Authors: Regan Black
Tags: #alpha bad boys, #bodyguard, #paranormal romantic suspense, #military heroes, #alpha hero romance, #political suspense, #Boston romance
He had ignored his senses for so very long. He had refused to acknowledge the past in any manner.
Tonight he sought those deeper instincts that wouldn’t quite stay buried. He summoned the intrusive senses that had allowed him to see and predict, to assess and anticipate. To react and succeed.
His muscles hardened as he delved deeper into the farthest recesses of his mind.
Flaming red hair, blue eyes, soft pink lips.
A reporter. The cruel irony was like salt in an old, festering wound. No wonder Gabriel had tasked him with this one. No one exited Gabriel’s service until the maximum amount of pain had been applied.
He could see her, but he couldn’t feel her. Knowing it was better if he didn’t feel anything, he pushed harder anyway.
Another image intruded on his concentration. A symbol. Simple curves, blood red, with a twist.
Bitter bile surged in his throat. Forever was only good for fairy tales. Eternity for those who believed. He coughed. The ability to breathe deserted him and he gasped for air.
John grabbed back mental control and shook off the oppressive sensation. He widened his stance and steadied himself. He was better than this, had faced down worse things than a rainy job in a civilized arena.
Voices whispered through his mind.
The word meant nothing. The symbol meant nothing. His fingers clenched once more and he fought the barrier, wrestling with the confusing bombardment of sensations. His body shook with the effort of comprehension.
His concentration broke. Fury clawed its way up through his throat.
This exercise was pointless.
He no longer possessed the capacity to see or to feel anything relevant beyond what his eyes showed him and his ears told him. The ability he had once flaunted so maliciously had diminished to nothing.
How did they expect him to succeed without his extra senses?
Easy answer, they didn’t expect him to succeed at all.
He was nothing and his redemption was a pipe dream. Outrage roiled in his gut. Gabriel had no right to plant that impotent seed of hope.
Deep down, John knew there was no hope.
The Torch Office, 9:15 a.m.
He was late.
Amelia peeled off the top sticky note with two addresses scrawled on it and shoved it into her purse. Wasting time was not her M.O.
She should have known better than to reach out to a number on a business card she had no recall of accepting from a man she had absolutely no memory of meeting.
She pulled on her coat, draped her purse on her shoulder and grabbed her well-used umbrella. Her appointment was in less than an hour. Threats or not, she wasn’t waiting on this guy. And she needed more coffee. Lots more coffee.
Bernie would be pissed, but if she were lucky he wouldn’t hear about her leaving the building alone until she was long gone. She could deal with him later.
She did a lot of procrastinating when it came to Bernie and his decrees when they went against her own.
An annoying buzz drew her attention to her desk. The intercom. She dropped her head back and groaned while weighing the pros and cons of ignoring the summons.
She should have known giving him the slip wouldn’t be so easy.
The stern voice belonged to Sylvia Wentworth. She’d been the administrative assistant to the Kessler paper magnate since the invention of the printing press and had the blue hair to prove it. One day Bernie would have to introduce Sylvia to his colorist. Advanced in age she might be, but no one—
—got anything over on Sylvia Wentworth. Not even Bernie.
Amelia stabbed the necessary button. “What’s up?” Like she didn’t know.
“Bernie wishes to see you in his office.”
And here she was without a bodyguard. “Be right there.”
Amelia tossed the umbrella aside and shrugged off the purse and coat. She smoothed the hem of her sweater and reached for cool and collected as she exited her cubicle. The sooner she got this over with, the sooner she could be on her way.
The appointment she had in Sudbury was too important to put off.
When she showed up in the outer sanctum of Bernie’s office sans a bodyguard Sylvia sent her a questioning look. “Where’s your bodyguard?”
With a big fat smile on her lips, Amelia hedged, “He’s on his way.” Supposedly he was.
Satisfied, Sylvia shifted her attention back to the computer screen. “Bernie’s waiting.”
