so, otherwise I’ll tell his management team no.” Kyle waited patiently for an answer, all serious and businesslike.

“Why did no one else want the job?” Adam asked, suspicious of what he’d just heard. Kyle opened his mouth and then shut it again. Evidently the other close protection agents’ reasons wouldn’t be good ones. Ross dived in to help.

“Lorna just got off a case and she’s recuperating, as you well know,” Ross explained. Like that explained why she wouldn’t take on one of her favorite kinds of cases.

“I just got off a case as well,” Adam protested. A case involving an idiot, two guns, a case full of whisky, and a week of driving all over the bloody country. Not a good one at all.

“Yes,” Ross said dryly, “but you weren’t shot at, Adam, and she was.”

“Flimsy excuse. Bullet didn’t actually hit her,” Adam pointed out with a laugh. Gallows humor always worked best in these situations. He liked Lorna a lot; the feisty redhead was fun and damn good at her job. No one wanted to see her shot. Well, apart from her ex who had been served with a restraining order. “What about Ed?” He knew he was clutching at straws. Ed had seniority at BI, having been with Kyle since it started six years ago.

“Ed said, and I quote, ‘I can’t deal with screaming fans.’” Ross shrugged. “You know he’s far too old and grumpy to deal with screaming women.”

“He’s the same age as me,” Kyle observed. He sounded affronted and Adam hid a smile.

“See? Old,” Ross joked. Adam watched the byplay with interest. His boss was so head over heels with Ross and Adam wondered how Ross could fail to see the hurt in Kyle’s eyes at the comment. Kyle was thirty-five or as near as, and Ross was only twenty-five… still, age was an irrelevant thing in Adam’s eyes. Ross was losing out; Kyle was a good man.

“I’ll take the job,” Adam said, just to break the tension. Yes, he would do this. That was his job. He could manage ten days. Kyle tore his stare away from Ross and held out the folder with the information Adam would need. Taking the folder was implicit agreement that he would accept the job.

Kyle disappeared into his office and slammed the door shut behind him. His hurt followed him like a cloud. Ross didn’t even look up from his desk.

“Why do you do that?” Adam asked.

“Do what?” Ross responded. The question was accompanied by a distracted frown.

“Go on at Kyle about his age all the time.”

Ross huffed. “It’s only a joke. He doesn’t care. Anyway, the other computer is all yours.” Evidently the discussion was over. Ross buried himself in other work, leaving Adam to get on with what he needed to do.

There was always a strictly professional brief in the folders that Ross created and Kyle handed out. However, a good Google search often highlighted elements in the case that would be useful. Adam had four days until the client's plane landed at London Heathrow so he opened to file to build the foundation for the assignment.

Even he couldn’t help but raise his eyebrows when he saw the guy he was being assigned to look after. Logan Brady was some high-class Pretty Boy material. Twenty-nine. Brunet. Actor. Those were the basics. Adam peered at the photo; he wasn’t sure if it was just the print resolution but Logan’s eyes were really stunning and an incredibly bright blue. His hair had a soft curl to it and was in one of those short, tousled cuts. He wasn’t smiling in the photo. He had that typical shot used for publicity where he was staring moodily at something just off-camera. There was red around his mouth so Adam scratched at the photo. Nope. It wasn’t coming off the photo. Reading the label explained a lot. ‘Night Cop - Vampire, Cop. Brother, Lover. Killer, Hero. Isaac.’.

Okay. So Logan Brady played a guy called Isaac from one of these ├╝ber-popular vampires-are-cool shows crossed with some kind of police procedural show. He was seriously nice eye candy. That part was going to be extremely easy to handle for ten days.

Flicking through the pack, Adam pulled out pictures of the girlfriend, a blonde-haired green-eyed beauty who clung to Logan’s arm in the photos like a limpet to a rock. Logan wasn’t smiling in any of the photos. Whether paparazzi or studio shots, he appeared to use the patented cool-vampire stare for all of them. To Adam’s eyes he just looked permanently pissed off. But then the young girls liked that kind of thing, he supposed.

A quick search had many more pictures, both the same vampire character and others going back maybe ten years to a fresh-faced Logan in some kind of teenage high school show. Adam didn’t exactly have his finger on the pulse of kids’ TV shows, nor did he watch anything with vampires in it, to be fair. But hell, if the stars all looked like this guy, then he may well change his mind. Seems vampires and pissed-off faces paid well; pictures of Logan’s house showed a small place in LA up in the hills, at least so the label to the photo said. There were paparazzi shots of Logan in his garden, Logan eating out at dinner, Logan swimming, Logan shopping. Jeez, Adam wouldn’t have been surprised to see pictures of the actor taking a shit.

The fact that the paparazzi had snapped so many photos of this TV star was no surprise to Adam. Over three-quarters of BI cases were with people in the public eye, actors, politicians, the British aristocracy, and so many other high-profile people. Adam was never sure how they coped being out there for everyone to see, but then, he guessed the money helped.

The information on the hit-and-run was sketchy. The internet had nothing apart from gossip and hearsay. Apparently a car had lost control and crossed the street, glancing the wall and coming to a stop next to Logan. Either the term ‘hit-and-run’ was not an appropriate one to use on this occasion, or the journalists hadn’t gotten the full story. Adam suspected the latter based on how the network now appeared to want to wrap their star in cotton wool.

Ross crossed over and placed sheets of paper next to the open folder. He frowned. Gone was the man who called him Blondie. In his place was serious-Ross with a focused look.

“Logan Brady’s manager sent over copies of the notes Logan’s been receiving. It’s not good. They’re all addressed to Isaac,” he said.

“The character he plays on the show,” Adam confirmed.

“Yeah. There’s also more information on the alleged hit-and-run. Logan is one lucky bastard that he wasn’t a human sandwich between two or three tons of SUV and a solid brick wall.” He left without further discussion, and curious, Adam rifled through the notes.

Words jumped out at him from the different sheets of paper; love and hate and all the emotions in between. Celebrities received threats all the time; it was almost a way of life that once you were a ‘personality’ you attracted the crazy out of the woodwork. The last case he’d worked on for the Metropolitan Police had been a stalker case and the client said she received threats just as often as she received proposals of marriage.

These notes were well written, the grammar was good, they were tidy, and Adam filed away that information as possibly useful. As to the content, there was nasty, vicious prose in one, wheedling love declarations in another, all written in the same hand and signed with the initials IR. Threats to kill Logan over some kind of relationship with an Annabelle? Adam checked the file. Annabelle wasn’t the girlfriend. A hunch had him checking the show listings. Annabelle was the heroine to Logan’s bad boy on the show, played by an actress named Marissa.

So the same guy that professed love for Logan in one letter demonstrated an equally vicious hate in the next, all because Logan’s character had kissed Annabelle in an episode. Great, so he was dealing with a total nutjob then, an irrational person with severe pretend-life issues. The car accident details Ross brought over were far more detailed than those Adam found on the internet and he spent a while looking at photos. If the car hadn’t hit a street lamp then Logan would have been seriously hurt. The driver ran but what few witnesses there were had caught sight of a woman—short, slim, with blonde hair to her waist—fleeing the scene. There were no CCTV photos, either. Apparently whoever owned Logan’s contract at the studio wanted a lid kept on things.

There was no indication that Adam had a bodyguard in the US, why did the guy’s manager think that he would need one on his visit to the UK? The probability that the perpetrator followed Adam from the US was slim. Then he reached the last note in the list. A simple two sentence missive that was written so tidily that it was a shock to read the actual words:

“I’ll be at the convention in London. I can’t wait to meet the man who is the other half of me.”

Ah. That explained the need for a bodyguard then.

“Does he have a bodyguard in the US?”

“Some kind of driver guy shadows him, but the network is getting serious and have brought someone in for you to do a handover in LA.”

“And the cops? Do they have Logan Brady under surveillance?”

“No. The agent said the cops felt it was nothing, not yet.” Adam knew where the cops were coming from, each district had a glut of certain crimes, and in LA it seemed maybe crimes against actors were the drug of choice. He knew the feeling of saying to someone, “I’m sorry, but until there is proof, until someone gets hurt, there is nothing we can do.” Still, these notes were pretty damn specific in what they were saying. As to hiring a bodyguard, BI often took on cases where the victims didn’t want police involved so that was nothing new.

“Anyway, no cops. Whoever pays Pretty Boy’s wages wants it kept low-key. A vulnerable actor makes for a shit ‘heroic, in-your-face vampire cop’ and the show is, and I quote, ‘coming up for renewal’.”

“A dead actor isn’t going to cut it much for renewal either,” Adam deadpanned.

“I checked into the initials IR; the convention organizers are cooperating but no one on their lists matches up with those initials. There are a mix of UK, European, and US fans attending the convention. Not that we can narrow it down, the letters came from the UK, tracked through to an East London PO address in Greenwich so it could be anyone already here. No addresses in the convention database match though. There are fourteen hundred attendees; it’s a big pool of bodies, eighty-five percent of them female.”

Adam looked down at the letters. Despite the statistics offered to him it would be foolish to accept at face value that a woman had written the letters. There was also no evidence that whoever wrote them would desire to drive a car straight at Logan. Nothing matched just yet and you couldn’t just cut out an entire gender based on assumption.

Ross continued, “Logan Brady is staying at the Upton Levington Manor Hotel. It’s a suite with three bedrooms so you’re sleeping there. I booked it through from tonight so whoever got the contract can get sorted.”

Adam closed the folder and knocked it once on the desktop to align the paper. A familiar buzz of excitement shot through him. Getting his teeth into a job was always a good thing. Whatever the case was.

“Good luck with your Pretty Boy, Blondie,” Ross called as Adam was leaving. A middle finger up at his friend through the glass was a nice end to the visit. He was still smiling when he reached his car over the fact he'd managed to hide Ross's stapler again. When would the man ever learn to leave the damned thing where Adam couldn’t see it?

