Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre


  When she nodded, her father put his sandwich on the other side table. "What happened?"

  He had never asked her such a direct personal question. She hoped this meant things really were starting to change between them.

  "I didn't want Roman around at first, at least, not as my bodyguard. But I've come to really like and respect him. And--" This was kind of weird to talk about with her dad, but she didn't want to hold back now that he finally seemed ready to connect. "Well, there's an attraction between us that just won't quit, even though he's hellbent on keeping our client/bodyguard relationship strictly professional. But though he's one of the most honorable men I've ever met, something happened between us tonight."

  Her father tensed up beside her as she ventured into TMI territory, but he didn't immediately flip out and start raging the way Alec had. Instead he remained silent, letting her process her thoughts. It reminded her of Harry, who never stomped over the silence the way she and Alec so often did.

  "I stopped Roman from resigning after he kissed me. And I stopped the boys from firing him too." Her heart was in her throat as she said, "I can't stand the thought of his leaving. Of never seeing him again." Again her father remained quiet as she tried to make sense of all the thoughts, the feelings spinning around inside. "All my life I've been so rational, especially about the men I date. But with Roman, I've never felt less rational. I almost wonder if the wedding is messing with my mind. Because even though I love these family weddings, every time I go to one, I can't help but wish for someone special for myself. Someone to say all those lovely vows to. Someone who wants to say them to me too." She would have laughed at herself if she could have. "What if that's all this is? Just post-wedding longings?"

  As if he understood that she'd gotten everything out, her father finally spoke. "Do you really think that's all this is?"

  "I don't know."

  "I'm sorry that I wasn't always around when you were a kid--"

  "Dad, you don't have to keep apologizing."

  "I do. And I will. But right now I'm trying to be the father I should have been a long time ago by reminding you that the words I don't know aren't in your vocabulary. More than any of the other kids--heck, more than anyone else I've ever known--you don't stop until you get exactly what you want."

  That gave her pause. "I wish I could be clear-headed and rational about Roman the way I am with everything else."

  "Love doesn't work like that, honey."

  She turned so quickly to see if he was serious that she nearly gave herself whiplash. "Love." The word croaked out of her throat. "You think I'm in love with Roman?"

  "Back when you were in high school, you were the only girl who was more passionate about computers than boys. I expected that to change, but it never really did. Not until Roman came into your life. Because I never saw you look like this with any of the guys you've dated. I've never heard you sound like this when you talk about any of them. And I've definitely never seen any of them look at you the way Roman does."

  Maybe it would make her father uncomfortable if she asked him this, but she needed to know. "How does he look at me?"

  "Like he'd do absolutely anything for you. Like the moon and the sun both revolve around you." Her father's lips curved up at the corners. "Like he loves you too."

  Longing and panic battled within Suzanne as her father reached for her hands and gripped them tightly. "I wish things had been different for you and your brothers. I wish your mother and I hadn't made such a mess of things. I wish we'd showed you what healthy, sweet, good love looks like so that you'd recognize it when you found it yourself."

  "I see it with my cousins. With Drake and Rosa."

  "I'm glad you see that love can work. That you believe it's possible."

  "I've always believed love could work. That's why I've been so careful about making sure to take things slow and think things through carefully with everyone I've dated. Because I want to make absolutely sure that nothing goes wrong for me like it did with you and Mom. But with Roman...that's not how it's been. Nothing's been slow. And I can barely think straight when he's around." There was no way to hold back the truth any longer. "I'm scared, Dad. Absolutely freaking terrified about what I'm feeling for him--and how fast it hit me."

  Her father squeezed her hands tightly. "I know how scary that can be, but it doesn't mean fast or irrational is bad."

  "It was for you and Mom." She felt bleak as she looked into his eyes. "It was horrible."

  "It was. But you're not your mother. Yes, you have the same huge heart that she did, but where she was flyaway, you're grounded. Where she was anxious, you're confident. Where she was lost without someone to guide her every step of the way, you're a brilliant explorer, always braving new territory and conquering it." Emotion swamped his face, his voice. "If you love Roman, and he loves you, I sure as hell hope you won't let anyone, or anything, stand in the way of being together."

  "Don't worry," she said with a slightly soggy laugh, "I won't let Alec run my life."

  "I'm not just talking about Alec." Her father inhaled deeply, as if he was afraid he was about to say something she wouldn't want to hear. "I know you love your computers. But take it from someone who learned the pitfalls of obsession the hard way--enjoy your work. Take pride in being the best at what you do. But always remember that in the end, love and family are the only things that really matter."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  There were a million things Suzanne wanted to say to Roman during their drive back to New York City the following day. She wanted to confess it all. Her feelings. Her confusion. The way her father had held up a mirror in front of her last night and made her see the truth that she had never been--and could never become--like her mother. He'd reminded Suzanne that she was strong. Courageous.

  She had always been willing to take a risk with her software and her business. Now it was finally time to take an even bigger risk with her heart. But would Roman be willing to take as big a risk with his? Especially given that for all the times he'd come close, he'd always ended up pulling back.

