Authors: Alison Foster
©2016 by Alison Foster
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by electronic, mechanical or other means, without permission in writing from the author.
My name is Tris Kane and I'm so done with college and this whole town and the leash my gangster father wrapped around my life at birth.
Oh yeah, and let's not forget Tanner Hayes, my father's all muscle watchdog who lives in my shadow. He's my so-called bodyguard.
I don't need a fucking bodyguard! And I hate his rugged deliciousness.
Tanner barely ever speaks, yet I can't stop thinking about him. He's always there.
It just makes me want to scream.
: this standalone, suspense romance novel contains some mature themes and situations. This is the first book in the Bodyguard Series.
All books in the series are interconnected, standalone novels, featuring many of the same characters.
don’t know where I am. That’s the first thought that pops into my head when my eyes open. It startles me. Then a hellish flushing sound hits my eardrums and I’m shot straight back into reality. I remember now. I’m at Vaughn’s grandmother’s place in a small town called La Mesa near San Diego, a derelict little house that could collapse at any moment. Like my life.
Everything creaks in here, from the hard floors to the washing machine to the prehistoric plumbing system. I would totally miss the privacy of my room and the comfort of my own bed if not for the fact that I detest everything else about living in my father’s house.
A smile forms on my lips as I stretch my arms and sit up in bed. Three days—I’ve been away from home for three whole fucking days and no one has come after me, or banged on this door yet. Congratulations to me.
Finally, I found a way to get out, to not let a single word slip about dating Vaughn and to control my anger around my father. I played it cool. For once, I was cool as a cucumber. I beat my father at his own game. Your little Tris is all grown up, Daddy. Get used to it.
And as for his security team, especially that brooding stack of twitching muscles, Tanner Hayes—
Eat my dust, boys
See ya! Wouldn’t want to be ya!
I just kept my head down, I stayed somewhat agreeable—but not so much that I would raise a suspicion—I went to my classes at Pepperdine, I showed interest in my sisters’ flighty chit-chat, hell, I even went on a shopping spree with my mother. It all paid fucking dividends. I fell off my father’s radar. When his goon squad got lazy, I just slipped off into the shadows like a ghost.
So here I am, free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last. My promised land might be this strange little house in La Mesa, but I wouldn’t be happier if this shitty plumbing was spitting out milk and honey.
I’m all good.
My father won’t stop. I know he always gets what he wants, especially with his tireless hound Tanner on the job, but fuck the future. One morning waking in total freedom will be my eternity. I define my reality. Not them.
At the very least, I’ll make that lonely bastard Tanner Hayes waste the rest of his life chasing after me. One escape after another, he and his team will be in hot pursuit.
We’ll see the world together, Tanner, you brutish asshole!
Why would my father need such a robust security team? Well, because my father has done nothing but make loads of money out of sketchy (often illegal) activities. He’s an underworld boss, the kind of man who, ah, you would be smart never to talk about.
“Tris, what the fuck?” Vaughn complains as he steps into the room.
Seeing him like this for three days in a row, the way he looks when he wakes up—messed-up hair, reddish eyes, pale and skinny, in nothing but his white briefs, constantly scratching his balls—doesn’t do much to support my original impression of him which was that of a funny, twenty-year old hipster with infectious nervous energy and a cute crush on me.
It’s obvious I had seen Vaughn at his best when we first started going out. The past three days I’ve seen the true Vaughn, a whiny, video game obsessed man-child. If not for his willingness to help me disappear, I’d be kicking him to the curb. I couldn’t spend one more second with him.
“Good morning to you,” I say, irritated by his tone.
“That dude’s here,” he says. “You said it’d take weeks. You said the wire transfer would clear and we’d cross into Mexico. It’s all bullshit. He’s fucking here already.”
“You’re rambling,” I say, already dreading Vaughn’s answer. “Who’s here?”
“See for yourself,” he says, pointing at the window.
Shit. Is it my father? My stomach turns into cement.
“Dude’s like a Spartan,” Vaughn insists. “He’s huge. He blocks out the fucking sun and shit.”
Total. Fucking. Drag. I take the steps. I see him in my mind. A million pins and needles attack my nerves inside and out. Tanner.
“Grandma ran from the store to tell me,” Vaughn goes on. “He’s been terrorizing the neighborhood since dawn. Knocking on doors, stopping people in the street.”
I draw the curtain a tiny bit to peek outside.
Standing in my underwear, I watch Tanner Hayes pacing up and down the sidewalk across the street, gun metal flashing from under his jacket. He wears a shoulder holster. Always. In the shower possibly. The look on his face is as cold as death. No wonder the neighborhood is terrorized. Welcome to my life, town of La Mesa.
My mind numbs. What a fool am I? Only seconds ago I was gloating. Karma is a motherfucker. I turn to Vaughn, completely at a loss, not sure what we should do.
“Don’t look at me,” he says. “I didn’t sign up for this. There’s a Terminator roaming our hood.”
“Really? Did I sign up for it, Vaughn?” I say, turning my attention back to the window and Tanner T-2014. His demeanor has surprisingly softened as he talks to an elderly lady who almost disappears next to his massive size.
Tanner waves goodbye to her but the lady slaps his forearm. He ignores her anger and motions over a middle-aged man who’s been staring at the scene from his porch. What is he saying to piss everyone off?
