Saturday Excerpt: Bodyguard’s Baby Surprise by Lisa Childs
Passion flares when Payne Protection’s newest recruit puts everything on the line to protect the mother of his child in Bodyguard’s Baby Surprise by Lisa Childs, on sale now from Harlequin Romantic Suspense. Read an excerpt below!
About Bodyguard’s Baby Surprise:
Threats are nothing new for FBI special agent Nicholas Rus. But when a night of passion with girl-next-door Annalise Huxton puts her in the crosshairs, Nick knows he has to do something drastic. He’d do anything to protect her—and her surprise baby bump!
Annalise has always had feelings for Nick, but that doesn’t mean she trusts him. Sure, he quit his job to become her personal bodyguard, but he went MIA after their heated night together. As their pursuers circle ever closer, Annalise lowers her guard, allowing their mutual desire to resurface. Nick has proven his intent to keep her and the baby safe, but can a reckless indiscretion lead to a lifetime of happiness?
The soft metallic click echoed in the eerie silence of the ransacked living room. FBI Special Agent Nick Rus tightened his grasp on his weapon, but he knew it was too late. Whoever had broken into his place had already cocked his gun, and the barrel of that gun was dangerously close to his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the metal glinting in the faint light of the lamp overturned on the hardwood floor.
Was this it? He had lived most of his thirty-one years on the edge. As a Marine, he had been deployed to the most dangerous places in the world. As an FBI agent, he had taken on some of the most dangerous criminals in the world. But he was going out in the living room of some River City rental house?
Hell, no. He ducked and jammed his elbow back—into the ribs of the intruder. Then he wrapped the fingers of one hand around the barrel of that gun and shoved it up while he swung his own gun around and jammed it hard into the other man’s chest. “Who the hell are you?”
“Your friend—I thought,” Gage Huxton murmured before uttering a low groan of pain.
“My friends don’t pull guns on me.” But then he remembered a few instances when they had. “Well, at least they don’t trash my place.” He released Gage’s weapon and holstered his own. “I’ve had some bad houseguests before, but you…”
Gage chuckled, but it was rusty-sounding. “Funny. I walked in here just a few minutes ago and found this mess.”
Nick picked up the lamp from the floor and shone the light around. The couch cushions and pillows had been slashed, the stuffing pulled from them.
“Looks like somebody was looking for something,” Gage remarked.
Nick shrugged. “I can’t imagine what.” He’d lived such a nomadic life that he had few possessions. “More likely someone is trying to send me a message.”
“You piss someone off lately?”
“I’ve pissed off a lot of someones since I came to River City,” Nick admitted. His move to Michigan had been tumultuous for him and for the people his presence had upset. Not just the Paynes but the criminals he’d put away since his arrival in the city.
“Has this been going on that long?” Gage asked. He’d been back in the US only a few weeks—back from the dead, actually, since he’d gone missing on his last deployment and had been presumed dead for months.
Nick nodded. “Yeah. That’s why this is my fourth place in just a little over a year.” He’d kept moving around, but they always found him—whoever it was routinely trashing his place.
“That’s why you’re doing the short-term rentals,” Gage said.
“I was supposed to be here short-term,” Nick reminded him. The Bureau had sent Nick to River City to clean up the corrupt police department. After years of going undercover to expose corruption, he’d become an expert at handling it. But cleaning up the River City Police Department had taken longer than he’d thought it would. It had also made him some dangerous enemies.
“Why would you leave?” Gage asked. “You’ve got family here.”
Nick snorted. “I don’t think they consider me family.” But he had begun to think of them that way. “Especially Nikki.” She was the one who’d told Gage where to find Nick a few weeks ago. She was the one who could track down anyone. He glanced around at the destruction. Did she resent him enough to do this to his place?
“Nikki,” Gage said with a wistful sigh.
Nick shoved him again.
“Don’t worry,” Gage said. “She’s your sister, so she’s off-limits. That would be like you going for Annalise.”
Actually, that would be worse, because Annalise was really Gage’s sister. Other than them both being named for their father, Nick had no connection to Nikki Payne. Gage apparently hadn’t talked to his sister yet. He didn’t know about Nick and Annalise. If he had, he might have pulled that trigger when he’d had the chance.
“You need to call her,” Nick said. Sure, she might tell Gage how he’d treated her. But he didn’t care about himself. He cared about her and how worried she’d been about her brother.
Gage sighed again—raggedly. “I can’t. She can’t hear me like this.” His voice was raspier than it had once been, but Nick suspected that wasn’t what his friend worried his sister would hear. He worried that she would hear his pain—whatever hell he’d endured all those months he’d been missing. “But I sent her an email. I let her know that I’m back—that I’m okay.”
He was alive. Nick wasn’t sure how okay he was. He wasn’t sure if Annalise was okay, either—since he hadn’t talked to her for the past six months. He hadn’t known what to say. “Sorry” hadn’t seemed adequate—although he had told her that, too. He’d made a mess of their friendship. And when Gage learned what he’d done, he would have made a mess of that friendship, too.
