The sight of the large if gorgeous man on her porch when she was heading out for her run scared the snot out of her, and Aimee leaned her whole body into the door and tried to slam it shut.
His booted foot stopped her efforts. Not just a booted foot, she noted a bit wildly, a massive booted foot, the leather showing nicks, bumps, and bruises from years of hard work.
Crap, crap, crap.
Her heart slammed into overdrive.
“Trace Romero,” the man said, pushing back against the door.
A potential bad guy wouldn't introduce himself, would he? What the heck did she know, beyond a few spy movies? Her sister was the one with a gun; Aimee was the nerd with the iPod, ponytail, workout gear, and a scientific mind that rarely shut down.
“I'm with Hawkeye. Your sister sent me.”
Her breath whooshed out.
If he was from Hawkeye and knew her sister, she should feel relieved. After all, she too worked for Hawkeye, Inc., one of the world's most exclusive security firms. As the world changed, became more global, more dangerous, there were more resources that needed protecting--celebs, corporate barons, and their family members. And there were areas in which the military wasn't authorized to operate.
Since its mission was to keep the planet and its inhabitants safe, Hawkeye added employees by the dozens every month, and its hiring rate showed no signs of slowing down. Aimee guessed this man was probably former military or a former cop, but that didn't matter to her.
She had no intention of letting any man, even one who looked like Trace Romero--especially
one who looked like Trace Romero, tall, dark, and dangerous--inside her house.
She cursed herself for having called her sister in a panic. It was just like her protective older sibling to call out the cavalry. “You can tell her you were here and I sent you away. Mission accomplished.”
“If I don't answer your phone when she calls, I might as well turn in my resignation and throw myself off Pikes Peak, save her the effort of hunting down my sorry carcass.”
Aimee's running shoes slipped as he pushed on the door. For all the success her efforts were having at keeping him out, she might as well be trying to hold back a Colorado blizzard.
Maybe she couldn't beat him when it came to brute strength, but she could batter his ego and get under his defenses. “I can't believe a big, strong man is frightened of my sister!”
“Scared shitless,” he admitted.
“Damn.” She groaned. His ego was intact enough not to rise to her bait.
She heard him draw in a breath before he said, “We can do it my way, Aimee.” He paused for a couple of beats, then added, “Or we can do it my way.”
Through the small opening, she saw him move inexorably forward.
She hated having people in her space. It was bad enough sharing the fifteen hundred square feet with an obnoxious parrot that never shut up, but she refused to share with someone who would touch her stuff, eat her food, discover her secrets…
He'd been in her life less than thirty seconds, and he'd already interrupted her run, throwing off her routine. Unless she was so focused on her work that the rest of the world ceased to exist, she kept a rigid schedule.
The brute of a man budged her back another few inches. “You can stop the Big Bad Wolf act anytime,” she said. But a panicky little part of her was afraid it wasn't an act at all.
“Step away from the door, and I will.”
So maybe she didn't carry a gun and act all tough-ass, but she'd learned a few things from listening to her sister. If you can't go through, go around. “Okay. You win.”
He stopped pushing. She counted to two. When he let down his guard, she grunted and then shoved forward with every scrap of irritation she could summon.
But her pissed-off best wasn't good enough.
His foot was still firmly lodged in the entrance.
Within seconds, he filled the space.
Good God, he was big. Bigger than big.
Instinctively she took a protective step back. No matter how mad she was, she would never be able to win against this man.
He dominated the space and sucked up the air she'd been intending to breathe. He stood well over six feet tall, and his shoulders almost filled the entire width of the opening. Faded blue jeans snuggled his hips, and a well-worn navy T-shirt hugged his torso.
She, who rarely got flustered, just stood there and blinked. He made her oh so aware of being a woman. In her shorts and sports bra, she felt small, vulnerable, while he was spectacular, from his angular cheekbones to his military-precision black haircut and rich, deep brown eyes. His skin was dark, emphasizing his Spanish heritage, and it might have been a shade or two richer for being in the sun. Damn, she was always a sucker for men who looked like him.
But before her mind could race off, she became hyperconscious of the set of his jaw. It brooked no argument, and intuitively she knew this man spelled danger to her.