Chapter 2
“You know why having a bodyguard is a bad thing, Jimmy.” Logan slumped back into the corner of the SUV seat and closed his eyes. How had it come to this? The letters had started out like a million others he received. Simple and to the point, they declared love and forever and very often included lace panties or some other random piece of clothing. He’d had wedding invites sent to him with his name next to the applicable girl or boy; hell, he’d had notes claiming babies as his. Nothing quite as disturbing as these letters, but then again, this person sending them was probably a mental patient or something. Mostly harmless. That was what he had to think otherwise he’d be jumping at his own shadow.

“Bodyguards Inc. is the best, Logan, and they are very discreet. I’m forwarding the mail to you with the details for the guy who is looking after you. He’s the most suitable they have for you apparently. He’s done a lot of these celebrity gigs. You have to know I’m paying a lot of money for the best.”

“You’re paying? Don’t you mean I’m paying?” Logan snapped. He immediately regretted the tone in his voice. Unlike a lot of industry agents, Jimmy was a good guy. “Sorry. I’m on edge.” Jimmy chose to ignore the quick outburst; he was good at doing that.

“BI has a fine reputation. I know a guy who knows the brother of a cousin to the man who runs it.”

Logan had to laugh. Jimmy knew everyone in one huge network of people. Locating a bodyguard agency via a friend of a brother of a second cousin twice-removed wouldn’t be a shock for a resourceful man like Jimmy.

“Anyway,” Jimmy continued, “we also have the new bodyguard that will be in place soon after you get back from the UK. Your English guy will be coming to the States with you to do what they call a handover. I’m guessing they’ll exchange notes.”

“Why can’t the US bodyguard start now and just go with me?”

“He’s not contracted until the first of the month, and the network wants you to have someone with local knowledge when you’re in England. This BI company will be more than suitable. And don’t forget you have Mike looking out for you up until then.”

“Great.” Logan felt tired and just this close to cancelling the UK trip. If it wasn’t for the fans he would be letting down then he may well have done so by now.

“Stacia wants to go with you. She’ll back you up. It won’t be any different than any other trip for the show. Just play the happy boyfriend and let her do her thing, and let the bodyguard do his as well.”

“I’m not taking Stacia. I won’t put her in any kind of danger.” As it was he had already begged off a dozen or so joint invites and begun to create a little media space between him and Stacia. She would stay safe that way.

“I don’t think the decision will be yours to make if she gets her way,” Jimmy pointed out.

“We were talking…” Logan wasn’t sure how to word this. “Stacia and I that is. She said Bryan isn’t doing so well with this whole her-pretending-to-be-my-girlfriend thing. Says it’s holding her back and that he loves her. Hell, he as good as proposed last weekend. Time has come to end this with her.” Bryan was a good guy, an cop who adored Stacia. He’d been damn patient for the last six months since he and Stacia had met. They had to keep their relationship a secret just so Stacia could keep making people believe she was with Logan.

Jimmy sighed. “I know that. She called me as soon as he asked her. She’ll cover you in London, but post-convention we probably need to find someone else. Talk to her, Logan, find out how she wants to deal with it. A discrete breakup with you in stages that we can filter to the internet should take care of it.”

Anxiety twisted inside Logan at the coming change in his ordered life. Stacia had been his wingman for three years now. The blonde beauty was the perfect foil for him and provided that brick wall between what he was and what he let people see. They’d met through the show. Night Cop had just entered its second season and she was brought on as a series baddie for a few episodes. She was a close friend, knew all his secrets. And he was a bankable commodity; her career had gone from strength to strength since they’d ‘gotten together’. She’d just landed a recurring role on a new comedy. Had to be a good thing for her; she deserved a good career and a man who loved her.

“Matt doesn’t have to hide,” Logan said. He couldn’t stop the sadness in his tone. He wanted what actors like Matt Bomer had. A partner he could really love, kids maybe someday, but still able to do what he loved—act. Finding another woman to be his plus one in order to keep his cover to the public at large was getting to be too much and he hated the lies.

“Then you need to make a choice,” Jimmy said patiently. Logan could probably quote word for word what his agent and closest friend was going to say. “Your decision is easy. Be honest with yourself and with everyone else, then deal with whatever happens next. You know whatever you decide, there will always be work for you and I will have your back in anything you choose to do.”

“I know you will, J, and I love you for it, man. It’s just… I’m coming up on thirty and I don’t have a clue what kind of roles will be out there for me as I age, let alone if I came out of the closet. I’m not sure I’d still get work as the ‘Sex God’ the tabloids keep labeling me as.”

“You don’t need the money,” Jimmy pointed out. “You could do what you want to do, go into directing, go back to school. Hell, Lo, you’ve been acting since you were fourteen, in public and in private. Aren’t you ready to be yourself now?”

“It’s not that easy. I can’t just decide to come out as gay.”

“You can. It’s very easy.”

“What are you saying, Jimmy? That I should make a different decision? I’ve been pretending for so long and hiding… and hell, what about Stacia? She’ll be embarrassed, humiliated.”

Jimmy chuckled. “This is Stacia we are talking about. She’s got balls of steel and she just wants you happy. We can manage this in a million ways. Call you bisexual, use the morals get-out clause in your contract. You can take some time off, decide what you really want now. And, Lo, remember…”

“What?”

“Thirty is a good age to change your life.”

Logan ended the call and he switched to his email. The mail from Jimmy with details of the bodyguard company was at the top of the list and he clicked on the link to view the attached photo. His eyes widened when he saw the cute blond in the photo. Well. Cute might just be the wrong word. The man was looking stern, there was no smile, and Logan couldn’t see the color of the man’s eyes or anything. But hell, the body and face were fine.

At least his bodyguard would provide him with some male eye candy to stare at when he was surrounded by a million and one screaming fangirls. The document described Logan as thirty-one, blond, brown eyes, five-ten, ex-cop, specialist in hand-to-hand combat. Brown eyes, eh? Logan loved brown eyes. And hell, with this guy he wouldn’t mind a little hand-to-hand combat either.

They arrived at the studio. The blacked-out windows combined with utilizing the lesser-known back entrance to the studio meant he wasn’t spotted. He loved his fans; without them he wouldn’t be where he was, and he doubted Night Cop would have been renewed past season one. Now on season five, he really considered himself fortunate for the show to have such a loyal fanbase. It was only… some of the fans were really intense and despite being six foot and more than capable of running quite fast, he wasn’t beyond being scared when large groups of screaming girls—and boys—got up in his space.

“Okay back there, Logan?”

Logan nodded to his driver. Mike was one of the only people outside Jimmy who knew the real Logan, and sitting in the back with scripts on the long drive from home to here had meant several long conversations with the burly driver. Jimmy had handpicked Mike and normally Mike would have gone to the UK with him, but his daughter was having a baby. There was no way Logan was taking the experience of being here for his daughter away from Mike. She was already six days late and the hospital wouldn’t let it go much further. If only she’d had it on time Mike would be going with him, could be the brick wall between him and the fans. But on the other hand, Mike wasn’t a trained bodyguard, he was just a big guy with a soft heart.

“Just organizing the trip to London,” he answered and waved his phone in front of him. Mike nodded in the mirror. The SUV pulled in beside a whole row of similar vehicles, and turning the engine off, the driver turned in his seat.

“Did Jimmy find someone good?” Mike looked concerned.

Logan recalled Adam Freeman’s details. Not the fact he was five ten with brown eyes and blond hair but the stuff Mike would want to know, the fact the guy was qualified to look after him.

“Adam Freeman, British and a former cop, came over from some kind of special department out of London, counterterrorism or something. He’s a specialist in hand-to-hand combat and is good at his job apparently.”

“An English Jack Bauer.” Mike smirked.

For a second a flash of his frequently used Jack Bauer fantasy slid into Logan’s thoughts, but he ruthlessly pushed it to one side. “I wish.”

They exchanged smiles. They’d done the whole ‘I wish I was going, sorry to let you down’ chat and they didn’t need to say anything else. Logan climbed down from the SUV.

“Later,” he said. Mike sketched a wave goodbye and left to park. Logan strolled through the maze of small buildings and onto lot five, exchanging hellos with anyone he crossed paths with. The LA sun was starting to heat the air and he shrugged off his jacket. Today was the final day of shooting episode ten and it was outside work right on into the night. That was what he needed, hard, physical fight scenes in the dark with fake rain. Hell, at least it would make him forget the letters and the fact that Jimmy was right. He had a meeting with the network in a couple of weeks and he needed to take that time to consider his entire future. He owed it to himself, he owed it to Stacia, and he owed it to the show.

Jimmy would back whatever he decided. This kind of support was invaluable to have from your agent. If Logan came out as gay or bi or whatever Jimmy spun for him, then he could at least stop lying. He’d need to handle it carefully. Stacia could be part of the fallout through no fault of her own and he didn’t want her to be laughed at in any way.

“Logan, makeup now; I have you with Teresa in twenty.” A harassed assistant scurried over with a clipboard in hand. “We need the post-fight scars and the tattoos and we need it for ten.”

And so it started.

The Ex Factor #2
Chapter 1
The crackle in his ear startled Ben Collins even though he’d been expecting the check-in.

“Alpha four in position,” the voice intoned. “Your handover for a break is two minutes out, Ben.”

Ben depressed the button to talk. “Alpha three, copy.”

Not a moment too soon. If he had to stand outside this dressing room listening to God knows what for another minute, he might just barge in the room and split up the two inside. Esmee Golder, pop princess and judge on this god-awful X-Factor rip-off show was “entertaining.” And wouldn’t the gossip columns love that the person she was entertaining was one of the boy band members through to the final.

At only eighteen the blond-haired kid was half her age, and they’d been at it for an hour now. Ben decided when he got back to base he was telling Kyle in no uncertain terms that he was not doing another showbiz stint. I’ve done my bit, he thought as he winced at the dramatic orgasmic cursing emanating from inside the room.

