Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre


  Alec advanced on him again. "Of course I know Suzanne is smart, tough, and beautiful. She's too good for you in every way."

  "She is."

  Roman's quick agreement made Alec pause. A couple of beats later, however, he let his anger loose again. "I know what you're like with women. I know how you treat them."

  "I'm making a vow to you right now that I will never treat Suzanne like that."

  "Are you asking us to believe you're going to change your stripes now?"

  "No."

  "Then what the hell are you going to do?"

  "I'm going to do whatever I can to convince her that she needs another bodyguard, and then I'm going to get out of her life. And stay out."

  Roman had turned to track down Suzanne at the party, when Drake asked, "What if she won't let you go?"

  Roman's gut twisted tighter than ever before as he shook his head, letting Drake know that wasn't an option. If push came to shove and he had to tell Suzanne the full truth about his past, once she heard it all she'd understand why he could never be her dream man. No matter how hot their kisses were, she'd want to run from him and never look back.

  "Don't worry," he promised her brothers, "she will."

  *

  "Something's gotten into Suzanne." Alec was still fuming. "She's never acted like that. Never talked to us like that."

  "No, she hasn't, but that doesn't mean she isn't right." Harry looked pensive. "She's always been the peacekeeper. She's always put herself last if it meant making sure everyone else was happy."

  "Face it, guys," Drake said, "from what I've seen so far, Roman seems to make her pretty happy. Happy enough that she's not about to let him quit until they figure out if they can make things work." None of them wanted to hear it, but that didn't change the facts. "I'm worried about her too, but you both know I never liked this plan to hire a bodyguard behind her back."

  "It was the only way we could make sure she was protected." Alec's hands fisted again. "At least, she should have been."

  "Looks to me like he's doing a good job of protecting her," Drake pointed out. "All they did was kiss."

  "He's her goddamned bodyguard!" Alec's frustration bubbled over again. "I can't believe I handpicked him for the job. What the hell was I thinking?"

  Harry rubbed a hand over his head, leaving his dark hair standing on end. "Two things are clear right now. She won't stand for letting Roman resign--or be fired. And, whether this was the plan or not, she likes him. More than she's liked any guy in a very long time."

  "I wouldn't have let any of you stand in my way with Rosa," Drake said. "If Suz is serious about Roman, she's not going to be any different."

  "Jesus." Alec looked like his whole world was turning inside out. "You really think she's serious about that bastard?"

  "That bastard was your friend ten minutes ago," Drake pointed out.

  "I'm itching to rip into someone," Alec growled. "Don't push me right now, little brother."

  "If you need a sparring session to let off some steam, old man"--Drake took a step forward--"I'm up for it."

  Just as he had dozens of times before, Harry got between them. "Beating the crap out of each other tonight isn't going to help Suzanne."

  Alec's fists opened and closed several times before he finally backed away from Drake. "Swear to God, if he hurts her..."

  "If he hurts her, we'll all make him pay," Harry agreed. "But right now the three of us need to do exactly what she said--take a step back and let her live her own life without us always butting in."

  "I can never forget the way she looked when Mom left and we found out she wasn't coming back." Alec's eyes were bleak as he remembered the past. "She cried so long, so hard, that her eyes swelled completely shut. Our nanny took her to the doctor, and I insisted on going with them. The doctor said nothing was wrong with her, that the swelling would go down by the next day. But he didn't know what he was talking about--everything was wrong. From that day forward, I vowed never to let anything happen to make her cry like that again." He looked at his brothers. "If Roman makes her cry, I won't be able to control myself."

  Harry picked up Alec's beer and brought it to him. "You've done a hell of a job taking care of Suz. Seems to me that the beatdown she gave us proves that she learned plenty from you about how to take care of herself."

  "She did a great job of nailing us to the wall, didn't she?" Alec grudgingly admitted.

  "She sure did," Drake agreed. "I kind of wish I'd seen the first part of the fireworks out here."

  "Something tells me you're going to have another chance, because if she and Roman do end up working things out, we're all going to have to figure out a way to deal with the two of them being a couple." Harry nudged Alec. "Especially you."

