Or that time when opposites really, really attracted…
“You have bruises on your wrists.” His voice was rough and deep, and it slid over her skin like the most sensual caress in the world. “I’m so fucking sorry. I wish that I’d gotten to you sooner.” Cole’s fingers slid along her inner wrist, carefully skimming over the faint marks that had been left by the ropes that her captors had used to bind her.
“You got to me, that’s what matters.” Her own voice was way huskier than normal, but Evangeline Lake—Evie to her friends and family—couldn’t exactly do anything about the huskiness. Mostly because Cole was standing right in front of her. Cole was touching her. He was using his sexy rumble of a voice on her…
And her knees were getting all weak. A side effect of being so close to Cole.
Her gaze was locked on him, and she could not look away.
Cole was like a real-life action hero. She couldn’t think of him any other way. Her hero. When she’d been kidnapped while on a trip to LA, she’d been utterly terrified. Bound and gagged and thrown in a dark closet, she’d been so afraid that she would die.
Then Cole had come to the rescue. Literally breaking down the door. He’d carried her out of there. Rushed her to safety. And he’d been her bodyguard for the last week. Wherever she’d gone, he’d been there. He made her feel safe. He made her feel protected. He made her feel…
Super, super turned on.
Because Cole was the sexiest man she’d ever seen. Tall, with broad shoulders and muscles that wouldn’t quit—like, ever—he had slipped his way into her dreams. His hair was thick and dark, his hard jaw always clean-shaven, and his eyes…God, his eyes…
Electric blue. Brilliant blue. Burn into your soul blue.
He’d been the perfect gentleman with her. So careful and courteous. He’d slept on the floor in their suite. He’d treated her with kid gloves, and he—
He let go of her wrist. Yet she could still feel the warmth of his touch.
“You should get some sleep,” he told her, voice all gruff and rasping. “The plane leaves early tomorrow, and once you get back home, all of this…” He motioned vaguely with one hand. “It will be nothing more than a bad dream.” He stepped away from her. Turned his back. Walked—
“It hasn’t all been bad.”
He looked over his shoulder at her. For a moment, she just had to admire him. The man’s jaw—seriously, it was the most cut jaw ever. And his lips—sensual didn’t even begin to describe them.
His dark eyebrows lifted. “You were drugged. Kidnapped. And trapped in a three by—”
“I didn’t die. You and your team got me out. I met you.” She licked her lips. She was so freaking nervous. When she was near him, yes, she felt safe, but her stomach also tended to feel as if a dozen butterflies were flying around inside. Giddy, nervous. “You weren’t bad at all. I’m very glad that I got to meet you, Cole.”
He gave her a slow smile. “Happy to be of service, Ms. Lake.”
“Evie,” she blurted. “You know that you’re supposed to call me Evie.”
His smile slipped. “You should get some sleep. It’s almost time for you to go home. Your kidnappers haven’t surfaced in the last week. If they’re smart, they ran as fucking far as they could get.”
But what if they come after me again?
No, no, she wasn’t going to say those words—
“When you get back to New York, your step-brother will make sure you have the best security in place. You won’t have to worry about anything.”
“Too bad that security won’t be you.” She took a slow glide toward him. She hoped it looked all sexy and seductive, but it felt more like it was lurching and awkward. “Because I really like being with you, Cole.” A pause. Say it. Evie gathered her courage and confessed, “I like you.”
She was close enough that she saw his pupils widen. A very telling movement. Cole could control his expression perfectly—almost robotic control—but his pupils had just told her that her instincts weren’t wrong.
Cole felt something for her, too.
Maybe…maybe he wanted her just as much as she wanted him.
There was only one way to find out.
Cole turned to fully face her. “Evie—”
Yes! He’d said her name, and it sounded like the sexiest thing ever coming out of his mouth. She rushed to him and locked her arms around him. “Will you kiss me?”
He sucked in a quick breath. “You don’t want—”
“I want you to kiss me.”
His gaze dropped to her mouth. That electric blue stare heated as he focused on her lips. His head began to lower.
She rose onto her toes. So very eager for him to—
“No.” He shook his head, but his gaze didn’t move from her lips. “You’re confused.”
Nope. “I feel crystal clear.”
“It’s adrenaline. It’s mixed up emotions. You think you want me, but you’re just riding the emotional roller coaster from everything that’s happening.”
“I hate roller coasters.” Her gaze was on his mouth. “But I really want to know what you taste like.”
A growl tore from him. “I have been keeping my control, every moment…”
“I know, and it’s been awesome to watch.” Very impressive.
Now his stare—slightly shocked—flew to hers.
“But I don’t want control from you, Cole. I just want you.”
“You don’t know me.”
Okay, good point. But… “For the last seven days, I’ve spent almost every moment with you. I know you’re a protector. I know you’re fierce. I know you’re determined. And I know that you can’t stand putting syrup on your pancakes.”
His brows shot up. “What?”
She shrugged. “Random fact. Just threw it out to prove that I do know you, or at least a few things about you. And I’d like to know more.” Evie would like to know everything. But she’d start with knowing how he tasted. “Do you feel it?” Yes, she’d been bold enough to ask.
She wasn’t normally the bold and brave type. She was the watcher. The woman in the background. She didn’t take big risks or put herself out there much. But…
Things had changed.
When she’d been abducted outside of her hotel, everything had changed. Life couldn’t be taken for granted any longer. She couldn’t hold back, thinking there was nothing but time waiting for her. No, if she wanted something, she had to act. No more hiding in the shadows.
“Feel what?” Cole rumbled.
“The attraction. The need. You see, when you touch me…” She reached for his hand. Her index finger slid along his palm. “I feel a spark that dances through my whole body.” She moved her finger slowly in a little circle, right in the middle of his palm. “You touch me, and I need.”
Cole swallowed. “This isn’t a good idea.”
Her head cocked. “Why not?” She rather thought it was a stellar idea.
“Because I’m not the kind of lover that you’re used to, Evie.”
There it was again. Her name. From his lips. She swallowed. “How do you know what I’m used to?”
“Because when I took this job, I was given a file on you. It had background info. Had a breakdown of your friends. Your past lovers.”
Okay, that was unsettling. “My whole life, typed up in some neat pages for you?”
A curt nod. “You like safe men. You like gentlemen. The rich guys with the fancy houses who use all of the different forks.”
Her eyebrows shot down. “Why are you talking to me about forks right now?”
Cole blinked and a startled laugh escaped him. He smothered it too quickly. “And why do you keep surprising me? I can’t quite figure you out.”
“You can’t figure me out because there is more to me than whatever was in your neat file. Just so you know, I don’t want to talk to you about my past lovers at this exact moment. Bad timing, you know?”
“Yeah,” an edge had entered his voice, “let’s not talk about them.”
