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Nikolai stood up and snapped his laptop shut. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll skip dinner.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dane turned and barked at his cousin.

“You know exactly what I mean. She’s terrified out of her mind and we’re the one’s who should be making her feel safe. Instead, every time you get near her you turn into an asshole. Don’t get me wrong, you’re normally an asshole, but I’ve never seen you like this, and I’m sick of it.”

Dane slumped on the bed and ran a hand through his hair. “I know. Whenever she’s near all I can think about is stripping her naked and doing things I shouldn’t even be thinking about. She’s fucking with my head.”

Nikolai chuckled “I figured as much.”

“What?” Dane resisted the urge to wipe the smile off his cousin’s face. He thought he’d hidden his feelings exceptionally well.

“I’ve known you practically your whole life and I’ve never seen you act like this. I knew it must be serious. I’m just glad you finally admitted it.”

“I need to go talk to her.”

“No, go take a cold shower and give her a few minutes to cool down. You need to have a good apology speech prepared anyway. She’s definitely going to make you work for it.”

Dane emerged from his shower positively loathing himself. The last thing he’d wanted to do was upset Calista, yet every time he got near her, his mouth spewed obnoxious bull shit.

The thought of her putting herself in danger got under his skin in a way that he didn’t understand, and perhaps that’s what frightened him more. When he was around her, his thoughts became muddled, and that was something he wasn’t used to. Her beauty was an obvious factor. He’d been with his share of beautiful women and had never been one to fall for just a pretty face. But whenever he was near Calista, he wanted to run his hands through that thick auburn hair, and explore her entire body with his mouth. He was well aware this protective urge was primitive, and that if she knew what he wanted to do to her body, she’d probably never let him near her again.

“Screw it,” he muttered. He wasn’t going to wait any longer to apologize. The last look she’d given him was eating him up inside. He’d known she was going to cry.

“Calista?” He knocked softly on her door. When he didn’t get a response he knocked again, this time with more force.

“Calista, open up. We need to talk.”

When she still didn’t answer, he opened the door only to find her room empty. His body turned to ice, but he didn’t waste time.

“Nikolai?” He barged into his cousin’s room without waiting for a response. “Have you seen Calista?”

“She’s not in her room?”

Dane had the answer he needed. “Shit.”

He’d been so stupid to leave her alone.

Both men grabbed their coats and guns and sprinted for the door.

“Do you have any idea where she would go?” Dane looked at Nikolai, already knowing the answer.

“I doubt she took her cell phone with her. Even if she did, she’s not going to answer for either one of us.”

After what seemed like an eternity, the elevator finally stopped on the bottom floor.

“She went in that direction.” The security man pointed towards the left as they flew past him.

Not pausing to say thanks, they burst out the door only to be met by a blast of cold air.

“Look.” Nikolai pointed a block and a half down. A crowd of people had gathered around something but neither man could see that far. As soon as they approached, Dane pushed and shoved his way through the crowd, waving his credentials. His heart stopped the moment he saw her.

Calista lay on her back, completely immobile. She was breathing and her color looked good, but that didn’t mean anything. If she had internal injuries…No, he couldn’t think like that.

“Is that Calista Kingston?” One onlooker whispered.

“Everybody back up!” Nikolai yelled before Dane had a chance to speak.

“I got us a cab.” Nikolai bent low to speak to Dane. “We don’t have time to wait for an ambulance. You take care of her, I’m going to stick around and see if I can find any witnesses.”

“Fine.” As gently as he could, Dane lifted her into the waiting taxi.

An hour later, he’d checked Calista in to St. Mary’s hospital with a mild concussion, but the doctors still hadn’t let him in to see her. All he could do was pace in front of her door as he was waited on the head nurse to give him the go ahead. He wasn’t one to be intimidated by anyone, but with her brassy red hair pulled into a tight bun she reminded him of the headmistress at the Catholic school he’d attended as a kid. He shuddered at the memories.

“She’ll see you now.” The plus-sized no-nonsense nurse with a nametag that read Agnes barked.

When he started to turn the knob she put a menacing hand on his arm. “Don’t upset her.”

No one ever talked to him like that, but all he could do was nod.

