Broken Pasts
Author:C.M. Stunich

chapter 5

After Nathaniel had swept the entire house and checked all of the locks, he had retrieved a briefcase and a laptop bag from his car (with me in tow) and had us both sit down at my dining table.

“You need to record every incident,” he told me as he handed me a packet of papers, all identical copies of a form with a place for date, time, witness information, and a detailed account of my encounters with Gary. “If you have time today, I think it would be advantageous for us to go down to the police station and file a report. That way, if it comes to a trial or violence of any kind, they'll have you on record.” I stared down at the documents in front of me and hoped, wished and prayed that things would not go that far. “If you can afford it, I'd also recommend a security system.”

“This is so overwhelming,” I said, my breath escaping in a rush. For just a moment there, I forgot how sexy Nathaniel was and got lost in the stupidity of it all. If Gary could just sign the divorce papers and leave me alone, I could go on with my life. Instead, here I was on the second day of the New Year worrying about a problem that I should've been done with several months ago. I pulled my phone out of the pocket on my sweats and saw fourteen missed calls and half as many voice mails. With a sigh, I turned the phone over to my new bodyguard. “What do I do about these?” I asked. When our fingers touched, I saw his chest expand with a massive breath, as if he could feel my attraction to him. He couldn't possibly be attracted to me, though, I thought as I examined my clothes and felt suddenly vulnerable. I wanted to change, put on makeup, and don my best dress. Even if he was unavailable, I wanted to be attractive for him. I don't know why, but I just felt this need to match up to him. It wasn't just the simple matter of wanting to be desirable; it was as if Nathaniel's appearance suggested a sense of organization that I just did not have. If I could put myself together like that, maybe I could bring some sense of order to my life.

We'd known each other for the better part of an hour and already I was making strange psychological connections that would never hold up. Not good.

“When you get calls from him, record each and every one on this sheet and don't delete anything from your phone. It may need to be used as evidence later. Listen to all of the voice mails and if he threatens you, even once, call the police and report it.” I nodded and took a big, calming breath.

“Is it okay if I shower?” I asked and he nodded. When I rose to my feet, Nathaniel followed. This time, he let me take the lead down the hallway. I paused at the bedroom door and he nodded again.

“I've cleared the house,” he said. “Unless we have reason to suspect a break in, I'll maintain my position behind you.” I swallowed hard and tried not to read sexual innuendo in his words. His voice was just so … smooth. Everything he said sounded like an invitation. This was going to be a long, long week. “I'll be with you every moment for the next few days. After that, I'll switch out briefly with my partner, Cedric, for awhile to sleep. Then I'll be back. If you ever have any questions, just ask. Otherwise, you can pretend I'm not here. Just go about your day as usual. If we need to drive anywhere, I'll take you in my car. We'll work on your case throughout the week whenever you have time and if you see Gary anywhere, at anytime, you need to let me know immediately.” I nodded and opened the door to my room, feeling awkward and strange with this man in my bedroom.

“Thank you,” I said as his massive, dark form filled the doorway with a commanding presence. Ignoring Nathaniel Sutherland was not going to be easy. He didn't answer, but he did smile and it was downright nasty. If I hadn't known better, I'd have said he was flirting with me.

I picked out some pretty lingerie, trying to shield the drawer with my body, but Nathaniel never looked. He kept his gaze locked on the wall behind me like I wasn't even there. Somehow though, I had the sense that he knew every single thing that I was doing. I even imagined that the corner of his lip quirked up when I selected a little black dress from my closet. When I went to leave the room, he moved out of my way without hesitation and followed me down the hall and to the bathroom where he immediately turned around and faced out towards the arch that separated the hallway from the dining room. It was only when I went to close the door that he turned back around.

“Please, Ms. McMaster,” he said and my name on his lips was like fire, hot and sensual. He made it sound sexy. “If you could leave the door open while you shower, I can assure you that I am a professional first and a gentleman second. I will not look at you unless there's reason to believe that you're being assaulted.” I didn't know how to respond to that. The thought of Nathaniel seeing me naked was both electrifying and terrifying. And if he were to come up, pull back the shower curtain and wrap his hand around the back of my neck, lift my face to his … I shook my head to clear it and saw his dark brows raise. I forced a smile.

“Okay,” I said and then paused. “Are there any women that work for your organization?” Nathaniel's smile widened, almost imperceptibly, but it was there.