“I want you to kiss me. I want to see if your kiss will be as good as I imagine or…” She shrugged. Stepped back. “If it will only be average.”
His wide smile flashed once more. “Average?”
She had no doubt his kiss would never, ever be average. She also had no doubt that she knew how to push his buttons. When you lived with a guy in close quarters, you picked up on a few things.
She’d picked up on the fact that Cole could not resist a challenge.
“It won’t be average,” he promised her.
Her breath caught. “So we’re going to kiss?”
“That all we’re doing? Kissing?”
Her heart thumped hard in her chest. “Why, Cole, do you want to do more?”
The blaze in his eyes told her that, hells-to-the-yes, he did. “You said you wanted only a kiss.”
She’d actually thought the kiss would be a great place to start. And he still didn’t have his mouth on hers.
His hand rose and curled under her chin. His fingertips were slightly callused, but she liked the roughness of his touch. Truth be told, she pretty much liked everything about him. Her head tipped back. “Don’t be average,” Evie whispered, deliberately pushing him a bit more.
“With you? Never.”
Oh, that was nice. Warmth spread inside of her and—
His lips pressed to hers. A soft, tentative touch. The getting-to-know-you touch of a first-time kiss. Slow and careful, and Evie found herself leaning into him. Her lips parted a little more. His mouth moved so carefully on hers. He wasn’t using his tongue, not yet. Just pressing those sensual lips of his to hers. Making her body hum with awareness and eagerness and heightening the desire she felt for him even more.
Then his tongue dipped past her lips. Slipped into her mouth. Tasted her. Her knees did a jiggle as her hands locked tightly around his arms. He took his time with the kiss, as if he were savoring her. In turn, Evie absolutely savored him. She stroked his tongue with her own. She teased. She caressed. She felt her bare toes curling into the lush carpeting.
Her breasts ached and her tight nipples pressed to the front of the T-shirt she wore. Her whole body seemed to warm, and she kissed him a little harder. With more need. With more desire.
Because, no, she didn’t only want a kiss. From Cole, she would like everything, thank you very much.
If she didn’t seize what she wanted, right now, she’d just be left with regret.
It wasn’t adrenaline. It wasn’t some emotional roller coaster ride. It was need. Lust. A desire unlike anything she’d ever felt before. When his mouth left hers and his head rose, she had to bite back her instinctive denial. Don’t stop.
Her lashes lifted. She stared into his eyes. Saw the same white-hot need that she felt reflected in his stare.
“Anything else you want?” His voice had gone deeper. Even sexier than normal.
Sweet mother of— “Yes.” Her voice had grown even huskier.
Oh, right. He’d asked the question. She should answer fully. “I want you.”
His face hardened.
Be more specific. “I want to make love to you. I want to go back to that big bed, and I don’t want to be alone in it. I want to be with you, and I want—Cole!” Her words ended in the wild cry of his name because he’d scooped her into his arms. Her eyes widened as she stared at him.
“No regrets? No going back?”
She shook her head. “I’d only regret not being with you.”
A muscle jerked in his jaw. “Remember you said that.”
She was going to remember every single thing that happened between them. It would be burned into her memory.
He carried her to the bed. They were in a high-priced hotel, in a presidential suite that had the best security in LA. The place also had the best view. Below them, the city was a shimmering mass of a million lights. She wasn’t looking at the lights. Didn’t care about the view. Her stare was focused entirely on him.
He lowered her onto the bed. She licked her lips, swore she still tasted him, and kept her eyes locked on Cole so that she could enjoy the killer view. Never looking away from her, he reached down to grab the hem of his shirt. He yanked it over his head. Dropped the white T-shirt to the floor.
Abs. Abs for days. Weeks.
He kicked away his shoes. Ditched his socks. His hands went to the waistband of his jeans. He unsnapped them and quirked a brow at her. “You planning to stay in your clothes? Because they might get in the way.”
They would absolutely get in the way. “I was enjoying the view.”
His smile came again.
The jeans came down. He wasn’t wearing any underwear, and his cock—heavy, thick, and fully erect—sprang toward her.
“Still like the view?” he growled.
You have no idea. She threw her own shirt away. She was already barefoot, so Evie didn’t have to worry about her shoes and socks. She did a little shimmy, and her jeans were gone. Okay, a lot of shimmying, and they were gone. She kept on her pink bra and matching panties, and when she looked back at Cole—
Hungry. Hot. His stare scorched her.
“Enjoying the view?” Evie dared to ask.
He pounced. No other word for it. Cole pounced on the bed, on her. He caught her wrists and pinned them on either side of her head even as his mouth took hers. The kiss was wild and frantic, and it was exactly what she needed. Her legs locked around him, and her hips surged up against his as—
He tore his mouth from hers. “I don’t want to scare you.”
Her breath heaved in and out. Did she look scared? That wasn’t the look she was going for. Super turned on, yes. Not scared.
“After what happened to you,” he continued gruffly, “I just don’t—”
“They didn’t touch me, not that way.” He’d asked her before if she’d been assaulted. He’d wanted to make sure he got her help. That he took care of her. “I’m not afraid of you. I want you. I want every single thing that will happen between us tonight.”
His cock pushed against the crotch of her panties. She lifted her hips up again, then angled them down, sliding the silk of her panties—and her sex—over him. A moan pulled from her because it felt good.
So she did it again.
Then once more.
His mouth moved to her neck. He licked her skin. Sucked over her pulse point. Sent shivers of desire skirting over her skin.
“Let me go,” she whispered. “I want to touch you.”
“Baby, you touch me too much, and I’ll lose control.”
“Maybe that’s exactly what I want.”
His head lifted. “Be careful what you wish for.”
“I wish for you.”
He let her hands go even as she saw the fire leap even higher, even hotter, in his gaze. Her fingers went to his shoulders. She trailed her hands over his arms and on down, moving between their bodies as he angled up a bit, and then she was touching his cock. Feeling that powerful heat in her hands as she gripped him and stroked him from base to tip, over and over. He got even bigger. Oh, damn. She felt the bead of moisture on the head of his cock, and she wanted to—
He pulled away.
“Cole!” A frustrated cry tore from her.
His hands went between her legs. Her legs weren’t around his hips any longer. When he’d pulled back, her legs had fallen onto the mattress. He pushed her thighs farther apart. Traced soft lines over the silk of her panties. Right over her eager sex.
Her breath hissed out.
His fingers slid under her panties.
He yanked off her panties. Tore them? Whatever. She was so turned on that Evie thought she might come, and she never came this quickly. Truth be told, sex could be a wee bit awkward for her. Usually she was all focused on the guy and trying to make sure she was doing everything right, but with Cole—
His fingers slid into her. Two long fingers in her, and his thumb pressed to her clit, moving in a quick, teasing circle.
