Bulletproof Bodyguard by Kay Thomas

ISBN 978-0-373-69464-8

Price $4.99
Large Print:  $5.75
Harlequin Intrigue
Paperback

Copyright © 2010 by Kay Thomas

BULLETPROOF BODYGUARD

Prologue
Jackson, Mississippi
November, Six months ago

Sweat ran down Marcus’s back and sides. The heat was cranked up too high and the room was stifling. To top it off, the tape from his body mike was ripping out hairs every time he moved.
Asa had strapped the wire on too tight, but Marcus hadn’t complained. His partner had a lot on his mind. At the time Marcus didn’t think it would matter. He’d expected to be in and out in twenty minutes. He should’ve known better.
They were waiting on Donny Simmons to make the delivery, then Marcus could “say the magic words.” Of course, Donny was over an hour late, and Marcus was about to melt.
Half an hour ago he’d tried opening the window, but it was painted shut. He considered standing up and trying again, but couldn’t summon up the energy.
God, he wanted a drink.
He looked around the shabby little living room. The carpet was worn, stained and smelled awful. Marcus sat on it because the only available chair looked worse. There was an old console television at the far end of the room, but apparently it didn’t work.
He felt a prickling sensation along the back of his neck and couldn’t figure out if something was truly wrong, or if he was just paranoid. After all, he’d been hanging out with Donny and his friends for the past two months. Some of their paranoia was bound to have rubbed off. He tried to concentrate on something besides the greenhouse effect and chest-hair removal, but he wasn’t having much luck.
He knew his men outside weren’t in any better shape, except for the heat issue. It was thirty-two degrees and dropping. The weatherman had predicted an ice storm for tonight, but the front was moving in early. Sleet splattered on the window above his head.
Perfect. No wonder Donny was late.
Four patrol guys were in an unmarked car down the street, while a six-man SWAT team was crammed into a plumbers’ van parked next door. Marcus had been in that same van last week. The heater was broken, and he knew those men were freezing their butts off as the team listened in.
Up to this point there hadn’t been much to hear. Just some dopers sitting around smoking and waiting on a delivery. Three of them to be exact—Donny’s brother Charles, his girlfriend Janice and another small-time dealer named Billy.
Charles lay on a broken-down sofa, his back to the room. From his vantage point on the floor, Marcus had a clear view of his T-shirt. Underneath the winged motorcycle emblem, the shirt proclaimed, If you can read this, the bitch fell off.
Charming guy, that Charles.
Janice slumped in a broken-down recliner next to the sofa. Long greasy hair hid her face, and she held a cigarette in grimy hands. Billy fidgeted at the kitchen table, jumping up every five minutes or so to look out the window and pace around the sad-looking kitchen. Marcus wondered what he was on and how long he’d been up.
Mentally he reviewed the pre-raid briefing that had taken place earlier today. He had stood at the front of the conference room in the station house and pointed to himself, “I’ll be inside wearing these clothes. Please don’t shoot me.”
Everyone had laughed and then they’d gotten down to business. At noon the Honorable Judge Watson had signed a search warrant for the property and arrest warrants for Donny, Charles and Billy.
The plan was to wait for Donny to make the sale.
Marcus would say, “It’s all good.”
Things would roll from there.
The SWAT team would hit the front door, take down the suspects and Marcus would hit the floor. The patrol guys would stay on the perimeter. They should be able to do this with a minimum of fuss, without firing a shot and he hoped, without blowing his cover.
Key word being should.
Donny was normally quite punctual with his delivery schedules—very unusual for a doper. Likewise, every Tuesday at four o’clock in the afternoon, Billy was there for a pick-up. Naturally, this was the first time in two months the delivery had been late.
Marcus’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Donny’s Camaro pulling into the driveway. The muffler must be dragging the ground to make that kind of racket. He stood as the dealer hustled in the back door carrying a nylon duffel bag, but Marcus’s stomach clenched when he saw the woman with him.
