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Authors: Sarah Ballance

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BOOK: Gambling on the Bodyguard
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She nodded. Hadn’t meant to, but it happened.

He wiped a tear off her cheek with his thumb. “Wait for me.”

She nodded again, then watched him walk away. The next day it would be her leaving. Over was over. What difference did it make? Sad, confused, and tear-stained, she turned her back on him and visited the ladies room. There was no salvaging what little makeup she wore, so she washed her face and started over, then headed back to wait for Jax.

She felt like what she’d witnessed had been down a rabbit hole, and now she had to blink her way back out. Surprisingly little fuss had been made of the incident. Surely the news spread like wildfire, but there was already nothing to see. Rumors were equally inflated—
a mob hit
—and dismissed—
publicity stunt
—and the revelers continued on with their party. She didn’t even try to be a part of it. She just waited for Jax. An hour passed, after which she was asked by the police to answer a few questions. She found they were set up in another conference room, where there was no trace of Jax. She recounted what she’d seen, then left her contact information. When she exited the interview, she found him standing in the corridor.

“I’m sorry you got wrapped up in that,” he said. Not like a lover, like a man who had worshipped every inch of her body, but like he felt obligated. Polite. Stilted. Like he hadn’t almost fucking
died
.

Her emotional dam, which by that point rivaled the Hoover holding back the Colorado, burst. If she had a downstream, everything in its path would have been obliterated. “That’s it?
That’s
what you’re sorry for?”

Her voice hit a volume that had people looking their way. Jax took her arm and led her down the hall and around a corner. “Yes,” he said. “You could have gotten hurt.”

Anger flared, then exploded. “What about you?” she yelled. “Damn you, Jax. You’re not expendable. Do you get that? You don’t get to just
die
because you think no one cares.”

“I get to do my job,” he said evenly, “because that’s what I’m paid to do.”

“No one is paying you to die. You don’t even like him, but you’re willing to die for him!”

“You’re right.”

She counted to five. Then ten. She bit back the anger. The fear. The whatever-it-was that had her chest in a fevered, achy knot. “How long are you going to punish yourself for something that happened sixteen years ago?”

“This has nothing to do with that,” he said evenly.

“It has
everything
do to with that,” she shot back. “You think everyone is worth saving but you, and you’re wrong. If anything had happened to you—”

“Then what? You’d be on that plane tomorrow either way, so what difference does it make?”

She stared at him, stunned. “You think I don’t care? You’re the one pushing. You are the one so damned determined not to care about anyone that you won’t see what’s in front of your face. And I’m done, Jax. I’m done fighting for something you so obviously don’t want.”

She spun to leave, but he caught her. His features were tight. Tense. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She stood there, chest heaving. Tears threatening. Her entire world tipping and spinning on what he’d say next. “Then say it.
Admit it
.”

He let her go, and her heart sank. Shattered. She turned to go, but his soft words stopped her in her tracks.

“I want you.”

She turned. Stared at the man who had become such a part of her she no longer recognized who she’d been before him. Wondered if she’d only imagined those words on his lips.

“I want you,” he said again. Louder. Bitter. “You fucking come in here, and you’re everything I thought I couldn’t have. You’re the sun in the damned sky. and I don’t know what I’m going to do when you’re gone. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“Is it the truth?” He voice shook. Her body shook.

With tension threading his limbs and his eyes flashing blue sparks, Jax looked like he could pulverize granite. “Yes, it’s the goddamn truth.”

“Then stop fighting it,” she whispered.

A moment passed. Then another. The distant sounds from the ballroom faded, and all that was left was the thud of her heart in her ears and the jagged edge of his breath.

Then his mouth was on hers. Passion tore through the kiss. Tore through
her
, and then she was against the wall. He cupped her breast, toying with her nipple through the fabric. Then pinching, and when she gasped he deepened the kiss. Needing the heat of his skin, she fumbled blindly with his shirt, only to have him release her and rip free the fasteners. Buttons popped and danced erratic circles in the periphery, bubbly like champagne.

“Your shirt.”

“Don’t care.” He reached down and slid his hands up her legs, dragging her gown to her thighs. Then he lifted her, once again trapping her against the wall. This time his mouth aligned with her breast, and he snatched the offending fabric, freeing her to the heat of his tongue.

If he hadn’t held her, she would have hit the ground. The rough licking, softness of his lips, and bite of his teeth had her spiraling. She tightened her legs around him, her body begging for the sweet relief of pressure,
any
pressure, against her clit. He responded instantly, dragging his hand from her ass to push his fingers inside her.

“Fuck, you’re drenched.”

She wriggled against his hand, desperately seeking contact, but he withheld. Probably on purpose, the jackass.
“Now.”

