Series: Bodyguards, Inc. #5
Genre: M/M Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 9, 2015
Can Christmas be the time when Kirby finally stops running and allows himself to fall in love with the man who saves his life?
CIA Agent Stefan Mortimer is cooling his heels in the UK until he can go home. Taking on easy assignments with Bodyguards Inc. seems like a good solution to keep him sane. He's used to life throwing him curveballs, and it’s just another day at the office when he rescues Kirby Devlin and his niece and nephew. Now he has to keep Kirby and the kids alive and stay professional.
Kirby Devlin has one priority; keeping his small family safe. On the run, and facing danger at every turn, Kirby finally runs out of places to hide on a snowy December day at an Edinburgh train station. Stefan comes to the rescue, saves him and the children. Is it possible that Kirby finally has someone to trust?
Now, if only it would be as easy for Kirby to trust Stefan with his heart.
"...Kirby was on the run with little Andy and Louise, having seen their father stabbed and left for dead. An unexpected attack at the train station left Kirby in a bloody mess and Stefan coming to the rescue. ... Love’s Design was a great addition to the Bodyguard, Inc. series, with a magical Christmas theme..."
“When I read an R.J. Scott book I never fail to get a quiver in my body and a smile on my face. Love’s Design lived up to my expectations.” ~Evelise at S.E.X. Reviews
“What the hell is he doing?” Stefan murmured as the man in the cheap suit moved out of the shadows and back into them again.
Tall, with his hands pressed deep into his jacket pockets, the man crossed from one side of the large empty waiting room to the other. His expression was one of determination, but his posture screamed anger, and it was difficult to tell which was winning from this distance. Stefan was killing time at Waverley, the train station in Edinburgh, waiting for the train holding his latest babysitting job to depart, and all he could focus on was this one man. Typical that even when he was supposed to be having a quiet time with his Kindle, Stefan spotted shit that just wasn’t right.
Call it boredom, call it a sixth sense, but the man in the suit was up to something. And he was one of three. He had two friends along for the ride: a tall guy and another as wide as he was tall, with his head disappearing into his thick neck. Abruptly, Stefan knew he had been looking at the man in charge of two heavies. Both Tall Guy and Neck Guy had disappeared into the bathrooms five minutes ago and had yet to come back out.
The Boss, as Stefan called him in his head, kept pausing outside the bathrooms, where a sign proclaimed “Cleaning in Progress”. The waiting area was sprawling, drafty and empty of all but a few diehards, probably those waiting for late arrivals, which were mostly delayed, due to snow.
Stefan knew something was going down in there and he fairly itched with the need to get involved.
“Not my circus, not my monkeys,” he muttered to himself. Kyle would kill him if he got involved with something that would call the wrath of MI6 down on them again. As it was, Kyle was trying to calm down the CIA after the whole missing-scientist incident, and almost had them agreeing to take Stefan back so that Stefan could hunt down whoever fucked up and exposed the scientist they’d had under protection.
Three suspicious men in a near-deserted railway station weren’t his problem. His problem was the annoyingly entitled investment banker who was now safely on a train with his next bodyguard, on his way to London. A glance at the board had Stefan wincing. He’d hoped to be gone from the station by now, but the snow was causing delays and some cancelations, and the London train would be the last on the board scheduled to leave, four hours late at nearly 10:00 p.m. The rest of the departures were listed with large signs saying everything had been canceled. No wonder the station was empty. And yes, he was bored.
One thing Stefan Mortimer didn’t do well, was sitting on his ass doing nothing. I’m bored. I need to get laid, and I need to go home. Not necessarily in that order. He’d been stuck in the UK for going on half a year now, and, by necessity, had slipped into working for Kyle at Bodyguards Inc. Not that he needed the money, but he was a man of action, and sitting around with his thumb up his ass was not the way he spent his time.
He sipped at his coffee, and the cold, bitter brew furred his tongue. He’d left it too long to drink while studying the dynamics of the man and his two bodyguards, and the drink hadn’t been that amazing to start with. Brits didn’t know how to make coffee, not like back home.
The man he’d been watching stopped pacing and checked his watch, then, with a brief look around the area, pushed through the bathroom door. He wouldn’t be able to see Stefan from that angle, not properly; to all intents and purposes Stefan looked like he was sleeping and was behind a metal grate enclosing a small area where he was hiding from having to interact with people.
As soon as that bathroom door shut, and with no real conscious decision, Stefan was on his feet, his hand automatically going for his weapon, then falling away when his brain caught up with his muscle memory. Scotland. No guns.