Another point the public might find interesting was the casual drug use behind that door. Esmee had asked for a loan of a hundred this morning. From him, her bodyguard. He’d just used his patented blank stare and pretended he hadn’t heard her. He wasn’t facilitating a drug purchase nor was he actually talking to Esmee any more than he needed to. Why couldn’t he have been paired up with any of the others? A contestant, maybe? That singer with the guitar was kind of cute, and from the way he looked Ben up and down yesterday, he was clearly playing for the same team.

A show runner came up the hall towards him, and he tensed even though he knew who it was and the guy was on the accepted list. The runner ignored Ben and instead rapped on the door Ben was guarding.

“Ten minutes, Miss Golder. Ten minutes.”

“Coming.” The words were strangled and ended on a laugh. The runner glanced at Ben, and they exchanged looks of disbelief.

“Is someone in there with her?” the runner asked in a mild panic. He checked his clipboard. “No one is supposed to be with her. She’s supposed to be meditating? Do you know if she’s been to get the makeup test for tonight?” Ben didn’t answer. His shrug said it all. He wasn’t saying a damn thing. Hell, he wasn’t paid to talk or keep tabs on airhead princesses like Esmee Golder, he was just here to stop people from stabbing her with a letter opener or some other weird thing the show owners thought could happen. Neither Bodyguards Inc., the company he was working for, nor Ben himself were convinced there was any threat here. In fact, he knew he was standing outside this room more as a status symbol than anything else.

The show runner huffed, and a frown knitted his brows. ”Jesus, everything is fucked up today. Daniel Lincoln is AWOL, and we’ve lost Mark from Twelfth fucking Wonder as well. Why can’t anyone just stay where I put them?”

That would be Mark “I’m gonna fuck you all night Esmee”, the same teen who was currently in the room behind him.

If only I could say that Mark was inside helping Esmee meditate.

Instead he focused in on thinking about where Daniel had gone. The young singer-songwriter with the sexy black guyliner was always missing. It seemed to Ben like the singer avoided all human contact, skittish, wary, and if Ben didn’t know better, he’d say Daniel was scared of him as well. After last week’s show, the two of them had ended up in line for coffee. They’d actually talked for a little while. Except, since that time, Daniel now inevitably turned and walked away whenever Ben was near him.

Even today Ben still mulled over what they’d talked about, nothing special—the weather, the show, was Daniel nervous about tonight’s performance—usual stuff really. They hadn’t actually finished talking about anything in particular when Daniel had been called for a sound check and had to leave his lunch on the tray.

All that Ben could recall was that Daniel Lincoln was cute, short—well, shorter than him—had a soft growly voice and eyes the color of the sky, and unfortunately he had a boyfriend. He wasn’t the kind of bodyguard to perv on his clients, not that Daniel was actually a client, but he was on the show that had hired BI for security. Daniel was off limits; still, Ben could look.

Not every bodyguard was like his co-worker, Adam, who’d fallen for the American actor he’d been working close protection for.

There was more movement in the hall, but this time Ben didn’t tense. He recognized the very Adam Freeman from his thoughts. One day he might even talk to his friend about just how he came to terms with dating a client.

Adam was one of the four Bodyguards Inc. guys on this job, and he and Ben exchanged nods. The runner left, scurrying back the way he’d come, muttering about boy bands and princesses. It would have been funny if Ben hadn’t been trying for a serious look on the job.

Adam looked up and down the deserted hallway. “She got someone in there?” he asked under his breath.

“The blond twink with the floppy hair,” Ben replied.

Adam inhaled sharply. Back at the office they had a pool on just how many boy-band members Esmee would fuck before the show’s final. Ben had opted for one out of the five. After all, Esmee was renowned as the girl next door, with her polite and gentle approach to life. Yeah, right, girl next door wasn’t how he would describe Esmee now that he knew what she was really like.

And Ben had lost the whole pot of money by episode three when she had first seduced the one with the sticking-up hair, then in quick succession, the skinny one who couldn’t dance so well on the first night of the live shows.

He didn’t say any of this out loud. Bodyguards did not discuss clients where anyone could hear them. He stood aside as the door opened and a grinning blond boy-band member exited the room casually like he’d just been in there talking about the weather. Unfortunately the fact he stunk of Esmee’s perfume was a giveaway. Ben watched the kid walk to his own shared dressing room and wondered how long it would be before the boy-band members, average age nineteen, would all realize they’d been used and discarded, and whether that would cause a fight or whether they were in a competition among themselves.

Esmee appeared. Her hair was tousled, but that was okay, as recently she was going for the ‘just out of bed’ look. Seemed like she was busy reinventing her girl-next-door image. Ben could admit that if he liked women, she would probably be on his list for looks alone, full lips, a permanent sex-kitten pout, blonde hair to her waist, and a body so small he could probably pick her up in one hand. She just had the morals of an alley cat and a vagina, both of which kind of pushed her out of his selection pool. Make it a man, though, and he kind of liked using his height and strength and picking up his lovers.

Like that Daniel guy, the one with the guitar. He was not more than five ten and slight. I could probably pick him up and hold him while I kissed him.

Ben deliberately pushed the thoughts to one side. “Five minutes, Miss Golder,” he said instead, and then with a nod to Adam, he left without a backward glance.

“He’s so rude,” he heard Esmee say to Adam, but Ben heard the huff Adam gave instead of a coherent reply.

Making his way to the break room, he had to sidestep dancers dressed in nothing but feathers, the entire boy band running past him and barreling through the backstage doors into the room behind stage, and a very obvious brush with Lee from lighting who called all the bodyguards here his big brave men and wasn’t beyond fluttering his mascaraed lashes.

“We must talk, sweetie,” Lee said in an exaggeratedly camp voice, his bright orange nails contrasting with his lime-green jacket.

“On duty,” Ben lied and sidestepped the final hurdle between him and the coffee machine. A low announcement on the PA system informed everyone that dress rehearsals were in thirty minutes as Ben let himself into the room the bodyguards had chosen as their own. Just off the beaten track, it was half storage room, and alongside the stacks of boxes there was a table and chairs. This was their place for all four of the Bodyguards Inc. guys here this weekend and would double as hideaway and conference room in the event it was needed.

Michael was there already, and he finished whatever was left in his coffee cup and stood with a grin on his face.

“Heard you lost the bet,” he said.

“That’s her third one. I tell you she’s gonna do all five of those boys,” Ben pointed out. “And she gets louder every time.”

Michael made a duck face in a fake kiss. “They are all very cute. Can’t believe your gay side is staying hidden with the enormous buffet of yum.”

“Ha fucking ha,” Ben said with no heat. He poured his coffee, but it was little more than thick sludge, and he cursed the parentage of whoever supplied the hired muscle with such a shit machine.

Michael stood and rinsed his Superman mug, the same mug that went on every one of his jobs. “I’m out of here. I’m on break.”

Three acts remained in this competition, labeled the BoyBand, the Diva, and the Rocker. Well, everyone else called Daniel by the code name Rocker, but Ben thought it should be more like Cutie. Because he was cute, and sexy, with his flicky dark hair and the eyeliner he used to emphasize his brilliant blue eyes.

Really cute in an introverted, vulnerable way, Daniel only came alive when he was on stage with his guitar and his voice. He played guitar, sang on his own, and he was all wrapped up in a package of gorgeous-sexy. Slim, with dark hair and those serious eyes brimming with emotion, he had this way of grabbing at the audience and not letting go. He’d made it through all the heats and the semis, but general consensus was that he was out first tonight on the live finals. The boy band, Twelfth Wonder, had the girly vote, the Diva had the older vote, and then there was Daniel Lincoln with his guitar and his voice and his quirky looks. Definitely third-place material. At least according to Adam, who liked to think he had his finger on the pulse of showbiz ever since he’d hooked up with the actor Logan Brady.

“I’m getting better coffee,” Ben said to no one as he realized Michael had gone. Damn the man and his scary ninja skills. Ben rolled his shoulders to ease the ache in them, the result of standing in the same position for the last two hours, and he felt the muscles loosen. Then he exited their room and turned left out of the door.

He knew that somewhere around here the team of makeup artists had their own sparkly coffee machine that made half-decent cappuccino. Left, left, right, left and straight on. He had a good sense of direction normally, but here at the Arena, they’d begun maintenance work, and it seemed like every turn he took was blocked by tarpaulin. Finally he found what he was looking for, and after a couple minutes flirting with three makeup girls who giggled and flirted back, he had in his hands a cup of coffee and two cranberry muffins that he’d been forced to take.

At six five of lean gym-fit muscle, he could afford a few muffins every so often, and he polished the first one off in a couple of mouthfuls. He spotted Lee with the clipboard and the lime jacket and God help him, he couldn’t do any more fending off of the man’s advances. He thought quickly and ducked through a door and into a darkened room, closing the door behind him. What was it with Lee and his insistence on attempting to get it on with any one of the bodyguards? Lee didn’t have any particular preference either, he’d cornered Michael yesterday and Michael had looked beyond annoyed and onto contemplating lethal force. Lee apparently had no self-preservation and had decided Michael was the one for him. Apart from the fact he was attempting to corner Ben as well.

In here Ben was safe. Lee hadn’t spotted him, he had a good half hour until he was back on duty, and he had a bloody good coffee warming his hands. Leaning back against the door, he enjoyed the silence and sipped on his blessedly hot caffeine. At least until he heard movement and the sharp inhalation of a curse.

* * * * *

Daniel Lincoln was fucked. He’d deliberately chosen this place to get his head clear, and someone had walked in. Not only that, but he or she had shut the door and they were in here with him, and Daniel was having enough trouble breathing, let alone concentrating on staying quiet.

Something was broken inside him, and he didn’t just mean his spirit, which was lying near death in his chest. The pain in his chest was too much and scraped when he breathed too hard. How the hell he was going to manage the dress rehearsal, let alone the live final tonight, he didn’t know.

