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Authors: Lisa Childs

Tags: #Contemporary romantic suspense, #Harlequin Intrigue, #Fiction

Explosive Engagement

BOOK: Explosive Engagement
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GETTING MARRIED MAY BE MORE DIFFICULT THAN COMPLETING HIS MISSION.

Nothing has fazed Logan Payne in his entire career as a bodyguard. That is, until he’s tasked with protecting his biggest enemy. Stacy Kozminski isn’t too thrilled about having to work with Logan either, but when attempts are made on her life, she knows he is her only hope if she wants to survive.

Soon, a target is placed on both their backs, and they have no choice but to stage an engagement to protect one another. Logan won’t let Stacy out of his sight. But is it because he doesn’t want to fail his assignment…or because he’s come to care for the gutsy and gorgeous woman—the only woman who’s ever gone toe-to-toe with him?

Noise erupted in the room.

Gasps. Shouts. Even a scream. But she could barely hear them for the blood rushing through her head, roaring in her ears. Her pulse pounded madly with adrenaline and attraction. Had it been so long since she’d been kissed that any man could affect her like this? It couldn’t be just because it was Logan. She couldn’t want a man that she hated as much as this one.

No man had ever kissed her the way he was kissing her—with so much passion and desire that her knees weakened and her head swam and she completely forgot why she’d kissed him in the first place.

When he pulled back, she was panting for breath, and her heart was beating so quickly that it pounded against her breasts. Against her lips, he murmured, “What the hell are you up to?”

For a moment she couldn’t remember. Then it came back to her: the plan—his mother’s outrageous plan.

She whispered back, “I’m saving your life.” Then she turned toward her stunned family and announced, “Logan Payne is my fiancé. We’re getting married.”

For my family—with great appreciation for all your love and support. Love you all!

EXPLOSIVE
ENGAGEMENT

Lisa Childs

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bestselling, award-winning author Lisa Childs writes
paranormal and contemporary romance for Harlequin. She lives on thirty acres in
Michigan with her two daughters, a talkative Siamese and a long-haired Chihuahua
who thinks she’s a rottweiler. Lisa loves hearing from readers, who can contact
her through her website,
www.lisachilds.com
, or snail-mail address,
P.O. Box 139, Marne, MI 49435.

Books by Lisa Childs

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

  664—RETURN OF THE LAWMAN
  720—SARAH’S
SECRETS
  758—BRIDAL RECONNAISSANCE
  834—THE SUBSTITUTE
SISTER
1213—MYSTERY LOVER
1263—RANSOM FOR A PRINCE
1318—DADDY
BOMBSHELL
1338—LAWMAN LOVER*
1344—BABY BREAKOUT*
1403—PROTECTING
THE PREGNANT PRINCESS**
1410—THE PRINCESS PREDICAMENT**
1417—ROYAL
RESCUE**
1500—GROOM UNDER FIRE‡
1506—EXPLOSIVE ENGAGEMENT‡

*Outlaws
**Royal Bodyguards
‡Shotgun
Weddings

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Logan Payne—
The former detective and CEO of Payne Protection needs a bodyguard himself after attempts on his life. Instead he winds up with a fiancée.

Stacy Kozminski—
She has hated Logan Payne for keeping her father in prison, so he’s the last man she would marry—until murder attempts leave her no other option but to propose.

Patek Kozminski—
The former jewel thief took his secrets to his grave, but someone thinks he may have shared them with his daughter—which puts her in danger.

Garek Kozminski—
Stacy’s brother has done prison time, and he’s not above breaking the law again...this time for revenge.

Milek Kozminski—
Stacy’s other brother has also had scrapes with the law. Like Garek, he’ll do anything to protect their sister—even kill....

Iwan Kozminski—
Uncle Iwan was Patek’s partner in the jewel thefts, but he never went to prison...and he’ll do anything to make sure he never does.

Marta Kozminski—
She enjoys the lifestyle her husband Iwan provides, and she’s not going to let his brother’s children and Logan Payne mess that up.

Candace Baker—
The bodyguard is so in love with her boss that she would give her life for his. She might also take a life—that of his fiancée.

