Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre

  "I love Suzanne."

  He made sure to look each of them in the eye. Alec, Harry, Drake, Rosa, Calvin. And especially Suzanne's father, who had left his home in the Adirondacks to come back to the city that haunted him to help his daughter.

  William Sullivan hadn't been a great father. But Suzanne had helped her father see that he didn't need to let his past mistakes define his future anymore. She'd shown Roman the very same thing.

  "There's nothing I wouldn't do for her," he told the group. "Nothing I wouldn't give. No battle I wouldn't fight."

  He hadn't planned it, but didn't think twice before doing what felt right, what he needed to do, what he knew she needed too. Roman kissed Suzanne. In front of everyone.

  Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright when he finally lifted his lips from hers. She smiled at him, a smile so full of joy and love that it turned his heart inside out.

  "I feel the exact same way about Roman," she told her family and friends as she leaned deeper into the crook of his arm. "We've got a lot of work to do if we're going to figure out who's behind the server attacks, the phone calls, and the fire. So if any of you have something to say, I'd appreciate it if you'd say it now. To both of us."

  Alec didn't waste any time stepping into the fray, getting directly in Roman's face. "You lying son of a bitch. You admitted you weren't capable of changing your stripes. You promised us you would end things so that Suzanne could find someone good. Someone who could treat her the way she deserves. And now you have the nerve to stand here and tell us you lied?"

  Roman couldn't blame Alec for coming at him like this. Roman had been so mixed up at Smith and Valentina's wedding--deeply conflicted not only about what he wanted and what he thought he was worthy of having, but who he was worthy of being as well.

  "I wasn't only lying to you guys, I was lying to myself. Lying about my feelings for Suzanne because I was scared out of my mind about them. I'm not proud of my past. There are a lot of people I've treated poorly." Not only the guys he'd pummeled in the ring, but also the women whose hearts he'd stomped on without a second thought. "But your sister will never be one of them. She thinks I'm worthy of her and I'm damn well going to do everything I possibly can to prove to her--to all of you--that I am. You used to trust me, Alec. If you can ever trust me again, trust that I won't hurt her."

  Suzanne reached out to put a hand on her brother's arm. "I know everything," she said softly. "I know about Roman's childhood. I know about how he's behaved with the women he's dated. He hasn't kept anything from me--and I haven't kept anything from him. I know you're worried that he's going to break my heart, but can't you see that the only thing that would truly break my heart is not being with him?"

  A play of emotions crashed across Alec's face. "Goddamn it." He dragged Suzanne out of Roman's arms and into his. "I thought you'd stop being such a pain in the ass once you grew up."

  "Are you kidding?" She laughed, though tears were streaming down her face. "Little sisters never stop antagonizing their big brothers." Drawing back, she looked around at everyone else. "Does anyone else have an issue with my new boyfriend?"

  Roman had spent his entire career protecting people, only to lose his heart to a woman who would never stop protecting him. Life, he was starting to realize, was funny that way. No matter how hard you tried to stay on the course you thought was the right one, sometimes it took a few wrong turns to make you realize you were finally in the place you were meant to be.

  In his case, that meant falling head over heels in love with a woman so incredible that he'd never stop being awestruck that she was his.

  Drake and Rosa smiled as they shook their heads. "For the record," Drake said, "I've never had any real issues with the two of you being together."

  "Same here," Harry agreed. "History matters, but as I tell my students all day long, the whole point of learning from our screw-ups is so we can do things better the next time around." He shot Roman a serious look. "Just to be clear, that doesn't mean I'm giving you license to screw up with my sister."

  "Of course we're going to screw up," Suzanne interjected. "Because we're human." She turned back to Roman. "But we're also going to love each other enough to get past our mistakes with each other, aren't we?"

  God, he loved this woman. "We are."

  When Suzanne looked to Calvin next, Roman understood that as one of her closest friends from childhood--and an honorary Sullivan, from what Roman had seen during the wedding--Calvin's opinion clearly mattered to her.