The boxes he was hidden behind, on a seat of discarded outfits acting as a nest of comfort to his bruised and aching body, were enough so that even with the light on, he wouldn’t be seen. He wanted to cough, though, and that may well be the end of his ability to breathe at all. What if a rib had cracked and punctured a lung? Cam had never gone this far before. He’d always stopped at just enough to teach, but never enough to warrant a visit to hospital. This time, hell, what had he done, told Cam that he’d been offered a recording contract? That was all. Why the fuck had he said a word about what he might have been getting in the way of money? His eyes damped with more tears, but he couldn’t let them fall, because that would be letting the pain out for everyone to see.

No one wants to see my pain. Who would understand?

A cough spasmed inside him, and he couldn’t help the groan of pain.

“Who’s there?” a deep voice called from the door. The owner of the voice flicked the switch, and a dull energy-saving bulb lightened the room. Daniel shrank back into the shadows of the boxes and prayed to a god that never listened that the owner of the voice would just walk away. Now.

“I said, who’s there? I’m counting to three.”

Daniel closed his eyes tightly. He’d recognize that voice anywhere—Ben, the biggest, widest, tallest of the bodyguards hovering around. In the seconds it took for the man to count to two, Daniel wiped away every small part of himself that was broken and in pain and became the Daniel he could act out so well. He levered himself to stand and at the same time forced a smile in place and refused to clutch himself across the chest. When he rounded the boxes, he blinked at the full force of the light bulb and couldn’t believe just how right he’d been about who the hell was stood in front of him.

Ben. He knew his name, heard the others call him that. Ben, the observant one, the quiet one, the one who stared at him like he would look at a bug under a microscope. Although Daniel guessed all bodyguards—or close protection officers—were observant, it just seemed as if this one stared at him more than the others. Not to mention they’d spoken last week. Daniel didn’t really do talking, well, not small talk anyway. When Ben asked him if he was nervous about the vote, it was all Daniel could do to smile and offer a quick no before he was rescued by being called for a sound check. Something about Ben, the size of him, his deep voice, served to unnerve Daniel way past the point where he was comfortable.

And if Cam found out he’d been talking to another man? Even casually? Yeah, that really wasn’t going to go down well with Daniel’s possessive boyfriend at all.

“Hey,” Daniel said as carefully as he could and on a natural inhale so he could subconsciously control his breathing. The meds were starting to kick in, the codeine flooding his system and the morphine effect deadening some of the pain. At least some of it was better now that he was standing.

Oh well. Who needed to sit down anyway?

“Daniel?” Ben asked with question in his voice. “They’re looking for you.”

Daniel pulled himself up, and if anything he forced more effort into standing tall and straight.

“Yeah, just needed a quiet space,” he explained. In his head he was gesturing around him with a free hand, but in reality he couldn’t much move his right arm, which was going to fuck with his ability to play guitar. He thought maybe his shoulder was separated somehow. He’d seen Mel Gibson knock his own arm back into place in Lethal Weapon once, but that wasn’t happening here. He sure as hell wasn’t a hero who could push through pain.

“Jesus, you look like shit,” Ben observed.

Daniel floundered for something to say, and the line he came out with was pretty pathetic. “I’m not sure you’re supposed to say that to me.”

“What the hell happened to you?”

Ben placed his coffee on the nearest box and walked over to Daniel, and Daniel couldn’t help the instinct that made him stumble back and end up against the wall.

Why did you choose a room with no way out? What are you? Stupid?

“Don’t come near me,” Daniel said in his loudest, most strident voice, even though it was nothing more than a forced whisper to his own ears.

“Fuck, Daniel, seriously? What the hell?”

Why would Ben ask that? What did he mean? Daniel panicked. Did he have bruises on his face? How could he go out in front of millions of people and perform with bruises on his face? He must have said some part of that out loud because the man looming over him shook his head.

“I don’t see any bruises on your face,” Ben said simply, carefully. “You’re holding yourself like you have a chest injury? Or your shoulder? What did you do to yourself? We need to get you to Casualty. I’ll call the medics.” He turned to leave, to find the one group of people that Daniel didn’t want anywhere near him. Cam would fucking end him if he involved the authorities.

“No!” Daniel said loudly. The pain of the words radiated from his chest to his shoulder, and if it wasn’t for the wall, he’d be on his knees or unconscious. “I just need more codeine.”

Ben moved closer, but this time there was nowhere for Daniel to go; he’d run out of room. He closed his eyes tightly and waited for the first blow or the spitting accusations of how the fuck he had let himself get in this state. Instead all he got was a gentle touch to his left hand, the one without pain radiating down to it.

“Daniel, you need to listen to me. You know me. I’m Benjamin Collins, with the bodyguards. You can call me Ben.”

“I know your name,” Daniel said defiantly. Maybe if he said how little he knew, then Ben would just leave without hurting him.

Ben wore a scarlet T-shirt with the embroidered words “Bodyguards Inc.” on the breast, and whoever supplied it must not have had his size as it had to be too small and really hugged every muscle. Jeez, the man was muscle on bone, and he must spend a lot of time in the gym. Not to mention the way his black jeans stretched obscenely over muscled thighs and across his taut ass.

Fuck. Daniel shook his head a little to dislodge the desire that curled inside him. Cam would kill him if he did anything stupid like look at another man. Anyway, he didn’t need another man. He had Cam. He loved Cam.

I love Cam. Cam loves me.

“Look, don’t you think this is pushing things too far?” Ben had a soft voice now, not strident, nothing evil or shouting or accusing.

“What do you mean?” Daniel asked when Ben didn’t continue.

“You’re clearly in pain. You can’t believe you’ll make it out to rehearsals.”

“I need to put it back,” Daniel groaned on a painful spasm. “My shoulder, I hurt my shoulder.”

“I’m a bodyguard, not a freaking doctor. You need to get to Casualty.” Ben reached out and gripped Daniel’s unhurt shoulder, but he reacted viscerally and ripped out of the hold. White-hot heat took him to his knees, and he couldn’t help the tears in his eyes. There wasn’t any point in arguing with Ben, he was bigger and stronger than Daniel, he might as well just kneel at the guy’s feet and let him do whatever. Daniel had already fucked up the chance at the show’s final; he might as well give up.

Ben moved to a crouch in front of him. “Please, we need to get you some help.”

Ben’s tone was gentle and encouraging. He’d said please. He’d actually considered softening his tone just for Daniel. Something snapped inside Daniel in that second. He had to get help. This was worse than last time, and he needed to rest.

“Please.” He used Ben’s word back at him. “You have to know what to do.” He inhaled sharply. “I’ve dislocated my shoulder. Push it back for me.” Not like the pain could get any worse, right?

“What the hell? Daniel, if you’ve dislocated your shoulder, it’s not as simple as pushing it back.”

“Okay, then I’ll do it.” Daniel inhaled sharply and pressed the shoulder against the wall, letting out a thin wail of pain as he did so.

“Fuck, Daniel. No!” Ben shouted.

Why was Ben shouting, and who was crying? Am I crying?

“Let me see, you stupid idiot.”

Yep that’s me, fucking stupid. An idiot who can’t even stop another man’s pushing him to the ground and treating me like shit… I am shit… fuck.
“It’s not dislocated, I just think you’ve—” Ben gasped. “What the fuck?”

Daniel realized the man was pulling at his stage shirt, and he’d be able to see some of the marks on Daniel. The marks that Cam took so much time to lay in the places people wouldn’t look. The marks not even wardrobe would see because Daniel demanded that he be allowed to dress in private. The marks he tried not to look at himself.

“I fell down the stairs at the hotel,” Daniel lied. He didn’t know what the light in this place would show.

Ben said nothing. He was feeling all over Daniel’s shoulder so gently, but it still hurt.

“Okay, we need to get you somewhere. Medical. Can I at least take you to Medical?”

Daniel grabbed at Ben’s hand. If Cam found out someone else was involved—hell, if Cam discovered Daniel had told anyone, then Daniel would pay for it and Ben would as well in some twisted way. Cam would know some way to hurt Ben, and there was no way Daniel was letting someone else be hurt on his account.

“No,” Daniel pleaded. “I took codeine. It’ll be enough to let me get out there.” He attempted to clamber to his feet and dizziness assailed him. He really was fucked.

“You can’t think that you’ll be okay to go out on stage… Dress rehearsal is now.”

“No… I can’t,” Daniel admitted. “I know what to do. I just need to get to my dressing room. I have stuff there to take…” Inspiration hit him. “You could stand outside my door, tell them I was missing dress rehearsal, that I was in there and that I was resting my throat for finals. They’ll listen to you.” He couldn’t believe he was doing this, asking for help from someone so intimidating and angry. It was just opening himself up to more hurt. He should have tried to get to his dressing room earlier instead of hiding in that room, but there’d been so many people there in the way.

“Please help me.” Because, hell, asking for Ben’s help was the only thing he could do now. He’d only meant to sit in the dark for a short while, but codeine always made him sleepy, and he’d found a position where he could sit and let the morphine haze slide over him. Stupid move.

“Jesus,” Ben ground out.

“Are you helping me?” Daniel pressed a hand to Ben’s chest, tilted his chin, and looked up into Ben’s eyes with a pleading look. “I’ll pay you anything.”

Max and the Prince #3
Chapter 1
“This is the most important case you’ve ever had!” The shouted words boomed into the outer office, and Max frowned at the anger and vehemence in them. Seemed the new client was giving Kyle Monroe, owner of Bodyguards Inc., one hell of a time.


Ross Jackson glanced at his watch. “I think you’d better go in,” he said, punctuating the words with a tap of his pen to his desk.