“Cole!” Her whole body tightened.
“I want to see what you look like when you come. You’re fucking gorgeous, but I bet when you come, you get even—”
His fingers were pushing in and out of her, his thumb was making her crazy, and, yes, already, so fast, faster than ever before, she was—
“Cole!” Evie cried out his name a second time as she came. A fast, hard explosion. Boom. Fireworks. Pleasure tore through her and left her heaving out desperate breaths.
He kept stroking her through the orgasm. Watching her. Staring at her with savage hunger stamped on his features.
She couldn’t look away from him.
But she wanted more. “You…” Evie managed. “In…me.”
He slid from the bed. Alarm feathered through her. But he just grabbed his wallet from the pocket of his jeans. He pulled out a small foil packet. Of course, he was prepared. The guy was a super soldier, a black ops hero. He probably spent every moment of his life being prepared.
He pulled the condom on and came back to her. She reached for him with eager—no, greedy—hands. His cock lodged at the entrance to her body. She was so sensitive and aftershocks of pleasure still hummed through her body.
Once more, his hands reached for hers. But this time, he didn’t lock his fingers around her wrists and push them back against the pillow. Instead, his fingers threaded with hers.
“Don’t forget me.” Cole’s words were such a low growl.
A weak laugh broke from her. “You’re not a man anyone can forget.”
He drove into her. Stole her breath. Stole everything. Because suddenly, he was all she knew. Their bodies moved in a frantic, crazy rhythm—a perfect sync in madness. He kissed her, and she kissed him, and they drove together over and over again. A second climax built up for her. Her body tightened, and her heart raced. She was desperate as they hurtled toward release—
The second orgasm was even better than the first. Long and body-shaking, it rocked through her and she could only close her eyes and shudder as the pleasure took her. Cole was with her, every second, as he thrust hard into her once more, then roared her name.
The mad drumming of her heartbeat slowly faded. Her eyes opened, and she blinked. He was above her, staring at her with his amazing eyes.
She should smile for him.
And she would, right after she recovered a bit more. Yes, after that recovery, she’d smile. For the moment, though, she was going to focus on breathing. In and out. Trying to get a nice and easy flow of air. Not so desperate and heaving.
But as he gazed down at her, Evie realized that she couldn’t read his expression. He did that, too often. Slipped behind his mask. She just hadn’t expected to see his mask, not while they were in bed together.
He withdrew from her. She resisted the urge to hold him tight.
“I’ll be right back.” His voice was different. Stilted.
A shiver slid over her. She sat up, grabbed for the covers that they’d pushed to the edge of the bed, and pulled them over her body. She still wore her bra. They hadn’t gotten around to taking it off, and she had no idea where her panties were. Maybe across the room?
He was in the bathroom. She could hear water running. A moment later, the door opened. He stood there, those broad shoulders of his filling the doorway. He stared at her.
She shivered again.
Was the temperature dropping or something?
He didn’t move. Just stood there. Kept staring at her. He also kept wearing his mask, so she could not figure out what he was thinking.
The silence stretched. Her fingers knotted around the covers. She was—
“Do you want me to sleep on the floor?”
Evie blinked. The floor? When they’d first moved into the suite, he’d tried sleeping on the couch in the outer room, but she’d screamed in the middle of the night. A nightmare where she’d been trapped in the closet again. He’d run into the bedroom to make sure she was all right. Then he’d hunkered down on the floor beside the bed, telling her that he’d stay close in case she needed him.
Every night since then, he’d slept on the floor near her bed.
Did she want him on the floor again? “No.” Evie knew exactly where she wanted Cole to be. With me.
He gave a crisp, hard nod. Cole stalked toward the bed. Stopped near the mattress. “I…” He stopped. Sucked in a breath. “I’d like to hold you tonight.”
And the heart that had been racing so hard in her chest—it warmed. “I’d like that very much.” She lifted the covers. Slid a bit to the side. Made room for him.
He eased in beside her. His body was all stiff and tense.
She snuggled up against him anyway. She put her head on his chest, right over his heart. It was racing fast. Faster than she’d expected. She closed her eyes as she felt him adjust the cover over them both.
She was warm, she was safe, and she’d just had phenomenal sex. Fear hadn’t stopped her. She’d gone after what she wanted, and the results had been outstanding. Way to seize the day. Um, night. She was replete and boneless. And snuggled next to the man who’d slid his way right into her heart. With her eyes closed, she murmured, “Thank you…for saving me.”
He was stroking her hair. She rather enjoyed that tender touch from him.
But at her words, he paused. “Did you…just give me thank you sex?”
“Don’t be an idiot.” She didn’t bother opening her eyes. “I had sex with you because I think I’m falling in love with you.” Sleep pulled at her. He kept stroking her hair. She was warm and safe and happy…and soon she was sleeping.
In his arms. Her new favorite place to be.
Cole stared up at the ceiling. With his right hand, he kept stroking Evie’s hair. Her soft, silken hair. With his left, he reached out and turned off the lamp.
She hadn’t meant her final words. There was no way she’d meant what she said.
Evie didn’t know him. She wasn’t falling in love with him.
They wanted each other, yes. The attraction had been undeniable. He pretty much looked at Evie, and he got hard.
It was those soft chocolate eyes. Big and dark and deep. Those full, plump lips. Her long, long legs. It was…
She didn’t love him. She didn’t know him. He was a shadow who’d swept into her life when she’d been terrified. Soon, too soon, he’d leave her.
She’d forget him. She’d get back to her life and her rich step-brother, and she’d forget all about the black ops guy who’d held her in the dark.
He wouldn’t be forgetting her anytime soon.
Because he wasn’t falling in love with Evangeline Lake. He was already in love with her. And they were both screwed.
“You’re so quiet.” Evie bit her lower lip as the elevator shot higher and higher. “You were quiet on the plane, and you seem…” She swallowed. “Really tense now.”
They were the only people on the elevator. They’d flown to New York that morning. Gone straight to her step-brother’s building. They were on the elevator that would take them up to the top floor, Harrison’s floor.
The knot in her stomach was bad. Mostly because Cole had been wearing his mask all day.
She was also about seventy percent sure that—right before she’d gone to sleep the night before—that she might have—maybe, kinda, perhaps—blurted that she loved him. Oh, God, had she spooked him?
Come on. He’s the action hero. The tough guy. He can’t get spooked by three little words. Right?
“I am tense.” His hands were fisted at his sides.
“Want to tell me why?” It was a super tall building, and the elevator ride seemed to take forever.
“Sure.” Cole nodded. “I want to hit that emergency stop button. Press you up against the glass. And fuck you.”
Her mouth instantly dried up. Desert kind of dry.
“But your step-brother is waiting.”
