Ice Cold Kiss

February 27, 2024 – Ice Breaker, Book 8

The son of a serial killer. A devil in the flesh.

Midas Monroe knows that his big size intimidates plenty of people, and when they learn about his twisted past?  Most folks go running. But he’s not like his dear old monster of a dad, despite the stories that still circulate in the press.  He’s a bodyguard. Protecting and defending is his bit. No emotional attachments, ever.  And no mistakes.

His latest case isn’t the same old routine. It comes with a few twists…Twist one? The woman he’s protecting doesn’t know that he’s her bodyguard. Like that doesn’t make the job an extra pain in his—

Ice. Alina Bellamy is the reigning queen of the ice. She’s an Olympic contender waiting for her moment to shine.  And she’s also a woman falling hard and fast for the big, muscled, and gorgeous stranger who has just swept into her life.  When they touch, she finally feels something other than the cold that has surrounded her forever.

Taken. Terrified. Lost…

Alina’s perfect world shatters when she’s abducted. Kidnapped in the middle of the night, she fears that she’ll never survive, until he rushes to the rescue. Her Midas. Big, bold, and dangerous. He spirits her away even as her abductors give chase.

Alina isn’t the first victim to be taken, and her abductors aren’t just going to let her slip away.  The abduction is just the start of the nightmare that waits for Alina.  And as for Midas?  Sometimes, it takes the son of a devil to fight the darkest monsters who like to hide in plain sight.

Midas has never backed away from a fight. Mostly because he has a killer swing…

The Ice Breakers are back! And Midas is about to find out that sometimes, a case can become very, very personal.  Cold cases will collide with the firestorm surrounding Alina as Midas hunts for a killer and as he finds out that the old saying can be true…The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Because Midas may just be falling hard for a woman he will never, ever be able to truly have.

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Prologue

“I need discretion. I need tact. I need someone who will remain in total control at all times.”

Midas Monroe lounged in the leather chair and let a slow smile curve his lips. “Discretion is my middle name.” Oh, no, it really, really wasn’t. He rolled one shoulder in a casual shrug. “Or maybe it’s tact. I am a master when it comes to tact.” As far as keeping control… “I’ve never had a single complaint about my lack of control. I keep all of my jobs completely professional, and I always protect my charge.” That was his business after all—protection. Guarding the ones who found themselves in danger.

Maybe they were being stalked.

Maybe they had an ex who wouldn’t let go.

Maybe they’d dipped into dangerous business that they now regretted.

People came to him for all sorts of reasons. The why didn’t particularly matter to Midas. He always watched their asses. And got a nice, fat payday when the job was done.

His gaze slid around the study and dipped toward the large picture window on the right. The window that overlooked the tall, thick trees and the snow-capped mountain in the distance. A million-dollar view. Truly. Of course, the house itself probably went for about four million, give or take some change. The place smelled of money, and the man before him? Ryker Bellamy. He was old money. Passed down generation to generation. Not that Ryker hadn’t done his part to add to the family pot. The guy had been in the real estate business ever since he stepped foot out of his Ivy League college.

Freaking money to burn.

A life that was far, far different from Midas’s.

Of course, most people had lives very, very different from his. Because not everyone had a serial killer for a father. I’m just the lucky one.

Unlucky one.

Cursed.

“I…know about your past,” Ryker murmured as he tugged at his tie.

Midas contemplated pretending to be shocked. Thought about letting his jaw drop dramatically. Sometimes, he truly enjoyed fucking with people. But, nah. This time, he just rolled his eyes. “And obviously, it doesn’t matter, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“You…you work quite a bit with the Feds.”

He worked with one Fed in particular quite a bit. Technically, a former Fed now. His buddy, Oliver Foxx.

“Special Agent Foxx is the individual who recommended you to me.”

Now Midas straightened. He’d figured that maybe his last client had told Ryker about his services. After all, the bulked-up action star had a place in Colorado Springs, Colorado, too. That man wouldn’t know real action if it bit him on the ass. Course, that was why he’d needed Midas, and Midas had been happy to take the payday, protect the guy from a female fan who’d gone off the deep end, and even show the actor a few tricks to use in his next flick—

“Foxx said you could be discreet.”

Back to that, were they? Midas grunted.

“Tactful.”

Ryker was going through the list again. Midas began to tap his left index finger against the arm of the chair. “Want to get to the point?”

“My daughter.”