He’s questioning them, Tris. Obviously. That’s what he’s always done since my father hired him last year to watch my sisters and me as part of his various duties. He uses fear as his main weapon. The gun is there to intimidate. I know all his tricks. I see you, Tanner Hayes. You don’t intimidate me one bit.
Now he points at something. Even from this distance, I can clearly see his biceps stretching the fabric of his jacket until he brings his arm back down.
Tanner has a rugged face. I’ll reluctantly admit he’s handsome, but his constant hard-ass expression makes it hard to imagine him ever dating or showing a gentle side to anyone. I have no idea what damage creates such a heartless creature who lives to be rigid and void of empathy.
I have no sympathy for him, however. None. He imposes his will on anyone and everyone that opposes my father. In fact, Tanner has no will of his own. He simply borrows my father’s will and gives muscle to it.
Ever since he took over my father’s security, my life has progressively worsened. I cannot do a single thing unnoticed. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve flipped off Tanner’s security team a thousand times. I decided to cut back on such acts of defiance while planning this current escape with Vaughn while we studied in a private corner of the college library.
My thoughts are cut short when the man Tanner has been talking to turns and lifts a single finger at the end of his outstretched arm. He points right at my window.
“Fuck, fuck, fucking hell,” I say. I’ve been made.
I fight the desire to flip them both off. Instead, I grab my jeans and sweater off the floor in full panic mode while Tanner crosses the street. I imagine the pavement cracking a little with each step of his powerful body.
My frantic eyes locate my purse as I button my blouse hastily. I kick Vaughn’s Xbox controller away as I hear a loud knock on the front door.
Vaughn’s gone. I didn’t even notice him scurry away like a cockroach. Asshole. Are there any men left in the world? I mean, besides the angel of death knocking on the door? Am I the only one who can hear my question echoing out into the abyss of my stupid existence?
Fairly certain it’s pointless and Tanner will catch up with me no matter where I go, no matter how fast I am, I still run to the back of the house to Grandma’s room and open the window. I climb out, calculating in my head how long it will take Tanner before he decides to break the front door down and how long I have to escape on foot.
The moment my feet land on the ground, I have my answers. Zero seconds to both questions. Tanner stands in front of me as a slight grin forms on his full lips. I roll my eyes, fucking furious.
“Oh, hello, asshole,” I say, trying to act completely calm.
“Princess,” he says, proving my point instantly. Complete asshole.
I don’t bother to ask how he figured out I’d be jumping out this window exactly when I did. I’ve given up being curious about his stalking skills. He stalks, therefore he is. That’s like the meaning of his pathetic life.
My chest tightens as I try to hide my accelerated breathing.
“Touch me and I’ll scream,” I warn.
“That’s what all the girls say,” he says, indifferently, as he places his hand roughly on the back of my right arm.
I don’t scream. There’s no point.
“Kidnapping is illegal,” I tell him just as he guides me forward, forcibly.
His eyes land on mine, making my heart delay a beat. “Good thing you’re going willingly.”
“Willingly? That already sounds creepy. I’m not a criminal,” I say which only makes him snort at me. “Your BS would never stand up in court.”
“Your father’s enemies are everywhere,” he says as if that’s all that needs to be said about the whole matter.
He drags me by the arm as if I were a ragdoll. Resistance is futile. I learned that lesson long ago. Any effort I made now would just prolong the inevitable. My father always wins. Did I mention that? Even if someone called the police and they arrested Tanner, my father would snap his fingers and they’d open Tanner’s cell door and he’d walk right back into my shadow.
“You bullied old people so they’d give me up,” I tell him. “Bravo, you’re so macho.”
“I knew where your dear Vaughn’s Grandma lived the whole time,” he says as he drags me toward a dark minivan. “I told the man to point at your window. I waited until you were alone in the house.”
“Bullshit,” I say. “The old lady hit you.”
“I asked if Grandma was home,” he explains with a grin. “I told her I was from the bank and I would bust the door down and then change the locks.”
“I don’t believe a word,” I say although I know he doesn’t lie to me. Ever.
“I even knew you were watching me through that window,” he adds as he opens the van and lifts me up into a seat like I weigh ten pounds.
My blood freezes. “You need to get a life. Get a girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever.”
“How could I do that?” he asks with a wink. “You keep me too busy.”
“You’re such a creeper, dude. Do you get your kicks spying on Vaughn and me?”
Tanner grins at me. “You and Vaughn? Right,” he says. “I bet you’re not even getting your kicks with that wimpy stoner.” He slams the van door.
Once again, Tanner lives in my mind. Life sucks. Then again, you wouldn’t have to live in my mind to see Vaughn running away like a coward.
Tanner buckles into the driver’s seat in front of me. “Not judging, but I’m pretty sure your man wet himself when he ran down that alley.”
He couldn’t help himself, could he?
I recline the seat back and close my eyes. I feel the van pulling away. I try to disappear into the darkness behind my eyelids. I feel like I’m falling as we accelerate away from this neighborhood forever.
Everything falls away. Except Tanner. I can smell his skin. It has its own soapy, sweaty scent. I can’t escape him even if I recede into oblivion. He hunts me in the physical world and haunts me even in the privacy of my mind.
He makes a turn. I imagine him making a great effort to slow down and make it smoothly so as not to disturb me. I hate that I can smell him non-stop and that something like a tender curiosity invades my otherwise hostile thoughts of this man. Too much proximity too often. Stockholm syndrome I think they call it. I don’t know. We pull onto the freeway.
Next stop, Hollywood Hills. Yuck.