Let him wait. No, she couldn’t say that. Harrison was probably worried sick. The guy was a serious over worrier, though in this case, he’d been right to worry. She’d been abducted and held for ransom. If Harrison hadn’t hired Cole and his team to save her…Stop, do not go there. You vowed you would not do any “if” scenarios in your head.
“So I’m gonna keep my control in place. I’m gonna stand here. You’ll stand over there. And I won’t try to—”
Evie rushed toward him. Threw her arms around him. Yanked his head down to her. She kissed him with all the passion and fire that she possessed. His mouth was open. His sinful lips parted. He kissed her back with an eagerness that matched hers, and, oh, but she loved the way he kissed. Such focus. Such skill. Such hungry need.
The elevator doors opened behind her. Evie lifted her head. Smiled at him. “It’s not like this will be our only elevator ride. I can reassure Harrison, and then we’ll have all the time in the world.”
Time to get to know each other better. Time to see what just might happen next.
Cole’s eyelashes flickered.
She caught his hand in hers. Turned and led him out of the elevator. The rest of his team had remained downstairs. He was the one giving her personal guard service to Harrison’s door. With every step that she took closer to Harrison’s home—to the home she’d lived in since she was sixteen years old—nervous energy fueled her. Harrison had been twenty when her mother had married his father, Quint White. Harrison had been quiet, reserved. A bit arrogant.
And she’d been happy. So happy. Because she’d always wanted a brother. A big family. It had just been her and her mom for Evie’s entire life, then with the new marriage, everything had been poised to change…
Until her mother and Harrison’s father had died on their honeymoon. A traffic accident on a winding mountain road in France. Evie had been devastated. So sure that she was going to be on her own again.
But Harrison had stopped being quiet. Sure, he’d kept on being arrogant because that was just Harrison, but he’d protected her. He’d loved her. He’d been her family.
She was going to tackle hug him as soon as she saw her brother.
“You’ll like my brother,” she said quickly as her steps rushed over the lush carpeting. “Some people think he can be intimidating, but I swear, he has a heart of gold.” The heart was just hidden—very well—from most people. She paused and sent Cole a nervous glance. “But, wait, you’ve met him before, haven’t you? I mean, if he hired you and all, you must have—”
“We’ve never met in person.”
Oh. Okay. She tightened her hold on him. “You’ll like him. He’ll like you.” She hurried forward.
“I highly doubt that,” Cole muttered.
She was almost at the penthouse door.
Cole pulled his hand from hers. “You go in first and talk to him.”
Unease slithered through her. “But…you can come in with me.”
The door was just a few feet away.
Cole shook his head. “He wants to see you. I don’t want to intrude on family time.”
The unease got worse. “You wouldn’t be intruding.”
His hand rose, and his knuckles skimmed down her cheek. His lips parted, as if he’d say something.
The door opened. “Evie!”
Her head turned at the excited cry. Harrison stood in the doorway with a broad smile on his face. His green eyes gleamed, and the dimples on both sides of his mouth flashed. He grabbed for her and pulled her into his arms. She hugged him just as tightly as he held her. Harrison was home for her. Her safe place in a storm.
“God, I’m so sorry,” he mumbled as he buried his face in her neck. “They took you because of me, and I swear, it won’t ever happen again. You’ll be safe. I promise it. Please, forgive me. I had no idea that you would—”
She eased back. As usual, his blond hair was tousled. He spent far too much time raking his hands through the thick mane. She smoothed back his hair. “I’m safe. I’m good.” Evie nodded. “And it’s all because of Cole.”
“Here, you two need to officially meet. In person, I mean.” She exhaled and eased away from her brother. “Harrison, this is the man who rescued me—” Evie turned back toward Cole.
Cole wasn’t there.
The hallway was empty.
“Cole?” A shiver raked over her. She took one step. Another. “Cole?” Her voice rose.
He…he hadn’t just vanished.
“Evie.” A new note had entered Harrison’s deep voice. A thread of worry. “Cole’s job was to deliver you safely home. He’s done now.”
He’s done now. Those words battered right at her heart. “He left…and didn’t even say good-bye?” No, that couldn’t happen. He wouldn’t have just walked away while her back was turned. Not after last night. Not after they’d made love. Not after she’d confessed that she was falling in love with him.
But he was gone.
“Come inside, Evie,” Harrison urged her softly. “This has all been a nightmare, and it’s time for you to forget it.”
No, it wasn’t time to forget.
“You’re home. You’ve come back to your life, and Cole has gone back to his life.”
Her head swung toward Harrison. “Without saying good-bye?” There was too much revealed in her trembling voice. Too much pain.
“Oh, hell.” Harrison’s eyes widened. “Do I need to kick the ass of your bodyguard? Because, shit, he came with high recommendations from a friend. He was supposed to be able to get the job done, no matter what.”
She flinched. I guess he did get the job done.
Then he’d left.
“Come inside, Evie,” Harrison urged again.
Her steps wooden, she followed him in, but she couldn’t help glancing back once more because she was still hoping that she was wrong. Hoping that Cole would appear.
He wasn’t there.
She crossed the threshold.
Harrison closed the door.
And her heart broke.
Or…it’s been two years, six months, and five days…not that Cole was counting…
The door swung open. “No.” The beautiful woman was adamant. She shook her head, sending blond hair dancing over her shoulders. “I don’t want any, but thank you and good day.”
Cole Vincent lifted his brows. “Excuse me?”
“No soliciting is allowed in this building.” Her voice was crisp. Her expression cold. Her dark eyes swept dismissively over him. “I’m not buying what you’re selling, but thanks.” She swung the door closed.
She tried to shut the door right in his face. Well, damn. Cole’s hand flew up, and he caught the door before it could slam shut. “Okay, I probably deserve that.”
“Probably?” Evangeline—Evie—Lake yanked the door back open. “You definitely deserved it. There is no question. Not even a single one. Not even half a question.”
Was half a question even a thing?
“You left me without a word!”
If he’d been the blushing type, Cole knew that he’d probably be flushed crimson right then. “The job was over.”
A determined nod of her head. “I am going to slam this door, and you are not ever going to bother me again.”
“I, um, wasn’t sure that you’d remember me—”
Her eyes—those gorgeous, dark chocolate eyes—widened, and then narrowed with rage.
Uh, oh. He’d obviously said the wrong thing.
“You think I forget the names and faces of the men I have sex with? Is that what you’re saying to me right now?”
Oh, sweet hell. “That is not what I meant—”
“Then you think I forget the people who rescue me from asshole kidnappers?”
“No, that is, ahem…” Cole coughed. “Not what I meant, either—”
“Why don’t you tell me what you did mean?”
God, she was feisty. And even more gorgeous. And he was suffering from the same problem he always had when he was with her. He said the wrong, stupid shit, and he also got instantly aroused. For a moment, he allowed himself to just look at her.
