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Her Reluctant Bodyguard
CHAPTER ONE cont. . .
“They’re ensuring you’re not a threat to me.”
She choked on a laugh, and water unfortunately spurted from her mouth. “You’re joking.”
“No.” Another look at the bodyguards proved they weren’t laughing, either. The dark one’s bad attitude seemed to have soured the blond one’s mood, for both now stared at her with cool, unfriendly expressions. Maybe the short one had heard her thoughtless munchkin comment. She felt another tug of remorse for her insensitive words. Maybe that’s why he seemed to dislike her already. That, and because she hadn’t listened to his warning to get off the set.
She flirted with the idea of apologizing. No. It might be best to forget the whole incident. Especially if he hadn’t heard her inappropriate comment in the first place.
Instead, she lowered her menu and sent the bodyguards a friendly smile. Neither responded, although the blond one looked down at his bread plate, as if uncomfortable. The black-haired one returned her stare, unblinking.
“I’m sure they do a good job,” she said, returning her attention to Colin.
“They’re the best in the business.”
The waiter took their order, and then Colin said, “I have to confess to an ulterior motive for asking you to lunch.”
“Really?” What could a legendary pop star possibly want from her?
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“I’m planning to write an autobiography. A publisher’s been pressuring my agent about it.”
“I thought you had a tour coming up in Europe.” She had learned that by eavesdropping on his television segment. “Do you have time to write an autobiography?”
“No. That’s why I need you.”
“Me?” Facts clicked together. Surprised, she said, “You want me to ghostwrite your autobiography?”
“Would you be interested?” His quizzical smile looked surprisingly self-deprecating.
How could he even wonder?
“I’d be honored! But,” she added quickly, “I’d have to run it by my agent. Also, I’d want my name on the cover. Your name plus ‘with Alexa Kaplan.’ I need the publishing credits. Shared royalties, too.”
“Your name on the cover, plus royalties. Done.”
“Don’t you think you’d better read my book first? See if you like my writing style?”
His mouth curved up into a slow, heart-stopping smile. “I like your style already, Alexa.”
She blushed. Sometimes she hated the fair skin that accompanied her shoulder length, straight copper hair. It did have unusual, natural blond highlights, thanks to her willowy Scandinavian mother, and she didn’t freckle, which was a nice blessing from her burly Austrian father, as were her blue-green eyes, but her face and skin always showed every nuance of her emotions.
Colin studied her for a moment, and then said diffidently, “Why did you go into writing, Alexa? You must know you’re an incredibly beautiful woman. Have you ever been asked to model?”
Another faint flush warmed her face. “A top modeling agent approached me when I was sixteen.” It was a fact few people knew. “But that’s not where I wanted to go with my life.” In truth, the offer to model had scared her. She had been quiet and shy back then, and didn’t like attention on her outward appearance. She wanted people to like who she was on the inside.
“So you decided to write.” She detected genuine interest in Colin’s question.
“Yes. In college, I majored in English.” Actually, she had felt more secure with her nose in a book than carousing with her friends. The loud, partying male types were too boisterous for her, anyway. They possessed an unpredictable rawness that inexplicably unnerved her. When she had become a Christian, the partying ceased to be an issue. Which was certainly fine with her. Then she got to meet an entirely new type of man.
“Anyone special in your life right now?”
Alexa wondered why he could possibly want to know. He couldn’t be interested in her, could he? Her heart skipped at the thought. Stop it, she told herself. Of course he wasn’t. “No.” But it came out sounding like a question.
“If I ask you to write the book, it’ll take up weeks of your time. Possibly even pull you away from home for a while.”
“I have no attachments. Except to my sister and parents, of course. And I work for my brother-in-law—he publishes a magazine. I might be able to take a leave of absence.”
“All right, then. It’s settled.”
Alexa didn’t see how anything could possibly be settled. She withdrew her business card from her purse. “If you decide you want to hire me, give me a call.”
“I will.” He flashed a grin. “I look forward to it.”
He was too charming for his own good, Alexa decided. But his smiles made her heart flutter, and she hoped he would call her. In the meantime, she would enjoy this lunch with him.
