I’m a little surprised to see the credits roll, because I barely watched the movie. After E fell asleep, I shamefully hadn’t been able to keep my eyes off her. I watched her now, mouth slightly open, curled up in a little ball against the large cushions.
To say that she shocked me with her earlier statement about sex was an understatement. That she would share something so intimate with me brought our relationship to a new level. Were we friends? I couldn’t be her friend; I was her employee. Trusted to guard and protect her. Whatever this was, it was heading into territory I wasn’t comfortable with. There was chemistry between us, and both she and I knew it.
But fuck if I knew how to stop it.
I can’t help but think about how much I’d misjudged her. She’s not a typical celebrity. She’s a girl with a dream who had a tough life and made it big strictly off her own talent. She’d endured so much hardship and had clearly never coveted a life of fame…at least not one like this.
As quietly as I can, I get up and walk over to her couch, Bella trotting behind me. Scooping E into my arms, I carry her into the master bedroom, trying to ignore how warm and feminine she feels in my arms—how good she smells. I roll down the bed covers with one arm and place her gently under. I linger a bit, tucking her in and making sure she’s comfortable—then force myself to leave.
I walk into the spare bedroom, which is right beside the master, and climb into bed myself, my stomach in knots. I haven’t felt like this, so drawn to someone, in years—if ever.
What the hell was I going to do?
I get up early the next morning and shower quickly, wanting to get a few things done before the girls wake up. After grabbing breakfast from downstairs, I call our driver for a scope on the situation outside. He confirms that all seems normal, and I breathe a sigh of relief. No one knows she’s here. We go over our plan for the day, and the doorbell rings just as I’m throwing Bella a bit of food.
I tense, even though I know who is on the other side. Bella barks happily at the door as if she knows, too.
“What is this I hear about a wig?” Jacques demands as he storms inside the room. “What am I supposed to do with her hair for the show? It will get ruined under that thing!”
“Nice suite,” Michonne says as she glances around. “Where’s Ellie?”
I cross my arms. “Still asleep.” I ignore Jacques’s question, and he throws me a nasty look.
At that moment the connecting door opens, and Sandy bounds through, clearly excited to see her fellow team members. “You two are early!”
“We couldn’t wait to see Ellie,” Michonne replies before turning to me. “I understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, though. The thought of everything that’s happening makes me sick to my stomach. I’m glad you’re keeping our girl as safe as possible.”
Our girl. The phrase makes me distinctly uncomfortable, but it doesn’t feel wrong.
Jacques clears his throat. “Yes, we all appreciate it! But can we do without the wig? Please? I had the perfect hairstyle for Crenshaw, and a wig will ruin it!”
“Wig stays on when she goes in and out of this hotel,” I say, making sure my voice leaves no room for argument. “We leave in three hours.”
I head back to the spare room to make a few calls as the three of them scurry off to E’s bedroom.
I use the time they’re getting ready to clean my guns. I haven’t taken them out in front of E before, and I’m not going to start now. As I look down the barrel, I hope that I won’t have to use them.
A couple of hours later I hear the door open, followed by excited voices coming down the hallway. I come out from the kitchen, hoping everyone is ready to get going, and nearly lose my breath. E is wearing a light-green summer dress that softly hugs her curves, and she walks in a pair of nude heels. Her lavender locks are piled on her head in a messy, just-got-out-of-bed look, and her lightly colored lips make her natural pout all the more enticing. Holy God, she’s stunning. My throat feels dry, and I work hard to tamp down the image of her wet and dripping in the shower.
I notice then that she’s trying not to meet my eyes, as if she’s nervous about my reaction. I have no idea what to say to ease her mind, so I settle for a quick nod in Sandy’s direction. “Ready?”
Jacques gives me a condescending stare. “As you can see, she has yet to put on that damn wig. Luckily, I bobby pinned the crap out of her hair, so it should stay in place while she runs to the car.”
I watch as he picks up said wig from the counter and places it carefully on her head. E laughs as Sandy, Michonne, and Jacques fidget with it around her. “It’s just for a second. I’ll be fine.”
I go to the hall closet and pull out a long trench I ordered from downstairs. “Wear this.”
E stares at it. “What for?”
I look her up and down. “To hide your body. Your fans can recognize you in more ways than one.”
“That’s a little creepy,” is her mumbled reply.
Michonne cackles in glee. “It’s your ass, Ellie. You could balance a coffee mug on that thing.”
I stare at her face, not daring to look down at the aforementioned body part as the rest of the room is doing. A soft blush lights her cheeks, and I wonder if she can hear how fast my heart is beating. I don’t think I’ve ever been this attracted to a woman before. I need to get myself together—and fast.
We leave the hotel—E in all her gear—without trouble and get to New York in a little over an hour. We have some time before the show, so we do a little sightseeing in Central Park. I sip my coffee, keeping an eye out for anything unusual as I watch Sandy and E take in the scenery. I notice some people starting to stare, so I hustle everyone back to the car.
“I wouldn’t mind staying to sign a few autographs,” E says testily. “It’s safe here; I’m out in the open.”
“It’s not safe anywhere,” I warn her. “And there’s only one of me. The last thing we need is a mob scene in Central Park.” I know meeting and greeting her fans means a lot to her, but I’m still not going to take any chances.
