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The Guardian - Sneak Peek





CHAPTER 1 — JULIETTE


“This is huge, Brett. Like, class-action-suit huge. Major-insurance-company-and-manufacturing-company-named-in-the-suit huge.”

“I know,” my friend Brett says before taking a sip of his wine. “That’s why I brought it to you.”

“We have to do something. We can’t let these people suffer like this, and we both know that neither of these companies will do anything to make this right unless legal action is involved.”

I place the large stack of paperwork I’ve acquired over the last several weeks on the table and plop my hand on top of it. “I’ve spent the better part of six weeks getting detailed stories and statements from the factory workers. There are countless stories of permanent lung damage, jobs lost—hell, lives lost—all because Delmore Manufacturing has no issue with toxic levels of chemicals in the air supply on the factory floor. Have they ever heard of the EPA?”

“I know, Jules, and I agree. The problem is, my firm won’t let me take the case on.”

I let out a sigh of annoyance. “Still? Even after all this evidence, you think they won’t?”

He wipes his mouth after taking a bite of his filet and shakes his head. “Doubtful.”

“Why not? You work for the most powerful firm in the city.”

“I’m tied up with the Steadman fraud case—have been for months. Since they’re one of our biggest clients, there’s no way in hell the partners will let me take on a class-action suit this large, especially since we both know it would have to be on contingency. And even if they did let me, Nathan would kill me. I can’t spend the first year of our marriage at the office, darling.”

“I understand.” I sit back in my chair, feeling defeated. I stare out the window of the restaurant, watching people attempt to dodge raindrops and puddles as they scurry down the sidewalk during a New York spring evening.

Brett and I went to law school at Harvard together and have remained close ever since. I’m actually the one who introduced him to his now-husband, Nathan. Nathan and I met because I hired his interior design firm to help me furnish my new apartment when I moved to New York from Boston a few years ago. They hit it off instantly and have been inseparable ever since.

“What are you thinking?” Brett asks. I turn to look back at him, his eyebrow cocked. “I know that look, Jules.”

“I’m wondering if your firm won’t take the case because they don’t want to spread resources too thin, or if it’s because the insurance company and Delmore are both represented by your firm’s biggest competitor?”

He chuckles. “I’d be lying if I said that isn’t part of it, I’m sure. Granted, I can’t speak for the partners, but going up against Prince, Dune & Bellows probably isn’t on their to-do list. With a reputation like theirs, they know it wouldn’t be a fair fight from the jump.”

“Well, it’s not like they’re above the law; we can both play hardball.”

“Hardball isn’t the issue, and we both know that. If Darth Vader, Satan, and all the bad guys from Gotham were represented by a law firm, it would be them.”

I twirl my finger around the rim of my glass, chewing my bottom lip before I speak. “What if—” I hesitate, not wanting to say something purely out of emotion but knowing it’s what I need to do. “What if I came on board at Steinburg, Goldman & Thompson with the condition that I would be able to bring this case with me on contingency?”

Brett’s eyes grow wide. “Are you serious?” I nod my head. “You know they’d kill to have you at the firm since they’ve tried poaching you for the last two years from Titan Financial, but you also have to know it wouldn’t be as cushy as what you’re used to over there.”

“I’m aware,” I say, taking a large gulp of wine. “And for the record, we both have very cushy jobs.”

“Yes, well, being chief legal counsel for a top financial firm has perks you won’t get with Steinburg. You’ll be back to billable hours, which they’ll expect—actually, demand—you hit before you even think about working on the contingency stuff.”

“You think I can’t handle it? Come on, Brett, I was pregnant and had a daughter in college then raised her through law school, so I think I can manage.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt that. It’s just that you’ve built a nice life for yourself and Chloe since moving to New York. You’ve worked your ass off to earn the flexibility to have nights with her and spend your weekends not glued to your computer. I’m just saying they’ll expect you to put in some due diligence.”

“You mean bitch work?” I smile and it makes him laugh.

“Pretty much. That being said, inside of two years, I could see you as a junior partner at the firm. And if you make this class-action suit happen and win it?” He whistles and shakes his head. “They’d be begging you to be named partner in no time.”

***

Six Months Later . . .

I yawn and stretch my arms overhead as I glance over at the clock. Quarter to nine. The office is dark, and once again, I’m the only person still here.

