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Logan Murdoch surveyed the waiting crowd. After years spent serving overseas, usually in the desert and lugging an eighty-pound pack on his back, he had no intention of complaining even if he had to wait another hour for his superstar client to arrive.
"Stand by for arrival in five minutes."
He touched his earpiece as the other security expert's voice came on the line.
"Cleared for arrival in five minutes," he responded.
Logan moved down the line, checking that all the waiting fans were securely behind the low, temporary fencing. A couple of policemen were on guard, keeping an eye on the large crowd, and he had a security team ready to help if he needed them. He reached down to give his dog a pat, before moving out with one minute to go to wait for the car. Logan had already led his dog around and inside the entire perimeter to check for explosives, and now their primary objective was to get the client safely from the car into the building.
"I have a visual on the car. Stand by for immediate arrival," he said, before talking to his dog. "Stay at heel," he commanded.
His dog knew him better than any human possibly could, and the verbal command was just procedure. One look and Ranger would know what he was thinking.
The car pulled up to the curb-jet-black with dark tinted windows-and Logan stepped forward to open the back door. He'd researched his client, knew all there was to know about her in the public domain, but nothing had prepared him for seeing her in the flesh. For the slim, tanned legs that slipped from the car, the beautiful face turned up toward him or the star power she exuded from her small frame. She was gorgeous.
"Ms. Evans," he said, holding out his hand to assist her. "Please follow me immediately through the front door. Will you be signing autographs today?"
Her eyes-big blue eyes that were as wide as saucers-met his, and she shook her head. Logan might never have met her before, but something told him she was terrified.
"Yes!" someone from inside the car barked. "Candace, you're signing autographs. Go."
Logan tightened his hold on her hand as she stepped out, and suddenly they were surrounded by flashes that seemed like bulbs exploding in front of them.
"Easy," he told Ranger, his grip on the dog's leash firm. "Let's go."
He released her only when she loosened her hold, then he walked with his palm flat against her back, his dog on his other side. If she wanted to stop to talk to fans, then that was her decision, but anything that alerted him to a potential problem? Then he'd be the one calling the shots, never mind what her manager or whoever he was wanted her to do.
"Don't leave me," she whispered just loud enough for him to hear, a tremble in her voice.
"I'm right here until you tell me to go," Logan replied, moving his body closer to hers, realizing his instincts had been right.
"I've swept every inch of this place, and my dog never makes mistakes."
Logan watched her nod, before bravely squaring her shoulders and raising her hand in a wave to her fans. The flashes from the paparazzi were still in full swing, and now everyone in the crowd seemed to be screaming out to the woman they'd queued hours to meet. He'd been doubtful that she needed such high-level security, but the worry in her voice told him that maybe it had been justified.
"Candace, over here!" one girl was yelling. "Please, Candace, I love you!"
Logan steered her forward, stopping only when she did. He noticed the slight shake of her hand as she signed multiple autographs, before angling her body toward the building. He took his cue.
"Autographs are over," he announced, at the same time as the crowd started yelling again.
They walked straight toward the door, stopping for a few more fans just before they disappeared inside.
Logan touched his earpiece. "We're in the building. Secure the exits."
As the doors shut behind them, Candace collapsed against the wall, her face drained of color.
"Ms. Evans?" he asked, at her side in a heartbeat.
"I'm fine. It's just overwhelming," she muttered, resting her head back against the wall. "I didn't think I was going to be able to make the walk from the car."
Logan dropped Ranger's leash and told him to stay, before crossing the room to fill two glasses of water.
"He won't hurt me, will he?"
Logan glanced back and saw that his dog was sitting to attention, ears pricked, eyes trained on her. Ranger was looking at her as though curiosity was about to get the better of him.
Always sworn that he wouldn't be one of the stuck-up stars who forgot what it was like to be at the bottom of the heap. He usually made a point of making sure that anyone who worked with him knew that he appreciated what they did and he didn't take them for granted. Today, he'd slipped up. Badly.
'Mr McKenzie,' she said, her mouth thinning. 'Come to collect your dog?'
He was about to apologise for the way he'd dumped the dog on her that morning, but she didn't give him the chance. 'I don't care if you're Mr Big Shot Actor, and I don't care if you complain to Ayesha and get me fired for this, but what you did this morning is most definitely not the way to treat a dog. You dumped her on us-without any water, any food, any bedding, any toys-and that's just not good enough.'
OK. He already knew that.
She wasn't finished. 'My sister and my best friend think you're the greatest as a movie star.'
Implying, he thought, that she didn't.
'But, let me tell you, you totally suck as a dog owner.'
He couldn't deny that. She was speaking the truth.
'Absolutely. I know nothing about dogs.' He paused. 'And Baloo isn't mine.'
That seemed to take the wind out of her sails. 'She's not yours?'
'I'm looking after her-not that I had any choice-until my aunt gets back from America in three days' time.'
'Oh.' She paused, frowning. 'Why didn't you have a choice?'
'Doesn't matter. I'll take her off your hands, now.' Not that he was going to make a good job of it. The next seventy-two hours or so were going to stretch him to the limit. It didn't help that the dog had chewed his script, too. The damned dog chewed everything. Worse still, how could he remain angry with an animal who leaped around in joy and wagged her tail madly when she saw him, and right now was sitting at his feet, looking up at him with what was definitely the canine equivalent of a dopey welcoming smile?
'Why didn't you have a choice?' The assistant's voice was softer, now. Kinder.
God, how easy it would be to let himself respond. But he couldn't afford to do that. He needed to keep his focus.
'Your aunt must've known you're working this week. She could've booked Baloo into kennels.'
'She's not my aunt's dog, either.' The words slipped out before he could stop them.
She raised an eyebrow. 'So how come your aunt asked you to look after Baloo?'
It was a long, long story.
Diversion was the best tactic here. He smiled at her. 'I'm sorry; I didn't catch your name earlier.'
'Jess.' Short for Jessica? A staccato name, clipped and a little harsh. How she'd been with him when he'd walked in. But now he looked at her-Jess. Softer. Sweeter. She wasn't wearing a scrap of make-up, not even mascara to enhance those amazing green eyes.
And what the hell was he doing, letting himself notice that? He shook himself. Even if he was in a position to think about another relationship, it sure as hell wouldn't be with anyone remotely connected to the movie business. Been there, done that, and been vilified by the press for it. Which really rankled, considering that he hadn't been the one who'd cheated and broken up the marriage.
Though he had lied. About one tiny little fact. And if that ever got out..
He shook himself. 'Jess. I was pretty short with you this morning. Rude, even. I'm sorry. This is your first day on set, isn't it?'
She looked surprised that he'd noticed. 'Yes, it is, Mr McKenzie.'
'Call me Luke. And welcome to the team,' he said.
She folded her arms. 'OK, you get points for good manners. Even though I suspect you might be acting your socks off, right now.'
To his surprise, he found himself laughing.
When was the last time he'd really laughed like that? Really been amused?
And when was the last time someone had called him on his behaviour instead of tiptoeing round him? Probably not since before the break-up of his marriage.
Jess Greenacre was refreshing. And she was the first person in a long while to intrigue him. She looked older than the average production assistant, so this probably wasn't her first job. So why was she in such a junior role?
None of his business, he reminded himself.