Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre


  "I'm happy to help too," Roman offered. And while he certainly was, a large part of his offer stemmed from wanting to make sure that Suzanne didn't take on yet another massive project at this wedding when she needed some downtime to relax and recharge.

  As Suzanne's father turned to Roman, she finally stepped all the way out of his arms.

  "Hello, I'm Roman Huson," he said, putting down their bags to shake her father's hand.

  "I'm Suzanne's father, William."

  Roman was impressed with William's firm grip. Building houses had kept him strong. This was a father a guy didn't want to mess with.

  "Come on in," William said as he stepped aside to let them into the house that was far more impressively built than Suzanne had let on. The knotty pine rafters rose at least thirty feet in the living and dining rooms, and the large windows had a direct sight line to the sun setting over the lake, with rolling green mountains beyond the blue waters. "You're both probably hungry and thirsty after your long drive. What can I get you?" Without missing a beat, he added, "And then you can tell me how you met." So that I can determine if you're good enough for my daughter was the clear subtext.

  Suzanne put a hand on her father's arm. "I didn't want to try to explain over the phone, but you should know that Roman is here because he's working. As my bodyguard."

  "Your bodyguard?" Her father instantly looked alarmed. "What's going on, honey? Why didn't you tell me you were dealing with trouble and needed a bodyguard?"

  "I'm not in trouble," she said, her automatic reply. But then, after a pause, she added, "Not much, anyway. Just some weird technical stuff going on at work and with my cell phone."

  "So then why did you need to hire Roman?"

  "I didn't." Her full mouth set into the irritated line Roman had become rather familiar with over the past two days. And that he found far too sexy. "Alec, Harry, and Drake hired him behind my back. I found out Monday night at Drake's gallery show."

  "The whole situation should have been handled much better," Roman agreed.

  William hadn't stopped frowning since the moment his daughter had said the word bodyguard. And no wonder--what parent wanted to think their child might be in danger?

  Roman instantly ricocheted to a memory of being fourteen years old and in the boxing ring with a guy who was five years older and fifty pounds heavier. A boxing ring his father had put him in to win a bet. Funny how Roman being in danger never seemed to bother his dad at all.

  "Even though your daughter didn't hire me herself," Roman said as he grounded himself back in the present, "I want you to know that if anything should escalate, I'll make sure she remains safe and sound."

  "Safe and sound." Suzanne repeated his words in an irritated voice. "Of course I'm going to remain safe and sound, just the way I always have. Because I can take care of myself."

  The look her father shot him was almost a mirror image of Alec's. One that said, Suzanne means the world to us. If I'm going to trust you with her safety, you'd better be sure to earn that trust every goddamned second.

  "Of course you can," her father said in a gentle voice, "but someone still should have told me what was going on." It didn't escape Roman's notice that William seemed more than a little hurt to be left out of the family loop.

  "I didn't want to worry you. I'm sure the boys didn't either."

  "I'm your father. Worrying is my job. If you need my help, I want to know."

  While a part of Roman was impressed by how William was trying to step up after not being there for Suzanne and her brothers when she was a kid, another part of him was wary. Roman wanted to protect Suzanne from everything, including the possibility that her father might hurt her more than he already had.

  Just then, Alec, Harry, Drake, and Rosa came in through the front door, likely having been on the same plane. "Let's get this party started," Alec said by way of greeting as he dropped a leather travel bag by the door.

  As Suzanne and her father went to greet the new arrivals, Roman had a minute to take in the family as a whole. They were a great-looking--and obviously successful--bunch, but far more impressive was how close they all seemed to be. Even with William slightly on the fringes, Roman could see that they had a real bond. A strong bond. The kind of bond he and his own father had never forged, no matter how many beers they drank together, or how many boxing matches they won.

  "Perfect timing," William said. "Smith and Valentina are hosting cocktails and dinner at the inn for whoever can make it tonight. They said to come by as soon as we're ready."

