Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre

  The puzzle that was Suzanne Sullivan continued to grow. Especially when a twenty-something woman in a red hoodie, jeans, and sneakers said, "I didn't think you'd play this well with those heels on. What are they, five inches?"

  "Try eight. At least, that's what they feel like."

  "I didn't even know you owned heels," the woman said with a shudder that made it clear what she thought of them. "Must be a pretty special event for you to be so dressed up."

  Suzanne shot a glance at Roman, her expression freezing as though she'd just been caught out at something. But then she shrugged. "I figured I should wear some of the stuff collecting dust in my closet."

  Though the woman nodded, she still looked confused. They all did, actually. What was more, every guy in the room was trying to act like they hadn't noticed their boss's figure in the dress.

  Roman wished them luck. Lord knew each and every one of them needed a truckload of it right now.

  "Do you want to play?" the woman said, holding out a paddle to Roman.

  He shook his head. "No, thank you."

  Despite the fact that she didn't want him there, Suzanne politely said, "This is Roman." She rattled off the names of the dozen people closest to them, and he quickly memorized them. Given that the threat could just as easily be coming from inside her company as outside of it, he needed to be as watchful here as anywhere else he went with Suzanne.

  "Are you going to be joining our R&D team?" a guy with thick-framed black glasses asked.

  "No." Roman looked to Suzanne, knowing it would be best if he let her field questions about his job title.

  Her expression tightened for a split second before she smoothed it out and gave her employees a forced smile. Unlike her brother Alec, she didn't have much of a poker face. Everything she was thinking and feeling seemed to be written there. Hopefully, her transparency would make this already difficult job a little easier.

  "Roman works in security, but not digital. Personal."

  A blonde peeked her head out from around a gray cubicle wall. Her eyes were big as she asked, "You're a bodyguard?" When he nodded, her eyes went even wider. "For who?" She turned to Suzanne. "Is your cousin Smith coming here today? His last movie was fabulous."

  Suzanne half laughed, half groaned. "No. Roman isn't here to protect Smith." She pressed her lips together as if she didn't want to have to say it. "He's here to protect me."


  The word came from a chorus of voices, all similarly incredulous.

  He expected Suzanne to say she agreed with them and that she most certainly did not need a bodyguard. Instead, she simply nodded. "Yes, Roman is here to work with me. It's a long story, and I don't want to bore everyone with it, but don't worry. Everything's fine. I'm fine." Everyone looked from her to him, clearly wondering why he was standing there if she was truly fine. "I've got a meeting with the Mavericks in a few minutes, but I'm hoping to spend the rest of the day working on code, so I'll be around if anyone needs me."

  With that, she continued down the hall and around the corner to the back of the building. "Good morning, Jeannie," she said to a petite woman with red curls who was sitting behind a big computer screen. "This is Roman. He's my bodyguard and will need complete access to the building. Could you please make him a badge?"

  "Absolutely." Suzanne's assistant barely blinked at the request, nor did she react in any outward way to her boss's outfit. "The Mavericks have confirmed they're on for your meeting in ten minutes. There are several messages on your desk for you to take a look at before the meeting begins, and I've highlighted your highest priority emails in your inbox." Jeannie paused before adding, "Nothing urgent or out of the ordinary."

  Relief flashed across Suzanne's face. "Great, thank you."

  Roman wanted to understand more about what out of the ordinary looked like for Suzanne. But as she was about to head into a meeting--and he still wasn't exactly sure where she now stood on the whole bodyguard thing--he figured it would be best to watch everything carefully for the time being.

  Though her office wasn't huge, it had a great view of Central Park. She had a big desk, a leather couch, and a glass table in the corner for one-on-one meetings. The big difference from other CEOs he had worked with was that more than a dozen computers, tablets, and phones were strewn throughout the room--on her desk, her coffee table, her glass tabletop, her shelves.

