In the middle ages emily Stanton would have been tied to a stake and set aflame for witchcraft. Or bound in chains and stuck in a dark little hole where she couldn't drive sane men crazy, Kell Krieger thought with a grin as he kept a careful distance between himself and Emily's Trailblazer as they traversed Atlanta's increasingly heavy traffic flow.
Were it the Middle Ages, he would have rescued her from a dark hole or the stake, outfitted her in leather, given her a sword and followed her into battle. Because sure as hell, any man who saw her coming at him would have been struck dumb long enough for a strong warrior to lop his head from his shoulders.
But it wasn't the Middle Ages, and Atlanta's traffic wasn't really a war zone, it just resembled one sometimes. Like now, just before rush hour, when those fighting to escape the maddening traffic jams were driving like kamikaze students with no fear of death.
Emily certainly had no fear. But then again, he couldn't remember a time when she had known fear. Even when she should have, the time she was bound and shoved into a dirty shack on the Fuentes compound and glared at her captors with hatred.
What she had on the freeway was experience. Someone had taught her aggressive driving techniques that would have done a SEAL proud. Hell, she had lost the tail he was certain she hadn't known she had, miles back.
Research. He was betting she had taken some kind of lessons on the pretext of research for the books that were never published and stories that were still only half finished.
And he had to grin at the thought of that. She was driving her father crazy with the so-called research, and over the years she had given Kell no end of amusement as he listened to the senator rant and rave about her exploits on the rare occasions Kell had managed to meet with him over the years.
But now, the danger she was in had him and the senator sweating, especially after her kidnapping by Fuentes nearly two years ago.
She wasn't safe. And the way she wrapped her bodyguards around her slender fingers, they would be of no help to her when Fuentes decided to take her again, as the information suggested he would. She wasn't safe, but she thought she could protect herself. She was just smart enough to be dangerous to herself, and too gentle to ever be a danger to the evil stalking her.
They thought she was safe. God help him, he had believed Fuentes would adhere to the rules of the game and leave her be after her rescue from the first kidnapping. And perhaps he would have, if the spy codenamed Mr. White hadn't grown increasingly worried about her father's efforts to track him down.
Now, here was Emily, fighting to find a life despite her father's overprotection and the shadow of danger. For seven years she had lived with one bodyguard after another, had endured her father's overprotective love, and had tried to balance her needs against his fears.
From the look of things, she had grown tired of the battle, though.
Today, she wore the disguise she had been using for the past week before heading from her condo on the outskirts of Atlanta to the strip joint on the other side of the large town. The long brown wig and makeup adjustment would only fool someone who didn't really know her. Kell would have recognized her in a second, no matter what her disguise.
His conversation that morning with her father when he gave his oral report had been telling, though. The bodyguard Dyson was ready to break, if the report he sent in the night before was any indication.
Chet Dyson had warned the senator that the situation wasn't working out and his daughter was becoming too confrontational for him to effectively protect her, especially considering that the senator refused to allow Dyson to tell her of the renewed threat. Dyson was getting nervous. It was time to pull him out.
Damn, she was good in this traffic. She flipped in front of an eighteen-wheeler with plenty of room to spare but with a move that nearly caught him off guard and kept him from advancing with her.
Horns blared and he was sure there were men cursing her from one lane to the next. Men got nervous when a woman drove like that. It made them unpredictable. Few men could handle a woman that aggressive and unpredictable.
Kell loved it. The challenge fired his blood and had a smile of anticipation curving his lips. Never had he met a woman whom he found exciting outside the bed. But this one, she would keep a man on his toes well beyond the age where it should be possible. And he had known that since the night she celebrated her eighteenth birthday and turned his little world upside down with a smile.
She was a woman who enjoyed life. It sparkled in her eyes and showed in her smile. She was a woman guaran-damn-teed to drive him insane and he wasn't even officially her bodyguard yet. He was just the dumb shit ordered to follow her and her present bodyguard around until gears were put into motion and Durango Team could be rounded up from their various locations. God help him when he had to stay in her home under the cover his commander had informed him he would be using.