To see what I missed over the last two years.
Not like he’d forgotten her. Not like he could ever forget her.
Her blond hair was shorter now. When he’d met her before, her hair had trailed half-way down her back. Before, too, he’d never seen her with makeup. But now she had dark shadow around her eyes and her full lips were lined with a slick, sensual red. She was beautiful with or without makeup…
To him, Evie was just…beautiful. Always.
She wore jeans that showed off the pure, perfect temptation of her endless legs. High heels that made him swallow twice. Her tight-fitting black shirt hugged her breasts. She had a dancer’s body, delicate in appearance but far stronger than most would ever realize. Strength hidden in delicacy. She was—
“You’re staring at me like you’re the one who’s forgotten.”
As if he could ever forget her. No way, not any damn day. “Your eyes seem even darker.”
“Probably because I’m wearing eye shadow.” Those eyes of hers were still narrowed. “Why are you at my door?”
“I…” Tread carefully.
“You’d better not be about to tell me that—after two years—you decided you couldn’t live without me for even one more moment.”
“What if I did say that?” Again, the wrong words burst from him. Cole had intended to say something else.
“I’d call you a liar.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Lots of people call me that.”
She moved to slam the door again.
And, once more, he caught the door. “Your brother hired me.”
Evie flinched. “I want you to leave. I want you away from my door. Out of my building. I don’t know what Harrison told you, but I do not need you.”
I do not need you. Those words hurt. Dammit. This scene was not going the way that he’d ever so optimistically hoped it would while he’d pictured the conversation on the plane ride from Atlanta to New York. In his fantasy, she’d opened the door. Seen him. Smiled. And thrown herself into his arms as Evie confessed that she’d desperately missed him.
Then they’d kissed and the fantasy had taken a far more adult turn but…
None of that shit is happening. Evie hates me.
“I’m not in danger, and I sure don’t need you to swoop in and save the day. Things have changed since we knew each other before. I can take care of myself.”
He’d read the updated file on her. Knew that after her abduction, she’d taken every self-defense class she could find. She was also an excellent shot now, and she was supposed to be wicked good with a blade. The lady had picked up all kinds of fun, new talents.
Anyone could be a target.
And she was a target. “Harrison thinks the same kidnappers are going to come after you again.”
She swallowed. “He’s always been worried about that. They were never caught. They seemed to just vanish, and Harrison has been obsessed with the idea that they’d show up.” Evie shook her head. “Not happening. I’ve told him that over and over again. He has to let the past go.”
Sometimes, that was easier said than done. Cole was staring straight at his past, and the last thing he wanted to do was let go. Hold tight? Hell, yes. Walk away? Not ever again.
Walking away the first time had ripped his heart out.
He wasn’t sure he’d have the strength to ever leave her again.
“This little meet and greet has been fun. Wait, no, it hasn’t,” Evie brutally corrected. “But I have things to do. Places to go. You know the drill.”
She wasn’t going anywhere without him. “I was hired to be your twenty-four, seven bodyguard.”
At his words, Evie’s cheeks turned a dark shade of crimson. “I didn’t hire you for anything. How could I? You vanished while my back was turned.”
“You didn’t exactly leave a forwarding address for me.”
“You were better off without me.” Oh, for the love of—why the hell could he not shut his mouth around her?
Her delicate jaw hardened. “I decide what’s good or bad for me. My choice. No one else’s.” She straightened her shoulders. “My brother is worrying over nothing.”
Cole would hardly call it nothing. “Harrison said you were nearly rundown in the middle of the street—”
“A careless driver. Not my previous kidnappers.”
“The driver wasn’t caught.”
“He fled the scene.” A firm nod. “But the police have a description of his vehicle. I have faith in the NYPD. I’m sure they will turn up something.”
He stared at her.
“Thanks for stopping by.”
Cole shook his head. He crossed his arms over his chest.
“I would love to say catching up with you was fun,” Evie added.
He quirked one eyebrow.
“But I don’t like to lie. In fact, I try to never lie. Mostly because I’m really bad at it.” She sniffed. “It wasn’t fun. It was as uncomfortable and awkward as I feared, and I hope our paths don’t cross again.”
Well, damn. She’d just cut him up as her voice stayed sugary sweet.
“Now, I’m going to shut the door. If you try to throw your hand up again, I’ll just shove harder. Your hand may get broken.” A shrug. “You’ve been warned.”
She slammed the door.
He heard the lock click. “That’s good,” Cole praised, raising his voice so that she’d be sure to hear him through the thick wood. “Always lock the door. Set your alarm. Be alert and vigilant. Because if you are being hunted again, you need to be on guard every single moment.”
Was she staring at him through the peephole? Watching him?
His hands dropped back to his sides. He glanced to the left, to the right. No one else was there. They were on the top floor of the building, and she was the only tenant on that level. It wasn’t an overly fancy place, not like the high-rise where her brother lived. No, Evie had made her home in a hip, casual apartment building.
Cole had never been hip a day in his life. He was battles and bloodshed. Tattoos and fist fights.
But Evie…Evie was sophistication. Class. She was Broadway and lights. She was the kind of woman who always seemed to fit in wherever she went.
She was the woman who’d fit him. Until, of course, he’d fucked everything to hell and back. Totally part of his charm.
“Evie…” His right hand lifted and pressed to the wood of the door. “I’m sorry.”
Silence. The door didn’t open. But then, he hadn’t really expected it to open.
Her eye pressed to the peephole. Her left hand pressed to the door, uncomfortably close to the spot where Cole was pressing his own hand.
Damn him. He wasn’t supposed to be sexier. Time wasn’t supposed to have been kind to him. He should have gotten out of shape. Should have developed some thinning hair. Lots and lots of wrinkles.
He should not still have thick, luxurious, run-your-hands-through-it hair. He should not still have a hard, muscled body that made her quiver. He shouldn’t have seriously sexy stubble on his jaw. And no way should his eyes be that electric shade of blue. She’d convinced herself that she’d imagined just how gorgeous his eyes were. A figment of her overstressed imagination. She’d learned that, in times of stress, people tended to overemphasize certain things. Reshape some memories.
She thought she’d imagined his incredible eyes.
He was even better looking now than he had been before because, obviously, fate hated her.
She kept right on peering through the peephole. His tattoos were new. Cole wore a short sleeved, black T-shirt, and swirling, dark tattoos covered his arms. The tats looked seriously badass. Not that she was in to badass guys.
Badass guys did nothing but bring trouble into her life. She was way over trouble. She wanted a nice, ordered routine. Was that so bad?
Did he have tattoos on his chest, too?
Why was she wondering about his chest?