Just those two words. Nothing more. Seriously, it was like pulling teeth with Ryker Bellamy. But, Midas knew quite a bit about the woman in question. Before coming to this meet-and-greet, Midas had researched Ryker and his family. Not like he ever went into a situation unprepared. So he was well aware of the man’s daughter. “Alina Bellamy.” Her mother had been a Russian beauty who married Ryker after she met him in Paris. Her mother’s second marriage. From all accounts, a happy one, too. Until Alina’s mother had died in a skiing accident. One that occurred two days after Alina’s eleventh birthday. That must have wrecked her. “Alina’s the figure skater,” Midas said, voice flat and emotionless. Because he could be emotionless whenever he wanted.

Ryker stiffened. “She’s not just a figure skater. Alina will be a gold medal winner in the next Olympics. She is the current world champion in women’s figure skating. No one is better on the ice than she is. No one.”

Okay, someone was clearly passionate about ice skating. “She got a stalker you’re worried about? Some fan who is sending her crazy emails and letters?” He’d seen that plenty of times. People in the spotlight attracted attention. Good and bad attention.

He was the one typically called in to handle the bad attention. His forte.

“Something like that.” Ryker sniffed. “I’ve tried to hire guards before. Alina hasn’t liked them.”

A laugh slid from Midas. “She’s not gonna like me, either.” Few people did. “Doesn’t matter. I’m not in the business to be liked. I’m in the business of keeping my charges alive. Protecting them, for a hefty fee.” He smiled. Best to just go ahead and get the fee business out of the way now.

Once more, Ryker tugged at his tie. “I don’t think you fully understand.”

Probably because someone was beating around the damn bush and not getting to the point.

“It’s a necessity that Alina likes you.”

Fine. Whatever. “Then I’ll be on my best behavior.” She’d still think he was an asshole. Because he was. Fact of life. But she’d come around when she saw that he was a good guard—no, a great guard.

“No, you ah…discretion, remember? Tact. And—”

“Jeez, don’t go through the list again. You’re boring me out of my mind.” Midas unfurled from the chair and rose to his full height. A height that had him towering over Ryker. Midas generally towered over most people. Midas glanced at his watch and acted like he didn’t see Ryker scuttle back. “Look, man, I’ve got places to be. Other potential clients waiting.” Actually, no one else was waiting. Ryker was the only one on his schedule for the day. “If you’re not hiring me for the gig, then I need to go and accept the next job.” He turned to the side, as if he was, indeed, about to leave.

“Wait!”

Maybe I’ll make my fee a wee bit higher. Because Ryker had sure sounded desperate. Desperate people tended to be willing to pay desperate amounts. Midas glanced back at him.

Another sniff from Ryker. “She can’t know you’re her bodyguard.”

Midas laughed.

Ryker didn’t.

“I must have misheard,” Midas said. An unusual occurrence because he had exceptional hearing. “Thought you said Alina couldn’t know I was guarding her.”

A nod from Ryker. “That’s…ah, yes, that’s what I said.”

Midas pursed his lips. Considered the situation. “Why, exactly, can’t she know?”

“I don’t want her to…worry.”

“I believe she’s an adult, not a child, so worrying is really part of the package.” Like he needed to deal with some overprotective-dad BS. A totally foreign situation to Midas. Considering just what his own father had done…Twisted sonofabitch. I will not go back there.

“I need Alina to stay focused on her ice skating. If her concentration is broken, if she fears that some—some deranged fan might just be watching her from the stands or following her when she’s training, that worry could lead to mistakes. Alina cannot afford any mistakes.”

Great. Just so they were clear—the dad wanted her staying in top form so she’d bring home the gold for him. Midas crossed his arms over his chest. “How do you propose I guard someone who doesn’t know I’m her bodyguard? Getting close enough to protect her from threats will be rather hard.”

“Oliver Foxx assured me you’d be up for any challenge.”

His friend Oliver was starting to get on Midas’s—

“I’ll double your normal fee, of course. Seeing as how you will be working at a disadvantage and having to be undercover.” A wince. “From your client.”

Double your normal fee. He hadn’t even told the guy his normal fee yet. “She’s not the client,” he said smoothly. “You are. She’ll be my charge.” And before they went ahead with this crazy case… “Is she aware of my reputation?”

Nice way of putting it.

Not like he was mega famous or anything. Actually, he was infamous. But only in certain circles. The circles that happened to follow murder and crime. Because for a while, his face had been blasted on the news.

But that was years ago. Most people had forgotten. Time had a way of blurring the jagged, ugly pieces of life. Still, it never hurt to find out just what a charge knew. Especially if he was going in pretending not to be her bodyguard.

