**SNEAK PEEK** The Protector
One - Jimmy
“Have a seat, Jameson.”
I silently huff at the sound of Mr. Hanson’s insistence on my full name instead of my nickname, Jimmy. Of course, I’m not going to fight Charles on that matter; nobody fights Charles Hanson on anything.
I do as he instructs and take a seat in one of the black leather chairs in front of his glass desk. Charles Hanson, owner of Hanson Enterprises, has called me in for some help. He’s not just a whale in the financial world; he’s the giant fucking kahuna. We’ve rubbed elbows at a few events, me being the one to organize the security for several of his friends in the business world. He’s a big client for the security firm several of my Army brothers and I have started, and I’m anxious to get the ball rolling.
“How can I help you, Mr. Hanson?” I ask.
The old man smiles at me, leaning back in his chair. “Please. Call me Charles. I’ve called you in because I need your help.”
Charles shifts in his chair to lean on the desk with his elbows. His hands clasp together tight enough to turn his knuckles white, and his mouth presses into a hard line.
“Someone is after me,” he says in a low whisper.
My eyebrows narrow together. “Do you know who?”
He shakes his head. “No. Unfortunately.”
I try to show consideration and sympathy for this situation even though it’s not uncommon. Billionaire sought after for money or revenge… I see it all the time.
“Where do I come in at?” I press.
For a moment, I think I see some sadness in Charles’ eyes. They shift from me to a picture on his desk. He stares at it a moment before picking it up in his hands and showing me the picture.
“You see this girl?” he asks, the sadness now in his voice.
I nod my head, looking at the face of the familiar blond woman staring back at me. I know who’s in this picture. “Yes,” I say.
It’s a picture of his well-known daughter, Blaire. Blaire Hanson, total bitch and spoiled brat, has been on the cover of Forbes and Vogue several times for her achievements while working for her father… and she’s been in my bed… once. But that’s a story for another time.
Who knew months later, I’d end up taking on a job for her father.
“This is my pride and joy. My only reason to live. My soul. My daughter means more to me than all the money in the world.”
“Is someone after your daughter, sir?”
Charles places the picture of Blaire back down on his desk with a sigh. He rubs his face with both hands before settling his eyes back on me. “I’m not sure,” he says, “but I want her protected in case there is.”
“What exactly is going on?” I lean forward, resting my elbows on my knees. While I appreciate Charles’ love for his daughter, I need to know the breach here.
“Someone—not sure who—has been making threats lately toward the company. I’ve had my men on it day and night trying to track down the son of a bitch, but so far, no luck. I need you to watch over Blaire. Keep her protected at all costs. Every second of every day. She’s all I have left, Jameson. She’s the only one left.”
Now I shift in my chair. Is this man asking me what I think he’s asking me? To babysit his god-awful daughter that I thought I got rid of months ago? Fuck me.
“Let me get this straight,” I start. “You want me to be your daughter’s bodyguard? Follow her everywhere she goes day and night?”
Charles nods his head. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Jameson.”
I suppress the need to sigh. I’ll definitely be needing a stiff drink when this meeting is over. When I first started this company, yeah, I’d jump at these opportunities but now—now I organize security for high-ranking political officials and billionaires, not their spoiled kids.
“She’s my angel,” he adds. “She’s—”
The door to the office bursts open. My head jerks to see who’s walking in and—
Speak of the devil. In she walks—Blaire Hanson.
Her platinum-blond-topped head is tucked down as she looks at the stacks of papers in her hands and walks farther into the room, her heels clacking on the tile. The sleeveless cream dress she’s wearing hugs every slight curve of her lean body. Her nails are perfectly manicured an icy white, just like her cold exterior.
“Daddy, I’ve gone over these reports dozens of times now. I don’t see the—”
Her voice stops the second her eyes land on me. Her whole body freezes, and I watch as the memory of the one dreadful night we shared flashes through her mind. It almost makes me laugh to know what she’s thinking this very second. I nonchalantly cover my mouth with my fingers to keep from laughing.
“You,” she whispers, narrowing her eyes.
Charles appears to be oblivious to the situation by the way he cheerily says, “Blaire, darling, excellent timing! Meet Jameson Maxwell. He’s going to be watching out for you for the next little bit.”