  Unfortunately, within minutes of waking up after the three hours of sleep she'd managed to get in, she was pulled into a call with her Information Systems team. Though it was a Saturday, they were working to decode a new bug in the MavG1 software. She'd promised the Mavericks they were going to get into beta testing right away and all of them intended to make good on that promise.

  Within the hour, she was deep in work mode. Still, when Roman knocked on her bedroom door, her heart leaped. She'd already become addicted to seeing him first thing every morning.

  As soon as he opened the door, he stepped inside and noted the two laptops she had open--along with the fact that she was wearing only a sweatshirt over her underwear. The thick duvet she was sitting on cross-legged covered her up pretty well, but she was still aware of how much skin she was showing.

  He cleared his throat as he dragged his gaze away from her legs. "Problems?"

  She put her call on mute. "There's a bug in the new code, which means I need to get back to the office right away. And I'll need to work in the car, if you don't mind driving." Her voice sounded as breathless as his did rough.

  "I'll pack food and coffee for the road. Focus on what you need to do and I'll take care of everything else."

  She already knew Roman was someone you wanted with you in a crisis, but the way he quietly and efficiently moved through the bedroom and bathroom packing up her things almost made her want to cry with relief. "Thank you. I owe you big time."

  "You don't owe me anything. I'm happy to help anytime you need it." He paused for a beat before adding, "And not because it's my job."

  It was the perfect opening for the talk she so badly wanted to have. But her staff was waiting for her to weigh in on how to fix the code.

  Reluctantly, she took her phone off mute. "I'm going to need fifteen minutes to get on the road, guys, and then you'll have my full attention again."

  But though
she managed to say a quick good-bye to her father, the only other person in her family who was awake, and then immediately got back onto the call with her team in the car, only part of her attention was on work.

  She couldn't stop thinking about Roman. Couldn't help but be distracted by his nearness, his heat, his wickedly sexy good looks. Couldn't stop wishing he would put his arms around her the way he'd held her last night, when he'd made her feel so safe. So comforted.

  Before this morning, she would have been horrified by anything less than one hundred percent focus on her job. But after staying up nearly the entire night mulling over what her father had said, she was no longer sure it was a bad thing.

  Was her obsession with computers and code really all that different from her father's obsession with painting her mother?

  And could she lose everything that truly mattered because of it?

  The irony wasn't lost on her that she was asking herself this question while working in a car going seventy miles an hour on the freeway beside the man with whom she was desperate to have a heart-to-heart.

  *

  After five hours of intense work done via phone and computer, she finally pulled out her earbuds, closed her laptop, and dropped her head back against the headrest. "We're pretty sure the problem is fixed, but I should probably go to the office for a little while, just in case." She could sleep for days. And maybe she did fall asleep for a few minutes, because when she opened her eyes again, Roman had already driven past her office building.

  "Where are you going?"

  "Home. You didn't get enough sleep last night and you've been working nonstop since you woke up." He frowned, and even that was so sexy she thought she might burst from wanting him. "You work too hard."

  "Says the man who's outside my door early every morning and doesn't go to bed until I do."

  He didn't argue with her. Rather, after a moment of silence, he nodded. "You're right. I need to make some changes too."

  As hope swelled within her, she shoved her computer and phone off her lap. She'd given enough attention to those devices today. It was time to focus on the warm and wonderful human being sitting beside her now. Time to finally confess the depths of her feelings for him. But just as she reached for his hand, he swore.

  Following the direction of his furious gaze, she realized they were stuck behind a half-dozen fire engines. And those engines were parked in front of her apartment building.

  She reached blindly for the door handle so that she could get out and run over to one of the firemen to find out what had happened. Roman must have anticipated her reaction, because he reached for her hand and held it tightly.

  "Wait. Let me pull over, and then we'll find out what's going on." He waited until she looked into his eyes. "Together."

  Together. No word had ever sounded so sweet before.

  "Okay." Her voice sounded funny. A little airy and squeaky.

  Odds were low that this fire had anything to do with her...but what if it did?

  It was that what-if that had her heart pounding too fast.

  "I'm not going to let anything happen to you." He lifted his hand from hers to stroke her cheek.

  She leaned into his touch. "I know." She took another deep breath, and then she was ready to face what she needed to.

  Once they got out of the car and had a better sight line to the action, she easily confirmed that it was, in fact, her apartment that had caught fire. Her windows were open and there was a ladder up to her kitchen window. When Roman reached for her hand again, she gripped it tightly. She couldn't imagine facing this without him.

  She stopped the closest firefighter, who happened to be the fire chief. "That's my apartment. What happened?"

  The man looked sympathetic. "You're Suzanne Sullivan?" When she nodded, he said, "I've been trying to call you for the past half hour."

  "I'm sorry, I was on a conference call." Since she hadn't recognized the number as belonging to any of her family members, she had ignored it, figuring it was probably another junk caller.

  "Do you have any pets? Any visitors or roommates?"

