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Authors: Janelle Denison

Wilde for Him (7 page)

BOOK: Wilde for Him
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Using Ben to put an end to Craig's pursuit was the perfect plan. Now she just had to convince her bodyguard to play along.

 

FIGURING he had time to kill while Christine was getting ready, Ben set up his laptop computer on her coffee table in the living room and decided to get a head start on typing up his daily security report, which would then be uploaded to the Delacroix case file for Nathan, or any of Elite's partners, to review at any time. Today's report was all basic information so far, mainly outlining his meeting with Nathan, what the assignment entailed, and later he'd follow up with anything interesting or pertinent that happened tonight at Envy.

There was no reason to mention this afternoon's basketball game where Christine showed off her impressive skills and kicked his ass, or the discussion they'd had at his place about his parents and his fiancée, Kim. None of that mattered in the context of his security report, yet it was the too-personal conversations at his place that he couldn't get out of his head.

Out of the handful of women he'd been with since moving to Chicago a few years ago, he'd never brought any of them to his apartment, and now he knew why—because women were inquisitive, emotional creatures who needed too many explanations on why he lived his life the way he did. They wanted to know about his family and his past and everything else in between, and he'd made it a point since leaving the military to keep his private life private, and that meant keeping his place off-limits.

His personal tactics worked well for him and he managed to keep his own emotions untouched. He'd purposefully kept his affairs with women brief and all about physical pleasure. He never let them get close enough to care, to ask about his parents, his mother, or the fiancée he hadn't been able to save from a roadside ambush in Iraq.

Ben scrubbed a hand along his jaw and exhaled a deep breath. Four years after Kim's death, the pain of losing her had dulled, but the guilt had not abated one bit. No, he feared that deep, painful remorse would be something he'd bear on his conscience for the rest of his life.

How was it that in just the span of half an hour Christine had hit on all those hot topics that no other woman had even come close to realizing about him? And why had he given up as much information as he had to Christine? True, he'd kept much of the ugly truths to himself, but she'd still managed to extract way too much out of him.

He had no answers that made sense, and he refused to dwell on that conversation with Christine any longer. Saving the security report in his Word file, he shut down the laptop computer and leaned back on the wide, comfortable couch. Clasping his hands behind his head, he forced himself to relax and rerouted his thoughts to something more mundane, like the contrast of his basic, barely furnished apartment with Christine's beautifully decorated house.

When they'd arrived at her place, he'd been pleasantly surprised by the modest size of the house in an upscale neighborhood that boasted two-story monstrosities and enormous, custom-built homes. In comparison, Christine's house was a small, three-bedroom structure that was perfect for someone who was single and lived alone.

Since he needed to know the exact layout of the place for security reasons, she'd given him a tour of each and every room, as well as showing him the guest bedroom where he'd be staying for the next several weeks. Her master bedroom, he noted, was just down the hall from where he'd be sleeping.

In the two years he'd lived in his apartment, he hadn't bothered to do anything to really make the place his own. To him, it was just a place to eat and sleep and shower, and occasionally on the weekends enjoy a few games on the big-screen TV. Christine, on the other hand, had completely transformed her new house in just the few months since moving in. Decorated in neutral tones and accented with brighter shades of deep reds, burnished oranges, and forest greens, the place was warm and inviting in every way, and so opposite her parents' lavish home.

He found himself smiling as he recalled the proud way in which she'd told him that she'd bought the place on her own, without her father consigning on the loan. She'd used part of a trust fund left to her by her grandparents on her mother's side to make a deposit that would leave her with a monthly payment she could afford, and kept the rest of that money untouched. She was determined to do it all on her own for the first time in her life, without depending on anyone to help her out, and he couldn't help but be impressed by her fortitude.

"Okay, so I'm not nearly as quick as you when it comes to getting ready," he heard Christine say. "But I did get a phone call that put me about ten minutes behind schedule, if that counts for anything."