She found Colin to be wry, funny, and actually sweet from time to time. Of course, she didn’t know him well enough to know if it was all an act, but she enjoyed talking with him very much.
What if he really was all he appeared to be? Could he possibly be the Prince Charming she had dreamed of since she was an adolescent?
At the tender age of fourteen, she had set up strict criteria for a qualifying husband. These still held. Besides the height requirement, she preferred that he have blond hair, blue eyes, and be nice looking. Colin met each of them.
The other half of her criteria included intangible necessities, and some had been added later—like he had to be a Christian. Was Colin? A sense of humor was a bonus, too. She also wanted a refined and even-tempered man. Absolutely no raw, aggressive types for her. Also, her ideal man had to be honest, with high integrity. Both were important in order for her to respect him. She needed a man she could look up to. But more than anything else, she wanted a man she could talk to—someone who loved her for who she was on the inside.
The remainder of the lunch went all too quickly, and when Alexa placed her napkin on the table, she realized she had been laughing too hard at everything Colin said. Just like one of his lovesick fans. But she couldn’t seem to help herself.
They drove back to the Michelangelo, and when the driver opened her door, Colin pressed a kiss to her cheek. Thrills raced up her spine. She did not take liberties and kiss him back, for she felt the unfriendly eyes of his bodyguards in the car behind them.
“Thank you for a wonderful lunch.”
“I’ll call you soon,” he promised.
Her steps seemed to float into the hotel. Would he truly call her?
What would it be like, spending quality time with such a charming, interesting man? She would certainly get to know him well if she ghostwrote his book. Alexa imagined spending candlelit evenings together, laughing over anecdotes of his life.
By that evening, however, when she snuggled into bed, Alexa’s more pragmatic side had taken over. Would Colin truly call her? He was a celebrity, after all. Normal people rarely followed through on half of their promises. What were the chances a famous man would? Especially with the tour coming up, all of the publicity to handle, groupies hounding him…
She didn’t expect to hear from him. Not really.
Three weeks later
At her desk, Alexa quickly scarfed down a tuna sandwich and carrot sticks. Ted wanted the magazine copy proofed by three o’clock.
Betty buzzed her. “Call on line three.” As usual, she neglected to name the caller.
Alexa rapidly chewed through her carrot and picked up the phone. “Yes?” she said, gulping the last prickly morsels. “Alexa here.”
She heard a faint sound, which might have been a laugh. “Colin Radcliffe. How are you, Alexa?”
“Colin!” For a moment, she was speechless. “I didn’t think…I mean, hello!”
Now she heard a chuckle for sure. “Have you given more thought to writing my autobiography?”
“Well, yes. Of course! That is, if you’re asking me.” Alexa realized she sounded like a breathless teenager again.
“I am. Will you?”
“Yes,” she exclaimed, and then mentally slapped herself. “I mean, I would be happy to do it,” she said in a calmer tone. “Of course, my agent will need to look over the details first.”
He laughed again. The husky, deep sound thrilled her. “Great. My lawyer will call you. First, though, I want to make you aware of two problems. The publisher wants a rough draft ready in six weeks. And I’m going on tour next week.”
Mentally, Alexa scrambled. She had an endless list of commitments over the next month and a half. Most could be rescheduled with artful finagling. The others…well, she’d need to train her assistant to take more of the load.
“I could probably write a rough draft in six weeks,” she agreed slowly. “But you’re going on tour? How would we meet so I could ask you questions? I suppose I could call you.” Alexa frowned. She would rather speak with him in person in order to get a true sense of the man. Then she could write an accurate portrayal of his life and personality.
“Come with me on the tour,” he said in her ear.
“What?” Alexa jerked to her feet, not sure if she had heard right. Her rolling chair zipped into the printer table behind her.
“Come with me to Europe. You’ll have a blast.”
“Come to Europe? With you?” She really must stop repeating everything he said. What would he think of her creative abilities, let alone the state of her mushy mind? “That sounds wonderful. A dream, really, but expensive. I’m not sure…”
“Tab’s on me. You’ll stay with me, travel with me.”
Alexa wasn’t sure that she liked the sound of this, but didn’t parrot his words. They zinged around in her brain, though. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? People travel with me all the time.”
