Authors: Maggie Marr
Tags: #hollywood, #Organized Crime, #contemporary romance, #glamour, #hitman, #movie star, #Kidnapping, #hero
“Not that kind of personal.”
Twenty minutes later, Beck pulled to a stop in front of a bungalow in Hollywood. Natalie took a deep breath. “Casa de Mom.” Her voice was brittle, like a wire threaded too tight.
“I can wait on the porch.”
One corner of her mouth lifted into a smile. “Porch-schmorch, big boy. You already know nearly everything about my life—you might as well experience my relationship with my mother. Wouldn’t want to keep you away from that bit of joy.” A crease wrinkled her brow. “Maybe you’ll get why I’m so fucked up.” She pushed open the passenger door and climbed out of the car.
Mona Warner opened the front door. She was forty-five trying for twenty-two by way of Botox, fillers, and some serious surgical intervention. If the light wasn’t so bright, she’d almost pull off the age she desperately wanted to be. Natalie’s eyes, figure, and jaw were nearly identical to Mona’s.
“Baby!” Mona oohed at her daughter and pulled Natalie in for a long hug.
“I didn’t know you were coming by.” Mona released Natalie and her eyes appraised her from top to toe. “Good color on you, that blue, but girl, you shouldn’t go out of the house without heels—not good for your image.” Mona reached out and lifted a chunk of Natalie’s hair. “And what is up with this?”
Natalie licked her lips and the muscle in her jaw flexed. “New colorist.”
“Oh,” Mona said, and dropped the hair as she would a dead mouse. “Well, as long as
Natalie closed her eyes for a second and took a long breath. Mona’s eyes slid past her daughter.
is this?” Mona grasped a lock of her own black hair and twisted it around her finger. Her gaze traveled Beck’s body like a path that Mona would like to hike. “You didn’t tell me you were dating.” The weight of Mona’s wide-eyed gaze and coy smile contained more than just a greeting. Mona was competing with her daughter. The tight jeans, high-heeled boots, and tank top. Mama Warner held fast to her youth like a python grasped a gazelle.
“I’m not. This is Beck, my bodyguard.”
“La-di-da. Wow, so you are a real investment for the studio now. Guess a movie tracking at a hundred-and-fifty-million-dollar opening will do that.”
Natalie rolled her eyes. “Mom, please.” She pushed past her mother into the living room.
Mona winked at Beck, and he followed mother and daughter inside.
Her mother was nuts. Certi-fucking-fiable. Why was she even here visiting? What was this compulsion to check up on Mona? Natalie entered the bungalow and her eyes widened.
Her belly pitted. A sick feeling slid through her. What. The. Fuck. Natalie dropped her purse to the couch and surveyed the racks of thousands of dollars’ worth of designer clothes that filled her mother’s living room.
“What the hell, Mom?”
Mona skirted around the first rack with a slippery smile on her face. “I didn’t know you were coming or I would’ve put these away.”
Natalie lifted a fifty-thousand-dollar gown from a rack. “What are you doing with vintage Chanel couture?” Natalie wore this exact dress the first time she’d attended the Oscars.
“I still have a stylist.” Mona shrugged and her voice held a high-pitched edge. “I have a publicist and do events. People want me to look good too.” Mona’s hands were on her hips and her jaw jutted forward. “Just because my acting career never got the same kind of support that you got from your parents—”
“You and daddy stole three million dollars from me; I think you’ve been repaid.”
Mona crossed her arms over her chest. “I never saw a dime of that money.”
“Really? The house in Bel Air? The trips to Monaco to gamble? The cars? The—” Natalie waved her hands toward the two racks of couture. “—clothes.” She flipped over the dress and pulled out a tag.
Heat thrummed through Natalie’s body and her muscles tightened. Just exactly like her childhood. Her mother trading on Natalie’s name and success to get what she wanted. The name on the tag wasn’t Mona Warner but— “You used my name to borrow these gowns?”
Mona’s lips thinned and she tightened her arms around her body and lifted an eyebrow. “That has to be a mistake. My stylist would have put my name—”
“Uh, your stylist isn’t Stacia Rhodes.” Natalie held up the tag. So many lies. Did Mona even recognize the truth anymore?
Mom’s jaw muscle clenched and her gaze slide toward the back of the house. “I’m just borrowing them,” she whispered.
