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Out of Control
A Babysitting a Billionaire Novel
By Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Nicola Cleasby
All rights reserved.
"Holy crap," Dani muttered.
They'd come to an abrupt halt at the edge of the gardens where the lush green lawns gave way to terracotta tiles surrounding a vast swimming pool. The reason for their sudden stop lay facedown on a large pink inflatable bed that floated languidly in the center of the water.
"Hmm, maybe we'll put off introducing you to the boss until ..." Gary paused, obviously at a loss for words.
"Until he's got some clothes on?" Dani suggested. "And maybe when he doesn't appear quite so ..." It was Dani's turn to stall.
"Not the word I was thinking of."
The man certainly didn't look busy. What he did look was naked. He was also not alone — a bottle of champagne dangled limply from one hand, an equally naked blonde was clutched in the other.
So that, Dani reflected grimly, was the man she was employed to protect for the foreseeable future. This was what she was reduced to — protecting a naked playboy. Hardly a meaningful existence.
She'd already heard of him; it was hard not to with his reputation. He was self-indulgent, lazy, caring for nothing but his own pleasure. Everything she didn't like in a person.
Now, seeing him in the flesh, she wasn't impressed. Or so she tried to tell herself. But if that was the case, why was she finding it impossible to drag her gaze away?
"You're staring," Gary murmured from beside her.
Amusement laced his voice, and she clamped her eyes shut to cut out the view. Perhaps he'd get a puncture and sink. But no, when she blinked he was still there. She heaved a huge sigh. "That is Zachary Hunter, isn't it?" Maybe she'd get lucky for once and find out she was wrong.
But Gary nodded. She sighed again and wiped the sheen of sweat from her forehead, then glanced up at the sun high overhead. "I hope they've got plenty of sunblock on."
"So, what do you think of your new boss?" Gary asked slyly.
"You really don't want to know."
While Dani refused to rise to the bait, she couldn't help but admit — to herself at least — that from the limited parts she could see, Zachary Hunter was every bit as gorgeous as his reputation suggested. Better. His supposedly hedonistic lifestyle certainly wasn't reflected in his physique; not an ounce of fat marred his long, lean frame. He lay with his head turned away so she couldn't see his face, just the dark blond hair, overly long and reaching to his broad shoulders. His skin was golden, and he resembled nothing so much as a large cat basking in the sunlight.
She'd thought the couple was sleeping or unconscious, but as she stared, the woman's fingers slowly glided down the long, flawless line of his golden back to come to rest on one equally golden buttock. No tan lines there.
Dani shook her head. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Good idea. I think we can leave the introductions until tomorrow."
They turned to go, but she had an uncomfortable feeling something wasn't quite right. Having spent the last ten years in an almost exclusively male environment, she prided herself on her ability to be completely unaffected by some of the most physically fit specimens to ever grace the Earth. It was second nature to her. Which was why she couldn't understand her almost undeniable urge to turn around for one last peek. She scowled and forced herself to stare straight ahead.
"So," she asked, "why does someone like Zachary Hunter need our protection?"
"Try and sound as though you care, and I might tell you."
"Come on, Gary, he's some rich playboy asshole, who as far as I can see has never done anything worthwhile in his entire life. What's there to care about?"
"Have you actually read his file?"
She shrugged. "Jess read it to me."
"But I'm guessing you weren't paying attention." Gary frowned. "Zach's not actually a playboy. He's a writer — a good one, high-action thrillers. He's made a ton of money from them, invested that, and made a whole lot more — you don't get this sort of lifestyle from just writing." He waved a hand at their surroundings. "He's also a great guy to work for — ultra laid back."
"Doesn't care about anything, you mean?"
"Maybe, but then that hasn't really got anything to do with us, has it?"
Dani exhaled. "Look, you chose to do this job. I didn't. I'm just waiting for the all clear and then I'm heading back where I belong."
"And if you don't get the all clear?"
Dani didn't even want to consider that possibility. Wouldn't consider it. Even so, a shiver of fear ran through her. "I'll get it."
"Sure you will. Anyway, back to why we're here. Apparently, the last screenplay Zach produced annoyed a number of people."
"The movie linked particular motorcycle gangs with organized crime. Apparently, Zach did a lot of research with one of the New York gangs and they had no problem with the film — thought it was a hoot. Unfortunately, a few of their associates lacked a sense of humor, and some of them have decided to make an example of him."
"He's received threats?"
"Are they serious?"
"Totally. There's already been one attempt on his life — in New York. A letter bomb — these guys aren't playing around. You know Zach and Jake are friends, right? Climbing buddies. They did the Eiger last year." Jake was their mutual boss and no, she hadn't known he and Zachary Hunter were close. But that explained the physique — the Eiger took strength and stamina. She nodded for Gary to continue. "Well, Zach refused police protection, but Jake persuaded him to hire us while they track down whoever it is. He also suggested this place. Zach's got houses in LA and New York as well, but Jake reckoned this would be easier to guard, and even you have to admit that staying here will be no hardship."
