Ethan Brodie is there to defend and protect.
women he’s ever seen, he’s keeping his hands off and his eyes open. Or that’s what he tells himself.
the pressure feels. There’s more to Val–more to the other girls–than he could have guessed. But one is keeping a secret that could kill them all.
After he’d talked to Heather and a couple of the other girls about the notes they’d received, he’d decided to concentrate on the four women who lived in the Seattle area, since the note had likely come from someone in the vicinity.
That meant Valentine, Megan, Delilah, and Isabel. He’d spoken to all but Isabel and come up with zilch.
He figured Mark Dargan, Valentine’s trainer, was worth talking to. As Ethan shoved through the glass front door, the familiar sounds of clanking metal and the thud of weights dropping onto rubber mats reached him. The air conditioner hummed, keeping the rooms just shy of chilly, exactly the way he liked to work out.
At the front desk he asked for Dargan, found him easily. Six feet tall, blond and athletic, the guy seemed popular with everyone in the gym. He was working with a client, midforties, balding, and probably fighting to keep the weight off. Fortunately, the workout was coming to an end.
Finished with the last set, Dargan’s client set down the barbells, said good-bye, grabbed his workout towel, and headed off to the showers.
“Ethan Brodie. I’m working security for La Belle. You know the name, right?”
“Yeah. One of my clients models for La Belle.”
“That’s right. What can I do for you?”
“With the show coming up, we’re trying to nail down any potential problems before they arise. Valentine mentioned she’d had trouble a couple of times with guys working out at the gym. Said you’d handled them.”
Dargan shrugged a set of lean-muscled shoulders. The guy was in great shape. But he got paid to be, same as Ethan.
“Wasn’t any big deal,” Dargan said. “One or two got flirty, tried to get a date. One got a little pushy.” Mark grinned. “I told him I was Val’s boyfriend and he’d better leave her alone.”
Mark shook his head. “Don’t I wish. She’s too busy for men. Or at least that’s what she says. We’ve never really been more than friends anyway, and besides, I’ve started seeing someone.”
“Good for you.”
“Val’s the best,” Mark said. “She’s got a beautiful figure, not overly muscled, you know? Just smooth and toned and fit. That’s what La Belle wants in a model. It’s my job to keep her that way.”
Ethan thought of how she’d looked in black tights under a pair of cutoff jeans, midriff bare, her top cut just low enough to hint at full breasts. His mind conjured an image of what she’d look like in nothing but skimpy lingerie, and an unwanted tightening started in his groin.
“Any chance the guy who gave her trouble would pursue the matter, send some kind of threatening note to Val and some of the other models?”
“I don’t think so. The man never bothered her again, only came around here a few times after that. Most guys start working out but stop after a couple of months.” Mark’s gaze ran over Ethan. “Not you, though. You stay in shape.”
“Part of my job, same as you.”
“You’re a bodyguard, right? How about keeping a special eye out for Val? Like I said, she’s the best.”
“Seems you aren’t the only one who thinks so.” Mark glanced over, caught a wave from his next customer. “Anything else?”
Ethan handed him a card. “Not unless you think of something.”
Mark took the card and walked away, and Ethan headed for the door. As he reached the parking lot, he looked down at his big stainless-steel wristwatch. It wasn’t that late. Clouds still hovered above the city, but a weak sun pushed through in places.
It wasn’t Hannah’s bedtime yet. His daughter would still be awake, and he wanted to see her. Since he would soon be leaving the city, he was determined to make that happen, and this time Ally wasn’t going to stop him.
The porch light was on when he rolled up in front of the big two-story house, parked his black four-door Wrangler hardtop at the curb. Through the curtains, he could see the yellow glow of the lamp next to the sofa in the living room.
He had almost reached the front door when he heard Allison’s laughter out in the backyard. Ethan stepped off the cement path and headed in that direction. Stopping at the side gate, he lifted the latch, shoved the gate open, and kept walking.
