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Rian Dalton, co-owner of Elite Protection Services, stared at the offer on the table and couldn't believe he was about to say this but the fact was, it wasn't enough to put up with CoCo Abelli. The hot-blooded heiress was a common enough sight in all the trendy Los Angeles clubs and the paparazzi loved catching her falling on her ass, slipping a nip or otherwise acting like the wild child she was.
And Rian was smart enough to steer clear of that hot mess. He regarded the older man awaiting his answer and said without regret, "Sorry, I can't take your money. You need someone who can do the job without bias and frankly, I know enough about CoCo to know that I don't want that headacheno matter how much money is put on the table. I can recommend a few highly qualified alternatives if you'd like "
"I don't want second best for my daughter," Enzo Abelli, a paunchy man in a finely tailored suit, said in a thick Italian accent, his jowls jiggling as he shook his head. "You are the best. So I hire you. No exceptions."
"I'm flattered but I'm respectfully declining. The fact is, CoCo is the worst sort of clientdetermined to do the exact opposite of what I tell her to do for her own safetyit's a headache I don't need." Rian was usually the charmer, the schmoozer of the two Dalton brothers, but he was taking a page from Kane's play-book by going with the blunt approach. He fished out his phone, prepared to give the man some digits, but Enzo wasn't finished.
"She is my only child. Perhaps I have indulged her too much. She is willful, spoiled to a fault, but that is not her fault. She has a good heart. Someone is trying to use my love for her against me. They are threatening to kill her if I do not give in to their demands. Without CoCo, everything I've worked for means nothing. I would pay any sum you desire if you would agree to take my case."
Rian wanted to shut the man down again but there was something about the sincerity in the older man's voice that tugged at his sense of right and wrong. The mana billionaire three times overwas simply a father trying to protect his daughter. Rian didn't know what it was like to have a father who gave a damn about his kidshis own father had been a miserable son of a bitch who'd nearly killed him on several occasions. Hell, if it hadn't been for Kane, he'd probably be dead. So, hearing the desperation in Enzo's voice did something to a long-buried childhood wish that his father had been decent.
Sensing Rian was backsliding, Enzo pushed a little harder. "The FBI are working to find this miscreant and it should only take a few days, a week at the most, to end this nightmare. Surely you can take on a week? I would happily make it worth your while."
A week with CoCo? That was a tall order. Enzo would have to throw in a yacht.
It wasn't only that she was a handful and would likely make him want to punch a wall a few times, but CoCo was a drop-dead gorgeous blonde with a body that always turned headsincluding his own.
He'd been at the same clubs, winding down, when he'd seen her the first time, all legs and hips, looking like a traffic violation in her tight dress and stiletto heels, and for a split second, he'd entertained the idea of introducing himself. But then he'd recognized her from the tabloids and he'd steered clear. The last thing the business needed was bad press from hanging out with the wrong people. That included CoCo and her little posse.
Just politely let the old guy down and chalk this one up to an unfortunate conflict of interest, the voice of reason told him but damn, if his mouth didn't start moving with its own agenda. "A week at the most?" Rian repeated and Enzo nodded vigorously. "All right. I can commit to a week. Anything after that, we'll have to find something else."
"Of course, of course," Enzo said, agreeing quickly. "Thank you, Mr. Dalton."
"Well, don't thank me yet. You haven't heard my terms. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but your daughter isn't known for following rules. And she's not going to like the rules I put down for her safety. It's your job to ensure that she listens, otherwise you're throwing good money after bad."
"She's stubborn but I will impress upon her the gravity of the situation," Enzo assured Rian. "She's young and impetuous but she's very bright. She will understand that this is necessary for her protection."
Will she? Parents were usually blind to their kids' shortcomings. If Enzo had half an idea of the shit his daughter was into, he'd probably have a heart attack. But that wasn't Rian's burden. He rose and shook Enzo's hand. The man, though nearing seventy-five, was robust and healthy, which probably explained why he was always seen squiring about women younger than his daughter. Money and famethe greatest aphrodisiacs on the planet. "I'll do my best to keep Miss Abelli safe," he told Enzo. "By any means possible."
