Setup: our intrepid hero is handcuffed to our heroine because she's sneaky.
Despite the coffee, Mike figured he’d sleep. Once again in his clothes, on top of the blankets, while Liliana curled up under the bedspread at his side, facing him by necessity as they were still locked at the wrist. She’d stripped out of her jeans again, left them cast on one of the chairs, and he’d avoided watching her while she did so as best as he could. Privacy was nearly nonexistent in a cramped hotel room to start with; cuffed together like this, what remained rapidly dissipated. Tonight the hall light was off, as he was no longer concerned she’d be trying to sneak out without him knowing. The cuff key sat on the table across the room, impossible to reach unless they both went to it together.
“If I’m going to be stuck with you in a room for weeks, we should probably start talking or something,” she said at last. “It might pass the time better.”
He’d almost thought she’d gone to sleep; she’d been lying there in the dark for over twenty minutes in silence, eyes closed, breathing even. “What would you like to talk about?”
She shifted and the mattress dipped under her. Mike lay on his back, his free arm under his head, staring up at the ceiling where bluish light filtered between the curtains. Snow continued to pile up outside and pattered softly against the windows.
“You still won’t tell me who hired you?”
“Not my information to give,” he said simply.
She was on her side still but watching him now. Her arm moved in the space between their bodies, slightly tugging his with it.
Oddly, he appreciated the silence, or what he suspected it meant from her. Despite her willingness to run her mouth off or stubbornly argue, she paused to think, to consider, enough that he knew there was more going on in her head than was apparent at first glance. She was smarter, craftier than she let on. Sure, every time she tried to run, she was stupid to do so, but that was born from desperation. If she actually took time to plan something, his work might be cut out for him.
“Then why did you take the job?” she asked after clearly debating it.
That caught him off guard.
What’s more, he wasn’t sure he had an answer for it. To help out Jann, sure—they’d both done one another favors over the years, and this job was personal for his friend. And because it was a well-paying gig. Seven Security did extremely well already, of course, but when a good job came up, they invariably took them to help cover expenses when business was slow. Further, this was what he was trained for, after all. Keeping a witness safe, anticipating threats—he was good at this. Enjoyed the work.
But there was more too it as well. “Because you need the help I can provide, even if you don’t want it.”
He could all but feel the air bristle around her at that and she gave a soft, skeptical snort at his words.
“Right,” she said. “Purely altruistic motives and not financial ones.”
“You realize I am not short for work,” he replied. “I pick and choose clients. I wasn’t forced to be here. My decisions are based on more than money.”
“Aren’t you just Prince Charming, O’Hara.”
“I’m in the unique position of being able to help you, and I’m being paid for it. There’s nothing princely about it. I realize you’re...” He had to phrase this delicately and wasn’t certain he could. “Likely used to people—men—taking an angle with you, wanting something from you.”
“Excuse me?” she snapped, but he ignored her.
“I have no ulterior motives. I require absolutely nothing from you but your cooperation while I keep you safe. When the police complete their investigation and get their evidence, I will turn you over to them as a material witness, they will put the Hartleys in prison, and you will go on your way.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know your distrust of police and authority figures likely came from your years spent in foster care and group homes. I know from your police report that you used to date Jimmy Hartley and that is why you’re scared of what he’ll do to you when he finds you. I know you expect me to either abandon you to Jimmy at some point or somehow ultimately lead to your death because I’m keeping you in one place. Correction—you don’t ‘expect’, you’re certain I will. However—”
And he tilted his head so he could face her, the blue light from outside gently tracing the side of her face, making her soft curls glow. Her features were delicate but her expression strong, those eyes just as fiery as when he first saw them despite how beaten down she’d been, tracked down and handcuffed to him. Scant inches separated them and for a moment he forgot what he was saying.
“However,” he continued, “those issues are yours to deal with. I’m not going anywhere. I will not let your ex-boyfriend or anyone else near you. There is nowhere safer you can be at the moment than right here.”
Her lips pursed as she stared at him. Clearly she still didn’t believe a word he said. Likely wouldn’t, even after he delivered her to the police for safekeeping when the trial came up.
