He was, of course, right behind me.

“Do you sleep?” I cast a glance over my shoulder. Pain in the ass or not, he was pretty to look at, with short black hair and a broad face. Gray green eyes with smile lines around them, though he couldn’t have been over twenty. Maybe not shredded, but strong. His body had presence. “I only ask because you’ve been here constantly. For three days. Don’t you ever need to eat? How about pee?”


His lips twitched and I thought I’d won a smile, but he cut it off before it could bloom. I made sure to put a little swing in my step when I turned around to go upstairs.

He sighed and followed.

At the top, I spun around and caught him off guard. He grabbed at the curved banister to keep his balance. “Tell me something,” I said. “Anything. I’ll even settle for your name.”

Stoic stance. No facial expression.

“Is my father paying you a crap ton of money not to talk or what?”

Now he focused on something behind me instead of me and leaned forward like he was ready to take another step.

I was all hands on hips, blocking his way. “Talk to me. About anything. The NFL? The NBA? Heck, the WWE?”

From the way his mouth shaped itself, I thought he could be biting the inside of his lower lip to keep from laughing.

“Have you been lobotomized?” I spoke slowly, with perfect enunciation, and mimicked sawing my own head open.

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He gave his head a slight shake and stared at the floor. This time he couldn’t stop the smile.


“Look at that,” I said. “Signs of intelligent life.”

Maybe his brain muscle was as well developed as the rest of them.

“Are you going to your room,” he asked, “or back downstairs?”

“He has a voice!” A deep one. “Wherever you’ll follow. That’s where.”

“I’m your bodyguard,” he said in a monotone. “I have to follow you.”

“To the ends of the earth.”

“Your room or back downstairs?” he repeated.

In one quick movement, I reached up and pulled off his earpiece. It slapped down against his chest. “Turn it off.”

He clicked a button, and the green indicator light switched to red.

“I’m staying right here. You’re going to talk to me,” I said.

The downstairs door slammed shut. We both jumped, and his whole body tensed.

“Hallie?” Dad barked out the question.

“I’m here.”

“Come down.” Most everything Paul Girard said was a demand.

I didn’t budge. “I just finished class, and I’m still in my robe.”

“There’s a guard with you?”

“Yeah. The new one who looks like a linebacker and stares at me while still managing to avoid direct eye contact.”

He made it now. His grayish green peepers locked on to mine. The potential of disapproval from my father made him respond more quickly than any of my feminine posturing. I’d have to remember that.

Dad answered after a few seconds of silence. “I’ll be waiting in the library.”

“Library. Right.”

Dad’s fancy Italian loafers slapped across the hardwood floor. The sound echoed up the stairwell.

Once it disappeared, I stared at the male specimen in front of me. “Talk, or I’m not moving. I’m going to stand here until my dad comes looking for me. When he does, I’m going to untie my robe and back away from you like we’ve been doing something inappropriate. And just so you know, there’s nothing under this silk but skin.”

His Adam’s apple convulsed in his throat.

“There’s only one thing you can do to make me go in my room, put on my clothes, and get my fine ass to Daddy’s office.”


“Tell me your name.” I smiled. “That’s all. Just your name.”

The words came out so softly I couldn’t hear him. I leaned in close and he made a strangled noise.

“Repeat that, please?”

“Junior. Ta’ala. But everyone calls me Dune.”

“Where are you from, Dune?”

“I thought I only had to tell you my name.”

I pulled at the tie of my robe, loosening the knot. It had been way too long since I’d had someone to amuse me, and I planned on taking full advantage.

“Samoa,” he said in a rush.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Island in the South Pacific? Similar to Hawaii in landscape but less touristy?”

“I know where Samoa is,” I said. “So you’re Polynesian?”

“Afatasi. Half. My mom’s from New Zealand.”

“How did you end up here?”

“I needed a job, and I had to do something with … this.” He looked very confused as he gestured to his big body.

My smile was slightly predatory. I had some ideas about what he could do with it.

“Are we done?” he asked, regaining composure. “You need to get to your father’s library.”

“We’re done. For now.”

I let the robe fall off my shoulders, making sure Dune saw a good bit of back before I closed the door to my room. Call me hard up for entertainment, but getting him fired was going to be fun.

Dad wanted me downstairs only to tell me he’d be out for the evening, which was the equivalent of a dangling carrot. I wanted to play with the bodyguard, but cabin fever was getting to me.

It was nice to have options.

I dressed in a bustier and a pair of red leather pants, pulled my hair back in a slick ponytail, and then climbed down the side of my house, courtesy of the decorative pattern of horizontal bricks. I didn’t put on my stilettos until I was on the sidewalk, heading for the waiting cab. I plumped my lips on the ride over, gave the girls a little something extra, and changed my eye color to brown. I topped it off with a tiny, and definitely perky, button nose.

The cab dropped me at the corner of Bourbon and Saint Philip. I slipped into Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.

Free. Breathing the air. Riding the rush.

I loved Lafitte’s because it was dark; the tourists always put on a good show, and I appreciated the colorful pirate history. Built in the 1720s, it was the oldest bar in the country. Jean Lafitte had buried treasure under the open fireplace, and on occasion, he’d been known to show up in the flames to give a red-eyed glare to scurvy knaves interested in his loot. I ordered a cherry lime mojito and took a table in the corner by the bar.

Once my drink arrived, I pulled out the plastic sword loaded with fruit and popped a cherry into my mouth.

I almost choked on it when my bodyguard pulled away my glass. He had on a white long-sleeved shirt, a chocolate brown vest, and an ivy cap. Surprisingly delicious.

“You can’t have that.”

“The hell, you say.” I tried to take the drink back, but he held it over my head. I couldn’t reach it, even in my heels. “I thought I gave you the slip. I’m kind of impressed. What’s your name again?”

“Dune.” He sniffed my glass before fishing out a sliced lime and ripping the fruit away from the peel with his teeth. “Virgin.”

“Says who?”

“I was talking about the drink.” He slid my glass back onto my table.

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