Ben shifted his gaze from the contemporary framed art that he'd been staring at to the woman walking toward him, looking like a temptress in the purest form of the word. Stunned by the transformation, and unable to help himself because he was a man, after all, he took in her jaw-dropping outfit, along with that sensual gleam in her bluer than blue eyes and the blond hair that now fell to her shoulders in a sexy, disheveled mass of curls, and felt his mouth go dry and his groin tighten with an unequivocal heated awareness.

He immediately sat up straight before his reaction to her became obvious.

If that teal, off-the-shoulder sweater molding to her breasts and outlining the enticing curve of her waist and hips wasn't enough to make a man do a double take, then those black suede knee-high boots with a four-inch heel and that thigh-skimming miniskirt would render a guy brainless.

He knew this because he suddenly couldn't speak or think beyond imagining her strolling over to him, straddling his lap, and living up to the bad girl image that outfit of hers portrayed.

Good God, he was certain he was going to have to beat back half of the male population at Envy tonight, because somewhere along the way Christine had transformed from a wholesome girl-next-door into a sultry vixen.

As the silence stretched between them, she tipped her head to the side and regarded him with a good amount of amusement. "I take it you like the outfit?"

He shrugged his stiff shoulders and attempted a nonchalant façade, unwilling to admit just how much her ensemble affected him. "It's okay."

A half-smile lifted the corner of those glossy pink lips that made him think of sweet cotton candy. "You're such a liar."

"And you're looking for trouble in a short skirt like that," he retorted bluntly. Not to mention those fuck-me boots you're wearing.

She looked momentarily taken aback by his reply, and he was grateful that he'd kept the latter part of his comment to himself.

"Trust me, it's not that short compared to what some of the women wear to Envy," she said, her hands on her hips and her stance full of sass and attitude. "Besides, that's what I've got you for, to protect me from trouble."

Knowing just how unruly guys could be when it came to a woman who looked as hot as Christine did tonight, he narrowed his gaze. "You're not making my job very easy on me, now are you?"

"We're going to a night club, Ben," she said with a long-suffering sigh. "This outfit is completely and totally appropriate."

"And sexy as hell," he said gruffly, realizing too late that he'd spoken his thoughts out loud.

A confident, Cheshire cat grin curved her too kissable mouth and her eyes lit up with silent mirth. "Ahhh, so you do like it, then."

"That was just an impartial observation on my part."

Her light laughter was infused with delight and too much satisfaction. "Sure it was."

He didn't say a word, figuring it was his smartest, safest bet in keeping the rest of his dignity intact.

She set her small purse down on a nearby chair. "Look, before we go, I have a huge favor to ask."

Grateful for the change in topic, he gave her his undivided attention. "Sure. What do you need?"

She started pacing in front of the coffee table, distracting him all over again with the provocative sway of her hips as she walked. "I know having you by my side for the next three weeks isn't an option," she began, giving him a smile that didn't quite erase the nervousness that had suddenly crept into her voice. "If my father hadn't hired you as my bodyguard, it would have been some other security agent in your place."

"True enough." He was beyond curious as to what she was getting at. "What's the favor, Christine?"

Her pacing came to a halt and she met his gaze. She bit her lower lip anxiously. "Do you think that maybe, possibly, when we're out in public together I can introduce you as the guy I'm dating?"

He blinked at her, not sure what to make of her unusual request. "You mean, as your boyfriend?"

She nodded, looking relieved that he hadn't outright refused her. "Sure, that works for me."

He settled back against the couch cushions, trying to analyze her proposal, but unable to figure out her motive for making such a suggestion. "And just why does that work for you, Christine?" he prompted. "Why the charade?"

Again, she started that restless back and forth walk in front of him. "Two reasons, actually. First. I hate having the typical, obvious security agent walking three feet behind me and looking like a bodyguard."

A grin twitched the corners of his mouth. "Cramps your style, huh?"

"That's not how I meant it." A small frown marred her delicate brows and she shook her head. "I honestly hate the fact that everyone knows that I have a bodyguard, because in the scheme of things I'm just not all that important. The whole setup just seems so… pretentious, and I don't like bringing that kind of attention to myself."