“Shit!” I gather my files in my hands and walk them back to my office, shoving them into my file drawer and locking it. I grab my purse and jacket, typing out a quick text to my best friend, Blaire, as I walk toward the elevators.

Me: So sorry I’m running late! Heading to you now. I hope Chloe isn’t too upset.

This is the third night this week I’ve had to ask someone to babysit my daughter so I can stay late to work on the class-action suit. When I joined Steinburg, I promised myself and Chloe that this wouldn’t happen, but it looks like I was lying to both of us.

“Come on!” I hit the elevator button rapidly, trying to summon it faster. Finally it dings and the doors glide open. I take it down to the parking garage, which is silent—just the sound of a steady drip somewhere far off in the distance echoing around me. I hate being down here alone. Then again, the fact that I even have a car in New York City is such a privilege, I remind myself to stop complaining and pick up my pace.

The clicking of my heels bounces off the cement floor and walls as I walk to my car, holding my keys out to hit the unlock button just as I hear something in the distance. I spin around, looking over my shoulder to the right and then the left, but there’s nothing.

“Get it together, Jules.” I shake my head, realizing I’d be that cliché woman who gets killed in the first scene of the horror movie because she stops to ask, Is anyone there?

I reach for the handle on the car door and yank it open just as the sound of one of the steel stairwell doors opens and closes. I hold my breath, just listening, when I hear the sound of footsteps. I dive into my driver’s side, shutting the door and locking it as my heart feels like it’s about to beat out of my chest.

“It’s just your imagination,” I whisper to myself as I close my eyes and grip my steering wheel tightly. This would be an overreaction if it weren’t for the weird and downright terrifying experiences I’ve had lately: the feeling that someone has been following me, the slashed tire from a week ago, and the mysterious package on my doorstep that was just an empty box neatly tied with a red ribbon.

When I open my eyes again, that’s when I see it. A note beneath my windshield wiper. I tilt my head to the side to read it, the letters written in bold marker facing toward the window like the person knew I wouldn’t see it until I was sitting inside my car.

You’ve been warned.

I don’t get out to grab the note. Instead, I start the car, throwing it in reverse and peeling out of the garage toward Blaire’s house. If there’s anywhere I know I’ll be safe, it’s at my best friend’s house. She’s married to a former Special Forces agent turned private security. Her husband, Jameson, and his three best friends founded the Four Forces Security Agency after they all met in the Special Forces years back.

“I’m so sorry I’m late . . . again,” I say to Blaire as she ushers me inside.

“Oh, stop apologizing. You know we don’t mind. Chloe is currently explaining the entire Harry Potter series to Jimmy. Poor man is so confused,” she laughs. “You’d think being Special Forces, he’d keep up no problem, but he keeps asking her to repeat stuff and forgetting names, and I think it’s driving her crazy.”

We walk down the hallway, stopping in the doorway out of Chloe and Jimmy’s sight as we listen to her try to help him make sense of what she’s telling him.

“No, Lucius is the dad of Draco, the bad kid. Professor Snape is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who is also the head of Slytherin, which is the house Draco is in, but Snape is also secretly kind of in this private group with Lucius, where they’re Lord Voldemort’s minions.”

“Okay,” Jimmy nods his head slowly, his eye looking like it’s almost twitching in confusion, “I think I got it.”

Blaire and I can’t stop ourselves from bursting into laughter, causing them both to turn around and see us.

“Mom!” Chloe jumps up and runs over to me, wrapping her arms around my waist, “I was just explaining Harry Potter to Uncle Jimmy. He said he’d watch the movies with me sometime.”

“Did he?” I look over at him in surprise. “You really sure about that, Jameson? We’re talking eight long movies of wizards and witches.” I grin and he shrugs helplessly.

“I think I can manage, especially if I have Chloe to help me keep everyone straight.” He reaches his hand out to high five her.

“You know it,” she says, slapping his hand.

It warms my heart to see her engage with a man I know won’t break her heart like her father did, but that isn’t an obligation Jameson should be saddled with. When Caleb, Chloe’s father, didn’t even fight me on sole custody—let alone even file a response to the divorce or custody papers—I wasn’t surprised. He’d already vanished from our lives in the two years leading up to the separation and then divorce.

