Aspiring jewelry designer Rose Lawson doesn't want a bodyguard. Especially the hot, muscle-y one her father hires after a break-in at the jewelry shop where she works. It's only when her home is also ransacked that Rose realizes the sexy (but infuriating) bodyguard might come in handy especially on a cold winter's night.
Max Ridgeway is a former Aussie cop who's got something to prove in New York. He's convinced that someone dangerous is behind the robberies and that Rose needs protection. His protection. But what's even more dangerous is the sexy tension between thembecause a hot little fling could compromise their lives and his heart.
About the Author
Her books have been called "genuinely entertaining and memorable" by Booklist, and her writing praised as "elegant, descriptive and delectable" by RT Magazine.
Originally from Australia, she now lives in Toronto with her very own hero and is doing her best to travel the world. She frequently indulges her passions for lipstick, good coffee, books and anything zombie related.
Read an Excerpt
Personal security detail was a lot like babysitting. All Max Ridgeway had to determine was whether the person under his protection would be the model child or the toddler from hell.
"Do you always disregard your personal safety, Miss Lawson?" he asked.
Two catlike eyes glowered at him. But if he was going to protect her, he needed to know if she would throw herself into harm's way. Or run. Or walk down a dark alley in the middle of the night.
"You say you don't want my protection. Tell me if I've misunderstood you." He leaned back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head.
She squared her shoulders against his visitor's chair and displayed what he imagined was her most dazzling smile. Rose Lawson's eyes were almond-shaped and a most unusual shade of yellow-green. She had thick curling lashes, a heart-shaped face and glossy pouted lips made for sin. The whole sexy package probably turned other men to goo. But her appearancewhile thoroughly enjoyablewould not distract him.
"You'll have to excuse the mix-up," she said in a smooth voice that sent a shot of heat through him. Her accent was strange. Definitely American, but the gentle lilt of her words suggested extensive time overseas. London, according to his research. "My father hired you, but he can be a little overprotective. I won't be needing your services."
Her insistence on refusing his protection meant she would be a royal pain in the butt to have as a client. Only she wasn't the client; her father was. She stood up and raked a hand through her chin-length brown hair, the artfully curled lengths falling back into place as she released them. Her eyes flicked over him, lingering on his face before she checked her phone.
"Sorry to waste your time," she said in a tone that didn't sound sorry at all.
The wall clock of his office ticked loudly in the silence. Each second was another he couldn't have back.
Rose walked toward the door, her heels clicking against the office floor. Skin-tight black jeans accentuated her legs, and a loose top in black silk acted as a canvas to the ornate red, gold and yellow necklace that hung down to her navel. Her file indicated she was a jewelry designer. Perhaps she'd made the necklace herself.
He let her get to the door of his office before stopping her. "I didn't say you could leave."
Her shoulders stiffened and she spun to face him. The charming smile slipped and she regarded him coolly. "I wasn't aware I required your permission."
She pulled on a heavy black coat. Jewel-studded gold bracelets clinked, making her movements seem musical.
"As of now you're in my charge." Max stood, walked over to her and leaned his back against the wall. "Your father hired me to look after you until we can figure out who broke into your store."
At the mention of her father Rose became wary, distant. "Probably a bunch of kids. I work in a jewelry store. It's not hard to believe it was a crime of opportunity. Besides, it's not even my store. The owner doesn't seem to think she needs protection, so why should I?"
"Your father obviously thinks you need it." Max tossed the comment out to see what reaction he'd get.
"He doesn't know what's best for me." She gritted her teeth. "Besides, this happened two whole days ago. If someone was after me, wouldn't they have done something about it by now?"
"Not necessarily. And as for your 'kids' theory, the store was broken into, but the perp didn't take anything." He cocked his brow. "That doesn't sound much like a crime of opportunity to me."
"All the jewelry is locked in a safe, as are the stones in the workshop." She tilted up her face to his, exasperation clear in her eyes. "They're high-grade safes, not something that can be pried open with a crowbar. And I lock the safes whenever I close up. We also have a security system, cameras and a duress button."
Max couldn't help but notice the way the colored beads around her neck sparkled like fire the same fire that lit up her eyes. She was feisty, all right. He'd have his hands full keeping her safe, especially if her father's suspicions turned out to be true.
"The security system was disarmed and the cameras turned off. And yet they left without touching the safe or stealing anything. You don't find that strange?"
