Brielle St. James, star of a popular reality show, just might enjoy the spotlight and attention a little too much. She makes no excuses about who she is, what she likes, or what she feels she deserves. A man who wants to be with her will bend because Brielle refuses to, not even a little. Especially if that man happens to be a deadly, gorgeous, anal-retentive, bodyguard, whose smile makes her want to act totally out of character and do whatever he asks.
Justin Jian guarded the princess of reality television as a favor to a friend. But he already had an almost irrational urge to protect her at all costs, spurred by the haunted look in her eyes on their first encounter. He also had an almost irrational desire for her; and though he vowed it would never be sated, somehow Brielle forced her way under his armor. The result was a night of volcanic passion, but the next morning Brielle’s smart and sassy mouth quickly washed away any thoughts of a future together.
Years pass and Brielle’s star has faded a bit, but her desperation to get it back exposes her to some unsavory people. After she is kidnapped and secreted to a foreign country, Justin runs headfirst into Hell, with rescue on his mind. He seems ready to risk it all for Brielle, but can she convince herself that he means more than the fame she covets?
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Justin crossed his arms over his chest. He stared at the man who he once worked for, an old friend of his father’s, and his friend…sort of. Why me? Justin questioned as he frowned. He was certain the confusion he felt was written all over his face, but in case it wasn’t…
“Let me see if I have this right,” Justin said, his words dripping with sarcasm. “You want me to protect a pop princess? To be her bodyguard?”
Talbert raised his hand and held up a finger. “Now wait, Jian,” he said, calling Justin by his last name as he leaned forward then rested his elbows on his desk. “Think of it as a much-needed break while you help out a very petrified young lady. Your father said you were due for a rest. He suggested you personally.”
Justin shook his head in disbelief. “Why not offer this jobto Ferdinand. He owes you and he like this kind of work.”
Sighing, Talbot stood. “Ferdinand isn’t you. I want the best,” he said. “Just meet with them. That’s all I’m asking.”
Justin narrowed his eyes as he stared at Talbot. A veteran who served in the special forces with Justin’s father, Talbot was now a businessman. Everything was worked like a deal to him and Justin knew this situation was no different. Talbot must have some kind of arrangement with this woman or her father, as an incentive to pimp him and his extensive skills out. What kind of arrangement? That was the question.
Except, Justin didn’t care.
He checked the time on his device, then watched as Talbot walked away from the desk. He had a few minutes to spare for the man out of respect for his father, but what he proposed was insulting and a waste of his time. There was no way he was taking on a babysitting job, and that’s exactly what this was.
Talbot opened his office door and called out a name. Justin stood and turned in the direction of the door. A few seconds later, a man walked through the open door and greeted Talbot. He was dressed well, held his head high, and looked Justin straight in the eyes as he approached.
“Mr. Jian,” the man held out his hand, “I’m Malcolm St. James.”
Justin shook Mr. St. James’ hand while committing the man’s name to memory and openly appraising him. Mr. St. James’ hand was rough and calloused, but his nails were well cared for and his suit was custom-tailored and looked very expensive. Overall, Mr. St. James looked wealthy but seemed the type who didn’t shy away from hard work.
“I understand you are a busy man so I don’t want to waste your time. My daughter needs a competent, experienced, disciplined person to protect her. Money is no object.”
Justin appreciated the way the man got straight to it but…
“Nice to meet you, Mr. St. James,” he said. “I understand how important your daughter’s safety is to you and I thank you for your consideration, but I was explaining to Talbot that I am not a bodyguard.” Justin felt the pressure of Mr. St. James’ grip tightened before the man released his hold. He watched as Mr. St. James looked to Talbot while opening his mouth in an O shape. Justin continued, “I am sorry that I can’t help you.”
Not interested in hearing the two men hash out details for an alternative bodyguard, Justin excused himself with a slight bow to both men then he exited the office, closing the door behind him.
“Mr. Jian,” Talbot’s receptionist said from behind her desk, “should I have your vehicle brought around?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Billows,” he said with a nod.
Justin didn’t break his stride as he exited the reception area and stepped into the hallway. He was halfway down the length of the hall, heading toward the elevators when he dodged a woman who almost ran into him as she was exiting the restroom.
The young woman yelped as she jumped back, losing her footing. Justin reached out, grabbed her by her upper arm, and steadied her. What took him by surprise was the fear he saw burning in her wide glossy eyes as she stared up at him. He felt the shudder that ran through her slight frame, so he immediately let his hand fall away from her arm.
“Excuse me,” he said. For the first time in his life, Justin tried to make himself look unassuming and small, which was hard to do for him, being slightly over six foot two.
“I’m sorry,” she sniffed as she lowered her head and rushed toward Talbot’s office. “Please excuse me.” She glanced at him over her shoulder before continuing down the hall.
Is that her, the petrified young woman?
Justin stood there, following the young woman with his eyes. There was something about her, a vulnerability that seemed to call out to him. He was still standing there, deep in thought, long after the door to Talbot’s reception area closed behind her. Then he shook his head to clear his thoughts and went on his way.