When I met Caleb, he seemed like my knight in shining armor, something naive 18-year-old me believed was a real thing. Growing up with an alcoholic, absent father and no mom, I was desperate for normalcy, for security. So the second Caleb showed a little more than interest in me, I was head over heels in love. At first it really was puppy dogs and rainbows. He showered me with love and attention, which slowly morphed into control that I confused for concern. Then the drinking and partying started our sophomore year of college. Then the accusations of infidelity. At the time, I remember feeling like overnight he turned into someone else, but looking back, the red flags were popping up along the way.

By the time I found out I was pregnant at 19, I was ready to settle down and be a family, but he was just getting started in his going-out phase. But to my surprise, once Chloe arrived, he straightened up and became the man I thought he was. He was a doting father to our baby girl, helping me stay on track with finishing college and preparing for law school. I worked my ass off in undergrad, pulling all-nighters to keep my GPA up and prepare for the LSATs. All my sacrificing paid off, though, when I received my acceptance letter to Harvard Law. It felt like everything was finally falling into place. Caleb didn’t even think twice about moving cross-country to Boston for me . . . but once again, it was all pretty short-lived.

After Caleb graduated and got his first big job in finance, he started going to happy hours and taking clients out, all while I was left to basically be a single mom and put myself through law school. By the time Chloe was five, I moved us out of the apartment we shared, and by the time she was six, I filed for divorce. He popped in and out of our lives two or three times a year for the next two years until I’d had enough. I told him to either commit or move on; he couldn’t keep disappointing Chloe like this. I couldn’t bear to watch her heart break time and time again when he wouldn’t show up after promising he would. And that was it; we haven’t heard from him since.

“Hey, any chance I can talk to you for a few?” I ask Jameson. My expression must show my concern.

“Everything okay?” Blaire gives me a questioning look after checking to make sure Chloe is back to being distracted with something and out of earshot.

“Honestly, I’m not sure, but I don’t want to scare her unnecessarily.”

“Well, you’re scaring me,” Blaire says, reaching out to touch my arm. “What’s going on?”

“Ever since I took the job at Steinburg and started working the Delmore case, I feel like I’m being watched . . . or followed maybe?”

“You feel, or know?” Jameson takes a step closer to me, his brows furrowing.

“I thought it was just a feeling, until tonight.” I reach into my pocket and pull out the windshield note. I jumped out of my car at a stop sign several blocks away from the office and grabbed it before the wind could blow it off. “I heard someone following me in the parking garage when I left the office, and then I saw this on my windshield.”

“You’ve been warned . . . warned about what? What else has happened, Juliette?” Jameson’s serious tone makes me nervous, confirming the fears I had that I wasn’t just imagining things.

“Uh, well, I had a slashed tire a while back, but I thought it was maybe kids in the neighborhood since I have street parking. You know how there will be a rash of stuff like that happen. Then I got a weird package delivered. It was small, like a ring box wrapped in brown paper with a red ribbon.”

“What was in it?” he asks.

“Nothing.” I shrug. “That’s why I didn’t think it was pertinent, I guess. I thought maybe someone had dropped it by my door in passing.”

“Jules, this is serious,” Blaire says, looking at me then at her husband. “How long has this been going on?”

“I think it started a few weeks after I really started digging into the case—interviewing the victims and chasing down leads. If I’m honest, I half expected silly stuff like this considering the firm that represents both Delmore and the insurance company has a reputation for being a bully. My guess is that’s what it is: nothing serious, just intimidation tactics, but I can’t take that risk with her.” I nod toward Chloe, who is curled up on the couch, deep into her dystopian YA novel. “I thought I’d ask your opinion on it to see if I should get a security system at my place.”

“You don’t have one?” I shake my head. “Yes, that’s the first thing you should do. I’ll have my guy come out to your house tomorrow to do an assessment and see what kind of system you need, how many cameras, etc. That being said, I think coming to me was the right thing to do.” He crosses his muscular arms over his chest, reaching his hand up to rub it over his jaw as he thinks. “But truthfully, and I don’t say this to scare you, I think you’re downplaying things more than you should. I think it’s probably best I get one of my guys to follow you for a bit.”