One word. One demand. When he withdrew she almost hit him with her small clutch, which she inexplicably still held, but then she realized he was fumbling with his zipper. The seconds until he freed himself felt like an eternity, but then he’d pushed aside her thong and he was inside her, hot and thick and filling her with a pressure that bordered on pain. She almost came on the spot.

Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit.

He gave a moment’s pause—not long enough for any civilized person to adapt to his size—then withdrew and came back with so much force the wall rattled at her back.

“Do it again,” she managed.

He rolled his hips back until nearly free of her, then slammed back, thrusting deep. And this time he didn’t stop. She was helpless to do anything but hold on as he fucked her hard. Against a wall. Just around the corner from a very busy corridor.

Orgasm tore through her with ruthless speed. He must have felt it, must have been waiting for it, for mere seconds after the first ripple shuddered through her he muttered a string of obscenities and changed his pace from long strokes to short stuttered bursts. The motion had him rocking against her clit, had her seeing stars. Another bigger, brighter explosion rocked her, a dizzying combination of exquisite pressure and burning heat, as he landed hard against her. His cock pumped without him, driving against her G spot as he ground his pelvis lightly against her.

Oh, sweet Jesus
.

She didn’t know where one orgasm stopped and the next began. Only that all that punishing force had disseminated into sweet mercy, and it wasn’t enough.

Nowhere near enough.

He eased out of her body, then steadied her as she attempted to find her feet. She straightened her gown as he tried to fit back in his pants. She giggled.

He caught her when she swayed. “What the hell. Are you okay? You haven’t been drinking, have you? Because if that happened—”

“It definitely happened.” She was dizzy. Hot and aching. Needy. She had one night left, and spending it without him wasn’t an option. “Take me upstairs, Jax. Take me up there now so it can happen again.”

Chapter Eleven

Well, hell. Jax stood there on the verge of dropping to his knees to beg Ellie’s forgiveness for not using protection, and she was demanding more. Maybe she hadn’t realized what happened. If so, that was the biggest neon sign in the city that he shouldn’t take her upstairs, but there wasn’t much point. He’d make damn sure he didn’t forget a second time, and there wasn’t taking back what already happened. He was clean—he knew that for a fact—and if there were any other consequences…well, they’d deal with that later. Twelve hours wouldn’t make a difference.

He held her hand on the way to the elevator, and as soon as the door slid shut he pulled her into his arms. Kissed her. Tasted everything. She was soft, molded to him, and well and truly his. No idea what the hell he was going to do about that, other than spend the night making sure she knew he cared. He never meant for that to be a question, but he had a feeling she wouldn’t accept where they were headed.

Separate ways.

It hurt. Crushed him that she’d be gone. But the burn would have to fuel him, because there was no way on this earth he deserved this woman. He’d already proven, again, that he couldn’t protect her. And she’d made it clear she’d never forgive him for doing his job.

Just a job.

Not a life.

Not Ellie.

His eyes stung, and his throat tightened. It was like the pain of losing Gracie, only this time he wasn’t watching someone go.

This time he was pushing.

But not yet, dammit.
Not yet.

He wound his fingers through her hair and slanted his head, deepening the kiss. She moaned, the sweet vibration rocking him to his core. By the time the elevator doors slid open on her floor, he was rock hard. He walked her backward down the hall, kissing her, both of them stumbling then landing solidly against her door. Just like they’d been downstairs, when he’d been buried in her, nothing between them but heat. He’d never, ever had sex without a condom. Had no idea it could feel like that. But it wouldn’t with just anyone. Couldn’t.

It had to be her.

She managed to wrangle her key card from her little purse. He took it without looking, trying and failing three or four times before the door finally unlocked. They fell through, and he dug the condom out of his pocket. That he’d put it there made him wince. What had he been planning? To hand her over to Focker and throw in the rubber as a parting gift?

This, dumbass. You wanted this
. Because if Focker had fucking touched Ellie, Jax would have torn him apart with his bare hands.

She wasn’t making fast enough progress shedding her dress, so he helped. Stripped her in one swoop, leaving her standing there in her heels and thong, the latter not quite back to rights after their encounter in the corridor.

Oh. Fuck. Yes
.

“You’re beautiful,” he said. He scooped her so she straddled him, riding him backward to the bed. Tossed her down, then proceeded to kiss and lick his way down to her thong, taking a long, languid detour around each breast. The more she moaned and grabbed at his hair, the more he slowed. He liked feeling her squirm. Liked the way she begged without a word. He took her thong off with his teeth. Fucked her with his tongue in the process, and she liked it so much he feasted. Probably wouldn’t have guessed he’d enjoy the taste so much, knowing half of what left her so wet her had been him, but the intimacy got to him.

