Home > The Guarded One

The Guarded One
Author: Brittney Sahin

 


CHAPTER ONE

 

 

JUÁREZ, MEXICO


“Got a light?”

Beckett withdrew his attention from the only bit of calm he’d managed to locate, the heavens, and focused on the woman standing before him. Her bold red lips parted slightly as if anxiously awaiting the cigarette dangling between her two fingers. By his take, it was an act—and not a good one. She’d probably choke on the first drag if he had a light to offer.

That really your best pickup line? “I don’t smoke.” Beckett looked around the patio outside the club and tipped his head toward one of the men puffing away to his heart’s content, calling her bluff.

The too-young-for-him blonde tucked her cigarette into a little metallic bag before propping the purse under her armpit. “Are you about to tell me why I shouldn’t smoke as well?”

“Not my business, ma’am.” Beckett exhaled sharply, his eyes moving back to the midnight-blue sky.

“Well then.” Her dramatic breathy pause meant she wasn’t going anywhere.

He inwardly groaned. Rejecting this girl tonight wasn’t on his list of shit to do.

“What brings you to this side of the border? You from El Paso?” she pressed.

He wasn’t from Texas, but El Paso was just over the border. And it was where he and his brother-in-law, Jesse McAdams, had rented a blacked-out Chevy Suburban before making the journey into Mexico an hour ago.

What the hell am I doing here though? Were the last three weeks of nearly sleepless nights the culprit? Was the lack of sleep to blame for why he broke a promise he made to his three brothers to never go on such a “hunt” again?

After the cutoff “I’m in a lot of trouble, and I need your—” voicemail he’d received three weeks ago, Beckett had told himself he wouldn’t fall victim to that woman again.

And if she died one day from her reckless and irresponsible behavior . . . well, God rest her soul, if she ever had one, because she wasn’t his problem anymore. Well, that’d been the plan, at least. Yet here I am.

Not that he was about to provide this girl with the truth. He wouldn’t let her know his brother-in-law was currently doing an internal perimeter sweep of the club, calculating any potential problems for a mission Beckett wasn’t supposed to be on.

A knot of guilt tightened in his stomach as he thought back to that morning when he’d looked his sister, Ella, square in the eyes and lied to her. Told her he was taking her husband away for a hunting trip in Texas.

He was hunting. Just not deer. And not in Texas.

“A bonding trip,” he’d lamely added while trying to stand strong beneath his sister’s don’t-bullshit-me gaze while Jesse had still been blinking away the remnants of sleep.

“No answer, huh? Is the sky really all that more interesting than me?”

A feisty one, huh? He lowered his gaze and started to reach for his hat to tip it in apology, then remembered it wasn’t the Stetson he usually wore. Instead, he flicked at the brim of the uncomfortable hat and drew a hand over the scruff on his jawline. “Why I’m here doesn’t matter.”

“Oh, come on, don’t be so salty. You won’t even tell me if this is a business or pleasure kind of trip? This place is pretty lit.” She batted her false lashes. “And I’m here, so. YOLO, right?”

Lit? YOLO? Sweet Jesus, he was too old for this.

She was probably some rich girl from one of the schools in El Paso, looking for some “adventure” across the border on daddy’s dime.

God help him when his daughter went away to college. More like help the men who’d be dealing with an overprotective father. McKenna was thirteen going on twenty, and that thought alone was enough to keep him awake at night.

“And if I say I’m not here for either, will you leave me alone?” He crooked his head, waiting to see if he’d offended her enough to send her on her way.

Her pout wasn’t remotely subtle.

Yup, a bored rich girl, for sure. Not that he had anything against money. But some of the privileged women he’d come across back when he lived in Los Angeles may have been to thank for his quick assumptions about the perky blonde dressed like a 1920s flapper girl.

Of course, it was his job to size people up. Sheriff of his hometown, Walkins Glen, Alabama, after all.

“Do you really think you should be at a place like this?” Beckett couldn’t help but switch to father mode. She didn’t look more than eight to ten years older than his daughter. Was she even legally allowed to drink in Texas? And good Lord, am I really going to be forty-two next month?

“What makes it safe for you but not for me, aside from your Y chromosome and the amount of testosterone I feel just oozing out of ya?” Her icy blue eyes collided with his as if prepared to tango. And he didn’t think it was to join those doing the actual tango on the dance floor of the 1920s-themed club.

He quietly studied her, hoping she’d give up and walk away.

No such luck.

She whipped her blonde hair to her back, and he caught a smell of what he assumed was her perfume in the process.

His eyes fell closed as he took his time to commit the scent to memory, trying to figure out why the smell of—cherries?—had him thinking about another blonde. Sydney Archer. “What perfume is that?” he asked instead of bothering to respond to whatever ridiculous question she’d posed.

“Oh, you like it? I swear I almost caught a smile from you. A nice change from your grumpy look.”

He ignored her compliment-jab, opting to continue thinking about Sydney. He’d brushed past her at his friend’s wedding reception last month in April.

The gorgeous woman, also a badass by what he’d learned, worked alongside Jesse at their security company, Falcon Falls. She was a single parent to a thirteen-year-old as well. Maybe that was the only reason he’d noticed Sydney? Who am I kidding? Every man had to have noticed her there.

“It’s Tom Ford. Lost Cherry,” she replied in a light, airy voice when he’d yet to speak.

Beckett nearly leaned in and took another whiff of her as if he were a K9 tracking a fugitive’s scent.

“It’s rather intoxicating, right? Makes me feel like a goddess, especially in this getup.”

Beckett forced open his eyes, trying to understand why the scent had him losing his focus.

Cherries. He almost did smile that time. At least I’ve still got it. He’d been afraid he’d lost his ability to observe the minute details since he’d left the LAPD over a decade ago. But the smallest of things, right down to scent, had always helped him identify a suspect.

“So, anyway.” She shrugged. “I’m here because I’m writing my senior thesis on the Prohibition Era. I go to school in El Paso.” Her words snatched his attention her way. Or maybe he’d already been looking at her, but he hadn’t actually seen her. Not with Sydney in his head. A woman he had no business thinking about, let alone remembering her sexy body in that backless dress she’d worn that night.

He’d brought a date to Savanna and Griffin’s wedding. His first date in ages too. The night had been short-lived for them because one thing Beckett was, was a gentleman. And he wasn’t about to take some woman home for a quick lay—even if it’d been far too long—when he knew he’d be picturing another pinned beneath his body instead.

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