Is prosecuting the biggest case or your career worth your family's safety? District Julia Davenport has asked herself that question everyday since a dangerous criminal she is gearing up to prosecute is unexpectedly let out on bail. He has threatened her in the past and would do anything to keep his case from going to trial. In order to protect herself and her daughter, she must now rely on a man who has his own secret motives for protecting them. A man who in many ways may be far more dangerous to her than one she fears.
|Publisher:||Whiskey Creek Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.38(d)|
About the Author
Visit her website at www.catherinestang.com
Read an Excerpt
Six months later
This can't be happening. District Attorney Julia Davenport leaned back against the gray marble kitchen counter with the television remote gripped tightly in her hand, watching the press conference. On the court house steps, Morgan, the bastard she suspected had had a hand in her daughter's kidnapping, stood with his high-priced lawyer, Sutton Sawyer.
Six feet tall, with movie star good looks, Sawyer played with the cameras. The snake was smooth ... she'd give him that.
"My client has been released on bail," Sawyer said.
"But isn't it true your client is considered highly dangerous?" The blonde from the local Los Angeles station pushed to the front.
"That is mere speculation. There's no evidence to back up their claims that my client is anything other than a businessman. The district attorney's office is being overzealous in its prosecution of this man. Considering the police corruption uncovered over the last few weeks, I'd say they need to clean up their own house before they start pointing fingers. My client was framed."
She inhaled sharply. How could he even be suggesting that Morgan had been framed? The man had a thick police file. The district attorney's office had never had the evidence to bring him to trial before now, but that didn't mean he was framed.
The reporter turned to Morgan. He was taller than Sawyer and was dressed in expensive casual clothes. His black hair was pulled back in a leather band. He wore power and confidence as easily as he did his clothes.
"Do you have a comment?" a deep-voiced reporter blurted out.
Morgan looked straight into the camera with those disturbingamber eyes. She could feel his gaze intent on hers, even though he was on television. Julia wanted to look away, but she couldn't.
"This is a grave misunderstanding," Morgan said evenly. The look in his eyes dared anyone to dispute him. "I'm sure the district attorney's office will come to the same conclusion, and the charges will be dropped."
One way or another.
Julia's back stiffened. She heard the words as clearly as if he had spoken them. How could that be? She shook her head.
You've been warned.
Her breath caught in her throat. He was threatening her. She could feel it in every cell of her body. But how? He was on television downtown. How could she feel this connection?
"Is it true, Sawyer, that the district attorney is dropping the charges?" the perky blond asked.
"No one can predict what the DA will do, but I have confidence in my case."
The camera panned back to Morgan, and she could feel his eyes hold hers.
Walk away from this fight.
It had happened again. She'd heard that light, accented baritone voice in her head. But how? Julia couldn't breathe, move or change the channel, even though they had gone to a commercial break.
The first few notes of "Dixie" played from a car horn, breaking her spell. She didn't have to hear the cries of "Mommy," or the excited bark of the dog to know Ashley was home from her grandparents' house.
She touched her bare right wrist. What could have happened to the charm bracelet Ashley had given her for Mother's Day? Ashley would be crushed if she knew her mother had lost it. She knew she'd had it Thursday when she went to court. At least she thought she did. Where could it be?
Before she could prepare herself, the front door flew open and in burst Ashley with Winston, her parent's Westie, bounding beside her.
"You'll never guess what we did!" The mouse ears and princess t-shirt were a big clue.
"Today was eat-the-princesses day, so Grandpa and I had to go. Grandma was getting beautiful, so she stayed in the desert."
She caught Ashley's bouncing, eager body in mid-jump. Winston jumped excitedly around her feet.
I thought we agreed you wouldn't take her somewhere so public, she mouthed to her father.
He shrugged. "It beats watching the tube. Besides, we couldn't miss dine with the princesses day now, could we?"
Julia rolled her eyes. If the press only knew what a pushover the stern Senator Reece Barrington was when it came to his granddaughter. They would laugh to see the always distinguished, once-feared head of the armed services committee, clad in a cartoon Hawaiian shirt and loud neon orange shorts.
