Rosie checked the apartment and called the all clear before they let Sam enter. They’d been monitoring the hallway since they’d arrived that afternoon and knew exactly who was home and who wasn’t but she wasn’t going to take any chances. They’d coordinated with the Hauberk Security guards manning the front desk and had descriptions of all the regular tenants. Plus, while Kris and Andy were installing the extra hallway cameras, they’d discovered a high-pitched yapping down at 1206 started anytime someone opened a door, loud enough that they would have heard it even if someone hadn’t been monitoring the cameras. The sensors on the terrace doors showed no breech, so they would—should—know if someone had scaled the wall or climbed in from another apartment. But even so, it was her job to make sure the perimeter hadn’t been breeched and no one was laying in wait inside the apartment. She’d be damned if she’d slack off when her boss was watching.
Once she’d given the all-clear, Sam walked into the living room and shrugged off his jacket. He tossed it over the back of one of the leather couches. She tried to inhale a lungful of air filled with his scent without him noticing. God, just being in the same room had her wanting to rip her clothes off and jump him.
When he realized she’d shut the door with her still inside, he frowned. “You don’t have to stay with me. I don’t need a babysitter, Ms. Ramos.”
“Until we discover who’s making the threats, I want someone with you twenty-four/seven. Besides, Chad gave me orders to stick to you like glue.”
A flash of his eyes told her he wished he could countermand his second’s order, but his clamped jaw told her he’d swallowed his objection. God keep her from men who thought they were bulletproof.
He headed toward the kitchen she’d scoped out earlier. She couldn’t help but be impressed by the granite counters, the cherry wood cabinets and the gleaming stainless steel appliances.
“You want a beer?” He opened the fridge and stared. “What the…? You didn’t have to shop for me.”
“Aside from a six-pack of Heineken, the fridge only contained a hunk of moldy cheddar and a half dozen boxes of take-out Chinese that were about to sprout legs and walk out on their own. I figured if we wanted to eat, I’d better order some groceries.” Not to mention she’d thrown anything out that had been opened in case the prowler had tampered with them. The right poison could kill him as efficiently as any bullet.
He poked through the Sub Zero. “Chicken, cold cuts…hey, you bought pecan pie. How’d you know that was my favorite?”
She shrugged, wondering at the warm and fuzzy feeling creeping through her. “Lucky guess.”
“Thank you.” He lifted her hand and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. The fleeting touch zapped the warm and fuzzies to scorching flames.
There was a look on his face she couldn’t quite fathom. A hungriness—not for the food she’d put in his refrigerator, but for her. It left her both excited and unnerved.
“F-for someone who has a kitchen as big as most people’s apartments, and appliances my mother could only dream of, you sure don’t look like you make use of it.” Ay bendito, he’d actually made her stutter.
“It’s sort of wasted on me. Unless I have someone to cook for that is. I make a mean Chicken Creole for two.” He removed a Heineken and cracked it open. “So how come you’re the one babysittin’ me tonight, and not Walters or Campbell?”
He lifted the beer and sipped then lowered the bottle and stared at her, frowning. “Tell me you didn’t agree to play a game of poker to determine who got stuck with me.”
Sam chuckled. “He sure does—I lost almost two thousand to him before I twigged to his game. That boy’s slicker than owl sh—droppings.”
“I was lucky. When I first joined Hauberk up in New York, Rick Sparks taught me how to spot someone cheating. So I caught Andy dealing from the bottom on the second hand we played. I’ve never trusted him with a deck of cards since.”
“Yeah, Rick’s pretty slick too.” He placed the beer bottle on the counter, turned it in precise quarter turns. “But you never did tell me how you ended up with the short straw tonight?”
“We figured it might raise some eyebrows if people found him sharing the apartment with you. Easier to explain a woman coming and going in your apartment than a man.”
At least that’s what she thought Andy had said, but he’d managed to twist and turn the conversation around in such a convoluted path, she wasn’t entirely sure what his point had been. She’d given in because she knew Kris was still concerned about his joke about her checking the mail and wouldn’t want to face Sam just yet. From the way her panties were starting to soak she already knew that she’d made a mistake in agreeing to stay in the same apartment with him. She’d go to sleep smelling the cologne that subtly permeated the sheets knowing the only thing separating her from him in that custom made bed of his was two thin sheets of drywall and a couple of metal two by fours. That and her willpower. Which was threatening to take up sleepwalking.
She realized he was talking and forced herself to focus. “—day and age, I don’t think many people blink at two guys sharing an apartment.” He lifted the beer then paused and frowned. “You sure you don’t want a beer?”
Rosie leaned her hip against the counter and decided to deliberately put some space between them, mentally if not physically. “You know, earlier today Kris wondered if maybe you were trying out some new form of employee evaluation. Is he right? Because frankly, if this is all your idea of a test, I find your methods insulting.”
