Bribed – Dr. Rebecca Sharp

BECAUSE I. WANT. IT. THAT. WAY.” My voice boomed over the engine roar in my Challenger, my playlist blasting a classic I could never turn down. “TELL ME WHY…” I pointed at the stereo, letting the Backstreet Boys belt out the second part. “TELL ME WHY…” My palm tapped on the steering wheel, navigating along the curves of the Coastal Highway that led to the Covington Security offices. It was a good fuckin’ Monday morning. The sun was out. BSB was playing. And my veins pumped full of electricity knowing I had a brand-new, high-profile client to protect. This was the life. Courting danger—AND WOMEN— in a place that couldn’t be more beautiful with its charming small town, epic coastal views, and most importantly, winding roads for all seven-hundred-sixty-seven horsepower of my Hellcat to eat up. I rolled the windows down.

“I NEVER WANNA HEAR YOU SAY,” I belted out, a ridiculous grin on my face when my foot tipped toward the floor, giving the car more gas to sink into the next curve. “I WANT IT THAT—FUCK!” My hands jerked the wheel to the side, tires screeching with excitement, and narrowly avoid the car that had veered into my lane. “Fucking hell.” Blaring my horn, I looked in the rearview for the license plate, but the only thing I saw was the reason the other car had swerved—her. The woman walking along the other side of the road. I slammed on the brakes, cranked down the volume of my goddamn favorite song. Going to be late for work, D. “Dammit,” I swore and pulled a U-turn, my tires squealing across the double yellow. Carefully passing by her, I veered into the scenic pull off about twenty yards behind her, wincing at the spray of dirt and dust that kicked up against the freshly washed black paint. Sure, there was a beautiful stretch of road along the cliffs overlooking the coast. Plenty of pull-offs to take photos and explore. BUT TO TAKE A WALK? With all the twists and turns—and the tourists with piss-poor driving skills—in my opinion, you’d have to have half a brain or half a death wish to be taking a casual stroll along it. BUT WHICHEVER HALF this woman had, it was hidden well under full-blown beauty. Dark mahogany locks caught in the sea-whipped breeze, blowing the loose curls like a storm around her. Tight light-wash jeans and a bright orange tee clung to curves that were packed onto her petite frame, all under a large gray sweater.

But it was her lips—so full and reddened from the wind, parted with surprise at my aggressive driving—that made my cock turn to stone. Fuck. She slowed, looking back cautiously at my car—at me—for one long second, her head tipping like she was trying to recall something before she winced, her hand lifting to her forehead in pain before turning away. And continuing her treacherous morning walk. Seconds later, the engine was off, and I was out of the car jogging toward the roadside beauty to offer her a ride or a warning—anything to get her off the side of this road. Definitely going to be late to work. Ace, my boss and one of the owners of Covington Security where I worked, wasn’t going to be thrilled, especially since we were meeting my new client first thing, but no time to worry about that now. A woman in distress demanded tardiness. “Excuse me, ma’am!” I called, my pace slowing. She’d been walking with a slight shake to her head, the breeze carrying muttered indecipherable words back to me. But when I called to her, her head whipped around, stark fear flashing in her dusky green eyes. Fuck. “Hey.” I put my hands up, signaling I meant no harm, and continued, “Are you alright? Do you need a ride?” I didn’t want to frighten her, and I knew what an unfamiliar man wearing dark pants and a dark polo chasing her up the road probably looked like, but I wasn’t ready to walk away from this situation with a whole SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST mentality. BECAUSE BETWEEN HER AND THE NEXT CAR THAT CAME WHIPPING AROUND THE BEND, I KNEW WHO THE ‘FITTEST’ IN THAT scenario would be.

