Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre


  They hadn't stopped to eat on the drive back and she'd been working too intently to eat any of the snacks he'd packed for her. She needed something to soak up the wine she was already sipping, but he wasn't going to ask her if she was hungry. After the shock she'd just had, she'd probably say no, but if he could get good food in front of her, he'd somehow persuade her to eat it.

  Roman quickly sent several text messages to his investigators asking them to dig into the city's underground channels regarding the fire in Suzanne's apartment building, then got out flour and eggs for fresh pasta, tomatoes and herbs for the sauce. When he turned around, he was surprised to find her pulling out a cutting board.

  "I've got dinner covered," he said. "Why don't you sit down and try to relax? Maybe even take a nap until the meal is ready."

  The stubborn look on her face would have made him smile if he hadn't been so full of fury--and fear--on her behalf. If she'd been asleep in her apartment when that fire had smoked into flames...

  No. He couldn't go there. Couldn't even begin to imagine a world without her laughter, her brilliance, her beauty.

  "I've always dealt with things head on," she said as she grabbed a tomato and a serrated knife. "But after fighting with my brothers last night on the dock and then finding firefighters at my place today--" She stopped slicing. "I just need a few hours to try to be normal, you know? Make a meal with you. Maybe stream a movie on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. You do have popcorn, right? Or wait--chocolate ice cream would be even better."

  He gripped the edge of the counter so tightly to keep from putting his arms around her that he was surprised it didn't crack. "I can get you ice cream and popcorn." He wouldn't leave her side for a second, of course. "A kid around the corner runs errands for me sometimes." Eddie was the fifteen-year-old son of one of the guys the teenage Roman had beaten to a pulp, so badly that he'd lost an eye. Roman had helped out the family any way he could since then, which included keeping an eye on Eddie and making sure the kid stayed out of trouble. "I'll send him a text to let him know we need microwave popcorn--"

  "With extra butter."

  "How else would you eat it?" He was glad to see her smile again. A little one, but a smile nonetheless. "What kind of ice cream?" he asked.

  "As close as he can get to chocolate fudge super chunk."

  "I hadn't noticed your sweet tooth."

  Her small smile widened. "That's because I wasn't ready to divulge it to you yet."

  She was so breathtaking as she stood in his kitchen smiling despite her crappy day that his fingers fumbled on his cell phone screen as he sent the message to Eddie. The kid texted back so quickly Roman didn't even have time to put the phone down.

  "He's on it. He said he'll be here with the goods inside of ten minutes."

  Looking relieved to know that junk food was on its way, she found his wooden salad bowl, tossed the tomato slices into it, then washed the celery and began to chop it. Not only was this the first time a woman had settled into his kitchen as if it were her own, it was also the only time he'd ever let a woman into his loft, period. Since he never planned on letting women stay, it was easier to keep them out entirely. Food and sex had always happened either out on the town or at their places.

  But having Suzanne in his home felt completely right.

  The realization made it hard to keep his hands steady while he rolled out the pasta dough.

  "Tell me the funniest--or weirdest--thing you've ever had to deal with on the job," she said. Though she was doing her best to hide it, he could tell how shaky she still felt. "I promise the story won't go any further."

  Any other client would have been in tears or getting smashed by now. But Suzanne wasn't like anyone else. She was stronger. More resilient. And yet, at the same time, she was also more emotional than anyone he'd ever known. Close enough to breaking down that she was deliberately hunting for something to laugh about instead.

  Client privacy was sacrosanct to Roman, but Suzanne would never repeat anything he told her. And she needed to be taken away from everything for a little while.

  "Early on, I worked for a prince."

  "A real prince?" She looked impressed.

  "Yes, a real prince. He was a friendly guy in his mid-twenties and his family told me there had been threats sent to him in the mail. It was my job not only to shadow him, but also to intercept any packages either sent or given to him, and then turn them over to the head of palace security for inspection. His parents, the king and queen, were very clear that no one else must be allowed to see what was in the packages. Not even him."