  "Roman said he's going to do whatever it takes to make her forget about him." Alec sounded so hopeful that Drake felt a little sorry for his brother.

  "I never thought Roman was a fool," Harry said. "But if he believes that she'll let him walk out of her life, then he's just proved me wrong. And you shouldn't make the mistake of believing that's going to happen, either."

  Alec's jaw tightened. "Just the thought of them as a couple makes me want to go ballistic."

  "I feel sorry for your future daughters." Only his siblings could have gotten away with talking to Alec like this. No one else in his world would have the guts. "If you're this protective of your sister connecting with someone you like," Drake continued, "you're never going to let your own kid out of her tower on high."

  Alec shuddered at the thought. "Yet another good reason never to get married or have kids. I'll leave that to the two of you. And to Suz." He scowled again, obviously thinking of Roman kissing his sister.

  Alec talked a big game about staying solo forever, but when it came right down to it, he was utterly committed to family. And one day, Drake had no doubt, a woman would come along who would change Alec's mind about absolutely everything, exactly the way Rosa had come along and changed his.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  By the time Roman caught up to Suzanne at the wedding reception, he was clearly dead set on reverting to the no-emotions bodyguard, trying to act as if they'd never kissed. He kept her in sight, but kept his distance at the same time.

  She'd always prided herself on being the kind of woman who talked things through with people in a reasonable manner rather than stomping away. But if she went up to Roman now, she was either going to punch him or kiss him. Or both! She wouldn't regret another kiss...but she might regret knocking him to the ground in front of everyone.

  A group of her cousins from the West Coast were all chatting by the rose arbor. They were always fun to be with and made her feel loved. Lord knew she needed that even more than usual tonight. She was heading over to them when Buck Elroy intercepted her.

  "I've been looking for you. Any chance you'd still like to have that drink?"

  She'd forgotten all about him. Hadn't given him one single thought since she and Roman had went off into the woods together.

  Feeling awful about the way she'd treated Buck, she said, "I'm glad we've gotten to know each other, and I had a lot of fun dancing with you, but I didn't mean to give you the wrong impression. Not," she added, "that I would assume you're interested in me in that way."

  "I am."

  "Oh." That stopped her for long enough to realize that Roman had been right. If she'd been up for a wedding fling, Buck would be more than willing to join her. "Well, the thing is--" She couldn't keep from looking over at Roman, who was standing by the fountain glowering at everyone. Especially Buck. "I'm not actually on the market." Because even though she and Roman were at a heck of a crossroads, she couldn't turn away from her feelings for him.

  "I'd like to try to change your mind, Suzanne."

  Buck was sweet. She knew how hard Hollywood relationships could be, but one day she hoped he'd find a wonderful woman to be with, the way Smith had with Valentina. "Sorry, Buck."

  She didn't get the sense t
hat he let much defeat him, but tonight he simply leaned closer to give her a peck on the cheek. "He's a lucky guy."

  Buck had barely walked away when her eagle-eyed female relatives waved her over.

  "Spill," her cousin Lori said the second Suzanne sat down. The women had kicked off their heels and were relaxing on outdoor couches with cups of hot tea as the night wound down. Lori's skin glowed from the pregnancy she was wearing as well as she wore absolutely everything.

  Lori's twin Sophie nodded. They were both very pretty, but as different as could be. Lori was loud and always moving, whereas Sophie carefully considered every word before it came out of her mouth and was happy to spend hours curled up with a book. Their nicknames--Naughty and Nice--fit them perfectly. Sophie's husband Jake had taken their three-year-old twins to put them to bed a while ago.

  "Normally," Sophie said, "you know I'd tell Lori to butt out, but I'm dying to know what's going on with you and Buck Elroy and your bodyguard. Even Mom is utterly intrigued by your love triangle--aren't you?"

  Mary Sullivan looked a little guilty. "Sorry, honey."

