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Authors: Lexxie Couper

Muscle for Hire

BOOK: Muscle for Hire
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Kirsten “Bellie” Bridge. For being my pimp and my friend.

Chapter One

A wall of screaming, squealing, crying young women—and some not-so-young women—threw themselves at Aslin Rhodes. He wasn’t the object of their frenzied affection. That was for Chris Huntley, star of hit sitcom
Twice Too Many
and soon-to-be released action blockbuster,
Dead Even
. No, Aslin just happened to find himself between Chris and the wall of screaming, squealing, crying young and not-so-young women. Fifteen years working as the bodyguard of the world’s biggest rock star, however, had prepared Aslin for all kinds of insanity, and this was no exception.

He planted his size-fourteen booted feet firmly on the footpath and with his arms wide, jaw bunched and muscles coiled, held back the frenzied horde. Just.

Movie-star groupies were more maniacal than rock-star groupies it seemed. At least those currently here trying to get their mits on Chris Huntley were. And, Aslin discovered, they were more prone to biting.

“Oi!” He flinched as a set of teeth sank into his forearm and he snapped his glare to a girl who looked no more than twelve snarling up at him from near his elbow. “Watch it.”

“We’re trying to,” a middle-aged woman wearing a skin-tight
Twice Too Many
T-shirt snapped back, giving the teenager girl squashed between her and Aslin a shove. “But you’re in the road.”

Her fellow frenzied fans echoed her unhappiness with Aslin’s presence, most resorting to names and insults regarding his British nationality. He’d never heard the words “fucking Pom” uttered so often by so many women. If the situation wasn’t so surreal, he’d laugh.

“Seriously,” he called out, still holding back the wall of hormone-induced lust with sheer strength and a wide arm span. “What are the odds Chris Huntley is going to—”

A loud groan drowned out the rest of Aslin’s question. Almost as one, the women stopped pushing against him and fell back, their eyes swelling with tears, their expressions suicidal.

“He’s gone,” the woman in the
Twice Too Many
T-shirt moaned. Another collective sob sounded from the horde as surly glares turned to Aslin.

Aslin did his own turning, shooting a look at the space behind him where Chris Huntley and Nigel McQueen,
Dead Even’s
famed director, had been sharing coffee. The harbour-side café was now empty of Hollywood-type persons, the normal run-of-the-mill patrons left behind smirking with bemused curiosity.

Aslin returned his focus to the women, only to find them dispersing on the esplanade. Most stared intently at their cameras and smartphones on which—Aslin assumed—hundred of hastily snapped images of Chris sipping his latte were now stored.

He let out a chuckle and shook his head. He’d never get his head around the unhinged mentality of a frenzied fan. Fifteen years protecting Nick Blackthorne hadn’t enlightened him, and he didn’t see this small job illuminating it either.

Maybe it’s time you went back into the service, boyo? HRH’s Defense Force would take you back in an instant.

A dull pressure settled on Aslin’s chest at the notion of returning to his post as a SAS Commando. He may not understand infatuated, borderline-loopy fans much, but he understood his country’s need to be involved in the war in Afghanistan less.

There was a reason he’d left the United Kingdom Special Forces to become professional muscle for a rock star.
surreal career made more sense than the orders constantly given to him during—

“Mr. Rhodes?”

A male voice called from behind Aslin and he turned, an instinctual tension coiling through his body. He didn’t like being caught unawares. It wasn’t something that happened often.

A non-descript blue SUV sat parked beside the café’s
al fresco
area, the rear passenger door open.

Aslin narrowed his eyes. That the SUV was there in the first place told him it wasn’t as unimportant as it appeared. The whole area facing the harbour where he now stood was strictly an esplanade—no cars allowed. Added to the situation was the fact Aslin was at the café in the first place to meet the director of the film, and he suspected he knew who the owner of the voice was. There weren’t
many men with American accents capable of flouting the laws in Sydney at the moment.

A soft snort sounded at the back of Aslin’s throat and he began walking toward the waiting vehicle.

Looks like your career in the movies is just about to begin, boyo.

Stopping at the open door, he looked into the cabin and lifted his eyebrows at the sight of Chris Huntley smiling back at him.

“Nick told me you were good at keeping back the masses.” The actor’s smile turned into a grin. “But I have to say, I’ve never seen just one man intimidate so many women all by himself.” Chris held out a hand as he shifted back deeper along the rear seat. “Nigel and I had planned to chat with you at the café, but

well, as you no doubt saw, it got a little crowded.”

Aslin gave the actor a slight nod. “I saw.”

Chris laughed. “Nick also told me you weren’t one for a lot of wasted words. I see he’s right.” He waved his hand at the empty seat beside him. “Would you like to get in? Nigel got called back to the set and I’m due back in an hour, but I really wanted to chat first.”

Aslin studied the man looking up at him from the SUV’s interior. He was young, handsome and openly friendly. A target for all sorts of deluded and hysterical fans, especially given the sexual potency Aslin had noticed oozed from him when on screen.

Are you thinking of a potential new boss?

Since Nick’s retirement from singing and his emersion in family life, Aslin had found himself at a loss for things to do. There was only so much a bodyguard could do in a small rural town in the Australian highlands, particularly when the rock star he guarded preferred to just hang out at home with his wife and son nowadays.

After a few months of watching Aslin attempt to find potential threats in the amiable citizens of Murriundah, Nick had finally rolled his eyes and told Aslin he had a job for him. Just a quick favour for a friend.

In Sydney.

On a film set.

Staring three big Hollywood actors.

