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Authors: N.J. Walters

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BOOK: TouchofTopaz
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“The chances of me being shot because of my work are very
slim. We specialize mostly in corporate security, going into businesses and
finding the weaknesses so we can plug the holes.” Not only was it satisfying
work, but it paid a hell of a lot better than the military ever had.

Topaz frowned at him. “But you’re a bodyguard too.”

He shook his head. “Only in very rare cases.” He reached out
and ran his fingers over her hair. “When I saw you for the first time last
year, I knew I couldn’t let anything happen to you.”

She licked her lips and his cock jerked in response, but he
held a tight rein on his body. This was too important for him to fail now. This
was the most important mission of his life. He could not fail. Topaz had to
give them a chance.

Topaz felt a warm fuzzy feeling in the vicinity of her
heart, but she had to stay strong. John was trying to refute the reasons they
couldn’t have a real relationship but she wasn’t quite ready to believe him
yet.

Oh, she knew he meant it when he said he was finished with
all the excitement in his life. It was one thing to say it, another to actually
live it.

He touched her cheek, his eyes steady and warm. “Give us a
chance. Give me a chance to show you I mean what I’m saying.”

Could she do that? Could she risk her heart? “But we don’t
really know one another.”

John laughed and shook his head. “Babe, we’ve been living
together for weeks this winter, not to mention our time together last summer.”

She felt her cheeks heating and knew she was blushing. She
detested the weakness and pushed onward with her objections. “That’s not real.
The situation was tense. You were my bodyguard.” He couldn’t refute those
facts.

He shrugged. “So. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.” He
caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger and leaned in closer. “All
those meals we shared, movies we watched, arguments about business and politics,
they were all real.”

She closed her eyes, needing to escape the intensity of his
gaze. “But the situation wasn’t a normal one. What happens when the day-to-day
drudgery sets in and I’m nagging you to pick up your socks off the floor or
you’re pissed off because I don’t want to go skydiving or something?”

He kissed her and her eyes flew open. He took her hands in
his and gave them a squeeze. “First of all, I’m neat. I don’t leave my socks on
the floor. If we’d been sharing a bed these past weeks you’d already know that.
As for skydiving or anything else like that, if I want to do it I can always
ask Jake to go with me. I don’t expect you to be anything other than what you
are.”

He was refuting all her arguments one by one. Still, she was
unsure what to do about them. She was beginning to think the problem wasn’t
with John at all, but with her. It was an eye-opening revelation and something
she needed to consider.

John brought her hands to his lips and kissed her knuckles
one by one. “Every relationship has challenges, Topaz. Life doesn’t come with
guarantees. But we can make this work.”

He stood and pulled her to her feet beside him. “Only you
can decide if what we have is worth the risk to you. I think it is. And I’m
willing to give it everything I’ve got.”

He stepped down off the rock and helped her down. “Let’s go
back to the cabin and get something warm to drink. I don’t want you to get a
chill.”

Topaz walked beside him, her mind scrambling to come up with
an argument to refute his. But as much as she tried, she couldn’t. Bottom line,
she had to decide if she was willing to take a chance on John and on herself.

Chapter Eight

 

Topaz slipped her cellphone back into her purse and tried
not to feel the clock ticking down on their time together. Susie had assured
her that Sisters’ Jewels was running just fine and she should take her time in
coming back to work.

It was depressing to think the business could function so
well without her. But it was also a testament to her skill as a businesswoman.
She’d trained all her staff extremely well. Yes, she’d have piles of paperwork
to deal with and then there was the Christmas line to finalize. It might only
be March, but in retail that meant it was time to start planning for the big
holiday season.

There were also several messages from both her sisters and
her mother, demanding to know where she was. She thought about answering them,
but wasn’t up to an inquisition, not when she was so uncertain herself.

She rubbed a hand over her face and wondered what the hell
she was going to do about her and John. She’d cleaned up in the bathroom, but
she could still feel the echoes of their wild lovemaking in the woods. Her body
might be humming with satisfaction, but her emotions were totally messed up.

She picked up her brush and ran it through her hair. Not
that it needed it. She was stalling and she knew it. John was out in the
kitchen making hot chocolate for them. The man was always trying to take care
of her in little ways. She could easily get used to it if she wasn’t careful.
And
would that be such a bad thing?

She’d needed a few moments to herself and had slipped into
the bedroom on the pretext that she had to call the boutique to make sure
everything was running okay in her absence and to let her assistant know she’d
be back in the city sometime tomorrow.

She was feeling indecisive, a very unusual state for her and
she didn’t like it. She was always calm, able to see all sides of a situation
and make the best decision. And she thought she’d done that with her and John’s
relationship. Now she was conflicted.

Personal relationships were a lot more confusing than
business ones. They weren’t cut-and-dry. Topaz was forced to face the fact that
she’d only dated men she could deal with the same way she did any business
transaction. That wasn’t flattering to her or fair to the men she’d dated.