  "I need to test my software on every possible device," she said in answer to his unspoken question. "You're not the first person to wonder why I've got enough in here to stock an electronics store. Plus," she said as she ran her hand over one of the PCs, "computers are my drug of choice."

  "As far as drugs go, these seem like pretty good ones to get hooked on."

  "Can you please tell that to the last guy I dated? He took one look at my office and mentally committed me."

  "If he didn't get it, he didn't deserve you."

  Her hand stilled over the computer. "Do you?" She licked her lips. "Get it, I mean?"

  Telling himself her question shouldn't feel as weighted as it did, he nodded. "Of course I do." She might be a puzzle, but she was an open book when it came to things she loved--the top two obviously being her family and computers.

  The large screen directly across from her desk began to buzz. "My meeting is about to start. You can take a seat anywhere you'd like."

  "I'd prefer to stand." Any bodyguard worth his salt could easily spend twelve hours a day on his feet without feeling it. You could react far more quickly to potential threats if you were already standing.

  "Suit yourself," she said with a shrug, "even though I can guarantee no one is going to come busting down my door with a machete." With that, she sat in her leather office chair, kicked off her heels with what sounded like a moan of appreciation, then clicked on a remote to accept the video call. She smiled as four men appeared in four different frames on the screen. "Good morning. It's an early one for those of you in California."

  One of the men laughed. "Five a.m. meetings are a good excuse to catch the sunrise."

  "Are you sitting out on your deck, Will?" He turned his camera around so she could see that her guess was correct. "That's quite a view," she said as she took in the tall redwoods and the rolling hills and ocean beyond it.

  "Harper and Jeremy are hoping you'll come out to visit us soon," Will replied. "Hopefully, this will entice you."

  "Charlie is angling for the same thing," another man said. "Would it seal the deal if she threw in a sculpture?"

  "And Noah is dying to show you how well he can swim now that his water wings are off," another of the Mavericks put in.

  "I'm not going to turn down your stunning views, Will, or one of Charlie's incredible pieces of metal art, Sebastian. And let Noah know that I'm dying to swim with him, Matt. I don't need any bribes to come spend some time in Northern California with you. Just a little more downtime."

  "I hear you," a man with a beard agreed. "I keep thinking I'm going to be able to get to Lake Tahoe to work on my cabin, but somehow I never quite seem to make it into the woods."

  Roman recognized him as Daniel Spencer, the founder of Top-Notch DIY, a chain of home improvement stores. He recognized each of the Mavericks, as their rags-to-billionaire stories had made the five men famous over the years. Their trajectory was impressive enough to have helped fuel the determination of a guy like Roman, who also came from a rough place.

  Few people from his world made it out--and even if they did, they still couldn't dream of making the kind of money he had. As an adult, he'd worked hard to cage the part of him that had been trained to win at all costs, no matter the danger, regardless of the consequences. But the fact was that with his size and boxing background, being a bodyguard had been the best way to get out of a bad neighborhood and into a better one.

  Billions of dollars would be nice, but it was more than enough right now for Roman to feel he was doing the best job he could for the people who needed his help. People like Suzanne and her bro
thers. Fortunately, he'd saved enough, and invested well enough over the years, that he didn't need to work for dickheads anymore.

  Interestingly, for all their money and power, the Mavericks didn't seem like dickheads. And they clearly weren't just investors to Suzanne either. With the attached guys, she'd talked about kids and significant others. But the single Maverick didn't give a whiff of anything other than friendly affection, and neither did she. It would have been the perfect "arranged" relationship--a Sullivan marrying a Maverick--but clearly those kinds of sparks weren't there.

  Roman was relieved despite himself. Despite the fact that Suzanne would never, and could never, be his.

  "Should we wait for Evan before I bring this meeting to order?" she asked.

  The four Mavericks seemed to share a look with each other on the screen before Will replied. "He's going to have to sit this one out. But we'll fill him in. So tell us, what news do you have for us on MavG1?"