"No, I don't. Perhaps they were interrupted, or it was just a random act of vandalism." She stepped toward the door. "Now, if you'll excuse me "
If it had been the act of a bunch of kids trying to vandalize the neighborhood, then why had they stopped at her store in particular? A store with a high degree of security. Why not bust up a few windows of the shops next door? Rose Lawson was definitely in danger. Max pressed a palm to the door frame next to her head, blocking her exit.
"We haven't finished."
Her cheeks flushed deep pink, making her fair skin seem even lighter and her yellow-green eyes even more vivid. "Who do you think you are?"
"I'm the guy who's going to protect you, Rose." For some reason his heart was beating a little too fast, his blood pumping a little too hard. "And I take that seriously."
"Look," she said, jabbing a finger into his chest. "I don't need anyone to protect me, least of all some beefed-up GI Joe wannabe."
Ouch. The lady had an acid tongue. That shouldn't have surprised him. Women as beautiful as she was often had the world at their feet and they didn't appreciate it one bit. He resisted the urge to tell her just how wrong her assessment of him was, how totally off base and ignorant and narrow-minded
"Hit a nerve, did I?" She smirked, the pale pink shine of her lip gloss catching the light.
"Sticks and stones." Max leaned forward, bringing his face closer to hers. "I've endured a lot worse in my life. So you can throw those petty little insults around as much as you like, because they won't change the fact that from now on I'm going to be your shadow."
In the silence that followed, the raggedness of her breath amplified. Her fingers danced at the edge of her necklace, tracing the beads and counting them as if it were a rosary.
"Now," he said, stepping back and dropping his arm. "I'm taking you home."
"The hell you are." Rose glared up at him. "I don't want a bodyguard, or whatever you're called."
"Security consultant," Max corrected, inwardly laughing as she rolled her eyes.
"I don't need one of those, either. I'm fine. It was just a one-off incident." She pushed a stray tendril of hair from her face.
"I'll see you home anyway, just to be sure."
He'd been hired to protect Rose, and he'd do just that. Max's gig with Cobalt & Dane Security might not be the career he'd dreamed of as a young lad in Australia, but the job had come when he'd needed it most. It was all he had. His old career was in tatters, his fiancée was a distant memory and his best friend
Max swallowed. He would succeed at this, and if that meant following Rose home against her wishes, then so be it.
"Whatever." Rose fished around in her bag and pulled out her car keys. "If you want to waste your time, go right ahead."
She marched out of his office and headed straight past the reception desk to the elevators without waiting to see if he would follow. Jabbing a finger at the button, she tapped one high-heeled foot while she waited.
Max stood behind her, close enough to keep an eye on her but not so close as to encourage her to hurl any more insults at him.
The elevator arrived and Rose stepped inside, head bowed as she tapped at her phone, ignoring him. In the confined space, he could smell her perfume, something floral and expensive. It was probably some exclusive crap made of unicorn tears. She leaned against the elevator wall and crossed one slim, shapely leg over the other.
You 're being paid to look after her, remember? Ogling her legs is not in the job description.
Swallowing, he studied the illuminated numbers at the top of the elevator door as they descended. A soft ping signaled their arrival and Rose strode past him, her heels clicking against the concrete floor. Max could have picked her car out even without the telltale flashing lights when she hit the remote button.
The shiny, lipstick-red vehicle stood out among the sensible fleet of black and gray ex-NYPD sedans that belonged to the security company and its employees. Condensation billowed as their breath connected with the cold December air.
He got into his own car, a perfectly forgettable gun-metal gray Ford Crown Victoria. As she peeled out of her parking space, he cranked up the heat and followed.
The traffic was as thick as soup, but Rose's bright car was easy to track even as she weaved from lane to lane, no doubt to irritate him. New York driving was something else. If it wasn't for the fact that his job often required him to travel all over the state, he wouldn't have bothered with a car. Driving in New York was kind of like trying to befriend a criminal pointless and risky. The incessant honking of the taxisor cabs as they liked to call them heresounded over the top of his music, causing his shoulders to bunch around his neck.
Some days he really missed Australia, but he tamped down the useless sentimentality and the inevitable torment that followed when he thought of home.
Eventually they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and shortly after she pulled up outside a string of town houses. His car rolled to a stop behind hers. The street was lined with trees, their bare branches decorated with colored fairy lights. The area wasn't in the least bit flashy or what he'd expected from a princess. The buildings looked clean, yet modest. Several had Christmas wreaths on the front doors.
Snow crunched beneath his boots as he stepped out of his car and followed her up the path to the front door. He folded his arms across his chest, bracing himself against the chill.