As he walked to the bathroom, he unzipped his jacket and flexed his arms a little to make sure he had full movement. He didn’t know what was happening behind that door, but he might need to think on his feet. Or, he might have to make a big deal out of washing his hands and retreating, if indeed nothing was going on.
He slipped through the door and waited just inside. The bathroom smelled of bleach, and the lights were low. There was a small entry area with long mirrors—two had large cracks in them—hand dryers, and an off-center arch that led through to the cubicles and urinals. That was where the noise was coming from. A rhythmic banging… and a whimper.
Either I’m walking in on an orgy, or shit is going down.
Stefan looked around for a weapon, anything he could use. Short of smashing a mirror, he had nothing, and only in the movies was smashing a mirror a good idea. Last time he’d tried it, he’d cut his arm open. He still had the scar to prove it. Stefan pulled back his shoulders and sauntered around the corner and into the main bathroom as if he had no better place to be. Like he belonged. Pacing Man from outside had his back to Stefan, Neck-Guy the same, but there was no sign of the victim or the third goon.
The third man came out of the last cubicle dragging something—a body—and looked directly at Stefan with a shocked expression. “Private party,” he said, brooking no argument. “Fuck off.”
Stefan slumped a little and made himself look as small and innocent as he could. “I just need to—”
“You need to leave.”
Stefan saw the blood, the body, saw the muscle-bound man turn and walk his way, observed Pacing Man step toward him as well. He knew exactly where they all were.
“What’s wrong?” Stefan asked. “Who’ve you got there? Your boyfriend?”
He knew better than to ask the bad people questions, but this seemed like a wisecracking kind of moment to him and he needed them all coming toward him.
Elephant-Necked Guy got to him first, a meaty hand on his shoulder, gripping hard and attempting to propel Stefan back out of the bathroom. Stefan allowed him to step forward, and then mid-step, when he was off balance, Stefan twisted his leg, caught the man behind the knee, and had him crashing into the urinals. His huge head smacked the porcelain, rendering him unconscious.
“Oops,” Stefan said. “My bad.”
Pacing Man stepped back in shock, and bodyguard two dropped the victim’s lifeless body before assuming a stance, clearly thinking this was coming down to a fight of some sort. Stefan steadied himself, waiting until he was gripped, and he had the second man unconscious at his feet with the judicious use of a bathroom door, a toilet, and a paper dispenser.
That just left Pacing Man.
Who, for fuck’s sake, had a gun on him.
“This is the UK, you know,” Stefan said, his breathing a little heavy. It had been a long time since he’d gotten physical with anyone, and it was showing. “No guns.”
“Fuck you,” Pacing Man said. “Turn around and leave.”
Stefan glanced at the body. Noticed movement, saw eyes open through blood, and shook his head. “Not happening.”
Pacing Man shook his gun. “I’ll shoot you.”
Stefan made a hundred small observations. Pacing Man was pale, a little shaky, the gun not quite so steady, but he had the gleam of something in his eyes, a confidence. Was he high? The victim groaned, made an effort to stand, grabbing at the slick tiled wall to find purchase.
“Help,” the beaten man pleaded.
“Why are you hitting him?” Stefan asked. He didn’t know what was going on here, but a gun against fists wasn’t a fair fight. He didn’t care why the guy on the floor had been beaten, because, whatever the reason for beating someone to a pulp, it didn’t sit right with him. Stefan stepped forward suddenly and Pacing Man reared back, fear in his face, his hand lax, and Stefan relieved him of his gun in the blink of an eye.
Pacing Man’s eyes widened, just before they shut as Stefan slammed his head against the bathroom door. Pacing Man twisted in his hold, taking Stefan by surprise, Stefan’s gun hand and the man’s head getting caught by the door as it slammed on them. Stefan felt the agonizing pain of mashed muscles and skin at the same time as Pacing Man slumped to the floor, unconscious.
Which left only Stefan and the victim awake.
Stefan leaned over and helped the bloody man stand, taking his weight even as they stumbled back against the wall.
“Help me,” the man said.
“Trying, buddy, really trying.” He attempted to hold the man upright though his wrist throbbed. He knew the pain would ease in a minute—he’d had injuries like this before—but, just at this moment, it hurt like a bitch.
The man exhaled noisily and wiped his face with his sleeve, blood smearing over pale, freckled skin.
“I need to get them,” he muttered.
“What’s your name?” Stefan began to move them out of the bathroom area.
“Help me,” the man said again.
Stefan helped him over the bodies on the floor; Elephant-Necked Guy was mumbling and groaning, and they only had a few minutes to get out of the bathroom before Stefan would have to hurt his fists again.