  "All good." Her grin lit up her face. "We've got a few finishing touches to make the code a little prettier, and then we're ready to jump into our first round of beta testing. I'm thinking we'll be in beta by Friday at the latest."

  Sebastian whistled. "You're a good six months ahead of schedule."

  "Not to mention you've already done the impossible by even taking this on when everyone said it couldn't be done," Daniel noted.

  "Everything just clicked." She looked extremely pleased about it. "In fact, I'm already jotting down some notes on how to make this product even more affordable."

  For the next ten minutes, Roman watched as she proceeded to blow each of the Mavericks' hair back with her ideas. Obviously technologically savvy themselves, they asked good questions and were impressed with the answers she gave.

  "Only you could have pulled this off, Suzanne," Matt enthused. "Your mind is a marvel."

  "You know I love it when you blow smoke," she replied with a grin, "but how about I make back your investment on the new product before you deem me to be a digital security superhero."

  They chatted a few minutes longer about how her brothers and father were doing, and then when she clicked off, Jeannie buzzed in. "I have the head of IT from the Kaizen Group in Japan on the line if you're free."

  "Put her on."

  Suzanne settled deeper into her seat as she put on her headset to take the call while lighting up several of the computer monitors on her desk. She was so deeply in her element that he got the feeling she'd forgotten he was even there at all as the first two meetings of the day turned into half a dozen more.

  It was his job to disappear into the background, but he didn't like having to admit that it almost hurt his masculine pride knowing how easy it was for her to tune him out. Especially when he was doing a damned poor job of tuning out one single thing about her. It was more than just how spectacular she looked in her little slip of a dress, or how long her legs were.

  Her brain, he was surprised to realize, was at least as alluring as her body. And when she laughed?

  Hell. He didn't know how to deal with the way her laughter moved through him. All he knew was that more than ever, he wanted to make sure nothing frightened or harmed her, just so she could keep laughing like that.


  How the heck was Suzanne supposed to concentrate with Roman standing guard in the corner, watching her every move?

  Every time she lifted her hair from her shoulders, his eyes seemed to graze the bare skin of her neck. Every time she laughed, it was as though he leaned in closer. And every time she shifted in her chair to cross her legs on the other side, she started to feel a little too hot all over.

  She'd opened her door this morning to find him standing there looking beyond gorgeous in his dark suit, his crisp white shirt perfectly setting off his tanned skin. Honestly, it had been all she could do not to beg him to come inside and christen the new sheets she'd bought a couple of weeks earlier. The sexy dreams she'd had about him sure didn't help any.

  Of course, she'd kept her composure and made herself launch into her seduction plan. But it hadn't gotten any easier to rein in her hormones as the hours ticked by.

  At the end of her call with a strategic partner in Germany, Jeannie popped her head in. "You've been in back-to-back meetings for five hours straight. I'm holding all calls for you for the next ninety minutes." The executive assistant Suzanne couldn't live without jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "Get out of here. And don't come back until you've had a little sun and something to eat."

  Suzanne grinned at Jeannie. Anyone who thought the petite woman with the angelic-looking red curls was a meek pushover was a fool. "Aye-aye, Captain."

  Jeannie looked at Roman. "I'm counting on you to hold her to it."

  Roman nodded. "No problem."

  Suzanne shoved away from her desk. Perhaps she shouldn't be irritated by that overly confident no problem, as if corralling her into behaving would be no sweat. But five hours of trying to get her brain to work straight and her hormones to settle down while he was watching from the corner had tried her patience.

  "I'm going for a run."

  She nearly slammed her bathroom door behind her when she went to change into her running gear, but she managed to temper her irritation at the last second. Her plan to fake-seduce Roman into quitting would be no good if she couldn't even hold her smiles together past lunch. No doubt about it, a good, hard run would help burn off some pent-up energy.

