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Authors: Sarah Ballance

Gambling on the Bodyguard

BOOK: Gambling on the Bodyguard
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He’ll guard her body all night long…

Ski instructor Ellie Montgomery hits Vegas during a romance convention to meet the man of her dreams…only, the man of her dreams isn’t the cover model she’s there to see. He’s the hot-as-sin bodyguard who catches her sneaking in the back door of a meet-and-greet, and he seems more than ready to do what it takes to prove he’s twice the man her pretty boy crush could ever be.

Jax Mathis couldn’t resist snagging a date with Ellie, but he didn’t count on the attraction being more than physical. They connect on a level he didn’t think possible—and he can’t run fast enough. She makes him want things he thought he’d never have, and maybe, just maybe, they’re within reach. But to have it, he’ll have to face the one mountain he swore he’d never climb...and with no guarantee she’ll be waiting on the other side.

Table of Contents

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Ballance. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

Entangled Publishing, LLC

2614 South Timberline Road

Suite 109

Fort Collins, CO 80525

Visit our website at
www.entangledpublishing.com
.

Lovestruck is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.

Edited by Tracy Montoya

Cover design by Heather Howland

Cover art from Deposit Photos

ISBN 978-1-63375-418-8

Manufactured in the United States of America

First Edition September 2015

For my husband, Ryan, who refuses to step foot on a plane for any reason. Except Vegas.

Chapter One

Ellie Montgomery’s entire life had just disappeared down the toilet. Literally.

A once-in-a-lifetime event. Exclusive access.
Gone
.

She’d traveled hundreds of miles to meet Willie Focker, the hottest man to ever grace the cover of a book. It had been lust at first sight, right there in the romance section of Barnes & Noble. She’d religiously collected books featuring him on the cover but never dreamed that filling out the little card between the pages would result in her winning a ticket to meet the man in all his glorious flesh at the eighteenth annual Romance Novel Convention. Taking a few days off work and flying alone to Vegas was probably the craziest thing she’d ever done, but if she was going to do something crazy, Vegas was the place to do it, and Willie Focker the reason.

At least he
had
been.

She stared at her dripping wet hand. Had she really stuck it
in the toilet
? Fortunately the bowl appeared pristine, but that didn’t relieve the urge—scratch that, the
need
—to take a bath in sanitizer. When the ticket first landed in the water, she’d required a good second to process what was in the bowl, at which point she made a frantic grab for the paper only to have it disappear, courtesy of the auto-flush. Long after the invitation to meet the man of her dreams was lost to the sewers, she stared into the bowl, praying the darn thing would show some mercy and regurgitate the envelope, but luck did not prevail. She contemplated going in after it, the urge tempered only by the fact that she’d be in no shape to meet anyone if she drowned in toilet water.

“Un. Freaking. Believable.”

With a sigh, she threw her too-small-to-hold-a-damn-thing bag over her shoulder and cursed it for not having a pocket that fit the gold embossed invitation, then for good measure she cursed the invitation for being too big for her bag yet inexplicably not too big for the hole at the bottom of the toilet. Torn between denial and utter devastation, she eased from the stall, casting a final desperate look into the bowl before the door swung shut after her.

It freaking figured. The odds of her landing one of ten tickets to what was promised to be an intimate affair were off the charts, statistically lingering somewhere between winning one of those cars at the penny slots and getting struck by lightning while spelunking in Carlsbad. That the sewer would claim her chance was just her luck.

She’d been inside the Masquerade Hotel and Casino for all of an hour, and she’d already lost her heart and soul to Sin City.

One of ten tickets.

She straightened.

Intimate affair.

There had to be a record of invited guests. Surely all she had to do was show up and give her name, and she’d be in. Buoyed by that one last shred of hope, she scrubbed her hands, then straightened her dress and her spine and headed for the venue. A concierge named Perry with a Trump-quality comb-over and a store-bought smile directed her toward the conference room that promised Willie Focker.

Outside the door, a dozen or so women jostled one another, yelling the cover model’s name. A dozen voices insisted they were on the list. A dozen excuses flew to the return of a dozen nopes.

Each and every one was told it didn’t matter.

No ticket, no entry.

