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Authors: Brenda Minton

Her Rancher Bodyguard

BOOK: Her Rancher Bodyguard
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Her Texas Protector

Bodyguard Boone Wilder isn't keen on his latest mission: watching over a pretty politician's daughter. Boone is from quiet Texas Hill Country, and Kayla is a showy city gal. But once safely settled at the Wilder Ranch, Boone watches Kayla enjoy cooking with his family, caring for his relatives and bottle-feeding calves. There's more to her than he ever knew. Still, the former soldier's wounds are way too deep to let Kayla close. But when he discovers that someone wants to hurt Kayla, Boone must risk his heart to protect what he cares about most.

She hadn't expected this.

Boone should be in the background, quietly observing. And yet here she sat with her bodyguard and his family, talking of cattle and fixing fences.

A hand settled on her back. She glanced at the man next to her; his dark eyes crinkled at the corners and his mouth quirked, revealing a dimple in his left cheek.

He opened his mouth as if to say something, but a heavy knock on the front door interrupted. He pushed away from the table.

“I think I'll get that.” His gaze landed on Kayla. “You stay right where you are until I say otherwise.”

“They wouldn't come here,” she said.

“We don't know what
they
would or wouldn't do, because we don't know who
they
are. Stay.” He walked away.

Kayla avoided looking at the people who still remained at the table. She knew they were looking at her. She knew that her life had invaded theirs.

And she knew that her bodyguard might seem like a relaxed cowboy, but he wasn't. He was the man standing between her and the unknown.

Brenda Minton
lives in the Ozarks with her husband, children, cats, dogs and strays. She is a pastor's wife, Sunday school teacher, coffee addict and sleep-deprived. Not in that order. Her dream to be an author for Harlequin started somewhere in the pages of a romance novel about a young American woman stranded in a Spanish castle. Her dreams came true, and twenty-plus books later, she is an author hoping to inspire young girls to dream.

Books by Brenda Minton

Love Inspired

Martin's Crossing

A Rancher for Christmas

The Rancher Takes a Bride

The Rancher's Second Chance

The Rancher's First Love

Her Rancher Bodyguard

Lone Star Cowboy League

A Reunion for the Rancher

Cooper Creek

Christmas Gifts

“Her Christmas Cowboy”

The Cowboy's Holiday Blessing

The Bull Rider's Baby

The Rancher's Secret Wife

The Cowboy's Healing Ways

The Cowboy Lawman

The Cowboy's Christmas Courtship

The Cowboy's Reunited Family

Visit the Author Profile page at
Harlequin.com
for more titles.

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HER RANCHER
BODYGUARD

Brenda Minton

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

—
Romans
8:35

To those who persevere.

To my family and friends,
for the support and prayers.

And to Melissa and Giselle.
Without you, I'd be a mess.
Thank you for everything!

Chapter One

F
rom bodyguard to babysitter. Boone Wilder leaned against the exterior brick wall of a closed boutique store in a pricey part of Austin, Texas. The sun had set more than an hour earlier and the temperature had cooled to a balmy eighty degrees. Not bad for early September. But he wished he was at home in Martin's Crossing sipping iced tea on his front porch and not standing in front of a clothing store in Austin on a late-summer evening.

He should have argued a little more when his partner Daron McKay had asked him to take this case. Daron knew the subject and knew she wouldn't listen to him. The third partner at MWP Bodyguard Services, Lucy Palermo, was Boone's backup. Daron had joked that Lucy couldn't take lead because Lucy would just shoot the client if she got on her nerves.

Lucy hadn't found that statement as amusing as Boone and Daron.

At the moment his client was across the street in a trendy café, sipping coffee and oblivious to his presence. That was how her dad, William Stanford, wanted it. Boone's job was to keep Kayla Stanford out of trouble, without her being aware. He'd been following her for a week now, close enough to keep her safe, far enough away that she didn't have a clue.

He'd like to keep it that way, with her not knowing of his existence. He was supposed to interfere in Kayla's life only if she appeared to be in danger, or if she appeared to be on the verge of creating a scandal. Those were her father's directives. Boone had talked to Kayla's half brother Brody Martin, who had assured him that she had a way of generating controversy.

A group of people were walking down the sidewalk. He stepped back, leaned against the wall and pulled his hat low. He touched the brim as they walked past, just to be gentlemanly. One of the women, a little older, and wearing too much makeup, winked and then grabbed the arm of a friend. They smiled and talked loudly about his jeans and cowboy boots, their voices echoing against the brick buildings on each side of the street.

As he watched for Kayla Stanford to leave the café, Boone planned what he'd say to Daron. Yeah, this was a good job and the big fat check they'd been paid was welcome. But this was not what Boone had signed on for when he, Daron and Lucy had started their bodyguard business a little over a year ago. So far they'd managed to build a decent business by protecting politicians and doing security at various functions. Those were the jobs they were trained for. The three of them had served together in Afghanistan and they'd formed a bond.

