That was the honest-to-God's truth. Tess had seen the two of them in action.
“It's not funny,” Josh said.
“Can I continue?” he asked, his voice still lowered.
“With what I'm asking of you.”
Tess told herself to leave. “Go on.”
“First of all, it's Josh.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Wyatt.”
He inhaled deeply, then sighed it out.
Poor baby. Tess warned herself not to smile.
“As my bodyguard,” he finally said, “you will be staying at my place to protect me from intruders, and lawsuits and, well, you know. So, it's only one small step for you to pretend to be involved with me romantically when we're out in public.”
This was getting worse, or better, by the minute depending upon how Tess wanted to look at it.
As my bodyguard you will be staying at my place... involved with me romantically when we're out in public.
A few seconds ago those public moments had stopped Tess cold; now the private ones were an even greater worry. Stay at his place? Was he kidding?
His place, which Tess had researched for security purposes before coming here, was a Caribbean-style estate with an eighteen-eighties mansion flanked by moss-draped live oaks and cypress trees. The kind of place where heroines in historical romances were deflowered by guys who looked like Josh, after which they spent each day in bed awaiting their lovers, their naked flesh moist from the tropical heat and desire. Was he kidding?
Tess looked from the open collar of his shirt to his eyes.
They still weren't leering. They were honest and looked nearly as vulnerable as she felt.
“It'll only be a little flirting until this blows over.” His voice, though lowered, had a reassuring tone to it.
“You do know how to flirt with a man, don't you?” he asked.
Tess arched one brow.
“I'm not kidding,” he said.
“That's what worries me.”
“Okay, let me prove it to you.” He moved so close this time they were almost touching.
Good sense told Tess to step back. His masculine scent, the sound of his deep, rich voice, and his powerful male presence kept her rooted to the spot. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to explain my position without anyone else knowing what I'm saying.”
Uh-huh. “You mean someone other than Peg or Alan?”
“That's exactly what I mean. There's a paparazzo outside.”
Tess knew she shouldn't have been surprised by that, but she was. No wonder he had been acting so weird. “Where?”
“No, don't look,” Josh said.
Tess turned back to him and arched one brow.
Josh sighed, then leaned close and whispered in her ear. “He's in the upper helm station of that boat to the left. I saw him earlier and thought he looked familiar, but couldn't figure out why. That camera and zoom lens in his hand made everything click. That jerk's been following me for days. He's the one who snuck into my yard and sold those photos to that tabloid. For all I know, he's not only taking pictures of us now, but using that zoom to read our lips.”
Tess glanced down to Josh holding her wrist. His fingers were calloused from years of labor, his skin warm and dry, his touch exceedingly gentle.
“I'm telling you the truth,” he whispered.
Her belly fluttered to his rich voice; his sweet, hot breath tickling her ear.
“I wouldn't joke about something like this,” he said, “especially after those humiliating pictures.”
Humiliating? Tess's gaze turned inward, remembering each. Until this moment, she hadn't considered that a man as beautiful as Josh would be humiliated by those pictures. They were nearly artistic. Of course, he hadn't asked for that exposure. He hadn't suspected it. It must have really blindsided him, making him look ridiculous to the business community.
Turning her face into his, she whispered, “He shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.”
Josh was so surprised by that response he didn't know what to say. He was far too used to Peg's
lighten up, give it a rest, it could be worse,
or anything else that was all too flip.
But there was genuine understanding in Tess's voice.
There was comfort in being this close.
Her cheek was silky and moist against his; her hair was as soft and fragrant as he had imagined.
She was an amazing woman, and it took all the will Josh owned to ease back.
He was glad he had.
Her gaze was so sincere, seeing only him, not the wealth, not the status, that it stole his breath. “Thanks.”
Her color heightened; those delicate nostrils flared.
Without thinking or considering the consequences, Josh touched her cheek.
Her lids fluttered, but she didn't move back. After the briefest hesitation, she lifted her hand and gently stroked the inside of his wrist.
Her touch was thrilling, yet comfortable, and more powerful than sex or all the money the world had to give. It was a caress that touched every part of Josh, and made him want more.
He searched her gaze and saw unexpected trust mingled with a female yearning that hardly needed to be questioned, and could not be denied.
Without pause, he lowered his mouth, gently brushing his lips over hers.
They were velvety, her sigh so soft only he was privileged to hear it, and to feel those lips yielding to his.
He explored that exquisite flesh, he enjoyed it, then felt humbled as Tess parted her lips, inviting him inside.
