Hard Justice(3)

By: Lori Foster

“If anything happens to her, we will hold you and the agency responsible.”

“Nothing will.”

Her father scowled. “Ms. Silver swears you’re capable.”

“That I am.” Though Justice spoke to her father, he didn’t look away from Fallon, and she shivered at the deepness of the voice that stroked over her skin like a warm caress.

“She also said you were a professional fighter,” her father continued.

“Was once,” Justice agreed. “I fought with the SBC, but I don’t compete anymore.”

“SBC?” her father asked.

“Supreme Battle Challenge. Best known fight organization there is.”

Ah, a fighter. Fallon gave him another quick glance. She supposed that explained the damaged ear, crook in his nose and the outrageous hairstyle. “Not a boxer,” she guessed.

“Mixed martial arts, so kicking, grappling, submissions, but yeah, I’m a pretty good boxer, too.” He jokingly threw a few shadow punches, then, with a glance at her dad, quickly sobered. “Not to brag or anything.”

With a critical eye, her father said, “Admittedly, you’re not what I expected.”

“You were looking for Rocky Balboa? The one in the later movies, not the first? He did get slick in the last few, huh? That’s not me, though. Never will be.”

Such an outpouring left her father stymied for a moment. “Well, my wife and Ms. Silver did suggest that you’d be able to blend in.”

Fallon remained on the last step—and still Justice towered over her. She smiled up at him. “That was my stipulation. That you be able to blend, I mean. I didn’t want a bodyguard to be super conspicuous. But seeing you now, I can’t imagine you blending in too easily.”

He crooked a brow. “Why not?”

“You’re rather large to blend.”

“Depends on where we go, right?” He took her elbow and very unnecessarily helped her down the last step. “Bar, club, steakhouse—no one will pay much attention to me. In this house?” He looked around as if a little put off by the grandeur. “Or a fancy party?” He rasped a big hand over his beard stubble. “I can shave, spiff up a little and force myself into a suit, but that still might not do the trick.”

Fallon couldn’t help but laugh; she found this bodyguard completely delightful. “Well, we’re lucky that there aren’t any parties scheduled.”

“Fallon,” her mother said, her expression curious and expectant. “Are you absolutely certain—”

“Yes and yes,” Fallon replied with enthusiasm, hoping to stem their concerns. Spinning around, she embraced her mother in a tight hug. “I’m very certain, Mother.” Next, she embraced her father. “Please don’t worry, Dad. It’s absolutely fine. I promise you.”

“What time will you be home?”

She smiled as she rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, Dad. I’m twenty-four, so I might just stay out all night.”

Appalled, her father again looked at the man. Her mother lifted her brows.

Wincing inwardly, Fallon glanced back and said, “That is, unless you have a—”

“I’m yours for the night. Keep me as late as you want.”

Everything he said sounded somehow more personal, even intimate. Or maybe that was just her male-deprived brain doing some wishful thinking.

Her smile quavered, but this was too important to turn chicken now. “Perfect. Then if you’re ready?”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Was born ready.” He swept a hand toward the door in a ridiculously gallant gesture. “Ladies first.”

Charmed, Fallon hitched her purse strap over her shoulder and started out. Normally she’d wear a coat, too, but late May in Ohio was unseasonably mild this year, even with the frequent rain.

And tonight she wanted to be different. Free.

Eventually, she wanted to be a woman, whole.

* * *

AFTER A QUICK glance at Mr. Wade, who remained stiff and horrified by the sight of him, and Mrs. Wade, who looked like she was waiting for him to perform tricks, Justice went out and pulled the door closed behind him. Whew. Glad to have some fresh air, he inhaled deeply and rolled his neck to relieve the vibrating tension.

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