Rand Peabody radiated iron will, fearsome strength, an ability to control things lesser men might back away from...which made him perfect for Chelsea King.
Or so her father thought. He'd hired the soldier-turned-bodyguard because he'd believed Rand could protect her and look beyond her beauty and headstrong nature. And Rand did see through her facade to realize he needed Chelsea as much as she needed him. But love? That was out of the question. Especially when that kind of thinking could only get a man in trouble, make him forget rule number one: protect the priceless gift in his care without losing his heart.
About the Author
Cara Colter shares ten acres in British Columbia with her real life hero Rob, ten horses, a dog and a cat. She has three grown children and a grandson. Cara is a recipient of the Career Acheivement Award in the Love and Laughter category from Romantic Times BOOKreviews. Cara invites you to visit her on Facebook!
Read an Excerpt
Rand Peabody decided he was in hell. And he was a man, after all, who knew a thing or two about hell.
Or had deluded himself into thinking he did. Unobtrusively, keeping one hand steady on the wheel of the sleek silver car he drove, keeping his eyes straight ahead, Rand reached up and touched the ridged scars that ran from his temple to his jaw line, the entire length of the left side of his face.
Oh, yeah, he'd thought he knew about hell.
Because now he was seated in a car that for all its luxury and size seemed way, way too small, and the young woman in the passenger seat could easily be the most beautiful in the world.
Her hair was a shade of silver-blond Rand had never seen before, and it fell in a cascading wave over her slender, golden shoulders. Despite the day and age he lived in, he was pretty sure the unearthly color of both her hair and her skin was completely natural.
The word hazel did not do justice to her eyes, which were an astonishing blend of colors shot through with threads of golds and greens and deep browns. Her bone structure was something artists tried to capture, a perfect symphony of lines, exquisite high cheekbones, delicate nose, a surprisingly strong jaw, her lips full, red and pouty. Only her posture belied the sophistication of the rest of her image. Her figure was reed slender, a hint of her youth and vulnerability in the faint hunch of her shoulders, the slender arms crossed protectively over her breasts.
She wore the uniform of young women her age — low slung jeans, a wide belt, a narrow strapped white tank top. But she wore them differently than most, or maybe pure expense bought that exquisite fit that said rich. If the fit hadn't said it, the abundant tangle of gold chains that winked against her neck and trailed down to the cleft between her breasts certainly would have.
The scent that wafted off of her was delicate and faintly sweet, like a silk scarf that had brushed lightly against jasmine. The scent suggested a certain pliable femininity that was at odds with her expression — haughty, mutinous, angry.
He'd seen pictures of Chelsea King, of course. You could not live in the world and not have seen her. The face of the youngest of Jake King's princesses sold magazines. The public had an insatiable desire to know the smallest details about her: Her hairstyles, her clothes, her pets, her antics, her friends, even her occasional forays into a normal grocery store were all treated as newsworthy, as if she was as important and as interesting as peace talks in the Middle East, cancer cures, or the president.
She probably got a lot more press than the president. And sitting beside her now, Rand understood why. The pictures had not done her any kind of justice. Her beauty, her actual presence, was almost drugging in its potency and power.
Which put him in a strange kind of hell. He was sworn to protect her — being caught off guard by her sheer magnetism made him aggravated with himself.
Thankfully he knew himself to be a disciplined man. And also thankfully, though it annoyed him, this exquisitely beautiful woman did not seem to know he existed. A robot drove her car, someone so far beneath her that he was invisible. Would she have felt that way before an explosion had claimed part of his face?
That was the kind of question he did not ask himself, ever.
She had just terminated one cell phone call when her phone rang again. The ring tone was discordant, something he recognized vaguely as hip-hop, a sound he hated already.
He braced himself for what would follow the sound. Right on cue, she spoke, her husky voice filled with all the drama and angst young women of her age seemed to muster over absolutely nothing.
"Oh, my God, Lindsay, my father has lost his mind." You're not going to believe this, he guessed silently and cynically.
"You're not going to believe this ."
And then the rest of the whole sorry story. Her father's plan, her refusal, Jake King pulling out the big guns: goodbye allowance, credit cards and car.
Can you believe this is my life? he guessed. "Can you believe this is my life? I'm a prisoner!" He knew a thing or two about being a prisoner. It had been part of his personal tour of hell. But there was really no point trying to educate her, or involving himself personally with her in any way.
Her idea of being a prisoner meant life was unfair. She was being spirited away to the ends of the earth against her will, and where she was going she didn't think there would be a decent latte. She was going to miss the wrap party for Barry's movie when she'd already chosen a spectacular Marchesa dress.
Rand didn't know who Barry was, or Lindsay, or Marchesa, either, though when he got around to reading the thick manila folder he'd been provided with, he was sure he'd find out.