“Will Kyle want me in there yet?” Max tried to ignore his concern about this whole mess. He wasn’t the kind of person to unnecessarily stress about situations. No, Maxwell Connery was a get-things-done kind of guy and had absolute focus. But this bodyguard to a prince gig was worrying him. He didn’t know if the actual prince was beyond the door to Kyle’s office, since the raised voices belonged to Kyle and only one other. The curse words from the other man didn’t bode well, but neither did they sound like any kind of prince Max had ever visualized. Max had arrived a few minutes after the potential clients and now sat with Ross in the outer office while initial discussion was undertaken, which was par for the course, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t heard every word from the angry man inside.

And now it was Max’s turn for his part in this beauty parade. He was up on a close protection job for a prince. A real, honest-to-God royal from some country in mainland Europe. He tried to get information out of the normally verbose Ross, but he was being uncharacteristically quiet this morning. Max couldn’t believe that Ross didn’t know something about what was going on in there. After all, the PA to the owner of Bodyguards Inc. knew everything and could always be relied on to pass along something that would give Max the edge during the interview.

“Before I go in, you seriously know nothing about the client?”

“Nothing,” Ross said. “Big scary dude who’s with our client isn’t happy, though.” He inclined his head to the closed door that was doing little to muffle the shouting.

“Is it the prince who’s doing all that shouting?” No doubt Prince Whatever was a spoilt, entitled, upper-class twat who coasted through life with no worries.

Ross peered at the screen in front of him. “Nope, that is Teddy. He’s built like…” Ross waved his hands around. “He’s the royal bodyguard. And that’s all it says. Just Teddy. Looks like he wants to kill everyone.”

Teddy sounded like a weird name for the guy Ross described and the owner of the cursing, shouting voice in Kyle’s office. ‘Teddy’ brought up images of a cute guy with an adorable button nose on his endearing little face. But as Max pushed himself up to focus on the job at hand, he knew he was the last one to talk about appearances. He was twenty-eight, but he was still carded all the time.

“At least my name is kinda cool,” he muttered, more to himself than Ross.

“Sorry?”

“Nothing.”

Drawing back his shoulders, Max knocked on the door and waited for the “enter.” There was no shouting now, just a horrible cold silence. Max quickly assessed the situation in the office. He recognized Teddy the giant—broad, six eight at least, short to the scalp hair, a scar on his forehead, black suit stretched over his muscled frame, earpiece dangling on his neck, and a scowl carved into his expression.

Which meant the other one was the prince. Right? Didn’t look much like a prince, though. The man was slouched in the chair with familiar white leads from earbuds plugged into an iPhone. Max couldn’t see the prince’s face, hidden as it was by the hood on a bright sapphire Cardiff University sweatshirt. Baggy jeans and scuffed Converse completed the look of couldn’t-care-less rebel. Max could hear the music the prince was playing from where he was. Not the bones of it to recognize an artist, but the high tinny beat of the music that flowed in time with the tap of the guy’s left foot.

“Maxwell Connery, Theodore Estevan.” Kyle indicated the giant. Max held out his hand to shake and was treated to a quick once-over from Teddy, or Theodore, as he was being introduced. “And this is Prince—”

“This is your man?” Teddy interrupted with something akin to horror. He stood up so violently he caused his chair to skitter back and hit the wall. “This child?” Teddy’s voice held an inflection—something Mediterranean, maybe?—though it was mostly lost in the sheer dismay in the tone.

Max didn’t drop his hand, and whether Teddy couldn’t think of another reason not to shake it or he was just being polite, Teddy grasped Max’s hand with a quick squeeze that was probably supposed to underline Teddy’s intimidating size and strength. Teddy was strong, that was undeniable, but Max didn’t flinch.

“Mr. Estevan,” Max acknowledged.

Max waited for an introduction to the elusive guy under the hood. Instead Teddy grabbed his chair and sat back down. There was evidently no rush to include the prince in any of this, not that he seemed at all bothered. Apart from the tapping of his foot and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, he didn’t move an inch.

“Max is one of my best operatives,” Kyle said, his tone the same one he used when he was calming Ross down after a missing stapler incident, low and encouraging. Like if he said something in just the right way, the situation would be diffused.

Teddy sneered at Max. “You told me this Max was a pilot, ex–Air Force. I don’t see that in this kid.”

“I am former RAF,” Max said. “Ten years, including two tours overseas.” Max refused to be insulted by the open contempt and disbelief on Teddy’s face. If it wasn’t for one crashed plane and a faulty ejection seat, he’d still be flying, and he was proud of what he’d achieved in his time in the service. People could judge him harshly on his age, but not on his accomplishments.

Teddy huffed dramatically with an angry shake of his head.

“You can’t think I am handing Prince Lucien over to the care of someone as… little… as this man. What happens when someone attacks? Is he going to blow them over with a kiss?”

Max refrained from making a retort. He wanted to, but that wouldn’t be professional. No, he had to let Kyle lead this. But hell if he would forget that kiss comment. He’d find Teddy and knock all six eight of him on the floor, then stand and laugh. There was no adage more appropriate than “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Max might only be five nine, but he knew all the moves to bring tree-size men to their knees.

“I’d suggest you show my operative some respect,” Kyle began. Max cast his boss a quick glance. That kind of language didn’t get sales. Kyle’s words could provoke, and provoke they did.

Teddy stood up again, and Max winced as the chair smacked the wall hard enough to leave scuff marks.

“I will not be spoken to like that. Prince Lucien, we’re leaving,” Teddy announced theatrically with a wave of his hand and the press of fingers to hood-guy’s shoulder.

The hidden man moved away from the hand, and with an exaggerated sigh, he pushed back his hood and pulled out his earbuds. He stood up, but Max couldn’t get a good look at him because Teddy was in the way.

“You need to go outside, Teddy.” The guy’s voice was slightly accented but English enough that it was difficult to ascertain the country of origin, similar to Teddy’s. Prince Lucien sounded tired.

Teddy stood firm. “I’m not—”

“Teddy, I’ll handle this.”

“I don’t trust him, sir,” Teddy insisted.

“I know you’re only thinking of me, but please, Teddy, give me five.”

Teddy didn’t respond, but there was a visible tightening of his shoulders and he spun, deceptively graceful for such a big guy, to face Max. There was one final stern glare that dripped with so much warning Max nearly took a step back, then Teddy moved away and left the room.

For the first time, Max got a good look at the man who had been hidden under the hood. Dark hair, tousled and messy in that just-out-of-bed look, with bangs that dropped to his eyebrows. With the hair was the darkest of eyes, a rich chocolate brown. The man had cheekbones to die for and a wry smile on his face. He didn’t look like any kind of prince that Max had seen before, certainly not all spit-polished and serious like he’d expected.

Max couldn’t help himself, he smiled back and extended his hand. “Max Connery.”

“And I’m Lucien Magrello. Could I possibly have the room for a few minutes?” He addressed the second to Kyle, who looked at both him and Max with concern on his face.

Finally, Kyle scooted up from his chair and left the room, briefly squeezing Max’s shoulder as he went past.

“Please, Max, have a seat,” Lucien said.

“I prefer to stand, sir.”

“Call me Lucien. Please.” He didn’t make a move to sit himself; instead, he looked at Max with a considering expression on his face. “Do you swim?”

Max blinked at the question. Swim? Why was that important? “I swim,” he said. He tried not to let the uncertainty in his head filter into his voice. He’d been on several jobs with BI before, but he’d never been asked whether he could swim.

“How well?” Lucien tilted his head as he spoke, his dark eyes narrowing as he assessed Max. “I mean, you’re not tall, so your length would be less than…” He stopped talking, a sudden flush of color on his cheeks.

“I swim well enough,” Max answered.

“Well enough to be on a swim team?” Lucien was so earnest and so young. Max knew Lucien was twenty-five which made him only three years younger than Max. But the way he was talking now made, all eager and excited, made Max felt terribly old. A swim team? That would involve swimming fast and yes, he could swim, but he wasn’t the fastest or the best swimmer out there.

A full sentence didn’t immediately come to mind. “Uhm…”

Lucien huffed a laugh. “Actually, you don’t have to answer that. I mean, it’s the perfect way to keep close to me if you practice with the swim team. But your boss had the idea of you pretending to be my boyfriend so you can come watch me practice even if you don’t swim.”

“If it becomes necessary then that is certainly an option,” Max said.

“Because I won’t give up my swimming, okay? Whatever you say, however many times you lock me in a room, I will always find a way to get out and swim.”

Max nodded like he understood every word that had just been said to him. He was a good swimmer, strong enough to keep up with the other cadets at Cranwell, but Lucien was right. Max was short, which was a handicap against long, lanky Lucien.

“I’m sorry, I just insulted you,” Lucien interrupted Max’s thought process. “I can assure you I am normally better mannered; it’s just I’m not in a good frame of mind. If that is any excuse.”

“You didn’t—”

“I mean, you’re short, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do your job, yes?” Lucien clapped his hand over his mouth. “I did it again.” The flush of embarrassment seemed to intensify, and Lucien added a frown for good measure.

“I’m five nine, which is actually about average, and yes, I can do my job.” That was the best Max could come up with at the moment. He’d always found honesty was the best policy.

“And about Mr. Monroe’s idea for you to pretend to be my boyfriend?”

“If that’s what it takes,” Max said.

Max swore he saw a flash of disappointment in Lucien’s eyes at his noncommittal answer, but it was so quick he couldn’t pin it down. He’d think on what it meant later.

“And, Mr. Connery, you will stop… everything?”

That Max couldn’t promise, not until he knew all the facts. “Why don’t we go over why you need a bodyguard—besides the obvious, of course—and then I’ll tell you what I can do.” He sat down in the chair the prince had suggested and indicated that Lucien should take the chair opposite.

“What do you need to know?”

“Tell me everything.”

Lucien glanced at the door, uncertainty on his face. “Shouldn’t the others be in here?”

Max shrugged. “Do they know more than you?”

Bitterness and sharp-eyed focus replaced the uncertainty and blushing. “Hell, no.”

Max sat back in the chair and forced himself to relax. “Tell me, then.”

“Where from?” Lucien did the opposite to Max and leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his knees and foot tapping to an unheard rhythm.

