a standalone romantic suspense

FOUR novellas in one volume (Gia, Hunter, Julian, Jarrod)

(the story continues in each novella)


Prologue ~ Jarrod

Barging into the large foyer of my home, fear creeps up my spine. I glance up the stairs and shout, “Gia,” unable to keep the distress out of my voice.

Leaving the front door wide open, I take the stairs two at a time in one hell of a rush to get to my daughter’s bedroom.

Thirty minutes ago, a call on my private line at my judge’s chambers has sent me running home to check on Gia, who isn’t answering her cell. I’ve no idea if she’s being stubborn after we’d had a few choice words before I left for work five hours before or if she can’t. The thought causes my breath to catch in my lungs at what could be happening to my Gia.

The caller was very specific about what he intended to do to Gia when he got his hands on her. There were no if’s—just when.

“Gia, goddammit.”

As I rush down the landing toward Gia’s room, one thing that I haven’t realized on my mad dash is how quiet the house is. The house is never so silent. There is always someone here. My housekeeper never misses anyone coming up the drive and will always be at the door by the time they arrive—but not today.

The hairs on the back of my neck prickle with unease as I stand facing my daughter’s bedroom, a cold sweat breaking out on my forehead. I should have called the police as soon as the call had ended, but I’d just wanted to get home to make sure that Gia was okay.

About to face my fear, the samurai swords on the wall catch my eye. Without making a sound, I manage to retrieve one from the grip holding it to the wall and unsheathe the blade. Any weapon will be better than none at all.

Taking hold of the doorknob, I push the door open.

For a split second I freeze at the scene before me. My daughter isn’t slaughtered, but she’s sitting on her bedroom floor, bound and gagged, eyes panicked with a piece of paper attached to the front of the rope—until next time

Chapter One ~ Hunter

“Hunter, I really need this favor and you’re the only one I trust with this.” Colin paces back and forth in his office as I watch him through narrowed lids. He keeps trying to explain to me why he needs me to do the protection gig. But in the past thirty minutes that he’s been talking he hasn’t once told me the real reason that he wants me specifically. I’m more used to undercover work than that of bodyguard and Colin knows this. As well as he knows my right eye twitches when I’m pissed, which it’s doing right now.

“I still don’t get why me? You trust any of us out there to have your back so why trust only me with this assignment? You’re not making any sense. And I’m not going in somewhere without knowing everything.”

As I listen to my boss go on and on about the favor he needs from me the unease in my stomach has started to grow. Colin has been avoiding the issue and has circled around the truth about this assignment. It isn’t like him, he’s usually upfront about the details. This is going to stop. There is no way I’m going to say yes until I have all of the information. I’ve never known him to be so fucking evasive.

“Fuck,” Colin says dropping his ass into the chair behind him. “The protection is for a friend’s daughter.” He runs his hands through his hair before he finally meets my stare. “He’s a Judge. Jarrod Carrington.” He sighs. “I’ve known him since college. He’s a good man and the only person I’d consider asking a personal favor for.” He pauses until the importance of that hits me. “The only family he has is his twenty-two year old daughter, Gia. He found her bound and gagged in her bedroom yesterday with a note pinned to her chest saying “until next time.” As you can imagine, she was pretty badly shaken and so was Jarrod. He isn’t working any big cases right now so he has no idea where this threat is coming from. But he’s terrified that they’re going to come back for Gia, and that’s where I need you to come in.”

A babysitting gig.

I’m not sure I want to be sent to babysit someone’s daughter, but I know I won’t be able to refuse. And so does Colin. He’d worked with me out in the field for years before a bullet to his leg put him behind the desk where he’s currently sitting.

“When do I leave?” I sigh with impatience. We both know I don’t have a choice in this. Colin wouldn’t have asked me if he thought the cops could handle it.

“Now.” He smirks and I curse him silently for knowing me too well. He passes me a file. “I’ve added some brief notes about Jarrod and his daughter as well as their address. Her father has managed to convince her it was a random act, although he doesn’t believe that. Jarrod felt this was very personal.”

