TMB Protection, Book 1
Fighting her way up three flights of stairs to her apartment with her arms full of groceries, Bailey O’Dell arrived to find her door practically off its hinges. Shit. “Harp? Guinness?” She yelled. She didn’t hear the telltale clickity-clack of toenails on hardwood she hoped for. No thumping, no running, nothing.
She found them in the bathroom, beaten and bloody. On autopilot, she found her way to Dr. Archer and worked her way through the mountain of paperwork handed to her. It reminded her of the hospital when her father had been dying of cancer two years ago. After the dogs were admitted and settled, she sat in the Durango for a long time and finally broke down. It was time to call Sean. Voice mail. Of course it would be damn voice mail!
“Sean, it’s Bailey. My house was ransacked today and the dogs were hurt. No, I don’t know who or why, but I am not staying at my place. I know you’re on assignment with some murder witness or something, so I’m crashing at your place. Call me when you get this. I love you big bro, take care of yourself.”
As she slid the key into the lock at Sean’s house, the door flew open and knocked her right on her ass.
“Hey!” she screamed as she found herself looking up into the business end of a nasty looking pistol. Throwing her hands up, she protested, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is my brother’s house. Why the hell are you pointing that at me?”
The girl had spunk, that was good. She was staring up at a gun and had the balls to question him. He hoped to hell she was Sean’s sister and not someone else.
“That’d be me, yes. And just who the hell are you?”
“What’s Sean’s middle name?”
“You’re pointing a gun at me to ask my brother’s middle name?”
He barely suppressed his laugh. “No, I’m asking to insure you are, in fact, Bailey Kathleen O’Dell.”
“Riley. His birthday is October 9th, he wears a size 13 shoe, he hates pickles, he wears boxers, loves Slim Jims, and has a very nice singing voice. Do I pass?”
Re-holstering his gun, the chiseled stranger nodded.
“Sean told me a lot of stories about you, but he failed to mention you were beautiful.”
“I’m sure kid sisters never really seem beautiful.”
“I’m Alec, by the way, Alec Cartwright.”
“Hello, Alec, by the way. I, too have heard a lot about you. Big brother must really not believe in pictures.” Otherwise I would have known how amazingly hot his partner was.“Look, my house was ransacked and my dogs were beaten, and you were a great sport and added insult to injury by holding me at gunpoint. Now, I get that you and Sean are in a business where you have to be cautious and all that good stuff, but c’mon, Alec. Surely you have to notice some family resemblance between Sean and me, don’t ya think?”
He’d stopped listening after she’d said beaten. “Are the dogs going to be okay? I know you love them like they’re your children.”
“You have heard a lot about me,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. “Dr. Archer thinks they’ll be fine. Guinness had to have surgery, but Harp was just beaten pretty badly. They’ll both be there for at least the next week or so. I was planning on staying here, but I didn’t know Sean had already made arrangements for you to be here.” Although if I had, I might have come over sooner.
“Any clue who would want to tear up your house, or why?” He asked the obvious question, although he was quite enjoying the emotions running across Bailey’s beautiful face. The woman had to be exhausted, but she was a study in perfection with her sapphire eyes, black hair, pale skin and full, pink lips.
“Not a damn clue. I don’t have anything of value really, except my laptop and even that’s questionable. I doubt there’s more than $100 in my whole place, and all my jewelry is on my body.” She touched each piece as she named it off, “Diamond studs from graduation, diamond pendant from Grams, Grams’ diamond ring, and a belly ring- no diamond.” She flicked a glance at him and saw his eyes heat at that last statement.
“So, since you’ve had such a wonderful day, you probably haven’t eaten.”
“As a matter of fact, you’re right. I haven’t eaten since…. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. And that was two cups of coffee and a bagel at 7am.”
“Damn, woman. You are way too gorgeous to starve yourself. Besides, I’m a chef, so sit down here, and relax for a minute.”
“Did you just say you were a chef?”
“I did.” At her chagrined look, he asked, “What, you don’t believe me?”
“A man who looks like you cannot be a chef, it’s too perfect.”
He laughed. “Too perfect?”
“Yeah, sinfully sexy, armed and dangerous, and a chef? Sounds a little like a set-up for a novel or movie or something. Like I’m going to wake up in a minute.”
“Well, all that bad shit happened today...”
Rolling right over his comment, she continued, “Maybe this is exactly why Sean didn’t show us of pictures of each other. Maybe he knew I would want to jump your bones if I met you.”
He shook his head. “Maybe he was afraid I would break your heart.” Although he had a reputation as a player at the firm, he got a lot more credit than he was actually due; he was just very good at getting information from women. If anyone was a player it was Sean. Not that he was going to tell Bailey.
“I’m a big girl, Alec. I’m 25 years old.” She trailed off, seemingly lost in thought for a moment before exclaiming, “Shit! My birthday is today. Today.” In awe of her own stupidity, she asked quietly, “What kind of person forgets their own birthday?”
“Someone who cares more about her animals than herself?” Alec offered.
Thinking she'd jumped the gun, she asked, “Wait. What day is today, anyway?”
“Well, dammit. Happy birthday to me. La di fricking da.”
He stifled a chuckle. “Happy Birthday, Bailey. I’m glad you were born, but I’m really glad you’re over 21.” He walked over to a shelf by the door, pulling a crudely wrapped package down. “Sean said your birthday was this week. I’m sorry I didn’t bring it over today, maybe I could have been there to protect you from whatever happened. Anyway,” he handed her the package, “here’s Sean’s gift.”
She unwrapped a cashmere sweater in royal blue.
“It matches your eyes,” Alec observed.
“It’s my color all right.” Fighting tears she didn't want him to see, she rested her head on the table as she let loose a long sigh. Her voice muffled by oak, she told him, “I'm going to have a breakdown, right here, right now.”
“No, what you’re going to have is chicken Parmesan.”
Lifting her head, she merely asked, “Huh?”
“I really am a chef. I wasn’t pulling your leg. Sit here, drink this nice Merlot and I will serve you shortly.”
It had to be the sexiest thing she’d ever seen. A gorgeous man, dressed in a an olive drab T-shirt, jeans worn in all the right places, and a shoulder holster efficiently cooking dinner for two. The man certainly was delicious. Standing a couple inches shy of Sean's 6’4”, Alec Cartwright was blessed with a pair of warm moss green eyes flecked with gold and framed with lashes too long for a man, a straight nose, high, chiseled cheekbones, and a square jaw. His sandy brown hair was clipped short, but not quite military short, and he had the body of a- geez, she didn’t know- a god perhaps? She didn’t realize she was staring so hard until he said something.
“Bailey? Are you okay? You’ve been staring at me for ten minutes.”
Blushing, she tried to act nonchalant. “Oh, really? I was just thinking.”
“I don’t mind you staring as long as I can stare back. Damn, but you are stunning.” Turning back to the stove, he shook his head as he continued, “Maybe Sean knew what he was doing when he tried to keep me away from you. Now that I‘ve met you, I can’t say I could leave you alone.”
Blushing a darker shade of red, she tried to answer without giggling. “Big brother always looks out for me. Although this time, I can’t say I don’t mind. Maybe I want you to jump me.”
Choking on the wine he'd just sipped, Alec sputtered, “You’ve known me for an hour.”
“Nah. You’re my brother’s partner, his best friend. I’ve heard so many stories about you, it at least counts for a few days. I know you’ve saved his ass on more than one occasion, I know you’ve put your ass on the line for him more times than I can count and I know you’re the only person at the firm he actually trusts with his life. That says a lot. Besides, I didn’t say I was going to jump into bed with you… Yet.”