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"I'm not really sure what you expect me to do, Luther. I mean...how old is this girl?" Paul Gutierrez spoke into the wireless headset even while continuing to type away on the laptop braced against the steering wheel, and monitoring the activity of those leaving the back entrance of the posh L.A. nightclub across the street. "Twenty-one." His friend, and former Navy SEAL commander, Luther Biggens, practically groaned on the other end of the phone line, already sensing defeat.
"Twenty-one? She's a legal adult. If she wants to be with this basketball player there is nothing you can do about it."
"Try explaining that to her sisters."
"Listen, man, I really wish I could help you-" Paul suddenly snapped to attention when the person he'd been looking for peeked his head around the door.
Paul sat completely still while he watched a member of his personal protection team, Barnett Roberts, look up and down the alleyway before stepping out.
Like most of the members of his personal security force Barney was a large, muscular man. His smoothly shaven head and creamy chocolate skin made his age indeterminable at a glance. He was a former Army Special Forces soldier, and had been with G-Force Security for almost two years, which was why Paul had resisted believing the signs that led him to the most obvious conclusion.
Luther continued to plead his case. "All I'm asking is that you check out the situation. This guy is no good. If anything happens to this girl..."
"I understand." Paul watched the scene unfolding across the street with narrowed eyes. Barney was now signaling to someone at the other end of the alley. "Tell you what, I'll find her and make sure she's okay. Beyond that, there's not a lot I can do if she doesn't want to leave."
"Thanks, man. I really appreciate this."
"No thanks necessary. We're brothers." Paul spoke of the emotional bond between men-in-arms, not the genetic one, but he knew Luther would understand. There was a time he would've thought Barney understood, but not anymore.
As a van began to slowly pull toward Barney, Paul sat up in the bucket seat of the nondescript vehicle he often used for surveillance and gently placed his laptop on the passenger seat. "Luther, I gotta go." He never took his eyes off his employee.
"All right. Just give me a call as soon as you find her."
"I will." Paul pressed the end button on his cell phone, unlocked the car door and slowly began to get out. The van came to a stop several feet from the back door of the club, and a small-framed, young white male stepped out. He exchanged a few words to Barney before reaching into the side of the van.
For all the high-tech, million-dollar equipment he used in his line of work as a security consultant, Paul felt few things served him better than the fleet of Motor City subcom-pact cars his company routinely used. So common and ordinary, no one ever noticed people getting in and out of them. It was this blandness that allowed him to cross the alley in plain sight of both men without drawing their attention.
It wasn't until he'd almost reached them that they spotted him. He watched Barney's eyes widen in surprise as the other man turned from the van holding a small video camera.
"B-boss, what are you doing here?" Barney managed to stutter out. The sweat was already beginning to form on his forehead.
"I could ask you the same thing." Paul's deep baritone voice was intimidating under usual circumstances, but with the hint of menace lacing each word there was no mistaking the hidden threat. "Aren't you supposed to be inside watching Lacy Hill?"
The man with the camera looked from his informant to Paul and correctly surmised the situation.
He extended his hand with a bright smile. "You must be Paul Gutierrez, the mastermind behind G-Force Security Systems. Tom Stringer, National Examiner. What an honor to meet you, sir."
Paul had also taken inventory and fully understood the situation. He'd come here tonight based on a suspicion that had just been proven true. He glanced at the extended hand before turning his complete attention back to his employee. "What are you doing out here in the alley with a reporter when you're supposed to be inside looking after our client?"
"Um, I can explain everything." Barney's eyes darted in every direction like a cornered animal.
Just then the back door to the club opened, and rising pop star Lacy Hill spilled through the door surrounded by an entourage of colorful bodies. The top of the petite singer's curly brunette head was barely visible amongst the barrage of people whom she insisted be allowed to follow her everywhere. As a precaution, Paul had had each of the flunkies thoroughly investigated and was satisfied that beyond suffocating her no one in the group posed a serious threat. A black-clad bodyguard closed in the small gaggle of people on three sides. Barney made up the fourth man of the detail.
The three large men were each looking around their positions for overzealous fanatics and ruthless paparazzi. None commented on the fourth member of their team and their boss standing off to the side.
Paul, who believed in complete honesty amongst his team members, had already explained the situation with Barney, and what he planned to do about it.
The crowd moved along like a giant, nosy beast pushing at a snail's pace with each vying for Lacy's attention.
Apparently Tom Stringer wasn't about to let this opportunity get away. He lifted his camera for some exclusive closeups of Lacy Hill. His eyes glistened greedily as he no doubt heard the chiming of a cash register.
Suddenly, Paul collared him and held him in a vise grip. "Not so fast," he growled, holding the reporter slightly off the ground.
Two limousines stopped in front of Lacy and her group. The drivers hurried around and opened the doors. The dozen or so people tried to push their way into the car with Lacy, but the ones who couldn't get in rushed back to the second car so as not to be left behind.
Paul couldn't help thinking the whole thing looked like some strange version of musical chairs. Within seconds, the limousines pulled away, back out onto the street, without Lacy or her friends ever knowing how close they came to being ambushed.
Once the limousines were out of sight Paul released his hostage. Tom gave him a quick, assessing glance and no doubt concluded that his life was not worth the videotape. So when Paul held out his hand for it, Tom quickly reached into his camera and pulled the cassette out.