  "Weird."

  "Definitely weird." Fifteen years ago he'd been a total greenhorn. Green, but so happy to be carving out a new life for himself that he was willing to take on pretty much any job that came his way. The worst client was better than making a living with his fists in brutal underground fights where you either destroyed...or got destroyed. "His family was working really hard at that time to find him the right royal match."

  "Can you imagine marrying into a monarchy? I mean, I know there are perks like jewels and fancy dresses, but I wouldn't like always having to be on."

  Roman agreed. "Marriage is hard enough without all of those pressures. Jewels are a pretty big incentive for most people, though."

  Suzanne stopped chopping, then splayed her fingers. "I've never been able to wear big rings or bracelets because they get in my way at the computer. Earrings, however, are a different matter." She grinned. "I've always been partial to rubies, if you're wondering."

  Roman was hit with an image of Suzanne wearing ruby earrings and nothing else. He could buy them for her easily--but money wasn't the issue. The fact that it would be utterly inappropriate for him to buy her jewelry was. Because he wasn't her boyfriend, damn it.

  Her work crisis and then the apartment fire had forced him to put the promise he'd made to her brothers on the back burner for the time being. He wished he could put it on the back burner forever...

  "Anyway," she said, "I didn't mean to interrupt your story."

  What had they been talking about before he'd gotten lost in his erotic daydream of Suzanne naked in his bed, wearing only rubies? Oh right, the prince.

  "I intercepted a good half-dozen packages and turned them over. No one would tell me what was in them, but they made it clear that the threat was at a higher level than ever. The prince had a different event each night and I watched him like a hawk. Nothing was going to happen on my watch."

  "Of course it wouldn't," Suzanne said, as if the idea was preposterous.

  "The final night I worked for him, one of his friends from university came to visit. I did a background on the guy and when it came up clean, I let them head to his private suite of rooms with his friend's suitcases." He shook his head at his own stupidity. "It didn't occur to me that a visitor's private bags would be an issue. Especially not a close friend."

  "It's always the ones you least suspect, isn't it?"

  "It often is," he agreed. "I can't remember exactly why I needed to interrupt them. One of the staff desperately needed an answer about something for the prince's mother, probably. But I'll never forget what I saw."

  "I know you said this was going to be funny, but the way you're telling this story, I'm a little worried now."

  "Glitter."

  "Excuse me?" She was half-laughing already. "Did you just say you found glitter in his room?"

  "Turns out the prince was crazy about glitter. He would have covered the family dog in it if he could have. Fortunately, Fido knew better than to be anywhere near that wing of the palace." They were both chuckling now. "He begged me not to tell anyone what I'd found. Evidently, the packages being confiscated were full of glitter. His family was terrified that if anyone found out about his glitter fetish before he made the right match, no one would agree to the union."

  "Surely a little glitter between husband and wife could be fun, couldn't it? Although," she mused with a crooked little grin, "I suppose that
would depend on where the glitter ended up..."

  He grimaced. "I can tell you for a fact that there are definitely some places you don't want glitter stuck to."

  When she burst into a fresh round of laughter, the sound was so sweet that he nearly kissed her across the kitchen island. Only the pasta dough in his hands and the knife in hers could have stopped him.

  "Where?" Her laughter rounded out the word. "On your face?"

  He shook his head.

  "Your arms? Hands? Torso?"

  Three more headshakes.

  Her eyes grew big. "You didn't let him glitter you below the waist, did you?"

  He'd sworn to go to his grave before ever admitting what had gone on in the palace that night. But he'd do anything to make her laugh again. "Did I mention how persuasive the prince was? And that I was a young, stupid bodyguard who didn't know any better, particularly when my client insisted it was the only way to cure his obsession? Turns out glitter is small enough to get in even the smallest gaps in fabric. Days later, I was still finding glitter on myself."