Ellie held back. Sure, she had a ticket, but she wouldn’t be saying anything the rest of them weren’t. If a list existed, short of her being an A-lister or a runway model, she’d be hard pressed to get anyone to consult it. She appeared to be at another dead end, but desperation squandered defeat. Security clearly had their collective hands full, so all she had to do was find the back entrance to the room. So what if she didn’t have a criminal bone in her body? The real crime would be to miss this chance to meet Willie. Rumor had it he would pose for mock covers with the attendees, which meant he’d probably be shirtless. And she’d be in his arms. It would be the closest she’d come to a relationship in ages.

Besides, she
was
on the list.

She eased around the corner from the melee and searched Google for the hotel floor plan. The conference room in question, together with its neighbor, could be converted from two single rooms into a spacious double room, and the door to the second half was off an out-of-sight corridor. She wasn’t sure how the two rooms connected—probably one of those accordion walls that would be impossible to sneak through—but she’d bridge that gap when she got there.

She scoped out the hall and compared it to the diagram on her phone. Only one corner stood between her and international perfection.

“Just. Act. Casual.”
And breathe.
Minor detail, but a deal breaker if she lost sight of that particular goal and passed out on the floor. But
calm
was a joke. She was just as worked up over the idea of standing face-to-face with Focker as she was by the loss of the ticket. Her emotions ran in circles, no idea which direction to take, so it was no surprise her attempt to be discreet failed. Nothing made a person conspicuous like trying not to be, but she made to the second entrance without being tackled. Brief second thoughts assaulted. She had no idea what would be on the other side of the door, but worst case, she’d play utterly confused and end up escorted to the corridor where she started. If she could just tell her story, they’d all have a good laugh and she’d be in. Willie Focker would pose for that cover with her, she’d leave with photographic proof, and it would keep her warm at night.

With her pathetic wreck of a love life, it would have to.

The short back corridor was well lit, but the inset door was thrown into deep shadow. At least if she failed miserably and video evidence made the rounds on YouTube, she could pull the
Not Me
card. But the risk was worth taking.

Here goes nothing
.

She eased open the door, expecting all hell to break loose. But other than the muffled noise from the adjacent conference room, silence reigned.
Well, okay then
. She turned to shut the door, then back around and…hit a wall.

A wall made of man. One who smelled like soap and was built like Wolverine. She was mildly aware of the latter even as the impact sent her reeling, her breath stolen by the shock. He was so hard she’d have ricocheted into the wall behind her if he hadn’t caught her with an arm that had to have been made of bedrock. The detail of his dark hair was lost to the dim light, but the same could not be said for his eyes. A striking ice-blue, their cool assessment left her skin pebbled, and her nipples wasted no time following suit, despite the ridiculous heat and rampant fear coiling through her.

Please let him be one of the good guys
. He stood a head taller, an easy six foot something sexy, and was a little rough around the edges. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she made out the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow that paired richly with chocolate-hued, bedroom-tussled hair. His hand slid along her forearm, his calloused fingers dragging out her inhibitions.
Oh, sweet Jesus
. He had the come hither glare down to a science, and she didn’t think he was even trying.

“Can I help you find something?” he asked. His gaze again traveled the length of her body, lusciously slow. “Or someone?”

She swallowed. “I’m here for the Willie Focker affair.”

At one time the wording had made her giggle.
You are cordially invited to experience an affair with Willie Focker.

“That event is by invitation only. And generally accessible via the front door.” A hint of bemusement tinged his otherwise firm words.

“I have an invitation,” she said, though not as firmly as she would have liked. In such dim light, she had a hard time getting a read on the guy, which made her attraction to him all the more maddening.

In a voice as smooth as honey, he asked, “Would you like me to have someone escort you to the main entry?”

Disappointment frittered through her.
Not you?
But of course not. He likely had to keep his post to prevent people from sneaking in. Unauthorized versions of herself. “Look, my ticket fell into the toilet and was flushed away from me. Don’t you have a list or something?”

He cocked a brow. “There’s a list. At the front door. Which begs the question—if you’re legit—of why you’re sneaking in the back.”

She hugged herself against a sudden chill. “Have you seen the mob in the hallway? I don’t stand a chance out there.”

He shook his head. “They’re supposed to keep the door clear. If the group out there is anything like what Focker usually inspires, I don’t blame you for not wanting to fight your way through. His groupies tend to be a bit…enthusiastic.”