Josh's first reaction was to seek immediate relief, savage and wild; his second was to be tender, searching, making certain she enjoyed his touch, scent, and unbearable need as he slipped his tongue inside.
She suckled him without pause, as if she had been born for this and him. Her heat and response thickened his cock, making him bold as he drew her closer so that he could deepen the kiss.
Again, she responded, until Josh couldn't breathe, he couldn't think.
He wanted this to last forever, but already she was pulling away, then putting even more distance between them as someone continued to hammer on his door.
Josh ignored that intrusion, following her, instead.
Noting that, Tess gave him one of her hard stares.
This time, Josh wasn't intimidated. Her lips were still moist from their kiss, one she had fully participated in.
“Yo, Josh?” Alan suddenly said from behind.
The attorney paused to Josh's sharp tone. “Ah, we have business to discuss, and I thoughtâ”
“It can wait,” Josh said, his gaze still on Tess. “It'll have to wait.”
“Later, Alan. And close the door.”
The attorney sighed loudly, but did what Josh wanted.
“Please don't leave,” he said to her.
Leave? Tess hadn't even moved; after that kiss she wasn't certain she could.
She had responded to this man as if she had known him all her life; she felt that safe in his arms. And yet, he aroused her as if they just met, because they had.
“Do this for me,” he asked.
There it was again, that reassuring tone, that respect, that admiration.
If she took this job, where would it lead? Tess had known him less than an hour and already she was letting him kiss herâhell, she had practically begged to taste his tongue. And that wasn't the end of it. Oh, no. She really wanted to kick that paparazzo's butt for humiliating him with those pictures.
“I'll make it worth your while,” he added.
Closing her eyes, Tess ordered herself to use her head, not her body or heart. This was a terrific opportunity, one that could easily take her dad's business to the next level and beyond. One she really wanted, and not entirely because of that business.
“I want you,” Josh said.
That sounded nice, except all that wanting would only be for as long as he craved it, right? After that, what would happen to her?
Tess ordered herself.
Run, don't walk, to the nearest exit, and don't look back.
“Please,” Josh said.
Tess opened her eyes and was sorely disappointed that he looked even better than she had recalled. Walking away from him would be hard. Staying for a little while, only to be dismissed a short time into the future, would prove to be even harder.
Taking a deep breath, she finally nodded.
Josh smiled. “Thanks.”
Tess's gaze lowered to his sensuous mouth, then returned to his beautiful eyes. “Better wait before you thank me,” she said in a voice that was finally professional, one that hardly matched the pounding of her heart. “We need to set up some ground rules before we get started.”
osh sighed. It seemed the honeymoon was over before it ever got started. Still, he wasn't completely bummed.
Tess hadn't bolted out of here even though it kept crossing her mind. Ex-cop or not, she hardly had a poker face, especially before their kiss.
Her eyes then had been softened with surrender and glazed with desire, the same that Josh felt as her body snuggled into his, delivering her need and trust.
Wow. In that slice of time, she had believed in him, she had wanted him, and as far as Josh was concerned, she'd want him even more in the days to come, despite that skeptical look on her face now.
“Sure,” he said, casual as all get-out. “Whatever you want or need.”
Tess regarded him until Josh's legs were limp and his cock was rock hard. “A private place to speak would be nice.”
Josh followed her gaze to Alan and Peg on the other side of the glass wall, craning their necks to see in, while that paparazzo was probably still clicking away outside.
“Sure. We'll go to the conference room.” He took her hand, but didn't get all that far as she decided against surrender and held back like an ex-cop. Josh gave her a moderately hard stare, then inclined his head towards that docked boat.
Tess finally glanced in that direction. Her eyes widened and then her lips parted to the camera in that guy's hand. It was nearly as big as an assault rifle with the ability to do some serious harm.
Leaning toward her, Josh whispered, “Told you.”
Tess turned her face to his.
There was a tiny mole on her right cheek he hadn't noticed before, and a renewed look of wonder in her eyes. They searched his and didn't seem at all disappointed.
At least, until his phone rang.
Just like that, Tess's gaze cleared; she frowned.
“I won't answer it,” he murmured.
“Maybe you should. Could be that paparazzo outâ”
Her frown deepened. “Why?”
He lowered his voice even more. “Could be he has one of those listening devices I read about on the Net when Nicole Kidman was having problems with the papaâAre you laughing at me?”