Amelia reached for the door to the boss’s office. She could lie with the best of them when required for the sake of the story. But Bernie was a living, breathing lie detector when he wasn’t completely rattled, as he’d been last night. She’d have to tread carefully this morning. Thankfully, she was remarkably well-rested. The Absolut had tucked her in on the sofa and she’d slept like a baby.
Her first decent night’s sleep in weeks.
“Morning,” she announced as she breezed into his office.
Bernie peered at her over his bifocals. “Sit.”
Someone was in a mood that called for medication this morning. Possibly it had something to do with last night or maybe the mountain of paperwork on his desk. Awards lined the wall behind him. The city loved the Kessler family, even if
employed Boston’s most controversial reporter.
Amelia dropped into her favorite of the two identical chairs in front of his desk. He continued studying his notes as if he hadn’t been the one to call her to his office. As if she had all day. She resisted the impulse to glance at the antique English schoolhouse clock on the wall. The incessant
frazzled the nerves of anyone required to sit in the boss’s office for more than five minutes. Bernie insisted it relaxed him. He wound it faithfully every morning.
Other than the annoying clock, Saturdays were quiet. Only essential personnel worked weekends.
Amelia worked every day. And most nights. She was dedicated. Or maybe OCD. With each tick of the clock, she debated the terms and settled on dedicated.
Without fail, Sylvia was here whenever Bernie was. Though Amelia doubted OCD had anything to do with it. Sylvia liked being indispensable.
Bernie set his papers aside and leveled his gaze on hers. “Where’s your bodyguard?”
Was there an echo in the building? “He’s running a little behind,” she admitted. Not a lie and not exactly the truth, but hopefully close enough that he’d believe her.
Bernie nodded thoughtfully.
Something rubbed against Amelia’s leg. She jumped and bit back a yelp. “What the –?”
“Plato,” Bernie informed her with a resigned face. “My wife’s new pet.”
The enormous cat entwined itself between and around Amelia’s legs. Its lush gray fur gave it the look of a Persian, but she didn’t know that much about cats.
“Since when did you decide to have a cat at the office?”
If the animal was his wife’s new pet why wasn’t it at home? As if Plato could read her mind, he stared at Amelia, gold eyes glinting around those dark, mysterious pupils. Her skin crawled and she quickly shifted her attention back to Bernie.
“Since my wife dropped 2K on this exotic whatever it is,” he said bluntly, “only to discover that she’s allergic.” He faked a laugh. “Imagine that. So the cat has to live here.” He shook his head slowly from side to side. “Until it dies of old age or,” mischief lit in his eyes, “it’s kidnapped.”
Amelia smiled. That could work. “I’m sure Plato will keep you and Sylvia on your toes.”
From the corner of her eye she noted that the fur ball still glared at her, the tip of its tail whipping threateningly. Since she was a little kid cats had given her the creeps. They didn’t like her and the feeling was totally mutual.
Bernie scoffed. “What he’ll do is keep me married.”
Amelia laughed a little stiffly considering the cat was still eyeing her with malicious intent. Bernie might be the boss here but his wife ruled the Kessler castle.
nudged her patience. She had to get going. Pick up some coffee. Get to her source and get the information.
Pushing to her feet, she asked, “Anything else? I’ve got notes I need to develop.”
“Make sure I get a look at this bodyguard.”
Amelia nodded and moved as quickly as she dared toward the door. He wouldn’t be able to hear the lie if she didn’t speak.
“You called references?”
She paused. Almost made it. Amelia turned back to face him. This she could answer. “Called all six this morning. Five star all the way.”
According to his references, John Noble was the finest security specialist in the business. He’d given her a complete list when he returned her call last night. She shivered at the memory of his voice...deep, dark, and alluring on some level.
“Good.” Bernie pushed the bifocals back up the bridge of his nose.
Amelia took that as her dismissal. She returned to her cubicle, incredibly without breaking into a run, and grabbed her coat and bag. All she had to do was get to the stairwell exit without being spotted and she would be home free.