She wondered if he would continue to stand in the entrance and argue with her, but he didn't. He grabbed her by the shoulders, unceremoniously moved her back a foot, then released her long enough to turn, slam the door, turn both locks, and slide the safety latch across…all before she could even draw a protesting breath.
“My way,” he reminded her.
From the other room, Eureka squawked.
“What the hell is that racket?”
She should probably tell him about her attack parrot, but it would be a heck of a lot more fun for him to find out himself; well, fun for her, if not him. “It's a bird.”
“Inside? A pet?”
“He owns me,” she said, as if that said it all. When it came to Eureka, it did.
“Anything else I need to know about?”
That was a loaded question. “How much do you know?” Surely her sister had left her some
He raised his eyebrows. “How much is there to know?” he countered.
“I'm pretty boring.”
“That's why someone broke in?”
“It was probably a random thing. Kids.” She wished. Hoped. But she knew better. She'd dashed out for her morning coffee, extra-large vanilla soy latte, and come straight back. She hadn't been gone even half an hour.
When she returned, the back patio door was open, and the only place anything had been disturbed was her home office. Her electronics were still in place; none of her jewelry was missing. Even her emergency stash of twenty-dollar bills remained untouched in her dresser drawer.
“The local police said there have been no other reported break-ins.”
Which brought her back to her original question. How much did he know?
Surely her sister hadn't told him what, exactly, she was working on. And as for the other--her deep, dark secret--please God, don't let him find out about that.
“I understand nothing was taken?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Which means it wasn't a random thing, and you and Ms. Inamorata know it. Want to show me around?”
“No. Not really,” she said, not even trying to disarm her words with a smile.
“My way,” he said again. “You can show me, or I can look myself.”
“There's not much to see. My bedroom, which you're not going into, my office, which you're not going into, my kitchen, dining room, two bathrooms, and my living room…which you're standing in. That's it. You can go now.”
He took another step toward her.
Damn if he didn't look as good as he smelled, like a cool Colorado breeze and the spice of night.
Reluctantly she ceded the ground; just as fast, she regretted her action. Instead of remaining where he was, Trace took another step in her direction. This time she forced herself to stand still. She crossed her arms across her bare midriff, fighting the natural instinct to get the hell away from him.
“I will be going into your bedroom and your office. I'll show myself around.”
Arguing with him was like trying to turn back a tornado. “Fine,” she said with false bravado. “In that case, I'll just go for my run while you have a look-see.” She started to brush past him. He grabbed her wrist, not hard but firmly enough to say he meant business.
“You run, I run.”
“Me Tarzan, you Jane,” she snapped.
“That's the natural order of things,” he said.
She rolled her eyes, but her heart was pounding, at least 80 percent of her target heart rate. She wouldn't need a cardio workout if he stayed under her roof another five minutes. His touch bothered her. His aggressive style bothered her. But what bothered her most was her own, way-too-feminine reaction to him. “You're interrupting my schedule, Mr. Romero…Agent Romero. Whatever your name is.”
“You won't be here long enough for us to get that familiar.”
“Don't count on it.”
She snatched her hand back from his grip. “Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do--”
“What I've been ordered
to do,” he said.
“But my sister overreacted, probably because I
“Why would someone break in?”
She frowned. There wasn't a good answer to that question.
“Your sister is the least likely person I know to overreact,” he said, his voice more patient than she'd heard it so far. “If she thinks someone should be here to protect your body and your secrets”--his glance started at her head and slowly traveled downward, igniting too-long-dormant senses--“then I'm going to be here for as long as she says.”
“The police said they'd be happy to drive by.”
“Periodically,” he agreed. “But they're not going to provide the kind of protection I can.”
“Show me around,” he said.
She sighed. “Can I finish a sentence?”
“Depends whether you're going to agree with me or not.” He grinned then, and strange things happened to her insides.
“Just for the record,” he continued, “there are other ways to shut you up. Who knows?” He leaned in a bit closer. “You might enjoy them. I would.”
Her heart increased its tempo to at least 85 percent of her target heart rate. She told herself he wouldn't kiss her, told herself she wouldn't let him if he tried.
The phone rang, thankfully shattering the moment.
“That'll be your sister, for me.”