“With my name.” Why did she think her mother would ever be different? People didn’t grow a conscience. They didn’t wake up one day and decide to be straight and honest and good. Her mother was as shady as her father. In some ways even shadier.
“These are going back today.” Natalie whipped out her phone and texted Stacia. She’d call the different houses and get these gowns back. Plus she’d let them know that Mona Warner was not allowed to borrow
based on Natalie’s name.
Damn. What else had Mona traded on Natalie’s name for? What a fucking freeloader and yet . . . Natalie couldn’t quite cut the cord. Why was she here? Why did she feel as though Mona was her responsibility?
“This is unreal,” Natalie said as she texted Stacia. “I can’t believe you’re doing this shit again. I thought—”
“I have an event.”
“Oh really?” Natalie said. “What event? Did you tell them you were bringing me?”
“It’s a childhood leukemia event.”
Cold oozed through Natalie and her belly twisted. She stopped texting and her gaze latched onto Mona. If she was lying, Natalie would never forgive her.
“They invited me because of Patrick.” Mona’s voice was soft and her bottom lip trembled. Mona was a great liar, but she wasn’t that good.
Natalie swallowed and pinpricks of heat bit at the backs of her eyes.
“They gave me two tickets and I was going to ask you.” Her mother’s gaze dropped to the floor and her hands rubbed her upper arms. She looked up and her eyes were filled with tears. “I didn’t think you’d go. You don’t ever want to discuss Patrick. And I swear I didn’t use your name to get the invite—they phoned me.”
Natalie’s heart wrenched. She believed Mona. Mona would lie about nearly anything to get what she wanted, when she wanted it, but she wouldn’t lie about Patrick, because if Mona lied about Natalie’s little brother, Mona was traveling a paved road to hell on the express bus.
“One dress,” Natalie whispered. “Pick one dress. The rest of them have to go. Today.”
Silence filled the car as Beck drove from Mona’s house. Natalie was wrung out and empty. The longer she stayed with Mona, the more Natalie’s natural vibrancy seeped from her body. Once they’d gotten in the car, she’d curled up like a puppy in a fuzzy blanket and fallen asleep.
Beck turned off of Laurel Canyon. Natalie looked like a younger version of her mom, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. Mona came across as a grifter with petty-criminal tendencies, and while Natalie had an edge and a rough mouth, he knew that both were a front to disguise her soft heart. No wonder she didn’t run with a posse of people or have a ton of close friends. Natalie didn’t let many people in. He understood the need to protect your heart. He’d lived most his life without ever giving his own away, and then the one time he did . . .
Beck pulled up the long drive and came to a stop. He glanced in the rearview mirror. Warmth spread through his limbs. She was asleep. Her face peaceful and relaxed. Waking her wasn’t on his wish list. He’d rather sit here in the dark and wait for her to wake. Let her get some good rest. Let her forget about the clusterfuck at Mona’s house or, if not forget, at least let it be out of her mind while she snoozed.
A tiny moan came from Natalie’s lips, and she sat up in the back seat and rubbed her heavy-lidded eyes.
She nodded and then slowly climbed from the SUV. Per the updates on his phone and the security check an hour before by the on-site detail, the house was secure, but it was his job to be certain. His job to make it one hundred percent that Natalie was safe in her home.
“Stay close to me.” He opened the door and turned to the security system. Operational and secure. He moved through the lower and upper level of the house. Everything just as before. Windows, doors, lights, all were identical to when they’d exited the house. He returned to the living room.
“Everything is good.”
Natalie now sat on the couch with a bottle of wine open before her. “Drink?”
He shook his head. No alcohol while Beck was on duty. His backup would arrive in an hour. The past week it’d been Dex, but any one of Estrella’s people could do the eight-hour break shift.
“This is the only way I can recover from time with my mother.” She poured half the bottle into her wineglass, nearly filling it to the rim. “To Mona.” Natalie lifted her glass. “May she always have my name on which to trade.”
She took a long drink. Her gaze hit his as she finished. “So, what do you think about me and my fucked-up family? Any insight? I know you got some kind of report on me. They couldn’t have kept out how messed up my childhood was.”
“Everyone’s family is messed up and I’m not a head-shrinker. Just the hired help, here to protect and serve.”