  "No. Just me. And I've been out of town since Thursday morning. Roman has the apartment next door, and he was with me the whole time."

  The fire chief noted their linked hands. "Our investigators are working to figure out where the fire started, and why. I'm afraid we don't have any conclusive evidence yet."

  Suzanne always had a solution for any problem that arose, or at the very least, was able to come up with good enough questions to figure out a solution. But all she could do right now was wonder in horror at what could have happened if she and Roman had been home--or if one of her relatives had been staying in her apartment while she was gone. She couldn't stand the thought that anyone else might have ended up hurt because someone wanted to hurt her.

  As if he could read her mind and knew that her mouth had gone dry and her brain had seized up, Roman drew her into the shelter of his body. "When will Suzanne be able to get back inside?"

  "Not tonight, that's for sure. We're doing our best to save your things, but it looks like the fire may have been smoking for a while before it lit. Fortunately, a neighbor downstairs smelled smoke and called 911." She could easily read the concern in the man's eyes. "I'm sorry this happened to you, Ms. Sullivan. Your entire floor is uninhabitable at present due to the smoke damage and ongoing investigation. Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?"

  "She'll be staying with me," Roman answered before she could reply that she had three brothers nearby. Roman also gave the fire chief both his cell and landline numbers. "Please also call me with any updates, in case Suzanne is unavailable."

  "Is that all right with you, Ms. Sullivan?"

  "Yes." It was more than all right. "Roman will look out for me."

  After the fire chief shook their hands, then moved away to talk with one of his crew, she looked up again at her windows. A shiver ran through her despite the warm city weather.

  "I'll get over losing my clothes and furniture. Junk calls and attacks to my corporate servers are one thing, but if this fire isn't an accident, someone is deliberately trying to destroy the things that are important to me. My father's and brother's paintings. The blanket my Aunt Mary knitted for me. The sculpture my cousin Ryan's wife, Vicki, made me. The family reunion pictures that always make me smile when I'm sitting at my kitchen counter."

  Roman pulled her closer, as if he wished he could use his body to shield her from the sight of the fire trucks and firemen working to put out the fire in her apartment.

  "When this just seemed like it was about me and my work, I knew I could take care of myself, take care of my company. But the apartment isn't mine. It's my cousin Ian's. And family and friends often stay with me. What if someone I love had been staying in my apartment while we were gone? What if they'd been hurt because someone has it in for me and they got in the way?" Anger burst through her shock and exhaustion. "If it turns out that this fire wasn't an accident, I'm going to give one hundred percent of my focus to figuring out who's after me and nailing them to the wall. They've gone after the wrong woman."

  "Yes," Roman agreed, "they most certainly have."

  But even as determination solidified within her, the combined feelings of violation and fear hit her so hard that her legs started to feel shaky and the blood drained out of her face. The next thing she knew, Roman had gently moved them back toward his car and they were headed away from the fire trucks and police vehicles.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  Roman had never seen Suzanne like this. Despite her fierce words--and his sure knowledge that she would prevail--she was clearly shell-shocked as they drove to his loft. He held her hand the entire time, never wanting to let her go.

  He wanted to tear apart whoever was responsible for making her so pale and quiet, wanted to make that person pay for causing Suzanne even one moment of stress. She already had more than enough to deal with between her company, her pro bono work, and her big family. S
he didn't need anything else to add stress to her life. Especially not a bodyguard who had let himself get too close. Too attached.

  He'd been planning to convince her to accept another bodyguard on their drive back, but she'd been working so hard there hadn't been any time to talk. And then when they'd seen the fire trucks outside her apartment, Roman accepted that there was no way he could leave her until they'd neutralized the threat.

  He had just gotten her settled on his couch with a large glass of wine when she said, "Don't tell my brothers or my father what happened yet."

  "They need to know."

  "Of course they do. I just need a little more time to process things before they come swarming in even more overprotective and domineering than ever. Plus, they'll insist I stay with one of them. I don't want to leave you, Roman. Not tonight."

  Though his first instinct had been to call Alec with the news of the fire, Roman understood why Suzanne wanted a night to let what had happened settle. Not only would she be working full time to corral the four Sullivan men if they were here--but there was simply no way Roman was going to let her stay with anyone else tonight. And not only because his loft was as secure as a fortress.

  He needed to be able to look at her, needed to be able to touch her, and know that she was safe.

  Because she had come to mean everything to him.

  "Tomorrow." Though it was against his better judgment, there was no other choice he could make. "We'll tell them tomorrow."

  "Thank you for giving me refuge tonight," she said softly.

  "No more thank-yous," he said in a gruff voice as he made himself put some distance between them instead of moving closer. "This is what friends do for each other."

  The hopeful look on her face at the word friends nearly had him reaching for her. But he knew that if he did, it wouldn't end at a hug. Or even a kiss.

  If he pulled her into his arms tonight, he'd never be able to let her go.

  A previous client had said he was a superhero. But Roman had never felt superhuman until the moment he had to use every ounce of self-control he possessed to move away from Suzanne and walk into the kitchen.

 
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