He stepped into the room and the knife in his gut twisted a baseball sized hole. Her auburn hair pillowed around her pale face, but at least there didn’t appear to be any damage to the rest of her body. His shoes squeaked against the terrazzo tile and her eyes flew open. Just as quickly, they filled with tears.

“Please don’t cry, honey. I wish I could take back what I said. I never should have spoken to you like that.”

She just shook her head and opened her mouth. Before she got a chance to speak, three worried and irate women stormed into the room, all carrying a gift of some sort.

Dane had dossiers on all of her friends, so he knew their names even if he’d never been introduced. The blonde who he knew to be Amber brought a bottle of wine she must have smuggled past the nurses. Sarah, the brunette, brought flowers and chocolates, and Lexi brought books and magazines.

“Cal, why are you crying?” Lexi, the smallest of them all, pushed Dane out of the way and moved to the bedside.

Talk about being dismissed.

“Did you do this to her?” Amber demanded. She looked like she had fangs and wasn’t afraid to use them.

Sarah chimed in after Amber. “Why weren’t you watching her? I thought the whole point of having a bodyguard was so something like this wouldn’t happen.”

Her eyes flashed and Dane was sure lighting would fly out of them at any moment.

Dane didn’t say anything, but looked at the door longingly. He knew he deserved their abuse but three against one was just plain wrong. These women were terrifying.

“It’s not his fault.” Calista finally spoke up and wiped away the last tear.

Dane’s head whipped up in surprise at his unlikely ally.

“He’s supposed to be guarding you.” Amber looked accusingly at him.

“Well, he can’t very well guard me if I sneak out now can he?” Calista reached for a tissue on her night stand and dabbed at her puffy eyes.

Dane watched as all three heads turned to look at their friend.

“Cal, what were you thinking?” Sarah asked softly.

“I’m sure she had her reasons.” Lexi cleared her throat and glanced from Dane to Calista.

Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly when she looked his way. Dane was surprised by her perceptiveness and resisted the urge to look at Calista.

“I think there’s a lot they need to discuss.” Lexi spoke again and grabbed Sarah and Amber by the arm.

“We’ll be in the cafeteria trying to scavenge some decent food. From what the head nurse told us, you’ll be out of here in a day or two anyways. Maybe sooner.” Despite the protests from the other two girls, Lexi shoved them out the door.


“What was that all about?” Amber asked as soon as they were out in the sterile hallway.

“There’s something going on between those two.” Lexi stated in her matter of fact tone. She just knew it.

“No way. She can’t stand him. Every time I talk to her it’s ‘Dane did this’ and ‘Dane did that’.” Sarah shook her head causing her dark ponytail to swing back and forth.

“Did you see the way she kept looking at him? I could feel the tension the minute we walked in there. Something is going on.”

“She would have told us.” The reluctance in Amber’s voice didn’t sway Lexi.

“She’s probably not even aware of it yet. I guarantee that if something hasn’t happened between them, it will soon enough. That’s the only explanation for her sneaking out. She’s not an idiot. Dire circumstances are the only thing that would have made her leave without protection.”

“And you think that man is ‘dire circumstances’?” Amber asked.

Lexi nodded.

“That actually makes sense. The only thing that makes any of us act stupid is men,” Sarah muttered.

“Maybe.” Amber conceded.

“I’m right, you’ll see. I’m always right about these things and you two know it.” Lexi winked as she pushed open the door to the cafeteria. As soon as she turned her head back around she slammed into what felt like a steel wall.

“You all right?” Two strong hands steadied Lexi and she found herself looking up, up, up into beautiful sea green eyes.

“I’m fine.” She bristled at his touch and backed out of the stranger’s steely grip. The man was grinning like a buffoon. In her experience, any man who smiled that much was no good. She brushed past him with Amber and Sarah right on her heels without a second glance back.


“I shouldn’t have left the apartment like that. It’s no excuse, but I was feeling smothered and didn’t feel like I had any choice.”

Calista laid her head back on the pillow. She suddenly looked drained, so much so that Dane contemplated saving his questions for later. But his apology couldn’t wait.

“I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. I’ve been letting the stress of the job get to me and I took it out on you. You’ve been nothing but accommodating to us and I’ve been an asshole.”