"You're a good man," Enzo said, pumping Rian's hand vigorously. "A good man, indeed. I will have the money wired to your account if you'll just provide the details to my manager."
Rian nodded and let himself out of the West Coast mansion owned by the Abelli family and wondered if he'd just sold his soul to the devil for a metric ton of cash.
Well, one way to find out.
"I love LA," CoCo Abelli murmured as she stood out on the balcony of her mother's Malibu mansion, enjoying the oceanfront view of the palatial home. "Even the smog is glorious."
"You're cracked in the head," quipped her friend Stella Richards as she lounged on the bed, idly thumbing through a magazine. "Breathe that stuff long enough and your lungs will stop working. I should knowI think I have a permanent prescription for my inhaler."
CoCo ignored Stella and returned inside, already bored. She'd been in town for all of a week and everything thus far had been deadly dull. If she'd wanted peace and quiet, she would've stayed in Italy. "My mother is gone for a few months. Let's throw a party."
Stella perked up as CoCo knew she would. "Go on. I'm listening."
"I'm thinking, hire a DJ, get a mixologist, a little security to watch the gate."
"God, yes, we don't need any crashers. Remember that last party when that loser production assistant made his way in? Kept pestering everyone to look at his script. As if anyone comes to a CoCo Abelli party to read." Stella rolled her eyes and climbed from the bed to walk into Azalea's huge walk-in closet. "Your mother has impeccable taste," she said with envy, grabbing a pair of heels. "Giuseppe Zanotti, Limited Edition, I could die. It's not fair that your mother gets first dibs on designer shoes just because your dad is a famous shoemaker. Honestly, they're not even married anymore. That's quite a perk."
CoCo shrugged. "Azalea knows how to negotiate." She snapped her fingers to get Stella's attention. "Back to the important stuffthe party. Should we go with a theme? Something fun?"
"I don't know, themes are so overrated unless it's Halloween or Christmas, you know?" Stella said, already bored as she replaced the shoes and exited the closet. "Did your mom leave her jewelry behind?"
"Not the good stuff."
"Figures. Although that rock she's sporting now does it give her finger a cramp from wearing it all day? It's almost ridiculous."
CoCo didn't want to talk about her mother. Their relationship was strained on most days and now that she was married to a man CoCo found tedious and overbearing at the same time, they really had nothing productive to say to one another.
Although born in Milan, CoCo split her time between Europe and Californiaspecifically, Los Angeles. And she really did love LA. Everything was wild and unbridled here, wealth was celebrated and she always found a good time running around the clubs, hanging out with movie stars.
It wasn't that Italy didn't have wealthsome of the wealthiest people in the world called Milan homebut it wasn't flaunted with opulent awareness as it was in the City of Angels. The obscenity of riches fascinated CoCo, as did the knowledge that in Los Angeles, bad girls got noticed and sometimes rewarded for their bad behavior, rather than chastised and hidden away for a month until they promised to behave themselves. European countries were far more reserved, it seemed, when it came to breaking rules, and CoCo found that boring.
Thankfully, when her mother divorced Enzo, Azalea had been crafty enough to wrangle a monstrous settlement out of her older ex-husband and thus CoCo had always split her time between continents without any discernible change in lifestyle.
And since her mother was often out of the countrysuch as right nowthat meant CoCo had the run of her mother's Malibu mansion.
And there was no better place to have a raging party than a huge house with private beach access.
"Let's invite Guillermo to DJ," Stella suggested until CoCo made a face. "Oh, c'mon, just because you two hooked up and he blabbed about it doesn't mean he can't spin a mean set and you know it. Besides, he's the best and he always comes with Molly."
Molly, the street nickname for ecstasy, was always invited to a raging Hollywood-style party. The twenty-something crowd just didn't party without it. And it would be convenient if she knew exactly who was giving it out. Sort of like crowd control.
"I suppose that is a point in his favor," CoCo agreed, slowly warming to the suggestion. "But do not let me sleep with him. He may be good in the sack but he's as bad as a girl name-dropping to get into a club. He's got the loosest lips I've ever seen. And frankly, hooking up with him had been out of circumstance, not an extreme attraction, you know?"
