Princess Bridget vonAscheberg of Eldorra would be the death of me. If not literal death, then the death of my patience and sanity. Of that, I was certain, and we’d only been working together for two weeks.
I’d never had a client who infuriated me as much as she did. Sure, she was beautiful (not a good thing when you were in my position) and charming (to everyone except me), but she was also a royal pain in my ass. When I said “right,” she went left; when I said “leave,” she stayed. She insisted on spontaneously attending crowded events before I could do the advance work, and she treated my security concerns like they were an afterthought instead of an emergency.
Bridget said that was the way things had worked with Booth, and she’d been fine. I said I wasn’t Booth, so I didn’t give a damn what she did or didn’t do when she was with him. I ran the show now.
She didn’t take that well, but I didn’t give a shit. I wasn’t here to win Mr. Congeniality. I was here to keep her alive.
Tonight, “here” meant the most crowded bar in Hazelburg. Half of Thayer had turned out for The Crypt’s Friday night half-off specials, and I was sure the bar was over max capacity.
Loud music, loud people. My least favorite kind of place and, apparently, Bridget’s most favorite, considering how vehement she’d been about coming here.
“So.” Her redheaded friend Jules eyed me over the rim of her glass. “You were a Navy SEAL, huh?”
“Yes.” I wasn’t fooled by her flirty tone or party girl demeanor. I’d run in-depth background checks on all of Bridget’s friends the moment I took the job, and I knew for a fact Jules Ambrose was more dangerous than she appeared. But she didn’t pose a threat to Bridget, so I didn’t mention what she did in Ohio. It wasn’t my story to tell.
“I love military men,” she purred.
“Ex-military, J.” Bridget didn’t look at me as she finished her drink. “Besides, he’s too old for you.”
That was one of the few things I agreed with her on. I was only thirty-one, so I wasn’t ancient by any means, but I’d done and witnessed enough shit in my life to feel ancient, especially compared to fresh-faced college students who hadn’t even had their first real job yet.
I’d never been fresh-faced, not even when I was a kid. I grew up in dirt and grit.
Meanwhile, Bridget sat across from me, looking like the fairytale princess she was. Big blue eyes and lush pink lips set in a heart-shaped face, perfect alabaster skin, golden hair falling in loose waves down her back. Her black top bared her smooth shoulders, and tiny diamonds glittered on her ears.
Young, rich, and regal. The opposite of me in every way.
“Negative. I love older men.” Jules upped the wattage of her smile as she gave me another once-over. “And you’re hot.”
I didn’t smile back. I wasn’t dumb enough to get involved with a client’s friend. I already had my hands full with Bridget.
“Leave the man alone.” Stella laughed. Fashion design and communications major. Daughter of an environmental lawyer and the chief of staff to a cabinet secretary. Social media star. My brain ticked off all the things I knew about her as she snapped a photo of her cocktail before taking a sip. “Find someone your own age.”
“Guys my age are boring. I’d know. I dated a bunch of them.” Jules nudged Ava, the last member of Bridget’s close friend group. Aside from Jules’s inappropriate come-ons, they were a decent bunch. Certainly better than the friends of the Hollywood starlet I’d guarded for three excruciating months, during which I saw more “accidental” genital flashings than I’d thought I would ever see in my life. “Speaking of older men, where’s your boo?”
Ava blushed. “He can’t make it. He has a conference call with some business partners in Japan.”
“Oh, he’ll make it,” Jules drawled. “You in a bar, surrounded by drunken, horny college guys? I’m surprised he hasn’t—ah. Speak of the devil. There he is.”
I followed her gaze to where a tall, dark-haired man cut a path through the crowd of said drunken, horny college guys.
Green eyes, tailored designer clothing, and an icy expression that made the frozen tundra of Greenland look like tropical islands.
I knew the name and reputation, even if I didn’t know him personally. He was a legend in certain circles.
The de facto CEO of the country’s largest real estate development company, Alex had enough connections and blackmail material to bring down half of Congress and the Fortune 500.
I didn’t trust him, but he was dating one of Bridget’s best friends, which meant his presence was unavoidable.
Ava’s face lit up when she saw him. “Alex! I thought you had a business call.”
“The call wrapped up early, so I thought I’d swing by.” He brushed his lips over hers.
“I love when I’m right, which is almost always.” Jules shot Alex a sly glance. “Alex Volkov in a college bar? Never thought I’d see the day.”
He ignored her.
The music changed from low-key R&B to a remix of the latest radio hit, and the bar went wild. Jules and Stella scrambled out of their seats to hit the dance floor, followed by Bridget, but Ava stayed put.
“You guys go. I’ll stay here.” She yawned. “I’m kinda tired.”
Jules looked horrified. “It’s only eleven!” She turned to me. “Rhys, dance with us. You have to make up for this…blasphemy.” She gestured at where Ava was curled into Alex’s side while he wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders. Ava made a face; Alex’s expression didn’t so much as budge. I’d seen blocks of ice show more emotion than him.
I remained seated. “I don’t dance.”
“You don’t dance. Alex doesn’t sing. Aren’t you two a bundle of joy,” Jules grumbled. “Bridge, do something.”
Bridget glanced at me before looking away. “He’s working. Come on,” she teased. “Aren’t Stella and I enough?”
Jules let out an aggrieved sigh. “I suppose. Way to guilt-trip me.”
“I learned the subtle art of guilt-tripping in princess school.” Bridget pulled her friends onto the dance floor. “Let’s go.”
To no one’s surprise, Ava and Alex called it a night soon after, and I sat at the table by myself, keeping half an eye on the girls and the other half on the rest of the bar. At least, I tried. My gaze strayed back to Bridget and Bridget alone more often than I’d like, and not just because she was my client.
I’d known she would be trouble the minute Christian told me about my new assignment. Told, not asked, because Christian Harper dealt in orders, not requests. But we had enough of a history I could’ve turned down the assignment had I wanted to—and I’d really fucking wanted to. Me guarding the Princess of Eldorra when I wanted nothing to do with Eldorra? Worst idea in the history of bad ideas.
Then I’d looked at the picture of Bridget and saw something in her eyes that tugged at me. Maybe it was the hint of loneliness or the vulnerability she tried to hide. Whatever it was, it was enough for me to say yes, albeit reluctantly.
Now here I was, stuck with a charge who barely tolerated me, and vice versa.