Since Rand had now heard her litany of complaints at least half a dozen times, he focused on the road. Had she been waiting for his attention to drift a tiny bit? Was she more aware of his presence than she'd let on? Because a tiny change to her voice alerted him he'd better listen.
"Virginia," she whispered.
He felt her shoot a little look his way. That's all he had asked of her. Don't tell anyone where she was headed. A precaution, he'd said blandly, for now.
He should have known precautions wouldn't interest her. She didn't know the full story; Jake's decision, which Rand had not been in agreement with. She was an adult. Let her know what was going on. Tell her about the letters, show her a few of them. The content should manage to put the fear of God into Miss Chelsea King. But he'd been vetoed, and that was that. Putting fear into her rarified world, even justified fear, was not something her well meaning but overly protective father was allowing.
Rand made a decision, not based entirely on the fact that if she kept talking the whole world would soon know she was at her aunt's farm in Virginia. After a full — he glanced at his watch — forty-two minutes in the car with her, he was fed up with the whining. Didn't she know there were people in the world with real problems?
Without even glancing at her, giving no warning what was coming, he reached over — all that military training would be useful on this ridiculous assignment after all — snatched her cell phone from her and, in one smooth move, had his window down and the phone on the highway behind them. It disappeared under the front tire of a semi-truck and trailer.
There was a moment's blessed silence. For the first time since he'd been introduced to her, he had Miss King's full attention.
"You can't do that!" she sputtered.
He didn't say anything, since it was more than obvious he already had.
"Oh, my God," she said, her amazing eyes sparking with fury. "You can't do that!"
He shrugged, focused on the road, but very aware that her fists were curling and uncurling impotently. Was it possible the little princess was going to take a swing at him?
The thought was downright funny.
He tried to remember the last time he had found anything really amusing, and didn't think it spoke very well of his life that he came up empty.
Disappointingly she gained control of herself and wrestled with her rebellious hands. In a tone as cold as ice she informed him, "I am going to have you fired."
He steeled himself not to react, though the amusement buzzed in him, annoyingly hard to swat down, like a mosquito after you'd gone to bed.
When he didn't give her a reaction, she added. "Immediately."
"Difficult to do with no phone," he said, biting the inside of his cheek, hard. "The immediately part, anyway."
She looked at him suspiciously, as if she had detected his amusement. He squinted harder at the road.
"I don't know who you think you are, but you can't behave that way to me." Her voice quivered with outrage.
"Rand Peabody," he said, keeping his voice deliberately dry. They'd been introduced, but she had been so busy supervising the loading of her bags into the trunk of the car that she hadn't taken a bit of notice. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel he extended the other.
She glared at him and then at his hand and then tossed her mane of shimmering hair.
"I can't believe this is my life," she snapped. She did not take his hand, and in some small way that he understood completely, he was glad.
At least they had found common ground. Rand understood what it felt like to have your life spin out of control.
"That cell phone," she informed him, "had top secret numbers in it."
To himself he said, Lady, don't kid yourself that you have any idea what top secret means.
But outwardly he said nothing, which she took as an invitation to keep talking.
"I have the phone numbers of some of the most famous people in the world." She began to name the names that appeared with regularity in the celebrity rags. Lindsay. Barry. Ashley. Paris. Orlando.
"I think those last two were places, not people," he offered, deadpan.
"That shows what you know! These people are important."
"Nobel short listers for sure." He allowed just the faintest trace of sarcasm into his voice.
She sighed heavily and when she spoke it was in a princess-to-peasant tone. "If that phone falls into the wrong hands, I'll have a lot of people really, really angry with me. You could be sued."
There was the laughter again, pressing at his throat, wanting out badly.
He managed to choke out a noncommittal ummhmm.
She looked daggers at him. "I need that phone." He knew, firsthand, what human beings needed. Food, water, shelter. Everything else, everything, was icing.
"You don't have to worry about the phone. It's not falling into anybody's hands. A semi ran over it."
Her mouth moved indignantly. "A truck ran over my phone?"
He nodded. "Are you sure?"
He nodded again. "Oh! What am I supposed to do without my phone numbers in the godforsaken wilderness?"
"Take up yoga?" he suggested mildly.
Her eyes narrowed on his face. "Are you suggesting something?"
That she was wound way too tight and she was far too caught up in a superficial world? That she could probably use a few days without a phone growing out of her ear? That she had no idea what the real world was all about and maybe it was time she learned?
Not his place to say so. "No, ma'am," he said. "Don't call me ma'am. Ugh. It makes me feel old."
"Yes, ma'am." Don't tell me what to do. It makes me feel mean.
Her mouth moved silently, while she debated whether to argue with him. Then her whole tone changed.
"Why would you do that?" she asked plaintively.
"Just toss my phone out the window?"
"Poor impulse control," he conceded.
"I am having you fired. As soon as I can."
"That wouldn't upset you?" She was obviously very disappointed by that.
"Good God, no."