Looking around, Dani had to agree. Maybe Jake strong-arming her into this job wasn't such a bad thing after all. They'd served in the army together for many years, and Jake knew her better than just about anyone. He seemed to think that Dani needed something to occupy her time. "Something to prevent her from wallowing in self-pity" was actually the way he had put it.
Now, she was glad. London had been cold and gray, not conducive to convalescence. Especially in contrast to the hot, dry heat of Afghanistan, and she had been listless, unable to feel optimistic about her uncertain future.
But with the heat of the Spanish sun warming her, she experienced a first, faint lifting of her spirits. The villa nestled in the hills between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. The views were spectacular and the grounds enormous, running rampant with glorious pink and orange bougainvillea and hibiscus that scented the warm air with tropical flowers. Taking a deep breath, she let the atmosphere soothe her. It had been a hard six months, and on top of that, she felt drained from the flight and then the long car ride. Her leg ached, and she rubbed at it absently.
"Are you okay?" Gary asked.
She tried not to be irked by the concern in his voice. "I'm fine."
"You don't seem fine. You seem tense."
Dani rolled her shoulders, easing the tightness, and forced a smile. Though she knew Gary wouldn't be fooled — she looked a mess. She'd always been slight, but now she was positively scrawny. "Maybe a little tense," she admitted. "I just want to get back and do some real work. Not protecting some playboy."
He cast her a glance of disapproval.
"Sorry," she muttered. "Some writer."
But Gary was right to disapprove; she'd accepted this job, so now she had a duty to give it her all, whatever her opinion of Zachary Hunter. She needed to pull herself together. And it was probably only jealousy. She had a tendency to go for everything full-steam-ahead, and she kind of envied people like him who could laze away a day in a pool ... naked. Anyway, she'd probably hardly even see the man — it wasn't as though she'd be protecting him personally.
"Come on," Gary said. "We'll get you to the guesthouse and off that leg. Jake's given strict instructions that you don't put any strain on it yet."
"Jake's not my doctor, and it's no problem," she said, making an effort not to limp.
Thankfully, Gary knew better than to offer a helping hand. She hated feeling weak.
Instead, without saying anything else on the subject, he slowed his pace to allow her shorter legs to keep up, and she fell into step beside him.
* * *
Zach woke to a soft hand stroking down the length of his bare back. He groaned and burrowed his head deeper into the pillows.
"Darling, I have to leave for the airport."
He squinted up at the woman hovering above him and sighed with relief when he saw Lauren was fully dressed; he didn't like to disappoint, but he really didn't think he could manage any more right now.
At thirty-two, he was obviously getting old. Or drinking too much. Or both.
Rolling onto his back, he stretched. "What time is it?"
"Really?" He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "I thought the new security guy was coming in this afternoon. Gary was supposed to bring him over."
"Yeah and thanks for the sympathy." At least someone found this amusing.
"Aw, poor darling. I know you hate being cooped up here, but at least you're safe." She leaned over and kissed him lingeringly on the mouth. "Look, I've really got to go. I'll send you those accounts to sign as soon as I've put through the changes. Or should I bring them?"
Lauren pursed her lips, and he realized he might have been less than diplomatic. He pulled himself up, grabbing the sheet. "I'm sorry, Lauren. Of course bring them yourself."
She smiled and patted him on the head. "Don't fret, Zach. You know, you're a fantastic client, a great friend, and a fabulous lover, but I went into this" — she waved at the rumpled bed — "with my eyes open, and long-term-relationship material you are not. Not for me anyway."
"Not for anyone," he muttered.
She grinned. "Now, I really have to go." At the door, she paused and turned back. "But one day, you're going to meet a woman and you're going to fall in love — and I'm betting there are a few of us out there who hope she gives you a real hard time."
"Never going to happen," he said to himself as the door closed behind her.
Zach got out of bed, pulled on a pair of drawstring trousers and a T-shirt, thrust his feet into leather flip-flops, and headed out across the gardens to the guesthouse.
A woman stood on the terrace. He'd been expecting one of his security guards, Gary or Simon, and he paused to study her. She was tiny — certainly no threat. Her slight form was wrapped in a white robe, her head wrapped in a towel. Her lips were compressed into a tight line as she struggled with the tray she carried. She appeared pale and curiously helpless, and he had an urge to rush to her assistance. The strangeness of the feeling made him hesitate, then he shrugged it away and strode toward her.
"Here, let me help you with that."