“The beginning.”

“Okay.”

Prince Lucien stopped for a moment, and his eyes lost that sharp focus. He was lost in memories and Max knew better to interrupt the flow. He just hoped that Kyle could keep Teddy outside for long enough that he could get a feel for whether he was a good fit on this case.

“I apologize for the way this story starts, because it’s a long time ago. And it isn’t excuses, but reasons. Is that okay?”

“Go on.”

“When I was five, my youngest brother was born. He was a beautiful baby, and I remember holding him when they brought him home.” A soft smile tilted his lips. This was clearly a very happy memory. “And I don’t mean for the official photos, I mean just holding him to hold him. He was so tiny, and I thought, ‘He’s the person I want to be good for.’ Right there and then I felt so empowered as a big brother I decided I would keep my room clean, not shout at my mum, the whole list of things kids do to test the limits. As far as I was concerned, Sebastian, or Seb as we all called him, would be my responsibility. My other siblings were older than me and away at school, and it would just be me and Seb for the longest time.” Lucien stopped for a moment and Max sensed this story was going somewhere very painful for Lucien.

Lucien sighed. “We were close, but he became ill, leukemia. He died when he was twelve.”

When Max had suggested Lucien start from the beginning, he hadn’t imagined it would go this far back and compassion welled inside him. Lucien had clearly adored his brother.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Lucien sat quietly for a moment and didn’t look up to acknowledge the comment or make eye contact with Max. “There is a reason why I’m telling you this. You see, there are particular ways of reacting to things in my family. We stay quiet and we grieve privately. We don’t rant and rave at the world, we accept sympathy with grace and courage. But when Seb died, I didn’t… I went… I lost control of my life for a long time, drinking, partying, and having—” He coughed. “—an inappropriate liaison. Of which there are photos.”

“Photos of the drinking, or the liaison itself?”

“Both. The drinking my family could handle, but the, uhm… sex side of it was a bitter pill as it doesn’t look good.” Lucien air quoted the last words with resignation in his voice.

“Have you seen the photos?” Max prompted.

Lucien reached for an envelope on Kyle’s desk and passed it to Max. “In there,” he said.

Max opened the envelope and pulled out one photo just far enough to see a grainy shot captured with a long-distance lens of a man that could potentially be Lucien with what looked like another man. Very quickly he pushed the photo back into the envelope. “I don’t need to see any more. So this whole situation is about you being blackmailed for what? Being gay? Being caught on camera?”

“Kind of.” The way Lucien spoke told Max there was more to this than was obvious at first.

“Whoever’s threatening to expose you does realize this is the twenty-first century, right?”

Lucien colored, but at least he was looking at Max directly now. “In my family, my country… Look, the man I’m with in the photos is a government official, a married official. I promise you I didn’t know he was married… but I was… drunk… really drunk. I don’t expect you to understand, but my family is held to a higher moral standing.”

So Lucien believed that any family in the public eye should have higher moral standards than the rest of the populace. Useful to know.

Max was puzzled. “Do they have problems with you being gay?” Max couldn’t recall anyone in the British monarchy who was openly gay, but to be honest, he didn’t pay that much attention.

“They know that I am. They don’t—” He searched for the word. “—approve as such. But as long as I keep it all behind closed doors, it’s fine. After all, I have three older siblings who can take care of the family firm and the appropriate number of heirs.”

Bitter much?

“So, this government official, you think he is the one blackmailing you?”

“No, God no. The authorities went down that road and Edward denied everything and they couldn’t find any link or evidence.”

Max pulled his lower lip between his teeth and considered the information. Princely meltdown, photos, gay sex—none of it added up to Prince Lucien needing an actual bodyguard.

“There’s more, then,” Max said. There has to be.

Lucien shifted uncomfortably. “The first few notes arrived just after I was photographed with the man and they were sent to my parents. Imagine that? Your parents being sent incriminating photos of their quiet son. They were shocked, horrified, but they refused to negotiate with the blackmailer. They ignored them, and there weren’t any more threats, no more photos, and everything appeared to end. I just wanted to hand over any money they wanted, but my family wouldn’t let me, and it seemed they were proved right. Right then it seemed that whoever took the photos and threatened me had given up.”

“What do you mean, it seemed?”

“Because then they found the body.”

Lucien was growing agitated, twisting his fingers together, and he was no longer flushed with embarrassment but spiky with the beginnings of anger. A change of subject was probably a good idea.

“What body?” Max said.

“Wait, I have to get this straight in my head. I should start with university.” Lucien closed his eyes and looked to be getting his thoughts in order and Max had to hold back his instant state of alert at the mention of a body. “I decided I wanted to study in the UK, anything to get away from… everything. I’d already missed years by losing the plot, gap year from uni after gap year, always an excuse not to go. Then suddenly, that is all I wanted to do. My old tutor recommended Cardiff a long time ago when I was only twelve or so, something about the UK Universities having the best research facilities and Cardiff being a beautiful city. When I was applying I remembered what he said.”

“Not to mention it’s in a different country.” Max pointed out.

“Yes. I mean, at first my family didn’t like the idea of me moving so far away without a security team. Or without the pomp and ceremony of a visiting dignitary.” Lucien rolled his eyes. “But after everything I went through when Seb died, I think my parents finally came to the decision that any move to get my head out of my arse was a good one.”

Max couldn’t help the small snort of amusement. The word arse coming out of Lucien’s mouth was just all wrong. Lucien frowned momentarily at the snort but continued.

“So some years later than the other students I should have been with, I started my degree. I was registered as just Luke Magrello, the normal guy with the funny accent.” He pointed at himself and offered a wry smile. “Luke Magrello doesn’t need a bodyguard or any special treatment. The threats had stopped. Everything was quiet, and I wanted to blend in and be normal. I’m ashamed to say that I did my own bit of blackmailing by promising my parents to never drink again if they’d only let me study at Cardiff and live on campus and just be normal.”

“Okay, let me understand this. You’re a prince, royalty, but you imagined you could hide away and no one in the age of Twitter and Facebook would put two and two together?”

“Prince is a title, that’s all. My family doesn’t have the money one would think was attached to it. I’m maybe eightieth in line to the throne in the UK through my father’s side, but we’re not rich—in fact you could say we’re property rich but cash poor.”

Max couldn’t get any of that to make sense. Why was someone blackmailing a family with no money, and—wait, none of that answered his original question. “So why do you need a bodyguard?”

Lucien bit his lip. “I don’t think I do.” He held up a hand to stop Max from responding. “The letters,” he said. He passed over another envelope, and this time Max pulled out everything. Nine separate letters in individual plastic wrappers with the stamp of Cardiff police on three of them and a familiar country name on the other six. So that’s where Prince Lucien comes from. Envelopes were attached to each, but none had gone through a postal service as such. All hand delivered, then.

“They’re in order,” he said. “The first six were sent to my home before I moved here and when the police looked at them the first five were all linked by tone. Crude and sexual, whoever wrote these was after one thing, and they signed off OS. The sixth one is different. The first five had my parents demanding I had a 24/7 bodyguard, and there was no way they would have let me leave the country on my own. Look… you’ll see.”

Max read the first one, a letter of admiration and respect, albeit a short one. Nothing much that would ping his radar, apart from the fact the letter had been signed off with mine forever before the simple initials OS. It appeared all five of the letters ended the same way.

The second was a little more insistent, suggesting Lucien maybe hadn’t received the first, then apologizing for being a nuisance. Although there was no return address on the first, so how the hell Lucien could have replied even if he’d wanted to wasn’t clear.

“That’s just irrational,” Max murmured, more to himself than Lucien.

“It’s like he wanted a reply,” Lucien said. “I don’t get it either.”

The third was angry and said in no uncertain terms that Lucien should know better and where were his manners. Still irrational. The fourth was where it got interesting. Abruptly the writer was saying that Lucien wasn’t the man he thought he was, the man that OS, whoever OS was, had fallen in love with. The letter writer said there were photos and he would hate to see them released to the press if Lucien didn’t respond to the letters admitting he was in love with OS.

“That’s where I am thinking, respond to what? Is there something in those letters I should be seeing to know who to respond to?”

Max shook his head. “I don’t see anything. But somehow the writer thinks you should know him. Did OS seem familiar to you? Oliver, Oscar, something?”

“Nothing at the time, I promise you.”

“And the blackmail photos, I assume he means the ones I just saw.” He turned to the next letter and confirmed his own statement. Crudely stapled to the fifth missive was a black and white print of the blurred image Max had just looked at with the words You think I couldn’t give you this? All you needed to do was ask. Then written in block capitals, I will have you.

Lucien pointed at the writing. “We had checks done on printing and the tone of the words. All of the letters are a supposed match but because there is no part of it that is handwritten in cursive or script, we can’t get any more from them. The authorities couldn’t find anyone with the initials OS who had a direct link to me, but do you know how many people in my country have those letters in their name?”

Max glanced at Lucien, who was gesturing wildly to underscore the question.

“I can imagine,” he said.

The sixth letter was different. The paper quality better, and the words used less raw and more controlled. If Max didn’t know better, he’d say they were from a completely different person.

All it said was You don’t need to worry any more. I’ve dealt with him.

“The suspicion was that this was a different person,” Lucien said. “Then—” He squirmed a little in his seat. “—the police found a body in a burned-out car, a man named Oscar Sheiver.”

“You think that was OS?”

“His apartment wall was covered in photos of me, my family, and he had these printed wedding invites between me and him. All they could determine was the dead man, Oscar, had been murdered before being placed in the car, killed by several blows to the head. There was no evidence to link to who killed him, and for the longest time I thought my parents had cleared up the issue.” Lucien lowered his head. “I didn’t know what to think.”

“Okay, so letter six is someone admitting what they did,” Max summarized. “That they ‘dealt’ with OS.”

“That is what the police thought, but with no more leads, it was done. I sobered up, became more of who I should be, and applied for a university place here.”