I smile at Blaire as she shoots daggers at me, obviously not looking forward to her new reality. My, my, my, how funny is this.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she says, turning her attention to her father. She crosses her arms over her chest and shifts her weight onto her left hip.
“Sweetheart, we’ve already discussed this.”
“I can take care of myself,” she protests, now looking back at me. “I don’t need some wannabe undercover spy attached to my hip.”
Oh, I’ve been attached to a lot more of you, sweetheart.
“Blaire, this decision is final whether you like it or not.” Charles’ voice is more stern and forceful.
Blaire gives her dad a look that could kill. The room is silent for a moment as the two of them have a stare down with me sitting in between them until Blaire interrupts it. “What about when I travel?”
“He’ll be right with you.”
“And when I go to the store?”
“He’ll push your cart.”
“What about when I’m at home cooking or sleeping?”
“He’ll wash the dishes and tuck you in.”
Charles folds his arms across his chest as if he’s sizing up Blaire. His mouth is pressed into a hard line, and the two hold each other’s gaze for a few more silent seconds. Something tells me this man has seen a lifetime of her behaving this way. I love seeing this woman being put in her place.
Without another word, Blaire’s heels clack loudly on the floor as she walks to Charles’ desk and slaps the papers in front of him.
“Read ’em yourself,” she says, storming out of the room.
The door slams with a loud thump, and it’s all I can do to keep from laughing.
Aw, the princess doesn’t get what she wants. How unfortunate.
Charles gives me an apologetic look. “She just needs some time to get used to it. She’ll come around.”
I give him a large genuine smile. Something tells me I might actually enjoy this job.
“I’ve got all the time in the world.”
Two - Blaire
I immediately hit the gym the second I’m done with work. I need something to release my anger and the boxing bag is screaming my name. By the time I’m done with my workout, I’m drenched in sweat. The hour I spent punching the life out of that hanging bag should have left me exhausted, but instead I feel refreshed. The whole time, I pictured the bag to be Jimmy, his face the center of it. With every punch I threw, I pretended like I was aiming for that pathetic, sleazy smile of his. I even threw in a kick to his imaginary groin.
How could my father treat me like this? Like I’m some child who needs babysitting or chaperoning? I’ve heard the whispers from my father about the threats he’s been receiving; I know he’s in some sort of trouble. But still, attaching some man to me at all hours of the day? And it’s somehow Jimmy Maxwell? How fucked up can this world be?
I chug some water as I push open the door to the gym. The cool autumn Boston air greets my skin with a refreshing breeze as a contrast to my hot, sweaty body. As I start to walk to my apartment, my mind drifts off to dinner options. I have stuff at home for a grilled chicken salad, or I could stop by the Chinese place just down the—
My phone begins to ring, breaking up my dinner thoughts. I pause on the sidewalk as I fish it out of my bag.
“Hello?” I say into the receiver.
“Hey, girl!” my best friend Juliette squeals. “Where are you? Harper and I are at Murphy’s, if you want to join us for drinks. She’s having another one of her mope sessions, and I need you here to get me through it and cheer her up.”
The sound of Harper’s name makes my stomach churn. She’s the last person I want to see right now, given that her older brother is now going to be by my side twenty-four seven starting who knows when and I can’t tell her why I hate him.
“I can’t, Jules. I just left the gym, and I’m sweating like a pig.”
“So? Get your ass over here now. You can shower when you get home. Just for an hour? Please?”
I pause once more on the sidewalk to ponder over my options. I was really looking forward to Chinese once I thought of it, but I haven’t seen my girls in over two weeks. I can push aside my anger at my best friend’s brother for an hour or so.
“Okay, fine. One hour,” I say when my mind is made up.
Juliette squeals again. “I’ll have a cosmo waiting on you when you get here.”
I hang up the phone and start walking back in the direction I came from. When I get to Murphy’s, sure enough, there’s a cosmo waiting for me at our table.
Juliette stands to greet me with a hug as I approach the table. To avoid rubbing my sweat on her, I lean into her for one of those awkward butt-out hugs.
“Sorry. I don’t think you want my sweat on you,” I say, sliding into my seat.
Juliette swats the air at my comment. “Please. I already have Harper’s tears on me. What’s a little bit of sweat going to hurt?”