  "Finding someone to love, and having them love you back, that's a big deal. Pretty much the biggest deal there is. Especially if you're both committed to doing whatever it takes to keep that love alive." Grief seemed to flash through the other man's eyes for a split second before he smiled at them. "I'm happy for you, Suz, Roman."

  Which left Suzanne's father still to weigh in. Roman knew how much was riding on his approval, and he prayed they'd get it.

  "If I had been a better father," William finally said in a voice that resonated with emotion, "your brothers wouldn't have had to step in to watch over you when I wasn't there to do it. But I'm glad they did, because you've had three protectors instead of just one. And now," her father said as he met Roman's gaze and held it, "I'm even more thankful that you have another man who would give his life for you."

  Roman had accepted a long time ago that he'd never be able to respect his own father, but as Suzanne threw herself into William's arms, he was glad she didn't have to do the same. He knew now that her father wasn't going to quit working to win back her trust and her love, no matter how humbling or difficult that might be for him.

  While Alec still didn't look thrilled about how things had gone down, he didn't look like he was going to hire a hit man to take Roman out, either. Then again, he hadn't yet heard the final piece of news.

  "I'm not working as Suzanne's bodyguard anymore."

  Harry frowned, clearly confused. "I know you weren't going to let us pay you and were planning to find someone else to protect Suzanne, but surely now that we've hashed everything out--"

  "She doesn't need a bodyguard." He nearly laughed out loud at the triumphant look she gave everyone. "She's already told you this, but now I'm going to reinforce it. Suzanne does a damned fine job of watching over herself. Just the way all of you do. The issues she's having at work--with her phone and the servers, with the fire--aren't because she's careless or weak in any way. She doesn't need some guy with big muscles to trail after her twenty-four seven. She needs to nail this sucker to the wall and then make it clear to anyone else who tries to come after her that she won't stand for it. And neither will the people she loves. I'm no longer on the job, but I'm still going to be standing beside her, just like all of you."

  William, his arm around Suzanne, pressed a kiss to her forehead. Then, he looked at his sons, at Rosa and Calvin, and Roman. Though he might not have acted like the head of the family for far too long, it was obvious to all of them that he was finally ready to take on the role that should have been his all along. "Let's get started."

  Suzanne's smile was a mile wide as she led the group over to the dining room table, where she'd already set up the computers and tablets she'd had with her in her wedding bags. "We need to go through three months of phone logs and server records and cross reference the information to see if anything strange comes up. For the DDoS attacks, I've pulled IP traces to find the origin of each broadcast packet for the CPU storm--"

  Harry held up a hand. "In English, please."

  "Sorry. What I'm saying is we need to find out where the attacks came from that sent all this garbage to overflow my corporate and personal computers, denying service for legitimate work. So for both the phone and the server logs, if each of you could note the cities and countries for each line item, I'm hoping we'll be able to put together a pattern that will give me some clues as to who might be behind this."

  Everyone took a seat behind a screen and Drake let out a low whistle. "There's a hell
of a lot of line items here."

  "No kidding," Alec said. "This is why I went into planes instead of computers."

  "Now you guys see why I didn't want to spend any time going through these logs before now," Suzanne told the group. "It's literally the most mind-numbing work in the world."

  "Work we're happy to do," Rosa said, obviously already one of the family even though there wasn't a ring on her finger yet.

  Suzanne said that once you fell in love with a Sullivan, the entire extended family would be behind you. But it went both ways--Roman and Rosa were both completely behind the Sullivans now too.

  "Thank you." Suzanne looked beyond grateful. "As soon as I call the fire chief to check in this morning, I'll be right there with you combing through the logs. With everyone pitching in, hopefully we'll see some sort of pattern before our brains leak out of our ears."

  Her phone jumped on the counter next to Roman and he recognized the number that flashed on the screen as the one the fire chief had given them yesterday. "It's the fire chief." He handed her the phone.