“Well, fine. But you’re not expecting…fringe benefits, are you?” Then she bit her tongue. Had she actually blurted those words to a pop star? However, as a Christian, she had strict morals she lived by. And living with a rock star promised all sorts of not-so-unforeseen temptations and complications.
He chuckled in her ear. “I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to fringe benefits. But no. You’d have your own rooms. No strings. Just a working relationship. Unless you want that to change.”
She cleared her throat. “I won’t. I want that clear from the start.” Silence from the other end of the line. “Would you rather hire someone else?”
“No, I don’t.” He sounded puzzled. “But I thought we connected. If I’m mistaken, I apologize.”
“No. Well, yes. I mean, yes, I find you attractive.” What an understatement. “But I’m a Christian. I don’t…you know, do the casual sex thing.” Mortification burned her cheeks and she was glad he wasn’t there to see. “I mean,” she hastily backpedaled, “not that you’d want to do such a thing with me. I just want everything clear from the get-go.” She waited anxiously, worried that he wouldn’t be able to respect her feelings. That he’d laugh and think she was an uptight prude.
Colin did laugh, but she thought she detected relief in it. “You’re a funny girl. Refreshing. I like that. Ground rules are set, then. Do you want to come?”
“Of course I want to come.” What she wanted was to find a table and dance on it!
“My lawyer will contact you with the details. Go ahead and give him the number of your agent. Way it’s looking now, we’ll hook up in London.”
“Sounds fabulous. Thank you so much!”
“Later.” He clicked off.
Hugging her arms to herself, Alexa twirled in a silly, dreamy circle. Could this truly be real? She would get to know her favorite singer, write a guaranteed bestseller, and travel Europe for six weeks. If she didn’t know she was awake, or how much it hurt, she would pinch herself again. Her sister would never believe this.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Beth sat on her suitcase while Alexa tried to zip it shut.
“It won’t zip!” she moaned.
“What did you pack?”
“Everything. And I can’t put the saline solution for my contacts in my carry-on. My toothpaste, either. I hate those terrorists. They’re making flying a nightmare.” Alexa frowned at the suitcase.
“How many pairs of shoes did you pack?” her sister wanted to know.
Alexa counted in her head. “Nine? Tennis shoes, two pairs of flats, and six high heels.”
“Six pairs of high heels?”
“What can I say? Shoes are my weakness. Especially heels.”
Beth surveyed Alexa’s baggage. “Put a few pairs in your carry-on.”
Alexa rolled her eyes. “Like that would go over well with the airlines.”
“Then leave a few here. Or bring another suitcase.”
“I can’t do that. I’ll barely manage toodling around the airport with my carry-on, laptop computer, and dragging my suitcase behind me. How would I manage two suitcases?”
“Colin Radcliffe’s a rich guy. Surely he’ll send someone to pick you up.”
“Go for it, then. Plus, what about souvenirs? You’ll need a whole suitcase just to pack those. You know Timmy and Annie are expecting presents when you get back.”
“And you.” She smiled at her sister.
“I wouldn’t mind some Swiss chocolate. You are going to Switzerland, aren’t you?”
“Yes. London, then Paris, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.” Colin’s lawyer had faxed her the itinerary yesterday. The tickets to London were already tucked into her purse. Alexa couldn’t believe she was going to Europe. Really, it all seemed like a fairy tale come true.
She threw items from her overstuffed suitcase into a smaller, matching case. Both zipped shut. “Good!” Alexa flopped backward onto the bed, beside her sister. “Thanks for coming over to help, Beth.”
“I wouldn’t miss it. It’s just like we used to fantasize when we were kids. I envy you.”
“You don’t. You love Ted and the kids.”
“I do. But adventure… I probably won’t get much of that. You’ll have to live it for me. And write every week—or call. I know how terrible you are at writing.”
“Except for books,” Alexa agreed with a smile.
They lay there in silence, staring at the ceiling. Miniature flecks of rainbow light sparkled across it. Alexa had exchanged her standard bedroom light fixture for a miniature crystal chandelier. Not practical or cost effective, but she loved it.
“What’s he like?” Beth asked. She sounded serious now.
“Don’t worry. He’s great.”
“Does he know you’re a Christian?”