“Where is Harper?” I ask, noting her lack of presence at the table.
Juliette rolls her eyes. “In the bathroom fixing her makeup.”
“What happened this time?”
“Some guy she met off Bumble. I keep telling her Plenty of Fish is where the real ones are at.”
“So, another bad date?”
Juliette shakes her head. “Another stood up date.”
The problem with our friend Harper is her lack of social cues when it comes to dating. Harper Sinclaire Maxwell, voted Most Beautiful for our senior superlative, has never had a clue on how to date successfully. She’s too naive and too… much. Always smothering the guys right away, talking marriage and babies and white picket fences. She makes herself too vulnerable, believing the cut and paste lies they tell every woman to get her into bed. I know part of her problem is she’s too trusting but she needs to guard her heart and stop trusting every penis that tells her she’s amazing. We’ve tried to tell her this gently before, but it didn’t work. It just resulted in tears like it always does.
But out of the four of us—Juliette, me, Harper, and Aspen—she has the purest heart.
“So, how’s your love life going? It’s been a while since we’ve talked about it,” I ask her.
Juliette shrugs her shoulders. “Same old, same old. Josh is great. Can’t complain. Anything new with you?”
I give her the I had a shit day and it’s because of a boy look.
Juliette’s mouth drops. “Spill.”
I take a long sip of my cosmo, savoring the slight burn as it travels down my throat. My, oh, my, I can’t wait to see how she takes this news.
“You remember that night I went out with that guy Jimmy?”
Juliette narrows her eyes as she tries to recollect. Seconds later, she loudly gasps and her eyes widen. “Harper’s brother?”
“Yes. That one.” My voice is flat.
“Oh my God, is he hot?” She smiles.
“Yeah, well, I’m stuck with him now.”
“It’s a long story. Basically, he’s my protection now.”
“I’m so fucking confused,” she says. “You need to spell this out for me.”
I feel hunger and annoyance beginning to build in me. I briefly wish I would have just gone home after the gym and fueled up on lo mein and egg rolls instead of rehashing today’s unfortunate events.
I take a deep breath and reposition in my seat as I start to explain my situation, double-checking Harper isn’t returning to the table. “My dad has apparently gotten himself in deep shit and, for some reason, thinks that I need a bodyguard at all hours of the day. So, who’s the lucky man? Jimmy fucking Maxwell.”
I chug the rest of my cosmo and set it down hard on the table. I glance around again. Where is Harper?
“Oh my God,” Juliette says in a low voice. “Does your dad know about you two? Does Harper?”
I shrug my shoulders. “No, and I don’t know. I don’t think so or she probably would have said something to me. After the way things ended between him and I the first time we met, I’m sure Harper would be blowing my phone up if she knew he was hired to babysit me. It’s all purely coincidental, which is the crazy part about it.”
“But… what if it’s not? What if this is fate?”
I roll my eyes. Typical Juliette being her hopeless romantic self. She knows I don’t believe in that fate, love at first sight, romance bullshit. None of it’s real. Even Jimmy proved that to me.
“I doubt that’s what it is,” I mumble.
“So, like, when you say he’s your bodyguard at all hours of the day… does that mean…”
I nod my head. “Yeah. He literally has to be with me everywhere I go every second of every day.”
A faint trace of a smile tries to spread itself on Juliette’s lips. I shoot her daggers and she calms down. “This is crazy,” she says. “Where is he now?”
“Who fucking cares. I need another cosmo,” I say, looking at my empty glass.
I feel the need to drink now that I’ve refreshed myself on what’s about to happen to me.
The conversation dies when a recovering Harper makes her way back to the table, sniffling and all. I look to Juliette to give a keep this on the down-low for now look.
“Hey, Blaire,” Harper says with a weary tone.
I fight the urge to roll my eyes at her woe-is-me face.
“Hey, Harps. Juliette told me what happened. I’m really sorry. It’s his loss, you know?”
Harper sniffles again and wipes under her smeared off eyeliner. Her lips begin to quiver as if she’s going to break again, and I inwardly kick myself for opening back up the floodgates.
“I just don’t understand why guys aren’t into me. Like, what am I doing wrong?” she says through tears, putting her face in her hands.