  "This is Suzanne Sullivan. Do you have news?" She listened to his response. "Okay, we'll be right there."

  She hung up then looked at Roman. "He'd like us to come to the apartment to take a look at something the investigator found."


  "Good morning, Suzanne. Roman." Wayne, the fire chief, shook their hands in the lobby of her apartment building. "This is Lee Mitchell, one of our top fire investigators."

  "It's nice to meet you both," Lee said. "Why don't we head up to your apartment and I'll show you what I found?"

  Suzanne was a strong woman, but she was still glad that Roman kept his hand on the small of her back as they headed for the elevator. She could have faced all of this on her own--but she didn't have to be a one-woman battleship anymore. She had Roman beside her now. And, she thought with a smile, she had her family and friends too. They'd been there all along, waiting for her to open the door and let them in. At long last, she finally understood that needing other people didn't make her weak.

  Roman's eyebrows rose in question when he noticed her smile. She answered him with a quick kiss, one that instantly brought a smile to his face.

  When the elevator doors opened on her floor and her heart began to pound hard and fast, Roman took her hand before she even had a chance to reach for his. Whatever it was they found out today, they'd deal with it as a team.

  Lee stopped just inside her front door in front of a hole in the wall where her home automation system used to be. "We were able to trace the start of the fire in your apartment to this wall. From what we've been able to ascertain so far, someone did an update to your home automation system, reinstalled it, and then one of the new parts got too hot and melted down. This is turn caused the electrical wires behind the unit to heat up and start smoking and sparking." He handed her a plastic bag with the unit inside. Previously bright white plastic, the device was now covered in soot and half melted.

  "CP Systems. One of these home automation systems is also in the apartment next door." Fury rang out in Roman's voice.

  But Suzanne was beyond furious at this point. She was stinging with betrayal.

  "There's a CP Systems unit in every apartment in the building," the fire chief confirmed.

  Suzanne refused to let her hands shake. "I know this is evidence, but could I please take this with me? I'll return the device as soon as I've shown it to someone."

  "Who would that be?" Lee asked.

  "Craig Boylan, one of the founders of CP Systems."

  Lee looked to Wayne in question. When the chief nodded, Lee said, "Okay, but I'd like to be there with you when you show it to him."

  "That's fine. Roman and I will meet you in the lobby of their headquarters in a few minutes." She handed the investigator the device, proud of how steady her hands were.

  On the way down to Roman's car, Suzanne called her father's cell. "What did you find out, honey?" he asked. "I'll put you on speaker so you can tell us all."

  "The fire started behind my home automation unit." It took some effort to keep her voice steady, but she managed it. "Evidently there was an update done to it while I was at the wedding that caused the wiring behind it to smoke and spark. We're going right now to talk to the founder of the company that makes the unit, but I was hoping you and the rest of the group might be able to tell me first--are the Philippines showing up on any of the server logs?"

  "Yes." She recognized Calvin's voice. "None of the early logs show activity from the Philippines, but this week that's where everything originated."

  "Thanks, guys. That information helps a great deal. I'll call you again as soon as we're done with our next meeting."

  "Everyone in the security business used to set up their servers in the Philippines," Suzanne explained to Roman, "but over the years, CP Systems undercut everyone by so much that we all had to leave the country to find other places to host our servers." Despite the security work Suzanne did for a living, she had always believed that most people were fundamentally good. It was a big part of why she did what she did, in fact: She didn't want all the good people to be hurt by the few bad ones out there. But learning that her friend had targeted her...that was a low blow. "With so few companies there now, there's a really high chance it was them. I trusted Craig. I can't believe he would do something like this to me."

  A muscle was jumping in Roman's jaw. "When I had him up against the wall, I looked into his eyes. I trusted him too when he said he wasn't after you."

  She'd always thought she was a good reader of people, and she believed Roman was too. How could they have both been so wrong about Craig?