“I’m sorry,” he said again, and a fist seemed to squeeze her heart. How often had she dreamed of him apologizing? Of him saying that he was sorry for hurting her and leaving and that he would do anything to make it up to her for—
“I’m sorry, but I was hired to do a job, and I intend to do that job.”
Her mouth dropped open. Cole wasn’t apologizing for hurting her. He was apologizing because he wasn’t leaving? What a jerk!
“I can’t leave you unprotected. I told Harrison that he could count on me, and I’m here until I can figure out just who is after you.”
He had just pushed all her buttons. Every single one with his half-ass non-apology. She nearly ripped the lock off her door as Evie flipped it and yanked that door open again—
Cole had the sheer, insane gall to toss his wide smile at her. “Figured you might open the door.”
Her index finger stabbed into his chest. “You don’t know a thing about me.”
One powerful shoulder rolled in a shrug. “I knew you’d open the door.”
She would not scream at him, but she wanted to—so badly. Did he think this meeting was a joke? Did he not get just how much he’d hurt her? She jabbed him again with her index finger. “You don’t belong in my life.”
His smile vanished. Something dark and dangerous flashed in his eyes.
She ignored the warning flash because Evie felt plenty dark and dangerous herself. “I don’t want you in my life.”
His hand rose. His fingers curled around hers. Warmth immediately shot through her hand. Up her arm. Right to her heart.
“Sorry, princess,” he murmured, “but for the foreseeable future, you have me.”
“Let go of me.” She couldn’t stand his touch. It stirred too many memories.
He immediately let her go. Took a step back.
“Do not call me princess.” She wasn’t some pampered princess. She worked hard for everything that she had. Twenty-hour days weren’t uncommon for her when she was doing a show. She would come home, dripping sweat, and every muscle aching from choreography sessions. It was her job to make the routines. She came up with the steps, the sequences. She made them look beautiful and seamless when they were really grueling and gut-wrenching. Over the years, she’d had more broken toes than she could count. She’d had enough bruises to last a lifetime. Evie wasn’t some spoiled princess. She was a flesh and blood woman, and she wasn’t putting up with his bullshit.
“I don’t want to fight with you,” Cole said softly. He lifted both his hands toward her in that old, I-surrender gesture. “I’m here because I want to keep you safe.”
“Why do you care?” He didn’t. Obviously. She should not have asked the question. But then, he shouldn’t have shown up at her door, either. Yes, she was bitter.
He’d vanished without even a backward glance. Just disappeared from her life. As if he’d never even been real.
His lips thinned.
“You know what? Forget it. I don’t want an answer.” She tried to calm her racing heartbeat. “There was one near hit with a car. An accident. That stuff happens. I’ll talk to Harrison and get him to seriously chill.” Unfortunately, Harrison didn’t know how to chill. “I’m good. Now, if you don’t mind, I do have places to go.”
“I’d like to come with you.”
She squeezed her eyes shut. “This isn’t happening.”
“Just until Harrison ends my contract. I have a reputation to uphold, you see. I don’t disappoint clients.”
You just disappoint the women who fall in love with you? Nope. She was not going to say that. “If I leave, you’re just going to follow me, aren’t you?”
“You’ll be a hulking shadow?”
“I don’t think I’m particularly hulking. I like to think that I blend well.”
Her eyes opened. Her gaze went to the top of his head then slowly trailed down his body. She stopped at his white tennis shoes. “You don’t blend.” Evie turned away from him.
“Is that a compliment?”
She headed into her place. Grabbed her purse. Slid the long strap diagonally across her body before she turned to face him. “Take it however you want.” Evie exhaled. “I can’t stop you from following me.”
He started to smile—
“I could,” Evie corrected quickly. “But it would involve calling the police and making a big scene, and I’m not one for scenes. I like things to stay quiet. Ordered.”
“I remember that about you.”
“Well, give yourself a cookie.”
Shit. She thrust her shoulders back. “Try to do your blending bit. Stay out of my way, and after I take care of this one thing, I’ll convince Harrison to cut you loose.”
“I’ll try to stay out of your way. Unless you need me. Then I’ll step up and get in the way of the bad guys.”
“Wonderful.” A quick check in her bag confirmed that her keys were inside. Keys. Wallet. Mace. Good to go.
“I like your home.”
Her head whipped up.
“The colors are great.” He pointed to the wall. Stared at the series of lighthouse paintings that she’d carefully arranged. “You, um, do those paintings?”
“No.” She cleared her throat. “My ex did them.”
He’d been pointing, but now his fingers balled, and his hand became a fist. “You must have really cared about the guy if you keep his paintings on the wall.”
“I like art.” She didn’t have to explain herself to him. “Doesn’t matter about that guy.”
She didn’t think he did. “Which brings me to my next point.” She marched toward him.
He didn’t back up. Typical Cole.
“This thing I have to do right now.” Her gaze cut away from him. “It’s a date.”
A growl slipped from him.
The growl had her stare flying right back to him. “Is there a problem here?” She could actually think of at least a dozen problems but—
“He keeps his hands off you.”
“What? What in the heck are you talking about?”
“I’m here to guard your body. If this date of yours touches your body, I’ll see it as a threat.” His expression had gone all cold and lethal. “So he keeps his hands off you.”
“That makes zero sense!”
“Take it up with management.”
Of all the—“You are management, aren’t you?”
“Then let’s be clear.” She stared hard into his eyes. She didn’t even like blue. Especially not bright blue. Not like it was her favorite color or anything. “My body. I decide who touches it and who doesn’t. Got it?”
A muscle flexed in his jaw, but he nodded.
“Excellent. Let’s go.” The sooner she put some distance between them, the better. She exited her place, locked the door, and headed for the elevator. She did not look back at Cole, but she could feel him shadowing her. She reached the elevator. Pressed the button to bring it up to her floor. The doors slid open a moment later and—
Oh, no. The last time that she’d been in an elevator with Cole…
I want to hit that emergency stop button. Press you up against the glass. And fuck you.
He started to walk past her and get in the elevator. She threw up her arm to block him. “Stairs! I’m taking the stairs because I need more cardio in my life.”
He frowned at her. She ignored him and hurried for the stairwell. She yanked the door open.
“Your building needs to be far more secure. Anyone could get in here,” Cole complained as he followed her down the stairs.
“Anyone did get in,” she replied pointedly as she flew down those steps. He kept perfect pace with her. Probably because he worked out every available minute to keep that body of his in its rock-hard condition.
“Who’s the lucky guy?”
There had been a definite edge in his voice as he asked the question.
“Who are you dating?” Cole pressed when she remained silent and worked on her cardio. “No boyfriend was mentioned in your file.”
She jumped off the last step. Whirled to face him. “I don’t like that you have a file on me.”
His brows climbed. “You should take that up with—”
“Do not say management to me right now.”
His lips pressed together.