At the sound of his voice, she jumped then stumbled. "Shit." Righting herself, she glanced up as Zach hurried forward and held out his hands for the tray.
"I can manage." She stared at him, and he was caught in the gaze of a pair of enormous eyes the color of fresh green grass. They dominated a small, elfin face and glared at him with something less than appreciation — not an expression he tended to receive from women. He'd never seen her before, but maybe she was someone Gary or Simon had picked up. He'd told them to make themselves at home, after all.
While she was outwardly composed, a pulse beat rapidly at her throat — not as unruffled as she wanted to appear. He glanced down to check out the rest of her, just as her belt unraveled and the front of her robe parted.
Beneath it, she was naked, and his eyes honed in on two of the most gorgeous breasts he had ever seen. Full — considering she was so slight — and up-tilted with dusky pink nipples. His dick jerked to attention at the sight — maybe he wasn't too old after all.
He forced himself to look up and caught her gaze. Her eyes narrowed, and she peered down.
* * *
Dani took the last step to the table and slammed the tray onto the marble surface. She snatched the edges of her robe together, wrenched the belt tight, and tried to control the wave of heat washing over her face. It wasn't as though he hadn't seen breasts before.
She was aware she was being cranky — after all, it was hardly his fault she'd flashed her tits at him — but she couldn't seem to help it. The warm water of the shower had washed away much of her earlier tension, but her leg still ached. The sensation of weakness rubbed her emotions raw and sapped her ability to play nice. Plus, she was hardly dressed for meeting her new boss. She'd presumed he'd be too busy with his ... friend from the pool to bother with introductions tonight.
She sank into the deep cushions of one of the wicker sofas and fiddled with the contents of the tray while she studied him through her lashes. At least he had some clothes on now, and while she wouldn't exactly say it improved his appearance, it did make her feel a lot more comfortable. The only problem was, her brain refused to stop flashing up images of him in his former naked glory. All that sleek golden skin, rippling with muscles. Most unnerving. The images were bad enough. The effect on her normally rock-steady equilibrium was much worse, leaving her hot and twitchy and totally aware that she was naked beneath the robe.
What was wrong with her? She never thought of men, well, as men, and she certainly never thought about them naked. A decision she'd made early in her career and one she'd never had to question or found the least bit difficult — until now.
He was dressed casually, his feet bare, and she couldn't help but notice that he had long toes. Wasn't that supposed to mean he had a long ...? Dani cut off the thought and shook her head, unable to believe she was contemplating the length of his dick.
She allowed her eyes to drift upward to his face. He had lean, tanned features; high cheekbones; a bony nose; and dark, heavy-lidded amber eyes, which observed her with more than a hint of lazy amusement.
So he found her funny, did he?
She opened her mouth and clamped it closed again. He was her employer. She had to be polite. Didn't she? But as his laidback golden stare loitered on her breasts, her blood pressure rose. Screw polite. Besides, he obviously had no clue who she was, and she could always plead ignorance.
"Can I help you?" she asked, examining her fingernails.
"I was looking for Gary."
His voice was rich and smooth and sent the most unusual ripples of sensation sliding down her spine. Ignoring her unwelcome reaction, she glanced around then lifted one shoulder in answer.
Obviously, he was undeterred by her lack of response, the smile still in place, his gaze still warm. "So I'm guessing you must be a friend of Gary's."
"Or is it Simon you're with? And are you just friends or more?"
"I'm merely trying to find out whose toes I might be treading on."
It took Dani a moment to realize what he was saying and longer for the meaning of his words to sink in. Was he flirting with her? She shook her head — unbelievable. And what about the naked blonde from the pool earlier? She peered over his shoulder just in case the woman was loitering somewhere close. The last thing Dani wanted on her first day on the job was to get into a catfight with her playboy boss's blond-Barbie-doll-girlfriend. But all was clear, and she turned her attention back to the man in front of her.
She had no experience with handling men — they tended to keep their distance. Probably because she had something of a scary reputation. Plus, she was usually accompanied by a very large dog. She picked up her sandwich for something to do, then put it down again.
"Would it make any difference?" she asked.
He grinned. "Well, I'm hoping there's nothing serious, because I don't intrude on other people's relationships."
"You don't? How noble of you."
His grin faded as though she wasn't behaving in the expected manner. No doubt, he was used to women being a little more appreciative of his attentions. Hard luck — Dani didn't do appreciative.
Gary emerged through the patio doors, rubbing a towel over his damp hair. "Hi, Zach. Have you two introduced yourselves?"
"I was about to do that very thing," Dani murmured.
Gary gave her a look of reproach, a look that clearly said, This is our employer. Behave yourself.
Excerpted from Out of Control by Nina Croft, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Nicola Cleasby. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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