She bent her left arm, folded it so her hand was under her pillow, dragged his arm up with her. He didn’t fight it, moving passively with her, and his fingertips brushed her forearm. Her skin was soft and warm, requiring conscious effort on his part not to deliberately touch her.
“I think you believe that,” she said at last, her voice soft and quiet. Defeated. “But you’re so sure you don’t have a weakness or a blind spot, that you’re too smart to get taken by someone like him, and that’s exactly what makes you a perfect victim.”
Like her. No, Liliana was far from stupid. And she’d described exactly how a smart woman would’ve ended up with Jimmy Hartley and men like him.
“I’m aware of my weakness and blind spots,” he said instead.
“Are you?” Her lips quirked into a grin, that saucy half-smile from her photo. The one that promised depths he immediately wanted to dive into.
“I plan for them. I can’t do my job without that awareness.”
“Awareness seems like a bit of a curse. Always planning, always anticipating, running a couple dozen scenarios at once, right?”
His gaze was locked on hers. He simply nodded.
“Must be exhausting.”
She shifted again, the sheet slipping from her shoulder as she reached for him with her free hand.
Mike tensed, steadying his breath with effort, watching while she ran her fingertips up his forearm, feather-light. Her gaze traced the trail her fingers did, staring at him with a curiosity he couldn’t entirely decipher. He focused on his breathing, on keeping his heartrate down even as his pulse leapt with her touch and his body stirred again.
It could be another con, another attempt at wiggling free of her captivity, he knew. So he didn’t read much into it and tried to clamp down on any pleasant feelings her touch elicited as she traced her fingers along the dip in his calloused palm.
“And what about when you deliver me as promised, and the trial goes forward, and Jimmy’s mother kills me anyway?” She lifted her gaze to meet his again, fingers curling so now her nails dragged over his palm, more of a bite than the delicate touch from before but just as maddening. “They have money. They’ll hire someone. And even if everything they have is caught in bail and lawyers, they have friends. I testify, I’m dead. Doesn’t matter what other evidence they have—they’ll do it out of spite.”
There was nothing he could say to that. No reassurance he could give. Sure, she could be put in witness protection if the threat against her was found credible. She could disappear with help from the authorities far better than if she did it on her own.
But that wasn’t what she was asking about and he knew it.
“Exactly,” she said before he could reply. “This isn’t altruism. This isn’t about what’s best for me. It’s your job. What you’re paid for. And even if you do your little mission here perfectly and you can sleep easy at night knowing you did everything you were hired to do, that doesn’t make me safe. It’s just delaying the inevitable until a time when it’s more convenient for your conscience to have me die.”
And with that she rolled over, leaving her left arm where it was by the pillow as it was still attached to his, the handcuff chain clinking softly between them.
Mike stared up at the ceiling again, commanding sleep that never came, and telling himself it was just all the coffee keeping him up and nothing else.
A witness hidden away in a small town.
After waitress Liliana White witnessed a murder, she wanted nothing to do with helping the police or putting the target behind bars. She’s not interested in justice or being a hero; she just wants to stay alive. A brutal death waits for her if the culprits get their hands on her, and given that one of them is her ex-boyfriend, she knows precisely what he’s capable of and will avoid him at all costs.
The bodyguard sworn to protect her.
Stoic and efficient, personal security expert Michael O’Hara is cautious in all things—both work and women—and has built a reputation in the private sector as the top of his field. But though he thinks he’s seen it all, nothing has prepared him for keeping Liliana White safe. She doesn’t trust him, doesn’t trust the police, and not even a vicious contract killer known as The Huntsman on her heels is enough to convince her she needs him.
But Liliana does need him. Only Mike stands between her and certain death, and despite all he does to keep his emotional distance, the longer he spends with her, the more he has to face the possibility that he just might need her too.
Release Date: March 27, 2015
Genre: IR (bwwm) contemporary romantic suspense
Length: short novel (51K words or 150 pages)
Series: Midsummer Suspense
Format: ebook & paperback Ebook
Price: $2.99 PREORDER SPECIAL (later will be $3.99)
Print Price: $8.99