Under the Tycoon's Protection(2)

By: Anna DePalo



He rubbed his chin, seeming to contemplate that for an instant. “Since Quentin still owns this place—” he nodded around him “—because you haven’t gotten around to closing the deal with him yet to purchase it, I’d say you’re wrong about that. So, first thing we’re going to do is make sure that security at the bachelorette pad is up to snuff.”

The familiar urge to throttle Connor Rafferty was coming over her again. True, she didn’t own the townhouse, but that was a mere technicality. The house had stood empty for two years after Quentin had purchased it as an investment, but she’d fallen in love with it and offered to buy it from him. In any case, she didn’t need a bodyguard. “If I need protection, I’ll get it.”

His lips thinned, his gaze holding hers. “That won’t be necessary, because I’m planning to stick to you like Krazy Glue until we get to the bottom of who’s been sending you death threats in the mail and spray-painting obscenities on your Mercedes.”

“I can take care of myself. I spotted you lurking around outside in a parked car, didn’t I?”

The thin line of his lips curved upward in a humorless smile. “What about that guy who was in the parked car at the street corner? Don’t tell me you missed him?”

She had.

He raised an eyebrow, seeming to read her silence for the admission it was.

“You can’t be sure that was in any way connected to me.” She knew she was right, nevertheless her heart tightened.

“You’re right, I can’t. But he was out of there like a speeding bullet as soon as I decided to test my theory by getting out of the car.”

“And you didn’t go after him?”

He shrugged. “How could I be sure he was after you?” he asked, tossing her words back at her.

At her impatient look, he added, “Anyway, it was too late to get back in the car to follow him and I couldn’t make out his plate number or even the make of the car in the dark before he disappeared. So, instead, I came to your door thinking at least I’d get thanked by the damsel in distress for running off the bad guy.”

“Now that you’ve run him off, would you mind running off yourself?” Even if she needed protection, she could arrange for it herself. The last thing she needed was a bodyguard hired by her overprotective family, not to mention one as distracting and annoying as Connor was.

His brows drew together. “You really don’t get it do you, princess?”

She pretended to look bored. “I suppose you’re going to explain so I can ‘get it.’” She stood her ground as he strode toward her. If he thought to intimidate her, he had another thing coming.

“You suppose right.” He stopped mere inches away.

She had to tilt her chin up to keep eye contact with him and caught the muscle ticing in his jaw. She ought to take perverse satisfaction in knowing that, as much as he unsettled her, she seemed to have an uncanny ability to annoy him as well.

“Working for the DA’s Office these days may give you the idea that you’re streetwise,” he growled, “but you’re not.” He looked her over. “Which leads me to wonder why you didn’t stick with what all the other debutantes and society ladies do for public service? You know, organizing a charity auction or something. Why bother working with the tough guys at the DA’s Office?”

She gritted her teeth and prayed for patience even though outrage bubbled up inside her. “This isn’t a hobby. It’s a career.”

She knew he’d had a rough childhood on the sometimes unforgiving streets of South Boston, but, really, that didn’t give him the right to constantly tweak her nose about having grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth. After all, he didn’t play the wealth card with Quentin.

Connor’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve made a career out of looking for a thrill, haven’t you, petunia? I’ve wondered why that is and why you can’t seem to get what you want with the pampered trust-fund boys over at the country club.”

She glanced around for something to throw, then decided it would be a pity to waste some heirloom against his hard head. And, besides, she’d be playing into every preconception he had of her. “So sure you know it all, don’t you? Except, guess what? I’m no longer some teenaged kid that you can rat out to her parents.”

He looked at her assessingly, his hazel eyes darkened to a nearly amber color. She could tell from the flare of his nostrils that he had his temper on a very short leash. “Still can’t forgive me for that one, can you?”