  Mia walked up, curiosity gleaming in her eyes. "Are you grilling Suz about all the men who want her?" When Lori nodded, she turned to Suzanne and said, "I haven't missed the good stuff, have I? Tell us everything. Seriously, don't leave anything out."

  Suzanne nearly groaned out loud. "First of all, there's absolutely nothing going on with Buck. He's nice, but I'm not interested."

  "Of course you're not," Mia said. "I mean, Buck Elroy is a good-looking guy and all, but I swear, I could kill Ford for not letting on that he even knew a bodyguard this exceptionally gorgeous, let alone that Roman was working for you. So...what's going on with the two of you?"

  "All I know," Suzanne said, "is that I didn't want him around, but then I kind of did, and then I thought we were getting closer, but he kept pulling back, and then tonight we kissed, and it was the best kiss of my entire life, and--"

  "The best kiss of your life?" Lori fanned herself. "I knew it. Look at him." She wasn't the slightest bit subtle as she ogled him. But Suzanne figured married, pregnant women could get away with it. "How could he kiss any other way? Which begs the question, what are you doing here with us right now when you could be doing more super-crazy-hot kissing with your super-crazy-hot bodyguard?"

  "Because right after we kissed, he apologized for stepping over a line and tried to resign." Suzanne tried to keep her lips from pulling up into a snarl. "I wouldn't let him. And I wouldn't let my brothers fire him either."

  "Brothers." Lori, Sophie, and Mia sighed the word in unison.

  "Don't even get me started," Suzanne said, losing the battle to hold back a snarl.

  "When you were a little girl," Mary said, "Alec wouldn't let you out of his sight. Not to play with his friends or to let you play with yours. He even insisted on being there to drop you off at school and pick you up every day." She put her hand over Suzanne's, her fingers still elegant and strong though she was in her seventies. "He wants so badly for you to be happy."

  "I know he does." Suzanne squeezed her beloved aunt's hand. If only she could have had a mother like Mary. But she couldn't go back and change time. No one could. All she could do was keep moving forward, the best way she knew how. "Alec has been the most terrific brother anyone could have. So have Harry and Drake. But what if Roman makes me happy and they refuse to see it?"

  Mary pulled her in close, as if she were one of her own daughters. "As long as I've known you, you've never let anyone stand in your way. Whatever you decide about Roman, I guarantee all of us are going to be behind you one hundred percent. Even your brothers. And if Roman's kisses are as great as you're saying..."

  Suzanne lifted her fingers to her mouth, which tingled just from the memory of Roman's kisses. "They are."

  "Good," Mary said with a wide grin. "As far as I'm concerned, every woman deserves a man who knows his way around a kiss."

  "Amen to that, Aunt Mary," Mia said as she raised her glass.

  And as the other women all joined in the toast, Suzanne gave silent thanks, yet again, that she had the best family in the world.

  *

  Suzanne's cousins walked back with her and Roman to her father's house so that she could give Lori a Wild Child rattle toy and Sophie the LEGO Duplo building kits she'd brought for her twins. Lori, predictably, pestered Roman the entire way with invasive questions about his other clients. He was polite, but didn't divulge anything.

  By the time her cousins left, Suzanne realized she was absolutely exhausted. Too tired to keep trying to work out exactly what was going on between her and Roman--and what she wanted to do about it. Yes, she wanted him to be her lover. But even if he could forget his rules about client/bodyguard relations long enough to make love to her, would one sinfully hot night with Roman come anywhere close to being enough?

  By the time he walked her up to her bedroom, the only thing she knew for sure was that she wanted him to wrap his arms around her and hold her. She'd known how to ask for a kiss, but she didn't know how to ask for that. But when they stopped in front of her door and she turned to look up into his dark, serious eyes, he somehow knew. He'd barely opened his arms for her when she barreled into them.

  Being close to him, touching him, was electric as always, but as he stroked her hair, there was comfort there too. So much warmth and relief that she swore she could almost fall asleep standing up, if he kept holding her like this.

  "Get some rest, Suzanne." His low voice caressed her the way she wished his hands would. "I'll be right here in the morning."