So maybe it was fitting that someone kept trashing his place—since Nick kept trashing his life.
Payne Protection Agency, Annalise read the sign and confirmed she’d found the correct address. The bodyguard business occupied both floors of the brick building in the industrial area of River City, Michigan. The email had come from here.
It had to be real. Her brother was alive. And it made sense that he would have come here. Not to the bodyguard business per se, but here to River City—to Nick. Even after whatever he’d been through in the past six months, he was still intent on following Nick around.
She had once been, too. But not anymore.
Nicholas Rus was the last person she wanted to see. Maybe she shouldn’t have come here. But River City was nearly as big as Chicago. She was unlikely to run into him. She opened the door and stepped into the brick foyer of the building. Another door led to the lobby, but when she reached for the handle, it escaped her grasp as the door pulled open. A man stepped out, nearly colliding with her. Strong hands caught her shoulders and steadied her.
“Sorry,” a deep voice murmured with concern.
She glanced up—into Nick’s handsome face. The jaw, the cheekbones, the nose were chiseled, the eyes so bright a blue they were almost startling. But he was staring down at her as if she was a stranger—as if he had never seen her before.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Nick?” But it couldn’t be. Even Nick couldn’t be cold enough to pretend that he didn’t recognize her. And she didn’t feel the way she usually felt when she saw Nick. Maybe her heart had finally given up on him.
The man’s brow furrowed. And he shook his head. “No. You know Special Agent Rus?”
She’d thought she knew him better than anyone else. But she’d been a fool. For so many reasons…
“He’s not why I’m here,” she said.
“Do you need a bodyguard?” the man asked. “I’m Logan Payne—CEO of Payne Protection.”
“He never tires of saying that,” another deep voice murmured as a second man stepped into the building from outside. Their faces were identical, but this man’s blue eyes sparkled with amusement. “He used to be the sole owner, but our younger brother and I each bought our own franchise. If you want a bodyguard, come see me.” He held out his hand. “I’m Parker Payne.”
“Which one of you does Gage Huxton work for?” she asked.
“He should work for me.” And then there were three. This man had come in behind the other brother. “I’m Cooper Payne, and my team has all the ex-Marines.”
“Unless they’re family,” Logan said. “Then they work for me.”
“Gage isn’t your family,” she said. He was hers. So why hadn’t he come to see her since he’d been back? Why hadn’t he at least called? Why had he only sent that short, impersonal email?
“He’s Nick’s family,” Logan said. “So that makes him our family.”
“Nick’s not family,” she said.
“Finally someone speaks the truth around here,” a female voice remarked. The woman was small, but she shouldered the larger men aside and stepped closer to Annalise. She didn’t look like them. Her hair was reddish-brown instead of black, her eyes brown instead of blue. But she was as much a Payne as they were. As Nick must be…
This was the family his mother’s letter had told him about—the siblings he’d never known he had.
“Who are you?” the woman asked as she thrust out her hand.
The woman’s eyes widened. “Gage’s wife?”
“Gage isn’t married,” Annalise said. While her brother hadn’t been particularly forthcoming in his email, she doubted he’d met anyone and married her while he’d been missing. Before he’d reenlisted, he had been pretty serious about a woman, but she’d broken his heart, which had probably precipitated his reenlistment. “I’m his sister.”
“I’m Nikki Payne,” the woman said.
“Nice to meet you,” Annalise said as she took Nikki’s hand, which was small but callused. And her grip was surprisingly strong. Maybe having all older brothers had made her tough, whereas Gage had always tried to coddle and protect Annalise. Even Nick had, when he hadn’t been ignoring her. But Nick wasn’t her brother.
She’d always known that, but until six months ago, she’d thought Nick had considered her a pesky little sister. He hadn’t ignored or coddled or protected her that night. Instead, he’d broken her heart.
But he’d done more than that…
Much more. She flinched as a little foot struck her ribs, and she pressed her hand over her stomach. That was probably why Nikki had assumed she was Gage’s wife. Because she was pregnant.
Maybe coming here—even to see Gage—had been a mistake. He would want to know who the father was. And she couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t tell anyone.
“Gage isn’t here,” Logan said. “He left for an assignment this morning.”
Even as disappointment flashed through her, she breathed a little sigh of relief. She wanted to see her brother—wanted to see for herself that he was all right. But she didn’t want to have to answer his questions any more than he probably wanted to answer hers.
“When will he be back?” she asked. Eventually he would have to know that he was going to be an uncle in a few months. But that wasn’t the reason she needed to see her brother. She wasn’t even here to make sure he was all right. He was back. He was working. He was probably fine.
Annalise was the one who needed help.
Logan shrugged. “It’s hard to say. Days. Maybe weeks. As long as the person he’s protecting is in danger.”
For her, it had been months. She’d been in danger since that night Nick had showed up in Chicago. That couldn’t be a coincidence. He must have gotten her in trouble somehow—in more ways than one. Because someone had spent the past six months stalking her.
* * *
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