It got to him a little too much. He pulled back and made a halfhearted attempt to wipe his face, then tore into the condom. One of the giant ribbons hanging off the hotel caught his eye through the window. God, this place. This woman.

He didn’t even bother undressing all the way. Just tossed the rented jacket and the ruined shirt aside, kicked off his shoes, and opened his fly. Once the condom was on, he crawled on top of her to find her grinning.

“What?”

“You’re smiling.”

He took the accusation in stride. “I told you, Colorado. Only you.”

“I like being that person.”

“I like it too.” And that was dangerous. Fortunately, he had a hell of a distraction. He caught the back of her knees and lifted her legs, settling between them with her ankles thrown over his shoulders. “Nice stripper heels.”

She gasped as he pushed inside her, but despite the gouges she’d just left on his arms, she grinned. “You have a weird thing about noticing shoes. And I am
so
not a stripper.”

“Good. Because I hate to think I’d have to share you with…anyone.”

“Not ever,” she said.

The words meant something to him. Something he didn’t care to think too much about, and probably couldn’t if he tried. Not buried balls deep in a hot, tight slice of heaven. He rolled against her, just enjoying the sensation. Knowing if he dropped her legs and pounded into her like he wanted, he’d be toast in seconds. Maybe less.

Been there, done that. But not nearly enough.

She was losing it. He wondered if she’d even come in the hall, or if all that shaking had been him. He was pretty sure she had, but he’d have to make it up to her just in case. She was definitely headed in the right direction. Every time he leaned forward and increased the pressure on her clit, her grip on the bed tightened. He loosened his hold on her legs, allowing them to widen around him, and he changed the angle, pushing deeper, grinding harder.

“Oh. My. God.”

Her hips jerked. He leaned in, letting her legs fall aside. Found her clit with his thumb and her mouth with his tongue. Tasted her, swallowed her cries as she fell apart. He managed to hang on until she’d stopped pulsing around him, then he let go. After what she’d done to him in the corridor, he was surprised he had anything left to give, but he didn’t think he’d ever stop. Didn’t think he wanted to.

Their kisses grew languid. Teasing. He eased out of her, then rolled to the side and drew her into his arms. “Two quickies in a combined five minutes, plus the one yesterday. Either we’re really good at this or really bad.”

She smiled. Lit the room. “You’re amazing at this.”

“Not so amazing,” he said. “More of a victim of whatever you’ve done to me.”

“Can you stay?” she asked softly. “Just the night. I won’t ask anything more.”

“I might have to deal with the police.”

“But until you do?”

“I’ll stay,” he said.
Some sacrifice
. “Just let me go take care of this mess.”

She smiled through passion-drenched, half-lidded eyes.

God, he was screwed.

He went to her bathroom and tossed the condom. Noticed a bra and a pair of underwear hanging on the towel rack. The latter garment was covered with little yellow flowers. Didn’t look much like her. Didn’t matter. He preferred her naked.

Naked and his.

When he went back in the room she had the room service menu open. “Do they have filet here?”

“Filet of…?”

“Mignon. With the bacon.”

He shook his head, failing to dislodge the laugh that threatened escape. “There’s a place down the strip with the best I’ve ever had. I can call.”

“I’d kind of rather stay here,” she said.

His gaze caroused the curves and soft planes of her body. Yeah, he could get behind that plan. “I was going to say we’d order in.”

Her eyes widened. “They deliver?”

“I know the chef.”

“In that case, make it happen.”

He patted his pocket. Found his cell. Was surprised it survived the ride. He’d have to up his game a little. “Wine?”

“None for me, but help yourself.”

He placed his call. Got an ear full of shit about trying to turn fine dining into fast food. Told the chef almighty to take his time and it wouldn’t
be
fast. The chef hung up on him, muttering something in French Jax didn’t understand. A couple of minutes later, he got a bill via email. He paid double for a tip, then tossed the phone aside.

Ellie sat all twisted in a sheet, watching him. “Just like that?”

“It’ll be a little while.”

She melted into a grin. “However will we pass the time?”

There was always that whole
on his knees and begging for forgiveness
thing. He hated that she might not have realized it yet. Maybe she was on birth control. Maybe she trusted he was clean and didn’t need him to say it, but that bugged him too. He hadn’t earned that kind of trust. He wasn’t ready for it. He didn’t need it. He’d be gone by morning, and so would she.

“Not with another quickie,” he said. “The next time I make love to you, it’s going to last all night.”

She stared at him, bewildered. Frozen.

What the hell had he… Oh, shit. He’d never uttered those words in his life. Some people threw them around generically, but not him.

And she was looking at him like she knew it.

