“Why are you still here?” she asked her brother. Davis, the eldest of the Callaghan clan, sat on her couch drinking her beer and eating her food as if he belonged there. “I don’t need protection. I don’t want you here.”
Taking his off the TV for a brief second, he met her eyes. “I’m offended.”
Autumn scoffed and took a seat next to him.
“Go home where you belong.”
“Now, see, that’s rude.” He grabbed his beer. “I know for sure our mother raised you better than that. I’d expect that rudeness from Jeff or Nick, but not my sweet sister. It hurts.”
She laid her head back against the cushion and sighed. “I’m not a child, Davis. I can take care of myself.”
“Sure. And when some psycho killer comes after you to do God knows what to you, what are you going to do then, hot shot?”
“Call my brothers and have them come save the day.”
He chuckled. “See? You do want me here.”
Autumn knew just about as much as Special Ops as her brothers. Growing up, they had played games— still played games when they all got together—and she nearly always came out on top. Why were they making such a big deal about this?
“Oh, just so you know, Dad’s hired a bodyguard for you,” Davis went on to say.
“I don’t need a bodyguard,” she said through clenched teeth.
The doorbell rang, and Davis smiled. “Tell him that.”
Hopping up from the couch he raced her to the front door, fighting her for the chance to open it. Only because of his brute strength did he win their battle and pushed her aside. If her life turned to the pits when the bomb went off, she was in flaming hell right now.
“Well, isn’t this a surprise.” Davis grinned ear to ear at the man standing on the other side of the door. “Jackson Cooper. I haven’t seen you in ages.”
When Jackson met her eyes, she glared at him. Fourteen years she’d gone without thinking about him. Without thinking about the humiliation of literally throwing herself at him and begging him to love her. Only Davis knew what truly happened between her and Jackson, having caught them in the act in the barn. He was also the one who came after her when she ran away and all but fileted her skin from her bones to get her to spill what was on her mind. She cried like a baby and confessed it all to her brother, who in her defense threatened to boil Jackson’s balls. Up until this very moment.
And Jackson hadn’t changed one bit.
Although his hair was shorter, his eyes still hinted to the same sinful deeds. The connection wasn’t as strong as it had been all that time ago, but Autumn still saw the look of interest. He was bigger, body wise, with more muscle than that of his twenties. His thin green cotton shirt stretched across his defined muscles to the point she knew it would rip easily if tugged. She could imagine what his cargo pants covered and gulped a breath at that thought.
“You can’t be serious,” she said.
“Nice to see you too, hot stuff.” Jackson invited himself inside her home. He stood in her small foyer taking up most of the space.
Autumn leaned against the wall, refusing to breathe in his scent and let it go to her head. Those days are over, and you’ve moved on. But it was impossible. Just like Jackson the person, his scent filled the air around him and she held in a groan at the delicious spicy aroma.
“Oh, fuck it. You’re going to do what you want anyway.” She waved him off and walked away, heading for her bedroom.
Damn, her father for bringing him into this. Of all people to turn to, he chose her worst enemy. Jackson Cooper wasn’t a man she’d trust with her life because that too would probably end up like her heart—shattered to pieces when something new and something better came along.
Instead of coming in to talk to Davis, Autumn found Jackson barging in her house and following her right to her bedroom as if he had every right to. She turned on him, standing before her poster bed, feeling defeated before the battle even begun.
“Get out of my room,” she said in the calmest voice she could muster. In the end though, it came out hoarse.
“Not until we get a few things straight.” He stood perfectly still at the door, pinning her with his eyes. “I’m here on business. Your father hired me to protect you, and I fully plan on doing my job. So get it out of your pretty little mind you’ll somehow get rid of me or avoid me the entire time, I’m here. It’s not going to happen. I see all my battles through to the end. This one is no different.”
She refused to cry in front of him. He had lowered her from a human being to a job in five seconds flat. The look in his eyes said that he didn’t care. He didn’t give a shit about her or her life. He was in it for the money.
“I don’t care. Just leave me alone.”
“Not until someone tells me what the hell is going on.” Jackson stepped inside her bedroom. “Why do you need someone to protect your stubborn ass?”
“Look here, buddy. You do not get to come into my home and insult me. I don’t give a shit what my father told you or is paying you, but this is my house and ultimately my decision.”
A spark of interest flashed through his eyes and his lips curved slightly at her remark. “I fully intend on the Major briefing me, but I haven’t the slightest idea what the hell is going on. I need you to tell me what happened so I can plan the best course of action.”
Course of action. Yeah. Right.
“Someone planted a small bomb in a package and sent it to me. It blew up at my office. My father’s overactive imagination thinks the person who sent it is out for blood and planned on killing me in the process. I know enough about bombs from studying with Nick that a little hand-held isn’t going to threaten a life. Take an arm off, maybe. But not take a life.”
“And you saying that shows your naïve stupidity.”
“Stop it,” she screamed, tears forming in her eyes. “You do not get to waltz into my home and call me names. Especially when you’re uninvited.”
“No? You’d rather me sugarcoat it for you?”
Jackson stepped inside her bedroom, taking up her space. “Tell your father, ‘Yeah, sure she’s tough shit. She can handle herself.’ Then stand to the side and watch your body turn into pink mist when a bigger bomb explodes—all on my watch? When hell freezes over, sweetheart. If you think I’m backing down on this mission because I hurt your feelings fourteen years ago, you’re not only stupid but an ignorant fool.”
“I hate you.”
“Yeah, well, that’s something I can live with.” He reached into the side pocket of his pants and pulled out shiny metal cuffs.
“What are you doing with those?” Autumn arched a brow.
“Until I can trust you, you’ll be handcuffed to the bed.” A sly grin crept across his face.
“You aren’t putting those things on me.” She walked around the bed, positioning it between them.
“No? Is the tough girl going to stop me?”
Autumn sized him up and immediately decided it was a battle she’d lose. Although she roughhoused with her brother Nick, Jackson was twice his size. She would lose before the battle even began. Where the hell was Davis?
“And no one will hear you.” He grabbed her arm and clicked the first cuff in place before she could pull out of his reach. “Or better yet, no one will care.”
The cool metal wrapped around her wrist like a snake twining around a limb. Autumn struggled and Jackson’s grip tightened. She hated the tingle he sent up her arm when his fingers held her wrist immobile. Nothing was more humiliating than the fact she still had that kind of reaction toward him after all he subjected her to.
“Now that’s a good girl,” he cooed. “If you’re really nice to me, I promise to give you more freedom.”