Kayla Stanford, half sister of the Martins of Martin's Crossing, was trouble. She needed a babysitter. Boone just didn't want to be that guy.

Unfortunately he was.

Across the street the neon open sign went off in the café. He headed down the sidewalk, keeping an eye on his target. The place was still lit up inside. Most of the customers had long since left and he could see Kayla standing near the door with a group of friends. Her dark hair was pulled up in one of those messy buns his sisters loved, and she wore a dark red dress that was too short. His granny would have told her some nice lace around the hem would look pretty. He grinned at the thought.

Then Kayla kissed cheeks, hugged friends and did a cutesy finger wave. As she walked out the door, her smile faded away. That didn't surprise him. He'd done some digging, talked to her family in Martin's Crossing, read some headlines. He'd learned a lot from the articles, from pictures in society columns. Most of the articles were about her antics, her beauty and her style. But he'd seen more. He'd noticed dark shadows under her eyes. He'd seen desperation. Everyone thought she had it all, but he thought she had less than most.

And she covered up her unhappiness by acting out. A couple of months ago, it was a slow-speed chase with the police.

The only time she kept to herself and stayed scandal-free was when she visited her siblings in Martin's Crossing. He'd never seen her in his hometown. She stayed at the ranch, holed up with her half sister Samantha Martin. Soon to be Samantha Jenkins.

Across the street she glanced around, and then walked down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. He'd guessed wrong. He'd thought she would cross the street and head for her car parked at the end of the block. When he glanced across the street, he noticed a shadow moving from the dark recesses of a building. Someone else seemed to be watching Kayla Stanford.

So much for an easy babysitting gig.

* * *

Someone was following her. Kayla walked faster, not taking time to glance back over her shoulder to see if she could get a look at the man. For two months, the feeling would come at the oddest times. The uneasy feeling as she walked down the street. The prickling of fear when she walked through the door of her apartment.

At first she'd convinced herself it was her imagination. And then she'd told herself it had to do with her lifestyle. She'd been partying hard for a few years, trying to numb herself against pain and anger. But a few months ago she'd quit everything, just to convince herself she was in her right mind and not imagining things.

The footsteps drew closer, speeding up to match her own hurried steps. She'd panicked when she first realized she'd gone in the opposite direction of her car. The farther she went, the darker it seemed to get. These weren't the streets she wanted to be on late at night, alone.

She reached into the purse that hung close to her waist. Her fingers curled around a small can. She turned, prepared to scream, to fight. Before she could do either, a fist connected with the side of her jaw. She jolted back, trying to stay upright. A rough shove and she fell backward, landing hard, her head hitting the brick building at her back. She caught a glimpse of blond hair and glasses. But the features were a blur.

Blinking, she fought to stay conscious. She heard a shout. Heard footsteps pounding. A hand reached for her arm. Unwilling to go down without a fight, she sat up, aimed and sprayed.

“Oh, man, you sprayed the wrong guy.” The words sounded as if they were coming through a tunnel. She tried to focus but her eyes were burning and her head throbbed.

“Go away,” she managed to croak out.

“Babysitting. I'm reduced to babysitting a woman who can't even spray the right man.” Hands were on her arms. A face peered into hers. “Sorry, but I'm not going away.”

“I'll spray you again.” She meant for the words to sound strong but they came out garbled and weak. She was still sitting on the sidewalk, her head resting on her knees. She took a deep breath that did nothing to ease the stabbing pain in her back and the headache that had clamped down on her skull.

“Take a deep breath,” he ordered, ignoring her threats. Strong fingers felt her back. She winced. Those same fingers moved to her scalp. She let out a yelp. “Relax. And drop the pepper spray. I'm the rescuer, not the assailant. He's long gone.”

She blinked a few times, trying to focus on the stranger looming over her. Tall and lean with ropy muscles, the man fit the “tall, dark and handsome” label to a T. He wore a dark cowboy hat, T-shirt and jeans. Something he'd said sank in. “Babysitting?”

“We've been hired by your father to keep track of you. And it looks as if you need us more than he realized.”

“I can take care of myself.” Her vision swam a little as she rubbed her jaw, wiggling it to make sure it wasn't broken.

“Of course you can take care of yourself. Do you know who that was?” he asked.

She shook her head and the movement cost her. The pain radiated from her head down. Her stomach wasn't faring much better.

The man looming over her dialed his phone. “Lucy, can you pick us up? About two blocks down from the restaurant....No, I'm not fine. Neither is she. She's got a pretty good gash on the back of her head. And she sprayed me with pepper spray....Stop laughing. I'm going to have to take my contacts out so you'll have to drive us to the hospital.”

After ending the call he swiped a finger across each eye and tossed contact lenses she couldn't see. But she did see that his eyes were watering and he tried to wipe the moisture with the tail of his shirt.

