That, of course, was the dilemma. How could he be sure that the conversation wouldn’t impact her safety, unless he listened? In his experience, clients never understood that line between listening and caring.
‘Only in so far as it concerned your safety,’ he answered, as flat and dry as possible.
‘And did it? In your professional opinion?’
Dylan held back a sigh. Clearly this one wasn’t going to give up.
With a quick glance behind him out through the gap in the blinds, just to be sure no enterprising journo had climbed a drainpipe or anything equally annoying, Dylan stepped forward, abandoning his lookout post. Sometimes, getting the client on side was more important than strict professionalism. And if he was right about Bethany Lord being a bolter, this might be his only chance to make his evening less dramatic than it could be.
‘Look. It seems to me that your sister has issues. Whether they affect you or not is entirely up to you.’ He sat in the armchair opposite her, and she slid down from the arm of the chaise longue onto the seat. She didn’t look any more comfortable, though.
‘Not if she goes to the press. Tells the whole story.’ The misery in those famous eyes ran deep and, against all of his better judgement, Dylan found himself wishing he could do something about that.
‘Is she likely to?’ he asked. ‘Remember, I only heard one side of the conversation. I don’t even know what the whole story is.’ A reminder that she could stop now, if she wanted, and they could go back to just being bodyguard and client, without any confidences or personal information exchanged. The way it should be.
Was he reminding her or himself? Dylan wasn’t sure.
‘Megan has always been… envious, I suppose.’ Dylan would have gone with bitter and jealous, but he supposed that worked. ‘And she’s pissed at me right now. Really pissed.’
He shouldn’t ask. He didn’t want to ask. And yet… ‘Why?’
‘Because she married my ex-boyfriend thinking it would be some big victory, only it turns out being with Jake isn’t as amazing as she always thought it would be.’
‘So, what’s the story everyone wants today, then? What’s that crowd doing down there, waiting for you to show your pretty face?’ Not that he cared, but she was his client. And it was, even he could admit, a very pretty face.
She tilted her head to look at him. ‘You already know, don’t you?’
‘Some,’ Dylan admitted, wishing this one wasn’t quite so sharp. The clever ones were always harder to handle.
‘I thought so,’ she said with a nod. ‘They wouldn’t send you out here to protect me without all the relevant information.’
‘All I was told was that your brother in law had been arrested for assault, possibly of your sister, and there were rumours you had paid the bail.’
‘I didn’t,’ Bethany said quickly, but he already knew that too. ‘She did. She just… used money that I’d given her very recently. So I guess the timing might look a little suspicious.’
‘Everything looks suspicious to those vultures,’ Dylan said, motioning at the window.
‘I know.’ Bethany sighed. ‘Look, do you think there’s any way you might be able to get rid of them? Go down and look menacing or something? Isn’t that your job?’
She knew it wasn’t. So what was she playing at? Dylan watched, saw the moment her eyes darted towards the door again, and knew.
‘My one and only job, as you know full well, is to keep you safe. And in order for me to do that, I need to be right beside you, at all times.’ Her gaze slid to the door once more, and he knew it was time to call her on it. ‘You’re thinking about getting away from me – oh, I’m sure you’re just thinking about ten minutes of privacy,’ he said, when she tried to interrupt. ‘But the thing is – don’t. I take my job very seriously. If I can’t see you, even for a moment, I’ll be calling for back up and storming in guns blazing. So I’d drop any ideas you have about trying to give me the slip. Trust me, things will go easier for both of us if you just take me with you from the start.’
She met his gaze for a long moment, but he could outstare terrorists and heads of state. It wasn’t long before she glanced away again.
‘We understand each other?’ he asked, needing to be sure.
She nodded. ‘Of course. You have a job to do.’
‘Damn right.’ And it wasn’t the kind of job people forgave you easily if you screwed it up. Dylan might not have much of value in his life, not compared to the rich and famous he minded, but at least he had his professional pride. He’d be damned if the next bright young thing was going to take that from him.