We’ve heard these questions time and time again, and by now, all Juliette and I do is shh her and gently stroke Harp’s back. It’s not that we don’t care about her getting her heart broken; it’s that every guy she meets was going to be the one.
“It’s going to be okay. You’ll find your Prince Charming,” I tell her, looking across the table to Juliette.
A waitress at the bar approaches our table and sets a new full cosmo in front of me. I look at it questioningly and then back to the waitress. “I didn’t order this,” I tell her.
She turns to look back at me. “The gentleman over there did. He said to tell you to watch your limit this time.” With that, she turns to walk away.
I look at the cosmo and then glance around the rest of the bar to figure out who sent over this drink. My eyes scan the stools at the bar until they stop at the very end. My stomach sinks. I feel my blood beginning to boil, and I narrow my eyes at the smirk belonging to Jimmy Maxwell.
Great. This is all just fucking great.
“Holy shit,” I hear Juliette say once her eyes find Jimmy.
Jimmy waves a hand at me with a boyish grin that tells me he’s doing this out of spite.
Keeping my eyes locked with his, I pick up the cosmo and chug the whole thing, setting it back down with more force than necessary. Thankfully, Harper is too busy consoling herself to notice.
“I guess it’s starting now,” Juliette whispers.
I ignore her as I keep my eyes on Jimmy. I guess now is when it really does start.
I feel the urge to get away from him. I turn back to my friends and tell them goodbye before grabbing my wallet and heading out of the bar. It’s now nighttime in Boston, and goosebumps form on my skin. I knew I should have brought a jacket. My teeth begin to chatter as I walk briskly through the wind to my apartment and away from Jimmy fucking Maxwell.
How did he know I was at Murphy’s?
It’s not a question I ponder over long as the thought to distance myself as far away from him as possible floods my mind. If Jimmy was going to be next to me twenty-four seven now, I was going to have to find a way to get in some alone time. It’s what I do best. I enjoy my personal space, and it’s what I love about living on my own. I’ve never been one to crave the company of a companion. I’m completely fine on my own. I can take care of myself, which is something I really wish my father would have realized before hiring me some hitman or whatever it is Jimmy does.
I continue to speed walk down the streets of Boston toward my apartment before Jimmy can catch up to me. If he followed me. My eyes want to look back to see if he’s right there, following me to my apartment, but my mind keeps telling me to not look. Just keep going.
So, it’s what I do.
I make the fifteen-minute walk in seven minutes, lightly jogging the last three to shorten the time and warm myself up. When I’m in my building and riding the elevator to my floor, I peek my head out of the elevator door to see if he’s in the hall waiting on me. Relief washes over me when my hall is empty.
I open my door and quickly step into my apartment, closing the door and locking it like Michael Myers is chasing me. I double-check the dead bolt and slide the lock in the hole for extra protection from Jimmy and whoever is out there trying to get me in my father’s mind. My apartment was dark from when I left earlier, so I turn on the lights and step into the kitchen. My stomach rumbles, and I’m instantly reminded just how hungry I am.
I could cook something, but I don’t feel like washing the dishes… I’ll just order takeout and make them deliver it.
I pull open the drawer that contains the take-out menu to the Chinese restaurant and scan the items. Once I've decided on the chicken lo mein and egg rolls, I start to dial their number when, out of nowhere, I hear a deep voice from across the room.
“I’ll take the beef and broccoli with a side of steamed carrots, please.”
I scream and jump in place at the suddenness of the voice. My heart begins to quicken and nearly beat out of my chest, and my knees buckle at the fear. Who the fuck is that?
As if he’s in a movie, Jimmy Maxwell steps out of the darkness of my living room and into the light of the kitchen.
“What the hell, Jimmy? You scared the living shit out of me!”
He chuckles and takes a seat at my counter.
“Sorry, love. It was either now or let you turn on the light to see me. Either way, you were going to be startled.”
“How the fuck did you get in here?” I yell, trying to calm down.
My knees feel like Jell-O, and my breathing is still ragged.
“The key.” He holds up a brass key that looks like a safety pin in his massive hands. “Your father had one made for me.” He smiles.
“My father shouldn’t have a key to my apartment to begin with.”
“How he made the key is none of my concern. I have the right copy, and that’s all that matters.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath, partly to calm down my breathing, but also to try and not lose my shit at the man whom I hate more than my annual gynecological exam.
