Since I Fell for You by Bella Andre


  "New York Classic." His unexpected smile made her heart temporarily stop beating. God, he was good looking. Especially when his man-of-stone mask fell away.

  "You know it?"

  "I used to work there. In high school." He almost looked a little bashful as he admitted, "I came up with the toppings for that pizza."

  It was one of the first personal things he'd told her about himself without her pushing him to share, and the knowledge was strangely sweet.

  "Amazing," she said, not quite sure at the moment if she was talking about the fact that he'd created her favorite pizza...or about the connection that seemed to be growing between them by the second. "You grew up in the city?"

  "The Bronx. But a friend's uncle owned the place, and all the free pizza I could eat was a big lure."

  She couldn't quite put her finger on why it felt like there was more to his story than just a high school kid working to earn some extra money. Maybe it was the hint of emotion he hadn't quite concealed when he'd mentioned his friend's uncle. Or maybe it was the interesting mixture of anticipation and dread on his face at the thought of getting pizza with her there tonight.

  Given that she was supposed to be working on a plan to get Roman out of her life as quickly as possible, she shouldn't be so intrigued by him. Shouldn't be trying to figure out what made him tick. But she'd never been one to turn away from something that didn't quite add up.

  Especially when that something looked as good in a suit as he did.

  The cab stopped, and Roman gave the driver a twenty before she could take care of it. "You don't always have to pay," she said. "In fact, you never should, since technically you work for my company."

  But he acted like he didn't hear her as he opened the door to the restaurant. When, she wondered, was the last time she'd been with a guy who had held the door for her to any room but a bedroom?

  Not, of course, that she was with Roman. She needed to remind herself of that, because coming here almost felt like a date. None of the guys she'd been out with would have considered this little hole-in-the-wall pizza place up to their standards--not when they were all trying so hard to impress everyone with their fancy suits and expensive watches. Didn't they realize that it was guys like Roman who truly impressed, in large part because he didn't have to try at all?

  Seriously. She needed to stop letting her hormones get the best of her. But it wasn't easy to stop feeling all the feelings when the guys behind the counter saw Roman and couldn't contain their excitement.

  "Roman, dude, it's you!" The kid at the register yelled back to the kitchen, "Roman is here!"

  A gray-haired man in a white chef's cap came out of the kitchen, his face split in a wide smile. "Mr. Huson, it's been too long."

  The two men did the one-armed, shoulder-to-shoulder hug Suzanne had seen her brothers do a million times. In an instant, she could see that they were more than friends. They might not be related by blood, but they were clearly family. Again, she wondered what the full story was.

  "Jerry," Roman said, taking a step to the side, "this is Suzanne." She recognized the gleam in Jerry's eyes. It was the one every matchmaker had when they thought they were looking at a happy couple. Evidently, Roman saw it too, because he quickly added, "I've recently begun working with her."

  Jerry's face fell slightly at the news that Cupid hadn't struck Roman with an arrow, but his smile was still completely genuine as he shook her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Suzanne."

  "I absolutely love your pizza," she said, hoping that would help take the sting out of the fact that she and Roman were most definitely not a couple. "When I was in high school, my friends and I always used to be late back from lunch because we couldn't stand to waste even a bite."

  "Beautiful and with great taste." No one could have missed the look Jerry shot Roman. One so obvious that she found herself blushing.

  "Suzanne has a meeting in a few minutes," Roman said in a more brusque tone than he needed to, given that everyone in the restaurant clearly thought the sun rose and set on every move he made. "Is there any way you can fast-track a New York Classic for us?"

  "Sure thing." Jerry turned back to her. "Don't let him fool you, Suzanne. All that growling is just for show. And we've renamed that pizza." He grinned. "It's the Roman Classic now."

  Suzanne was pretty sure Roman might have growled if Jerry hadn't hightailed it back to the kitchen just then. "Why don't you go say a few words to your fan club while I grab a table? I'll barely be a few feet away, right in your line of sight."