"No hard feelings, right?" Tom swallowed and handed over the tape. Like everyone else in L.A., he'd heard the stories surrounding the owner of G-Force, the premier security company in town. But now looking into feral, dark brown eyes, he knew with certainty this was not a man he wanted to have as an enemy. "I mean, you can't blame a guy for trying." He began backing toward his van. "After all, I'm just doing my job."
"Get out of here," Paul snarled between his teeth. Tom did not need a second warning. He hopped in the van, which was still running, and sped out of the alley, never looking back.
Once the van was out of sight, Paul turned back to his once trusted employee. His mouth twisted in disgust. "If you needed more money all you had to do was ask me for a raise." He huffed. "Up until recently you were one of my top men. So...why?"
Barney slanted his boss a dark glance. "Am I fired?" Paul just stared at him, amazed that the question was even asked. "What do you think?"
He started to turn away, then paused, feeling the need to express his deep disappointment and regret. "This business is all about trust, Barney. Our clients depend on us to protect them from people like Tom Stringer. You not only sold Lacy out, you sold me out." Paul shook his head in disgust and started back toward his car.
"Sold you out!" Barney's angry snarl stopped him in his tracks. "You sell us out every time you take on one of these celebrity brats. You don't know what it's like out here, man! You sit in your office punching that damn computer and you think you have a beat on things?" He gave a harsh laugh. "You have no idea what it's like following someone like Lacy Hill around. She thinks we're her slaves. Always trying to order us around. She treats us like crap." He shook his head with such determination Paul was beginning to realize this wasn't just about money. "There's not enough money in the world to compensate for the way she treats us. Just a spoiled little tramp with no real talent. She uses us, so yeah, I used her back!"
Paul tilted his head and looked at the man he'd once called friend with a somewhat bemused expression. He quickly closed the distance between them. "You don't get it, do you? You didn't use Lacy Hill, Barney. You used me." With that, Paul walked away, only hoping Barney realized he'd made the mistake of a lifetime.
Amber Lockhart watched the buttons light up on the elevator of the elegant Mondrian Hotel as it climbed to the penthouse. Her heart was pounding against her chest as she envisioned the evening ahead of her.A night spent in the arms of Detroit Chargers basketball player Dashuan Kennedy.
She was feeling so good she wanted to drop the shopping bags she carried in both hands and hug herself. Finally, she'd found Mr. Right. She glanced down at the small pink lingerie bag and smiled as she thought of the little piece of nothing she could not resist purchasing. On the charter flight from Detroit to L.A., Dashuan had revealed that green was his favorite color. If it wasn't it soon will be, Amber thought with a little smirk. She sighed in satisfaction, imagining the look of lust she would see on his handsome face when she came out of the bathroom wearing the slinky lingerie.
Everything was working out so wonderfully it almost seemed too good to be true. But here she was on her way to Dashuan Kennedy's penthouse suite to spend the evening with him. The first night of the rest of their lives together.
Up until now their relationship had been pretty chaste much to her dismay, just a few stolen kisses here and there. But Dashuan had explained that he hadn't felt comfortable being with her in Detroit under the nose of her close family friend, D'marcus Armstrong, who also happened to be one of the Chargers owners.
But when Dashuan called her on her cell phone late last night inviting her to fly out to L.A. with him, there was something in his voice that said he was ready to take their relationship to the next level.
She'd answered yes without hesitation and packed her bags in even less time. A half hour later Dashuan's car and driver arrived to pick her up and she was off on the adventure of a lifetime.
The elevator finally reached the penthouse level and she stepped off thinking about all the funny stories they would have to tell their children about how they came to be together against the greatest odds.
As she approached the door of the suite, she dug around in the bottom of her purse for the entry key and mentally ran through the final preparations of their special night. First she would call room service to order a romantic, candlelit dinner. Then she would slip into her new negligee and tease him by wearing it while they were eating dinner. After that, she planned to run a nice, warm bubble bath for two in the large outdoor hot tub on the penthouse balcony. Of course, by then, he should be close to crazy with lust. She smiled to herself. From there she would let Dashuan take the lead, although she was pretty sure his destination would be the bedroom.
As she entered the penthouse suite, the foyer was empty but she heard music and noise coming from the adjacent living room. She sighed in frustration, remembering the gang of hangers-on she'd been surprised to see when she'd arrived at the airfield last night. There had been a slight tinge of disappointment when she realized she and Dashuan would not be traveling alone, but she understood that was the cost of fame. The retinue included everyone from his agent, Skip Nelson, to his personal trainer, Kelvin Landy.
Dashuan had sent her on an all-expenses-paid shopping spree earlier that afternoon while he discussed a couple of endorsement deals with his agent. He'd told her that by the time she returned, all the business stuff would be out of the way and they could concentrate on cementing their relationship.
He'd promised to get rid of his friends so they could be alone, but given the noise coming from the other room, his soft heart had surrendered.
Well, Amber thought, tucking her bags in the front closet, if Dashuan did not know how to get rid of the party crashers, she did. It would be good practice for when they were married. Dashuan was much too sweet and kind to tell his friends when they were not welcome. Apparently that would be her job.