John defied being categorized or pigeonholed. A relationship
with him would be emotional and messy and potentially devastating. But it could
also be wonderful if she could find the courage to reach out and take what he
was offering.

It was sobering to discover she was a coward when it came to
relationships. She didn’t like seeing this side of herself, but she had to face
it and deal with it if she was going to move forward.

The question was, did she want to move forward or was she
happy living exactly the way she was?

She tossed her brush down on the dresser and headed toward
the kitchen. She wasn’t going to come to any conclusions simply standing there.
Might as well have some hot chocolate. All women knew you could think better
when you had chocolate. It’s hardwired into the DNA.

John’s back was turned to her when she entered the kitchen,
but she didn’t for one minute think he didn’t know she was there. She studied
his competent movements, the way he poured hot water and stirred the contents
into the mugs. The man did so many things well he sometimes could be
intimidating to be around. But Topaz knew that beneath his hard exterior was a
man of great substance.

As he worked, the gray long-sleeved knit shirt he wore clung
to his broad shoulders and emphasized the size of his biceps. He set the spoon
in the sink, turned and handed her one of the mugs.

“Thanks.” She took a sip, disconcerted by the unease that
slid through her. It belatedly occurred to her that she’d always felt relaxed
around John, not having to watch her words or behave in a certain manner. She’d
always been herself around him and the silences had always been comfortable
ones. Until now.

“You’re welcome.” He used the pad of this thumb to wipe the
corner of her mouth. “You’ve got some here.”

She felt the light touch all the way to her toes and took a
step back. “Ah, thanks.”

John sighed. “You know, I’m not going to jump you again. You
don’t have to decide what you want to do about our relationship right this
moment.” His exasperation was evident and it made her smile.

“First of all, the jumping was mutual.” No way did she want
him to think any differently. “And are you sure you want a relationship with
me? I seem to frustrate you quite a bit.”

That got her a chuckle and a smile. “That’s the God’s
truth.” He touched her cheek and rubbed his thumb over her skin, making it
tingle. “But you’re worth it.”

Topaz wasn’t quite sure how to take his answer and chose to
store it away to think about at a later time. She held her mug tight in her
hands, enjoying the way the heat seeped into her skin. She wouldn’t say
anything to John, but she really was chilled to the bone from their walk in the
woods.

She wandered into the living room area and sat in the corner
of the sofa, pulling her legs up close to her body to conserve heat. John
followed her and set his mug down on the coffee table. “You’re cold.” His words
were almost accusing and angry, and she immediately knew he was blaming
himself.

“I’m fine. Just a little chilly is all.”

He ignored her, grabbed the box of matches from the mantle
and crouched in front of the fireplace. He lit a match and set it to the
kindling. The fire crackled and caught the logs. When he was satisfied with the
growing blaze, he set the screen in front and joined her on the sofa.

He grasped her by the waist and tugged her until she was
curled up in his arms. His warmth surrounded her. It was nice to sit in front
of a cheerful fire with John, neither of them speaking. The silence wasn’t
strained, wasn’t completely comfortable either, but somewhere in-between.

He ran his hand absently up and down her arm, all the while
staring into the flames. She rested her head against his shoulder, her mind
whirling with the possibilities. Could they make a long-term relationship work?

“Stop thinking,” he admonished her. “Just enjoy the rest of
the day. We’ll head back to the city in the morning and take things from
there.”

He knew her so well. It constantly surprised her just how in
tune he was with her moods. And it shouldn’t. He was right about one thing.
They had lived together for several weeks last summer and again this winter.
They might not have been sleeping together but they had been sharing a living
space. He’d seen into all aspects of her life, but she knew very little about
what he did and how he lived when he was away from her.

“What’s your life like?” If they were to have any chance at
a relationship, she needed to know more about him. “When you’re not being my
bodyguard,” she clarified.

John rubbed his chin against the top of her head. “I work, I
eat, I exercise and keep my skills up.”

She gave him a mock punch in the stomach. He reached down,
caught her fist in his hand and brought it to his lips. “That tells me exactly
nothing,” she protested.

He sighed. “What do you want to know?”

“Everything. Do you live alone or do you and Jake share a
place? What’s it like having a twin brother? Where are your parents?” It
appalled her to realize she didn’t already know the answers to these questions.
She’d really been self-centered during their time together. Of course, he’d
been her bodyguard, not her best friend, but still.

“Jake and I own a four-apartment brownstone. We each have
our own place and rent the two other units.” He shifted slightly, and she moved
so she could watch him while he spoke.

His face was more rugged than handsome, with his strong,
stubborn jaw and high forehead. But it suited him. His eyes were like blue
lasers, seeing everything in one sweep of a room. That gaze was pinned on her
now.

“Our parents were killed in a car accident when we were six
and we went to live with our granddad—Bernard Knight. He’d spent most of his
life in the Army. Grandma died of cancer before we were even born. So there he
was with two rambunctious six-year-olds to raise.”