Something hit the window glass with a crack, not hard enough to break it, but the sound echoed in his brain with enough force to send his muscle memory into action. Dylan leaped forward, pressing Bethany against the chaise longue, his whole body covering hers, tense and waiting for what happened next.
Which was, mostly, nothing.
Then, after a moment, another crack. Dylan’s muscles stayed taut. Gunfire? No, that would shatter the glass. In fact, it sounded like—
‘Um, I think someone is throwing stones at the window?’ Bethany said from under him. ‘Also, you’re kind of heavy.’
At her words, the feel of her body against his seeped into his consciousness – the softness, the warmth, the curves… Dylan dragged himself back to the problem at hand, muttering ‘Sorry,’ as he moved his weight off her.
‘That’s okay. I mean, good instincts, right?’ she sounded a little nervy, but Dylan supposed that was inevitable.
‘Got to have them, in this job,’ he replied, reaching the window.
Another crack of stone on glass hit just as he pulled the blind aside, disappointing the photographer sitting in the tree opposite. He’d been hoping, no doubt, to get a shot of Bethany Lord opening her window to see what was going on out there. Instead, he got Dylan glaring at him. Not quite the photo of the century.
He let the blind fall again, and turned back into the room to reassure the client. ‘I wouldn’t worry. They’ll try anything – but they’ll only try it once while…’ he blinked, and wondered how he’d missed the quiet click of the hotel room door opening. ‘I’m here,’ he finished telling the empty room.
And then, he ran. Damn it, I knew she was a bolter.
She only had seconds before Dylan would follow her, but Bethany had always been good at thinking on her feet. And the moment he’d turned his back, the burning need to be alone had flared up so bright that she’d just run without even thinking first about where she’d go.
The suite she’d been allocated was close to the elevators and the service stairwell, which worked to her advantage, too. But she’d probably never have been able to complete her escape without the cleaning supplies closet next to the stairs.
Shoving her way through the double doors to the stairwell, leaving the ornately decorated doors still swinging, she ducked into the closet even as she heard Dylan’s footsteps catch up with her.
He swore, loudly, right outside her hiding place, and Bethany held her breath until she heard his heavy footfalls continuing down the basic stairs, intended for the staff. Then, when she was absolutely sure she was safe, she opened the door a crack.
The stairwell was empty.
Dashing out, she ran for the lifts, sending up a thankful prayer as one opened, empty, right in front of her. She pressed the button for the basement and, as the doors closed, sank down to the floor, her heart racing.
She was alone at last, and finally she might be able to think straight enough to plan a way out of this mess.
Bethany knew without really thinking about it exactly where she was headed, the moment she got in the lift and saw the hotel floor plan on the wall. Back home, growing up, there was only one place she’d escape to when she needed to think – the water. The Chatsfield, luxurious though it was, didn’t have an ocean, which was a shame. The calming lapping of the waves was just what she needed right now. Still, it did have the next best thing: the most amazing swimming pool Bethany had ever seen.
Even better, it was closed. Jake had taught her to pick a lock back in junior high, so getting in was easy. But the ‘pool reopens at 5am’ sign on the door should be enough to keep everyone else out. Which, as Dylan hadn’t exactly given her time to grab her swimsuit, was probably just as well.
Bethany pulled the door closed behind her and moved quickly through the dressing rooms in her already bare feet. In moments, she’d reached her destination and drew in a chlorine-filled breath. The whole pool area was mostly in darkness, except for twinkling star-like spotlights in the ceiling. It was the perfect place to relax and sort out her head.
Smiling to herself, Bethany grabbed a hotel towel from the hook by the door and padded over to one of the wooden loungers dotted around the pool. Spreading her towel across it, she slipped her dress over her head and dropped it on the lounger. Even with no-one there to see her, she didn’t feel quite confident enough to go skinny dipping – although she had to admit that, once wet, her bra and knickers weren’t going to do much for her modesty.