So far, he was finding her explanation pretty darn convincing, and he truly believed that flaunting a bodyguard was so not her style. She might have always lived a privileged life, but she'd never given him the impression that she was a spoiled, pampered princess.

She slanted him a quick glance to gauge his reaction so far, and when he said nothing, she went on. "If I could introduce you as my boyfriend, everything would be much more casual and relaxed when we're together, instead of so awkward, stiff, and formal with you lurking in the background."

He didn't disagree with her rationale, but he wasn't ready to concede to her plan just yet. "And the second reason?"

"I have to admit that this one is a bit more self-serving." Her cheeks turned pink at that admission and she went back to nibbling on her bottom lip again. "The owner of Envy, Craig Crosby, has a thing for me, but I'm just not interested in him in a romantic way. He's forty-one, and no matter how many times I've gently turned him down for a date, or dinner and drinks, he knows I'm single and he keeps asking me out in hopes that I'll change my mind, which I won't." She sighed in frustration.

The name Craig Crosby sounded very familiar, and Ben mulled it over in his head until he realized where he'd heard it before now. "Is Craig Crosby related to the developer Jonathan Crosby in any way?"

Surprise lit her features as her pacing came to an abrupt stop. "How do you know Jonathan Crosby?"

"I don't know him personally. I just know of him from what's been written in the papers recently about the gentrification issue surrounding the upcoming election." Jonathan Crosby was a big-time developer, and it was no secret that he was also a huge supporter of Charles Lambert, Nathan's opponent in the race for governor. "In fact, it's been hinted at that Crosby is tucked firmly into Lambert's pocket and is guaranteed to head up the new construction on the lower west side if Lambert wins."

Christine nodded, causing her silky soft waves to brush her bare shoulders. "Unfortunately, that's all true."

"So, is Craig Crosby related to Jonathan in any way?" Ben asked again.

"Actually, Craig is his son."

He lifted a brow. "So, you're socializing with the enemy?"

"He's not the enemy," she said with a wave of her hand. "At least, we're not enemies, despite our fathers' differing political views. Believe it or not, it's never been an issue between Craig and I. I do know that Craig doesn't have the greatest relationship with his father because he opted to open a night club instead of going into the development business like his dad, but I'm sure he supports his father, just as I support mine. People can be friends but not be on the same side of the fence politically."

True enough, but it still made for an odd situation, especially if Craig wanted to date Christine. "Isn't Craig kind of old for you, anyway?"

She rolled her eyes. "Okay, yeah, he's almost fifteen years older than me, but his age aside, he's actually a very nice, decent guy."

He sat forward and clasped his hands between his widespread legs, his gaze on hers. "You just don't want to go out with him."

"Exactly," she said, her tone exasperated. "I've tried to be nice about telling him I'm not interested, but he's very persistent."

Ben's jaw clenched. He hadn't even met the guy yet and already he didn't like him. Then again, maybe his annoyance had more to do with his own attraction toward Christine. "So why not try the direct approach and just flat out tell him thanks, but no thanks, and make your feelings clear so he doesn't ask again?"

She winced. "You're such a typical guy and that's such a harsh way of handling things. Besides, men don't take that kind of blatant, in-your-face rejection lightly."

"So?" Ben didn't see what the big issue was in that. "He'll get over it. We all do."

Exhaling a deep breath, she crossed her arms over her chest, which effectively caused the creamy, upper swells of her breasts to peek out from the low, scoop neck of her sweater. "The problem is, the situation with Craig is different."

"How so?" he asked curiously.

"When I first started my business, Craig was essential in getting my name in front of a lot of influential people, who in turn hired me to plan an event or a party for them. With Craig being a club owner, he has a lot of prominent contacts and he's been very generous in putting me in touch with some amazing people who have put me way ahead of my competition in the area. I'm very grateful for everything he's done for me, which makes this whole issue of him asking me out something I need to handle delicately. Does that makes sense?"

BOOK: Wilde for Him
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