She could easily picture two blond-headed boys in stained
shirts and ripped jeans. They would have been a handful and then some. “I’d say
it was a challenge for all of you.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, it was. He was strict, but fair. We
lived in Brooklyn and he worked at a garage. He kept us off the streets and out
of trouble until we joined the Army.”

“He must have been proud of you both.” What grandfather
wouldn’t be proud of such brave, wonderful men? She didn’t know Jake nearly as
well as she did John, but she couldn’t imagine him being much different in his
core values. Sapphire liked him and that was enough for Topaz to know he had to
be a good man. Her sister had a keen nose for sniffing out phonies.

“I guess. He expected us to make something out of our
lives.” John’s hand squeezed her hip, kneading her curve before floating back
up to her waist.

“Is he still alive?”

John snorted. “Oh yeah. He’s eighty-two years old and still
lives in the apartment in Brooklyn. Jake and I wanted him to move into one of
the apartments in our building, but he informed us he liked where he was living
and was staying. Stubborn old goat,” John muttered.

Topaz couldn’t help it. She burst into laughter. “Takes one
to know one,” she managed to get out between bouts of laughter.

A slow smile curved his lips. “You think I’m stubborn?”

She pressed her finger into the slight cleft in his chin. “I
know you are.”

“Honey, I’m positively laid-back compared to Granddad.”

“I’ve got to meet him.” He sounded like a fascinating man
and she’d bet he could tell her all kinds of stories about John when he was a
boy.

John’s arms tightened around her. “I’d like that.”

It was only after she’d said it she realized that spoke of
them having some kind of a future together, at least in the short-term. She
nodded but said nothing more, not wanting to commit herself further, not yet.
Still, she wanted to meet the man who had such a hand in rearing such a
wonderful man like John.

“What about you? What was it like growing up in the Jewel
family?”

They’d talked about her family some. More the facts than how
she actually felt about it. “In many ways it was the perfect childhood.” She
sighed and rested her head on John’s shoulder once again.

“But not always?” he countered.

“No, not always. There were always photographers and
reporters hanging around outside the family estate hoping to get a shot or a
story, especially when we were younger. We couldn’t go outside the gates
without at least one of them chasing us.”

“That must have been tough. And having the reporters
hounding your family again this past year must have brought it all back.” Topaz
wasn’t surprised by John’s swift and accurate assessment of the situation.
Having to deal with the paparazzi had brought back all those negative memories.

“You’ve had a taste of it since taking the job as my
bodyguard, so you know what it’s like. It certainly has added to the pressure.
When we were kids, all the attention eased off when Mom and Dad stopped
touring. The media hounds eventually lost interest in our family and went away.
The times have changed, though, and things move faster now. Thankfully, it
won’t be long until we’re old news.”

She offered him a smile. “I don’t want you to think I had a
miserable childhood. Quite the opposite, in fact. My sisters and I were always
close. We didn’t go to regular school often. We were mostly homeschooled.” She
laughed as one memory jumped to the fore. “We never knew when Dad would take it
in his head to do something crazy.”

“Like what?” John relaxed, settling back against the sofa
cushions. The fire crackled in the hearth, warming them both.

“Like waking up one morning and deciding we should go to
Italy. We were on a plane by just after lunch and spent a month touring the
country.”

“That must have been exciting.”

Topaz smiled at the memory. “It was. We ate so much pasta.”
She laughed. “Sapphire decided she wanted to swim in one of the fountains in
Rome. Instead of trying to stop her, my dad joined her while Mom took pictures
of them.”

She traced circles on the front of his shirt, lost in the
past. “It really was special. We were always going somewhere. We never knew
from one moment to the next what might happen.”

“And that made you want a quiet, stable life.” There was no
judgment in his tone, but Topaz felt herself growing defensive.

“I suppose so.” She really couldn’t deny it. John was an
astute man. She should have known he’d see beyond the fond memory to the effect
it had on her adult life.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with wanting stability. I want
it too.” He brushed his hand through her hair. “And you have it whether you
realize it or not. Your family is your stability. I’ve watched you and your
sisters together. There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for one another.”

He was right. She knew she would never be alone in the
world, never have to face life by herself, not as long as she had her sisters
and her parents.

“It’s like that for me and Jake,” he continued, his fingers
massaging her scalp before moving lower to her neck. Muscles she hadn’t
realized were even tense began to loosen under his tender touch. “Granddad
might be a tough son of a bitch, but we always knew we could depend on him. I
could call him right now if I needed him and he’d climb in his 1968 Camaro and
come as fast as he could. Which would be pretty damn fast in that car.”

John was making her look at her life in a different way. It
was strange to take what she’d always seen as a chaotic childhood and turn it
on its head so she could see the bedrock of support, the stability that was
there. Deep down, she’d always known she could count on her family, but she’d
never translated it to the security she’d craved. No, her life wasn’t normal,
would never be. But that was okay. What was normal anyway?

BOOK: TouchofTopaz
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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