As Rose fished in her bag for her house keys, a warning tingled his senses. A deep intuition that had been honed over years of being a cop. The crisp air blew around him, but there was something else. A distant noise that caught his attention for a fleeting moment and made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
"Wait." He put a hand over hers as she was about to push her key into the lock.
He turned, assessing the area in front of the house. At first nothing seemed out of place, but then he noticed ita cigarette butt by her door.
Max stepped in front of her and tested the front door. Locked. He leaned out and checked the window next to the door. Also locked.
"What are you doing?" she asked and he silenced her with a look.
"Do you smoke?"
She shook her head, brows raised. "It's terrible for your skin. Why?"
Someone who was smoking on the street would not have purposefully flicked it all the way up to her front door. No, the smoker had been standing right there.
Rose huffed at his lack of response and shoved her key into the lock, holding her coat tight around her neck with her other hand. "You're all wound up for nothing."
But Max's senses remained on high alert. Years on the force had taught him never to ignore his gut. In fact, he'd earned the nickname Spider-Man for how reliable his "Spidey senses" were in the line of duty.
And the one time he had ignored those senses, he'd paid. Dearly.
She opened the door and stepped into the entrance of the apartment, her heels sharp against the dark polished boards. She tapped a number into her alarm pin pad and dropped her keys into a crystal bowl, the sound echoing through the empty apartment.
"I told you nothing was wrong," Rose continued, shrugging out of her coat and stepping out of her heels. "I don't need pro"
The last word died on her lips as she glanced around. Cushions were scattered across the living room. The drawers of her coffee table had been opened, their contents spilled like blood across the floorboards. A floor lamp lay on its side, surrounded by glinting glass from a smashed photo frame.
"Oh, my God." Rose's breath hitched as she surveyed the damage, her hands fluttering uselessly at her sides.
She bent down and picked up the silver frame. The photo had a scratch on it from where the glass had broken, marring the face of the young girl standing with an older woman. She traced the jagged line with her fingertip.
Paper filled with jewelry sketches littered the floor like oversize snow. A bookcase had been overturned, its contents scattered. He tested the weight of the bookcase. Someone strong had done this.
Red shards glinted on the flooran ornament had been knocked off her Christmas tree and shattered beyond repair. Two more baubles sat on the floor, unbroken, and the angel on top of the tree hovered at a precarious angle.
"Stay close while I check the rest of the house," Max said, his voice level.
He knew the drill. Clear the area. Don't leave the victim alone in case the intruder was still in the house. Since it was just the two of them, there was no one to stay behind and watch Rose while he did the clearing.
He reached into his leather jacket and drew the pistol from his holster. "We need to make sure whoever did this is gone."
She pressed her lips together and nodded, drawing nearer to him without argument. They moved together through the dining area and into the kitchen. More cupboards were open there, more glass smashed. A door leading out to a tiny courtyard remained closed.
It was unlocked.
"Did you check this today before you left the house?" She sucked on her lower lip. "I honestly can't remember."
Max was careful to move slowly so Rose could follow. But his blood pumped fiercely through his veins, his senses tuned to notice the slightest noise or change in atmosphere. A near-silent footstep. A breath.
He felt her presence at every step, her body close to his as they checked every nook, every corner. Her bedroom was by the front door. It, too, had been ransacked.
The drawers of her bureau were open, colorful scraps of lace flung everywhere. A purple bra hung from the handle of the drawer and a pile of panties had been dumped nearby like a crumpled rainbow. The head-spinning scent of flowers filled the room. Max spied an overturned perfume bottle, its contents dripping down the drawers to form a puddle on the ground.
Rose picked up the bottle, her mouth pressed into a thin line. She touched her fingertip to the chipped neck. "This was my mother's. She brought it with her when we left America."
The ink on the label had run, the leaked perfume smearing the words together. Her hand shook and Max reached out, taking the bottle from her so she wouldn't cut herself. He placed it back on the bureau.
"We'll find out who did this, Rose. But you have to believe me when I say this doesn't feel like an isolated incident."
She nodded mutely, her face set into a hard mask. Unemotional. Contained.
They walked to the living room. "Can you get upstairs from inside the building?"
Rose shook her head. "It's a totally separate apartment. The guy who lives there uses the stairs out front."
"He might have seen something."
"I'm pretty sure he does shift work. He's hardly ever home in the evenings." She shrugged, her eyes unfocused. "But you could try."