Tessa. He’d been a fool to think he was protecting her by saying no. Instead, she was clinging to Donny like he was her ticket to the good life. And for the next few hours he would be, if he shared his product with her. She nodded coolly to Marcus, giving no indication she knew him beyond a casual bar-room acquaintance.
“It’s about time,” said Charles. “Where ya been?”
“Trying not to wrap my car around a tree.” Donny’s voice was high and screechy. “It’s slicker’n a greased pig out there.”
“Donny, you’re such a comedian,” sneered Janice.
“Bite me, darlin.”
“In your dreams,” she retorted.
“Cut the crap,” interrupted Marcus. “Let’s get on with this. I’ve got somebody waiting.”
“You and me both,” said Billy. He walked over to stand beside
Marcus. “Let’s see the st…”
Boom. Boom. Boom. The battering ram slammed through the front door.
Damn, somebody screwed up. Marcus hit the floor. The SWAT team burst through into the living room with 9mm MP5’s.
“What the f—” shouted Charles. His question was cut short as he fell off the couch.
Janice screamed. Donny hit the floor with Marcus. Billy pulled out a 9mm Glock.
“Police…Drop the weapon, you’re under arrest!” shouted Tanker, the SWAT team leader.
Billy didn’t hesitate; he just grabbed Tessa and put the Glock to her temple. “You drop it, or I do her right here.”
“You got no place to run, man. The house is surrounded. Let her go.” Tanker’s voice was calm. His entire team was now in the living room pointing their MP5’s at Billy.
Marcus was sprawled at Tessa’s feet, staring up at the Glock. She was scared, but looked at him with complete trust in her eyes. No way he was pulling out his own gun in this situation. That was a guaranteed way to get them both shot.
He’d suspected Billy was a speed freak, and right now he was pretty sure that the guy was “schitzing out”. Marcus figured they had about ten more seconds before Billy completely lost it and starting shooting. If he rolled hard, Marcus could knock Tessa out of the way long enough for Tanker to do his thing.
He glanced over at the SWAT leader, gave him an imperceptible nod and rolled—right into Tessa’s calves.
Tessa squealed and pitched backwards, away from the gun. Billy’s arm was shoved to the side when she fell. She was safe but Billy squeezed off several rounds as his hand came down. Tessa’s scream was cut short. Tanker ran forward and Billy was on the ground before the echo of the shots stopped reverberating around the room.
“Officer down!” shouted Tanker’s second in command. “Officer down!”
Marcus turned to check Tessa and see who they were talking about before he felt the pain sear along his shoulder. Fire raced up and down his arm, but his body felt as cold as the sleet coming down outside.
Well, hell. The crowded room darkened around the edges but the volume increased. Tessa lay still beside him, her eyes staring lifelessly at the yellowed ceiling.
NO! Something inside him died when he saw the gunshot wound between her eyes, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.
Asa shouted for an ambulance and leaned over Marcus, blocking his view of the men huddled around her.
“Tessa?”
Asa didn’t answer immediately. “They’re working on her. Hang on, partner. Help’s on the way.”
Marcus saw stark fear in his friend’s eyes and was lucid enough to realize Billy’s stray bullets might have nicked something major in him. He felt a growing puddle of warm blood beneath him.
Asa never stopped talking as he peeled off his own sweatshirt, wadded it up and pressed the material against Marcus’s chest. “You did good, man. You’re gonna make Hodges’s day. There’s a boatload of drugs here. Should be some cash, too. You just stay with me. Okay?”
“Sure,” mumbled Marcus.
Asa was lying. Hodges was gonna be pissed at the way this had gone down. Not that Marcus cared what Hodges thought, he’d just screwed up so badly, there wasn’t anything his boss could do to make him feel any worse. Tessa was dead and he couldn’t tell Asa what that really meant. Marcus had to pretend she was no different from any other addict caught in the crossfire. Even now.
“I’ll be all right,” he whispered. The room grew dimmer. “You know, I almost passed out from the heat waiting on you guys.
Better not tell Hodges, though, huh? I’d really like some fresh air.”
Marcus could tell his words were slurring and he wasn’t making much sense. “I had this feeling something would go wrong…You know that feeling?”
Then everything went black.

