ONE WOMAN SHOW

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Chapter 5

Eloisa

Sticking my pencil back in my bun, I narrow my eyes at the sheet in front of me. I haven’t been able to write a new song in weeks. I could chalk it up to lack of inspiration, but I know that’s not what’s been bothering me.

I reach down and scratch Bellatrix—my little Bella—under her chin. She pants loudly, and her eyes start to close as she basks in the attention.

“What a life, eh?” I mumble.

The sound of thundering footsteps in the hallway breaks the peaceful silence. Bellatrix and I both freeze, listening as they get closer.

Without warning, the door to the library is whipped open, causing me to rear back into my pillows.

Oh, wow—

The breath is sucked out of my chest as I take in the formidable monster of a man filling the doorway. It’s like he walked out of a nightmare, wearing all black and looming over the room with his arms crossed over his mighty chest. My eyes run from the shit-kicker boots to the cargo pants and long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, the latter two encasing what I know right away is a long, lean, insanely muscled body. He must be the new security detail—

I clear my dry throat and force myself to look in the monster’s face. He’s scowling, but not at me. “Can you shut this thing up, or should I?”

Breaking out of my trance, I swallow and snap my mouth closed. It’s only then that I notice Bellatrix yapping away at the intruder’s feet.

“Bellatrix, stop that! Get over here,” I scold. My voice comes out shaky to my own ears. Get a grip, Morgan! “Sorry,” I continue. “She’s hoping you have food.”

He stares at me with a blank expression, so I try to explain. “She can’t help but investigate every time someone enters a room. She loves to eat. In fact, she can smell her favorite treats from a mile away.” And now I’m rambling. The yapping doesn’t stop, so I clap my hands twice and raise my voice. “Bellatrix, now!”

A small series of growls emits from my twelve-year-old Pomeranian’s mouth, but she listens and trots back over to my side. I make a show of petting her because I’m too overwhelmed to look at the captain of darkness in my doorway. I’ve never had any social grace around intimidating men.

Reaching into my pocket, I pull out one of Darla’s treats to keep her busy. She takes it happily and settles into my lap. X still hasn’t said anything, but his body language speaks a thousand words. Apparently he’s in a bad mood.

Finally, after things are starting to get really awkward, he speaks. “I assume you knew I was coming today.”

His deep, husky tone catches my attention, and I instinctively look up, noting his short brown hair and dark-brown eyes. But when I look closer, I can’t help but marvel at his face. Chiseled, strong, with just a hint of stubble. Oh, I am way out of my element with this one. I remind myself that he works for me, so that automatically gives me the upper hand. “I was told just this morning.”

He steps into the room at a leisurely pace and starts glancing around, picking up this and that as if he has all the time in the world. Both Bellatrix and I bristle. I get he’s my part of the security team, but he’s incredibly familiar considering we haven’t even properly met. “Xavier, I think we should talk—”

“X,” he replies, stopping about two feet in front of me. “And, yes, we should talk. There’s much to discuss.”

“I agree—”

“Starting with changes that are effective immediately,” he interrupts, standing over me like a dark cloud.

I glare at him. “You sure don’t waste any time, do you?” God forbid the man introduce himself properly.

“Why would I want to waste time?”

“Do you think two strangers exchanging initial pleasantries is a waste of time?”

His eyes narrow menacingly, but I force myself to hold his eyes as he responds. “I already know everything I need to know about you. I read the file.”

I tut and resume petting Bellatrix. “OK, X. Have it your way. Let’s get down to business.”

He nods, my sarcasm clearly going over his head. We’re off to a great start. “As of now, there are several crews on their way over to install a new security system.”

I shrug, figuring as much. “Got it.”

“The locks will be changed, and no one is allowed inside unless on a master list that is regulated by me.”

Now would probably not be the best time to bring up brunch. I’ll go with the element of surprise for that one. “Got it.”

X looks at me cautiously, probably surprised by my easy acceptance, before resuming his earlier pace around the room. “Furthermore, you must bring any and all concerns to me, no matter how trivial they may be. Moving forward, consider me the only person you can trust.”

I scoff. He can’t be serious. “Look, I appreciate you being here. My life has gotten a little crazy over the last year, and with the tour coming up, I could use the additional security. But it’s really not all that serious—”

“The seriousness of your situation, and any that will arise in the future, is for me to decide.”

His glacial response and husky tone of voice are a deadly mixture. No doubt he wields both to get his way. A small chill runs through my body, and I resist the urge to cross my arms. How dare he make me feel this way in my own home. “Are you always going to be this rude?”

“I like to call it efficient.”

“Well, your efficient energy is really off-putting.” I scowl at him and lean back into my pillows. “I’ve deduced that already, and we’ve only been in each other’s presence for a few minutes.”

His top lip curls into a small snarl as he leans forward. “Eloisa, I am here to make sure no harm comes to you. That’s it. I couldn’t give a damn about energy or whatever else the A-list is into these days.”

His dark stare adds a figurative exclamation point to his sentence. Fighting against my natural instincts, I glare back. Who does he think he is? “This is my house, X.”

“Wrong. For the next four months, it’s our house. I’ll take the guest bedroom upstairs.”

He was moving in? Was he crazy? He turns away and heads toward the door as if that bold statement doesn’t need further clarification. I get my voice back just as he crosses the threshold.

“You can’t move in here,” I sputter angrily, getting to my feet. “I prefer to live alone.”

“I am moving in here and will be in close proximity to you every moment, barring three hours every Sunday during which I will need personal time. At that time, I will double your security until I return. You don’t have a choice in the matter.” I watch his eyes narrow. “And let’s get one thing straight: for the next four months, I refuse to deal with your attempts to thwart me at every turn. That’s not how this is going to go. I don’t mean to come off abrasive. I was hired to protect you, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Wow. It felt like the man hated me. He clearly had made conclusions about me and my lifestyle before he got here and couldn’t care less about taking the time to get to know me.

After a dramatic ten-second staring contest, I sighed and looked away, deciding to let him win this battle. We were off on the wrong foot, and I was embarrassed at how childish he seemed to think I was. No one had ever riled me up that much within five minutes. Damn him. “Take the basement,” I say, throwing him a bone. I’d learned over the course of my life it was best to kill with kindness. And that’s what I’d do to throw him off guard. “It’s bigger with its own bathroom.”

Before he could respond, Sandy popped her head in. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but your father just called. He wanted to wish you a happy birthday. I told him I’d give you the message.”

I ignored the churning in my stomach at the news and managed a quick nod. My twenty-fifth birthday had been a week before, but it was no surprise my father hadn’t remembered. Why he still bothered to call me, I had no idea. I hadn’t accepted one of his calls in a year—and a year ago had been the first time I’d heard from him in about twelve. We had nothing to say to each other.

X cleared his throat, bringing me back to reality, and when I looked up, I found him staring at me with a black expression. What the hell? “I need to know of any birthday plans immediately. No one informed me you were celebrating. Whatever grand plans you had in mind, you’ll have to reschedule. I’d prefer you not leave this house until everything is secure.”

And it was at that moment I decided I didn’t like X. How. Dare. He. He didn’t know me from Adam but was so damn quick to judge, just like all the others who thought they knew me. The information about my dad had me reeling, and now I had to deal with this storm cloud’s shitty attitude.

And when killing someone with kindness doesn’t work? Make that person feel stupid. “For your information, I don’t celebrate my birthday.”

Picking up Bellatrix from the floor, I turned my back on him and walked toward the window. Luckily, he took it for the dismissal that it was and left a few seconds later.

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