Robert Cooper—
The retired police officer was Logan’s dad’s partner and the key witness in Patek Kozminski’s trial, which puts him in danger too.

Parker Payne—
Being Logan’s twin has already put him in danger, but he would gladly take a bullet for his brother.

Nikki Payne—
The baby and only Payne sister, Nikki is determined to prove she’s just as tough as her brothers.

Penny Payne—
The Payne family matriarch is not part of her children’s security business. As a wedding planner, she believes in another kind of security—happily ever after—and she’s not above taking advantage of a situation to ensure her kids are happy.

Prologue

The bomb was set, so he carefully closed the door. When it opened again, the timer would activate—giving the victim mere minutes before the explosion. He exited the back door and breathed a sigh of relief that he was out of danger.

No. He wasn’t out of danger yet—not until the bomb claimed its intended victim. He didn’t enjoy killing, but he’d done it—more than once—out of necessity. He’d had to do it to protect himself.

That was all he was doing now—making sure that no one was left alive to link him to his crimes. Then, after all these years, he might finally have peace.

Chapter One

The sun shone brightly, setting the white bricks of the church aglow. It was a great day for a wedding. But Logan Payne couldn’t forget that a funeral was also taking place today. He’d thought it might finally bring him some peace that his father’s killer was dead. But it seemed more like an injustice that the man had lived for only fifteen years of his already too short sentence.

Maybe it was that sense of injustice that had made Logan uneasy. Or maybe it was the recent attempts on his life.

But he pushed aside that uneasiness and focused instead on the bride and groom. He lifted his hand, with birdseed stuck to his palm, and waved off his younger brother and his new bride. Nobody deserved happiness more than the two of them—especially after the hell they had endured to be together.

His sister, Nikki, glanced up at him through the tears glistening in her warm brown eyes. “Getting emotional, big bro?” she teased. Their family relentlessly teased each other.

The tears were all hers, but he played along. “Birdseed got in my eye,” he said with an exaggerated blink. But then he squinted at a random glare and glanced toward the street where his brother’s decorated SUV sat on the curb. Nikki had written Just Married across the back window and tied strings of pop cans to the rear bumper. A car slowly passed it, and as it did, a barrel protruded out of the dark tinted driver’s window.

The SUV shielded the bride and groom, but Logan and his sister and his twin were exposed on the steps of the church. As the shots rang out, he knocked Nikki down and lunged at Parker, knocking him over the railing.

The shots weren’t meant for any of his siblings. He knew that. But he had been standing too close to Nikki. And his twin was identical—same black hair, same blue eyes, same features. Today they were even both wearing black tuxedos. Logan covered Nikki’s petite frame, shielding her with his body. And he tensed, waiting for the bullets to find their target in his flesh.

Tires squealed as the car rounded the corner and drove off. After a glance over his shoulder to make certain the shooter was gone, Logan helped his sister to her feet. She trembled with fear in his arms, but she was unhurt. Miraculously, Logan hadn’t been hit, either.

The bride, Tanya, turned away from the SUV and ran back to the church. The groom, Cooper, was right beside her, yelling the name of his missing brother. “Parker!”

A hand rose above the shrubs on the side of the church’s wide front steps. Cooper clasped it and pulled Parker from the branches and foliage.

“You okay?” Cooper asked him.

“Yeah, yeah,” Parker replied as he brushed off his tux. “Logan knocked me over and pushed down Nikki.” He waited—probably for Logan to make some smart-aleck comeback. That was the way the Paynes handled stuff—emotional stuff, dangerous stuff...with gallows humor.

But Logan couldn’t find any humor in this situation. The grudge he’d been carrying, and how he’d acted on that grudge, was what had nearly killed his family. And these weren’t the first attempts made on his life and Parker’s, who must have been mistaken for him then, too.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

His new sister-in-law’s voice trembled with concern as she said, “I thought it was over. Mr. Gregory is dead.”

Logan had been the one who’d taken the shot that had ended the life of her grandfather’s lawyer. The man had been trying to kill her so that no one would discover that he’d embezzled her inheritance.