“You’re kidding me?” I laugh. “Of course it’s very personal. You don’t get much more personal than leaving a message through the one thing the guy loves the most.” I shake my head wondering what the hell I’ve just gotten myself into.

My gut is telling me that there’s something more to this case, but what, is anyone’s guess. I know Colin and I know he’s told me as much as he knows, which is basically nothing.

All kinds of thoughts are running through my head as I flit through the file Colin has given me. What if the attack has nothing to do with Jarrod and everything to do with his daughter? Sometimes these things weren’t always as they first appear, and even though I haven’t met Jarrod and Gia Carrington, but call it a gut feeling because something just doesn’t add up.

Hopefully by the time I arrive one of them will feel like talking and give me something more to go on than just a note.

“What about her mother? There’s no mention of her in here,” I suddenly ask, looking up at Colin.

“She died giving birth to Gia. And before you ask Jarrod and Louisa dated briefly in college and had broken up when he’d discovered she was carrying his child. Even though we were only kids he wanted to do the right thing so he moved Louisa in with us. We shared an apartment, and I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but she was a raving bitch and made both our lives a living hell while she was there.” He reclines in his seat before he continues, “Jarrod, I think was close to finding her somewhere else to live when she went into premature labor. We managed to get her to the hospital but they couldn’t stop the bleeding. Jarrod lived with a lot of guilt over her death. He loved Gia from the moment he saw her. We both did. I’m her godfather and she has us both wrapped around her little finger.” Colin smiles and clears his throat before his eyes narrow. “So that being said just remember you’re there as her bodyguard and although this is off record as a favor to me the same rules apply—you hearing me?”

For once I’m not quick enough to hide my shock and Colin’s smile turns smug. Never in my years as a US Marshal have I broken the rules. At least the ones that state any kind of relationship between a Marshal and anyone involved in a case are strictly prohibited. Other rules maybe—but what the fuck!

“I’m hearing you. But did I need to?” I question.

“You don’t know Gia, but in all honesty you’re the only one I know who won’t take advantage of her. She’s a beauty and she doesn’t have a problem using that to get what she wants. Just remember to use the brain in your head and you’ll survive. You better get a move on.”

And with that I’m dismissed as Colin starts to shuffle the paperwork around on his desk. I hesitate, wanting more information but there isn’t any point, I’ll learn more when I get there.

As I make my way out of the building, the unease I was feeling while I listened to my boss has lingered. My gut has saved my life on more than one occasion and this time it’s telling me that something is off.

Having left my bike at home, I settle into the back of a cab, and start reading the file on Jacob Carrington and his daughter more thoroughly than I did back at the office. And this time, I open the flap with their photographs pinned to the back.

I whistle softly to myself.

Gia Carrington is one gorgeous babe with her dark, bouncy curls resting over her shoulders twisting down to her breasts. Her bright blue eyes sparkle with a hint of defiance. Breathtaking is an understatement but it’s that sparkle in her eyes that has, not only my stomach flipping but a twitch in my jeans. Both of the feelings are making me damn uncomfortable.

Even without Colin’s warning, I’ll be keeping my zipper fastened. Never in my ten years with the Marshals office have I broken the no touch rule. I’ve broken other rules—some more times than I’d care to admit—but the no touch one I’ve stuck to. I also know I’ve found it easier sticking to that rule because my usual assignments tend to veer toward the drug and human trafficking trade more than anything else.

Pulling myself out of my dark thoughts, I glance at the picture of Jarrod and come up short. Flicking back through the file for Jarrod’s details, I realize he is only seven years older than me, which makes him forty-two. I should have realized he’d be young, but when I’d heard Jarrod was a judge, I’d automatically presumed he would be someone older. I’m obviously wrong and I just hope he agrees to how I think his daughter needs protecting. I never do anything half-assed and if I’m going to be protecting Gia then any changes I make will be happening, and it will be a lot easier on my part if I have free reign.

After paying the cab driver, I climb out at my apartment building while palming my phone. It might be wise to have some back up with me. Dialing, I hope Julian is still state side.