Because he had lusted after Miss Emily Stanton for seven years. The only thing that had saved her was the fact that he was rarely around her. Living in her home, sleeping under the same roof with her, pretending to be her lover was going to break him and he knew it. Soon, he would have her in his bed; the only battle would be keeping her out of his heart.
As he fought to keep up with her in the traffic, Kell found himself cursing along with all the other men in vehicles around them. If he hadn't been trying to follow her, he would have acknowledged her cunning and daring. But he was trying to follow her, and she was making it damned hard to do so.
It happened every time he trailed her anywhere. He cussed her for hours. Swore he was going to tie her up and stuff her in a closet. That he would find a nice little uninhabited island to stick her on where she couldn't endanger herself or others.
It made a man glad he had a will, even if he didn't have an heir.
Who knew an SUV could move like that? He was on his Harley and he couldn't gain the momentum she had on an interstate packed with four lanes of prerush-hour traffic.
He was reciting every curse he had learned, in Arabic, in a Middle Eastern prison three years ago. Then he tried the Russian versions that he had learned in a cold little jail in some back mountain province he didn't want to even think about.
But he made it, with only inches to spare between the back tire of his precious Harley and a four-by-four pickup as wide as a barn.
But he was back in place on her ass, and snarling as she zipped and whipped through the inner-city traffic.
Because it was obvious her bodyguard couldn't do a damned thing with her. He wasn't even smart enough to call in backup to contain her. As though backup could do anything with a slippery little fox, he thought with a spurt of amusement.
Keeping a careful distance between his Harley and her SUV, he flattened his lips once again and promised himself that the minute he took over her security he was locking her in a room with no escape routes and throwing away the damned key.
Then his lips quirked in amusement. Hell no, he wouldn't lock her up. The first thing he was going to do was see how damned fast he could get all that restless fire and passion between the sheets.
He had waited long enough for her. She was older now, mature. She could go to bed with him and not be destroyed when it was time for him to walk away.
As she pulled into the back lot of a strip club, he amended the previous idea. He wasn't locking her in a room. A room was too good for the hell she was getting ready to put him through when he pulled her out of Timbo's. He was locking her in chains and finding a hole deep enough to contain the little witch. Because sure as hell, if he dragged her out of this place, he was going to end up pissed off, bruised, bloody, and maybe with a few bones broken. And for that, he was going to demand a bit of satisfaction.
No, not just a bit. A lot. And likely more than either of them needed. Definitely more than he should be thinking. Because he kept imagining her, not in a hole, but in a bed, her arms stretched over her head, her legs spread, open and inviting. And that lush little body panting for him.
Damn, a hard-on sure as hell wasn't what he needed right now.
He pulled the Harley into an alley alongside the back parking lot, concealing it behind the trees that struggled to live amid the rot and decay that surrounded them, and watched as Emily and her bodyguard moved from the vehicle.
He was going to end up in a fight before this was over with.
Not that Kell cared to fight. Hell, he loved to fight. But he didn't think the senator would appreciate the fact that his little girl had been to a strip club, not with the danger facing her now. And the senator wasn't going to be happy either. Kell wondered about Emily's present bodyguard and his obvious lack of sanity.
Chet Dyson was a former marine, tough, supposedly fearless, but that was fear Kell saw on his face. Desperation. He was looking around for an escape route, not an attacker, even as he argued with his charge.
Kell shook his head. He had heard the other man arguing with her as they left, demanding her keys, threatening to call her father, cursing. But the dumb ass had parked it right in the passenger seat anyway and let Emily have her head.
They disappeared in the back door of the strip club and Kell sighed wearily. He was going to have to go in there and find out what the hell she was up to. That was something he had hoped to put off, because knowing the research habits he had uncovered so far, he had a feeling it could be control destroying. It was his luck she was researching the criminal underbelly of Atlanta, a move guaranteed to get her pretty little head shot off her shoulders.