  She was laughing even harder by the time a knock came at his door. If only Eddie had appeared a few minutes earlier, Roman might have been spared telling the glitter story. But Suzanne's happiness was worth any number of stupid stories. Anything to make sure she didn't become shell-shocked and scared again.

  "Roman, here's the junk food you asked f--" The boy swallowed the rest of his sentence when he saw Suzanne in the kitchen. "Wow. You're hot."

  "Eddie." Roman had taught the kid better than that. Then again, Suzanne had made Roman's brain go off the rails the first time he'd seen her too, so he supposed he couldn't blame the teenage boy for forgetting his manners. "Her name is Suzanne, but you can call her Miss Sullivan. After you apologize."

  "No need for an apology," she said with a wave of her hand. "Handing over your junk food haul will be more than enough."

  Eddie practically tripped over himself to get to her. "Two bags of microwave popcorn with extra butter and the biggest container they had of Triple Chunk Brownie Hot Fudge Chocolate Supreme ice cream."

  Suzanne hugged Eddie like he'd given her the moon and the stars in a brown paper bag. Roman was caught between laughing at the teenager's bug-eyed reaction...and the urge to rip the kid away from his woman.

  Not even the slightest bit aware of how far she'd rocked Eddie's world--and that she'd likely be providing him with late-night fantasy material for the next decade--she stepped back, peeled off the top of the ice cream container, and handed out three spoons.

  "I've always been a dessert-first kind of girl." Her first bite of the sugary dessert had her eyes closing and a moan of deep pleasure sounding from her throat. Lord, how he wanted to hear that sound again--only next time in his bed, while he was making love to her.

  Eddie quickly shoveled in several large mouthfuls, and was gaping at Suzanne like a lovestruck puppy when Roman put down his own spoon to say, "I'm sure your mom's expecting you for dinner."

  "She'd probably let me eat with you guys."

  "Sorry, bud," Roman said, "not tonight." When the kid's shoulders slumped, he knew Suzanne was about to say a third would be fine. But Roman wanted her to relax tonight, not feel obliged to entertain a fifteen-year-old boy who had fallen in love with her at first sight. "Maybe next time."

  "Next time? So that means you're coming back, right?" Eddie asked Suzanne. "Because I've never seen a girl here before."

  She raised her eyebrows. "Never? Not even one?"

  "Nope. Roman's got this thing about not having girls at his place. My mom says it's weird. She's going to be super happy to hear about you."

  "Really?" She shot a speculative glance at Roman. "So I'm the first girl to ever set foot inside this loft?"

  "Except for my ma," Eddie clarified, "but she doesn't count because she's married to my dad."

  "I sure hope I'll be coming back." She looked straight into Roman's eyes. "Lots and lots and lots of times." She licked off her spoon--inadvertently making both Roman and Eddie go a little crazier--then covered up the ice cream carton and put it in the freezer. "Thanks for the junk food, Eddie. And for being an all-around cool guy."

  "Anytime. See you around." Eddie gave Roman the same look Jerry had. One that said, Don't blow it with her, dude.

  How anyone thought Roman was in Suzanne's league, he couldn't imagine. Her brother Alec was right--he wasn't anywhere near good enough for her. But given the circumstances that now had them sharing his loft, he was going to have to dig even deeper for the control to keep from kissing her the way he had by the lake. Every night since he'd started working for her, it had been hell knowing she was only a few walls away. But later tonight, when she was in his bed while he slept out on the couch...

  He honestly wasn't sure how he was going to make it through until morning without touching her, kissing her, holding her.

  "Sorry about Eddie's big mouth," Roman said after the door closed behind him. "I've been working on his manners, but sometimes fifteen wins out."

  "I thought he was sweet. And I also think it's sweet that you've taken him under your wing like this. You must be really close to his parents."

  "I am," Roman said, hating himself for the things he wasn't telling her. Things that would douse the light in her eyes when she looked at him.

  He was about to reach into a drawer beside her hip for the pasta cutter when he made the mistake of letting himself look into her eyes instead.