Chapter One

Murphy’s Point, South Mississippi
Memorial Day Weekend
Saturday, early evening

“Boat sink! Boat sink!” Harris splashed and water slipped over the side of the claw-footed tub into Cally’s lap.
“Of course it does when you have a tidal wave, sweetie.”
“Don’t want it to sink.”
“Then don’t splash so much, darlin’. It’s almost time to get out—two more minutes.”
Cally surveyed the flooded floor. She wasn’t sure but there was probably as much water on her as on the bath mat. Her son loved his baths. Of course, she’d need to mop up afterwards.
Still, this was her favorite part of the day. By now her inn-keeping duties were usually done until the following morning when breakfast was served, and she was free to focus on her son. But tonight her guests were running late, so she was getting a head start on the evening routine before they checked into River Trace.
She would be sold out with Gregor Williams’s group coming in for a gambling holiday, plus her new boarder, Mr. North. She’d never intended to take in a long-term resident, but McCay County was the only area of the country with a housing shortage in this depressed economy. Two hurricanes had recently swept the Mississippi coastline back to back, ravaging an area still struggling after Katrina.
Mr. North, one of the Paddlewheel Casino’s onsite bodyguards, was tired of making the hour-and-a-half commute to work from Jackson, and he was more than willing to live here until he could find a more permanent residence. She hadn’t met him yet. He’d done everything through e-mail, but she hoped he was pleasant. Even if he wasn’t, the money was too good to turn down.
She and Bay, the groundskeeper, had just finished his room today. They’d gradually been converting all the bedrooms in River Trace to guestrooms as the business increased. Moving that antique armoire up to the attic room had about killed them both. But they’d done it, all while Harris napped down here—compliments of her new high-tech baby monitor.
Cally still couldn’t believe she was living her dream of running a bed and breakfast in Murphy’s Point. Of course that dream had come at a crushing price. At twenty-eight years old, she was a widow with a three-year-old son.
Tears pricked the back of her eyes. Damn it. She hated to cry. It had been almost four years and the grief could still unexpectedly bring her to her knees. Sometimes the pain snuck up on her like this and grabbed her from behind. She didn’t have time for it.
“Boat sink! Boat sink!” More water hit the floor and splattered her shirt, shaking her from memories best left in the past.
“Okay, sailor. It’s time to abandon ship and get ready for bed.”
Harris giggled. “I bring boat?”
“Yes, darling. As soon as I dry it off.”
“Yay! Harris take boat to bed…to bed.”
Oh, the cry of my heart. “Now let’s get your pj’s on and brush those teeth.”
Bong. Bong.
“Doorbell, Momma.”
“Yes, honey. I hear it.” One of her guests no doubt. She scrambled up with a wiggling, wet toddler in her arms. Great.
“Let’s see how fast we can get those pj’s on.”
After a couple of tries Cally gave up on the pajamas. They were sticking to the damp places on Harris’s back, arms and bottom.
“Well, let’s just get underwear on so you aren’t completely naked.” She slipped in a puddle as she stepped out of the bathroom and went down on the one knee that, up to that point, had been dry.
Bong. Bong.
“Coming, coming,” she muttered under her breath. “Keep your shirt on.”
“Not wearing shirt, Momma.”
Cally grinned in spite of herself. She passed the gilded mirror in the hallway and her blue eyes widened. How much water had Harris splashed on her?
Her thick hair, wavy under the best of circumstances, was now falling out of the bun on top of her head and curling around her face in ringlets. Her makeup was completely gone, except for that smear of mascara under her left eye. Her clothes were…soaked. And there was a large wet spot across the front of her blouse that made it practically transparent. Lovely.
Bong.
No time to change into dry clothes. She shifted Harris from her hip to her chest and clasped both hands under his bottom.
She glanced in the mirror again. At least she couldn’t see her bra through the shirt anymore because Harris now covered her like a blanket. She took a swipe at the mascara and snorted a laugh at the effort.
So much for first impressions.