Ashley's little hands came up to frame Julia's face, pulling it around so their eyes could meet. "I didn't tell you the best part. Grandpa gots me my very own superhero, so the bad guys can't ever get me again."
It was then she noticed the tall, lean man standing back by the door. This was her daughter's protector? He wasn't the usual type her father hired. They usually looked like they'd just stepped out of a pro-wrestling ring. This guy looked more like he'd stepped off the set of a soap opera.
"A superhero, huh?" She raised her brows skeptically.
Ashley laughed. "Not now, Mommy. He's in his regular guy suit, like Clark Kent. But when I need him, Grandpa says he'll be legal."
Her father chuckled. "That's lethal, Ash."
Great, her daughter now knew words that should never be in her vocabulary.
She turned to the man dressed in a white t-shirt covered with an open, loose Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts and Nikes. Did he look lethal? It was hard to tell with his pretty face and easy grin. He had short, tussled blond hair that had been carelessly spiked. His brown eyes held hers. In them, she saw a seriousness his causal pose did not share.
"Mommy." Ashley grabbed her face again. "You don't even know the bestest part."
She couldn't help but smile at her daughter's excited expression. "What's that, sweetie?"
"Grandpa gots you a superhero too. Grandpa says he is the mother of all superheroes. Grandma says..."
The words blurred in Julia's ears as she flashed her father a look that told him what she thought of his graphic description, and he had the good graces to blush.
The mother of all superheroes. She turned to stare at the larger, hulking man standing behind her daughter's superhero. Hell's bells, her father had gotten her a bodyguard, too.
And what a bodyguard. He does indeed look like--what did Ashley call him--the mother of all superheroes. All six foot plus of him. The other man and her father were large men, but this man was a solid wall of muscle. She could see, even from across the room, that he filled out his dark shirt and snug jeans very well.
"It's okay to say hi, Mommy. They don't bite."
Not unless she wanted him to, she was sure.
Take control, Julia. She shifted Ashley to one hip. Talk to them one at time. Ashley's superhero seemed less imposing, so she turned to him first, extending her hand. "I'm Julia Davenport."
Her daughter's superhero enveloped her hand in a steady grip. His hand was warm and calloused, suggesting he did something other than just stand around.
He gave her a half smile. "Senator Barrington wasn't lying when said he had two pretty lasses that needed protecting. I'm Rogan Malone at your service."
The rich Irish brogue surprised her.
The hulk loudly cleared his throat, and Rogan rolled his eyes as he released her hand.
"Just say the word, and I'll protect you from this charmer." The hulk's smooth, deep voice sent a shiver of delight up her spine.
"And you are?" She couldn't help letting her eyes roam over him.
"Flynn." His large, battle-scarred hand took hers.
"I feel so much better knowing you'll rush in to save me from myself."
His serious gray eyes didn't waver. "Are you teasing me?" His tone was more a demand than question.
"Flynn doesn't have a sense of humor," Rogan put in.
Great, where had her father found this fast-talking Irishman and his hulking buddy? Don't be intimidated, Julia. "So you're real life superheroes?"
Flynn's eyes darkened as he released her hand. An emotion she couldn't name flickered across his face.
"I'm nobody's hero," he said softly. "But I promise we'll keep you and your little girl safe."
Spoken like a bodyguard type. Never expose your strengths or weaknesses. She had hoped to save Ashley from the fishbowl existence that had plagued her childhood. Did they really need this intrusion into their lives?
"Sweetie, why don't you and your super-friends take Winston out back? You know how he is after a car ride."
She squirmed free. "Come on, Rogan." She put her small hand in his larger one. "We better hurry before Winston pees."
Rogan stifled a grin, wiggling his blond brows as he followed her daughter and the bouncing, barking dog out through the kitchen door.
Julia was relieved when they stayed within sight of her kitchen window. Flynn's refusal to leave the room unnerved her.