“No, thank you,” she replied politely, faced forward, and began walking faster, her gray Keds practically smoking the way she sped forward. Dammit. “No, wait, don’t—” I broke off with a violent curse when a bright red mustang flew around the corner, narrowly missing her, and so kindly decided to blare its fucking horn as it flew by me. “Jesus fucking—” My chest rumbled with a growl. THIS SITUATION NEEDED TO STOP. I sprinted to her, not quite wearing the right pants for a morning run—or for morning wood. “Please, stop,” I said, able to reach out and gently touch her shoulder before she spun, continuing to back away from me. The flash of fear in her eyes was quickly iced over with an unreadable mask, a skill most people didn’t have, let alone have mastered like she clearly had. My mouth opened to say more, but for the arguably first time in my whole life, I found myself speechless at the sight of a beautiful woman. I was never speechless. Beautiful women were like a red flag in front of this Italian bull, inciting every inch of charm and charisma to come out with full force. But she was beyond beautiful. She was more petite than I estimated, probably just an inch or so over five feet. Up close, her auburn hair that I’d seen fall in waves down her back was highlighted with streaks of honey. She had a dark brown scarf tied like some kind of headband, the silk blending in with her hair, the knot of the fabric just visible beneath her ear.

My fingers flexed, itching to untie it… itching to twist my fingers through the sweet, sultry strands until there was no way to unstick them. Her eyes were a murky combination of green and blue, like a gray moss that was both soft and secretive when it clung to my stare. And there was something else about her… something vaguely familiar, as if I’d met her in a dream. Or in my favorite fantasy. Damn. Double damn. For a guy whose coworkers nicknamed him Casanova, it was safe to say I’d been with a fair number of women, enough to claim that my idea of a beautiful woman wasn’t limited to a certain size or shape. But holy hell, did THIS woman have the kind of beauty that was either sorcery or perfection. EITHER WAY, I WAS MORE THAN HAPPY TO FALL UNDER ITS spell. “I don’t mean any harm, I just want to help,” I said quickly, clearing my throat and turning up the corners of my mouth in a smile proven to drop defenses—AND PANTIES —time and again. “I’m Dante. Dante Lozano.” Casually lifting one corner of my mouth just a little higher, I extended my hand in greeting. And all she did was blink. Once.

Twice. Each unfazed movement like the shot from a gun, ripping holes right through my conditioned confidence. “Help? I’m really fine, I’m just walking to clear my head. But thank you,” she insisted, politely but definitively, simultaneously ignoring my introduction and ignoring my smile. She glanced to the side, her mask cracking to expose the flush of fear underneath. But only for an instant. DAMN, THIS WOMAN WAS AFRAID OF SOMETHING—SOMETHING OTHER THAN ME. Problem was, it didn’t look like she knew exactly what it was either. “Look, ma’am, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree.” That got her attention. One perfectly arched eyebrow lifted by its peak. “You’re walking pretty damn close to the side of the road, I almost hit a car that was trying not to hit you.” I pointed to the road. “And I’ll bet you the next tourist that comes flying around that corner won’t have the kind of reflexes or suspension that I do.” My hands continued to move as I spoke, motioning to the corner and then to her and then to my car, and practically carrying on a conversation of their own.

Italian genetics. Her head tipped, a curl sneaking over her shoulder. “Was that a humble brag?” Sinking my hands on the notch of my hips, I ducked and shook my head. HERE I WAS, trying to keep her safe, and she was accusing me of being full of myself. My smile tightened. “Ma’am.” The manners Gloria Lozano instilled in all six of her children were coming out strong. ALONG WITH THE QUICK-TO-ANYTHING ITALIAN EMOTION. “I’m trying to help you. I’m from a local security firm in town.” I turned my shoulder and extended my arm down so she could see the shield emblem on the side of my sleeve. It wasn’t a badge or a business card, but it would have to do. But instead of the relief or assurance or whatever the hell I expected, instead she took a half step back—CLOSER TO THE WHITE LINE OF THE ROAD , wariness darkening her expression. Who the hell was afraid of the good guys? “Do you have a car? Is someone picking you up? Are you walking somewhere?” I kept my tone calm. “Is there any way I can help you get where you’re going in a lessdangerous manner?” “I just needed some air and got lost in thought,” she offered, tugging her sweater tighter.

Her eyes slanted to the side, and when they returned, there was a glaze over them—almost like she’d pulled out a mask of calm from her back pocket. “I’m really fine, thanks.” The wind carried my low growl when she spun and walked away.


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Updated: 15 September 2021 — 03:04

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