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Protecting piper, p.1

Protecting Piper, page 1

 

Protecting Piper
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Protecting Piper


  By Cynthia Eden

  This book is a work of fiction. Any similarities to real people, places, or events are not intentional and are purely the result of coincidence. The characters, places, and events in this story are fictional.

  Copyright ©2018 by Cindy Roussos

  All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form without the express written consent of the author except for the use of small quotes or excerpts used in book reviews.

  Copy-editing by: JRT Editing

  (build 4)

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  Protecting Piper

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Epilogue

  Author’s Note

  About The Author

  Chapter One

  “Okay, you’re going to be pissed, but you need help.”

  Piper Lane glanced up from her spot on the floor. She’d been meticulously cleaning the wreckage left in her home. The cops had finally given her the all clear to go back inside and actually touch things again, and she’d just wanted to get the place back in shape.

  But at her best friend’s words, a cold knot formed in her stomach. “The cops are helping me, Ben. They searched for prints, they collected evidence, and they’re even going to send some patrols around the neighborhood to keep an eye on things.”

  Ben’s handsome face tensed. “You need more help than that, and you know it. This is the second time you’ve been targeted. This isn’t just some break-in bullshit. And if you’d come to me the first time this happened—”

  She rose to her feet. “I don’t come running to you every time something bad happens in my life.”

  His blue eyes widened. “Why the hell not? That’s what best friends are for! I watch your sexy ass and you watch mine!”

  Okay, granted, Ben did have a sexy ass. The scrawny kid she’d known as a child had turned into a drop-dead gorgeous guy. They’d been each other’s shadows ever since they’d met in Pre-K. He’d been trying to eat glue, and she’d shown him the error of his ways. Since that moment, they’d been inseparable all through school. Ben knew most of her secrets, he could tell when she was lying, and generally, he was her rock.

  She hadn’t gone to him with this particular problem, though, because…

  A knock sounded at her door.

  Piper squeezed her eyes shut. “For the love of God and pugs, please tell me that isn’t who I think it is.”

  Ben sighed, a long and not-sorry sound. “I had to call him. It’s his thing.”

  Her eyes cracked open in time to see Ben turn away and stride toward the front door. Every muscle in her body locked down when he curled his fingers around the doorknob. The last forty-eight hours had been hell for Piper. She’d gotten back in town to find her home absolutely trashed. The cops had told her to stay out of the place while they conducted their investigation, so she’d been moved to a local motel with just the clothes on her back. Then she’d been told that the cops had pretty much turned up nothing.

  And now…now this.

  Now…him.

  She rushed across the room. “Calling him was a mistake—”

  Too late. She’d collided with Ben’s broad back, and he’d just opened the door. And her nemesis filled the doorway.

  Eric freaking Wilde. All six-foot-three inches of trouble. Even taller than Ben, even wider in the shoulders, and, damn him…even sexier. Not that she would have ever told Eric that fact. The guy was smug enough as it was.

  He wore tailored slacks, a white button-down, and a black tie that hung loosely around his neck. A stylish, black coat clung to his powerful shoulders. His eyes—not blue like Ben’s but a dark, dark brown—immediately found her as she stood there, gaping at him. No, correction, glaring. A faint smile curved his lips as he held her stare. A smile, that, if anything, looked like a smirk on his sensual mouth.

  “What’s the big emergency?” Eric demanded. His eyes narrowed on her as she clutched Ben’s arm. “What was such a big deal that I had to rush right over with no explanation?”

  Eric hadn’t seen the rest of her place. Actually, he probably hadn’t seen any of it. She and Ben were blocking the entrance. Maybe there was still time to get Eric out of her home before it was too late. “Uh…” Piper began as her hand dropped down and clutched tightly to Ben’s.

  Eric’s gaze fell to their now joined hands. His jaw hardened. “You two finally making things official?” His already deep voice turned into a growl. “That what this is about? You wanted me to come over so you could tell me in person that you’re getting married?”

  Getting what? Piper looked at Ben. Ben looked at Piper. And then her best friend in the entire world said—

  “Hell, no!”

  Piper felt her cheeks burn. Way to be subtle.

  Ben shook his head. “Piper has a problem, bro. One that is scaring the hell out of me.” Ben’s voice was dead serious. He used his hold on Piper’s hand to pull her from the doorway. “Take a look for yourself.”

  Eric’s hard gaze slid around her den. “What the fuck?” He stepped into the house, moving out of the doorway, and he slammed the door shut behind him.

  She winced at the loud bang.

  “Who did this?” Eric demanded. She knew his burning stare had taken in everything. The slashed couch cushions. The shattered picture frames. The broken vases. The smashed TV.

  “If we knew,” Ben fired right back, “then I wouldn’t have called you!”

  Piper wrapped her arms around her stomach. “This is a breaking and entering case. The cops said things like this—unfortunately—happen too often in Atlanta.” Her voice came out nice and steady, a good sign. She needed to appear in control. “This isn’t the type of case that you handle, Eric. You’re into corporate security and celebrity protection bits.” The rich and famous. “Ben didn’t need to call you. It’s nothing.”