"Rogan grew up in a big family. He is good with kids. He's still somewhat of a big kid himself. That's why I gave him this assignment," Flynn said from behind her.
"That's nice to know," Julia replied stiffly.
"Before you get your back up, Jules, I want to explain," Reece said.
She glanced away from the window at her father. She folded her arms across her chest to let him know she wasn't going to back down from a fight. "I'm listening."
"I heard from my sources that bloodsucker Morgan was going to get released on bail. I knew he'd come after you, and what better way than through Ashley."
Her shoulders sagged. She knew it, too, but was reluctant to admit it.
"So I contacted Flynn."
"Just like that"--she snapped her fingers--"you found two lethal superheroes."
Flynn opened his mouth, but her father raised his hand to silence him. "Could we have a moment alone?"
Flynn shrugged and stepped out the front door.
"Don't be a ninny. Rogan may look like a movie star, but he and Flynn can provide discreet security."
"And how do you know these men are what they claim to be?"
"With the committees I'm on, do you need to ask? Suffice it to say I have reliable sources."
She rolled her eyes. "I bet."
"Come on, darling. Ashley has to go back to school, and I have to get back to Washington. She can't very well hide in the desert with your mother forever. There's no place for her to play there. The golfers on our course love her, but she and Winston can be quite a distraction."
"I told her not to play on that side of your condo."
He raised his hand. "I know. She tries to behave, but when you're five and flanked by old people, what can you do?"
"I never intended to dump her on you. I just felt that, with the long weekend and the press coverage, it would be good for her to get out of the limelight for a few days."
He patted her shoulder. "She can stay with us anytime. I guess I'd been worrying all weekend what to do when she went back to school. You have important work. I know Ashley's babysitter, Dora, thinks she's tough since she did that episode of a cop show, but she couldn't really protect them. Her being a friend of the family's, I'd to hate put her in the crossfire. So I handled things."
With a flick of his magic muscles, he'd once again arranged her life. How could she argue, when he was right as always? Julia sighed. "I'll accept we may need protection, but how can you ask me to bring two complete strangers into my home? I have only your word I can trust this Flynn character and his sidekick."
Her father frowned. "Do you honestly think I'd let someone near the two of you who I hadn't checked and double checked?"
You did once before. She winced inwardly, thinking of the mistake she made the summer her father became Governor of California. Not that her father ever knew her driver had broken her heart. She'd learned a valuable lesson then about trusting the motives of people.
"I'm sure you've done a thorough background check on him, but, as a mother, I need to know more than scant details."
Her father walked through the kitchen and opened the fridge to get a bottle of water. He leaned back against the counter as he twisted off the lid.
He was searching for the right words; she had no doubt of that. He always kept what he knew to himself. She would be stunned if he told her much, if anything, about Flynn or Rogan. At least not without the threat of sending them away. She tilted up her chin, daring her father to blow her off.
He cleared his throat. "There isn't much I can tell you."
She rolled her eyes. "Of course, the men you hire never have pasts."
"The less you can find out about them, the better they are able to blend into the shadows."
"It also means they're more dangerous."
"Being dangerous is a good thing. It might make Morgan think twice about messing with you."
"I just hate to expose Ashley to that sort of person."
He waved off her concerns with a flick of his wrist. "Rogan was at my house all weekend and wasn't rude or crass. Even your mother liked him. Besides, I can tell you, Rogan is fiercely loyal. He understands what Ashley means to you and us, and he will protect the two of you with his life if need be."
"I hope it doesn't come to that. Morgan may just slink off out of the country."
"That creep is too smug to run away. He'll stand and fight and put you in the middle of his private war with the police."
Could she take that chance? "Okay. You've made your point about Ashley needing a bodyguard, but I'm another story."
"Oh, no, you're not. You need protection every bit as much as Ashley. I grant you, Flynn is rougher around the edges than Rogan. Then again, I wanted someone imposing and intimidating. Put some fear in Morgan. Now you can concentrate on your work."