  Their gazes caught. Held.

  And then, before he knew it, she was brushing her fingertips over his lower lip. "You've got some chocolate right here."

  That was all it took for the hungry male inside of him to finally win. He stopped holding himself in check for just long enough to lick the chocolate from her finger.

  The instant his tongue made contact with her skin, everything stilled. The laughter, the funny stories--they were all gone in an instant.

  The heated attraction that had been simmering beneath the surface since the first moment they'd met was the only thing that mattered now.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  "I shouldn't have done that." But Roman didn't step away from her touch, and she didn't take her hand from his face.

  "Yes, you should," she said softly. "As soon as we got into the car at the lake to come home, I was planning to make you talk to me about what happened last night...and how I want it to happen again."

  "Suzanne." He needed to remain rational. Even if it was the last thing he wanted. "We can't. I can't."

  "Why not? And you're going to have to come up with something beyond my brothers and being my bodyguard. Those stopped being good reasons a long time ago. Especially now that my brothers already know about us and I've told them to back off, or else. And don't try to blame this on the fire in my apartment either. I'm not going to deny that it got me feeling a little shaky and scared--but that doesn't have anything to do with what was already going on between us."

  Us. He liked the sound of that way too much. Wanted it so badly that he could barely shove his longing away as he made himself move out of reach.

  "The way I treat women I hook up with--I couldn't treat you like that."

  "You mean in bed?" She bit her lip, then let the succulent flesh go. "Because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't object to anything you wanted to try. Even if it's kind of kink--"

  "No," he got out past a strangled throat. "Not in bed." Jesus, he could barely think beyond the breath-stealing image of Suzanne being kinky in his bed, didn't know how he was going to string together a coherent sentence. "I'm talking about everything else I do to them."

  "You would never physically hurt a woman unless she was a threat to your client's safety. And even then, I know you'd regret it. So what could you possibly do to the women you date that's so bad?"

  He couldn't lie to her, even knowing she would be disgusted by him once she knew the truth. Especially when that was supposed to be his goal, wasn't it? To make sure she understood that being with him w
as bad news. He'd promised her brothers no less than that on the dock last night.

  "I don't care."

  "You don't care..." She cocked her head. "About what, exactly?"

  "Them." The word fell like a stone between them. "The women I date. The women I sleep with. I don't care about them. I don't care about any of them."

  "Are you saying that you've never been in love with any of the women you've been with?"

  "I haven't, but it's more than that. I've never even come close to having feelings about any of them. Ever since I was a teenager, one woman has been the same as the next to me. Like father, like son."

  "I still don't understand. How are you like your father? And how does this play into the fact that you've never fallen for anyone you've dated?"

  Suzanne deserved so much. Deserved everything he couldn't give her. Which was why he made himself push even deeper into the truth. "My childhood was a parade of interchangeable women. Once my mom left, my dad could never trust another woman. But just because he didn't trust them, that didn't stop him from sleeping with as many as possible. I learned a long time ago that he was never going to change his stripes. And neither will I." His gut twisted as he strove to make sure she understood exactly what he was telling her. "Women have always, and will always be, interchangeable to me. I can't stand the thought of ever hurting you, Suzanne. Which is why you and I can never be anything more than friends."

  The last thing he expected her to do after he laid out the awful truth was smile. Or to say, "You weren't friends with any of your previous lovers, were you?"

  "No, I wasn't."

  "So that's already something different, because you said it yourself. You and I are friends." She didn't give his brain time to catch up before adding, "And if you don't want to hurt me, that means you already care about me." She looked triumphant as she concluded, "Which means your reasons to keep your distance no longer apply."

  He should have known this conversation wouldn't go the way he'd planned. He should have expected Suzanne's superpowered brain to leapfrog his. But that didn't mean he could give up on convincing her to find someone better.

  "I'm trying to protect you." And he'd never forgive himself if he let something happen tonight and ended up breaking her heart. "You need to listen to me."

 
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