  Peeling her clenched fingers from her phone, she found his number and dialed. "Craig, this is Suzanne Sullivan. We need to talk. I'm on my way over right now, and I'm going to need security passes for myself, Roman Huson, and Lee Mitchell." She slid the phone back into her bag. "He's going to have everything ready for us immediately."

  "Surely he's got to know his game is up. So why would he cooperate?" Roman looked as confused as she felt as he pulled into the underground parking lot beneath the CP Systems building. "Unless he thinks you'll be willing to make some sort of deal with him. But he's got to know that you would never make a dirty deal with anyone."

  Despite the ridiculously stressful morning they were having, sweet emotion burst through Suzanne's chest at how well he understood her. "I love you."

  Roman parked, turned off the ignition, then pulled her close and kissed her breathless. When he finally let her go, her heart was pounding for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with the fire in her apartment.

  "If that's your way of saying you love me too, I'll take it."

  He stroked her cheek with one callused fingertip. "Ready to kick some ass?"

  This time she was the one kissing him in lieu of a verbal reply, practically crawling onto his lap in the tight quarters of the car.

  "If that's your way of saying yes," he said when they finally came up for air, "I'll take it."

  "Thank you for making me forget to be mad, forget to be scared. I'm more than ready to kick ass now."

  Lee was waiting for them when they walked into the lobby. If he could tell that they'd been making out in the garage, he didn't give any sign of it. The receptionist on the ground floor looked more than a little alarmed as she handed Roman his temporary security pass. After Suzanne and Lee were also given passes, a CP Systems security guard escorted them to Craig's office on the top floor.

  Craig's office door was already open when Suzanne stormed in. "I thought we were friends." She was barely aware of Roman closing the door behind them.

  "We are." Craig had his hands out as if to take hers, but she wouldn't let him touch her. She was sorry she ever had. "What's going on, Suzanne? Why are you so upset? Roman said you've been having some problems at work, but he didn't say what they were."

  After all the years that she and Craig had been in the business togeth
er, shouldn't she have seen the darkness inside of him before now? "Don't try to act like you don't know about the endless phone calls. About the denial-of-service attacks."

  Craig looked from her to Roman. "So that's why you were here earlier this week? Because you thought I was behind a big broadcast storm to max out your servers?"

  "I said you couldn't be behind it all," Suzanne said before Roman could reply. "I swore that you were a good guy."

  "I am," Craig said, hands up in the air now. "I wouldn't do that to you, Suzanne. Wouldn't do that to your company. I may not be as squeaky clean as you, but you know I have my limits. How could you possibly think I would stoop to something like that?"

  As if on cue, Lee laid the half-melted CP Systems home automation device on Craig's desk. Craig's eyebrows lifted beneath the hair falling over his forehead. "What the hell...?"

  "Roman and I left town for my cousin's wedding a couple of days ago and when we returned there were fire trucks in front of my apartment. Lee is the fire investigator who discovered that the fire started inside of this unit. One of your devices, which has obviously been tampered with."

  Craig swallowed hard as he reached for the plastic bag.

  "Wait." Lee handed a set of gloves to Craig. "Put these on first."

  Suzanne noted that Craig's hands shook slightly as he donned the gloves. He took the unit from the bag and turned it over to look at the wires and chips that ran it.

  "This chip was never supposed to be used." His teeth clenched as he looked back at Suzanne. "I don't know what the hell is going on here, but you'd better believe I'm going to find out."

  Roman had already reached for Suzanne's hand and was holding it tightly by the time she said, "Either you're really good at acting surprised all the time--"

  "Or I didn't have anything to do with this." Being innocent of the charges they'd come in with wasn't making Craig look any happier, however. He picked up his cell and dialed. "Dennis, it's Craig. Did you install a new chip in one of our home automation systems a couple of days ago at--" Suzanne gave him the address, which he repeated into the phone. "Who assigned the job to you?" Craig's face paled. "Got it."

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