A hot new contemporary romance standalone from the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author Nadia Lee!
Hot. Sexy. Desirable.
Three words Antoine swore he’d never associate with me. It isn’t easy falling for your older brother’s best friend, especially when he’s a sexy as hell, hard-headed, over-protective alpha male. Unfortunately, he still treats me like the little sister he never had.
When a topless picture of me hits the front page of a tabloid site, I get a whole crop of stalkers and weirdos. The only man I know who can keep me safe is Antoine Boucher. This time I won’t make it easy for him though.
Accidental power outage–check.
Robe that accidentally opens for a peep show…
Hot. Sexy. Desirable.
Three words I should never associate with Kristen…but I do. It’s wrong, of course. Not only is she my best friend’s baby sister, but I’m not exactly the kind of guy who takes girls home to meet my mother. Just ask my exes.
My mom, however, would be ecstatic if I brought home a girl. Especially since my eccentric grandfather came up with this crazy scheme to get me to marry and produce an heir in order to inherit his billion dollar fortune. Mom is nagging me to go for it, but no thanks. I don’t need Grandpa’s money. I have plenty of my own.
When a freak breaks into Kristen’s apartment–nude–I know what I have to do.
Watch over Kristen 24/7.
Keep my hands to myself.
Make sure my meddling mom never learns about the situation.
Piece of cake, right?
Pink roses are scattered on the floor. They’re from my brother’s wedding ceremony. Ming Ming told me I should take them because they’d be good for about a week and do wonders for my home. Well, they’re toast now. Somehow the vase survived the head smashing. Guess the human head isn’t as hard as I thought. I dropped the vase as soon as it hit him, ready to kick the guy the way—and in the place—he deserved. I’ve been taking self-defense courses since my kidnapping scare, and I wasn’t going to be a victim.
Except Antoine, appearing out of nowhere, pushed me behind him and took care of the beating up himself.
The cop who looks the nicest and most understanding out of the bunch took my statement already, and now I’m waiting for them to be done with Antoine. From time to time, they steal a glance in my direction. I feel my shoulders rising. They’re probably judging me. A topless girl flashing an underage boy. She probably asked for this…
After what feels like an eternity, I’m allowed to leave, along with my purse, laptop bag and a carry-on case with toiletries and a change of clothes and shoes. Antoine and a couple of officers escort me out.
There’s a swarm of paparazzi outside. “Fucking vultures,” Antoine says.
“Don’t worry. We’ve got guys to run interference for you,” the nice cop says from behind us. Officer Brady, I remember now. Mr. Understanding. He looks all-American wholesome, with golden hair and sky-blue eyes, smile lines fanning from the corners.
Sure enough, there are officers pushing a sizable crowd of paparazzi away from me and Antoine as we make our way to the SUV. Antoine shields me as he helps me inside the car, and he moves quickly getting in. Then he honks once and starts moving the vehicle with more speed and menace than I expected.
The paparazzi part. They can probably sense Antoine is very willing to mow them all down if they don’t get out of the way.
I glance in Antoine’s direction. His jaw’s tight, muscles bunching and un-bunching. Crap. He’s mad.
Then I notice the blood on his knuckles. “Are you all right?”
He looks at me like I’m crazy. “Of course.”
“There’s blood on your hand.”
He flexes it around the steering wheel. “I didn’t feel anything when I punched him, and I don’t feel it now either. Not my blood, anyway.” He adds under his breath, “Fucking papholes.”
This is a serious situation. A pervert violated my home and sense of safety. The stains I later noticed on my sheets made it obvious what nauseating things the creep was doing while waiting for me to come home. I’m going to have to get rid of the bed now. That sleazy site is trying to paint me as some kind of whore who doesn’t deserve any consideration or decency, and many, many people are piling on.
But I can’t help it. I snort, then giggle uncontrollably even as my eyes prickle with tears. I place a hand over my belly as the muscles there clench hard.
“Uh…” Antoine gives me the look normally reserved for a ticking time bomb. “Are you all right?”
“Well…it could’ve been worse. What can I do except laugh?” I wipe the tears from my eyes. “I’m not going to cry, Antoine. I’m not giving them that much power.”
His shoulders relax a fraction. “Good.”
I sit for a bit, then say, “I’m sorry you missed the look on his face when I picked up the vase and started screaming.”
“Did he look terrified?”
“Ready to piss himself.”
A corner of his lips quirks up. “You need to work on your scary face. I didn’t see any puddle of piss when I busted in there.”
“Ew, gross.” I giggle again. “It’s bad enough that he bled all over the living room carpet.”
“That’s what incinerators are for. Afterward, you can redecorate your place the way you see fit.” Antoine says with mock seriousness, “With pink carpet.”
“Your favorite color.” He shoots me a teasing grin. “Isn’t it?”
It is. And suddenly I’m feeling all giddy he noticed.
