The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Spencer strode out into the hall and took a left at the corner. Near the end of the corridor, he stopped and glanced at a plaque on the wall proclaiming Williams Wishes in bold black letters. Time to get this party started. Inside the offices, sunshine filtered in through the blind-covered windows against the far wall, and the sharp scents of fresh paint and drywall filtered through the air. His preliminary reports on the foundation indicated the charity had moved into this new location just a few months prior. The receptionist behind the plain oak desk gave him an appreciative once-over and a smile.
“May I help you?” the sleek blond said.
“I’m here for an interview with Ms. Williams for the bodyguard position.”
“One moment, please.” The woman said. “You’re a bit early.”
Spencer didn’t respond, just raised a brow and waited while she picked up her phone and dialed in a number, speaking in hushed tones. Of course he was early. Lateness was akin to sloppiness in his book. Plus, he didn’t plan to do anything that might jeopardize getting this job.
The receptionist was pretty enough, he supposed, with her designer clothes and perfect makeup, but he was still taking a break. Though maybe six months was long enough since his last break up. The rest of his team thought he was too picky and traditional, ending perfectly good fuck-buddy situations over what they considered petty things—like too much partying or gossiping or public twerking. But deep down, he wanted what his grandparents had had—a genuine, enduring, old-fashioned love to weather any storm.
And sure, the receptionist looked good under the current calm conditions, but he’d bet she’d bail at the first sign of turbulence. And considering he was a SEAL, trouble was his middle name.
“Please, have a seat Mr. Nixon. Ms. Williams will be right with you.” The blond gave Spencer a come-hither smile, which he ignored, as he took a seat in the deserted waiting area.
The place was fixed up nice, if a little bland for his taste. Beige walls, beige carpet, a fish tank bubbling in the wall nearby. He grabbed a dog-eared copy of People from an end table beside him and thumbed through it, nose scrunched. Nothing but socialites acting badly and celebrities compromising themselves in the pursuit of fame and fortune.
Definitely not his thing.
Spencer tossed it aside and sighed, checked his watch then stared out the window.
If things went as planned, he’d be on a plane to the Middle East by the end of the week. Per the pre-investigation Kyle had done—with Hayley’s help—Toni Williams was about to embark on a new PR campaign for her foundation, this time to the tiny, affluent country of Jubail. Now, if he could just tag along and get the intel he needed on Coran Williams’ location then report that back to his team, he’d be all set. He and the team had spent plenty of time in the small country during their wartime missions, so the terrain and the language wouldn’t be a problem. Hell, he spoke four other languages fluently besides Arabic. A handy tool to have in his arsenal, given he never knew where he’d be stationed next.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.” A woman approached, hand extended, the exact opposite of the cool blond at the reception desk, with her long dark brown hair and dark doe eyes. For a moment, all Spencer could do was stare. Her features were too stark to be called classically beautiful, her nose a bit too long, her lips a bit too full, but there was something about her, something he found thoroughly intriguing and… intoxicating.
Tamping down his strange reactions, Spencer cleared his throat and pushed to his feet, towering over her by a good six inches. He shook her hand, surprised by the electricity that zinged up his arm from their point of contact.
Her eyes widened slightly as if she’d felt it too, and her words emerged a bit huskier than before. “Toni Williams. So nice to meet you, Mr. Nixon.”
“Thank you.” Spencer released her hand reluctantly and followed her down a short hall toward her office. She had nice curves, unlike the stick figure models who seemed to be all the rage these days, and he couldn’t help admiring the sway of her hips as she walked.
As if sensing his stare, Toni stopped at her office door and gave him a wary look. “I was expecting a bigger pool to choose from for this position, but so far, you’re the only one who’s arrived for the interview.”
Spencer bit back a smile and took the seat she offered, settling in as she closed the door behind them. Score one for his on-the-fly ingenuity. She walked past him on her way to her desk and he caught a whiff of her perfume—light, floral, with a hint of cinnamon spice.
Nice. Very nice.
Alarmed, he shook his head and frowned. He was here on a mission, not to score a date.
“So, Mr. Nixon.” She picked up a copy of the bogus resume Kyle had faxed over on his behalf. “Tell me why you think you’d be the ideal candidate for this job.”
“Besides the fact I’m the best in the business?”
