She remembered to pull out her keys in the elevator this time so she wouldn’t be digging through her bag. When she got to her door she realized she forgot her cell phone again. “Robert’s going to kill me,” she muttered to herself as she stepped into the foyer of her empty condo.
“For what?” A deep voice to her right spoke and startled her so much she dropped her purse, spilling the contents everywhere.
She let out a brief scream when she saw Dane and another man sitting in her living room. Her momentary feeling of panic quickly turned to rage.
“What the hell are you doing in my home? And how did you get past the security guard and my alarm system?” she demanded.
A quick downward glance at the tile and she saw her pepper spray spread out with the rest of the contents from her purse. She stared at it and pursed her lips. It was so tempting.
“Don’t even think about it.” Dane’s low, menacing voice forced her to look up.
She ignored his comment. “You still haven’t answered my question. How did you get in here?”
“Getting past that old man wasn’t hard. It’s almost embarrassing how easy it was. And you didn’t have your alarm turned on. Not that it would be too hard to bypass.”
Dane shook his head and she clenched her hands into balled fists at the smirk on his sculpted face. Her fingers dug so deep into her skin she thought she might draw blood, but it was the only thing keeping her from punching him.
“That still doesn’t explain what you are doing here uninvited. I should call the cops on you for breaking and entering.”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she prayed she didn’t look as nervous as she felt. Her insides felt like Jell-O, but she didn’t want him to know that.
“I was hoping Connor would have explained everything to you by now.”
“My phone…” her voice trailed off.
She walked back to her bedroom and saw that she had six missed calls and four of them were from Connor. The other two were from Amber and Robert. Before checking her voicemail she marched back into where Dane and his friend had made themselves at home.
“I’ve been hired to protect you.”
“I don’t need protection, especially from someone like you,” she snapped.
He shrugged. “Obviously someone disagrees with you.”
His unwillingness to argue only angered her more.
“If you’ve been hired to protect me then why didn’t you wait until I got home from recording? Like any normal human being? It’s a little more than strange that you broke into my home instead of perhaps calling, or maybe waiting in the lobby. What kind of freak are you?”
His eyes narrowed. “I did this to prove a point. Your security sucks. Anyone with enough training could have broken into this place. Granted it wasn’t easy, but it was easy enough. Instead of me, it could have been some nut waiting in your closet.”
She was silent for a moment as his words sank in. “I still don’t want you protecting me. I’ll hire someone else.”
“Hey, I don’t want this job any more than you want me to take it. I’m doing this as a favor to your brother and Robert.”
“Robert knew about this?”
“He called me this morning and told me about your midnight caller. About a month ago he hired a couple of my guys to shadow you but after last night he wanted me here.”
Calista took off her scarf and coat and laid them across the back of her couch. “This can’t be happening.”
“Well it is, so you better get used to it.”
“You know what? You can grab your bags and your attitude and get the hell out of here. If they want to hire me a bodyguard, I can pick someone myself. I don’t want an incompetent moron like you anywhere near me.”
Maybe she shouldn’t have spoken so harshly, but his whole condescending attitude irked her. She realized her mistake when his blue eyes darkened. She almost took a step back but managed to stand her ground. This was her home and she wouldn’t be intimidated by anyone. Especially him.
His next words were spoken softly but his voice was deadly. “When Connor gets here you can decide what you want to do. Until then we’re not leaving.”
“I could call the cops you know.”
He stepped closer until he was inches from her face. “You won’t.”
His jaw twitched angrily and she felt a strange sense of unease settle in her stomach. Instead of showing her fear she rolled her eyes and backed away. She silently cursed that he’d called her bluff. Calista knew this was a battle she couldn’t win so backed down. “Fine. Would either of you care for something to drink? I wasn’t expecting company so there’s not much here.”
She held back laughter at the shock evident on both their faces. Gaining the upper hand back was imminent if she wanted to survive his presence. After all, this was her domain. She’d kill Dane with kindness. Or maybe she’d just kill him. She hadn’t quite decided yet.