Tess lowered her face and breathed hard. “Not at all.”
Uh-huh. Curling his fingers around hers, Josh said, “This way.” Then he led her into the conference room. Or, at least, he tried as she stopped dead at the door.
Tess figured he had to be kidding. Snuggled against the walls and resting on every chair in this room were scores of baskets with sweetly scented flowers, lewd banners, and pictures of women in provocative poses.
I wouldn't joke about something like this,
he had said,
especially after those humiliating pictures.
Humiliating wasn't the half of it. “Wow.” Tess looked at him. “You
His brows drew together. “Believe me, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Actually, it sucks.”
“Oh, yeah?” Tess went to one basket that was simply stuffed with pink tea roses and baby's breath. The kind of arrangement one might send to the parents of a new little girl.
Tess lifted the photos that had been included with the basket. This babe was naked as any newborn, but a lot more active, as she went through various contortions in a pool. Tess arched her brows as she looked at Josh, then waited for him to lift his gaze from her butt.
After several seconds, he did. “Sorry. What did you just say?”
“I didn't say anything.”
He nodded, agreeably. “Then what were you about to say?”
What else? “I know lots of guys who would give up several decades of their lives for this kind of adoration.”
“Like who?” He went to her and whispered, “You're not involved, are you?”
Tess looked down as he again held her wrist. If possible, this caress was even gentler than the last.
Of course she wasn't involved. Would she be here if she was involved? Would she have kissed him as she had? Would she be getting dizzy to the way his thumb was gently stroking her wrist?
Tess couldn't recall any guy doing that as well as Josh. The only men she had seriously dated were cops; macho cowboys whose idea of a great date was beer and pizza with the guys, sack time with herâwhich they counted as intermissionâthen back to the guys just as soon as a game or porno came on.
It sucked beyond belief and hurt to her core, but oddly enough, Tess could have put up with all of that if they had also been kind, tender, faithful, the same as her dad had always been with her mom. That's what Tess needed in a lover and an eventual husband.
Hell, no, she wasn't involved. Not that she was about to admit it so easily to this man. “What?”
He whispered the question, again.
Tess's gaze lifted and her brain went right back to mush. A thread of sunlight had broken through the clouds and was touching his hair, turning those thick locks a pale gold, which made his brows and eyes seem even darker, all too male, and downright dangerous to her heart and good sense. “What?”
Josh looked at her mouth. “Huh?”
Okay, time to get a grip. Inhaling deeply, Tess pulled her wrist from him and stepped back. “Why are you still whispering?”
Josh's gaze remained on her mouth as he inclined his head toward the bank of windows in here. Though the angle was different, that boat and paparazzo were still outside with a good view of this room through the wind-whipped palms.
Right. “Don't you have a place more secluded than this?”
“Only the restrooms.”
She regarded the windows. “It never occurred to you to get drapes or shades?”
“I've never walked around here in the nude, but if I do,” he added as she looked at him, “I'll definitely consider covering the windows.”
Uh-huh. Tess glanced around, then went to the intercom on the wall and turned on the music.
A hot Latin number came up with lots of trilling, whooping, and lusty squeals.
She glanced over her shoulder at Josh. “This okay with you?”
His gaze lifted from her heels to her eyes. “What?”
Tess joined him at the conference table. “You okay with the music?”
He seemed stumped for an answer, though slightly aroused. “Sure. Do you like it?”
“I like the fact that the bum outside can't hear us now.”
Josh arched one dark brow. “You think I'm being foolish.”
“You're being cautious. That's good.”
“Is there a phone in here?”
“You need to call building or marina security to get rid of that guy.”
His brows lifted as if he hadn't thought of that. Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he moved even farther away from the window and made the call in a lowered voice.
Just as he turned back to her, Tess lifted her gaze from his butt.
“Better?” he asked.
Not betterâas goodâsince Tess liked looking at his face as much as she did every other part of him. “Are you involved?”
Just like that, his smile faded into an offended frown. “Would I have asked you to pretend to be my girlfriend in public if I were?”
If he wanted to put the brakes on a currently soured relationship he might. “I don't know, would you?”
“No.” He went to her. “Are you involved?”
Tess stepped back. Josh followed. One of those Latin singers moaned and moaned. “Not at the moment,” she said, still edging back.
He continued to follow, with both of them moving in time to the music. “Good. That works well with my plan.”
She stopped. “About those ground rules.”
He stepped back. “What about them?”
“At your place I get my own bedroom and bath, which is off-limits to you.”