MARCUS WAS RINGING the bell for the fourth time as the heavy front door swung open. The woman behind the massive oak-and-glass panel held a wet-haired toddler and looked as if she had just stepped out of the bathtub in her clothes.
Marcus started to reach out to shake the lady’s hand and realized she couldn’t let go of the child.
“Hi, I’m Marcus North. I think you were expecting me earlier?” He smiled.
The kid was wriggling and getting the mother’s shirt even wetter and more transparent as he turned around in her arms trying to get a look at the stranger. The woman brushed curly red hair out of her eyes. She smiled tentatively but her cornflower-blue eyes looked panicked.
“Hello, Mr. North. I’m Cally Burnett. Welcome to River Trace Inn. I’m glad you’re here.” She talked fast. “Come on inside. We’ll get you all checked in. I…” She hesitated as she looked down at her clothes, clearly uncomfortable at being caught unprepared.
Marcus attempted to put her at ease. “Did you fall in?” he asked with a straight face.
“What…? No…I mean,” she stammered and looked down again at her water-stained clothes as a genuine smile tugged at the edge of her lips. She had a beautiful mouth with twin dimples accenting the corners. “I know it looks that way but, actually, I only went wading.”
“They say one can drown in two inches of water.” He grinned back at her.
Cally winced and seemed to recover her smile, but the dimples were gone. “That’s about how much water is on the bathroom floor.”
“Well, he looks as if he certainly enjoyed putting it there.” Marcus turned his attention to the little boy who was openly staring at him with a confused look.
“Momma didn’t fall. She giving me bathed.”
Her mouth dimpled faintly. “Of course not, darling. We were just joking. Mr. North, this is my son, Harris.”
“Hi, Mr. Nowth.”
Marcus reached out his hand to shake Harris’s damp one. “Hi, Harris, it’s nice to meet you.”
“Let’s get you all settled. You must be tired after your drive.” Cally began the innkeeper’s patter as she brought him into the high-ceilinged living room and over to an antique secretary to handle the paper work.
“No, not so much.” Marcus looked around the magnificent room, his undercover cop’s brain automatically taking note of and cataloguing details. From the front door he had stepped directly into a large living area with a baby grand piano at one end and a fireplace at the other. Soft moss-green walls made the grandeur much more comfortable than he would have thought possible.
Hardwood floors were covered with several different richly colored oriental rugs. Two loveseats from a bygone era nestled close to the fireplace. Beyond the sitting area on the right he glimpsed the dining room’s huge banquet table and antique sideboard. A large rose-crystal chandelier glowed dimly over the table that was already set for breakfast with heavy silver serving pieces and crystal goblets.
A grand staircase ran parallel to the room on the opposite end by the piano. A hallway lay straight ahead that seemed to go toward the back of the house, and rooms connected off each end of the living room.
“You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Burnett. How long have you lived here?”
“A little over eight years.” She looked up from the registration book. “This was my husband’s family home. His great-grandfather built it at the turn of the century.”
“Oh, so it doesn’t date back to the Civil War.”
“No,” she laughed softly. “Although I’m afraid the Chamber of Commerce wishes it did. They wanted to suggest that perhaps William Faulkner slept here. But the sad fact is nothing of historic significance has ever occurred at River Trace.”
“Except raising the Burnett family of course.”
Her dimples reappeared.
“So do you and your husband run the bed and breakfast?”
Again, her smile faltered. “No, my husband died almost four years ago. I run River Trace myself with the help of Bay and Luella Wiggins.”
Now it was Marcus’s turn to wince. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”
She shook her head and looked back down at the paperwork. “That’s all right. It…it happens all the time.” She stopped writing to look up at him directly. “I know you don’t know what to say.”
Marcus nodded gratefully, feeling that he was definitely losing his social skills. He wondered what had happened to the husband.
As if reading his thoughts, Harris piped up, “Daddy dwowned…but not in bathtub.”
Cally gaped at the child in shocked surprise. Marcus groaned. No wonder his earlier comment about drowning had caused such an unusual reaction.