  But Eric stalked toward her with his slow, lethal grace. He moved silently. He always did. She’d never quite figured out how a man so big could move without making a whisper of sound.

  He stopped right in front of her. She tipped back her head so that she could meet his dark stare.

  “Someone broke into your home. Someone destroyed your things.” A muscle jerked along his rock-hard jaw. A jaw that was covered with just the faintest of five o’clock shadows. “That isn’t nothing. It’s something very big to me.”

  “And to me!” Ben piped up. “That’s why I had to call you. The cops did their routine, but they turned up nothing, and seeing as how this is the second time that—”

  Eric held up one hand. “Second time?” His gaze never left Piper’s face.

  “Uh, yeah.” Ben cleared his throat. “This is the second time someone has broken into her place. The first time was about a month ago, when she was out of town on another business trip. The place wasn’t destroyed, though, and the cops barely glanced anywhere then.” Now he shot Piper his disapproving frown. “Not that I knew about that incident at the time, since Piper has apparently decided to start keeping secrets from her best friend.”

  Seriously? “It wasn’t a secret. You were busy back then.” A big case at his fir
m. “And I didn’t think it was a big deal. I handled it.”

  “Handled it?” Eric’s voice was low and lethal.

  He’d always done that. Gotten quiet when he was at his most dangerous. Other people yelled. Their faces turned red. Not Eric. Oh, sure, he was angry, she could see the fury hardening his gaze. And that quiet, gravelly voice…Crap, he’s pissed.

  Piper squared her shoulders. “You didn’t need to come here,” she whispered.

  “I should have been here a month ago,” he rasped right back. “What did the bastard do when he broke in then?”

  She shivered. “It was…a few things were just re-arranged. Some photos. Some stuff in my bedroom.” And she was flushing again. Jeez. When she’d called the cops about that break-in, they’d looked at her as if she was crazy. The uniforms had suggested that maybe she’d been the one to rearrange things and that Piper had just forgotten that she’d moved the items.

  They’d blown her off.

  When they’d seen all the destruction left in her home this time, though, their response had been different.

  “What stuff in your bedroom?” Eric’s gaze held her in place.

  She swallowed and cast an anxious glance Ben’s way. Ben. The traitor. He knew she hadn’t wanted to involve Eric. Didn’t she go out of her way to avoid Ben’s too-fierce older brother? The guy made her nervous. Edgy. Always had.

  “Piper…”

  The way Eric said her name sent a shiver over her. And she didn’t even know if it was the good or bad kind of shiver.

  “Don’t look at Ben,” Eric told her, voice rumbling. “Look at me. Talk to me.”

  Huffing out a breath, she brought her gaze back to him. “My underwear, okay? It was moved around. So was the stuff in my nightgown drawer. I swear, someone was in my bedroom, and it creeped me out. But the cops couldn’t find any evidence back then.”

  “They didn’t find jack this time, either,” Ben muttered. “Said the place was wiped down.”

  “This isn’t your kind of job,” she told Eric as her spine remained perfectly straight. “There was no need for Ben to bother you about this. I’m sorry you came here and wasted your time.”

  Eric gave a slow shake of his dark head. His thick hair slid back from his forehead. “This is my job. And you are never a bother or a waste of time to me.”

  What? “Since when?” The words just kind of blurted out of her, but her normal self-control was gone. It had been blasted away by the stress of the last forty-eight hours. To know that someone had come into her home again. That someone had destroyed all of her belongings. She felt violated and angry and scared, and she was trying hard to hold herself together. But…bam. Now Eric was here.

  And her self-control had never been at its best when he was around.

  No one could make her angrier than Eric.

  No one could make her feel more vulnerable.

  And…deep, dark secret…no one had ever made her want more than him.

  But the desire did not go both ways. He barely tolerated her most days, and on the other days, Eric just stayed the hell away from her. It was how their relationship worked. Or, didn’t work.

  “I’ll find him. I’ll figure out who did this. You don’t have to worry.” Eric gave a determined nod.

  Her jaw pretty much hit the floor. “I can’t afford you!” A hard truth. “I just started my business a few months ago. The gallery is up and barely running, and I’ve put all of my money into it. I-I know how much you charge your clients, and I just can’t pay—”

  “Fuck the payment. I’m doing this for you.” His eyes glittered.

  Once more, her gaze shot to Ben.

  “Why do you do that?” Eric’s voice had dropped even more. Turned into a low whisper that she didn’t think Ben could hear. Eric had closed in on her, moving so silently. “Why always look to him even when I’m standing right in front of you?”

  Her heart seemed to jerk in her chest. Just that fast—her stare whipped back to him. This time, she didn’t look away. She couldn’t. And the way he was staring at her…

  So much intensity. So much heat.

  Eric’s hand lifted and touched her cheek. “You’re coming home with me.”

  Ben made a choking sound. “Whoa! Hold up.” And, in a flash, he was there, grabbing Eric’s arm and pulling him away from Piper. “Look, we all know how you can shift into overprotective mode. Especially where Piper is concerned.”