He picked up his ruined shirt and tossed it to her. So much for naked. He still preferred it, but naked presented its own problems.

She caught it. Studied it. “Getting tired of the view?”

“No, baby. But if you stay like that, that headboard is going to be hitting the wall too hard for us to hear the door when the steak arrives.”

She relaxed into a grin. Tugged on his shirt. Couldn’t help the ruined buttons.

He took her hand. Spun her like they were dancing, only dancing wasn’t a thing he did. He held her there anyway, the two of them swaying to music that didn’t exist. Her hair fell in soft waves, tickling his nose. The room was as dark as could be with the city glowing through the open drapes, but he saw her. He saw everything.

Everything but tomorrow without her in it.

All the more reason to make it happen.

He pulled her closer, body to body, flesh to flesh. The shirt hadn’t done its job. The tantalizing swath of exposed skin included a partial view of full breasts. Tight nipples. A mark he’d left. He wanted to dive right in and leave another one, but he settled for having her fully in his arms. And holding her like that made him realize he didn’t hug people, either. He didn’t hug. Didn’t dance. Didn’t make love.

Didn’t die.

He’d yet to process what happened in the ballroom. He faced relatively few confrontations. Most had been with women, none of whom had been packing more than an irrational idea that laying eyes—or hands—on a celebrity would somehow make her life complete. The loaded weapon in a room full of hundreds of people had been a new thing. Despite his happenstance entry into the field of personal security, he’d subsequently trained for the job. He knew weapons. Could kick ass in hand-to-hand combat. Didn’t think twice about lunging for the guy with the gun, but in the back of his mind he hadn’t seen his client or the ballroom full of people.

He’d seen Ellie.

Couldn’t stop.

He’d never escape her scent. Never forget her taste or the sweet slide of her body against his.

Never wanted to.

Had to.

He loosened his hold, only to find himself staring into sweet, questioning eyes. They fluttered closed when he kissed her. The urge to ease her onto the bed was strong, but he hadn’t been kidding when he said they wouldn’t hear the food arrive. So he kept his tour of her mouth light, despite the way his heart pounded and body demanded more.

“You think you’ll think of me next time you play the slots?” she asked.

“I don’t play the slots,” he said. “But to answer your question, I won’t ever see another one and not think of you.”

Another slot machine. Another sunset. Another anything. He’d think of her forever. This thing between them didn’t have a chance in hell, but it had one more night.

And not a damned minute more.


After an incredible dinner, Ellie almost felt normal again. If, that was, normal could even be a thing with tall, dark, and sexy sharing her room. Her bed. She couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d done the night before. She still couldn’t believe she’d told him about her ex, but what was even more unbelievable was his reaction. Whatever second thoughts had him leaving that morning and trying to hand her over to Focker in the afternoon had clearly taken a backseat to…what? She wasn’t sure what he’d done. Or maybe she was just afraid to admit to herself, but there wasn’t much point in holding on to the denial.

He’d said it.

Next time I make love to you
.

After they’d eaten, she’d excused herself to brush her teeth. When she returned, he stood at one of the large windows, his gaze trained over the city crawling far below.

“What do you see out there?” she asked.

“Possibilities.”

The answer surprised her. “What about in here?”

He turned from the window. His appraisal ate her alive. “You scare me, Colorado.”

“I know,” she said softly. “I like that part.”

“I see something I’m not ready to see,” he admitted.

“I like that even better.”

He touched her face. Pushed back her hair. “I can’t, baby. I can’t do it.”

She’d known that, but the words didn’t hurt any less. “I hope you’re not talking about tonight.”

He broke into a grin. “I can definitely do it tonight.”

“Then let’s forget what happens after.” Twenty four hours from then, she’d be back home in Minturn with no expectations that her memories could do this man justice. She needed this now. Needed him. “Let’s just have tonight. I’m okay with that.”

“I hope
okay
is an understatement.” He gently pushed his shirt from her shoulders, his gaze following it as it fell to the floor, then took his time working his way back up. Their limited time was probably a good thing. Her nipples were likely to pop off if they didn’t get a reprieve, and while she didn’t have a decent view of her clit, she had no doubt it was next in line. Every cell of her body was on edge around him. The good kind of edge. The kind that meant orgasm was about to happen.

He still watched her, and she realized two things. One that, he still wore pants. Two, that she’d never before undressed him. She did that now, easing her fingertips to touch his belly while he sucked in a quick breath. She took her time with the button, figuring he was past due for a little tortuous anticipation. When the zipper was down, she reached into his pants and wrapped her hands around him. Both hands. With room to spare. He hissed a breath, but when she looked up at him he managed to pry his eyes out of the back of his head and offer a grin.

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