A tiny laugh slipped from Natalie’s lips. “Ha. You play like you see everything and judge nothing but”—she tilted her wine glass toward him—“I see that brain working. You have all kinds of thoughts and opinions about everything that goes down.” Another long drink. She lifted the bottle and filled her glass. “Tell me, Mr. Tatum, in your
opinion, how much of a threat is Mona? Would she try to off me? Maybe hold me for ransom? Be angry enough to scare the shit out of me by hiring some weirdo to follow me around in a hoodie?”
The family dynamic between mother and daughter, Beck knew from watching his sister grow up, was no place for a man to tread.
“We can’t rule out anyone. Not yet.”
“Damn straight. Mother of the Year award to Mona—can’t even say that my own mother wouldn’t hurt me. Damn.” Her gaze latched onto his and the pain in her eyes was palpable. “You know how bad that sucks? A mom who might hurt you and a father who has? Sheds all kinds of light on my choice in men.”
But Natalie was a grown woman now. Sure, when she’d first started sleeping with that no-good Rico dude she’d been barely legal. But now? Years later? She was grown and independent and successful. Her life was paradise in comparison to most of the world. Living in these giant digs, doing the job of her dreams, plenty of money and work. Yeah, judging Natalie’s choices wasn’t in Beck’s job description, but neither was being a required participant in Natalie’s full-on pity party.
“You plan on keeping this pity party going your whole life or maybe just ’til thirty? I mean I can see another few years, but after that? This script gets old.”
The glass stopped just at Natalie’s lips and her gaze turned toward him. She tilted her head and slowly set her glass on the cocktail table before her. Her gaze traveled over Beck. “You may not know this, but they gave me a dossier on you too.”
The air whispered out of Beck’s lungs. A dossier? On him?
“Chew on that, big guy. Little family background, little psychological profile, a little bit on your military training and combat record.”
Beck’s heart picked up speed.
“You think they’d make me keep you without giving me a little info on just what kind of spook is looking after me?”
The muscle in his jaw flickered. He hated the word. Loathed it. Connoted everything wrong with everything he’d been required to do as a spy.
“Something about an abusive father? Straight to military from high school? Trained to kill? That about right? Haven’t seen any of your family in, what? Eight or nine years?”
“Relevance?” His tone was clipped and hard. If she was trying to poke a stick and get a response, she was getting damned close. Why hadn’t Remi or Estrella told him that she’d be getting information on him? Not what he was used to. No, he was the one who received information, not the other way around.
like to engage in pop psychology. Try to figure out why people do what they do. Weren’t you trying to save the world from all the bad people because no one saved you?”
Beck’s hands fisted at his sides. His motives, his heart, his desires, weren’t relevant to this moment, to this job, to this mission and the objective. Striking out was Natalie’s way of relieving the pain she’d experienced tonight, and while he logically understood her motives and her intentions, Natalie’s words stuck to him like feathers in Gorilla Glue.
“If my background is important to you feeling secure, then of course, I’m willing to share any portion of my past that isn’t classified.”
Her eyes widened. Not the answer she expected? Not the anger and rage that she’d required he produce so that she could refocus her own anger and pain on something other than herself and her relationship with Mona?
Too fucking bad, poor little rich girl.
He wasn’t playing her game or getting sucked into her drama. Nope, he was here to do his fucking job.
“I think . . .” Natalie stood. She wobbled, of course. Didn’t he remember from the day at Villa Blanco that she was a lightweight where wine was concerned? He reached out and grasped her before she stumbled into the table.
His hand on her waist. She turned and pressed her body to his. Heat shimmered between them as though a mirage on a lonely stretch of desert highway, stoked hotter with his touch.
She smelled of lavender and wine. Warm and rich. So close her hot breath pulsed against his skin. Beck stood stone still. He didn’t move. Didn’t shift his body. He was already too close—with one move she’d know that he couldn’t control all his desires where she was concerned.
She tilted her head toward his. Her lush lips stained red from the wine, her breath warm and intoxicating with the earthy scent of booze. Her tongue licked over her bottom lip. A deep breath.
“Beck,” she whispered. “I’m—” She closed her eyes and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, okay, I’m being a bitch and I shouldn’t. I . . . your life, your reasons for your life, they aren’t my business and you just know so much about me and I know so little about you.”