“Alina never watches much TV. She doesn’t have time for things like that. She’s focused on training. She’s on the ice six days a week, for up to five hours a day. And when she’s not skating, she’s working out. She has to stay in top form.” A dismissive shake of his head. “She doesn’t even handle her own social media. I have a person for that.”

Fabulous for you. “So Alina is insulated.” And has zero idea that she has threats out there against her? Hell, that was kinda like leading a lamb to slaughter.

“Alina does not know about your past. You’ll be a complete stranger to her.” Ryker seemed to hold his breath. “She…isn’t involved with anyone. I was thinking that, uh, perhaps you could—” He flushed.

“Are you asking me to seduce your daughter?” Midas drawled deliberately. Then remembered, whoops, he was supposed to have tact. Had tact been his middle name? Or maybe it had been control?

“No! Absolutely not! No seduction. There is no need to go that far.” The flush darkened Ryker’s cheeks even more. “She has to stay focused on her skating.”

Check. The skating. Like he could have missed it. Midas barely contained another eye roll. Was the gold medal going to be Alina’s or Ryker’s?

“But…my daughter doesn’t date much. And I think she might be…flattered by your interest.”

Instead of rolling his eyes, Midas narrowed them on Ryker.

“She’s very shy. Reserved. Inexperienced with men.”

Lamb to slaughter.

“But by pretending to be interested, it would be a way for you to get close to her. Just platonically, of course. No real seduction.”

Check. The man did not want Midas fucking Alina. “Platonic is my middle name.”

Ryker backed up a step. “I thought you said it was tact.”

“Whatever.” Then he tossed out a figure for the protection gig. Supposed to be double his usual rate, huh? Go big or go home. He loved that freaking saying. Mostly because he was very big.

Ryker didn’t even blink. He just asked, “When can you start?”

Hell, yes. His gaze slid to the picture window. The setting sun turned the sky a brilliant gold splattered with dark red. “How about first thing in the morning?”

Ryker extended his hand to Midas. “Discretion. Tact.”

Midas gripped the offered hand. “Total control. Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”

Chapter One

Her skates slid across the ice as she picked up speed. Silence surrounded her—silence except for the occasional slice of her blades when she would launch into the air and twist. One turn, two.

She landed. Pushed faster. Faster and faster. She didn’t feel the cold. The moment she stepped onto the ice, the cold always vanished for her. No one else was at the training facility. Her day. Her time. She’d come in long before her coach was even scheduled to arrive, and she’d been skating for hours. The only illumination in the entire building were the lights that shone directly onto the ice. Darkness was everywhere else. Her choice because the only thing that could matter was the ice.

Hadn’t she been told that all her life? The only thing that mattered—

Alina Bellany launched into a quadruple axel. The first rotation had her heart racing. The second had her breath catching. The third had her—

Her body slammed into the ice with bruising force. For a moment, she didn’t move at all. Couldn’t. The breath had been knocked from her.

“Fuck, that looked brutal.”

A man’s voice. Coming from the darkness. A voice that should not have been there.

Her hands pushed down against the white sheet of ice as she levered herself up. Her heart raced fast now, but not from the adrenaline of trying the most difficult ice skating move out there. No, the out-of-control pounding came from fear.

No one else should be here.

Certainly not…

Not the tall, muscled stranger who stood at the edge of the ice. He’d opened the small half-door that would allow him to access the rink. Darkness stretched behind him, but the light over the rink hit the front of his body.

Big. Too big.

He wore a black sweatshirt, but his bulging muscles seemed to strain the clothing. Faded jeans stretched over his powerful thighs. Tennis shoes covered his big feet.

Tennis shoes?

His hair was thick and streaked with bits of dark blond. His face…A close-cropped beard covered the bottom of his face. Made his hard, square jaw look even harder.

“You need help?” Grimacing, he put a tennis shoe onto the ice. “Hope I’m not about to bust my ass.”

Bust his ass?

Then he stepped onto the ice, only sliding a little, and rushed toward her.

She pushed to her feet. Stood and angled her right toe down for balance. And gaped.

He was way bigger than she’d realized at first glance. A big, gorgeous bear of a man who hurtled toward her. Considering she stood at five-foot-three, most people were bigger than her, but this stranger…

Who in the world is he? Huge. Powerful. Drop-dead handsome. For a moment, she wondered if maybe she’d hit her head on the ice, and this was all some crazy hallucination. Because no way was a man this gorgeous rushing across the ice toward her.