Shaking his head, he started the Harley and pulled around to the front lot where he parked it beneath the eagle eye of Timbo's doorman. Kell snorted at the title. Tiny was no one's idea of a doorman. He was seven feet of hulking muscle and an expression that made a grizzly look nice. Narrow black eyes watched him silently as he swung off the Harley and powerful black arms crossed over his wide chest.
"What kind of trouble are you stirring up here, Krieger?" Tiny asked suspiciously as he neared the door.
"Nothing too messy, Tiny." Kell grinned. "Let me in for a drink. My pigeon just walked in the back door and I need to keep an eye on her."
Amusement flickered in Tiny's eyes. "That little thing Cherry's giving dancing lessons to?" If Kell wasn't mistaken an edge of affection crept into the big man's voice. That was scary. Predictable, but scary nonetheless. She had a way of drawing people to her, of making them care whether they wanted to or not.
He sure as hell hadn't wanted to. But from the moment he had met her fifteen years before, only weeks after the death of his young wife and their unborn child, he had found himself looking into her too perceptive gaze and knowing that if he wasn't careful, she would make him care.
"Yeah," Kell drawled, narrowing his eyes. "Why?"
"She's doing a lap dance this afternoon. For me."
Every bone and muscle in Kell's body tightened as rage flickered across his senses.
"She's doing what?"
Tiny grinned down at him. "She's been taking lessons from Cherry this week. Today's test day. She's doing her moves and Timbo said she could do them for me."
Like hell. As Kell stared back he moved his hand to his wallet, pulled it free, and knew he was in deep shit when Tiny glanced at it with satisfaction.
"Now how did I know you wouldn't like that?" The other man's voice filled with smug satisfaction. "Boy, you got the look of a man getting ready to drown. Maybe I should save you from yourself."
"I like you, Krieger." He shook his head. "But she's damned pretty."
Kell pulled a hundred free.
"And I know what Cherry's been teaching her." Tiny's grin got wider.
Kell pulled free the second hundred.
"And she's just the prettiest little piece of candy."
Kell pulled the knife from his boot in a move so fast Tiny barely had time to blink before the edge was pressing against his throat.
He swallowed tightly. "But she ain't that sweet." He reached out and took the two hundreds from Kell's other hand with a tentative movement. "Better you than me. That woman's trouble."
Kell's lips thinned as he lowered the knife and slid it back into the sheath at the side of his boot.
"Don't let anyone else in," he ordered.
"I wasn't supposed to let you in," Tiny grunted.
Kell sliced a hard, killing look back at him.
"But, hey man, I know you and that knife." He grinned. "I'll keep the place clear. Those were the orders anyway. Better hurry, though, show starts soon. It's guaranteed to be a killer."
No shit. Kell was beginning to guess that if Emily Stanton was involved, then no matter what it was, it had the potential to kill.
Her father, a former SEAL, had made a grave tactical error in giving her a taste of excitement as a child before jerking it away from her and trying to marry her off to men determined to control her.
Kell had watched from afar for years, never interfering, despite his disagreement with the senator. He had watched the steady stream of men sent in to guard that delectable body with aspirations of marriage. Those aspirations never lasted long. A few weeks to a few months. They slinked out of her life with their tails between their legs.
Until two years ago. When she had put her foot down for the first time and refused another male presence in her home. Three months later, Fuentes had taken her. And she had only become more determined since then to learn how to protect herself.
This wasn't a woman who accepted limits, unless they were her own. She made her own rules. And Kell understood that. He respected that. Even if he was determined that before it was over, she would shape those rules to suit not just her needs, but his as well.
He had found a vixen. Taming her wasn't on the agenda, but touching her, tasting her was, and that would take careful planning. Because vixens didn't give in easily.
There would be nothing easy about Emily. But that was okay, because there was nothing easy about him either.
Copyright © 2007 by Lora Leigh. All rights reserved.