Later that same day
Justin stood in the shadows, waiting for his target to pass. Moore was a hard man to pin down, but he was religious about one thing, jogging. Justin knew the man was into fitness and followed the latest articles on the subject. Like the ones that suggested it may be better to run at night due to our body temperature being at its highest.
Justin ran at night as well.
A single set of footfalls echoed off the paved trail and into the quiet night before Moore came into view. Standing behind a large tree, Justin knew the man didn’t see him as he ran by. After Moore passed, Justin stepped from behind the tree and started to jog in the same direction, making no attempts to hide his presence.
Alerted that he had company now, Moore glanced over his shoulder. The man’s eyes widened as he came to a stop. Moore turned around as Justin slowed but continued to close the distance between them.
Justin figured Moore was thinking through possible escape routes in case he got the opportunity to avoid this reunion. Hopefully, Justin’s hard stare conveyed that he wouldn’t get that chance. And just like that, uncertainty left Moore’s eyes, replaced with acceptance, and the killer Justin knew the man was smiled.
“I didn’t expect them to send you,”
“Who else would they send?” Justin asked as he adjusted the black baseball cap on his head so that his face was visible. He was the best and had been since he started years ago.
“Well…,” Moore said as his lips spread into a tight line, “there is this young upstart. I hear he is as good as you are now at just seventeen.
What? Chaos doesn’t recruit that young. Justin thought he was the exception.
Moore took a step forward. “They call him Ares.”
To conceal that the information of the young agent was news to him, or that he was concerned that Chaos would once again recruit someone so young, Justin grinned.
“So, you knew?” Moore shook his head and let out a deadpan chuckle. “You’ve changed old friend, and so has the agency.”
“Change is necessary, Eros”
“I suppose it is, Apollo.” Moore moved closer. “You could report that you didn’t find me tonight, for old time’s sake. He doesn’t keep tabs on you as he does with the others. He will believe you.”
“Profit over Peace, Eros,” Justin said as he pulled his blade from its hidden sheath that rested on his lower back under his shirt. “That is unforgivable, old friend.”
“So, friendship be damned?” Moore slid his hand down inside his sweats, then revealed a similar blade.
Justin’s response was to rush forward. He raised the blade in a wide arc above his head as if he was going to plunge it into Moore’s chest. Moore reacted the way Justin anticipated, by raising his arm to block the attack. Only, Justin pivoted then spun around Moore at the last moment. Behind his target, Justin dropped the knife he held in his right hand. At the same time, he swept up with his left hand, caught the blade, and jabbed it upward into the back of Moore’s skull before his old friend even realized he was breathing his last breath.
Twisting the blade before pulling the knife free, Justin caught Moore before he fell to the pavement, wiped his blade on the man’s shirt, then sheathed his blade behind his back. He dragged the body off the path and behind a tree, stripped it of all valuables, then ripped Moore’s shirt and slipped off one of the man’s shoes. As Justin walked away, he purposely dropped a few items out of Moore’s wallet then placed what was left, along with the black gloves he wore, inside a plastic bag he had folded in his pouch pocket.
Justin pulled out a burner phone and dialed the number from memory as he walked back to the vehicle he was using. When the line was answered, he said, “What time do you close?”
“Uh,” the caller said, sounding confused, “It’s an all-night Express-N-Shop, man.”
“Thank you,” Justin said then placed the burner phone in the bag with Moore’s things. He slipped the bag into his sweatshirt pouch and started to jog as he adjusted his ball cap on his head. He passed a couple, seemingly out for a walk, before he reached his vehicle.
It was unfortunate the couple’s night may be ruined if they come across Moore’s body but there was nothing he could do about that.
Before he pushed the ignition button inside the car, Justin sighed. The young woman he saw at Talbot’s office earlier was still on his mind, and that was odd.
You’re making a mistake, he told himself.
But the truth was, Justin knew the moment he saw the woman that he didn’t want to see her harmed.
He put the shift into gear and drove until he crossed Ohio’s state line then pulled off on the side of the road. He pulled his personal cell phone from under the seat, inserted the battery, and dialed.
“You’ll do it then?” Talbot asked. His excitement was apparent.
“Why aren’t you asleep, old man? It’s 11 pm.”
“I was waiting for your call. Listen, thanks, Jian.”
“What is your relationship with the girl?” Justin asked.
“You’ve never asked that before.”
“What is your connection to the girl?”
Talbot sighed. “Fine,” he said with a huff. “Brielle is my niece, my sister’s girl.”
An odd sense of relief filled Justin. He didn’t think Talbot would be interested in someone so young no matter how beautiful she was, but he needed to be sure. Why he needed to be sure, he didn’t want to think about it; he didn’t get involved in emotionally charged gigs, he just concentrated on doing his job. Hell, he couldn’t recall a job where he felt any emotions toward the primary. But he had never seen the level of vulnerability he saw in her, just from that brief encounter.
“Send me the information.”