  Before she even sat down, he was surrounded by a handful of teenage boys. They were all talking to him at once, and while she could tell that he was listening, she knew he was also keeping perfect track of where she was and what she was doing.

  No man had ever been so aware of her--and she'd definitely never been this aware of a man. Unfortunately, while he was being paid to pay attention to her, she was simply exhibiting a serious and pathetic lack of self-control.

  A few minutes later, he sat down. "Sorry about that. I've known Jerry for so long, and he's desperate for me to be hap--" He cut his sentence short. "I apologize that he thought you were my girlfriend."

  Suzanne tried to ignore the twinge of longing for that to be true. "You don't have to apologize for anything. He's very sweet. He obviously wants you to find a nice girl to settle down with."

  He frowned, looking even more uncomfortable than he had just seconds before. "He knows better."

  "Why would you say that?"

  Her too-intimate question sent Roman's impenetrable mask falling right back into place. "Trust me, you don't want to know."

  Of course she wanted to know. She was dying to push. To poke. To dig until she got answers. Until she uncovered the man behind the always professional bodyguard. But she'd lived with her brothers long enough to know that a direct hit was rarely the way to get what you wanted. It would be better to try to loosen him up again before fishing for more.

  "This must be a pretty boring job for you, watching a bunch of computer geeks all day, isn't it?"

  He looked momentarily surprised by her change of subject. "I'm not bored at all. It's my job to deal with physical threats, but the kind of threats you're protecting people from are coming faster and darker all the time. What you're doing with your digital security software, it's important. And plenty interesting."

  She was surprised that he truly did seem to find her job interesting. Most guys she'd dated outside of her industry were either bored to tears by her career or threatened by her being the CEO.

  "What kind of people do you usually work with?"

  "Athletes. Politicians. Actors. Musicians."

  "So I'm your first nerd girl, huh?"

  When he stopped in mid-sip of his water, she realized it had sounded like yet another double entendre. One she hadn't meant despite her whole seductress plan.

  Or had she? Because somehow the idea of being Roman's first nerd girl didn't sound all that bad...

  He recovered first. "Definitely the first who keeps calling herself a nerd and a geek. Less than that got you a black eye back when I was in school."

  "In my world, nerd and geek aren't insults. As far back as I can remember, I was always the president of the computer club. And honestly, there's always been so much gossip about my family that a bunch of kids throwing those words into it wouldn't have made much difference."

  His face was often a mask that she couldn't read, but in that moment, she saw what looked like empathy for her past. Maybe even commiseration, as if his own childhood hadn't been a bed of roses either. Yet again, she wanted to shift from patiently waiting for him to open up, to asking direct questions that would help her better understand all of Roman's many intriguing layers.

  One of his teenage fanboys brought over their pizza. "Here you go, Roman. Hope you like it."

  The kid kept standing there until Roman took a bite and said, "Best one I've had in years."

  "Thanks, man." The smile on the k
id's face made it look as if he had just won the lottery. He scooted back to tell the rest of the staff.

  "They really do love you here."

  "They're good kids, but they've heard too many stories." She wanted to ask him to tell her those stories, but before she could, he said, "Not like with your employees. Today, when you were working with them, you were the sun everyone was revolving around while you made magic happen with the servers."

  His compliment made her insides feel all warm and fuzzy. "My team is great. Super smart. Nice too. Any one of them could start their own company. It's an honor to have them working for me. Especially when we're tackling difficult puzzles like we were today."

  He studied her as if he was confused about something. "The puzzle of what you were working on appealed to you despite the reason for the extra work and how angry you were about it, didn't it?"

  Most people could know her for years and not understand this. But Roman had gotten it inside of one day. She couldn't help but think back to what he'd said, about how the last guy she'd dated hadn't understood her. Roman clearly did.