“What makes you think it might be?”
“Drinking is against the rules for an operative protecting their principal. Yet you deliberately offered me a beer—twice.”
“It’s not a test. I was trying to be hospitable—it’s how my momma raised me. My daddy taught me to look after myself—which is why having you—anyone—babysit me while they’re waiting around for someone to try to take a potshot at me sticks in my craw.”
“That’s precisely what Hauberk hired me to do. It’s understood that we’re agreeing to protect our principals by whatever means necessary.”
“Yeah, well…if it comes down to taking a bullet for me, don’t.”
“I’m supposed to let them shoot Hauberk’s owner and president?” She crossed her arms and waited for him to answer.
He lifted the bottle to his lips and hesitated, his gaze dropping down to her cleavage and the three buttons she’d left undone.
He muttered something under his breath that sounded rather like “death of him” but she couldn’t be sure. Her theory about him having a death wish started niggling again. Had he done something he was ashamed of? Did he feel he deserved a bullet for whatever he’d done?
“How will you protect me if you’re dead?” he demanded. “I’m not the president with over two hundred agents who can jump in if one falls. If someone shoots me, you’ll follow standard Hauberk procedure—keep yourself safe, and get me the hell out of Dodge. You can get me medical care once you’re clear of any danger.” He finished his beer and stashed the empty bottle in a bin under the sink then stalked out to the living room.
Once he’d flipped on the large flat screen to a football game, she knew it was time to change tactics. She wandered around the apartment, waiting for a commercial break before picking up a picture of a woman with similar golden skin and high cheekbones. She already knew who it was, she’d been through his file, but wanted to keep him relaxed. Hoping to project a casual manner, she asked, “She’s pretty, who is she?”
“That’s my little sister, Sarah.” His defensiveness dropped, pride filling his voice. “She graduated medical school last year and is doin’ her residency in Atlanta.”
“And this lady?” She picked up the picture of a Hawaiian woman in traditional Hawaiian garb with dark hair and high cheekbones, and Sam’s beautiful smile.
“That’s my momma.” His entire face softened as he looked at the picture. “After Pop died, she moved back to Hawaii.” His brow creased. “If she calls, don’t tell her that you’re here to protect me, all right?”
“She’ll get upset?”
Sam snorted. “More likely she’ll get on a plane and come here to try to run the detail herself. She was a nurse with the Army—served in ’Nam for two tours—that’s where she met Pop. I swear she’s a mind reader because you can’t get away with anything when she’s around.”
The next picture was one of Mrs. Watson and a small boy with a full head of black curls. Before she could ask, Sam sneered. “Yeah, that’s me. And if you say how cute I was, I’ll kick you out.”
“I won’t.” But she wanted to.
He ran a hand over his stubble. “And don’t tell me you’d like me to grow it out because I’m tall enough as it is without lookin’ like someone parked a goddamned poodle on my head.”
Rosie couldn’t help but laugh as she moved along the mantel and picked up the next picture. Sam in leather pants and motorcycle jacket, standing by a black and chrome Harley, the Washington Monument in the background. It was the look of adoration on his face as he smiled at a curvy redhead wrapped up in his arms that had caught Rosie’s attention when she’d first seen the picture earlier that day.
“That’s Jill Hoskins.” A bleak look crossed his face as he turned his head to stare out the window. “She died two weeks after that picture was taken.”
Carefully setting the picture back on the mantel, Rosie murmured, “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah. So am I,” he replied even quieter, one of his hands rubbing idly at his chest. After a moment, he hit the remote and unmuted the television, focusing on the scrimmage instead.
She waited until halftime before speaking again. “Has Chad told you about Troy loaning us one of his operatives to help out?”
“Yeah, Scott Phillips.” Sam’s scowl and something that sounded like it would be a particularly filthy curse in what might have been German. “If anyone should be on vacation, it’s Scott. Instead Troy sics him on me. Do him a favor—give him a pile of files to check out or something. Keep him busy, will ya? He sits around with nothin’ to do, he’ll drive himself crazy second-guessing himself.”
Without another word, he stalked from the kitchen and headed down the hall to his bedroom. Obviously she needed to take a look at Phillips’ file herself and find out why he deserved a vacation. A burnt out operative definitely wouldn’t help protect Sam.
Thirty minutes later, a rhythmic noise had her peeking around the door. Wearing only a pair of shorts, Sam was working out on a rowing machine. His shoulder muscles rippled and his thighs bulged as he hauled on the pulley. Rosie stood in the doorway, entranced by a bead of sweat as it rolled down his forehead and slid down his neck.
He’s your boss, her conscience hissed. She fled to the safety of the living room, wondering if she was fleeing Sam, or the strength of her desire.