“This isn’t about you,” Logan assured the beautiful blonde bride. Guilt twisted his guts into knots. He hated that this shooting—that
his
problem—had marred what had finally been the perfect wedding for Tanya and Cooper. “This is about me. And revenge...”

Cooper’s eyes, which were the same blue as his and Parker’s, narrowed with suspicion, and he accused him, “You know who it is.”

Anger, more intense and overwhelming than his guilt, surged through Logan. He knew who was behind all these cowardly shootings. He knew and he was damn well going to put a stop to it.

* * *

F
OR
THE
FIRST
time in fifteen years, Stacy Kozminski didn’t have to go through prison security to see her father. All she had to do was walk up the aisle of the dimly lit church to where he lay in a casket before the altar. But that walk was the most difficult she had ever taken. Her knees trembled with each step she took, shaking more the closer she got to the altar.

To the casket...

The lid was open, but she needed to take a few more steps to see past the flower arrangements. Her knees shook even harder, threatening to give out beneath her. Maybe she would have crumpled right there, but a strong arm wrapped around her waist in support.

She uttered a sigh of relief that at least one of her brothers had showed up...because she had been the first and only family member to arrive at the church. With a smile on her lips, she turned her head, but the smile froze when her gaze collided with Logan Payne’s.

His blue eyes icy hard with anger, he stared down at her.

He was mad at
her?
She was the one who should be angry—furious even because he had no right to show up at her father’s funeral at all—let alone wearing a tuxedo. Her heart skipped a beat before the rate sped up. He looked damn good in the black tux with the pleated white shirt. The black bow tie had already been undone and the once-white silk shirt was a little smudged and rumpled. But still...

She hated him; she reminded herself of that as she jerked away from the unsettling warmth of his long, hard body. “What the hell are you doing here?”

And why had he put his arm around her? He was the last person from whom she would ever expect support—especially today.

“I think you know,” he replied, his deep voice vibrating with anger.

She shook her head. “I have no idea...unless you want to make sure that he’s really dead...”

With a trembling hand, she gestured toward the casket and toppled over one of the flower arrangements. The vase rolled across the tiled floor, leaving a trail of multicolored petals and water behind it. She gasped at what she’d done.

But Logan Payne didn’t react. He was staring at the casket. Maybe she had been right about his reason for coming.

She followed his gaze to her father’s corpse. She’d already seen it when he’d died. She had made it to the prison in time to say goodbye. Wasn’t that supposed to have given her closure?

Stacy felt no calm acceptance. No gratefulness. She felt nothing but anger—all toward Logan Payne. So she turned back to him, and then she turned
on
him. Literally lashing out at him in her anger, she swung her hand toward his unfairly handsome face.

The man had some crazy reflexes, because he caught her wrist, stopping her palm just short of one of his chiseled cheekbones. Despite not slapping him, her skin tingled—maybe with the need to slap him yet. Maybe because he was touching her, his long fingers wrapped easily and tightly around her narrow wrist.

“I can’t believe even you are such a heartless bastard that you’d show up at my father’s funeral,” she said, lashing out now with her words. “And in a tux, no less.”

He glanced down at himself, as if he’d forgotten what he was wearing.

“But then I guess this is a celebration for you,” she continued. “Do you intend to dance on his grave at the cemetery, too?”

She would make damn sure of it that he never got the chance—even if she had to throw him out herself since no other mourners had arrived yet. Where the hell were her brothers?

They had always been there for her when she needed them most. Until today...

“I’ve already been dancing,” Logan replied.

She struggled against his grasp; she didn’t want a man capable of such a hateful comment touching her.

“At my brother’s wedding,” he continued.

That explained the tux.

“But then somebody tried to kill me,” he said. “Again.”

That explained his white shirt being smudged and rumpled and his thick black hair disheveled, as if he’d been running his hands through it. What would it feel like? Coarse or soft? Not that she cared to ever find out. She didn’t want to touch Logan Payne, and she sure as hell didn’t want him touching her.