“Yes. I even told him I wouldn’t have sex with him.”
“You didn’t!” Her sister sounded scandalized.
“I want everything out front. You know how I am.”
“Yes, I do. You’re the picture of tact.”
“I need to learn more about that from you,” she admitted. “But I do try.”
“He’s certainly handsome.”
“Even more so in person. And he’s charming and funny. And tall, too.”
Beth giggled. “Over six-one, I take it.”
“Oh, yes. And he’s got the most gorgeous blue eyes. You know blue is my favorite color. And thick blond hair.” She sighed.
“You sound twelve.”
“I feel twelve. I’m scared about that. I feel like this is all a fairy tale, and I’ll wake up next in the dungeon. It can’t possibly be this good, can it? Not real life? I must be missing something. Or something will go wrong. It’s inevitable.”
“I can’t believe this is you talking, Miss Optimistic. You always believe the best about everything.”
On her elbow, Alexa turned to her sister with a frown. “What if I’m wrong? What if this turns into a nightmare?”
“I can’t imagine how,” her sister said dryly. “But if it does, fly home. Have you signed a contract?”
“Yes. I’ve agreed to deliver a rough draft of seventy thousand words in six weeks. And I gave them your name and address as one of my references. I hope that’s okay. I think they’re doing a major background check on me.”
“I’m sure they are. And yes, that’s fine.” Beth frowned. “I don’t know much about writing, but it sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you.”
“I can do it. As long as I get lots of quality time with Colin to ask questions.”
Beth giggled. “Mmhm. Like questions are all you’re interested in.”
Alexa lightly punched her sister’s arm. “What do you know?”
“I know you’re going to have a great time.” Her sister sounded serious again. “Remember, you can call me anytime. You never have to be alone. And God is with you, too.”
“I know. I’m glad about that.”
“I’ve never heard you sound so insecure.”
“I always feel insecure. When I go out, I check to see if I’ve buttoned my blouse right, or if I’ve washed the toothpaste off the corner of my mouth. I’m insecure in a lot of ways.” She knew it was probably a result of their shared, difficult childhood, but Alexa would rather not think about that on the eve of her wonderful adventure. She sat up, and so did Beth.
“You’re one of the strongest people I know,” her sister said. “Just be careful. Colin’s world is not yours and he’s not the guy next door. Make sure you find a man who loves you, for you. Not for your looks. A man who will support you in everything you do. Wacky as it may be sometimes.”
“Thanks, sis.” Impulsively, she hugged Beth. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Just be careful,” her sister said. “It’s been a long time since you’ve actually let a guy into your heart.” She pulled back. “Call me when you get there. I can’t wait to hear what London’s like.”
“I will.” Alexa’s imagination took flight then, leaving her dark worries behind like so many shadowed rain clouds. All she saw were bright days, filled with sunshine and adventure. Thrilling days, to do what she loved best—writing—and getting to know a sensational man.
She had been silly to think anything would go wrong. Everything would be perfect.
RAIN DRIPPED DOWN in the gathering gloom of dusk outside of Heathrow Airport in London. Not an auspicious start to her fairy tale adventure, Alexa decided. She stood in the baggage claim area with her carry-on bag and laptop case slung over her shoulders. At her feet rested her mammoth suitcase and its smaller twin. She had stood here for twenty minutes already, cranking her neck to and fro, searching for the driver who was supposed to pick her up.
She had seen uniformed men with caps carrying cardboard signs, all right. But they had picked up clumps of Japanese businessmen. Worry was beginning to eat at her. What if Colin had forgotten about her? He was a busy star. Surely things slipped through the cracks. Apparently, she was one of them.
Of course, Colin wouldn’t come to pick her up himself. That would be crazy, even though she would love it. His adoring fans would mob him.
Alexa shoved her suitcases into a clump and walked toward the sliding doors. They swooshed open, letting in a rush of cold damp. She shivered. Not exactly welcoming. And she didn’t see anyone pacing back and forth outside, looking for her, either.
She stepped inside again, shivering. Maybe she should take out her coat, for when the driver did come. She would need it out in that wet.
Alexa went down on her knees and tugged open the zipper to her largest suitcase. When she lifted the top, her jaw dropped. “Oh, no!”