“Seriously? Can’t you guys just sniff around and find out who sent the threats and intimidate them with legal action?” That’s not what I was expecting, and it’s kind of the last thing I want. As much as I appreciate Jameson and the men of Four Forces Security, I really don’t need some macho, alpha man bossing me around at the moment. “My schedule is pretty crazy right now. Don’t you think the security system is good enough?”

“I don’t, and you don’t want to take a risk with Chloe either. I’ve been in this line of work long enough to know that even if these threats are idle, they can cause some serious trauma for you and her. I’m going to give Alex a call and fill him in, then he’ll reach out to you.

“Alex? The playboy one?” I ask, rolling my eyes. I’ve heard enough stories from Blaire and Harper about Alex to fill a novel. The man’s probably had more one-night stands than a frat house.

“He’s not that bad.” Blaire smiles at me. “Besides, he’s super professional. He’d never cross a line with a client, and I’m pretty sure he knows not to with you if he values his manhood.” She laughs.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, confused. I mean, I know I’m not exactly one of those easygoing cool girls. I lost that privilege when I became a mother, plus I have a job I take seriously. But I managed to date Josh for almost two years after my marriage fell apart . . . then again, he did tell me one of his reasons for leaving was because he felt like I was merely his roommate.

“In the meantime, you guys should stay here tonight,” Jameson says, pulling my attention back to our conversation.

“What? No,” I say a little louder than necessary. I see Chloe peek over her book toward us. “No,” I say a little softer. “I don’t want to concern her. In fact, I want this to stay between us. We’ll be okay tonight. Just let me know when the security guy is coming tomorrow and I’ll make sure I’m home. I seriously appreciate this.” I give both of them a hug then turn to Chloe to tell her to gather her things so we can head home.

By the time Chloe is in bed and I’ve showered, it’s nearing 11 and I’m exhausted. I contemplate a glass of wine but don’t need the headache. Instead, I make some tea, walking around to make sure all of the windows are locked.

When I reach my bedroom windows, I pull back the curtains and look out to see a dark sedan parked across the street from my townhome. My heart thuds, flooding my ears as I panic and reach for my cell phone just as a number I don’t recognize flashes across the screen.

“Hello?” I say nervously as I answer it.

“Evening, Miss Pierce. No need to be alarmed. It’s just me, Alex.” I watch as the tinted car window lowers a few inches and his eyes gaze across the top of the glass toward where I’m standing in the window. His voice is deep and raspy, sending a shiver through me.

I’ve met Alex before, maybe two or three times very briefly. We don’t exactly run in the same circles. Of the four men, his reputation is that of the playboy, which is all I need to know . . . not to mention the tattoos, imposing figure, and muscles aren’t exactly my type.

My type? Why the hell did that even come into my head?

“Evening, Alex,” I say around a dry throat. “I see telling Jameson I didn’t need you here didn’t make a difference.”

His throaty chuckle is deep. “Nah, you know how Jimmy is. I figured we should schedule a time to speak tomorrow if that works for you?”

I rub my forehead in frustration, not loving the idea of trying to squeeze in another unplanned meeting into my already-thinly-stretched schedule. “Okay, let’s do 7 a.m. My daughter leaves for school at 6:50, and I don’t need her worried about all of this.”

“Sounds good. We’ll talk tomorrow morning, but in the meantime, sleep well knowing I’ll be out here all evening. Good night.”

CHAPTER 2 — ALEX


“Juliette Morgan Pierce.”

I say her name aloud to myself as I flip through her file. I chew on a bite of my bagel, reading over the dossier Jimmy sent over so I could get up to speed prior to meeting with her.

I know Juliette, or at least I know of her. I’ve met her a time or two when she was out with her girlfriends and her best friend Blaire was messing around with Jimmy before they got married. She’s a total knockout, that’s for sure. We’re talking a 10 out of 10 smoke show. Blonde hair and big blue eyes, full hips you want to grip while you pull her back onto you, and lips that would look so damn good wrapped around my dick . . . my kryptonite.

I feel my cock twitch just thinking about running my hands over her curves as I bite down on one of her plump lips, but I quickly shake the thoughts from my mind, reminding myself it’s not that kind of meeting.