He reached awkwardly for the dropped gun and placed it in the small of his back. They needed to get the fuck out of here. He wasn’t sure he’d be up to taking on the big guy in there with only one hand in use and holding up the victim too, and he sure as hell wasn’t using a gun. “What’s your name?”
“Kirby,” the victim said.
“Okay, Kirby, let’s get you out of here.”
They made it out of the bathroom and out to the waiting room. Luckily for Stefan and Kirby, it was as empty as it was five minutes ago. Swiftly, Stefan moved Kirby along, but then Kirby balked and stopped.
“Wait,” he said on a painful exhale.
“What? No waiting. We need to get you to a hospital.” Hell, we need to get me to a hospital.
“Please,” Kirby whispered. He yanked himself away from Stefan, and the only thing stopping him from hitting the floor was the departures board support.
Stefan grabbed him to stop him from falling, intensely aware of the blood all over Kirby’s sweater and jacket. Kirby was bleeding, but from God knew where. Stefan had seen a cop here earlier, doing his rounds, or maybe it was a security guard. They’d exchanged nods, but the man was nowhere to be seen now.
“The hospital,” Stefan said firmly. He’d call the cops once he knew Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally.
“No.” Kirby shook his head, his eyes closing. “Help me.” Using Stefan as a crutch, he lean-dragged himself away from the support.
Stefan sighed noisily. He had half an eye on the bathroom door behind them and half an eye on every other fucking thing. Who the hell was this Kirby guy, and why were three men—well, one at least—beating on him?
“Help you how? You need a hospital.”
“No, they’ll be killed. Please.”
Who? Who’ll be killed? “What do you need me to do?”
“To the door, to get them,” Kirby mumbled.
They made it to a side corridor, and a door marked Staff Only.
Kirby leaned on the door. “Thank you.”
“What’s in there?” Stefan asked. Kirby’s thank-you sounded suspiciously like a dismissal. “Drugs? Is this a drugs thing?”
Kirby shook his head, and Stefan took the time to catalog the contusions under the blood. The blood on his face was from a split lip and a wicked-looking cut over one eye, and it had matted the long dark hair that fell around his face. He was skinny, short, and weighed nothing, but there was a fire in his bright emerald eyes.
“Thank you,” he said again and then waited for Stefan to leave.
“Not going anywhere.” Stefan was following this through to find out what the hell was hidden in the room. He had a gun in his possession, a man who’d been beaten, and three goons who were clearly after something. Stefan wasn’t letting this go.
A hundred thoughts must have passed through Kirby’s head, and they all telegraphed in his expression. Fear, anger, and finally resignation—at least those were the ones that Stefan read.
“Who the hell are you?” Kirby’s words were mumbled around a swelling mouth.
Stefan thought on his feet and pulled out the ID that he never left at home, realizing at the last minute that he’d have to reach across his body, because his right hand was way past sore. “Stefan Mortimer, CIA.” He waved it in front of Kirby, who grabbed at it and held it still.
“Fuck,” Kirby muttered.
“So, tell me what’s going on?”
Kirby leaned back against the door, and he pushed a hand into his pocket.
Stefan tensed. What was Kirby trying to retrieve? He only relaxed when Kirby pulled out a security card, which he pressed against the keypad.
“I stole a card.” Kirby wasn’t apologizing, merely explaining. The door lock released, and Kirby went into the room, with Stefan close behind. They shut the door and Stefan flicked on the lights. He didn’t know what he would see, but when boxes moved of their own accord, he tensed. What the hell?
Kirby stumbled toward the boxes, fell to his knees, and gathered two small children into his arms. Stefan felt himself go slack-jawed.
Not drugs, then.
The little girl was making that noise Stefan’s nieces made when they were just about to go into full-on, blubbering tears, and Kirby held her closer, muttering words under his breath but gripping the small girl tightly.
Stefan stepped forward to ask questions, He stopped himself. Someone else would deal with this; someone who was better placed to care about the man who had been beaten up. The same man who held these two children like they were the most precious things in the world.
And now the little girl was sobbing into Kirby’s neck. Stefan sighed inwardly, his innate sense of making things right pushing to the front.
“What is this?” he asked, glancing back to the door, but there was no danger, nothing chasing them. No one had seen them come into the room.
Kirby said nothing.
“Kirby?” Stefan crouched down by the three of them, reaching out a hand toward the crying girl before drawing it back.
She was all about Kirby and probably wouldn’t want a stranger talking to her. Finally, Kirby released his tight hold and opened his eyes—deep, remorse-filled green. He made to stand, off balance with the added weight of the girl and what looked like a slightly older boy hanging around his neck. Stefan held out a hand, but Kirby managed to stand without his help. Evidently he was used to the extra ballast.