She pouts a little, but ever since the note on her door, I haven’t had much resistance from her. I picture her fiery face coming toward me on the front lawn the first couple of days and marvel at how much has changed since then.
“Are you going to talk about the stalker?” Sandy asks nervously from the backseat. “The general news media has no idea what’s going, on but there have been some rumors.”
“No,” I reply, cutting E off. “You’re not to talk about the stalker at all. He’s going to be watching tonight and is hoping for a scrap of your attention. We aren’t going to give it to him.”
E bites her lip. “But shouldn’t I try to warn him off? Or try to trap him somehow? Maybe say we have a lead on who he is?”
“No,” I tell her sternly. “A man like this doesn’t think the way you or I do. Anything you say about him would seem like validation. He’ll twist your words in his mind until he hears what he wants.”
“Wow,” Sandy whispers. “And you’re sure he’s going to be watching?”
I nodded. “I am.”
The car becomes quiet after that, and nothing else is said until we pull up in front of the studio. I curse under my breath when I see the large crowd of reporters and fans.
“Hide the wig,” I tell her. “And let me get out first.”
When the car comes to a stop, I step out and quickly go to E’s door. The cacophony of sounds is deafening. Reporters and fans screaming her name, cameras going off, and studio security yelling for everyone to keep back. I block it all out, focusing on my route to the door.
Once the car door opens, I grasp her hand lightly, as if I have no care in the world. Her palm is soft in my hand, but I can feel a bit of pressure. She’s nervous. I turn to lock eyes with Joe and Big, who are waiting by the large double doors, before I begin to push through the crowd.
E looks up and smiles as if she also doesn’t have a care in the world. She waves to a couple of cameras as we walk past but thankfully doesn’t stop to answer any of their questions. She’s better at this than I gave her credit for.
“Eloisa, is it true your ex-boyfriend Joel is being questioned for the incident on the red carpet?”
“Eloisa, who is your new bodyguard?”
“Why did you run out of the stadium a couple of days ago?”
“Is your tour canceled?”
“Eloisa, where have you been the past couple of days?”
We make it to the double doors and race inside, shutting out the noise with a loud bang.
“Whew!” Sandy says. “Did you see how many people are out there? It’s never been like that before, has it?”
Joe walks over to us and grins. “Ellie, I think we can officially say you’re on the A-list.”
E frowns. “Did you hear the questions they were asking? Is Joel really a suspect?”
Sandy shakes her head. “No. I haven’t read that anywhere. They’re just looking for a story.”
“I’d rather have them think that than get wind of the real one,” E says, looking up at me and remembering my comments from the car. It’s then that I realize I’m still holding her hand, so I promptly let it go.
She locks eyes with me, and I can’t help but wonder if her hand feels as empty as mine does now.
We’re interrupted by a harried-looking woman with a clipboard. “Eloisa, we’re so happy you’re here!” she says. “Would you mind following me? Your room is ready for you.”
And so it begins. A whirlwind of producers, assistants, makeup artists, and stylists file in and out of the room as if E is getting ready to put on the show of the century. And in between all of that, she practices scales to warm up her voice for the performance. I don’t know how she does it. I’m agitated just standing there and watching. Then Johnny Crenshaw himself walks in, looking as jolly and professional as he does on TV. “Eloisa! You’re a sight for sore eyes! How is this the first time you’re on my show?”
They launch into a lively discussion after that, and even I laugh a few times at their back-and-forth banter. He leaves after telling E he has a surprise for her, and then the team is alone again.
“This is so exciting!” Sandy exclaims, staring at her phone. “Your picture with Johnny already has eleven thousand likes!”
E laughs. “The likes are probably for him, not me!”
How wrong she is. She’s a beautiful woman, inside and out.
Near showtime, we walk toward the back, where E has to stand until she’s called out. Sandy and the rest of the crew have gone to sit in the audience, so it’s just her and me. I watch again as she bites that tempting bottom lip.
“Nervous?” I ask.
She nods. “Very. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this part. I wish I was just going out there to play my song, and that’s it. Then this would be easy.”
“Music calms the soul,” I muse quietly.
She turns to me with a thoughtful expression. “What’s your favorite song, X? Of all time.”
I debate telling her the truth, but for some reason I’m unable to help myself. “‘Bridge Over Troubled Water.’”
Her eyes soften. “That’s a beautiful song.”
“I used to listen to the Simon and Garfunkel version before I went to sleep.”
She moves in closer, her grin a mile wide. “Is that so?” I smile back, and there’s a moment of silence before she turns to me again. “I like that I know that about you.”
Looking down at her smiling up at me, the overwhelming urge to kiss her nearly blows me over. That chemistry between us sparks and sizzles until I forget where I am. I feel myself move closer. It’s only her and me, lost in a hazy world of possibility.
“E, Johnny’s ready for you now. Can you come with me?”
The loud, intrusive words nearly have me jumping out of my skin. Goddamn it! I was so far gone, and by the looks of it, so was she. What was I thinking? She’s counting on me to keep her safe, and I’m behaving like a horny teenager.
We take a step back from each other, and without another word, she disappears behind the curtain. I see her put a hand on her chest as if to calm her breathing, and I can’t help but wonder if her nerves are due to the show or if she feels what I just did.