Sybil Bartel: Contemporary Romance Author

NEIL - Chapter One

Three Months Ago

It was him.

Oh my God, it was him.

One step into the lobby and his grey-blue penetrating stare zeroed in on me.

My heart skipped, my pulse jumped and I drew in a breath that did nothing to hide my shock. Everything from that night came back in an unwanted rush of fear and all I could think was he’s even bigger in a suit.

I wanted to squirm or worse, thrust my tits out to get his eyes off mine but this wasn’t a strip club and I didn’t wear a G-string anymore. My name was on an actual paycheck and my heels were business casual. For the first time in my life, I had a legit job behind a granite reception desk and I needed to be professional because my boss walked in right next to him and barked my name like an order.

Ariel.”

Dragging my eyes off the man who was so damn tall and muscular he could be a Viking, I forced a smile and nodded at André Luna. An ex-Marine and the owner of the personal security firm where I answered phones, he was as badass as they came, but next to Viking, his six-foot frame and hard muscles looked small. “Morning.” I left out the good on purpose.

André shoved his phone in his pocket and rested his hand on his waist right next to his holstered 9mm. He inclined his head at Viking. “This is Neil Christensen. Neil, Ariel.”

Christensen. Shit, he was a Viking. “Nice to meet you.” I never thought I’d see him again.

Studying me like he could read my mind, Viking barely nodded but he didn’t speak.

André glanced at him and lines formed between his eyebrows before he looked back at me. “Who’s off the schedule today?”

I nervously typed a few strokes and brought up the spreadsheet that’d taken me three nights of googling Excel YouTube videos to learn how to use. I scanned the list, wondering what Viking was doing at Luna and Associates. “Tyler’s here.”

“Block him out for two days.” André turned to Viking. “Will that work?”

Measured and quiet and in a language I’d never heard, he spoke. His deep cadence filled my head like it was a memory instead of the first time hearing it. The sound, all at once intimate and familiar yet foreign, threw me back to that night two months ago.

 

My head whipped violently from the backhanded blow. Pain exploded in my cheek and blood pooled in my mouth. “Eat shit, Jimmy.”

“You little bitch, I’ll fucking teach you who’s boss.”

My lips curled up in a sneer. “How? By forcing me to suck your small-ass dick? I’d like to see you try. Just because I strip at your shitty club doesn’t mean I’m a whore.”

The yacht rocked and he lunged forward. Landing with his hands on my thighs, he gripped my flesh and dug his fingers in. “Shut your fucking mouth.” His alcohol-laced breath reeked of anger.

“Now you want me to shut up?” I taunted, moving my foot into position. “After telling me you wanted my smart mouth to keep you company tonight?”

He gripped a handful of my hair. “I said you were gonna entertain me, puta.”

“I’m not a bitch.” I kicked him in the balls.

“Pinche puta!” One hand flew to his junk but the other swung out and made a solid connection with my jaw.

I saw stars.

Jimmy gripped my neck and let out a string a cuss words. “I’m gonna kill you for that, you fucking whore.”

The sliding glass doors flew open and two armed men in wetsuits rushed into the cabin—one blond, one darker haired, they trained their guns on my boss.

The blond man spoke. “Take your hands off her.”

 My boss smirked but raised his arms and turned toward them. “You can fucking have her.”

Adrenaline surged. I picked up a decanter and slammed it into the back of his head.

Jimmy slumped to the floor and landed on my feet.

My heart pounding, I fell on my ass and dropped the heavy crystal as blood oozed out of his nose. The two men didn’t even blink. They issued commands at each other, helped me up and led me starboard.

“Is he dead?” I didn’t ask who they were.

They looked at each other and the blond spoke. “Unconscious.”

The dark haired one handed his rifle to the blond, pulled on diving fins then picked me up and lowered us over the side of the yacht so quickly, I didn’t have time to protest. The cool night sea hit me a hundred times harder than the blows from my boss and I cried out. “No!”

“I’ve got you. You’re safe now.” He tucked his massive arm under mine and brought my back to his chest. Rolling to his side, he began a strong stroke out toward open waters and I fucking freaked.

“What are you doing? Land is behind us!” I kicked at him and ocean splashed into my face as a giant swell bobbed us up then down.

His arm tightened and he took two more strokes. “The boat’s going to explode. We need to clear the blast radius.”

“We’re going to drown!” I fought to keep my head up.

“You’re safe.”

In shark-infested waters? Was he fucking crazy? “Who are you?”

“Someone who wants your boss dead,” he ground the words out and swam a few more strokes. “Hundred more yards and I’ll get you out of this.”

The blond popped up next to us with two sets of scuba gear and matched our pace as if swimming with four large tanks and two rifles through four-foot swells was nothing. “Twenty seconds,” he warned.

“Copy.” The dark-haired one kicked harder and we started gliding through the water at a fast clip.

My boss had cartel ties but these men were nothing like the assholes who came into the strip club. My teeth started chattering. “You’re m-m-military,” I guessed.

Neither of them answered.

“Who are—”

A deafening boom drowned out my question as the yacht burst into flames.

Sea spray hit my face. “He’s d-d-dead.” I started to violently shake.

“You saw nothing,” the dark-haired one warned. “We’ll get you out of here and back to Miami. You’ll forget us and everything you saw tonight. Understand?”

Shock, the explosion, my torn dress stuck to my bruised, freezing body—my mind went blank. I simply nodded and the dark-haired man swam us toward a drifting cruiser.

“Easy, easy, hand her up.” The blond man pulled me on deck. “C’mon, darlin’, we’re gonna get you dried off.”

His words barely registered. Shaking, no control, desperate for an ounce of something real I could hold onto, I glanced up.

He was huge.

Shirtless, his giant frame even bigger than my dark-haired rescuer, a third man stood at the helm and took me in with a measured stare.

For one impossible moment, my world went perfectly still and his striking features eclipsed everything except the way he was looking at me. Dominating, consuming, his presence cut through the night and wrapped around me as surely as if it were his arms. My chest constricted and my mouth opened but no air drew in. The phantom scent of spice and musk swirled past the ocean breeze and mocked me because I wasn’t breathing; I was drowning. 

As if he knew my exact thoughts, he peered into my soul and gave me the simplest of gestures like he was my only salvation.

He tipped his chin.

A critical breath hitched through my lungs and I knew. I would never breathe the same again.

 

Ariel.”

I blinked and shoved the memory of the first and only time I’d ever seen Viking down deep and cleared my throat. “Sorry, what?”

“Three days.” André pointed at the computer. “Schedule Tyler for NC Construction. Tell him to gear up for nighttime security and have him bring a vehicle around front. I’ll fill him in on the rest on the drive over.”

I didn’t recognize the name. “New client?” I nervously typed in the information.

André shook his head. “We served together.” He glanced back at Viking but Viking was still staring at me. “You parked in the garage?”

Ja,” Viking answered.

“Let’s go.” Efficient, brisk, André turned toward the front door of the lobby.

Viking didn’t follow. He held my gaze then he did the same thing he’d done three months ago on a boat in the waters off Key West—he tipped his chin.

And destroyed my equilibrium.

Stunned, I watched his huge shoulders turn and with a grace the bellied his height, he followed André out. Shocked, relieved, terrified—I didn’t know what I was feeling. My stomach fluttered, hair rose on the back of my neck and spicy musk swirled into my head.

I picked up the phone and called Tyler.

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