  She wished she could reach for her usual T-shirt and shorts, but after a long morning of working to fight her instinctive feminine reaction to Roman, getting him to quit quickly was more of a necessity than ever. Which meant that instead of throwing on a T-shirt and shorts, she had to reach for a bright blue sports bra and matching spandex. She tried to tell herself that compared to the silk dress she'd been wearing, it wasn't much more revealing. But it was hard to believe it when outfits like these were so not her.

  Deep breaths. That was how she was going to get over the tough parts of her plan--with lots of deep breaths and a bottomless well of determination.

  She emerged from the bathroom, surprised to see that Roman had changed into running clothes and shoes as well, which must have been in the leather bag he'd brought with him. She'd hoped to make his eyes bug from his head when he saw her in her tiny little running getup, but she was the one who had to work to hide her own reaction.

  He'd been incredibly handsome in his dark suit. But in a T-shirt and shorts, with all of his muscles on display, she needed to take plenty more deep breaths. She also needed to work like crazy to stop her drool reflex from going into overdrive.

  She gave her head a shake to try to clear the helpless-attraction nonsense from it. "I take it you're running with me?" She was proud of how normal her voice sounded. Not at all as breathless as she felt just from standing in the same room with him.

  "My job is to protect you, no matter what you're doing."

  "Seriously? You're planning to be with me every second, no matter what? Nothing is off-limits?"

  "Not if it means keeping you safe."

  "What if I've got a date?"

  He didn't so much as blink at her pointed question. "I won't leave you alone with anyone I haven't thoroughly checked out."

  "So you're saying that if no guy checks out well enough for you, I have to be a nun?"

  Finally, she thought she saw a chink in his armor. "Like I said, if your dates check out, I won't stand in your way."

  It was entirely beside the point that she had no dates set up, nor was she looking for anyone to sleep with. What bugged her was if Roman thought he could control her in this way. In any way at all.

  Momentarily forgetting her plan to seduce him into misbehaving and quitting, she said, "If I'm going to sleep with someone, that means I have already checked him out." She held up a hand before he could argue with her. "I'll let you stay in the apartment next door and stand in my office all day. I'll even let you go on a run with me. But what I do with my body in the privac
y of my own bedroom is my decision. Period."

  With that, she strapped her phone to her armband and headed out the door. Now she really needed a hit of fresh air to her brain, if only to cool off her temper and get back on plan.

  Jeannie hadn't reacted to Suzanne's dress and heels that morning, but the sports bra and spandex without an oversized T-shirt to cover it all up had her assistant cocking her head in question before she could stop herself. Suzanne shot her a look that said, I'll explain everything later. Fortunately, they'd been working together for so long that they could have entire conversations without saying a word.

  By the time Suzanne and Roman had left the building, crossed the street, and entered the park, she was beyond ready to spring off the starting block. She usually let herself warm up a little bit, but because she was desperate to try to outrun both her irritation and her unacceptable attraction to the man who seemed determined to keep her a prisoner in the name of safety, she all but sprinted down the paved pathway.

  Roman had no trouble keeping up with her, and she was impressed despite herself. Her brothers were all in great shape, but she could run rings around them. As far as she could tell, Roman was barely even breaking a sweat. Not that she was going to let herself sneak too many looks at him out of the corner of her eye, of course. Right now, she had to be totally focused on getting her brain--and body--back on track.

  It took a few minutes of running full speed for her mind to clear. But relief was short-lived. Because once she could think straight again, she finally remembered that she was supposed to be doing whatever she could to entice Roman into overstepping the boundaries of professionalism.

  If her brothers hadn't been such meddling, overbearing men who thought it was okay to sic a bodyguard on her, she wouldn't even be in this situation. One day, she hoped Harry and Alec met women who would knock them down a peg. Mostly just Alec, since Harry was a sweetheart most of the time. Alec, on the other hand, needed his heart served to him on a platter by someone who drove him positively nuts. If she'd known the right woman, Suzanne would have gleefully introduced them already. Unfortunately, she didn't know a single woman capable of wrapping Alec around her finger.

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