Max turned to letter seven, the first of the ones with the Cardiff police station tag. I’ve seen what people are like around you. Be careful. The paper was again different, which ruled out a connection that way, but still, the tone of it was a warning and wasn’t threatening in any way.

“That was pushed through the door,” Lucien said.

“And you think it’s by the same person who might have removed OS from the picture?”

Max shook his head. “I don’t know. No one knows. It certainly looks like it, but it’s been so long since the first six letters, it’s anyone’s guess.”

If the author of the last letter six had followed the prince to his school in a completely different country, then it didn’t matter the tone wasn’t threatening. Not good.

Letter eight rambled on for two pages, all in capitals, talking of the kind of people that Lucien should watch out for: the teammates in the swim team who were lying to him and the housemates who wanted nothing from him but money.

“This seems pretty specific. Do you have a feeling that someone is lying to you on the team?”

“No.”

“And is someone in your house taking money from you?”

“No, nothing more than lending a fiver here and there,” Lucien said. “No one knows who I am apart from the uni authorities.”

Letter nine was on different paper, a pale yellow cheap stock from the weight of it. This was both somewhat of a threat couched in a demand for Lucien to ‘see’.

It ended with a strange sentence. I can’t always keep you safe, why don’t you see that? I need you to see or you’ll end up getting killed.

Just that. A simple collection of words that were stone cold in their finality and intent.

Max considered the last part: or you’ll end up getting killed. That wasn’t the same as ‘I’ll kill you’? The words were subtle in difference and it didn’t sit well with Max. “He or she didn’t say they would kill you, just that you’ll end up being killed. That suggests a dissociation from hurting you directly.”

“I can’t see the difference,” Lucien said. “At the end of it I’m dead, according to whoever wrote these.”

“You want my advice?” Max asked. He pushed forward before Lucien could say a thing. “Go home to the castle or palace or whatever with Teddy, and get as far from here as possible until the authorities track the letter writer down. If it’s the same person who dealt with OS and that person is here in the UK now, then you should be keeping your head down.”

“We don’t have a palace or a castle,” Lucien snapped. “And I’m not going home. That is exactly what my parents want. I’m in my last year, and I want to stay. The deal so I get to stay is that I have security. They sent Teddy over—he’s the head of security at home. But you’ve seen him with his best impression of a hairless Hagrid, and if he’s with me, nothing will be the same. I need someone who will just be with me. If I stay here, if I don’t want to go home, can you help me? Will you?”

Max glanced up from the letters to see the resignation on Lucien’s face. Lucien was expecting Max to say no. Vulnerability shadowed his eyes, and he clasped his hands together so tightly the skin was white. Max’s heart won out over his head. Lucien wasn’t arrogant or expecting Max to say yes, he was defenseless and scared. He might not be listening to Max’s advice, but that wasn’t what Max was here for. Max was merely the bodyguard.

“Let’s talk more.”

Undercover Lovers #4
Chapter 1 
As soon as Max left the room, Kyle reached for the phone. He hesitated, with his fingers an inch from the handset, and listened to its beep indicating a call waiting.

Stefan Mortimer was at the other end of the call. That was a name Kyle hadn’t expected to hear again for a very long time, and the fact the man had contacted Kyle didn’t bode well. Especially considering Kyle thought, his and Stefan’s association had been put to bed a long time ago. A twinge of guilt accompanied the memories. He’d been the one told to leave, he was the one who’d had no choice but to go, but leaving Stefan behind had never sat well with him. 

A combination of anxiety and fear fluttered in his chest as he picked up the handset and pressed the button to connect. 

Only to be offered a line that was dead. 

“Stefan?” Kyle said to the empty air. For a second he held the receiver to his ear, then, very deliberately, replaced the handset in the cradle. Kyle rested his head on his hands, scrubbing his face to clear the tension. When the door opened, he knew it was Ross. He always knew when it was Ross. 

“He got cut off,” Ross announced. 

Kyle nodded. “So I see.” 

Ross sat down in the visitor’s chair directly opposite. “Is he a new client? Should I start a file for him?” 

“No, an old….” How could he describe Stefan? Ex-lover, partner, old friend? “Someone I knew.” 

Ross eased forward in his chair, his gray eyes bright with interest. “Knew? Like you used your experience as a spy to know?” he asked in his usual inquisitive tone. 

“From before,” Kyle said. He was deliberately vague. As he was every time anyone at Bodyguards Inc. skirted near what Kyle used to do for a living. Ross loved to tease that Kyle had been CIA black ops. To be honest, Ross wasn’t that far from the truth—but that had been a long time ago now. 

Ross frowned but didn’t keep it up. 

“So, Max, then,” Kyle said. Changing the subject was probably the way to go. He couldn’t believe he’d just had Max in here telling him that he and Prince Lucien were an item. How the hell could the same thing happen to Bodyguards Inc. again after Ben and Adam had both fallen for their charges? “He crossed the line.” 

“Seems like it’s getting to be a habit around here. First Adam, then Ben, and now Max. And I hear Lorna has a new boyfriend from her last case. Next it will be you.” Ross looked down at the iPad in his lap. “Or me,” he added. 

The words were a knife through Kyle’s heart. Imagining Ross with anyone other than him was something guaranteed to put him in a bad mood. “Don’t have time for that,” he lied. If Ross took even one second to notice his boss as anything other than his boss, then Kyle would make time. But that was as likely as a snowy day in hell. 

Ross chuckled. Like that was a joke. Like Kyle didn’t mean every syllable of it. 

“Anyway,” Ross continued. “Max seems happy, and his prince is a hundred times cute. Did you see Lucien’s eyes? I’ve never seen eyes that dark before, and his hair. Can you imagine burying your fingers in hair like that? And he’s a prince.” Ross threw up a hand and smirked as he did so. 

There was that stabbing again. Jealousy for real. Kyle didn’t have to analyze what he was feeling. Ross was talking about how sexy another man was, and abruptly, Kyle was in a headspace that screamed possessiveness. The idea of Ross finding himself a guy like Prince Lucien? Someone who pressed all his buttons? Someone Ross could fall in love with? That was enough to have the anxiety of Stefan’s phone call twist into something much worse. Jealousy. 

“I have a solution,” Ross announced. “We need to vet all our clients, and if there’s any hint they are gay and single, we don’t take them on. But, that wouldn’t work for Lorna—she’s straight, and she still met someone. Hmm, we should relabel ourselves. This could be a good marketing thing.” 

“Ross—” 

Ross ignored the warning in Kyle’s single word and instead drew an imaginary banner in the air in front of him. “Hire a bodyguard: meet the man for the rest of your life.” 

Now it was Kyle’s turn to ignore Ross. He had too much on his mind to find Ross as sexy and cute as he normally did; he had to focus. “Take a note. We’ll need to do some research and dig up a couple of new bodyguards,” Kyle said. He needed to concentrate on the company—on BI—and making sure what he had built was stable and secure. 

“Take a note?” Ross muttered as he thumbed through his iPad. “Who even does that kind of thing?” Then he stopped at a page on the screen. “So yes, that is what I wanted to talk about. We have two new applicants you need to meet up with and do the usual due diligence. One is ex-MI5.” Ross raised an eyebrow at that and turned the screen so that Kyle could see the face that went with the application. “Look at Mr. Tall, Dark and Ripped,” he said. 

“Ross, Jesus…” 

Ross coughed to hide a laugh. “In summary, we are mostly down to the wire. I’ve turned down that reality show we worked on last year. And—” Ross sighed. “—Michael’s wife called in. He’s broken his leg.” 

“Broke his leg how?” 

“Skateboarding.” 

“What the hell?” 

Ross shrugged. “Maureen said he was teaching his nephew how to—” Ross peered at the screen. “—air and backside, whatever that means.” 

Kyle sat back in his chair. He’d need to do the usual. ‘The usual’ was flowers, or chocolates, or whiskey, or something useful, along with a personal note from him and the reassurance that the operative would still be paid enough to keep going. All the operatives at BI were self-employed, but Kyle considered himself a good boss, and he had the finances to back up any support needed. “I’ll write something up.” 

“Well, hang on. Listen to this before you decide. Michael then called in, straight after his wife. Turns out he can’t stand the idea of being at home. Apparently all four grandkids are staying for the summer holidays, and he’s desperate to get out, so he’s coming into the office.” 

“You’re okay with that?” Kyle asked. Ross hated people interfering with his systems, and his stationery. 

“Yeah, Michael’s okay. I’ll give him rules, and he’ll stick with it. He’s not like Adam.” 

Kyle was too stressed to listen to another of Ross’s reasons why Adam was a wanker, as Ross so succinctly put it. Nor did he want to hear further elaboration as to the most recent place Adam had put Ross’s stapler. He resolved to change the subject, but he didn’t need to when the phone rang again. Before Kyle could reach it, Ross leaned over and picked it up. 

“BI, how can I help?” There was silence, and Ross cast a glance at Kyle. “I’ll just pass you over.” He gave the handset to Kyle. “Stefan Mortimer.” 

Without being asked, Ross left the room and pulled the door shut behind him, and abruptly Kyle had no excuse not to talk to Stefan. 

“What’s wrong?” he said, cutting to the chase. There was no need to use his name. Stefan and he had been closer than lovers for three years, and they knew each other like no one else ever could. Under fire, behind enemy lines, undercover—they’d done it all. 

“Thank fuck,” Stefan said. His voice was shaky, or was that the phone line? “I’m in the hospital,” he added. Then he coughed, as if his body wanted to underline such a defining statement. 

Kyle and Stefan had done their time in hospital beds, and both had the scars to prove it, but why was that something Stefan needed to break protocol to announce? Something awful, earth-shattering… something important. 

“Talk to me,” Kyle demanded without elaboration. 

“K, Jason is dead. I fucking killed him.” 

Stefan’s partner was dead? “Shit, Stefan—” 

“I sent you it all. It’s been a week, fucking hope it gets there. I need your help.” 