He shouldn’t be here. No one should be here but me. And this doesn’t feel like a hallucination. It feels all too real. Her body still ached from the fall. And if everything was real…

Who is he?

Too late, she started to retreat. But he was—

“Gotcha.” His hand closed around her right wrist just as she prepared to back away. And Alina was surprised because for the first time, she felt—

Heat.

Sliding up from where he touched her. Warming her skin. Her blood. A shot of electricity seemed to zip through her entire body. The shock of that heat had her mouth dropping open in surprise.

“That was one hell of a fall.” His eyes—a warm, deep amber—swept over her. “You’re standing okay, so I’m guessing nothing is broken?”

“I fall all the time,” she blurted.

His amber eyes rose to lock on her face.

“I just get back up.”

The faintest of smiles lifted his lips. “Of course, you do.”

“You have to get back up. Staying sprawled on the ice isn’t an option. You fall in a competition, you get back up, and you keep skating. You try to make up the points you lost. You never stay down.” Alina was rambling and she knew it. What she didn’t know? How to stop the rambling because she opened her mouth and said, “I fall in practice, too. You can never learn something new without falling first.”

A slow nod. “I’ll remember that.” His fingers flexed a little against her.

More heat trickled through her. “You are…oddly hot.”

He laughed.

And her face flamed. “I meant…your hand feels really warm against me.” She tried to tug free.

He didn’t let her go. He did lean down toward her. Up close, he was just…even bigger. Alina figured he had to be around six-foot-five, maybe even six-foot-six. The man swallowed her with his size.

Unease slithered through her.

“I feel warm because you are ice cold. It’s freezing out here.”

“Ice has to be cold.”

Amusement danced in his eyes. “Yes, I am aware of that fun science fact. But you don’t have to be freezing. Your body is shaking.”

Not from the cold. From that strange awareness of him. And she knew exactly what it was. Sure, she might not have a ton of experience with the opposite sex, but when a look-alike Norse god stepped into your path, a woman recognized lust when it hit her.

Lust.

Instant attraction.

For a man who was way, way out of her league. “I’m not hurt. You can stop touching me.” She needed to take control of this situation, ASAP. “Look, I don’t know who you are or why you are here—”

He slowly withdrew his hand. “Midas.”

“Excuse me?”

“My name. It’s Midas.”

She blinked. “Like the king who turned everything he touched into gold?”

“Sure, yeah. Like him. Only you didn’t turn to gold, did you?”

No, but she could have sworn part of her was getting so hot she felt close to melting. All from standing in front of a stranger. Feeling him touch her wrist. Feeling his heat reach out and surround her.

She’d met plenty of good-looking men in her life. Plenty of physically fit men ice skated. But an ice skater’s body and Midas’s body…

Two entirely different things. “Why are you here?” she breathed. No, dang it. Being breathy and leaning toward this stranger was not the way to act. What was wrong with her? Her spine snapped straight. “This area is closed for my private practice. No one else should be in the building.”

“Huh. The door was unlocked. I just walked right in.”

No, no, she’d locked it after she’d entered. She always did that. Then her coach came in and unlocked it with his key and—

“As for why I’m here, I came for you, Alina.”

Now a shiver darted down her spine, but it was one that had absolutely nothing to do with the ice. Unease had plagued her for days. The feeling that someone might be watching her. The feeling that she wasn’t always alone when she should have been.

Just like I thought I was alone here. But I’m not. This big stranger is here. A stranger who was blocking her path. A stranger so much larger than she was. A stranger who knew exactly who she was.

“No.” Flat. All amusement had vanished from his gaze. “You don’t need to be afraid of me. Not ever. That’s probably the first thing you should know about me. I would never hurt you.”

Her breath heaved out. “Why would you say that?”

“Because fear filled your eyes. I don’t want you being afraid of me.” He shrugged his massive shoulders. “And because I would never hurt you. I was just stating a fact.”

“Wh-why are you—”

Darkness. She didn’t get to finish her stammered question because the lights above the rink had just turned off and the entire place plunged into complete and total darkness. A gasp spilled from her and, once more, she started to back up.

His big, warm hand curled around her wrist again. “It’s okay.” Growling. Rumbly. “I’ve got you.”

But maybe that was the problem?

“I’m the new head of security for the training rink. I was just coming to introduce myself to you.”

Her breath shuddered out in relief.

“And, sure I’m the new guy, but I don’t think the lights are supposed to go off during a training session.”