"I get it. Slim pickings that night. Do you remember who I went home with that night?" Stella shuddered. "Rafe Dirkotherwise known as The Dickand not because he's wellendowed. Much to my extreme displeasure. He didn't even pay for my cab afterward!"
"What a dick." CoCo laughed. "Okay, pinkie promise that we go home with only those who have been previously approved. Do you have a target?"
Stella turned sly at the prospect of sharing. "You first."
"Chicken." CoCo bounced onto the bed with a grin. "Fine. I'm actually thinking of hooking up with Charlie Rogers He's pretty cute and he's a great dancer, which means he knows how to move, if you know what I mean."
Stella gasped in total shock. "Are you kidding me? I hate to burst your bubble but he's totally gay. Sorry, babe."
"Are you sure?" CoCo asked. Stella nodded. "Well, that sucks," she said, sharply disappointed.
She sighed and flounced back on the bed, her plan totally derailed until Stella said, "Don't worry, I have someone you might like. Let's just focus on the party and then we'll worry about who we're shagging later. Those things should really happen organically, right?"
"I guess," CoCo grumbled as she rose on her elbows, frowning. "Wait a minute you never said who you were targeting."
Stella grinned with a wink. "I know. It's a secret. Now, c'mon, let's get the party going. We have social media to post, a caterer to hire, a mixologist to find and a ton of other details to coordinate in eight short hours."
CoCo, happy to have something to look forward to, allowed Stella to drag her from the room. And just like that everything was looking up.
After flashing his credentials, Rian drove through the gates of the Malibu mansion and gave his keys to the valet, shaking his head at the opulence of having a valet at a private party, but hey, this was LA and that was the norm. Having grown up dirt poor, sometimes the habits of the insanely wealthy baffled him. It was like landing on an alien planet and finding out all the inhabitants talked out of their butts. Well, that actually happened a lot in Hollywood, he thought with a private chuckle.
Music throbbed with an electric beat that vibrated his bones and he wondered how many complaints CoCo racked up with one of her parties. She was definitely violating the noise ordinance with that crap assaulting his ears. He wound his way through the teeming masses and ignored the drunken solicitations from the myriad of messed-up girls and made his way outside, looking for CoCo. He found her easily, the center of attention, with a group of stylish, nearly naked people dancing to the music from the DJ, who was moving to his own beat as he mixed music. Rian recognized the DJ, Guillermootherwise known as The Dealer in certain circlesand wondered how the guy didn't have a rap sheet a mile long for all the shit he was into. He had a feeling that CoCo wasn't going to go quietly into his protection and he didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to himself so he decided the best way to handle the situation would be to get her alone.
And there was one way that usually worked.
Rian made his way to CoCo, wearing his confidence like an expensive suit. Women like CoCo responded to that alpha vibe even if they tried to pretend otherwise, at least that's what experience told him so that's what he was going with.
Walking straight up to her, ignoring the curious stares and the murmurs, he snagged CoCo's attention with a mesmerizing look that never failed to catch the ladies. Kane liked to call it Rian's "C'mere, girl" look and never missed an opportunity to razz him about it, but so far it'd served him well, and who was he to argue with success?
If Rian were a different kind of man and CoCo wasn't part of the job, he might be all over that sizzling Italian number. She was enough to make a man change his religion but Rian knew that beyond that model face and body was a headache and a half, and he didn't deal in drama.
CoCo's almond-shaped eyes narrowed with interest as she boldly appraised his body, the corners of her lush mouth tilting in an intrigued smile as he went straight to her. "Some party," he said by way of hello.
"And you are?" she asked, lifting one perfectly groomed eyebrow.
He leaned in, catching a whiff of her delicate perfume, and answered, "The man you're going home with," and her amused laughter tickled his insides.
"It's my house, so I'm not going home with anyone," she said, moving away with a sly grin that bordered on flirtatious, glancing over her shoulder as she added, "But maybe if you're lucky, you can stay, country boy."
And then she was gone, melting into the crowd, leaving him and his girl-gettin' smile behind. Well, hot damn. That hadn't worked as well as he'd hoped. Time for plan B, though admittedly, plan B.was a lot less fun.
He was also willing to bet CoCo wouldn't like plan B at all.