The final word ended with a wry upturn of his lips that left her flushed. She was one of those groupies, although looking at him made her wonder why. Focker was utterly perfect, at least as far as appearances went, but he had nothing on his bodyguard, whose tough guy exterior softened behind the play of a smile on his lips and the heated curiosity of his appraisal. Her earlier concerns about him being the bad guy eased. He didn’t seem angry or tense, but amused. And not entirely at her expense, although she wasn’t sure if sneaking in the back made her more or less manic than the screaming throng in the hall.

“You have any identification?” he asked.

Relief sluiced through her—before wariness set in. She may be from a small town, but she’d seen this all over Dateline. She would flash her identification, and he’d show up at her front door wielding a shovel and…a glass of wine. She could totally see him with wine. Wine and candlelight. He was way too sexy to be hiding in a dark room, and her body still singed from every single point of contact they’d shared. “How do I know you’re not some predator?”

He flipped a light switch and held up the ID tag that hung from his neck on a lanyard.
Event staff.

“That’s a casino security badge,” she said. Wariness edged back in. Was this guy back here hoping for the chance to seduce some desperate groupie? If so, he’d just struck out. “Do you even know Mr. Focker?”

Even in the dark, amusement glittered in his eyes. “As of three days ago, yes. I’m a local hired onto his detail for the RNC, but I can’t move through this facility without a venue badge. Any guy on the street could make something up and flash it around if that were the case.”

Oh
.

She took a closer look at the badge, which he still withheld.
Jax Mathis.
She tried the name on her tongue, finding the silent utterance delicious. So much so that she couldn’t help but wonder how the man himself would taste. Her best friend’s pre-flight warning came back to her—something about how neon made people do crazy things. Only Ellie was pretty sure Taylor
wanted
her to do something crazy. There sure wasn’t anything that qualified back home in Minturn, but there was no shortage of it in Vegas. And if what she were thinking about the man in front of her counted as crazy, she’d sure like to dip a toe in it now.

He stared her down, the dance of light in his eyes lending warmth to the most dizzying shade of blue she’d ever encountered. His muscles were a little less tense now, a little less on edge, but he still vibrated on an unfamiliar frequency. She stared at his arms and wondered what it would be like to be held by him.

His gaze promised to eat her alive. “What kind of predator do you think I am?” he asked.

“The kind that hangs out in dark rooms.” She rubbed her arms, failing to eradicate the chill. “Waiting for prey.”

An easy, bemused smile shaped his lips. “Well, I suppose I’m guilty of that, but if you’re worried I’m going to show up in your room tonight, rest easy. I’m not above accompanying a beautiful woman back to her hotel, but not until she begs.”

Until she begs
. Not unless, but
until
. “Um, you said you could get me in to meet Mr. Focker.”

“Identification?”

She withdrew her license and held it out for him, but not too close.

His brow lifted. “Colorado?”

“Actually, it’s Ellie. Ellie Montgomery. I’m on the list.”

He shrugged. “Which, again, I don’t have.”

She bit back a frustrated sigh. “Then why did you ask for my identification?”

“Because I wanted to know your name,” he said, no trace of humor in his voice.

She tamped down the urge to throw something. He must have countless encounters with women every day, and he’d chosen
her
to give a hard time? Figured. Maybe if she pretended to lose it—not that she wasn’t almost there anyway—he’d put those incredible arms around her. Frankly, she could use a little restraint, and it had increasingly little to with her desire to see what’s-his-name. “There has to be a list. Can you ask the guy with the list?”

He grinned, all crooked and sexy. “Let me see if I have this right. Based on the way you came at me, I can only assume you’re willing to risk jail time—
in Vegas
—to get close to this guy. Have you met him before?”

She shook her head, her thoughts still snagged on jail time.
In Vegas
. Good Lord, if the people roaming the streets made the cut for freedom, she could only imagine who hadn’t.

“So how do you know he’s not a complete ass?”

She didn’t.

“Or gay?”

“I didn’t come here to sleep with him.”

“That’s what they all say.”

Oh, hell no
. “I’m not them. I’m not…that. Not at all.”

His eyes darkened. Did he believe her? Why did she care? “So educate me,” he said. “What is it about meeting this guy that’s worth time in the pen?”

“He’s…” Words escaped her, primarily because the few that came to her applied not to Focker, but to the hard hunk of man challenging her. His tux, or maybe it was a suit, fit him like he’d had it tailored. Or sculpted. Or maybe that was just his body. What would a man like that feel like between her thighs? The ache that speared her at the thought would be only the beginning, of that she was sure.

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