“I am so sorry,” he said. He had a soft Scottish accent, more obvious now he was calmer. Maybe Kirby was from Edinburgh itself, or at least close by. “I had to leave Louise and Andy in here when I saw them.”
“You mean the guys looking to take you out?”
Kirby shook his head. “You shouldn’t get involved. We’ll be fine now.” Stefan saw he was talking directly to the young boy who nodded mutely. This must be Andy.
“You might have a concussion.” Stefan’s field training kicked in. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
Kirby smiled up at Stefan, although he grimaced with the pain of it and the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I don’t feel dizzy, just sore.”
Stefan wondered how much of a lie that was. Was he used to being beaten up? Hell, he couldn’t be more than a buck-sixty and at least six inches shorter than Stefan was.
“Just keep an eye on dizziness and feeling sick,” Stefan finally offered.
The little girl’s sobs had now reduced to hiccups, and huge blue eyes peeped at Stefan over Kirby’s shoulder: wet eyes with long lashes and tears sparkling in them.
“You’re bleeding,” Andy whispered. He touched Kirby’s face. “Did McLeod do that to you?”
Andy added something with resigned perception. “Was it Bull or Tommy?”
Kirby nodded. “It’s okay, though,” he said. “This man helped me, helped us.”
Andy slipped out of Kirby’s hold and looked up at Stefan.
Stefan was tall, a couple of inches over six feet and aware that he was probably intimidating, considering his white sweater was darkened with Kirby’s blood. He copied what Kirby had done, crouching low again, and held out his good hand. “Hello.”
Andy held out a hand and shook Stefan’s gently, his touch light and wary. “I’m Andy, and this is my sister Louise. She’s four, nearly five, and I’m seven.”
“Nice to meet you, Andy. What do you say we get Kirby to the hospital, huh?”
“We’re not going to the hospital,” Kirby snapped.
Andy winced at the harsh and unyielding tone of it. “No hospital if Uncle Kirby says no.” He pulled back his thin shoulders as he spoke.
Stefan didn’t like to see a kid wince that way, in fear, and he recognized the bravery that followed. He looked at Kirby, at the blood, at the pale wash of heat on his high cheekbones and the pain that bracketed his eyes. “Yes, we are. You, me, the kids, are all getting checked out.”
“I can’t,” Kirby said a little desperately. “If we do….”
“He’ll find us,” Andy finished.
Stefan looked from Kirby to the little boy and back. “Who will? One of the guys I knocked out?”
Andy’s eyes widened. “You did? All of them? Bull as well?”
“Is Bull the big guy with no neck?” Stefan asked.
Andy nodded. “Aye.”
“Yeah,” Stefan said. “Even him.”
Andy’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Kirby moved between Stefan and Andy. He evidently wanted to cut off the fledgling hero worship. “We need to go,” he said. “The bairns and I, we need to go. Now.”
Stefan translated the word bairns to mean children. “Sorry, can’t do that,” he replied. “I need some answers, and I need them now before I call Security.”
If anything, Kirby’s face paled further at those words and Stefan saw his gaze dart guiltily to the door.
“I’m just taking my niece and nephew for a break,” Kirby said quickly and started to brush past Stefan.
“I don’t believe you.” Stefan gripped Kirby’s arms, startled at the sheer fear in the other man’s eyes and wondering whether, if he looked hard enough, he could find a glimmer of guilt.
“Let. Me. Go.” Kirby’s words had an edge to them, an edge of violence, and it was all Stefan could do not to scoop up the kids there and then. Violence in a man with children this small didn’t bear thinking about. “I don’t know who you are, but you need to leave me and the bairns alone,” Kirby said firmly, drawing himself as tall as he was able. “He can’t have them, and I swear if you try anything, I will call Security myself.”
“Who can’t have them? Is someone after you? Is it Child Protection? What are you trying to do?” Stefan asked.
“Leave us alone,” Kirby forced out, rubbing soothing motions into the girl’s back as she whimpered at his raised voice.
Stefan realized the more Kirby talked, the more involved Stefan became. Clearly there was an agenda here, and Stefan wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to know why a man and two children were being chased down. What was Kirby’s connection to the kids? And who the hell were Bull, Tommy, and Pacing Man? Kirby would be going to the hospital if Stefan had his way, but first things first, Stefan needed to assess this situation.
“I’m calling Security,” he decided. Something was wrong here, and he had to get the authorities involved.
Stefan didn’t see Kirby move or put the little girl down, but he sure as hell felt the punch that snapped his head back. He immediately went on the defensive, grabbing Kirby, twisting him around, and pressing him to the wall.
