Under the Tycoon's Protection

By: Anna DePalo

One



Allison Whittaker stared at the man who might be trying to kill her.

She shifted the slats of her window blinds slightly to get a better view of the dark Boston street stretched out below her. The yellowish glow cast by an old-fashioned gas lamp fought a losing battle with the darkness of the cool April night.The man sat motionless in the driver’s seat of the black car across the street, his face in shadow.

He’d been there last night, too.

She’d noticed. She made a point of noticing. More than four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Boston did that to a person. She’d been a lot more naive when she’d been straight out of law school.

A nice genteel white-shoe law-firm job should have been the next rung on the ladder. Her upper-crust family had certainly expected it of her. Her mother, a respected family court judge who’d just had a glowing article written about her in The Boston Globe, certainly had.

Instead, she’d surprised them all. She’d gone for the tough prosecutor’s job. And not as a prestigious Assistant U.S. Attorney trying federal cases either.

Nope. She’d gone for the down-and-dirty: putting away the friendly neighborhood drug dealer or burglar as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office.

She looked down again at the man in the car. Of course, she’d surprise everyone even more if she wound up dead in her apartment, her throat slashed by the mystery man sending her death threats. She didn’t want to make that her encore.

She held her breath as the man in the car shifted and opened the driver’s-side door.

As he got out of the car, she strained for a better view but couldn’t make out his facial features in the dark. What she could tell was that he was tall and solidly built, with sandy-brown hair and dark clothes.

She watched as he scanned the street up and down and then made his way toward the house. Was he heading for her?

Her heart began to pound, her breath catching in her throat. Call the police! the rational part of her mind screamed.

Surely the neighbors would hear if he tried to break in? Her exclusive Beacon Hill neighborhood was usually quiet and serene.

The man below passed under a street lamp and her mind pulled the emergency brake on her thoughts.

She knew that face.

Suddenly fear was replaced by anger. Not the simmering variety of anger, either, but a full-blown boil. The type that any of her three older brothers would have recognized as a sign to dive for cover.

She headed for the staircase of the redbrick townhouse that she called home, heedless of the fact that she was dressed for bed in a short silk slip and matching robe. When she got downstairs—the back of her mind taking note of the fact that she hadn’t yet heard a knock or bell—she undid the lock on the front door and yanked the door open without ceremony.

“Hello, princess.”

Allison felt the same rush of energy she always did in this man’s presence, quickly replaced by an undercurrent of pulsing tension.

He had a lithe but muscular physique, one which usually reduced women to giggles and flirtatious banter. But not her. They had too much of a history for that, and she doubted his presence on her doorstep tonight was a mere coincidence.

She crossed her arms and snapped, “Did you take a wrong turn, Connor? The last time I checked, Beacon Hill was too exclusive a neighborhood for riffraff like you.”

He had the audacity to look amused, his gaze raking her. “And you’re still the perfect diamond blue blood, princess. Just like I remembered.”

“If you know anything about diamonds, you’ll remember they’re the hardest stones around.”

“Oh, I know plenty about diamonds these days, petunia,” he said, tapping the tip of her nose with his finger as he sauntered inside without invitation, forcing her to take a step back. “I’ve discovered they’re the gift of choice for women in your class.”

She yanked her mind from the image of Connor picking out diamonds for his girlfriends. Probably at someplace like the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels, damn the man. He might have grown up in tough, working-class South Boston, but, thanks to the multimillion-dollar security business he’d started, his bank account was well into eight figures these days. He was quite the self-made tycoon.

She slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. “Make yourself at home.” Sarcasm was easier than thinking about him looming in her dark house with no company but her and the turbulent feelings he unerringly evoked in her. “I’m sure you’ll tell me in your own good time just what you were doing studying my house in the middle of the night.”

“What makes you think I was studying anything?” He peeled off his jacket and tossed it onto a nearby chair.

She rubbed her chin, pretending to contemplate that as she followed him into the living room and watched him flick on a lamp. “Oh, I don’t know…could it be the fact that you’ve been sitting in a car across the street with the engine turned off for the last half-hour?”

She watched as he glanced around the living room. Framed photographs were everywhere, including ones of her with family and friends and holding Samson, her cat who’d died of old age four months ago. She felt vulnerable and exposed, her life on display in so many telling snapshots.

She’d moved into the townhouse after selling her condo last year. Her best friend and sister-in-law, Liz, who was an interior designer, had helped her decorate in an elegant style that fit well with the house’s old and patrician history.

He turned back to her. “Nice digs.” He bent down and gazed at a picture of her in a bikini on a beach in the Caribbean, laughing back into the camera as she ran with fins and goggles in her hands toward the water. “You filled out nicely, princess, once you finally got through puberty.”

She gritted her teeth. Despite the fact that Connor Rafferty had practically become a member of the family since rooming with her oldest brother Quentin at Harvard, she’d never felt comfortable around him. And she’d certainly never thought of him as a brother. Impatiently, she asked, “Why are you here? And more importantly, why were you lurking outside my house so late on a Thursday night?”

He straightened and shoved his hands in his pockets, his jaw hardening. “Did I scare you? Did you think I was that piece of scum who’s been sending you those nasty little love notes?”

“No!” She realized a second too late that the vehement denial sounded exactly like the bald-faced lie it was, but his mere presence had set her on edge. She supposed one of her brothers—probably Quentin—had mentioned to him the threats she’d been getting.

He quirked a brow, his tension easing a fraction. “What? Never thought you’d be glad to see me instead?” His lips twisted in wry amusement.

“Get real.” In fact, she had been relieved it was him in the split second before anger had stepped in. “And you’re evading the question. What are you doing here?”

He walked over and leaned against the back of the chintz-covered couch, his legs stretched out in front of him, feet crossed. “Just doing my job.”

“Just—” She stopped as an unwelcome thought intruded and her eyes narrowed.

He cocked his head. “You were always a quick study, petunia. Though, I have to confess, it is fascinating to watch those wheels turn in that devious little head of yours. I’ve always said that if you’d been born a redhead, the package would have been perfect. Red hair to match that red-hot temper of yours.”

“Get out.”

She watched his eyes narrow and his lips set in a firm line. “Now is that any way to treat the guy who’s here to protect you?”

She strode into the room and whirled back toward him once she got to the fireplace. She couldn’t believe this was happening. “I don’t know which member of my family hired you, Connor—” she said, crossing her arms “—and, frankly, I don’t care. You may own the best security firm in the country, but you’re not wanted or needed here, got it?”

Pushing away from the couch, he folded his arms, looking as easy to move as a boulder up a mountain. “Based on what I’ve heard, I’d say I’m definitely needed around here. As to whether I’m wanted—” he shrugged “—I’ve been asked to do a job and it’s going to get done.”

Want. Her mind zeroed in on that one word, then quickly backed away. Whatever she felt for Connor, that certainly wasn’t an apt description.

True, with hazel eyes framed by long, thick lashes and sandy hair cut conservatively short, he was model material except for the nose that had been broken a couple of times and the crescent-shaped scar marring his chin. But in her mind that was all overshadowed by the fact that he was condescending and annoying. Not to mention an untrustworthy snitch.

She hadn’t seen him since her brother Quentin’s wedding a few months back, but though their paths hadn’t crossed much lately, he was as familiar to her as a member of her family. He, on the other hand, hadn’t really had family to speak of, having lost both parents by the time he’d gotten to Harvard. Instead, he’d spent most school holidays with the Whittakers.

She placed her hands on her hips. “There’s no way you can do this job if I’m telling you that you can’t.”

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