“McQueen needs an advisor on all things menacing and commando, especially for Chris Huntley,” Nick had said to Aslin with a grin. “I can tell you’re bored out of your brain here, As. Get your arse to Sydney and be useful for a change, will you?”

And so here Aslin was now, ready to tell Hollywood—and an actor who so far hadn’t played a single action role—how to do it right.

“Nigel said he’d meet us back on set, “ Chris went on, his attention fixed on Aslin’s face, as if storing away all sorts of little details. “He’s getting his P.A. to arrange a trailer for you. It was meant to be ready now but apparently it’s got a faulty pilot light on the stove.” The actor shot a look at the empty seat at Aslin’s knees, an almost nervous tension pulling at his forehead. “If you’d rather meet us both back there…”

From the corner of his eye, Aslin caught movement and he straightened a little, enough to notice the red-headed woman in the
Twice Too Many
T-shirt taking photos of the SUV. She gave him a wide smile, her expression suddenly predatory and smug.

A pulse ticked in his neck. The woman had worked out her prey was in the car. It was time to get Chris out of there.

As a rule, Aslin didn’t get into a vehicle he wasn’t driving himself, but with Ms. Too-Tight T-shirt hurrying towards him and the SUV’s open door, he knew now wasn’t the time to discuss the chauffeur situation.

Bending at the waist, he ducked through the opening, climbed into the SUV and slammed the door behind him. He’d arrange for his motorbike to be delivered to the film set. Better to stay with Huntley now that a fan knew the vehicle the actor travelled in.

“Hello, Mr. Rhodes.” The same male voice that had called him earlier came from behind the driver’s wheel. Aslin lifted his focus to the rearview mirror, finding a set of black Ray-Bans looking back at him. “Welcome aboard. I’m Jeff Coulten.”

Aslin took in the broad width of the man’s shoulders and the smooth strength in his neck. “Bodyguard?”

Jeff laughed. “Driver.”

Chris let out his own chuckle. “I don’t have a bodyguard, Aslin. May I call you Aslin? Jeff is what’s left of my entourage.”

Aslin cocked an eyebrow. “What’s left of it?”

Chris reached up and snared his seat belt to buckle himself in. “I grew out of it.” He gave Aslin a wide smile. “Ready?”

Before Aslin got a chance to ask for what, the thumping sounds of Linkin Park flooded the SUV’s cabin, the engine roared into life and the car took off, throwing Aslin back into his seat as Jeff drove them away from the café and past the furiously photographing middle-aged fan.

Welcome to the movie world, boyo,
Aslin thought, buckling himself in as quickly as he could.
Remind yourself to kick Nick in the arse when you see him again.

Twenty minutes later—with quite a few of those minutes spent reminding Jeff Coulten Australians drove on the
side of the road—Aslin swore he’d never get in a car with what was left of Chris Huntley’s entourage again. Not if the affable Jeff was driving. Thankfully, and somewhat remarkably, they’d made it to the film set in one piece, Jeff leaving Chris and Aslin at the fenced perimeter before tearing away, wheels spitting gravel out in his wake.

Chris threw Aslin a sideward glance, no doubt seeing the disapproval on Aslin’s face. “He’s a great guy, honest,” he said as they began walking deeper into the area currently overrun with film crew. “And he’s been my friend for years.”

Aslin didn’t reply. Instead, as always, he took in every detail of his surroundings, noting places where attacks could be made, objects that could be used as weapons, easy exit routes if needed.
Dead Even
was being filmed in part at the old Hyde Park Barracks near Sydney’s CBD. According to Chris, the convict prison—normally a favourite destination for tourists—was now “the secret base for a clandestine, international defense-force network”, code name Last Line. The actor had filled Aslin in on the drive, outlining the basic plot, providing details of his character—a “brooding, foreboding commando who comes into conflict with his superior’s unjust, dubious orders”—and generally chatting away as if he and Aslin were long-lost mates. There was a boyish charm to Chris that Aslin found hard to resist. The young American reminded him a lot of Nick’s teenage son. Young, eager and easy to laugh.

He could see why women threw themselves at him.

What he couldn’t see was Chris in the role of a commando. Which was what Aslin had to make him.

It was going to be a challenge.

A small smile tugged on the corners of his mouth. He suppressed a chuckle. It was also going to be fun.

It seemed Nick Blackthorne’s arse was going to be saved from a boot after all.

Two hours later, Aslin once again considered the rock star’s butt overdue for a kick. Movie folk had an infuriating view of what a soldier of war was. They also had no clue—in Aslin’s opinion—what looked believable and what didn’t. He’d spent the last one-hundred-and-twenty minutes not just correcting one cliché after another from being captured on film, but trying to convince the director, Nigel McQueen, that a SAS British Commando, even a retired one, really
know how to hold a Desert Eagle handgun. And how to throw a punch.

The bloke was a nice enough fellow, but he had a warped and
sense of what actually happened during close combat.

“Don’t worry, Aslin.” Chris slapped his back as they walked off set, obviously unaware Aslin had broken arms and smashed jaws for lesser contact. “You’ll get used to Nigel. He’s stubborn, I know, but he’s got a vision and he’s true to it. It’s why he’s won so many awards.” The actor laughed. “Having said that, I think what you did to the Second Unit stunt director illustrated his vision may be a bit off this time.”

Aslin raised a contemplative eyebrow. In his opinion, the Second Unit stunt director was an idiot. What kind of so-called
insisted it was impossible to down an opponent with a
harai tsurikomi ashi
without signposting it? After a good ten minutes arguing with the man that it could be done, Aslin had decided it was easier to just show him, putting the arrogant man on his back with the judo move mid-argument.

BOOK: Muscle for Hire
3.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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