  Especially where Piper is concerned. Um, since when? And she certainly didn’t know that interesting little tidbit about Eric. She generally thought he just shifted into annoyed mode.

  “But slow your roll.” Ben flashed his killer smile. The one what showcased his matching dimples. Eric didn’t have dimples. He had a hard slash in his right cheek. One that came out on the very rare occasions when he gave a full, mouth-stretching smile. “We all need to take a breath, okay?”’

  Piper sucked in about four breaths.

  “Eric, I called you because I wanted your expertise. Piper obviously needs a new security system installed at this place. I thought you could help. Thought you could point us in the right direction.” Ben shrugged. “I didn’t call you here so that you could carry Piper away!” He gave a laugh.

  Eric was still staring at her, and he wasn’t laughing. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Time’s up, bro.”

  “I think I’m lost,” Piper muttered. Her temples were throbbing. She lifted a hand and rubbed at her right temple. “Look, it’s been a long day. Long week. Long month. I appreciate you coming over, Eric, and, yes, I do need some advice on a new security system.” Advice would be great. Fabulous.

  “I’ll get a member of my team to install an upgraded system immediately. Until then, grab a bag because you’re coming with me.”

  That was the thing with Eric. The guy could be so incredibly bossy. Yes, he ran a huge company. And, yes, he was the boss man there. But right then…Piper just sighed. “I know the word please has to be in your vocabulary, somewhere. I mean, I’ve met your parents. They’re great people, and I know they taught you manners.” She pointed to Ben. “He says please. And thank you. And he acts courteous and gentlemanly, and—”

  A low growl came from Eric. “Ben’s the charmer. We all know that shit.” Eric took a step toward her. A ripple of muscle. A glide of sensual movement. Why did she always notice that stuff about him? Voice rumbling, he continued grimly, “But you don’t need charm right now. You need someone who can kick ass. That’s what I do. I eliminate threats. I make problems go away. You have a problem, so I will make it vanish.”

  “Out of the goodness of your heart?” Her head tilted. No, she wasn’t buying that bit. Any goodness Eric had inside had never been directed at her.

  “I’ll do it because you’re in danger, and you know it.”

  Her body iced. She did know it.

  “You’re trying to bluff and act like you’re tough, but you’re scared. Ben knows it, he can see past your lie. That’s why he called me. I can see past the lie, too. You look at what this SOB did to your place, you look at the rage, and you’re afraid.”

  Yes, she was. And she was trying to act tough, but so what? A woman had to keep her shit together in this world.

  “The fact that someone was here before, that someone fucking messed with your underwear…” Eric’s hands clenched and unclenched at his sides. “I’ve seen situations like this get bad, fast.”

  She cleared her throat. “The cops said there was no way to know if it was the same intruder—”

  Eric just gave a hard shake of his head. “If you’ve got a stalker, if you’ve got some jerk who’s obsessed with you, he’s accelerating. Accelerating leads to bolder acts. And it can lead to physical attacks.”

  Something she already feared. Was this the time to tell him that there had been a few instances when she could have sworn someone was following her? She’d told the cops, right after the first break-in, and they’d just nodded. Nodded and said that without any evi
dence, they couldn’t do a thing. They’d advised her to start taking a different route home from work. Told her to vary her walking routines. She had and the feeling of being watched, followed, had just persisted.

  “Piper.” Eric’s eyes assessed her. “What is it?”

  Ben edged closer. “Tell him or I will.”

  Back off, Ben. She’d confided this detail to him earlier, and he’d gone all nuclear on her. “I…thought that maybe someone was following me home from the gallery. Once or twice.” More than that. “Actually, a few times. But whenever I look back, no one is ever there.” Piper forced a shrug. “I’m probably just being jumpy.”

  Very slowly, Eric turned his head toward Ben. “You should have called me right away.”

  “Look, I only found out all the details after the second break-in! And she didn’t want me to contact you, okay? I had to do it behind her back. You know how Piper gets about you! Shit, you make her nervous. Always have.”

  She backed up a step. “She is here. And like I said before, this case isn’t what you usually handle, Eric. I got a new security system after the first break-in. I started making sure I left the gallery before dark. I took precautions.”

  Eric glanced around her place. “But he just got past the new system.” He glowered. “You should have called me. My team could have installed it.”

  Right, yes, she got that he thought she’d made a mistake. “Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, all right? But, look, dammit, the problem was that the alarm didn’t even go off,” she muttered. So much for the grand she’d paid having the system installed.

  “You can’t stay here until an updated system is in place. My system.” Eric rolled back his shoulders. “So pack a bag. It’s getting late, and you look dead on your feet.”

  Piper winced. “You always say the nicest things.” She tugged at the edge of her shirt.

  He blinked and cocked his head to the side. “Sorry. Should I have said…You look fucking gorgeous, but you’re too pale, and I just saw you tremble so I want to get you the hell out of here? Would that work better for you?”

 
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