Kyle quickly went through the list of possible delivery options in his head. There was no email from Stefan, no voice message, nothing on the boards—which left the one thing that could work: good old-fashioned snail mail. Sent as something that may not make sense to anyone else. A standard spook-type thing. 

“Okay.” He didn’t have to say anything else. If Stefan was contacting him after all this time, if Stefan needed his help, if Stefan was in trouble…. “I’ll look for it.” 

“K?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Thanks.” 

Then the phone was dead. Kyle realized he had been gripping the handset so hard that his fingers were numb. He uncurled his grip and replaced the handset in the cradle, then pressed the intercom. “Ross, can I get the mail?” 

“You’ve had it.” 

“I need the other mail.” 

Ross didn’t argue. “On it.” 

Company protocol was to have what Ross called “other mail” stored for a few months. Ross never argued with why Kyle needed to look through it every so often. He probably put it down to his boss being an eccentric American. Just like he did with most of the other things Kyle did that Ross called weird. 

A couple of minutes later Ross backed into the room. In his arms was the recycling box. He placed it in the center of the table and then left. He didn’t ask why Kyle wanted it in his office. 

Methodically, Kyle worked his way through rejected CVs, some marketing letters, even a pile of pizza menus. Although how junk mail had made it up the driveway in the middle of nowhere to the manor house, he didn’t know. 

Right near the bottom, in familiar writing with a Los Angeles stamp, was what he was looking for. A letter from a marketing company talking about search engine optimization. There, in a flimsy business card, was a tiny chip. Sometimes the old ways were the best ways. 

Kyle stood and locked the office door as quietly as he could, then crossed to the wall safe and opened it. Pulling out the chip reader, left over from a much earlier time in his life, he inserted the chip and waited for it to read. Wiring it to the printer was a little more problematic, but finally he managed it, and before too long he had a sheaf of printed information. His blood ran cold at page one, and by page ten he realized what he had agreed to would be something a little more involved than “just helping out.” He pulled out his Glock and the cartridges, putting it into the top drawer of his desk, then locked the chip and the reader into the safe. He retook his seat to reread what had printed. 

Grasping the papers in his hand, he unlocked his office door. 

“Do we have anyone not booked out?” 

Ross looked up from his desk, a frown on his expression and black ink on his cheek. The same black ink spread over his desk, and he looked flustered. “Fucking ink cartridge exploded on me,” he said. 

“Do we have anyone free?” 

Ross blinked at Kyle as if he couldn’t believe Kyle wasn’t taking the ink situation seriously. “No,” he said. “I told you, we’re backs to the wall at the moment. Unless you want to push up interviews for new operatives.” 

“Fuck.” Kyle cursed and thought on his feet. Not even Jen was here at the moment. His sister and her husband were on a second-honeymoon, trying-for-a-baby thing that had her out of touch for a month of love on a beach. 

Timing sucks. 

Kyle thought on his feet. He had no choice. It was Ross or nothing. “Okay, get Michael in here.” 

Ross sighed visibly, then wiggled his fingers in front of him. “Ink,” he explained. Then added, “Michael’s coming in tomorrow—” 

“Jesus Christ, Ross! Just get Michael here today.” 

Kyle went back into his office and shut the door. He hoped to hell that Ross would do his regular thing and just get on with it, that he wouldn’t come in and start asking questions. 

The cover was simple—a couple on honeymoon. He’d done it before. But this case was different. This time he needed to blend in, in a very different way. This time he was a newly married man, and he needed a bride. Or a groom. Someone who would be his backup in an extremely toxic situation. 

It could only be Ross. 

Ross wasn’t just his PA. He wasn’t quite as well trained as the bodyguards on BI’s books; he just found his peace in paperwork and running BI alongside Kyle. But he knew how to handle himself. 

Not with guns. Not with the CIA. Not with this. It’s too much. He argued with himself. Ross will be okay. 

Then it hit him. What would he do if he had to spend time with Ross away from the office? How many of the secrets he held inside would come out? But there needed to be more than just Kyle himself on this; he needed someone else. And that someone else would have to be Ross, which was where the problems began. Ross wasn’t interested in Kyle; Ross didn’t want anything of what Kyle could give him. 

Ross didn’t know Kyle was in love with him. Wanted him. Had wanted him since the first day they met. 

Ross didn’t know that Kyle had tried and failed to find someone who actually looked back at him with anything like affection.

So how could he ask Ross to do what needed to be done? 

He turned the sheets of paper one at a time and made notes on a pad, not looking up when Ross came into the office and took his regular seat. 

“Michael’s coming in,” Ross announced. 

“Thank you. And I’m sorry I shouted.” 

Ross shrugged one shoulder. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” 

“I need to take a case.” 

“What case?” Ross asked. He sounded confused, and Kyle wanted to explain, but he couldn’t look up at Ross, let alone make words that explained what the hell was going on. “You don’t take on cases. What happened?” 

“There’s something I have to do.” 

“Is it a something that is connected to Stefan Mortimer? You looked really shocked to hear his name.” 

Kyle glanced up at the question. Ross’s gray eyes looked troubled. “What I can tell you is that this is a job for the two of us, me and you.” He held up a hand to stop Ross talking. “I need you to back me up on this. For a week, maybe ten days tops, we need to go undercover.” 

“I don’t know how… I mean… I’m not….” Ross began. Then he sighed. “I don’t understand.” 

“All I can tell you is that we’re needed, and this is a matter of national security.” 

Ross’s eyes widened. “Like James Bond-type national security?” 

“Not as dramatic as that. We need to get to a place called Stratton Bridge, and I’m sorry, but we have to leave today.” 

“What about my clothes? My laptop?” 

“You can go home, get some clothes, take a laptop to stay connected to the office. When we get there, though, you will have a cover.” 

“Wait. Is this a bodyguard job? You’re looking out for someone and you need me there to run the information side?” 

“No, yes, and no.” Kyle sighed. “You have to trust me on this when I say it’s important, but I need something more than information.” 

Ross sat forward in his chair and looked deadly serious. “I do trust you, Kyle. You know that.” 

“Then all I can say is we’re going undercover, both of us. I’ll be with you every inch of the way.” 

Ross smiled and pushed his hair back off his face, leaving a streak of black on his forehead; evidently, he hadn’t managed to wash off all the ink. “Undercover. Cool. What as? I could be a doctor or a teacher. Probably more a teacher, I guess. Not sure I’d be able to handle—” 

“My husband,” Kyle broke in. “The room we have, it’s more of a suite.” He recalled the information Stefan had given him: the block booking of the only available room, which had just been renovated. “We need to be on our honeymoon. Trust me, it’s the best cover.” 

Ross’s lips were in a round O, surprise on his face. “We’re acting—” He coughed to clear his throat. “—married?” 

Kyle focused in on the streak of black, trying not to let any emotion show on his face. “They only have the one room, just open after renovation, the honeymoon suite. I need your decision now.” 

While he waited tensely for Ross’s reply, Kyle considered. He could go on his own, and when asked where his husband was, he could easily pretend he was getting divorced from his pretend husband. But why would he still need a honeymoon suite? He’d nearly talked himself into that one when Ross looked at him directly. 

“Okay.” 

So many emotions passed over Ross’s face that Kyle couldn’t identify them all. He saw confusion, excitement, disappointment, the whole gamut of emotions. Then he saw Ross pull himself straight, and the smile returned. “We need a magnificent back story,” Ross said. And with that he’d agreed to play his part, and his and Kyle’s cover story was in place. “I’ll get some stuff. Give me thirty.” 

Ross left, and Kyle listened for the distinctive growl of Ross’s black and red motorbike. He couldn’t help himself; he looked out of his window to the parking area below and saw Ross astride the beast of a machine that allowed him to zip around the country roads here. 

“You’ll kill yourself, Ross,” he’d said when Ross had pulled up a few months ago as proud as a mom with a new baby. 

“This, old man, is a Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, and it’s not dangerous, it’s fun.” 

Ross reminded Kyle far too often that there were ten years separating them, but being thirty-five, Kyle didn’t feel like an old man. He just preferred his Jaguar to the danger of the open road in nothing more than leather and a helmet. 

“Says the man who moaned all last Friday that he had a paper cut.” 

And now, there he was. He’d pulled on his leathers, and fuck, he looked like sex on legs. That gorgeous ass in leather, a black biker’s jacket hugging his slim figure. So different to the patient, organized, stapler-loving Ross that Kyle had in his head. This Ross, the one on the bike, was wild and sexy and asking to be— 

Kyle had to stop himself, and he cursed Stefan for dropping him in the shit from a great height. He and Ross, in a honeymoon suite, for a week—maybe more—and with Ross wanting a magnificent backstory when Kyle couldn’t imagine what this case was going to bring him. 

Espionage, agents, attempted murder, a favor to a friend thousands of miles away, and a new line in environmental disaster. Not to mention being undercover as married: with the man he was head over heels in love with in real life. 

Just how wrong could this possibly go? 


Author Bio:
RJ Scott has been writing since age six, when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies. She was told to write a story and two sides of paper about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born.

As an avid reader herself, she can be found reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror. However, her first real true love will always be the world of romance where she takes cowboys, bodyguards, firemen and billionaires (to name a few) and writes dramatic and romantic stories of love and passion between these men.

With over sixty titles to her name and counting, she is the author of the award winning book, The Christmas Throwaway. She is also known for the Texas series charting the lives of Riley and Jack, and the Sanctuary series following the work of the Sanctuary Foundation and the people it protects.
Her goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.


FACEBOOK  /  TWITTER  /  WEBSITE /  ARe
EMAIL: rj@rjscott.co.uk



Bodyguard to a Sex God #1
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KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe  /  GOODREADS TBR

The Ex Factor #2
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Max & The Prince #3
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Undercover Lovers #4
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Love's Design #5:  RJ Scott Website

Bodyguards Inc Volume 1


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