So she tried again to wriggle free of his hold. “Why are you telling me this?” she asked. “Do you think I care?”

“I think you’re behind it,” he said.

“Me?” She hadn’t even been able to slap him. “How am I supposed to have tried to kill you?”

“You shot at me,” he said.

“I don’t own a gun.” Her brothers had tried to give her one for protection, but she’d refused. Her protection had a threatening growl and a mouthful of sharp teeth to back up his threats. Too bad she hadn’t been able to bring Cujo to the funeral.

He snorted derisively, as if he doubted her. Of course he doubted her; Logan Payne doubted
everyone.

“You’re doing it again,” she said. “Accusing someone of a crime they didn’t commit.” She turned back to the casket. Her father was only in his early fifties but he looked much older. Prison had turned his brown hair white and etched deep lines in his tense face. Wasn’t he supposed to look peaceful, like he was sleeping? But even in death, her father had found no peace—probably because of Logan Payne.

“I didn’t accuse your father,” he reminded her. “He was caught at the scene. He was tried and convicted.”

“Of murder,” she said. Shaking her head yet at the injustice, she added, “My father was not a murderer.”

Patek Kozminski had been a lot of things—by his own admission—but he could have never taken a life. The judge and jury had come to the wrong conclusion.

“He killed my father,” Logan said with all the rage and anguish as if it had just happened yesterday instead of fifteen years ago.

She shook her head again.

“My father caught him in the commission of a felony...”

Logan Payne was no longer a police officer, but he still talked like one. His father had been a police officer, too, who’d caught her father robbing a jewelry store.

“He resisted arrest,” he continued, “they struggled over the gun. And my father wound up dead.”

“My father did not kill him.” The man she’d known and loved wouldn’t have resisted arrest; he wouldn’t have fought with a police officer. He wouldn’t have wrestled the gun away from him and shot him with it. There had to have been someone else there that horrible day, someone else who’d really committed the crime...

“My father is dead,” Logan said.

“And now so is mine,” she said, gesturing again to the casket, but this time she was careful not to knock over any flower arrangements. “Are you happy?”

Logan sighed. “No.”

“No, of course not,” she hotly agreed. “You would have rather he lived many, many more years and spent every one of them behind bars. That’s why you showed up at every parole hearing to make sure he didn’t get out.”

“He killed a man!” Logan said.

Tears stung her eyes, and she shook her head. “No, no, he didn’t...” There had to have been someone else...

“The judge and jury convicted him,” he said it almost gently now, as if Logan Payne had any concern for her feelings.

He hadn’t, or he would have stopped showing up at the parole hearings; he would have let her father get out of prison. If not for Logan fighting it, her father would have been granted parole. He had been a model prisoner.

He had been a model father, too—even from behind bars. Now she had no father at all. She could almost relate to Logan’s rage, but hers was directed at him.

“He wasn’t convicted of murder, though,” he said, correcting her earlier comment. “It was manslaughter.”

“Which is why he had been up for parole already four times.” And why he would have been released...if not for Logan Payne.

“It should have been murder,” he said. “The charge was too light. So was the sentence...”

“The sentence wound up being death,” she said. “You gave him that sentence.”

“I didn’t—”

“If you hadn’t showed up at those hearings, he would have been released. He wouldn’t have been there for that crazy prisoner to stab. He wouldn’t have been behind bars with animals like that!” She swung her other hand now. But his damn reflexes were so fast that he caught her wrist again. She struggled against his grasp and cursed him.

But Logan didn’t even blink at her insults. His gaze remained steady and intense on her face. He was always so damn intense. Despite her rising temper, her flesh tingled and chilled, lifting goose bumps on her skin—even skin that was covered by her new black sweater dress.

“What the hell’s going on?” a familiar voice demanded to know.

“Get your damn hands off her, Payne!” another voice chimed in.

Her brothers had finally arrived. She’d wanted them earlier—to be there for support over her father’s funeral. But now she felt a rush of fear as they ran down the aisle toward her and Logan. She was actually afraid for Logan because her brothers were very protective of her—to the point that they had even killed for her.

Were they about to do that again?

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