Instead of retreating, she pushed close to him. “No, they are not.” A whisper. “They won’t turn off unless someone turns them off.”

“Well, that’s just not good shit to hear.”

No, it, um, wasn’t good shit to hear. It was bad. Scary.

“I can’t see worth a damn,” Midas groused. “I have to turn on my light.”

And he did. A small, pinprick of light shot up from his left hand. Automatically, she glanced down at the light. A flashlight. One of those penlight things.

“If someone is out there watching us, this light is going to show them exactly where we are,” Midas warned her.

Why would someone be watching?

“So you stick to my side, got it? Step one is getting you off this ice. Step two is figuring out who the hell is in my rink.”

His rink? Already possessive when he’d just started the job? But she wasn’t about to complain. Because being alone in the dark was one thing. One terrifying thing. But being with the giant, muscled head of security for the rink? A world better.

They made it off the ice. She balanced on her skates because it was second nature to her. He kept his right hand curled around her wrist as if—as if holding her was somehow second nature to him.

“I want to check the perimeter.” He’d lowered his head, and his breath blew along the edge of her ear. “But I am not leaving you alone. Ditch the skates, and we’ll search together.”

Ditching the skates would take a bit of effort. “I—”

The lights flashed on. Not just the lights over the rink, but every light in the building seemed to turn on all at once. Then footsteps rushed toward them.

Before she could even pull in another breath, Midas had pushed her behind his body. Being behind his body was pretty much like being behind a giant brick wall. She couldn’t see whoever was approaching. She’d been completely concealed.

“Who the hell are you?” A familiar voice snarled. A Russian accent thickened the angry question. “And why are you in my rink?”

Familiar because it was her coach. Dimitri Sokolov. Former two-time gold medal Olympic figure skating champ. Absolute brilliance on the ice and an absolute monster of a demanding instructor in every other moment of his life. There was no room for anything less than perfection in Dimitri’s orbit.

Before Midas could answer, Alina shifted her position and craned her head to the side so she could put her eyes on Dimitri. “He’s with me.”

Midas tensed.

“What?” Dimitri gaped at her. “You…you brought a personal friend to a practice?”

No, she never brought friends to practice. Mostly because she didn’t have a lot of friends. Or any. She only had skating. It was what she’d done for years and years. Years of broken bones. Aching muscles. Falls onto the ice over and over.

But I get back up. You always have to get back up.

“Yep, she brought me. And were you the asshole playing games with the lights?” Midas demanded.

Her jaw almost hit the floor. As far as she knew, no one had ever called Dimitri an asshole. Well, not to his face, anyway.

And speaking of his face—it turned an unnatural red. More like reddish purple.

“She was on the ice when the lights went off,” Midas continued, apparently not giving a damn about the odd color of Dimitri’s face, “and she could have hurt herself. Even someone as talented as Alina can’t skate in pitch darkness.”

“I didn’t turn anything off,” Dimitri fired right back. “I came in and turned everything on. I would never do anything to jeopardize Alina! She’s my prize skater.”

“Really don’t like the possessive my. Not when it comes to Alina,” Midas drawled. “We’ll revisit that one.” He turned toward her. “Stay with the douche.”

Her eyes widened. He had not—

“I’ll check the perimeter and come back for you.” His hand lifted and brushed over her cheek. “You are…quite something, Alina Bellamy.”

Then he was off. Moving very swiftly for someone of his size. She gaped after him.

No.” Dimitri moved into her path and blocked her view of Midas’s determined figure striding away. “You are not to get involved with anyone.”

She wasn’t involved with Midas. They’d just met.

“Your attention is on the ice. One hundred percent on the ice.”

Wasn’t it always? While everyone else had normal lives. Normal relationships.

“He isn’t for you, Alina. Now, get back on the ice. You have several hours of practice to go. You aren’t nailing that quadruple axel.”

Because most female figure skaters didn’t nail it. There was a reason it was the rarest jump.

“On the ice,” he snapped. “And into the air. You don’t have time for anything else. This is your life.”

Midas had vanished.

The ice waited.

She turned from her coach. Made her way back to the ice. Her skates slid forward, slowly at first but then faster and faster. Silence settled around her. Silence and the occasional slice of her blades.

No, she didn’t feel the cold. She was on the ice again. She didn’t feel the cold when she—

Maybe all I ever feel is cold. Maybe I feel it so much that I don’t know when I’m freezing.

Maybe…maybe she only noticed when she wasn’t cold.