Kirby yelped in pain, but Stefan wasn’t letting go just yet. He felt tiny fists on his thighs.
“Leave him alone, let him go!”
Both kids were thumping him. Stefan loosened his hold, watching as Kirby slid down the wall, and the two children moved to stand between him and Kirby.
“Please,” Kirby said, “No police.”
The way he said police—poe-leece—was so soft, and pleading was clear in every cell of him.
“Don’t touch my uncle,” the boy snapped, fierceness in his expression.
Stefan held up his hands. “I won’t touch him.”
“Let us go,” Kirby murmured. “Go away so I can find somewhere safe.”
Stefan thought on his feet and crouched again, so he was on the same level as the kids. “I can help you, but you have to tell me something first.”
The boy frowned but didn’t lower his fists or step away from Kirby. “What?” he asked suspiciously.
“Is he really your uncle?”
The frown didn’t drop. “Yes.” The boy nudged the girl. “Tell him, Lou.”
“Tell him what?” The girl, Lou, didn’t have her fists up. Her eyes were bright with tears, but she was as brave as her brother, standing as a barrier between Kirby and Stefan.
“Tell him you want to stay with Uncle Kirby.”
She didn’t answer in words; she nodded, then slipped back and into Kirby’s arms.
Stefan eyed the tableau critically. “Okay, I’ll get you all away from here, as long as your uncle promises to see a doctor.”
“I will,” Kirby said. “Let us go, and I will go straight to a hospital when I can.”
Stefan didn’t like to point out the contradiction in going straight there and the added “when I can.” He would cross that bridge when he came to it.
“This is how it’s going to go,” Stefan began. “We’re leaving.” He stared past the small boy and into Kirby’s green eyes, wondering what kind of man Kirby was.
“We’re getting a train,” Kirby said.
“Not tonight, you’re not. They shut the station down, issues with snow.”
“Shit.” The curse was loud and made Lou wince.
“Why do those men want you, Kirby? What did you do, and whose kids are these?” There, that was all the questions Stefan had at this moment.
Kirby stared at him, holding the girl tight. Maybe Kirby wasn’t bleeding internally, but he looked like shit. Kirby stumbled to stand, using the wall to support himself. Stefan took a step closer, and, in response, Kirby moved to one side, his hands on Andy’s shoulders, his legs hitting boxes. He looked scared and defiant, and he stepped forward so he was between Stefan and the children as much as he could be.
Andy still had his hands clenched at his sides, and there was a scowl on his face. “McLeod hurt Daddy, stuck a knife in him and made him fall down,” Andy said. “We saw him do it.”
Stefan looked from Andy to Kirby and put two and two together immediately. The kid’s dad was knifed, and the uncle was taking them from Edinburgh? Jesus, this was worse than he thought. “The children are witnesses to something?”
Kirby nodded mutely, and the horror of what was happening here hit Stefan. This was stupid; they needed to call the cops.
“An’ Uncle Kirby was keeping us safe,” Andy added. “Don’t you hurt him.”
Stefan shook his head, as struck dumb as Kirby was. The pain in his wrist was more of a dull ache, so it clearly wasn’t that bad. Either that or adrenaline was numbing him. Wouldn’t be the first time. He had to trust Kirby and his niece and nephew were in danger, and this was what Stefan did best—he handled threats, and he looked out for people.
“We need to get you out of here. Where’s your car?”
Kirby blinked at him. “We were going to…. I don’t have a car.”
“Okay. I have one. I’m in the main parking area.” He stopped talking and instead internalized all the steps needed to get Kirby and the children to his waiting car and then the authorities. By now the three men he’d dealt with would be awake. “Follow me and stay behind me. Okay?”
“Uncle Kirby?” Andy said from behind him.
“It’s okay, Andy. You remember the rules.”
“Aye, run, and if they catch me, I scream right loud, like a girl.”
The kid looked so earnest. His short dark hair was in a messy pile of sticking-up bits, his eyes were damp, but he’d spoken with complete determination.
Kirby nodded. “And stay with me.”
Andy looked up at Stefan. “You a bad guy who’s good?”
What Stefan landed himself in, he didn’t know, but hell if he was abandoning one skinny man with intriguing green eyes and two small kids.
A bad guy was not who he was. He was a typical good guy, who was quite happy being the bad guy if it kept innocent civilians safe. That was who Stefan Mortimer was.
And he was excellent at his job.
RJ Scott has been writing since age six when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies and was told to write a story. Two sides of A4 about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born. She reads anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror; however, her first real love will always be the world of romance. From billionaires, bodyguards and cowboys to SEALs, throwaways and veterinarians, she writes passionate stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and more than a hint of happily ever after.