  "I've got to change out of my jeans," Suzanne said, "and then I'll be ready to go."

  As if her brother had finally noticed what she was wearing, Alec did a double take at her curve-skimming silk shirt, sleek black jeans, and heels. "Why are you wearing something so revealing in the first place?"

  She scowled at her brother. "Everyone dresses like this."

  He scowled back. "Not you."

  "Well, I do now. So you'd better get used to it."

  With that parting shot, she grabbed her bag and headed for the stairs. Something told Roman that if any of them thought her outfits had been revealing so far, they hadn't seen anything yet. If only so that she could turn the screws as tightly as possible on the brothers she was already furious with for hiring Roman behind her back.

  Alec turned to Roman. "What's gotten into her? Harry told me she'd forgiven us for hiring you."

  "You know Suzanne better than I do," Roman said, "but I'm guessing she didn't care for the way you spoke to her about her outfit. I'd apologize, and soon, if I were you."

  "What the hell, man?" Alec was known for his fierce look, which he now aimed at Roman. "Whose side are you on?"

  "Suzanne's." And not just because Alec and his brothers had hired Roman to protect her. But because he liked her.

  Liked her more than any woman he'd ever known.

  *

  Maybe Suzanne should have been more intent than ever on getting Roman to resign after the way he'd gone rogue with Craig. When they'd first set out on the drive from the city earlier that day, that was what she'd been working to convince herself to do. Heck, all the previous afternoon and evening, she'd been trying to get herself to see sense. To remember all the reasons she couldn't fall for Roman.

  But then, after their talk in the car and the way he'd opened up to her about his childhood, her hard-won resolution had simply disappeared. Right now, she didn't feel as if she needed to dress super sexy to tempt Roman into stepping over the line. But after the way Alec had spoken to her? She was angry enough to up the ante even over her previous outfits, if only to see how mad she could make him.

  And if Roman happened to be wowed by the glimmering gold dress that skimmed so tightly over her curves it was almost as if she wasn't wearing anything at all--a dress so sexy even she couldn't quite believe she had the guts to wear it? Well, the truth was that Suzanne wasn't entirely sure she'd mind him noticing her. For real, this time, rather than because she was putting on a faux seductive act to get him to kiss her and then resign.

  When he'd opened up to her about his past, she'd felt as if they'd started to become friends. Being able to share things with him--and having him share right back--had filled her with warmth. And tenderness. She'd forced herself to fight her intense attraction to him, but she didn't know how to fight against warmth and tenderness.

  Granted, her brothers would freak if they thought Roman was looking at her with interest--and she was looking at him the same way. But she was beyond done with their trying to control her life in any way, shape, or form, all under the guise of protecting her. When would all of them see that she could protect herself just fine?

  Head held high, she left the bedroom to make her way down the stairs to the living room. She wasn't surprised to find Roman waiting for her outside the bedroom door. What did surprise her, however, was when he stared at her in wonder.

  "You're stunning."

  She lost her breath at the heat beneath his word
s--and in his gaze. Actually had to work to get enough oxygen to say, "Thank you." She looked down at herself, then back up at him. "I was kind of angry at Alec when I headed up here. You don't think this dress is a bit much?"

  "There's no denying how gorgeous you are in it," he said without pause. "But what's important isn't what I think. It isn't what your brother thinks. It's what you think. It's whether you like the dress."

  After having so many men trying to tell her what to do her whole life, he couldn't know how much she appreciated his support for her decision--whatever it might be. They might just be talking about a dress, but it felt like the first step toward something bigger. Or, at least, something that might become bigger, if only the two of them decided to let it grow.

  Looking down, she smoothed her hands over the pretty fabric. "I like it. And it's actually pretty comfortable," she noted with more than a little surprise.

  Her jeans and T-shirts were easy to wear, but as they made their way down the stairs, for the first time she wondered if they were also a way to hide. She honestly didn't think that she harbored any issues about sex. She truly appreciated all the things her body was capable of--be it exercise, work, or pleasure.