When warmth touched her.

When…Midas touched her.

She launched into the air. One rotation. Two rotations. Three. Four—

She slammed onto the ice. So hard that her whole body quaked.

Her breath shuddered out.

“Up!” Dimitri thundered.

Alina got back to her feet and started skating again.

***

If Alina fell one more time, Midas was walking on that damn ice and carrying her off himself. And that prick coach? Barking instructions left and right. Talk about an asshole. His voice grated with every order that he threw at Alina. And the possessive way he talked about her? The way he ordered her?

A growl built in Midas’s throat. He’d checked every inch of the facility. Hadn’t found any sign that someone else had been there. He had no clue why the lights had gone off, but he damn well didn’t like the situation.

Ryker had given him the barest of details on her case the night before. Someone had been sending threatening emails. Letters. There had been some threats made on social media. Her father had made sure those threats hadn’t actually been read by Alina. None of the threats had been traced back to the perpetrator—or perpetrators. But with the Olympic competition season heating up, Ryker had wanted to make sure a guard was close to Alina.

Her undercover protector.

So, here he was. Watching her skate. Feeling a strange rage snake through him each time that dick of a coach ordered her to complete a different maneuver. Alina had been skating for hours. She needed a break. Sweat gleamed on her face, shining a little on her forehead and her curving cheekbones. Her hair still remained pulled back in its tight bun, though a few tendrils had escaped to dance around her face. Classical music played from the speakers as she streaked across the ice, and when she began to spin—over and over—her delicate body became a wild blur that was really damn impressive to see.

She kept spinning and spinning. He could not take his eyes off her and then—

The music stopped.

So did she. With her back arched, her chest heaving, and her hands in the air.

Perfect.

He clapped.

Her head whipped toward him. Surprise flashed in her eyes. Amazing eyes. Dark and deep eyes. A quick smile curved her lips. No dimples from Alina. But she didn’t need dimples. That smile of hers was absolutely gorgeous.

“You will not be here tomorrow,” Dimitri informed him. His Russian accent grated hard in the words. No “W” sounds there. Just a hard “V.”

“Oh, I absolutely will be here.” Midas turned his head and looked down at the much smaller man. I can break you with barely a thought, asshole. “I’ll be here tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. Pretty much as long as I’m needed, I’ll be here.”

“You are not needed.”

“Um, well, see, her father—you remember him, right? The man who pays you? Who built this lovely facility? He hired me. He wants me to keep an eye on things. Ryker wants me to ensure that the building is secure for Alina and the other skaters. Be assured, I take my job very seriously.” He did. A charge had never been hurt during his watch.

“You can watch from a distance,” Dimitri bit out. “You will not distract Alina.” He whirled toward her as she skated to join them. “Adequate performance. Add an extra hour for tomorrow. You’ll need it.” Then he marched away.

“Adequate, my ass,” Midas informed her. Loudly. He wanted the dick to hear him. “That was amazing. Never seen anyone skate like you. You are phenomenal.”

Her head dipped forward as a faint pink tinted her cheeks. “Thank you.”

His hand lifted and curled under her chin. He tilted her face up because he wanted to look into those incredible eyes of hers again.

Wow. Slow your roll, man. You’re playing the role of interested suitor. This is not the real deal. He had one big rule that he usually told his charges…Don’t go falling for me. Yeah, probably a BS warning that they didn’t need but he gave the warning because he never, ever allowed emotional ties. Those ties would always get in the way of a job.

“Adequate is actually a really big compliment from Dimitri,” she murmured. “You should hear what he says when he isn’t impressed.”

“No, I don’t think I should hear that.” It would just piss him off, and Midas already didn’t like the jerk. His thumb slid over her lower lip.

Her breath caught.

What the fuck am I doing? The caressing movement of his thumb had been instinctive. She had gorgeous lips. Full. Bow-shaped. Kissable.

And he needed to back the hell off. She was the reserved one. The shy one. The one her own father had said didn’t have a lot of experience with men. If he came on too strong, she’d bolt.

He dropped his hand and stepped back.

She made her way to the bench and began to remove her skates.

Damn but she was small. He looked at his hands. Freaking bear claws. He towered over her. The woman was built along ballerina-like lines. Was that a figure skater thing? Did they have to be small in order to do all that crazy shit in the air? Kinda like a gymnast or something? Wait, he did remember reading that she’d competed in gymnastics for a time, before she’d switched fully to figure skating.

