A bad business decision has serious repercussions and the only way Yves can get some breathing space is to run away to the end of the world-Australia. He doesn't like it, but if it means keeping his sister and her family safe, he has no choice. It isn't such a penance. He has business in Australia and, as a contingency, has requested a bodyguard. He expects someone dangerous, discreet…male. Instead, what he gets is decidedly female.
Helen Collier may not be built like a brick outhouse, but she's fast and capable. And she needs this job. After the recent death of a very close friend, she's not after romantic entanglements. She just wants to start anew somewhere else, leaving her bad memories behind. But fate has other things in store for the imperious Frenchman and his spirited Australian bodyguard.
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Dress nice. Ryan’s words echoed through her head for the rest of the day and the entirety of a sleepless night, but at least it had the advantage of taking her mind off Pete’s senseless death for the first time in weeks. She spent the morning sifting through her wardrobe several times, choosing then discarding outfit after outfit. She wanted to appear capable but not too masculine. Discreet, efficient but not aloof. Screaming her frustration to the ceiling, Helen went through her choices, one more time, and finally decided on an outfit that looked like something an upmarket waiter would wear. Her black pants were slim-fitting but elastic, so they didn’t hamper her movements, and she wore medium-heeled patent leather pumps on her feet. Underneath a lightweight, forest green jacket, she didn’t wear a blouse, because that was too hot for the climate, but a high-buttoned sleeveless vest with a mandarin collar, made from the same material as her jacket, but in a lighter shade. She felt—nervous and a bit sick, although why that should be she didn’t know. This wasn’t the first time she’d met new clients. In fact, she often spoke to a panel of representatives when approaching companies and interest groups. But, for some reason, there was something about this particular assignment—the speed with which it had been organised, the unknown quantity that the client represented, and the ridiculous amount of money involved—that gave her a sense of foreboding. She caught a taxi to the house and, after paying, walked carefully up the footpath, checking her watch for the twentieth time. Five minutes to eleven. She ran a quick hand down the creaseless jacket and pants. Wriggled her toes in her shoes. Took a breath. And pressed the vintage-styled call button next to the heavy front door of Heritage House. She didn’t hear the bell, but it must have gone off somewhere because barely ten seconds elapsed before she heard the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door and it swung open. A slim, dark-haired woman, obviously one of the staff, smiled at her. “May I help you?” “Er, I’m Helen Collier. I have an appointment with Monsieur Guy Aubrac.” She let her voice tilt upwards at the end, turning the statement into a bit of a question, but the staff member ushered her in with a slightly puzzled smile. “I was expecting a Collier, but—” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I imagine there’s been a bit of a mix-up. Please make your way upstairs, Ms. Collier, and turn left. The meeting room is the first door on your right.” Helen wanted to call her back. Mix-up? What mix-up? I thought Ryan Greenwood had arranged everything. But the woman, obviously interrupted by the doorbell, bustled off, leaving Helen alone in the foyer. Black polished granite with white streaks glinted under her feet, and her heels clacked noisily as she walked to the stairs. Thankfully, they were carpeted, the long navy runner held in place by brass stair rods. The pile was thick and Helen’s feet sank into it as she ascended. Turn left and first door on the right, she repeated to herself. The steps at the top ended along a corridor that ran the length of the building, with rooms opening on either side. In front of her, a void opened to the foyer below, and an expanse of windows looked out over the river and the garden below. This must be where they divided the house, she thought, noticing sets of discreet metal runners inset into the polished timber flooring, one before each wing of rooms began, presumably put there to screen one half of the floor from the other half. There were no partitions in evidence at all, and Helen remembered Ryan telling her that Guy Aubrac had leased the entire building for his own personal use. That was serious money talking. Helen walked along the suspended corridor and knocked at the first door on her right. “Entrez,” a voice answered. That was French, all right. She twisted the brass knob and walked in. There were two men in the room, one sitting in an armchair next to the far wall, overlooking the vista outside, and the other standing just next to the door. The man sitting should, by rights, be the businessman—he looked relaxed and slightly aloof, with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He regarded her frankly and with a little surprise. But it was the other man who caught and held her attention. This man was tall and well-built, with black hair, olive skin and a piercing pair of icy blue eyes. He hooded them as he watched her, lowering the most sinfully long eyelashes she had ever seen on a man. He must be the assistant, but something told Helen that the one standing was infinitely more dangerous than the man seated on the other side of the room. “Monsieur Guy Aubrac?” she enquired, looking from one to the other. She hoped they wouldn’t ask her any questions in French, because she had just exhausted almost her entire foreign vocabulary with that one word! “I am Guy Aubrac,” the man in the armchair replied. “But who are you, mademoiselle?” Helen frowned. “I’m Helen Collier. I’m to be your security escort for the next two weeks.” The man who stood to her right shifted impatiently. “There must be some mistake,” he said, and his voice was low with a hint of huskiness. A bedroom voice, Helen thought before she ruthlessly strangled that thought. “We were expecting a professional, not a little girl! Are you his daughter perhaps?” Helen stiffened. Although life had become easier for her over the past few years, she still had to battle the inevitable sexism when men thought of ability and martial arts. It looked like she wasn’t going to give up the fight any time soon. She deliberately turned her face away from the tall and disturbing stranger near her and directed all her attention to the man in the armchair. “I believe you spoke to a colleague of mine?” she asked. “Ryan Greenwood?” “Oui, this is correct,” Guy Aubrac agreed, shrugging. “We sent each other some emails and had a telephone conversation. I informed him of my needs, and he said he had someone eminently suitable.” Helen took a deep breath. “That’s me.” “But how can this be?” the taller man interrupted. “We asked for a bodyguard. Not a...” he swept a hand up and down her figure, as if lost for words. “I must agree with my, er, assistant, Mademoiselle Collier,” Aubrac added. “Monsieur Greenwood told me a Monsieur ‘Hell’ Collier would be meeting with us this morning. At the time, I admit I was a bit concerned by such an evocative nickname, but the Greenwood name is highly respected.” Helen wasn’t surprised. The number of people worldwide connected with martial arts that Ryan didn’t know could be counted on the fingers of one hand. He’d be happy to have that snippet of news passed onto him. But that still didn’t get her out of her current predicament. She wondered darkly if Ryan had deliberately misled the two Frenchmen, or if it was due to a genuine miscommunication. “My name is Helen Collier,” she told them. “Hel, with one ‘l’, for short.” “And what of your father?” The tall, disturbing one asked. “Dead,” she answered succinctly, looking him full in the face, daring him to contradict her. The corner of that sensuous mouth twitched at her tone. “And do you have any brothers?” “One. Overseas.” “Uncles?” he asked with a lift of an eyebrow. “My father was an only child.” “So no nephews?” “None.” She enunciated the word as clearly as she could. They stared at each other for several long moments. Helen couldn’t tell exactly, but there was something about the man that irritated her intensely. Irritated her and tempted her to rip off his clothes, right there and then, and run her tongue down the taut flesh of the muscled body she knew lay under the long-sleeved business shirt. What would he look like in the throes of passion, with that superior smirk wiped from his face? She was dying to know. Someone cleared their throat, and Helen was brought back to reality with a thump. She flushed and turned to face her prospective employer, hoping that she hadn’t just irretrievably wrecked her chances at the assignment. Think of the money Hel, she told herself, and keep your mouth shut. “This is a very large misunderstanding, Maidemoiselle Collier.”