“Damn,” I whistle reading over her education, “top of her class at Northwestern and Harvard Law. Yeah, she’s definitely not the kind of woman who would give me the time of day unless she’s forced to.” I chuckle at the thought. It’s no wonder she’s a Type-A boss babe; she’s kicked ass to get to where she is in life. Although I know damn well I’ve seen her eyes lingering on me a time or two. I know I attract attention—a man my size usually does—but I also know the difference between a curious glance and a lingering stare, even if it’s filled with regret once our eyes lock. If I had to guess, I’m the kind of guy a woman like her hooks up with when she’s going through something or after a breakup. Then they settle back down with a custom-suit-wearing Mr. Wall Street and pop out a few kids in the suburbs.

“Exactly what you don’t want,” I mutter to myself as I flip the page and read about her 10-year-old daughter, Chloe. Seems like her dad isn’t in the picture and hasn’t been for several years—piece of shit. My heart goes out to Juliette even though I don’t know the circumstances. Can’t be easy raising a child alone. Yet another reason that explains why she’s more closed off. Part of me feels bad for assuming she was a man-hating ice queen. Clearly someone has given her reason to be the way she is.

I’ve always known she’s uptight. For being hot as fuck, she’s certainly never flaunted it or tried to be sexy in front of me. She’s buttoned-up, serious. I can see why Jimmy liked the fact that his younger sister Harper is one of her best friends. Back in her wild days, before she married our coworker Luka and had a baby, Harper was a firecracker and a half. She always had her big brother tied up in knots because she refused to be told what to do.

My phone buzzes. “Hey,” I say, answering it after one ring.

“You get the dossier?” Jimmy asks.

“Yeah, looking it over now.”

“Listen, I know I already told you this last night, but she’s not too keen on having a shadow, especially since she has a kid. I think she was hoping I’d just tell her she was overreacting or not to worry when she explained things to me last night. She clearly regrets mentioning it to me now since I told her it warranted our services. So if she seems standoffish, don’t take it personally.”

“Never do,” I say, flipping through another page. “I’ll stay out of her way . . . as long as she cooperates. That gonna be a problem?”

Jimmy hesitates. That’s never a good sign.

“Shouldn’t be, nah. I think she’ll wise up. Just try to be understanding. She has to think about her daughter’s safety as much as her own, so those mama bear instincts might cause her to be a little more bristly than most. Besides, I can imagine she doesn’t want to stress Chloe out or scare her, so odds are she’ll want to keep your presence between you and her.”

“I’m sure I can handle it. How serious do you think this is? We both know the reputation of the law firm she’s going up against, and we’ve seen our share of people being bullied, harassed, and intimated by big business to the point where they get hurt.”

“Yeah, that’s why I called you in. As much as I want to think this is simply a scare tactic from a bunch of asshole lawyers, we know better and I won’t take that risk. Besides, this isn’t just a drop-in-the-bucket kind of case—this is hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts and legal fees. Usually, they stop at a threatening phone call or even a note, but slashing tires and leaving something on her porch is a step too far in the this is about to be a full-blown fucking shit show situation.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. How far are we taking this, Jimmy?” He knows what I’m asking without me having to say it outright.

“All the way, Alex. Whatever it takes to keep them safe.”

“Noted. And how sugar-coated am I keeping things with Miss Pierce? Did you tell her that this is serious enough that she might end up in a safe house should shit really hit the fan?”

“Need-to-know basis. If she isn’t cooperating and you feel you need to scare her into it, then by all means . . . but for now, let’s try to handle this a little more gently. I don’t want Chloe getting freaked out.”

“Sounds good.”

“One other thing, Alex,” Jimmy says slowly, “don’t try to pull any of your charm on Juliette. I know you wouldn’t cross a line—and shit, I’m one to talk considering my wife was once my client—but of all people, she’s not the one you want to even attempt to give the illusion that you’re flirting with her.”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“Come on, man, we both know you use your fucking looks to get into women’s good graces—earning their trust and shit. Just keep it above board. We don’t need to give her another reason to hate having you in her life.”

“Well, shit, thanks for that pep talk. And yeah, you are one to talk,” I laugh. “Trust me, I’m still confident in my long-term decision to love ‘em and leave ‘em after one, maybe two nights at most. The last thing I want is a woman to dominate, and I’m pretty fucking confident that a woman like Juliette Pierce would get off on eating my balls for breakfast . . . and not in a fun way.”

