Portland, OregonJanuary 15‘Inside/Out’ Exhibit of Suzanne Huntington’s interior designs
“Girlfriend on your six.”
A hard elbow jabbed into Morton “Jacko” Jackman’s hard side. It would have knocked a lesser man down. Former Senior Chief Douglas Kowalski wasn’t known for his gentleness or delicate touch. But then neither was Jacko. He was a former Navy SEAL too, just like the Senior. But both of them were out of the service and working in the same company, Alpha Security International, so Jacko could knock Senior on his ass and not be court-martialled.
Except, well, Senior was a good guy.
Senior’s elbow couldn’t knock Jacko down, but his knees nearly buckled at the thought of the woman behind him.
“Not my girlfriend,” he mumbled, hoping the tan he’d gotten over his dark skin this past week teaching Mexican federales in Baja the fine art of fucking with the enemy hid his red face.
Senior shifted his eyes sideways, a hint of a smile on his big ugly mug. “No?” He shook his head and jabbed him again. “So why the chubby every time you lay eyes on her?” Fuck. Busted. Jacko pulled his tuxedo jacket lower. He’d learned to control his dick at 14. What was he—back in high school? Why couldn’t he be in jeans, like he was most times he saw her? Tight stiff ones that kept the hard-on down because it didn’t have anywhere to go.
Except you don’t wear jeans to a fancy art exhibit. Particularly not when your boss’s wife’s works were on show.
“Bravo red, moving fast,” the chief murmured. Anyone further than a foot from them wouldn’t have heard a word and wouldn’t have understood anyway. The orientation clock. Bravo red meant she was moving behind him to his right. Man.
Jacko thought he could smell her but that was crazy. Still, why not imagine he could smell her because she drove him crazy in every other way? Though smelling Lauren in a room full of hundreds of people, every single one—man, woman and other—wearing perfume or cologne, with caterers walking around with hot food on platters and glasses of wine everywhere…well, that stretched even Jacko’s sense of his own craziness.
He wasn’t known for this. He wasn’t what Suzanne Huntington, the big boss’s wife and the star of the show, would call a fanciful man. He was known for being hardheaded and hard-hearted and hard-bodied. He was a roughneck from Texas who’d be in jail if he hadn’t signed up for the navy. They’d pounded self-discipline and a sniper’s focus plus a dozen lethal martial arts into him. He could handle any type of weaponry, explosives, hand to hand combat.
Not one ounce of his very extensive and very expensive training gave him a clue about how to handle Lauren Dare.
There she was! Alone and lost-looking against the wall across the room to his right. For such a beautiful woman, she was doing her best not to attract attention, though for Jacko that didn’t work. Couldn’t. It was like the roof opened up and the sun shot a beam straight down onto her like a spotlight. Jacko was surprised people weren’t gasping and turning to watch her.
She was doing everything possible to keep a low profile. She didn’t even want her name on the program, though all of the works on the wall were hers. Suzanne insisted she take the credit for them, but Lauren had insisted right back. Very few people knew this entire show was all hers. He had no idea why she didn’t want credit. Most people were happy to receive credit for things they didn’t do, few refused it. But who knew why women wanted anything, anyway? Lauren didn’t want anyone to know and for him, that was that.
Lauren was moving through the crowd like a ghost, nodding and smiling and never stopping to talk to anyone. Jacko couldn’t understand how the men managed to avoid staring at her, but then he’d always known deep down that most men were assholes. You’d have to be an asshole and blind to boot not to realize that Lauren was the most beautiful woman in a room full of them.
Two of the beauties were married to his employers, John Huntington and Senior.
Lauren moved gracefully, not speaking a word to anyone, accompanied by notes from heaven. It took Jacko a full minute to realize that angels weren’t sending down a sound track for Lauren Dare to move to. It was Allegra Kowalski, up on a dais, playing her harp. The notes morphed into a recognizable tune he’d heard the Senior’s wife play a million times.
The Senior was married to a talented musician—a harpist and singer, Allegra. Jacko remembered the first time he’d met her, sent to be a bodyguard while the Senior hunted down the fuckhead who’d attacked Allegra and blinded her. Jacko would have done his duty, even lain down his life, for a snaggle-toothed banshee girlfriend of the Senior but as it happened, Allegra Kowalski was beautiful and sweet and had played her harp for Jacko for a couple of hours while he sat in a chair facing the door, Glock 22 on his lap, finger along the trigger guard.
Allegra’s music had fucked heavily with his head and changed him forever.
But Lauren was the one who messed with him the most. Those long, white, delicate hands of hers created things he couldn’t even begin to imagine existed and yet became stone hard reality for him the instant he saw them.
He’d seen her drawings and paintings first. Suzanne, the wife of his other boss, John Huntington, aka Midnight Man, designed places where you walked in and felt like you were in some kind of stylish fairyland. Suzanne had sent him to pick Lauren up in her workshop to talk about creating images of Suzanne’s designs. Jacko had walked in to a big airy room and had frozen because he was surrounded by the most beautiful things he’d ever seen in his life. He’d simply stood stock still and gaped, mouth open like some raw recruit watching SEALs in training.
And then Lauren had walked into the room and even her gorgeous watercolors and drawings vanished from his head like smoke.
Suzanne and Allegra were beautiful women. They were known for being beautiful, though they never used those coy tricks most good-looking women did. But Lauren—it was like she was another species. A cloud of shiny dark hair surrounding a heart-shaped face with silver-gray eyes on top of a body to make men weep. It had been a hot late summer day and she’d worn a sundress that showed delicate pale shoulders, slender arms and a tiny waist and when she spoke Jacko didn’t hear a word she said.
His head was buzzing too loud.
She tried twice. He got that much. He saw her full mouth open and close and all he could think about was that mouth on his while his entire body buzzed and he got the first of many, many hard-ons that sprouted whenever he was around her.
At the third try, he tried hard to focus and managed to grasp that she was asking him a question. Morton, right? He simply stared at her. Suzanne said she’d send someone called Morton? And at the end there was this little inflection, making it a question. And fuck him if he didn’t forget his own name was Morton.
He was an asshole and blown away by her and in his defense was the fact that only the navy ever called him Morton and that was only on official occasions or when he was being chewed out. He’d been Jacko forever.