Authors: Katie Reus
Red Stone Security Series
Copyright © 2014 Katie Reus
Cover Art by
Sweet ‘N Spicy Designs
Proofreading by JRT Editing
Digital Formatting by
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the author.
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He’ll do anything to protect her…but she doesn’t want saving.
As an heiress from a prominent family, Mina knows the pain of living under a microscope. Which is why she loves her sleepy Key West home where nobody knows her name. She’s determined to make her way without being coddled—and no mugging is going to change that.
Former Marine and newest Red Stone Security employee Alexander Blue has seen enough bloodshed to last a lifetime—or ten. He’s ready for civilian life, but when he sees a mysterious brunette attacked by a mugger, his need to protect kicks into overdrive. Mina, the sensual artist he saved, brings him home and bandages him up, but her gaze cuts clear to his soul. An intense connection isn’t all Blue feels—there was something strange about that mugging; he’s convinced Mina is in danger and needs his protection. Just one problem: Mina doesn’t want saving.
For my wonderful readers.
Blue smiled when he saw Zoe’s picture on his caller ID. The photo was from last year’s Halloween party and she was dressed like a pirate. She had a patch over her eye and was toasting the camera with a blue, mixed drink. She hated the picture but it fit her. He had a feeling he knew why she was calling so he answered immediately. “Hey, Zoe.”
“Vincent proposed to Jordan!” she practically shrieked, her excitement for her brother clear.
Blue opened the refrigerator of the condo Red Stone had put him up in for this job and grabbed a beer as he said, “Not surprised.”
She paused. “Did he tell you?”
“No, but come on, it’s not a surprise to you either.” Vincent had been in love with her for seven years and even though Blue had never heard of her until recently—none of them had—he’d seen the way they looked at each other.
“Okay, not really. Wish you could’ve been here to celebrate with us.”
“Me too.” Sort of. He was incredibly happy for his friend, but he’d needed to decompress more than he’d realized. The short job Harrison had put him on in Key West after that whole mess with Jordan’s stalker had been welcomed instead of returning to his empty home in Miami. Adjusting to the civilian world was harder than Blue had imagined and being around a big crowd of people celebrating, drinking and laughing…it sometimes got to be too much. “Have you told your brother about your problem?” The one that Blue had come down here last week to help her out with. The one that
“No, and I’m not going to. And neither are you. It’s not an issue right now so…let’s just forget about it.”
“That’s never going to happen,” he said mildly, knowing that yelling rarely worked with Zoe. Even if he wanted to shout at her for being so stubborn. Opening the sliding door that led to the small patio, Blue inhaled the fresh, ocean air as he sat at the round, glass table. The sun was setting and most of the people at the pool below were gathering their things. It was one of the reasons he liked this place. With the pool area closed off after dark, it tended to stay quiet.
“I know, I just…I don’t know what to do. There really isn’t anything
do at this point. He’s out of the country for six months.” Relief punctuated her words.
“So what happens when he returns, Zoe?” Blue couldn’t keep the edge out of his voice. He’d held off on telling Vincent about the man who had been basically stalking her only because she hadn’t told Blue about it until he’d arrived in Key West a week ago. But by then the guy harassing her had left the country for work. And Blue had checked up to make certain.
“I’ll worry about that then. Listen, I know I let it go on for longer than I should have but I was in a bad position.” Her voice held a pleading note for him to understand.
If it was anyone else, Blue might have read them the riot act, but he couldn’t with Zoe. She was smart and had been doing what she thought was best. “I don’t like lying to your brother. Give it a couple days then tell him everything.”
“I will, just not tonight.”
“All right.” He’d let it go for now. But if she didn’t come clean soon he had to tell Vincent.
“Enough about that. What are you doing now that your job is over? Let me guess,” she said before he could answer. “You’re sitting alone in that condo drinking a beer and watching some game on TV.”
“Wrong.” But she was close enough that it made him uncomfortable.
“You’re such a liar. You need to go out tonight and find a woman. Go out and have a good time. Stop living like an old man.”
Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the cushioned chair and closed his eyes. “I don’t want to find someone for a quick fuck.” He’d had enough of those when he was younger. Now…hell, he didn’t know what he wanted, but it wasn’t that.
“Who says it has to be quick?” He could hear the laughter in her voice.
“Shut up. You know what I mean. I wish we were attracted to each other.” It would make things a hell of a lot easier.
She made a mock gagging sound. “Eww.”
“Seriously, you do wonders for my ego.”
“Whatever. You are right though. If we were together it would get my mom off my back.”