  But maybe one of the biggest reasons she'd never wanted to put her femininity on display was because her fears ran deeper than that. Though she swore she wanted to find love, she couldn't deny that any time things got semiserious or the slightest bit intense with a guy she was dating, she freaked out. Coming from a legacy of love-gone-wrong did that to a girl.

  Other women might be looking for a whirlwind, swept-off-her-feet romance, but Suzanne's dreams of finding "the one" had never looked like that. Not when her parents had lived that fantasy romance only to have it all come crashing down in the worst way possible.

  Rosa, Drake, Harry, and her father were waiting at the bottom of the stairs, while Alec was out on the front porch making a call.

  "What a fantastic dress!" Rosa said when she spotted Suzanne.

  Suzanne appreciated the support from her brother's girlfriend. "I love yours too."

  Rosa was one of the most drooled-over women on the planet, and anything she wore looked amazing. Though she was wearing a simple off-white linen dress tonight, she absolutely glowed in it. Love, Suzanne had often noted, did that to a person. All her cousins who had fallen head over heels in love now shone even brighter than before.

  Alec walked back inside, and his eyes widened when he saw what she was wearing. Suzanne braced for the controlling comment that was sure to come out of his mouth. Instead, he said, "I was out of line earlier."

  She couldn't believe her ears. "Are you apologizing to me?"

  A muscle jumped in his jaw as if it pained him to admit it, but he nodded.

  Of all her brothers, Alec was the worst at admitting he was wrong. Which made this a really big deal. She hugged him. "Thank you."

  Her brother kissed the top of her head. "I just want you to be happy," he said in a low voice.

  "I know you do," she said softly as she drew back. "But I'm not a little girl anymore. You've got to trust me to make the right decisions."

  Though he didn't look entirely convinced, he nodded. "I'll try."

  "Good," she said with a smile, "because I've just realized I like dressing up and looking pretty sometimes."

  "You always look pretty, Suz. If you think you need to change out of jeans to try to impress a guy, he's the wrong guy."

  She raised an eyebrow. "Is that your version of trying to trust me?"

  He grimaced. "Sorry. Old habits die hard."

  "Especially for an old man like you."

  "Thirty-four isn't old."

  She laughed as she walked away, throwing an, "If you say so," over her shoulder.

  As the seven of them left the house to head to the Inn on Main Street for Smith and Valentina's cocktail party, Suzanne and Rosa walked side by side in front.

  "Alec was so upset with me before I went upstairs," Suzanne mused quietly enough that her brother wouldn't be able to hear. "I wonder what turned him around?"

  "Your bodyguard," Rosa informed her in a low-pitched voice.

  "Roman? He's the one who got Alec to see the light about laying off on the whole overbearing big brother thing?"

  "He flat-out told Alex to apologize to you for acting like an ass."

  "Wow."

  "I know you didn't want a bodyguard, but if you're going to be stuck with one for a little while, Roman doesn't seem half bad."

  Suzanne laughed. "I agree that he isn't hard to look at."

  "Not only that," Rosa said, "but he really seems to care about you. As more than just his client, I mean."

  Hope fluttered in Suzanne's belly. Trying to act casual, she asked, "Why do you say that?"

  "The security details I've worked with before have always kept to themselves. They did their jobs, but there was no connection on either side. Whereas the two of you not only seem like friends, it's also clear that lots of chemistry is there if you ever wanted to become more in the future." When Suzanne didn't reply right away, Rosa bit her lip. "I'm probably totally overstepping. I know we haven't known each other that long, but I feel so close to you already."

  "You haven't overstepped at all," Suzanne assured her. "And we are close. It's just that I've been trying to get my head around how I feel about Roman. I keep thinking I should be keeping my distance, but then I want to get closer too--which doesn't make any sense. And I hate it when things don't make sense!" She looked at Rosa. "Please don't say anything to Drake about any of this. Especially since I'm sure it will all come to nothing."