“Of course,” he said. “A handgun's a handgun. Gender is barely relevant when it comes to self-defense in today's society.” He paused. “Would you prefer a woman?” he asked and again, there was that sense of innuendo being thrown. I blinked several times before answering.

“Oh, no. I was just curious.” Nathaniel nodded and turned back around so that I was looking at a perfect ass and long, lean legs. Gorgeous. I grabbed a towel from the stand behind the toilet and tossed it over the curtain rod before climbing into the bathtub and undressing there. I felt stupid the entire time, certain that Nathaniel had other things on his mind besides checking out his clients. Once I was naked, I tossed my clothes onto the floor and grabbed the shower head, pointing it at the back of the tub while I adjusted the water temperature.

It was odd knowing that one of the most beautiful men I had ever seen was standing just a few feet away from my naked form. My reaction to him was nothing short of miraculous and it was one hundred and ten percent romance novel cliché. When I finally got a hold of Jamie, I was going to kill her. Despite my own good advice, I'd gone out on that date with Stuart, been prepared to give him a chance, and he'd left me alone in a parking lot with my crazy ex. Dating was not a priority of mine. You made a New Year's resolution, remember? I told myself with a sigh, convinced that Jamie had set this all up. If I found out that Nathaniel was actually a stripper or god forbid, a hooker, of some sort, I wouldn't have been surprised. Jamie had pulled that kind of stuff on me before.

The ringing of the doorbell pulled me out of my thoughts.

I wasn't sure what to do. Did I ask Nathaniel to get it for me? Did I pretend he wasn't there and run to the door with nothing but a towel? I decided to ask him.

“Um,” I leaned my head out of the shower curtain and tried to get Nathaniel's attention. “Excuse me?”

“Yes, Ms. McMaster?” he asked without even turning around. Impressive.

“I don't know if this is against the rules or not but would you mind seeing who's at the door?” He didn't even hesitate before answering.

“I'm sorry,” he told me as I admired the muscular curvature of his back. My hormones were on high alert, sounding the alarm for all the rest of my body to hear. It was a strange feeling considering I hadn't even remotely felt this way since I'd broken up with my high school sweetheart. And even then, this trumped that. “I can't leave you naked and alone, Ms. McMaster. It just wouldn't be right.” Again with the sexual undertones! I was certain about it this time. Is my bodyguard flirting with me?

The doorbell sounded again, forcing me out of the shower and into a pink robe that was hanging from a hook behind the bathroom door. I put it on at breakneck speed, faintly suspicious that Mr. Sutherland had eyes in the back of his head. I could almost feel his green gaze raking my naked body and he wasn't even looking at me. It's your imagination, Theresa, I told myself as Nathaniel stepped out of my way and let me pass through the dining area and into the living room. He strode confidently behind me, a strong, warm presence at my back.

“If you don't mind,” he said, moving just ahead of me and checking through the peephole. He stepped back and nodded, allowing me a look as well. It was Jamie. With a sigh of relief, I went for the doorknob and then paused. Nathaniel tossed me a smile and a wink. “It'll get easier, I promise.” I crossed my arms over my chest and tried not to sigh. Having a bodyguard sounded cool at first until you realized that you were hardly allowed to do anything. He'd said to just go about my business as if he didn't exist, but I was starting to think that wasn't going to be possible.

“Holy shit,” Jamie said as the door swung open and she caught her first glimpse of Mr. Sutherland. He didn't say a word, just stepped aside and allowed her through before closing the door and locking it behind her. “You didn't call me. I got worried,” she whispered as I grabbed her arm and dragged her into the kitchen. I didn't think I was going to get any real privacy from Nathaniel, so I made myself happy with the fact that I could put the counter island between us.

“Is he a stripper?” I asked her in a low whisper as her perfectly manicured brows rose.

“A stripper?”

“Is this like the time you sent the 'cops' to come over to come check on me.” Jamie giggled and I slapped her arm. “I knew it.”

“No,” she whispered back fiercely as both our gazes slid over to Nathaniel. He was staring at the cabinet above my head, but I swear, somewhere in that perfectly professional frown was a lurking smile. “PPSD is a perfectly professional organization. Just security, no sex. I swear it.” I breathed out a sigh and leaned back so that my butt was propped by the counter. “But that's just what they advertise. You should see if you can get a two for one deal on that.”

“Jamie … ” I warned, but she ignored me and made a beeline for my fridge. She was dressed in the sexiest, loudest, brightest dress suit in blood red with seamed tights and black pumps, perfect as usual. I would not have been surprised if Nathaniel was using his radar vision to scope her out as she bent over and dug around the crowded shelves for something to eat.