“That’s right, honey.” She recovered herself and held him close as she patted his back and looked into his eyes.
“He lives in heaven with angels.”
“Um-hmm,” she murmured, still staring into the boy’s face.
“Lulu says so. Bay, too.”
“That’s right, baby. That’s right.” She gazed at Harris a moment longer continuing to cuddle him and a took a deep breath. He laid his head on her shoulder.
Marcus shifted on his feet, uncomfortable with his eavesdropping. It usually wouldn’t bother him, but in this case, it was extraordinarily awkward.
She seemed to sense his discomfort. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize he knew what that meant. I mean we’ve talked about it, but…” She stopped, blushed a deep pink, clearly at a loss for words.
“That’s all right. I’m sorry about what I said earlier.” Her forehead creased, “About?”
“About…the tub.”
“Oh,” she nodded. “You must be wondering after all this.”
Her hand fluttered about Harris’s back but her voice was cool and composed. “My husband was in a boating accident. He was duck-hunting and putting out decoys when the boat capsized. His waders filled with water and he drowned.” “I’m terribly sorry.”
“I am, too.” She sighed. “But life goes on.” She looked at the little boy in her arms and gave him a squeeze. “Here’s the proof.”
Harris giggled sleepily. “Let me show you to your room. It’s right up these steps.”
Marcus followed her to the grand staircase. Their feet were silent on the carpeted steps.
“Your room was originally an attic when the house was built. At one time it was a nursery. Now it’s definitely the most secluded spot at River Trace.”
At the top of the second flight, Cally turned left and led him past several rooms toward the back of the house. Her hair had come out of its pins and was trailing halfway down her back in ringlets. Marcus watched as Harris opened and closed his fists around one of the curls.
The outline of her bra strap was clearly visible through the wet shirt. It was lacey, pink and distracting the hell out of him. She turned right and paused at another landing.
“I thought since you were going to be here a while, this would give you more privacy. You have your own bath and there’s another stairway here if you prefer. It was originally a servants’ stairway. And if you’ve had a really long day…” She didn’t finish the sentence as she pointed toward the antique one-man elevator.
“It still works?” he asked.
Cally nodded, opened a door and led him up a narrow stairwell. He could see how the location would have been perfect for a child’s nursery.
“We just finished getting it all together today.”
Marcus stepped up into the room behind her. She crossed another oriental rug and sat Harris down on a wide window seat. As she leaned over to close the window, he got an unexpected but rather spectacular view of her butt in the water-soaked jeans. Her wet shirt had ridden up and he could see a line of milky-white skin along her back.
He caught himself staring, imagining the view under different circumstances. If she turned around without picking up the boy first, he’d get a peek at the latest Victoria’s Secret had to offer. With a jolt he realized he wasn’t paying attention to a word she was saying.
“…we painted earlier this week, but I wanted to make sure the smell was completely gone.”
Marcus took in a gulp of air, attempting to clear the erotic images forming in his head. “Hmm. All I smell is ah…flowers?”
“Yes.” Cally smiled, completely unaware of where his thoughts had been. “That would be the potpourri.” She nodded at a silver bowl on the captain’s desk to his right.
“The bathroom’s through here.” She pointed toward the small hallway to his left; straight ahead was a queen-sized bed flanked by small antique tables. “We just moved the armoire in today.”
He reassessed her as he took in the large cabinetry opposite the window. “You moved that yourself? Up those stairs?” He studied her slim build and tried to imagine her lifting the heavy antique. Even with a man helping her, it was a formidable job.
“Well, Bay and I did. I couldn’t have done it on my own. I can’t imagine doing any of this without the Wigginses. You’ll meet him and Luella tomorrow. River Trace simply couldn’t run without them. They’re amazing.”
“I’d say so.” He mentally struggled to get focused again.
“Let’s see. I need to get you more towels, and you need a brandy decanter.” She ticked the items off on her fingers.
“Excuse me?”