“Your lack of confidence is a shame.” She gave him a small smile then traced her finger down his resume, one brow raised. “Your credentials look impeccable. Four tours of duty in the Middle East? Really?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded, his tone even and flat. With his line of work, he was used to keeping his emotions hidden under a thick layer of stoicism. He focused on the wall behind her instead, noticing the neatly framed diploma and certificate from one of the most prestigious schools in the country. Huh. That wasn’t what he’d expected either.
“And it says here you’ve won awards for marksmanship.”
“What about hand-to-hand combat training?”
“I hold black belts in Jujitsu and Krav Maga.”
“Very good.” Her smile grew a tad warmer and…shit. Now he couldn’t stop staring at her soft-looking, pink lips. “I know some martial arts myself.”
“Great. That’s great. I think all women should be able to take care of themselves.” He shifted his position slightly as his traitorous body responded to his thoughts about exactly how and where he’d like her to use those lips. So what if he hadn’t gotten laid in weeks? That didn’t mean he needed to go sniffing after the first gal he found attractive. Especially when said gal was his target.
“Me too. Unfortunately, I find myself in a situation where I need help this time.” She stared at him a long moment then set his resume aside and folded her hands atop the desk. Nice hands, he noted. Long fingers, neat French manicure. He imagined all the ways she might use those fingers on his body and his damned cock twitched again. Spencer stared at the toes of his polished work shoes, determined to stay on track. “I’ve had several threats made against me already,” she said.
Her mention of danger effectively doused the heat in his blood. He frowned, his gaze flicking back to her. “What kind of threats?”
“Abductions, beheadings, other bodily harm. The usual.” She shrugged, looking totally unaffected, like she’d just read him her grocery list for the week. She was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.
He narrowed his eyes. “And these don’t bother you?”
“I’m not an idiot, Mr. Nixon.”
“Please call me Spencer.”
“All right.” She tucked a lock of her chocolate brown hair behind her ear and her voice quivered slightly as her confident outer shell fractured a tad. “My upcoming trip to Jubail is extremely important to my foundation. I need to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
“You didn’t answer my question.” He sat forward slightly.
“I’ve lived in the shadow of my father my entire life, Mr. Nixon.” He raised a brow and she frowned. “There have always been threats. I’m used to dealing with them by now, and I refuse to live my life in fear.”
His admiration for her rose along with his interest at her mention of her father. “Will your dad be going with you on this trip?”
“No.” Toni snorted. “He’s too busy to talk to me most of the time, let alone fly halfway around the world.”
“So you don’t have regular contact with Coran Williams then?”
“Why is that any of your business?” She gave him a pointed stare and he sat back in his chair again.
“I’m just wondering about the scope of my duties,” he said. Seemed the young Ms. Williams was sharper than the tabloids and her own father’s media outlets gave her credit for, meaning he’d have to tread more lightly when fishing for information next time.
“Listen, Mr. Nixon. This job is as my personal bodyguard, not a busybody.” Her reversion to his full name wasn’t lost on him. “If you have…interests…outside of that, then this position isn’t for you.”
Spencer gave her a polite smile. “No outside interests here.” Not completely a lie. Everything that interested him was right here in this room. “When do I start?”
“After you decipher this note.”
Frowning, he took the paper she handed him. “Is this a test?”
“Consider it part of the application process.” Toni sat back and crossed her arms, the movement only serving to accentuate her full breasts beneath the lavender sleeveless dress she wore.
“Right.” Spencer squinted at the handwritten Arabic scrawl. “Uh, I don’t think you’re going to like what this says.”
“Because it basically states if you continue with this charity trip, they’ll kill you.”
“Really?” She snorted and shook her head. “You’d think they’d be more original after all this time. Any specific group named?”
“No.” He scowled. He was about to tell her the part about the e-readers her father had donated and how if she delivered them, there’d be all out jihad, when something else caught his eye. “There’s a little doodle drawn near the bottom.”
Spencer held the paper closer to try and decipher what the design was—it looked familiar. One small circle with an A in the middle. Wait, no. Not an A. A rifle and a machete and a crossbow. The insignia of Miles Arrieta, one of the most notorious gangsters on the planet, and—
Glass shattered—the window—and then the vase of gardenias on the window ledge exploded immediately afterward. Shards and water flew everywhere. He acted on pure impulse, diving across the desk and tackling Toni to the ground, shielding her with his body and doing his level best not to notice how wonderful her curves felt pressed against his hard muscles. The cloying sweet smell of the gardenias tickled his nose. If he moved just a few inches, he could kiss those pink lips and discover for himself just how soft and luscious they were.
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