“I don’t like that someone thinks that my life can be crammed into a few nicely typed pages. I have secrets.” Some. A few. Maybe one or two. Dammit. She needed to be more mysterious.
Cole nodded. “Duly noted.” A pause. “Who’s the guy?”
She spun away. Hauled open the stairwell door and rushed into the lobby. Evie tossed a quick wave to her neighbor who had just entered the building, then she made a beeline for the front door. Night had fallen outside, and soft streetlights fought the darkness. Cars rushed by on the street, and the warm air brushed against her skin as her stride quickened even more outside.
“You didn’t tell me his name.”
She stopped at the edge of the sidewalk as she waited for the light to change. “You don’t get to act all jealous,” she fumed. “Not like you and I are any sort of couple or anything.”
“I didn’t say I was jealous. I just asked for his name. Security protocol.”
Security protocol, her ass. “Leopold Shepard.”
“What in the hell kind of name is Leopold?”
She slanted a hard glance at him. “I don’t know, Cole. A fun one?” It certainly belonged to an amazingly fun guy. Her friend Leopold could make her laugh even when she was at her worst.
And, okay, fine, she’d lied. She hadn’t been able to look Cole in the eye when she’d bragged about having a date. It wasn’t a date, exactly. At least, not a romantic one. It could count as a business date. Maybe. But, when your ex suddenly popped up out of the blue—the ex who’d shattered your heart and never looked back—a woman just might want to show him that she’d moved on. That she hadn’t spent the last two years thinking about him.
Leopold would go along with her ruse. He’d probably find it freaking hilarious. Leopold—okay, Leo—loved to laugh. He was always telling her that if you didn’t laugh, then you’d spend your days crying.
She didn’t want to spend her days crying. She’d cried her last tears for Cole long ago.
“You’re not taking this seriously,” Cole snapped.
Her brows climbed. “That’s what you think?” Her shoulders squared. “I will never forget what it was like to be held in that closet.” Most people didn’t know about that part of her abduction. Certain details had deliberately been kept from the media.
People didn’t know that she’d been trapped in that old broom closet for so long that she’d gone hoarse from screaming. That her wrists had bled and bruised as she’d fought the ropes that had bound her. Cole had found her because she’d been weakly banging her bound hands against the locked door.
His lashes flickered. “Evie—”
“Evangeline. You can call me Evangeline.” Hearing the shortened version of her name—the name that friends and family called her—hearing that name come from his lips hurt her. No, he was the one hurting her. Just seeing Cole had made an ache bloom in her heart. “I thought I would die. Every moment of my kidnapping is etched into my memory.”
“And the moments after? The moments with me? What about them?”
A car horn honked. She jumped. “Do not try going there with me right now.” She stormed away from him. The light had changed. Evie power-marched across the street, her legs kicking it hard. He kept perfect pace with her, of course, because…wasn’t that what action heroes did? Never faltered? Were always strong and seemingly perfect?
Not perfect. Not perfect at all.
When they reached the sidewalk on the other side of the road, she immediately turned left as she focused on her destination. “If you must know, then yes, I remember the moments with you perfectly. And I also remember exactly what it was like when I turned around and found you gone.”
“The job was done.”
She stopped. Caught her reflection in the glass of a nearby shop’s illuminated window. Saw her own rage staring back. “If you say that to me again, I will not be responsible for my actions.”
He cleared his throat.
She strode onward. A quick glance at her watch showed Evie that she was running late, because of Cole. His surprise visit. His reappearance that had just thrown everything in her life off balance. She hustled down the block, and told him, “I take my safety seriously, but I think Harrison is wrong about the current situation. I don’t think I’m being targeted. After my abduction, he became hyper vigilant. He didn’t even want me leaving the penthouse.” She’d been suffocating. “I…couldn’t live that way.” He’d wanted to keep her sheltered all the time. “I moved out, and he hated it. But I can take care of myself.”
“I have a team checking out the near hit from the mystery car.”
“Of course, you have a team,” she mumbled. “Don’t you always?” His team was probably somewhere in the shadows, watching them at that very moment.
“If it turns out to be a case of some jackass who wasn’t paying enough attention and almost hit you, I’ll tell your brother that news immediately. I’ll also make sure the jackass in question is never so careless again.”
She could finally see the small Italian restaurant. Soft lighting drifted through the windows. Leopold was inside—he liked to sit right in front of the window near the door. He was a people watcher. He'd told her before that the table there gave him the best show.
“If you don’t need me, I’ll convince Harrison to terminate the contract.”
She reached for the door. Pulled in a deep breath. Turned her head to stare at Cole. “Be very clear on this.” She waited for his gaze to meet hers, and when it did, Evie crisply informed him, “I don’t need you.”
She hauled open the door, hurried past the hostess, and went straight to Leopold. He rose as she approached.
His blond hair was perfectly styled in his signature tousled look. His artfully ragged jeans fit his long legs. The designer shirt he wore showed off the muscles he carved on the Broadway stage. He opened his arms to her even as a broad grin split his handsome face. “I was starting to think you’d stood me up.”
She sank into his embrace. Felt secure. “Never.” Her racing heart slowed. She was with Leo. She was safe.
She didn’t move.
“Eves, there is a very angry-looking man stomping this way.” Leo’s voice was a high stage whisper. “Should I be concerned? You know I’m a lover, not really a fighter. Got to keep the package safe from injury.”
She sniffed. Let him go. Shot a glare at Cole.
Cole stopped in his tracks.
A flushed, young hostess was behind him.
“I’ll sit here,” Cole snarled as he took the table a few feet away from Evie and Leopold. He threw himself into the chair and snatched up a menu.
Evie nodded curtly toward him, then she sank into her own chair. She reached for her menu just to give her shaking hands something to do.
He tugged at the top of her menu, pulling it down so that he could see her. Worry darkened his eyes. “Are you in trouble?”
“Nothing I can’t handle.” Wait, was she suddenly becoming good at lying? What? Since when?
A nod. He glanced toward Cole’s table. Then back at her. “Who is he?”
“Someone I’d like to forget.” She closed the menu. Put it down and leaned toward Leopold. To outsiders, it would probably look like she was leaning in for some romantic talk. “He’s a bodyguard my brother hired, without my permission.”
Leopold pursed his full lips. “He can guard my body anytime.”
“Leo,” she warned.
“What? He’s got that whole dangerous edge—”
“He is off limits.”
“Dang, you just called dibs.”
She had—oh, God, had she? No, no, that was not what she’d meant to do. “He’s my ex. And it’s complicated. And I need you to act as if you think I am the most amazing woman you’ve ever met.” She bit her lip as she heard her own words playing back in her mind. “I am an asshole.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I feel like one, and I can’t believe I just said that stuff to you. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was ever thinking to—”
He reached for her hand. Squeezed. “He broke your heart.”