She arched a brow and ignored the way his nearness was coaxing every surface cell in her body into oversensitized awareness. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

He had the height advantage by a good six inches over her five-foot-eight frame, but she was used to holding her own against three brothers who similarly bested her. “Saying that I can’t forgive you implies I still care about what happened, which I don’t.”

His lips thinned. “Yeah, and you haven’t seemed to have learned a lesson from it either.”

“Oh, I learned,” she countered. “I learned I couldn’t trust you.”

“You were a naive seventeen-year-old kid who’d started hanging out with the wrong crowd. What did you think? That biker boy in that bar was coming on to you because he wanted to take you home to share a root beer?”

“And you weren’t my keeper!” She didn’t add that one of the reasons she’d been in the bar that night was because she’d been hoping he would turn up. She’d briefly—very briefly—in her teenaged years had what some might have called an infatuation for Connor. But that was before he’d proven, by betraying her faith in him, that he’d seen her only as a pesky kid.

She could still recall the waves of embarrassment and humiliation she’d felt when he’d dumped her over his shoulder in the bar and marched out to his car, heedless of her kicking and yelling.

As if that weren’t enough, despite promising her that, if she kept still, he wouldn’t give a full report to her parents, he’d gone ahead and ratted her out anyway. She’d gotten a long lecture about underage drinking and sex, been grounded for a month, and had her comings and goings forever questioned after that.

Aloud, she said, “I’d say you’re just as guilty as I am, Connor, of not learning lessons from the past. You’re still acting like my keeper when you’re not.”

He finally seemed to be pushed over the edge. “Dammit! Are you so stubborn that you won’t accept help even when you need it? When your life may be in danger?”

“Stubborn?” She tilted her head to the side. “Seems to me you could write a magnum opus on that subject.”

She started to brush past him but he grabbed her arms and forced her gaze to his. His expression was stormy, his brows drawn together and his lips compressed. “Stubborn, thickheaded…”

She braced her hands against his chest. “Likewise,” she retorted. They were practically nose to nose, and beneath the adrenaline pumping through her veins, a little thrill of excitement intruded at having finally shaken his control—his years-old control.

His head swooped down then, cutting off her gasp of surprise as he seized her lips in an angry kiss. His lips moved over hers with hard pressure, and, when she would have jerked away, his hand came up to the back of her head to anchor her in place.

“Mmm…!”

Back when she’d been seventeen, she’d often daydreamed about what it would be like to be kissed by Connor Rafferty. But none of the scenarios had been like this. He kissed the way he did everything: with a cocky confidence that took no prisoners.

When he finally pulled away, their breathing was rapid as their eyes met. His hazel ones held a challenge, as if he was daring her to make some flippant comment about what he’d done and what invisible line had been crossed.

Her mouth opened, but when his gaze shot downward and narrowed, she clamped her lips together again. The tense moment stretched between them. She was acutely aware of how close he was, of the leashed energy emanating from him.

And then, without knowing exactly how and why it happened, she was in his arms again and his lips were on hers in an instant and she was responding the way she used to dream about, except now she could do a little real-life comparison.

His lips, for one thing, were softer and smoother than they looked. They slid over hers, molding and caressing, coaxing a response. His hands didn’t roam, instead they exerted a subtle pressure between her shoulder blades and at the middle of her back.

He didn’t make a sound, but focused all his concentration on giving and receiving pleasure from the stroke of his lips against hers. Whereas his first kiss had been angry, this one seduced.

Her lips parted beneath his and his tongue slid inside her mouth to stroke against hers, inviting her to respond. The evening shadow that darkened his jaw was a rough caress against her soft skin.

He pulled her closer, flush up against him, as she was caught up in the rush of feeling that had burst between them.

She might have been able to chalk up the first kiss as a fluke, but this second kiss…well, Connor Rafferty was the best kisser behind the best lips she’d ever encountered—and that included Ben Thayer in high school, who’d read and mastered 100 Creative Kisses: Smooching with Confidence.

Also By Anna DePalo

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