  "Of course I won't say anything. I'm always faithful to the girl code," Rosa said with a smile. "And trust me, if anyone gets what it's like to have nothing feel like it's making sense, I do. The last thing I thought I'd find when I did my runner from Miami was your brother. It wasn't even that I wasn't looking for love. I didn't believe anyone could love me the way he does." She looked over her shoulder again at Drake. "I constantly feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure this is really my life now. I honestly can't imagine life without him. He's my everything, Suz. My whole heart and soul wrapped into one handsome, brilliantly talented, funny package."

  Suzanne smiled at the woman she hoped would be her sister-in-law one day soon. "My brother would do anything for you, Rosa. I know you would do the same for him."

  "Anything," Rosa vowed in a fervent voice.

  Weddings, Suzanne knew, brought out the romantic in everyone. Especially people like Rosa and Drake, who were still in that first sweet flush of falling for each other.

  And as she snuck another look at Roman from over her shoulder--only to find him looking at her too--Suzanne couldn't help but wonder what the wedding might bring out in the two of them.

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  Roman was one of a dozen security guards working the wedding. Smith Sullivan and his fiancee, Valentina, had a lot of famous friends, more marquee names and faces than Roman had seen together in one place since he'd gone to see the last Marvel superhero movie. Four of the five Maverick billionaires were here as well, with their kids, wives, and fiancees. Roman couldn't even begin to imagine the net worth of this crowd. More than some countries, probably.

  Summer Lake was a small town with everything people needed to be happy--water, sun, sand, and mountains. Nonetheless, Roman's previous clients who weren't half as rich or famous as Smith Sullivan would have sneered down their noses at the idea of having their wedding here. Interestingly, though, no one in the Sullivan family seemed at all out of place at Summer Lake.

  Smith Sullivan was clearly as happy as a guy could get--all because he was head over heels in love with Valentina. Hell, all the Sullivans from San Francisco and Seattle and Maine to whom Suzanne had introduced him so far tonight looked absolutely smitten with their partners.

  Were they for real? How could so many Sullivans have managed to find true, lasting love when everyone else was a total mess? Especially Roman's parents. It
was small comfort to know that out of all the families here, Suzanne's parents had been a mess too. He wished yet again that she could have known nothing but happiness growing up.

  Speaking of happiness--while he'd worked for enough A-list stars to know egos often reigned supreme, everyone in this crowd simply seemed intent on relaxing.

  And hitting on Suzanne.

  For the past several hours, Roman had employed great self-control in order to keep his hands from fisting--and messing up the pretty faces of the movie stars who had been chatting her up one after the other. He belonged over in the corner of the Inn's main room watching over his client like the other bodyguards. He should stay out of the way and unobtrusive. But she'd insisted he remain in the middle of it all with her.

  "This is my family," she'd said before they'd walked inside the Inn. "I'm safe here, which means you can relax. And since Alex, Harry, and Drake are your friends, they won't expect you to be on every single second while everyone else is having a good time."

  "Of course they do," he'd replied. "Regardless of the event, I've still got to do my job. I've still got to protect you."

  She'd dug her heels in, like he'd known she would. "How can I have fun with you scowling at everyone? If I promise that I won't sneak away and get myself into any trouble during the wedding, will you at least try to enjoy yourself?"

  How could he say no to that? How could he say no to her about anything, when all he wanted was to see her smile, hear her laugh?

  Damn it. He needed to get a grip on himself. Suzanne Sullivan was meant for a movie star like Buck Elroy, who was currently flirting with her.

  Unfortunately, Roman couldn't figure out how to take that much-needed step back as the guy said, "I hope you'll save me a dance tomorrow."

  She cocked her head in surprise, as if she'd only just realized she was being flirted with. "You want to dance with me?"

  God, she really didn't have a clue, did she? She still saw herself as a nerd girl, rather than an exceptionally lovely, intriguing, enticing woman who had the eye of every unattached man in the room.

 
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