“I can break him.”
A laugh sputtered from her. “You just told me that you were a lover, not a fighter.”
He smiled at her. His eyes twinkled. “I did, and I am, but for you, I can try to make an exception.” He leaned ever closer. “But you need to tell me he’s not nearly as tough as he looks. Like, the guy isn’t some Navy SEAL who is gonna beat me into next week, is he?”
Um…maybe? She actually wasn’t overly sure what Cole’s background was. He hadn’t shared a whole lot of specific details with her. But he definitely was as tough as he looked. The absolute last thing she wanted was for Leo to get hurt because of her. “How about no one gets anything broken? Let’s just have our meal, and we’ll pretend he isn’t there.”
Leo glanced over at Cole’s table. “That will be so hard. Especially with the way he glares. Bodyguards aren’t supposed to glare like that, are they? Must be the whole being-your-ex bit causing him to go all Hulk green with jealousy.”
“It was a long time ago.” She tried to focus on the menu even though she always ordered the same thing at that restaurant. God, she was predictable. Maybe I’ll have spaghetti instead of the cheese pizza.
“It was a long time ago, and you don’t care anymore?”
She looked around. “Where is the waitress? I could use a mega glass of wine.”
“I see. You don’t want to talk about what happened with him. Got it. Sharing about feelings isn’t your specialty. I thought we were working on that.”
Her gaze swung back to him. She lifted a brow. Like he was one to talk.
“Should we get down to business?” Leo rubbed his hands together. “Your last show on Broadway ended two weeks ago. Aren’t you twitching to get started on another? Don’t those feet of yours just long to dance and create new choreography routines? Because I have an offer for you, and I don’t see how you can possibly tell me no…”
She’d moved the fuck on.
Cole got that. Could see it with his own eyes. Evie hadn’t spent the last two years mooning over him. Of course, she hadn’t. She was gorgeous, smart, and talented. She’d probably dated dozens of guys since they’d last been together—
“Oh, no, sir, are you okay?” The waitress frowned worriedly at him as she suddenly appeared—blocking his view of Evie and Leopold. “Did the glass cut you?”
He looked down at his hand. He’d squeezed the water glass too hard, and it had shattered. Great. Now he was dripping water and covered in glass. He pushed the glass shards onto his napkin. “I’m totally fine.”
Just about to go completely insane.
He craned his head around the waitress. If that blond-haired jerk leaned toward Evie one more time…
They were on their feet. The blond-haired jerk was reaching out to hug her again.
Cole jumped up and tossed some cash onto the table. “I’m done, thanks.” He hurried around the waitress. Dammit, why did the guy keep hugging Evie?
Cole imagined all of the ways he could incapacitate good old Leopold. He could have the other man on the ground within seconds and then he could—
“Your bodyguard is glaring at me again,” Leopold said in the overly loud whisper that he had used when Cole first glimpsed the fellow. “Can you call him off? I’m afraid he’s about to attack.”
Evie gave a nervous laugh. “Don’t be silly, Leo.”
“Why would he attack you?”
Why indeed? Maybe because her body was pressed to Leo’s and Cole was—hell, yes—jealous. So jealous that the world was a haze of red. His own fault. He’d been the one to walk away from her before, and he’d known that when he saw Evie again, all of his emotions would get stirred up once more.
But he could stay in control. He would stay in control.
Evie eased back from Leo. “I’ll think about the offer.”
Leopold beamed at her. Then he turned his head, and he kept right on beaming at Cole.
I do not like him.
“Eves is amazing,” Leopold told him.
Eves? What the hell? Her name was Evie. E-V-I-E. And, as far as her being amazing…Like I don’t know that shit. I saw her strength firsthand after her abduction.
But Leopold kept talking as he added, “She’s strong and tough, and she’s the most talented choreographer I’ve ever seen. Her body can move in ways that are truly stunning.”
He had not just gone there. Mention her body again, and I will kick your ass so hard.
Leo nodded. “Oh, and, yeah, she’s sexy.”
Cole lunged forward. Caught himself.
“So sexy. And, sure, I don’t know you, bodyguard man, but I think you’re a dumbass. There.” Leopold rolled one shoulder. “A hot dumbass, but still…dumbass. Such a waste.”
“Good night, Leo,” Evie muttered.
His beam turned back to her.
But she was looking at Cole. Frowning at him. Nibbling on her delectable lower lip.
Since Leopold seemed done, Cole decided that maybe he should be able to say a few things, too. “I know she’s strong.”
Evie’s eyes widened.
“And tough. And sexy. I also know she’s smart. And funny. And she cares about people who don’t deserve her.” Hell, yes, he knew that. She’d cared about him—foolishly—because he would never deserve someone like her. “I know more about Evangeline than you ever could.”
“Oh, yeah? Then you should know she hates to be called Evangeline,” Leopold tossed right back. “Far too formal and stuffy for her.”
Cole didn’t look away from her. He couldn’t. “I think the name is fucking beautiful.” He thought everything about her was beautiful. “And she asked me to call her Evangeline,” he said. “I want to do what she asks of me. I don’t want to let her down this time.” This time? Try ever again.
Because sometimes, you didn’t realize you were holding a dream in your hand, not until you woke up and you were surrounded by nightmares.
“No.” She shook her head. “No, Cole, you don’t get to do this to me. No. I won’t go down this path again.” She spun and ran from the restaurant.
Dammit. “Evangeline!” He shot after her.
But Leopold had moved surprisingly fast, and he’d jumped into Cole’s path. “You hurt her, and I will make you pay.”
“Get the hell out of my way before I move you.”
“I don’t care how good of a jaw you have or what cool color your eyes are,” Leopold continued doggedly. “If you hurt my Eves—”
That was it. Cole grabbed the guy. Moved him to the side. “She’s not yours.” He barreled toward the door. She’d already slipped outside.
“She’s definitely not yours!” Leopold called after him. “That ship has sailed! It left the port! It’s way out in the ocean now! Can’t even see it with a spy glass!”
Cole shoved open the door. “Evangeline!”
She whirled toward him, putting her back to the street.
To the street…and to the black van that came to a screeching stop behind her.
“I can’t do this,” she cried. “I can’t just see you again out of the blue and act like nothing is wrong. I can’t do—”
The side door of the van jerked open. A man with a black ski mask jumped out and reached for her.
“No!” Cole roared. He grabbed for Evie even as that bastard tried to put his hands around her.
She realized what was happening. Her eyes turned into saucers, but she didn’t panic. She drove her elbow back at the guy, a hard, fast hit, then she shot her balled fist toward his nose. He screamed out in pain.
Cole grabbed her wrist and wrenched her toward him. He pushed her behind him just as—
“Get the fuck out of here!” The masked man leapt into the back of the van. It raced away with a squeal of tires.