“You’ve got a way with words, my man,” Jimmy laughs on the end of the line.

“Speaking of,” I say as I glance out the window and see her open her front door, waving toward me, “I think she’s ready to talk. I’ll give you a call a little later, let you know how it goes.”

I place the folder beneath my seat and open the door, walking across the street and up the front steps of her small porch.

“Miss Pierce.” I hold my hand out toward her. “Alex Rockwell.”

“Juliette is fine.” She offers a tight-lipped smile. “And yes, Alex,” her head cocks to the side, “we’ve met before.”

Call me crazy, but I can sense a touch of snark in her reply, and it causes a smile to pull at one corner of my lips. “Yes, we have.” I slide my hands into the pockets of my jeans as I stare down at her petite frame. She pulls her cardigan a little closer to her body in a nervous gesture. She’s already dressed for the day, hair and makeup done. Her blonde hair is in long curls cascading over her shoulders, her makeup soft and understated. “Are you going to invite me inside?” I nod toward her.

“Sorry, come in.” She steps to the side, holding the door open as I walk into the beautiful two-story townhome. The sun hits the statement chandelier above us, causing a cascade of rainbow dots to sparkle across the black-and-white-tiled floor. These are the timeless homes of New York, elegant yet understated—the ones you see in those fancy architecture magazines. I can’t even begin to imagine what a place like this costs, but if I had to guess: more than I’d make in two lifetimes.

“Beautiful home.” I don’t hide my gaze as it travels over the heavy hand-carved banister. I reach my finger out to touch the lacquered wood.

“Thank you. I know it’s early, but I have to be in the office within the next hour, and since this is the only time I can squeeze you in while Chloe’s at school, I want to keep this brief.”

Straight to the point. Shocking for a lawyer, in my experience.

“Sure. Why don’t you run me through the situation?”

“Didn’t Jameson already explain it?” Her exasperation is evident in her tone. Her back is stiff, and her floral silk skirt sits high on her waist, flowing over her hips and hitting mid-calf, a delicate slit running halfway up her thigh revealing black patterned tights. Her cardigan shifts slightly on her shoulder, revealing the skinny strap of her chemise top beneath.

“A little, but it seems like there’s probably more to the situation.” I grab my notepad, pulling my eyes from her collarbone that’s begging me to run my tongue over it. “I want to know why these people are coming after you, what led up to this, and what other threats you might have overlooked or thought were coincidences.”

“You’re using a notepad? Like a detective in a thriller?” She lifts an eyebrow at me, crossing one high-heeled ankle over the other. I will myself not to let my gaze drop back down to her sheer tights again. She’s dressed like one of those classy movie stars from the ’40s—one who would play an uptight librarian with a touch of understated sex appeal that’s begging to be unraveled.

“Something wrong with that, Miss Pierce?” I give her my best smile—the one I usually pull out for the woman at the bar I’m trying to charm into coming home with me. “I’m old school.”

“I took on a massive contingency case.” She completely disregards my attempt to break the ice and continues on, not even offering me a cup of coffee or to come further into her home. She really is going to be difficult. “It’s a class-action lawsuit against Delmore Manufacturing, the largest manufacturer of fertilizer in the—”

“Yes, I’m familiar with Delmore,” I interrupt.

“Great. Well, as you can imagine, they don’t take kindly to the largest and most powerful law firm in New York City coming at them with a class-action lawsuit with more than 50 former employees, plus more to come. Not to mention, the insurance company they offer their employees coverage through is denying all the claims, so now they, too, are named in the lawsuit. Both companies are represented by another large, powerful firm in New York: Prince, Dune & Bellows. They’re the kind of law firm that represents the bad guys in whistleblower cases. Think of those lawsuits you hear about where people die, or homes or resources are decimated only to have it completely disappear from the news in just a few weeks like it never happened.”

“Got it.” I nod, making several notes, not telling her I’m already far too familiar with their work. “And who do you think sent the goons after you?”

“Goons?”

“Bad guys. Whoever’s trying to send you a message—warn you.”