Her cosmetics case was open, her clothes were wadded into wrinkled blobs, but worst of all, two of the saline bottles for her contacts had popped open during the flight. All of her clothes were damp—especially her woolen trench coat, which she had laid so carefully on top, in preparation for just such weather as this. In fact, she realized, pawing through the disorganized mess, the coat was soaked.
“I can’t believe this!” she wailed softly. Obviously, her bag had been targeted for inspection. No doubt because of all the liquid-filled bottles she had packed, full of saline solution for her contacts.
“Someone’s going to pay!” she muttered, ordering her aching eyes not to leak. “Or I’ll know why.”
“You’re blaming the airline for your terrible packing job?” The deep, faintly melodic voice spoke behind her. Its speaker sounded foreign. Maybe Italian.
She spun on her knees, in outrage glaring up at the rude interloper. Then her mouth gaped open. It was Colin’s dark-haired bodyguard. The one who had reminded her of an elf.
The nerve of the man.
“It’s you!” Rising to her feet, she took uncharitable satisfaction in towering over him in her high heels. “Are you Mutt, or Jeff?” she inquired frostily.
His lips tightened. “I’m here to drive you.” He wore a black windbreaker and black jeans. They matched his black hair, black eyes, and black attitude, she decided.
“It’s about time.” She couldn’t believe her own rude words. “I’ve been waiting a half an hour.” An exaggeration. “And my coat is wet,” she said inconsequentially. Now she noticed that her suitcase was wide open, its messy contents displayed to the world—including her lacy pieces of underwear. Mortified, she pounced on it, and zipped it closed. Guilt for her annoyed comments prickled; unfortunately, too late.
“It’s raining,” the bodyguard said tersely, flicking a disapproving glance at her thin blouse.
More irritation surged, but she struggled to ignore it. “I don’t need a coat. Let’s go.” She hefted up her carry-on and laptop, grabbed the carry strap of her mammoth suitcase, and started walking. It was an unruly suitcase, as she knew from experience, and so she tried to be extra careful. If she tugged too hard to the left or to the right, it would tip over.
Alexa marched out the door and down the little incline. The suitcase raced after her. She jerked it to the right at the last minute, so it wouldn’t hit her legs, and it flopped over.
“Drat.” Her face burned. Awkwardly, she bent to right it. Her shoulder bag flopped forward, banging her arms. The laptop hit the ground. She growled behind her teeth.
She saw the bodyguard’s black legs standing unhelpfully a distance away. Her smaller suitcase was in his hand. No delicate pull straps for him. Well. Hair disheveled, she straightened, all to rights again. Now it occurred to her that she didn’t know where they were going.
She gave him a cool stare. “Lead on, then.”
Expressionlessly, he moved in front of her. She carefully followed him down the sidewalk and around hurrying people. Her suitcase fell over two more times, and her cotton blouse was thoroughly damp by the time a crowd of people suddenly rushed out another set of sliding doors. She jerked to a halt and the dratted suitcase spilled over again. Tears were close, now. This was no fairy tale!
What was she doing here, in a foreign airport, with a surly man? With wrinkled, ruined clothes. She was soaking wet, her suitcase wouldn’t behave, and that jerk wouldn’t stop to help her.
Not that she would, if she had been him, Alexa admitted. She had been terribly rude. But then again, so had he.
And where was he? Panic surged. The people were gone and she had righted her suitcase again, but the bodyguard had disappeared. Alexa bit her lip, hoping the pain would keep the tears at bay.
“I’ll take that.” He was at her elbow, bending to unstrap the silly leash from the suitcase. He plucked it from her hand, lifted the case as if it weighed nothing, and deposited it in the back of a large black car. She knew little about cars, but this one looked expensive.
Alexa hurried and slid into the backseat. Thankfully, heat blasted inside the car, for she was thoroughly chilled. He slammed the door, getting in on the passenger’s side—no, driver’s side, here in England. Rain glistened in his wavy hair. He looked at her in the rearview mirror. “Royalty, are you?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You expect me to be your chauffeur?”
“Well, aren’t you?” she retorted outrageously, peeved still further.
The hard eyes looked disgusted. “Please yourself.”