“Did you figure out why the lights went off?” She laced up her tennis shoes. She’d been skating in a pair of what looked like black yoga pants and a form-fitting black top. A top that stretched over her small but round breasts. And, yes, dammit, his gaze had dipped to those breasts a time or two.

Or ten.

He cleared his throat. Her pants weren’t yoga pants. He was sure there was some sort of special skating name for them. Midas just had zero clue what that name might be. As he watched, Alina shouldered into a white, puffy coat and zipped it up.

Then she rose to stand in front of him.

“Shit,” he exclaimed. “You’re even smaller than I thought.”

A shake of her head. “I’m the same size. Just not standing on blades any longer.” She lifted her hand and pulled her hair free of the bun. The silky mass tumbled over her shoulders as a long sigh slipped from her. “Oh, so much better.”

He swallowed.

“So, did you figure out why the lights went off?” Alina asked again.

“Got a crew investigating the electrical panel right now. Lead maintenance fellow thinks it could have been a short.” One possibility, certainly. But there were a few things about the situation that bothered him.

One…the door to the facility had been unlocked when he arrived.

Two…the lights had all come on easily enough when Dimitri had flipped the switches. And, of course, when Midas had questioned him, Dimitri hadn’t been able to say if the lights over the rink had been turned off before he started flipping things. The Russian coach had no idea what he’d turned on and what he hadn’t.

Three…I don’t like her training alone. “You should have someone with you when you train in the mornings.”

Her mouth kicked into a half-smile. An oddly sexy one. “It’s my alone time. My time to glide across the ice without Dimitri growling at me.”

Yeah, he could get wanting to be away from the prick, but… “I’ll be here in the mornings before you arrive from now on.”

Her brows climbed. “The last head of security didn’t arrive that early.”

“Then he wasn’t doing the job right. I’ll be here with you. There won’t be any other instances of you skating alone in the dark.” The idea of saying he was the new head of security at the rink? Totally his. Midas liked to keep his truth and his lies as close as possible. Ryker had needed someone, and Midas was the most qualified. He’d watch over the facility and take extra care to watch Alina.

Alina nibbled on her lower lip.

“Got a problem?” he queried. He was sure she was gonna tell him that she wanted her “alone time” in the morning for skating, and that was just gonna be too damn bad because he was there to protect her. He’d get the job done, no matter what. He would—

“Would you like to go out with me? Like, on a date?”

Midas blinked.

“Or is it weird because my father hired you to work here?” She retreated a quick step. “Or maybe it’s weird because you’re not interested, and I shouldn’t have said anything at all. Forget it.” She spun away. Her hair fluttered in her wake.

It took him about two seconds to break out of his stunned stupor. Then he lunged and curled his hand around her shoulder. “Wait!”

She looked back at him. Back first at his hand, then her dark gaze rose to meet his.

Fuck. There was something about her dark eyes…

“I am very interested.” Another truth. Something he hadn’t expected. Okay, fine, he’d expected some interest. Alina was a beautiful woman. Interest would be normal.

He typically dated women who were tall, stacked—with curves for days.

But Alina…small, delicate…

Those eyes…

The instant he’d touched her for the first time, a blast of lust had burned straight through him. Had not expected that kick. And the more he’d watched her, as she’d kept pushing herself over and over, never once complaining or giving up…beauty, grace, strength…

She licked her lips.

Sexiness.

He could have a problem on his hands.

“Would you like to have dinner with me?” she asked.

Dinner, dessert—anything and everything. Nope. Not supposed to say that or think that. He was gonna be the platonic boyfriend who toed the line.

Like he’d ever toed a line in his life.

“I know this probably seems crazy, especially seeing as how we just met,” Alina continued with nerves shaking in her husky voice.

He didn’t speak. Too busy trying to figure out what the hell to say. Yes, she’d just made things way easier on him. He’d been searching for a way to move to the next level so he could stay close to her, and she—

She was offering him that way on a silver platter.

“When you touch me, I feel something,” Alina confessed softly.

Her honesty rocked straight through him.

“Heat goes through my whole body.”

No woman had ever said this—

“Physical attraction, right?” She turned to fully face him. “I’m sure a man as gorgeous as you gets hit on all the time. You probably attract and get attracted to people all the time.”

He wasn’t blushing, was he? He damn well better not be.

“But this doesn’t happen with me.” A wince. “Not that I exactly get out a lot.” She waved a hand to indicate the rink. “Not like there are a ton of people you can meet here. And…I’m rambling. I do that. Probably because I don’t have very good people skills.”