“I'm just here for lunch,” she explained as she reemerged with a couple of last night's takeout containers. “I just wanted to make sure you'd held up your end of the bargain.” She grabbed a couple of forks and handed me one.

“I'll be right back,” I said as I moved towards the bathroom and past Nathaniel. I tried to keep my eyes off of his perfect form, certain that if Jamie were to see the expression on my face, that she'd know I was interested in him. If she found out, she'd never let up. Nathaniel followed as I turned off the shower and threw a towel over the puddle of water I'd left on the floor. When I went back into the kitchen, he stayed right behind me.

“So,” she asked as she eyed Nathaniel critically. “Can you talk?” He smiled, but it wasn't as wicked as the ones he'd thrown me.

“If it's alright with Ms. McMaster, I can.”

“Ooh,” Jamie said as she clapped her hands. “He's a bottom, I like that.”

“I can assure you, Ms. … ” Jamie pretended to pout and stepped forward, extending her hand in greeting. He gripped it and shook firmly.

“Ms. Knowles,” she said. “Married, kept my own name. You?”

“I can assure you, Ms. Knowles, that I'm not a bottom.” Jamie squealed and slapped her hand on her thigh. I'm glad she thought it was funny; I was mortified. I tugged my robe over my chest and hoped that she'd let it go at that. “And no, I'm not married.”

“Gay?”

“No.”

“So you're single, straight, and available. Am I right?” Nathaniel's smile drooped just a bit.

“I don't know about available,” he said. “But the other two are correct.” She put her hands on her hips and gave him another once over.

“My friend over here needs a little rebound sex. Would you be available for that?”

“Jamie!” I said as I grabbed her arm. “Knock it off. Sorry, Mr. Sutherland,” I said, wondering if he was going to quit right then and there. His smile was back though and he seemed amused rather than offended. “Please, just eat your food and go. I have to shower and get down to the office.” Jamie scoffed at me.

“It's your day off!” she protested as Nathaniel resumed his quiet, unassuming tough guy position. Thing was, he was just too damned good looking to really blend into the furniture. It was a nice try though. “Now I'm definitely not leaving until you tell me why you're going in today. That's complete bullshit, Theresa.” A knock at the door was all the excuse I needed to slip around her and, with Nathaniel in tow, have him check out the peephole.

“It's a package,” he told me with a frown. “Are you expecting anything?” I shook my head, my cold, wet hair flying around my face. I must've looked like a disaster in my horrible, pink nightmare of a robe. Jamie was completely off her rocker if she thought anyone would find me attractive in it. “If you'll excuse me,” he said as he opened the door and checked the address label. “Gary Harper sent this,” he said and his mood completely switched gears. I hadn't seen him serious yet. This was serious to him. His full lips were stretched into an angry frown and his green eyes were dark. “My suggestion would be to get rid of it immediately. If you would like to see what's in it, I'll open it for you.” Jamie came up next to us but said nothing.

“I … ” I wanted to take Nathaniel's advice, but part of me was curious. Curiosity killed the cat, remember, Theresa? “Can we please open it?” I was obviously an idiot. Just take a look at my dating history and you'll see. Nathaniel nodded briskly and pulled a pocket knife from his coat. He sliced the tape on the top and folded back the cardboard. Inside was a mound of white peanuts that he carefully pushed aside until he found the contents. There were a couple of stuffed animals, a stack of video games, boxes of chocolate and books of pornography. It was an odd assortment, certainly, and it scared the crap out of me. There was also a note which Nathaniel read and then passed to me.



Dear Theresa,



You know that I love you with all of my heart. The more time we spend apart, the more I realize this. I want to have a family with you and Rhea. Just because you're a barren witch doesn't mean we can't adopt more children. I think about you every moment of the day and during the night I –



I crumpled the page up in my fist and only stopped when Nathaniel wrapped his warm hand around mine. Despite the disturbing contents of the note, my blood rushed to my head and I felt dizzy on my feet as I looked up and found his eyes. There was strength there and even if it was only for hire, for the moment, it was mine. I stood there absorbing his gaze, enjoying the lingering touch of his hand.

“You'll need this for evidence,” he told me as he carefully unfolded my fingers and pulled the paper out, straightened it, and put it in his pocket.

“Throw it away,” I said, trying not to let him see how disturbed I was. “Just throw it all away.”