“It’s a gift when you check in. Our special label. Homemade peach brandy. Not to be missed.” She stared straight at him—open and friendly, but it wasn’t a come-on. He knew that.
Facing him, she wasn’t holding the kid. Marcus locked his eyes on hers and willed himself not to look below her neck at that transparent shirt.
“Now…what else. Oh, yes. Since you’re up three stories here, the fire marshal insists I tell you how to get out in case the stairway is blocked during a fire.” She headed for the window seat.
Marcus swallowed hard when she bent over to pick up Harris and lifted the lid on the built-in seat. Her shirt rode up again revealing more of that creamy skin that he was suddenly very curious to touch.
“There’s a ladder here,” she said over her shoulder.
She reached for the jumble of metal and rope, and he realized he was staring again. He was going to get busted if he didn’t stop. He reached around her, accidentally brushing against her shoulder.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
She startled. “Thank you,” she murmured, stepping aside. “You attach it by those handles to the window and then you can ease down to the roof.”
“Where do I go from there?” he asked, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. Touching her had been a bad idea, a really bad idea.
Cally turned to look at him with a sober face and sparkling eyes. “You jump.”
He barked a laugh.
“Actually, you shimmy down to that sunroof on the second floor, and you jump.”
“Does every room have one of these?”
“Oh, no. Yours is special. It’s the only one on the third floor. There are two staircases up to the second floor and a window in every bedroom. The fire marshal figures if worse comes to worst everyone else can get out.”
Obviously she was struggling to keep a straight face.
“I see.”
“River Trace is the only residence to be converted to an inn in the county. The fire marshal had never done this before. I’m afraid he went a bit overboard. We barely talked him out of a sprinkler system. But I feel confident you will be safe during your stay.” The dimples were back. “I think the worst thing that would happen if you had to jump is a broken leg.”
“Hmm. We’ll hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“Absolutely.” A man could get lost in a smile like hers. Harris yawned widely as Marcus shut the ladder back into the window seat. “Someone is getting sleepy.”
Harris was snuggling into her chest and clutching one of her ringlets. “Yes, I’d better put him to bed. I’ll be glad to get you something after I get him down.”
She was looking at Marcus again with those incredibly blue eyes, totally oblivious of the effect she was having.
“What would you like? A snack of some kind? Or I can fix you a sandwich? Whatever you want.”
She had no idea what she’d just said. Marcus swallowed. God, he didn’t usually get turned on by unintentional double entendres. “A sandwich would be great if it’s not too much trouble. But there’s no hurry. I realize you’ll have your hands full for the next few minutes.”
“It’s no problem at all. I’ll just put Harris to bed and bring up your sandwich. And those towels and that brandy.” She started toward the stairs before turning back. “How does roast beef on whole wheat sound?”
“Delicious.”
“It’ll be about fifteen minutes.”
Downstairs the deep gong of the doorbell echoed through the house.
“That’ll be my other guests. Let’s make that thirty minutes on the sandwich?”
“No problem.”
Cally nodded and headed down the steps. When the door closed, Marcus’s smile faded. He looked around the room, taking in the rich red walls and antique four-poster.
This was not the set-up he’d been expecting. Oh, it was quite a place all right. But it was not the proper way for this to go down. What in hell was he going to do about the widow and the kid?❖

Excerpt from: BULLETPROOF BODYGUARD by Kay Thomas
Copyright © 2010 by Kay Thomas
Permission granted by Harlequin Books S.A. and Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

________________________________

Buy Kay’s Bulletproof Bodyguard at:
Amazon

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Indiebound.org

eHarlequin

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Kay Thomas writes “bulletproof” romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. She grew up in the Mississippi Delta but today lives in Dallas with her husband, their two children and a shockingly-spoiled Boston terrier named Jack.

Website:  http://www.kaythomas.net

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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