He looked offended, again. “I thought that was a given.”
“Just want to make sure we're on the same page.”
“Guess the honeymoon's over, huh?”
Tess stepped towards him again, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Don't forget, I do know how to protect myself.”
That she did, but she sure as hell hadn't done it during their kiss, nor had Josh felt her concealed weapon while she was that close. Where in the hell did she keep it?
His gaze moved all the way down to her adorable toes before Tess cleared her throat.
Josh looked up. “No matter what you may think, I don't throw myself at women.” He gestured to the flowers in this room. “It's actually the other way around.”
“Maybe you haven't met the right woman.”
Josh lowered his arm and regarded her.
There was a brief moment of quiet before new music filled this room. This number was slow and sensual, the lush sounds of muted trumpets and classical guitars. Music that brought to mind images of a man and woman, their bodies entwined, their passion played out in a timeless dance.
Josh knew that most women might have used this moment to look away or to ease the tension with come-on chatter that wasn't arousing. Not Tess. She returned his gaze; she fucking held it captive, not breaking their silence.
He liked that. “Could be,” he said, then softened his voice even more. “So are we through with the ground rules stuff?”
She seemed to be weighing her answer, then moved past him and didn't stop until she was nearly to the other side of the room. “We haven't even started.”
Josh wasn't a bit surprised or disappointed. He liked a challenge. It made winning that much more satisfying. He turned to her. “I won't intrude on your privacy when you're at my place.” Unless you want me to.
“When we're alone, you do your thing, I do mine.”
“Just like a regular marriage.”
She arched one brow. “No more swimming nude in the pool, either.”
“I don't mind if you do, really I don't.”
“Yeah, I know.”
She chose to ignore that. “No touching below the waist or above the waist when we're in public.”
“Not even your shoulder or your cheek or your hair orâ”
“You know what I mean.”
That he did. She was talking about her outstanding butt and lovely breasts. Try as he might, Josh couldn't keep his gaze from dipping back down to her creamy throat and the rest of her chest that suit jacket exposed. “I do know how to act in public.” He took several steps towards her. “It's the private moments I seem to be having trouble with.”
“Not with me you won't.”
God, she was sexy when she was authoritative. He moved still closer, wanting to know everything about her. “Did you like being a cop?”
For once, her composure faltered. She seemed genuinely surprised by the question before she lifted her narrow shoulders. “Sure.”
“Was vice better than patrol?”
“It paid better.”
“Did you face a lot of danger?”
“It wasn't like what you see on TV.”
She was talking like an ex-cop again, not giving him straight answers.
Josh recalled the entry on her resume about that commendation for bravery. When he was reading it, that award had seemed exciting and oddly sexy because it was no more than words on paper. The reality, however, was that she had risked her safety, her life, her future.
What was the matter with her?
What was the matter with him? He barely knew her, but suddenly he was worried that she took too many risks? Now, he wanted to protect her? “You were commended for bravery. What happened?”
Josh frowned. “How can you say that? You were in danger.”
“How much danger?”
“What does it matter? I'm fine now, though you look a little weird. Why?”
Because he was worried about her. Not that Josh was about to say that to a woman who was going to be protecting him. “Why don't you want to talk aboutâ”
“It was nothing.” Tess waved her hand in dismissal. “Just a domestic dispute.”
Just? “Aren't those the worst?”
She shrugged. “He didn't have a gun.”
Josh's brows lifted. “Good to hear. So, what did he have?”
“A lot of nerve for pulling that knife on a bunch of cops.”
“Calm down. It was just a little one, not a machete.”
As if that mattered? “You weren't alone?”
“Of course not. I was with my partner. We called for backup.”
“Your partner was a guy?”
“Don't tell her that. Look, the brass liked to segregate those cops with mustaches from the ones without. But,” she added, when he didn't return her smile, “the backup was all guys.”
“What did they do?”
“They hauled the perp away after I cuffed him and read him his rights.”
“They let you do all the work?”
Her brows drew together. “I only broke one nail, it wasn't that bad.”
“That's not what I meant and you know it.”
If she did, she wasn't giving any ground.
Josh liked that, though he was having a bit of a problem with her macho bravery. “Weren't you scared?”
At last, Tess sighed. “Of course, I was scared. I would have been a fool not to be scared.”
“Why'd you do it, then?”
Her frown had returned. “It was my job.”
“I meant, why did you become a cop?”
“Why not? It seemed right.”