Blue grinned at that. “Yeah, she’s a little terrifying.”
“No kidding. Hey…speak of the devil, that’s her,” Zoe whispered. “I’m hiding in Vincent’s bedroom so I’ve gotta go. But promise me you’ll at least go out tonight. Not for a woman, but go out to eat somewhere. Just get out of that condo and see real people.”
“Promise,” she demanded.
“Next time I see you I’ll know if you lied to me.”
“I promise,” he gritted out, knowing it was the only way he’d get her off the phone.
“Crap, I’ve really got to go now.” She disconnected before he could respond.
Sipping on his beer, he stared out at the now empty poolside, hating that his friend was right. Zoe had a way of seeing right through his bullshit. It was why he considered her one of his best friends. Something he’d never thought he’d have from anyone else after leaving the Marines. The men he’d fought side by side with were his brothers, his best friends, but Vincent and Zoe had become family in the last year in a way he was incredibly grateful for. But it still didn’t fill the void he felt growing inside himself a little every day. He just didn’t…fit in here anymore. Too many things had happened; he’d changed too much.
Sighing, he set his half-empty beer on the table and stood. She was right. He needed to get the hell out of this condo, just for a couple hours.
* * *
Mina slipped the check Jerome Charron had just handed her into her purse. She was surprised and very grateful for the large amount. “Thanks for this.”
He smiled in that charming way of his. “I should be thanking you. The tourists and even locals can’t get enough of your work. I’ve seen a doubled increase in business compared to July last year. Part of it’s from the busier cruise season, but part of it is your paintings. I’m going to start charging more. We’ll both get bigger cuts and it will drive up the demand of your work—which is clearly worth it.”
Though the thought of him increasing the price made her panic, she nodded. She hated the business aspect of her work even though it was necessary. And Jerome was very savvy when it came to making money. He’d recently put her in contact with the owner of The Playhouse, an exclusive club in Las Vegas, for commissioned work. That had been a welcome first. Normally she painted, then hoped her work sold. To be paid for work she hadn’t even delivered was still a little surreal. And the bonus she’d received after delivery had been even better. “Whatever you think is best.”
“That’s what I like to hear,
.” At the sound of the bell over the front door ringing, he flicked a quick glance over her shoulder. “We’re about to close in ten minutes but feel free to look around.”
Mina half-turned to see a middle-aged, well-dressed couple entering the shop. Their skin was nicely bronzed with the slightest undercurrent of a reddish hue, as if they’d stayed in the sun just a little too long today. She guessed tourists. The husband nodded and the wife smiled as they strolled in, taking their time.
She turned back to her friend. “I know you’ve got to close up so I’ll get out of your hair.”
“You’re never in my hair. And don’t go, I’m meeting Lee for drinks in half an hour. You should join us. Maybe you’ll meet someone.”
Smiling politely, she took a small step back and shook her head. “I recognize that tone and no way.” Lee was Jerome’s life partner. They’d been together over thirty years and she adored them both. But every time they invited her to dinner, they always surprised her with a blind date. She wasn’t falling for it again.
He held up his hands innocently. “No setups, I promise.”
She snorted and headed for the door. “You are a terrible liar, but I’ll see you later. I’ve got a couple new paintings to drop off next week if you’ve got the room.”
“Bring them as soon as you can.”
“I will.” The bell jingled overhead as she left, though she barely noticed it when she stepped outside.
The blast of heat compared to the cool air-conditioning of the store was immediate. Considering she was from California where humidity was a much different, rarer beast than it was here, the Florida summers had taken some getting used to. This was her second one and sticky heat and all, she loved it. Smiling at one of the street vendors selling cheap plastic hurricane cups and other useless knickknacks, she ducked down a side street instead of heading straight along Duval to her condo. It was too late to deposit her check and the bank was closed over the weekend so she’d have to do it Monday. Tonight she planned to veg out, drink wine and relax. Tomorrow she might meet up with some friends for breakfast, but she needed to work. Okay,
to work. Getting lost in her paintings was usually when she was happiest.
After growing up in a house where being an artist was akin to being a terrorist, she’d embraced her new life and freedom as much as she could. If she wanted to spend the whole day working, she would and there was no one to make her feel guilty about it or act as if what she did was frivolous or flighty.
Glancing over her shoulder, she started to step off the curb to cross the street when a flash of movement caught her eye from the other side of the road. A man stepped out from behind a low hanging palm tree branch that fell over the wall from the other side. He appeared as if from nowhere and even though this alley was well-lit, it was as if he was intentionally sticking to the few shadows there. His movements were slow but purposeful, making her nervous.