The main corridor was clear, thanks to it being Saturday. She breezed past the small lobby where a flighty receptionist named Mona who preferred tinkering with her manicure over greeting visitors held court Monday through Friday. Mona was Bernie’s niece on his wife’s side. It wasn’t like he could fire her any more than he could send the damned cat packing.
Amelia moved quickly beyond the elevators and through the stairwell door.
Victory tilted up the corners of her mouth as the door closed soundly behind her. Who needed a bodyguard anyway? She’d been taking care of herself on the job for a long time and hadn’t yet run into anything she couldn’t handle.
Hurrying down the two flights, she rummaged in her bag for the keys.
offices were located in an old part of downtown with no private parking. Street parking was impossible on weekdays but today Amelia had nabbed a slot only half a block from the building’s entrance.
She hit the sidewalk then stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh, man.”
Rivulets from the leaking sky rolled down her hair and face. The umbrella was back in her cubicle.
Amelia looked up in disgust at the thick gray clouds. Where was the snow? Was Mother Nature not paying attention? This was December!
Her head snapped forward to find intense green eyes scrutinizing her. She quickly sized up the man standing in the rain not three feet away. How had she not noticed him when she burst through the double doors?
Tall, dark hair, chiseled features. Dressed in a black trench coat: the longer, sexier style.
Well, hell. Just her luck. She was about to be served. Where did the city find these mysterious looking characters? She should have paid those blasted parking tickets ages ago. What was the tally now? Thirty? Maybe thirty-five? Double damn.
She held up her hands and shook her head. “Sorry. I don’t know any Amelia Bennett.” If she didn’t get served with a court summons she might be able to head this off with the clerk. She backed up a step. “I’m afraid you have the wrong girl.”
He stared at her as if she’d spoken gibberish, water trickling down his raven black hair and that square, sculpted jaw.
Okay, so maybe this guy wasn’t delivering a summons. He looked more like a private investigator. Or an assassin. Her next thought was to make a mad dash for her car or to rush back into the building.
Trench coat... the man who had been watching her apartment last night wore a trench coat. A warning fired too late in her busy brain.
She stifled the irrational fear. She couldn’t be sure that guy last night had been watching her apartment. Had the man been wearing all black, shirt, trousers, and boots, like this guy? She couldn’t remember. It would have been impossible to know for sure in the rain and poor light.
She opened her mouth to suggest he try looking inside for Amelia Bennett but he stuck out his hand and said, “John Noble.” He dipped his head ever so briefly. “We talked on the phone last night.”
The voice... yes. Definitely the voice from last night. Amelia relaxed marginally. She stared at the outstretched hand an endless second before regaining her bearings. Some idiotic part of her wanted to ask how he’d known she was in fact Amelia Bennett, but the rational side of her evidently malfunctioning brain reminded her that he was in personal security. He’d likely checked into who she was the same as she had checked his references.
Reclaiming her usual confidence under fire, she looked him dead in those exotic green eyes and issued a reprimand. “You’re late, Mr. Noble. Nine o’clock, that was our agreed upon meeting time.”
“I’m here now.”
Flustered that he blew off the infraction without even an apology, she placed her hand in his. His grasp was firm, his palms rougher, more calloused than she’d expected. Frankly, nothing about him was what she’d expected. He was extraordinarily good looking in a dangerous sort of way and made her uncomfortable on too many levels to analyze just now.
“You’re getting wet.”
She stared at him, dumbfounded. “What?”
He peeled off his coat and draped it over her in one fluid motion. “You forgot your umbrella.”
As if to punctuate his comment, a fat drop rolled off the tip of her nose. “Yeah.” She cleared her throat. “You got ID?” She really needed to collect her wits. Precautions were essential when anyone got this deep into her personal space. And she was falling down on the job.
Evidently the attack on her apartment had gotten to her more than she’d realized.
Oblivious to the insistent drizzle, the man reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet. Rain plopped on the black leather as he slid his ID free. He offered the small, plastic encased card for her inspection.
Massachusetts driver’s license. John Noble.
She gestured up the block. “I’m running behind. We’ll take my car.”