My phone rings. The screen says Dominic. I inhale, then add an extra bit of perkiness to my voice and hit the green button. “Hey, brother! How’s Bora Bora? Getting bored with paradise yet?”
Antoine makes a face and shakes his head almost imperceptibly. Guess I overdid it.
“What the hell is going on?” Dominic demands.
“What he means is, ‘Are you all right, Kristen?’” Liza says, her voice laced with concern.
“Yeah, fine,” I say. “I’m okay.”
“Are you alone?” she asks, then makes a soothing noise, probably for my brother. I can picture her running a hand down his shoulder and arm.
“No. I’m in a car with Antoine.”
“It’d probably be easier and faster with all of us on speaker,” she says.
“Okay.” I hit a few buttons on the console, and my phone’s connected to the Bluetooth speakers in the car.
“I got a call from the police,” Liza explains.
I almost forgot. LAPD and the sheriff’s department all think she walks on water. She’s raised so much money for both over the years.
“A naked rapist in your room, Kristen! This… Argh!” Dominic can’t even continue. I’ve never heard my older brother at a loss for words.
“Nothing happened,” I say. “The only thing that’s hurt is his head…which I bashed with a vase. Also, Antoine hit him. Like, really hard.” The memory of his fist connecting with the creep’s face is still satisfying.
“Thanks, man,” Dominic says. “I owe you one.”
“Hey,” Antoine says. “What are friends for?”
“We had no idea,” Liza says. “We’re both off the Internet. If I’d known what the Blaze did, I would’ve had Tolyan deal with them.”
No! Not Tolyan! Not that I don’t like him, but getting Tolyan involved would mean no Antoine.
“He called me,” Antoine says. “I told him I’d handle it.”
Oooooohhhhh, you did…? Suddenly, I feel a little bit more optimistic.
“She obviously can’t stay at her place now,” Dominic says.
“No,” Antoine agrees.
“I’m not doing hotels forever,” I say, doing my best not to bounce around. But Antoine can stay with me to keep me safe! What a brilliant idea. Not that I’m going to say that out loud because if I do, Antoine will do the exact opposite. The man can be positively perverse.
“I wasn’t going to suggest that,” Dominic says. “You should stay at my place until this dies down.”
I make a face. Dominic’s penthouse has excellent security. But at the same time, I’ve worked very hard to establish my independence and make my own way in the world. That’s why I live in a small apartment that I can afford, rather than the big, swanky place he wanted to rent for me. I never want to be known as “that girl who mooches off her rich brother.”
What Dominic should’ve done is suggest I stay at Antoine’s place…
“Dominic’s right,” Liza says. “You have to be careful.”
“But I’m nobody!” I protest.
“What you are is a fresh, juicy target,” Liza says. “Famous without any scandal attached to her name yet.”
Antoine’s expression turns stormy.
She continues, “I called Ryder, and he’s going to have his people handle things for you. You don’t have to do anything except sit tight and let them work their magic.”
Oh my. Normally I would be squealing at the mention of her brother Ryder Reed. He’s one of the hottest leading men in Hollywood. Voted the Sexiest Man Alive four times, he has the face and body to match the title, with the kind of blue eyes that can make a woman’s heart stop. Unlike some stars who are only pretty in pictures, he’s fabulous looking in real life too, almost unnaturally so. He struck me dumb when Liza introduced us.
But despite all that, he isn’t my type…because my kind of guy is Antoine. I glance at my perfect man and give him a small smile.
Antoine grows more serious. “She didn’t ask for the publicity,” he points out, his voice flatter than a squished pancake.
“That’s precisely why Ryder’s team is going to handle it,” Liza says. “They can do whatever necessary to minimize the damage, and restore normalcy to her life as quickly as possible. They’re experts at this.”
“She still needs a bodyguard,” Dominic says, talking like I’m not present for the conversation. “I’m not having her run around free for some pervert to grab or flash or whatever.”
“I agree. Someone professional, un-bribable and loyal,” Liza adds.
Someone like Antoine!
“Antoine?” Dominic says.
Yay! Great minds think alike!
“There’s no one else I trust more,” my brother adds.
“Perfect.” Liza’s voice is lighter.
Antoine’s brow furrows as my brother and his wife go on and on about how perfect Antoine is. Oh no. He’s going to find a way to excuse himself.
No, no, nonononononononono! “I think—”
“Fine, I’ll handle it personally,” Antoine says.
Oh my God, did he just say fine? I pump my fist. “Yes!”
“What?” Dominic and Liza say at the same time, while Antoine glances over.
My cheeks heat, and I cover them with my palms, doing my best not to grin like an idiot. I should be ridiculously embarrassed, but I’m too happy to care. Finally, something has gone right on this disastrous day. And the pleasure’s going to be all mine.
Currently, she shares a condo overlooking a small river and sakura trees in Japan with her husband and son. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading books by her favorite authors or planning another trip.
Stay in touch with her via her website, http://www.nadialee.net, or her blog http://www.nadialee.net/blog