“I dunno,” she shrugs, “thought that’s why Jameson sent you.” I stare at her blankly for a second, noting how she only refers to him by his first name. “If I had to guess, probably their law firm. Their resources are the kind of low-level, back-alley-dwelling informants who aren’t exactly too concerned with upholding the law.”

“You paint a very descriptive picture, Miss Pierce.” I laugh.

“Juliette. It’s Juliette, remember?” she snaps. “And of course I do; I’m a lawyer.” She says it so matter-of-factly that I half-expect her to laugh, but she doesn’t. “Is that what you need? Can I get on with my day?”

“Listen, Juliette.” I flip my notebook closed and slip it into my back pocket. “I don’t know what Jimmy did or didn’t tell you, but this isn’t just a stop by and see how you’re doing kind of situation. I know the security team is coming by later today, but I can promise you, until I know for sure that these threats are just idle or some half-ass attempt from a Scooby-Doo villain to get you to drop the case, I’m not going anywhere.” I give her a wink and see a hint of pink rush to her cheeks.

“No, this is exactly what I didn’t want. I won’t have some big macho man traipsing through my home, around my daughter, disrupting our lives. The security measures will be fine, but you can do your research and due diligence outside of my life.”

“You know,” I try to hide my frustration with her snippy attitude, but it’s growing harder by the second, “for being a damsel in distress, you’re pretty demanding and not taking this very seriously.”

“Excuse me?” Her eyes grow wide as she juts her head forward.

Oh, now I’ve done it. Clearly, I’ve struck a nerve and she’s about to wind up and let me have it.

“Let me make something abundantly clear to you, Alex.” She uncrosses her ankles, squaring her shoulders. “I haven’t gotten to where I am by letting arrogant men boss me around or tell me what to do, and I certainly don’t plan on starting now. I realize there are dangers here, and I came to Jameson for help, but this isn’t a bloody horse’s head in my bed type of situation. I’ve worked in this industry long enough to know that these firms will stoop to low-level intimidation tactics, but all I’m looking for is for you or Jameson to find them and make sure they don’t threaten me again. Okay?” She tilts her head to the side like she’s explaining something to a child.

I should remind myself what Jimmy told me: to be gentle and give her grace, all things considered, but I’ve let her snotty little attitude get to me. I need to set the tone for this situation now, otherwise I’m going to end up in a position where she won’t take what I’m saying seriously and get herself into an even bigger predicament.

“In that case, Juliette, let me be abundantly clear: I haven’t gotten to where I am by letting spineless, pencil-dick goons threaten me or anyone I’m hired to protect.” I take a step closer to her. “I also know enough and have seen enough to know that a company as powerful as Delmore and a firm as shady as Prince, Dune & Bellows doesn’t stop at threatening notes and slashed tires. These are the kind of people who will make you and your daughter disappear, and nobody will know where to find your bodies.” I take another step closer and she inches back till she hits the wall behind her. “I also won’t sit idly by and let an arrogant woman who thinks she knows more than I do when it comes to security attempt to tell me how to do my job. So until I find out who is sending these threats and what their motives are, I’m not going anywhere, sweetheart, whether you like it or not. Consider me your fucking shadow, because everywhere you go, I go. I won’t be in your way—and most likely, you won’t even know I’m there—but if you so much as attempt to lose me or run, I will move into your house and make sure you never leave my fucking sight. Am I clear?”

She tilts her head up to look me in the eyes, her chin jutting outward, her eyes narrowed. “Don’t you dare patronize me with that sweetheart bullsh—”

“Am I clear?” I say louder and more firmly, cutting her off.

Juliette Pierce might think she’s better than a man like me, and in many ways she is—probably all ways, actually—but I’ll be damned if she thinks I’m going to risk her or her daughter’s life because she doesn’t realize the seriousness of a situation like this. I’ve seen what companies like this do to people who attempt to bring them down, and it’s the kind of stuff that will leave you with nightmares.

“Yes,” she finally spits the word at me, her jaw clenching. I know it physically pains her to relinquish control to a man—especially a man like me—but it’s for her own good, and the faster she learns that, the better.

“Good.” I wink at her again, stepping back and turning toward the front door. “I’ll be back for a walk-through once the security team has installed everything. Have a good day, Juliette.”

Fuck. I did a pretty piss-poor job of keeping her on a need-to-know basis about things.


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