“I can put on a pot of coffee and order takeout for you two. Chinese okay?”
“That will be fine. I need to make some calls first.” Dane turned and walked into one of her guest rooms without waiting for a response. Anger bubbled inside her that he’d just made himself at home in one of her guest rooms, but she pushed it back down. She’d deal with that later.
The quiet man from the couch stood up and smiled. “If you’ll show me where everything is I can fix the coffee.”
“Follow me. I’m Calista by the way.”
“I know who you are.” He grinned and stuck out a hand. “I’m Nikolai Tischenko. I actually worked with your brother for a while.”
“Are you and Dane brothers?” The resemblance between the two men was unmistakable. Nikolai’s eyes were greener, but they both had the same Roman nose, wide jaw, and thick black hair.
“Then why do you have an accent?”
He laughed as he spoke. “You’re just like your brother, always asking questions.”
“Sorry, habit I guess. If you’re going to be guarding me I have a right to know who’s in my home.”
“I thought you were kicking us out as soon as Connor arrived.”
She smiled with what she hoped was a touch of embarrassment. “I shouldn’t have acted so rude. All of this is happening so fast.”
Nikolai’s mouth split into a wide grin. It seemed to come naturally every time he spoke. “You should go easy on my cousin. He’s one of your biggest fans.”
Calista stared at him, sure he was making fun of her somehow. “Are you joking?”
He shrugged instead of answering. “All right, I think I can take care of the coffee. Maybe you should go make friends with Dane, especially if you’re going to be sharing the same roof for a while.”
That was a dismissal if she’d ever heard one. Before leaving, she turned back and said, “You never answered my question about your accent.”
“I was born in the Ukraine and Dane was born here, hence the accent. Any more questions?” She shook her head and he winked.
The door was open and Dane was just getting off his phone so she had no excuse to not talk to him.
“I’d like to apologize for snapping at you earlier.”
“It’s not necessary.”
“Yes, it really is. I was a little shocked, but that’s no excuse for me to act like that.”
A faint grin touched his lips and his shoulders relaxed. “Okay, apology accepted. And I apologize for breaking in to your home.”
She glanced at her watch.
“Will you guys be okay settling in? I’m leaving in an hour and won’t be back for at least another hour after that.”
“Where are you going?”
“I have a date.”
Dane shook his head and his blue eyes flashed a little brighter. “I don’t think so. You’re not going anywhere until Connor gets here.”
“If it makes you feel any better I’ll write down our location and maybe take his fingerprints or get a copy of his driver’s license.” She rolled her eyes and walked out.
He followed her. “I’m serious, we don’t know anything about this guy. For all you know he could be your stalker.”
“My friend set me up with him. Somehow I doubt that…”
Nikolai joined them in the living room and handed her cell phone to her.
“You left this in the kitchen and it wouldn’t stop ringing so I answered it. It sounds urgent.” He shrugged his shoulders not looking the least bit apologetic.
Amber’s strained voice greeted her ears. “Calista? I don’t even know how to tell you this but Grant’s been in an accident.”
“Is he okay? What happened?” She knew she needed to let Amber answer one question at a time but couldn’t seem to stop.
Vaguely aware of the two men in her house, she sat on one of the armchairs. Dane placed a cup of coffee in her hand.
“He was involved in a hit and run. Apparently a blue mustang jumped a curb and ran him down. It looks like it was intentional, but the police haven’t given us any more information.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s alive, but his condition is still unstable. I’m at the hospital now…listen, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back when I know anything more.”
Before she could say goodbye her friend had disconnected. She hung up and filled them in. Their faces let her know they were thinking the same thing she was. This was too much of a coincidence. Wasn’t it?
Nikolai looked over at Dane and stood up. “I’m going to go unpack; it looks like we’ll be staying for a while.”
“It could be a coincidence, right?” Calista spoke softly, almost hoping Dane would say yes.
He shook his head and a long strand of his dark hair fell across his face. “You don’t believe that any more than I do. If you do, then you’re not as intelligent as I gave you credit for.”