Allison Winfield sat in a blue canvas swing on the big covered patio. A man in a short-sleeved yellow Izod shirt, sandy brown hair neatly combed, sat in the swing beside her.
In the fading light, Ethan could see Hannah sitting crosslegged on the patio a few feet away, playing with the doll he had given her. Her silky blond hair, pulled up in a ponytail, swung from the top of her head, and her blue eyes danced as she spoke to the doll she’d named Martha, God only knew why.
His heart squeezed. Surely his little girl couldn’t have changed so much in the few weeks since he’d seen her. Surely she didn’t look older, more grown up. Yet, as he watched her, it seemed that she did.
He started striding toward her, heard her squeal of delight when she spotted him, felt a tightening in his chest.
“Daddy!” She was on her feet and racing toward him, the ponytail on top of her head bobbing madly. “Daddy!”
Ethan bent and scooped her up in his arms. She smelled like cinnamon graham crackers mixed with a child’s natural sweetness. Just holding her made his heart hurt.
“Hi, sweet cakes. How’s Daddy’s best little girl?”
She giggled, slid her arms around his neck. “I’m Daddy’s only little girl.”
Ally’s shrill voice had him turning. “What are you doing here, Ethan? You know you aren’t welcome.” Allison Winfield was auburn-haired, of average height, and very pretty. She had a great figure and came from a family with way too much money.
She was also spoiled and conniving. When he’d met her, he’d been so in lust he hadn’t been able to see her faults. By the time she was pregnant with Hannah, it had been too late. “I’ve got a job that’ll take me out of town for a while,” he said. “I wanted to see Hannah before I left the city.” He kissed his daughter’s soft cheek and she giggled. Hannah made up for all the trouble Ally gave him.
“The least you could do was call before you showed up uninvited.”
“Every time I call, you say you’re just leaving. There’s never a time that’s convenient. She’s my daughter, too, Ally. If you don’t start making it easier for me to see her, I’m going to take you back to court.”
He’d had to hire an attorney and get a DNA test to prove he was Hannah’s father. He’d spent a small fortune on legal fees to establish his rights, and if Allison continued to block his visitation, he was going to have to go to court again.
“Do whatever you like,” Allison said smugly. Because she was still on Daddy’s purse strings, legal fees and court costs weren’t a problem for her. “You should have thought of Hannah before you left me.”
“You’re the one who ended it, Ally. I would have married you and you know it.”
“And divorced me. You made no bones about it. You said from the start you didn’t think it would work.”
“I couldn’t make you happy. Both of us knew that.” He tipped his head to the man who stood watching from a few feet away, back straight, shoulders rigid. Slender, athletic, and handsome, he looked like a guy who played tennis or golf; not a tough guy, but ready to defend his damsel in distress.
“Who’s your friend?” Ethan asked.
Allison glanced behind her, tossed her shoulder-length auburn curls, gave the poor fool a come-on smile. “That’s Arthur. If it’s any of your business, which it isn’t.”
Ethan ignored the guy, tried not to feel sorry for him. “I just want to see Hannah, Ally. I’d think you’d be happy about it. Seems like you could use a little time to yourself once in a while.”
Arthur walked up beside her, set a hand possessively at her waist. “If you want me to make him leave, Allison, I will.”
“Take it easy,” Ethan said. “I’m just here to see my kid.” He turned to Ally. “Give me five minutes and I’m gone.”
Her mouth curved into a catty smile. “Why should I?”
“Because if you don’t, there’s going to be trouble and your friend will feel obliged to interfere. That won’t go well for him. Five minutes. That’s all I want.”
She cast Arthur a glance. He was puffed up and ready to fight. Ally must have known what the outcome would be if she goaded him any further.
“Fine. Five minutes. Then you leave.”
incident,” says Kat. “It’s a little bit scary, a whole lot sexy, and hopefully lots of fun to read.”