  Despite the way her brothers had always watched over her--or maybe partly because of how they'd hovered so close--she'd spent her entire life proving to everyone that she was tough. Bulletproof. But tonight, it seemed, Roman saw the truth. That she was only human, after all. And sometimes she needed someone else to lean on.

  Only the knowledge that he wasn't going to disappear on her in the middle of the night could have made her let him go. Taking one last deep breath of his clean, masculine scent, she forced herself to draw away from his arms. But instead of letting her go completely, he slid his hands up from her waist to cup her face.

  "No one has ever stood up for me the way you did tonight. I would never want to come between you and your brothers, but you need to know how much it meant that you'd face them down for me."

  God, she loved it when he touched her like this. When he looked at her like she amazed him. Couldn't he see that he amazed her too?

  "They tend to forget how to be rational when they go into overprotective mode." She wanted to say so much more. She wanted to invite him into her bedroom to continue what they'd started in the forest with the kiss of a lifetime. But Roman would never forgive himself for sleeping with her in her father's house, with her brothers down the hall.

  Roman was one of the most respectful, honorable people she'd ever met. Regardless of how badly she wanted him--needed him--it wouldn't be fair to ask him to cross any more boundaries tonight. Or to break any more of his rules. Especially when she still hadn't completely figured out her own boundaries, her own rules, where he was concerned.

  Her heart had never been at risk like this before. And the truth was that for all she claimed not to be afraid of anything, right now she was downright terrified.

  His lips brushed her forehead as he lowered his hands from her face. "Good night, Suzanne."

  "Good night, Roman."

  When she stepped inside her bedroom and turned on the light, she almost didn't recognize the woman who stared back at her from the mirror over the dresser. Had her eyes ever been that bright? Her skin that flushed? Her expression so full of longing?

  Turning away from the mirror, she unzipped her dress and forced herself to hang it up instead of leaving it lying in a heap on the shiny pine floorboards. By the time she'd finished brushing her teeth, her eyes were nearly shut. Wearing only her underwear, she crawled beneath the sheets. But the sleep she so desperately neede
d wouldn't come.

  By three a.m., Suzanne was so tired of tossing and turning that she put on the sweatshirt and sweatpants she kept in her old bedroom's dresser and went downstairs to scrounge up a snack, then settle in with some new code on her laptop in the kitchen. If she couldn't sleep, she might as well work.

  After putting together a sandwich on Summer Lake Bakery's delicious bread, she headed for the front porch that looked out over the lake. She was settling down on a double rocker under a blanket when she saw a shadow moving on the sand just beyond the porch.

  She froze, her heart pounding like crazy and her breath stilling in her chest. Were her brothers right? Was someone truly after her? Someone who had tracked her down to her cousin's wedding, news of which had finally leaked out to the entire world?

  Damn it, no. She wasn't going to sit here and be a victim. She was going to fight like hell.

  But before she could scream or spring up out of the rocker to throw any punches, moonlight illuminated her father's face. "Dad, it's you." She sat back hard, her hand over her chest as if that would help slow her heart rate.

  "Honey, I didn't mean to scare you." He moved quickly up to the porch and scooted in next to her on the rocker. "I couldn't sleep, so I took a walk along the shore." He looked down at the sandwich she'd yet to take a bite of. "Couldn't sleep either, I take it?"

  She shook her head. She gestured to her food. "Want half?"

  "Sure." He took it, then said, "Want to talk about what's wrong?"

  Normally, she'd say everything was fine, that she was up because of a problem she was having with her code. Anything to make sure that her father never had to worry about her. But she couldn't tonight. Not after that kiss.

  And not when she'd longed for a moment like this with her father her entire life.

  She put the sandwich on a side table. "I'm confused."

  "About Roman?"

  It shouldn't surprise her that he'd figured it out so fast when pretty much everyone she'd spoken to tonight had commented on the sparks between them. Even Buck, with whom she'd danced half the night, had immediately accepted that he couldn't compete with her feelings for Roman.

 
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