“Big baby,” Kayla muttered. She felt a little bit sick. The world wasn't quite as sharp as it should have been. She wanted to tell him but she couldn't get the words out.

“Can you get up?”

He squatted next to her and peered at her face. His features swam. She tried to shake her head but that resulted in a wave of nausea. Something pressed against the back of her head. She tried to push his hand away but he couldn't be budged.

“You're bleeding,” he said.

“I'm going to...” She didn't say more. The world went dark and the last thing she remembered were strong arms picking her up as he yelled for Lucy to open the door.

* * *

Kayla came to as they were pulling up to the hospital. From a distance, she heard voices. They were discussing her father and being hired to keep her out of trouble. That was all she'd ever been to her father. Trouble. She struggled to sit up, pulling free from the arm that held her close.

“You're not trouble,” he whispered. The words, the way he said them, took her by surprise. She wanted to believe him.

She sat up, closing her eyes when the world spun a little bit out of control. The back door opened and night air, humid and warm, clashed with the air-conditioned interior of the SUV.

“Come on, sunshine, let's get you checked out.”

“How do I know you're not the one I should be afraid of?” She scooted toward the door where he stood.

He gave her a sympathetic look and she noticed that his eyes, dark brown and thick-lashed, were still red and watery from the pepper spray.

“I guess you'll have to trust me. As a rule, muggers don't typically take their victims to the emergency room.” He reached for her, holding her steady when she wobbled. His hands were strong, calloused and strangely gentle.

“I'm going to park and I'll meet you inside,” the woman driving the SUV called out. “Are you going to be okay, Boone?”

“I can't see much but other than that, great. Don't be too long,” her rescuer responded.

“Your name is Boone?” Kayla asked as he led her toward the entrance of the ER.

“Boone Wilder.”

“I've heard that name before.” She had to stop for a second. Her head was pounding and she felt sick.

“I'm from Martin's Crossing.” He slipped his hand from hers and put an arm around her back. “Are you going to make it?”

“Of course. I don't even need to be here.”

“I think we'll get a second opinion on that.”

“I could refuse treatment,” she said as they headed up the sidewalk toward the entrance.

“Yeah, you could. But it's hard to refuse treatment if you're unconscious.”

“How did you become my babysitter, Boone Wilder?” She blinked away the blurriness and kept walking, aware that he was studying her as if he thought she might fall over.

“Your father hired our bodyguard service to keep you out of trouble for the duration of this election. I don't think he realized you were actually in need of a bodyguard. Any idea who that was back there?”

“Not a clue.”

“But since you were armed with pepper spray, I'm guessing this wasn't random?”

“It's been going on for a couple of months.” She stopped as another wave of dizziness hit, making her vision swim.

Without warning she was scooped into his arms. Again.

“You don't have to carry me,” she protested, albeit weakly.

“No, of course not. But I also don't want you passing out in the parking lot. Relax. You're not as light as you look.”

“Charming.”

He flashed white teeth and a dimple. “I try.”

She felt him limp a bit as they headed toward the door. “I can walk.”

“Probably.”

To distract herself she studied his face. Lean and handsome, but rugged. She had never been attracted to the type. As she perused his features she noticed a scar on his cheek. It was a few inches long and jagged. There was a similar scar on his neck, just above his collarbone. Without thinking, she touched it.

He flinched.

“I'm sorry. What happened?” She pulled back, suddenly unsure.

“Nothing personal,” he growled. “But it isn't any of your business.”

“Of course it isn't. I'd love to tell you my life isn't any of your business. But I guess my dad has taken that right from me.”

“And if we hadn't been there tonight?”

She shivered and his arms tightened. They walked through the doors of the ER and he settled her in a wheelchair that had been left near the entrance. She brought her legs up and huddled tight to warm herself. Boone pushed her to the front desk. There were questions to answer, paperwork to fill out, and then they were directed through double doors where a nurse met them.

“Right this way.” The nurse motioned them to follow her to a room midway down the hall.

“She's cold. Can you get her a blanket?” Boone said as he pushed her into the room.

“I should call your dad,” he said to her.

“Don't bother.” Kayla blinked away tears that she told herself were the result of the blow to her head and nothing more. “He's out of town.”

“Still,” he said, sounding insistent. She wished he'd go away. But if he did, she'd be alone. She was tired of being alone.

What did that say about her life, that she was so lonely she wanted this man, this stranger, to stay with her? There was something comforting about his presence.

“I'll call your sister, then,” he said. He pulled off his cowboy hat and brushed a hand through short, dark hair. His eyes still watered.

“You should get your eyes cleaned out,” Kayla offered.

The nurse gave him a good look as she helped Kayla onto the bed. “I'll have an aid flush your eyes out. Right now let's get you settled. I'll be right back and we'll get you changed into a gown.”

BOOK: Her Rancher Bodyguard
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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