As soon as the admiral stepped over the threshold from the terrace, Mason signaled to one of his men to round up the last few people that were outside and lock the French doors. As for himself, he took a position against the wall where he could watch the crowd. Most of them had settled into their assigned seats. Some had already been served. Others table hopped, chatted and chuckled and showed off photos on cell phones.
A woman in a sleeveless blue jumpsuit approached him. He’d been introduced to her before, had noticed her thoroughly and had paid particular attention to the way the clingy blue fabric hugged her curves. She was part of the entourage for the admiral, his movie star wife and their several children. When the lady in blue sidled up next to him, the top of her head was only as high as his shoulder. Lights from the chandeliers glistened on her curly auburn ponytail.
She nudged his elbow. “Whose body are you guarding?”
“The admiral’s.” He dropped a glance in her direction, expecting to quickly look away. Instead, she seized his attention with her big brown eyes and the constellation of freckles that spread across her nose and cheeks. The corners of her mouth naturally turned upward as though caught on the edge of laughter.
“Your friend across the room,” she said with a nod toward Sean Timmons, who was the first T in TST Security, “must be in charge of watching Helena Christie Prescott’s body. How did he get the good assignment?”
“Seniority.” The admiral’s glamorous dark-haired wife showed a lot of cleavage, and the slit on her skirt was thigh high. Watching her was kind of a treat.
“You’re Mason, right?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Mason Steele was the S in TST Security. “And you’re Francine Alexandra DeMille.”
“Call me Lexie.”
“Why not Francine?” he asked. “Or Franny?”
“Because of my job. I take care of the Prescott kids.”
Which made her Franny the nanny? He stifled a chuckle. “There are six of them, right?”
“Two teenagers from the admiral’s first marriage. The ten-year-old twin boys come from Helena’s union with the hunk who’s in that stripper movie—a deadbeat dad, but, oh, those abs.”
“I know who you mean.”
She stared intently at him. “You look a little bit like him. With the buzz haircut and the cool blue eyes and those big, muscular...arms.” She squeezed one of his biceps and immediately yanked her hand away. A pink blush colored her cheeks. “And the six- and four-year-olds are from this marriage.”
When he forced his gaze away from her and checked out the children’s table, the littlest girl stood up on the seat of her chair and waved at him with a golden magic wand. He fought the urge to laugh. On the job, he couldn’t afford to be distracted by cuteness, but this little golden-haired girl was irresistible. He grinned back at her and winked.
Mason had always thought a big family would be fun. He was his parents’ only surviving child. Thanksgiving was no picnic. And Christmas? Forget about it.
“Here’s my problem,” Lexie said. “The younger kiddos are restless and on the verge of turning into a nuisance. The older ones are bored. And we’re at least a half hour away from the speeches. Do you have any security issues if I whisk them out of here in a few minutes?”
He was glad she’d asked before dashing out the door. TST provided extra security when children were part of the scene. Mason looked around the banquet room, trying to spot the bodyguard who was responsible for keeping an eye on the Prescott offspring.
“Strange,” he muttered. “I don’t see Carlos.”
“Nope.” Lexie shook her head, and her curly ponytail bounced. “He introduced himself earlier, and I would have gone to him, but I lost track of where he was, which is kind of hard to do, since good old Carlos is the size of a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer combo.”
A former pro football linebacker, Carlos was six feet five inches—only a little taller than Mason, but Carlos outweighed him by nearly seventy-five pounds. The big man was good at his job and wasn’t the type to wander off.
Where the hell was he? A twang of apprehension jangled Mason’s nerves. “It might be a good idea to get the kids out of here.”
Immediately, Lexie picked up on his mood. Her grin disappeared. “Is it dangerous?”
Always. There was always danger. He didn’t want to tell her that; didn’t want to point out the obvious fact that his security firm had been hired to protect the admiral and his family from an imminent threat, which meant a threat existed.
“Let’s see what I can find out.” He gave her a light pat on the shoulder. His intention had been to reassure her, but when he touched her bare skin, a spark ignited. Like wildfire, an unexpected heat crackled though his nerve endings and turned his blood to lava. For an instant, he was struck dumb. He had to drag his focus away from Lexie before he spoke into his headset to Sean.
After a quick, quiet conversation with his partner, Mason regained his self-control. There was no room for further distraction; tonight was important. TST was there to protect Admiral Prescott, a man he respected and admired. Though the admiral had been retired for three years and wasn’t in uniform tonight, his posture bespoke military discipline. Mason’s brother, an expert in naval intelligence, had known the admiral personally.
Lexie cleared her throat. She looked to him for an all-clear signal. He wanted to give her a thumbs-up so she’d reward him with that cute upturned smile of hers. When she lifted her hand to brush back a wisp of russet hair, he noticed her delicate charm bracelet. The silver chain shone brightly against her tanned forearm. One of the charms resembled a ninja throwing star.
Sean’s voice came through his earbud. “I found Carlos. I knew I’d seen the big guy headed this way. He’s in the bathroom, puking his guts out.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Might have the flu,” Sean said. “One of his kids is sick.”
Or he could have been drugged, could have been poisoned. Several scenarios flipped through Mason’s mind, ranging from an attempted abduction of the children to a full-on assault with fiery explosive devices. In every possible circumstance, he needed to get the children to safety.
Keeping his voice calm, he spoke to Lexie. “Tell the kids we’re leaving. We’ll go out through the terrace. It’s the closest exit.”
“Should I be worried?”
Not wanting to alarm her, he didn’t offer an explanation. “I thought you wanted to get the kids away.”
“True, and I don’t mind missing those speeches myself.”
With a toss of her head, she pivoted and returned to the circular table where the Prescott brood was sitting. The teenagers were texting, the younger kids were playing with their food and the princess with the magic wand was waving СКАЧАТЬ