  "I'm not at all happy about the attack, of course, but figuring out how to thwart the bad guys is always interesting. It's part of the reason I decided to focus on digital security as opposed to building other kinds of software applications. That, and the fact that I want people to feel safe whenever they're online."

  Somewhere in there, she realized what a terrible job she was doing of seducing him into breaking his bodyguard rules. She should be talking about anything but software applications. If only her female cousins were here right now to give her a refresh on their flirting lessons from all those years ago.

  What was it they had said? Lean in close, then flatter him. And if that didn't work--Pretend he has something on his mouth and reach over to help him clean up.

  Scooting her chair closer, she looked deeply into Roman's eyes. "I know this may come as a bit of a surprise, but you make me feel really safe." She'd meant to say it as mere flattery, but as soon as the words left her lips, she realized she meant them. She still didn't need a bodyguard, but that didn't mean she hadn't noticed feeling extra secure whenever Roman was near.

  He didn't say anything for a long moment. Finally, he replied, "I'm glad."

  The moment hung between them, heavy with exactly the kind of sparks she'd previously told herself were integral to succeeding in her plan to make him quit. Only, it didn't feel so much like a plan anymore.

  No, the heat between them felt real.

  Real enough that she instinctively reached up to touch his jaw, and not because there was anything to wipe away. As her fingertips made contact with his warm, tanned skin, she was a hairsbreadth away from kissing him.

  Before she could, he shoved his chair back from the table and stood up. "If you're done, we should go to your meeting."

  Disappointment rang through her at the way he'd leaped up to get away from her. Even though he was right. Her fake-seduction plan was supposed to lead to a kiss--but not a real one.

  He'd just narrowly saved her from screwing up her own plan.

  "Right." She pushed away from the table too. "Let's go." She forced a smile for Jerry and his teenage staff. "Thank you for the great pizza."

  "I hope to see you two again soon."

  Keeping the smile frozen on her face, she nodded. "Bye."

  Roman hung behind for a few moments as Jerry said something to him in a low voice. By the time Roman hailed them a cab, his face had returned to looking like thunder. And the truth was that Suzanne's insides suddenly felt just as stormy.

  Because though she had absolutely no intention of falling for the bodyguard she'd never wanted in the first place, she couldn't help but wonder if she was really as in control as she'd originally planned to be.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  Don't let this one slip away, Roman. She's perfect for you.

  Was Jerry nuts, saying that right as they'd been walking out of the restaurant? Clearly, the man had taken one look at Suzanne's pretty face and lost his mind.

  Couldn't he see that she was as untouchable as they came? And not just because she was too smart and successful for a guy like Roman, whose only teenage refuge had been working in a pizza joint. Suzanne deserved a guy who could give her a solid relationship. A guy who had grown up learning how to love from two parents who were happy together.

  Roman would never be that guy.

  It shouldn't matter that he wasn't. He was her bodyguard, not a blind date set up by her brothers. But after spending an entire day being more impressed with her by the minute, for the first time in a very long time, he found himself wishing that things were different. That he was different.

  At thirty-six, Roman was old enough to be brutally honest about who he was. He'd enjoyed the company of plenty of women. But he never let things get serious with any of them. Huson men didn't do serious. Not after Roman's father had made the mistake of falling in love with a woman with a white-collar upbringing who'd slummed it with him for long enough to have Roman, then she got bored, cheated, and left. Tommy Huson never missed an opportunity to hammer these facts home, and he insisted that his son not make the same mistake. Roman had made other mistakes in the past three decades, but trusting a woman with his heart wasn't one of them.

  Their taxi ride was a silent one, as Suzanne also seemed to be brooding. He enjoyed talking with her more than with any other woman, but this silence was better. Safer. For both of them.

  They soon arrived at Drake's loft. "Remind me, what's this meeting for?"

  "Rosa has recently launched a foundation to fight online bullying, and I'm helping her out in my spare time."