Alexa sat in silence while her “chauffeur” drove. She felt like a naughty child who had been disciplined. She didn’t like the feeling. And she didn’t like the thought of him looking down his nose at her, either. She hated anyone thinking badly of her.
But he had started it!
She crossed her arms and stared out the window. She noticed now that her blouse was wet enough that she could see her bra through it. Great! She hugged her arms tighter against herself.
They drove in silence through the black, wet streets. He drove the car fast and well. At least he was a competent driver.
At last they turned into a quiet neighborhood with large homes and towering trees. A gate barred the entrance to one of these houses. They stopped and a uniformed guard allowed them through. Then they slid over the black pavement to a detached garage. The car purred inside, and then the engine went silent. Equally silently, its driver exited and unloaded her suitcases from the back.
Alexa felt very uncomfortable by now. The silence and guilt for her biting words at the airport made her feel awful. She edged out of the car, gripping her smaller bags. Why couldn’t she learn to be tactful, like her sister?
The bodyguard had both suitcases in hand and he headed over the grass for the house. She hurried after him, mentally despising her high heels that tripped over every little grass clump and hole. Rain poured down on her head, soaking her further, and she shivered, freezing cold. Her hair fell in wet, stringy clumps about her face. Vainly, she hoped Colin wouldn’t greet her. At least not immediately. She must look like a drowned rat.
The bodyguard opened a side door and she hurried in after him, eager for dry warmth. They entered a kitchen, painted a warm yellow, with cream colored cupboards and granite countertops. The refrigerator, stove, and microwave were stainless steel, and up-to-the-minute in function and design. Alexa imagined microwaving a cup of tea.
But no rest for the weary. The bodyguard led her up a narrow staircase, turned right, and then nudged open a door with his foot. She followed him into a lovely room with thick white rugs on the floor, an ivory and lace covered bed with a canopy, wallpaper strewn with yellow roses, and warm, dark wood furniture. It felt open and spacious, and smelled super—like orange blossoms.
Alexa smiled, lowering her bags to the floor. “It’s beautiful!” she breathed.
“Are you finished with my services?” The bodyguard’s tone sounded deferential, but he stood with his legs slightly apart and hands behind his back. It came off as hostile.
Alexa kicked off the infernal high heels and made a decision. “I think we’ve started out on the wrong foot. I’m Alexa.” She started to put out her hand, but then realized her blouse was now see-through. Embarrassed, she crossed her arms again.
No friendliness entered the black eyes. “Jamison.”
He wasn’t making this easy. She bit her lip. “I was rude. I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted.” He headed for the door.
“Wait! Aren’t you going to apologize to me?”
“For your sarcastic comments at the airport.”
“I would, if they mattered to you. But they don’t.”
“Excuse me?” Without thinking, Alexa put her hands on her hips and glared.
“Sorry…Alexa. But you’re a type. I’ve got you nailed down.” His gaze didn’t even flicker in the direction of her now visible bra.
“Type? Nailed down?” She didn’t like the sound of this.
“You’re a beautiful woman, Alexa. You know it and you use it to get what you want. I’ll be watching you.”
Incensed, she said the first rash thing that came to her mind. “And you know what they say about short men: they overcompensate to cover up their deficits.” Alexa didn’t know the quote. She was just making it up. And very unChristian it was, she realized, too late. Her mouth! “I’m so sorry…”
But he turned without a word and was gone. The only indication of his anger was the sharp click of the door latch as it closed.
Alexa stared at the door. Now what had she done? Not only had she attacked his height, but she had insinuated he might have other deficits, too. What had gotten into her? How could she possibly say such terrible things to that man?
But he wasn’t exactly Mr. Sweetness and Light, either, she reminded herself. Not that that excused her behavior in the least.
Alexa wanted to call her sister. She wanted to burst into tears. This trip was not turning out anything like she had hoped. Not if that irksome bodyguard was about to become a permanent fixture in her life. She would avoid him. She would do everything in her power to steer clear of him. And if she couldn’t; well, she would take the high road, no matter how hard that might be. In fact, from now on, she would treat him with faultless courtesy.
That man would not be the end to her fairy tale.
End of Excerpt…
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