“I’m going to say this as nicely as I can, and I’m only going to say it once,” I say in the best calm and collected manner I can muster right now. “Get out of my apartment and stay at least a thousand yards away from me.”
Jimmy pretends to think this over. He taps his chin with his finger and looks up at the ceiling before shrugging his shoulders. “Can’t do that, princess. I’m under strict orders.”
“Ugh!” I fist my hair and begin to pace back and forth in the kitchen. “Why does my father treat me like such a child!”
“Maybe because you act like one?” Jimmy says sarcastically.
I turn on my heel to face him and point a finger in his face. “You don’t know a thing about me, so don’t pretend like you do.”
Jimmy lightly grabs my finger and pushes it out of his face. “Hate to break it to you, kitten, but I know you better than you think. And you can’t tell me what to do. I hate this just as much, if not more than you do. I’ve got better things to do than follow your spoiled ass all day.”
“Then don’t do it.” I’m so angry, I overlook his insult.
He shakes his head once. “Can’t. I’ve got a job to do.”
“Why don’t you lie and pretend to do your job? I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Jimmy chuckles and leans back in the stool, crossing his arms over his broad chest. My eyes skim over his body in his white T-shirt. His muscles completely fill out the sleeves, making it look like they're about to bust through the seams. I remember his body and how attracted to it I was the first time I met him and, honestly, still am. Jimmy is built like a romance novel guy—cut abs, bulging muscles, rock-hard body, and a pretty face. But all of that means nothing with the shit personality that he has.
I had to learn that the hard way.
“See something you like, princess?”
His words draw me back to reality, and I’m forced to look at the smirk he’s giving me. He caught me looking at him in the way I didn’t want him to see.
“Or better yet, see something you want again?”
I narrow my eyes and bite my lip, trying to suppress the anger. How in the world am I going to survive this? I don’t even know how long I have to put up with him.
“How long will this be going on?” I ask, hoping he knows so I can have a date on the calendar to look forward to.
“Until your father gives me the all clear.”
I whimper and place my face in my hands. I hate thinking that Jimmy holds some kind of power over me with information that I don’t know. It’s like he enjoys seeing me miserable. It’s almost like it fuels him.
I sigh and try to mentally come to terms with my present situation. There’s no way around this. Jimmy will be with me every second of every damn day until he is told not to be. My life now includes Jimmy, whether I like it or not. The only way to get through this is to not play into his games and to act like he isn’t there.
But with a face and body like his… that’s going to be hard to do.
“Why don’t we set up some boundaries?” I suggest, looking up at him.
“What kind of boundaries?”
“I get that you have a job to do, I really do, but you are invading my life and personal space now, so out of respect for me, there are a few terms we need to go over.”
Jimmy quietly holds my gaze for a few seconds. “Shoot.”
“First off, you have to text me when you are at the apartment before me, okay? I don’t like coming home and being scared like I was today.”
He chuckles and smiles. “What’s next?”
“You have to give me my space. I cannot be smothered by you, understood?”
“I don’t want you to be closer than fifty feet away from me at all times. I don’t want to feel you breathing down my neck. I need to breathe and be alone every now and then.”
“Fine. I’ll do my best. Just know I have to obey your father’s orders. Whatever he asks of me, I have to do.”
I nod my head. I know he’s right. He does have a job to do, and I know he doesn’t want to be here with me, just like I don’t want to be here with him. But at the end of the day, I am still a person who needs to be free and have their own space. I’m thirty-one. I’m an adult who doesn’t need a bodyguard, whether there’s a hitman after my father or not.
“One last thing,” I say. “We are on our own. Don’t talk to me unless you absolutely have to, and do not get in my way. Pretend as if you’re living your life without me in it.”
Jimmy nods his head and runs his hands through his dark hair, which matches the scruff on his face. “I thought you’d never ask.”
I roll my eyes at him.
“Are you going to call in that order?” he asks, nodding his head toward the take-out menu on the counter in front of me. “Oh, and why was my sister crying earlier tonight?”
“Nope, we aren’t friends, and my loyalty lies with her,” I say as I roll my eyes at him and disappear into my room. I do end up calling in the order, and I even order his broccoli and beef with a side of steamed carrots.