“Your skills…” He sounded too growly. A side-effect of having a deep, rumbling voice. But he tried to clear his throat and speak a little softer, for her. “Your people skills seem just fine to me.”

Her smile beamed at him.

His chest ached.

“So I’m not being too forward?”

She didn’t get it. Often, people ran from him. His size alone was intimidating as shit. But when people learned about his past…

She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know a damn thing about me, except that when we touch, heat goes through her whole body. She’d said that. The sexiest admission he’d ever heard.

This was more than a problem. He was starting to venture into clusterfuck mode.

He didn’t cross the line on his cases. Never, ever got personally involved.

“I just didn’t want to lose the opportunity, you know? To see what might happen?” Her hair slid over her shoulder as she studied him. “Sometimes, something special can be right in front of you, but you miss it because you don’t take a chance.” A wince. “I don’t take a lot of chances in my life. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“You’re taking a chance with me.” She didn’t know him. Not a damn thing about him. If she did, would she run? He doubted the sweet little ice skater would be asking him for a date.

Not if she knew all his dark secrets.

His phone vibrated in the front pocket of his jeans. He ignored the vibration. Right then, nothing was more important than the woman before him.

A bob of her head. “A chance…a date. If you want one.”

“I fucking want it.” He did. Moreover, he wanted her.

Clusterfuck or not.

“Then dinner, tonight?” Hope lit her dark eyes. Eagerness.

“Dinner. Tonight.”

“There’s a great barbecue joint not too far away. Nice and casual.”

Barbecue? Be still his heart.

“I could meet you there, say at eight o’clock?” Alina rattled off the name of the restaurant.

He nodded. “Meet you there.”

She did a quick bounce. Freaking adorable. Then Alina bestowed him with her wide smile once more. The smile was a weapon, one she might not even realize she possessed. It made a man want to do crazy things.

Made him want to do anything to see the smile again.

Oh, hell. He inhaled.

“It was great meeting you,” Alina told him. “Scary, at first, but I’m glad you walked into my rink.”

“Same,” he told her. Too gruff, but she didn’t seem to mind. “Great meeting you.” Guarding you. I am supposed to be guarding you. And he would guard her. On their date. Pretend boyfriend, reporting for duty. It was really too easy.

So why did he feel like shit?

With a quick wave, she headed to the locker room area. He waited until she disappeared.

Scary, at first. Most people said he was always scary. Always intimidating. But, not Alina.

His phone vibrated again. Jaw locking, he pulled it out of his pocket. Once glance at the screen, and every muscle in his body tensed.

He’s asking to see you again. Says it’s important.

Midas recognized the text sender’s name. Would have been damn impossible for Midas not to know the name of his dear old, twisted, piece of shit father’s new lawyer.

It was the fourth time within the last week that he’d gotten the message. And, just like before, Midas’s reply was the same.

When hell freezes over.

Because he had no intention of ever talking to his father again. When your dear old dad framed you for murder—and turned out to be one of the most twisted serial killers in existence—it tended to make you want to cut ties.

Especially when there were too many folks out there who kept thinking that you were a chip off the old sadistic block.

Once more, Alina’s voice drifted through his head. It was great meeting you. Scary, at first, but I’m glad you walked into my rink.

Just how long would she stay glad? He glanced at the ice.

He fucking hated the cold.

***

Ryker Bellamy stared at the photo on his desk. A photo that had been in his car, waiting for him, a week ago.

A photo of his daughter. One taken while she was mid-spin on the ice. Not a promotional image. Not something taken by one of the photographers he hired. Not even the usual press people.

Alina wore her workout uniform. No makeup.

A red X had been drawn over her body.

Swallowing, he flipped over the photo and reread the message he’d already studied at least a hundred times.

You can’t escape the past.

Then, beneath those scrawled words…

How much is she worth to you?

Everything. Alina was everything. And she would be safe. She had to be safe. Midas Monroe was supposed to be the best. Sure, he hadn’t told Midas everything, but there was no need. Midas would protect her. He’d stay close. He’d be her bodyguard.

No one needs to know what’s happening. Because if the full truth came out, Ryker’s life could be destroyed.

Slowly, deliberately, he tore up the photo. Tore it into as many tiny pieces as he could.

No one threatened him. Or his daughter.

Alina would be safe.

There was no other alternative. He wouldn’t lose her. He’d lost her mother. He would not lose his Alina.

Midas Monroe had one job.

Keep her safe.

He’d better fucking do his job.