  "Spare time?" He nearly laughed out loud at her even using those words. "When do you get some of that?" After only one day, he could already see how tightly she was stretched. No wonder her brothers wanted someone to take care of her. Roman wasn't sure she would ever take the time to take care of herself--not when others needed her.

  The door opened before she could reply, and she was swept up into a hug. "Sorry I'm late, Rosa."

  Of course, he recognized the woman hugging Suzanne. Rosalind Bouchard was unarguably the most famous reality TV star in the world. He'd heard she'd recently left the business--he supposed it had come in the wake of her nude-picture scandal. He didn't know much about her beyond the headlines that popped up on the Internet, but he felt for anyone who'd had to go through that kind of unwanted exposure.

  He knew all too well how much it sucked to have someone peddle you out for their own gain--especially when the last thing you wanted was to be used that way.

  "I'm glad you were able to squeeze us in at all, Suz." Rosa held Suzanne at arm's length. "Wow, you look amazing in that dress. Do you have a date later tonight?"

  "Dates? What are those?" Suzanne joked, but by now he knew the different tenors in her voice well enough to recognize the tiny bit of sadness that hung behind the humor when she spoke about being single.

  Rosa suddenly noticed him. "Oh, hi!"

  "Rosa, this is Roman." Before the other woman could make any wrong assumptions, Suzanne added, "He's my bodyguard. I'm sure Drake told you all about what they did behind my back, right?"

  "He did, and I was really mad at him." She scowled. "I told Drake they shouldn't have hired a bodyguard without your permission."

  "I agree. But as you can see"--Suzanne nodded toward Roman--"what's done is done."

  "You're being much nicer than I'm afraid I would be," Rosa said. She turned again to Roman. "In any case, it's nice to meet you. Come on inside and make yourselves comfortable. There's plenty of food and drink. Let me introduce you both to everyone."

  Five minutes later, Roman had memorized another half-dozen names and faces. He'd make sure to look them all up tonight to ensure that none of them posed a potential threat to Suzanne.

  Drake wasted little time in taking him out on the patio so that they could speak in private. Roman made sure to stand where he had a clear sight line
to Suzanne.

  "So, how's it going with Suz? You're still here at the end of day one, so that's something."

  "She's not happy about having me around, but she's been so busy today at work that I don't think she's had time to do much about getting rid of me."

  "She's smarter than all of us combined," Drake said, obviously immensely proud of his sister.

  "No offense to you and your brothers, but I've got to agree with you there," Roman said. "I've never seen anyone's brain work so fast. Her colleagues are constantly racing to try to keep up."

  "I'm not much of a computer guy, but the stuff she works on is really interesting, isn't it?"

  "It is. Everyone in her company is young and energetic and undaunted. Most of all, your sister." Which was why Roman needed Drake to know something. "There was another server attack this afternoon. A bad one, from what I could gather."

  With a low curse, Drake turned to look with concern at Suzanne, who was already knee-deep in planning with the others around the coffee table. "I'm assuming that since she's here, she's already fixed the problem?"

  "She did."

  "I know she's convinced it's just a little unimportant funny business, possibly from one of the many companies whose buyout offers she has repeatedly turned down--"

  "Don't worry," Roman assured Drake. "Even if she's willing to look at these server attacks as more of a challenge than anything else, you can let Alec and Harry know that I'm not going anywhere until we've gotten to the bottom of things. I won't let anything happen to her."

  Drake seemed to weigh his words for a few moments. "Alec said you're the best."

  "I am." Roman might not be proud of some of the things he'd done in his life, but he was proud of the way he ran his security business. No one had ever been hurt on his watch. No one ever would. "I promise you, she's safe with me."

  *

  By the time they left Drake and Rosa's, Suzanne was way too exhausted to even think about putting on her "sexy" act. Heck, she couldn't even bother to put on her shoes at this point, carrying them instead as she tried to stay awake long enough to get into the cab.

 
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