How could she could she argue with that? Out debated by the country's best debater. When he left public service, he should go on talk radio. She sighed, reaching for her checkbook. "How much do I owe you?"
"Forget it. Flynn owes me a favor."
"You didn't get pardons for his friends, did you?"
"Hell, no. That was a misunderstanding." He held up a hand. "I was cleared of any wrongdoing in that matter. Just don't worry. It's all taken care of. You just nail those bastards to the wall for me."
"Grandpa." Ashley skipped into the room, stopping in front of him in a pose quite like her grandmother. She wagged her finger. "You know you're not supposed to say the 'b' word. Grandma told us that when those guys were on the tube. She won't like you saying that word again. Better put a quarter in the cussing jar. Grandma says when it's full, we'll all go on a Disney cruise."
He laughed, ruffling Ashley's hair. "You caught me, squirt." He turned to Julia. "See, you have more to fear from my cussing than Rogan's. I've yet to hear him swear."
Ashley's superhero shot her a winning smile.
"Yeah, but Flynn likes to use bad words. He said the 'd' word and that the mean man could go to the 'h' place Grandma says is hotter than desert."
Her father laughed, putting a hand over Ashley's mouth. "You need to be a journalist, babe, because you get every detail of the story. He promised not to say those words again, remember?"
She nodded, and he removed his hand. "Yeah," she continued. "'cuz Grandma said she'd skin him alive if I repeated those words. But I said Mommy would be mad, too, so I wouldn't."
The corners of Rogan's mouth twitched.
"Go get Flynn, so he can defend himself," her father said to Ashley.
Ashley ran off to get him.
Julia folded her arms across her chest, giving her father the defending-her-young look. "Rough around the edges, huh?"
"Flynn didn't know Ashley was listening when he cussed," Rogan said. "Flynn can behave when he wants to."
"I can speak for myself." Flynn folded his arms in an equally stubborn stance. "I'll agree to any terms you set forth, within reason. My main objective is the safety of you and your daughter."
Julia nodded, considering what he had said. "No swearing, drinking or smoking in my house."
"Understood." Flynn's smooth deep voice rocked her.
Her father rubbed his hands together. "Then we have a deal. You'll allow Flynn to protect you and Ashley? You won't fire them or try to run them off after I leave?"
Julia gave a small grin. "You know me too well."
She turned to the man leaning causally against the sofa. As causal as someone can be who is always on alert. "I'll agree to let you stay, Rogan, but I have one condition. I want my daughter's life and schedule to be kept as normal as possible."
"Meaning?" Rogan arched a blond brow.
"That I don't want her to feel like she's being followed. It may be fun today to have a superhero, but trust me, when you realize you have no privacy, it gets very old. I wouldn't wish that feeling of confinement on anyone."
"Don't worry. You'll hardly know I'm here."
Not likely. The charmer had the nerve to wink at her.
"And you." She turned to give Flynn her full attention. "I want you to know I'm fully capable of taking care of myself. I've taken self defense classes and am almost a black belt in tae kwon do. I don't want the press or anyone else thinking I have to have someone following me around. So this will be on a trial basis."
"Yes. I just want us to understand each other."
He didn't respond, just stared at her with those piercing gray eyes.
"Good," her father said, rubbing his hands together. "Now we're all on the same page." He leaned down to hug Ashley. "Be good, princess. Mind Mama, Rogan and Flynn. I'm going back to Washington tomorrow, but I'll see you in a few weeks."
She nodded solemnly. "I'll be good. Thanks for my superhero. Now I don't have to be afraid."
He left with a behave-yourself-nod that made Julia feel sixteen and rebellious.
As she closed the door, an arm wrapped tight around her throat, pulling her to a hard body. "How do you get out of this hold, Mrs. Davenport?" Flynn rasped close to her ear. His hot breath on her neck sent shivers of awareness up her spine. Feelings she had no intention of contemplating washed over her.
Angry now, she tried to do the flip and elbow move she had practiced in tae kwon do, but he didn't budge.
"Now we're on the same page. Do we understand each other?" he whispered huskily as he released her.