In Safe HandsBy: Leslie North
The Safe House Series Book One
This was the last time Damian Stone would ever let Rockwell assign him a woman.
He studied the two figures at the nearby gas station, slid his thermos from his console, and took a fortifying swig of espresso. Twenty minutes had passed since his first scalding sip, and the caffeine had yet to rouse him from his morning haze. But the sight of Alexa Volkov’s crisp, white blouse shrink-wrapped against her cleavage was enough to raise a corpse from the dead.
Pure triple shot.
Admittedly, there had been no precedent before her. Damian’s past clients included a sweaty Wall-Street type with an appetite for sex trade cash, an informant that had turned state’s evidence against a high-profile New York senator, and a retired real estate mogul whose trophy wife had hired half of Jersey’s parolees to make his death look like an accident. In every instance, the guys were foul-mouthed, ball-scratching, abysmal excuses for human life that Damian would have given his dying breath to protect.
This woman? Damian would have surrendered his dying breath and every damned other involuntary drive to extract himself from her protection detail.
Two red flags skewered his instincts.
First red flag: her dossier. The text was more than half obscured. Rockwell’s thick, black boxes would have made the State Department proud. And the grainy, paper-clipped photo of the blond may as well have been a police sketch from a drunk eye witness.
Damian had nothing to go on. Less than nothing.
Second red flag: Goddamn, but she was beautiful. Distractingly beautiful. Throw-a-top-security-agent-off-his-game beautiful.
Volkov's escort leaned against the company’s unmarked sedan, looking damn obvious—dressed all in black and wearing a pair of expensive shades. The man looked like he had been trained on a Hollywood set and released out into the wild in full wardrobe. He certainly didn't look like someone casually passing through Wyoming at dawn.
Damian made a mental note to have a word with Rockwell about some of the newer trainees.
Volkov wasn't doing much to improve her cover, either. Her stiletto heels peeked from beneath an expensive, wide-legged pantsuit; and despite a coat more inclined to fashion than function in the Rocky Mountains, a sleek belt at her waist amplified her shapely curves. But what most women aspired to, Volkov achieved effortlessly: long, lithe figure; wide-set, exotic eyes, straight blond hair pulled back into a high ponytail.
One glance at Alexa Volkov was like taking a blow to the head. The spark behind your eyes that kept you company when someone laid you out on the training floor at the police academy.
Damian allowed himself a moment to feel dizzy. Then he got out of his car.
The woman didn't shrink as Damian approached, though her slender arms fidgeted. He wondered what she was contemplating more—his nondescript outfit, or his towering, decidedly descript build. He didn't blame her for looking uncertainly to her escort for a confirmation of Damian's identity.
"Stone," said the man in black.
Damian took ownership of the name with a slight nod. He flashed the escort his credentials, but his focus never veered from Alexa’s stare. Eye contact was the first non-verbal to gaining her trust. Her Nordic-blue eyes, as breathtaking as the rest of her at close proximity, tightened to a glare.
Her escort took the hint and departed without further comment.
"You're a cop," she said. It wasn't a question.
"Retired," he acknowledged.
"You don't walk like you're retired."
She was observant, then, as well as being a knock-out. Damian wondered how her defenses would impact their shared situation. He had been on the receiving end of that mistrustful look a time or two before when he still wore the uniform.
"Why don't we get some coffee?" he redirected. "Have you eaten anything?"
"Shouldn't we be heading out? I mean, isn't it dangerous, now that I'm…?"
"You're with me."
Volkov’s perfectly-shaped eyebrows twisted in a not-so-perfect fashion, no doubt her brain working to process his meaning. He had used the statement to calm skittish clients before, but the words hadn’t struck him as odd until they left his lips in the presence of a beautiful woman.
"What I mean to say is that you're safe, Miss Volkov. You can trust me to make decisions. Patronizing the diner will make our visit to the premises less suspicious."