Title: The Bodyguard
Author: Genie Gabriel
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 2
Psychiatrist Julia Cabot's life has always gone according to plan -- until her husband's charming affability explodes into violence. Terrified for her life and the safety of her children, Julia runs. She finds an unlikely haven with a man her children think is the angel they wished for after they find feathers on the floor. Former bodyguard Mitch Garrison is trained to protect, but something went fatally wrong five years ago when his wife was shot while helping an abused woman. Mitch's nightmares come to life when Julia appears, a jagged purple bruise marring her face. But when her ex-husband kidnaps her children, Julia and Mitch join forces in a journey that brings them face to face with their deepest fears and their most passionate desires.
Two weeks before Christmas, Mitch decided he had waited long enough.
"Come on, mutt." Mitch grabbed his coat and a pair of work gloves. "Let’s go find the twins."
Gabe bounded to his feet and bumped the doorknob with his nose. He sniffed and marked around the yard while Mitch pulled the Ferrari out of the garage. As soon as the dog jumped into the car, Mitch drove to a lot selling Christmas trees. He selected one that would fit nicely in Julia’s small apartment and strapped it to the top of the car.
The mutt hung his head out the window, riding in silent watchfulness until the apartment building was in sight. "Woof!"
"You have to be quiet or we’ll get caught smuggling you in." Under cover of the falling twilight and a bushy evergreen tree, Mitch and the dog walked quickly toward Julia’s apartment.
As soon as Julia opened the door, the dog pushed inside and sniffed out the twins, quickly falling back into their game of hide and seek. Within seconds, the twins’ giggles let Julia know the dog had found the children.
"I brought a tree." Mitch stood the evergreen upright.
"I see that." Julia bit her lip as she walked around the tree. "Nice choice. Bushy all around."
"I had three picky sisters who trained me in the fine art of Christmas tree selection."
Julia smiled. "They trained you well."
"I thought we could decorate it tonight and maybe have cookies and hot chocolate."
The wistful look on Mitch’s face tugged at Julia’s heart. She didn’t want to disappoint him--or miss the chance to spend time with him. "That would be great. Except..."
"All the decorations were left behind."
Understanding dawned in Mitch’s eyes. "I’m sorry, Julia. I didn’t think--I’ll go buy some."
"Wait--" Julia didn’t want to owe Mitch anything more, and she couldn’t afford to buy decorations for an entire tree right now. "Let’s make decorations. We have construction paper for paper chains and snowflakes, and we can pop corn to string together. I haven’t done that in years. It will be fun."
"How about the angel for the top?" Mitch asked.
Julia tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Origami. We can do a fancy folded paper one." She hoped.
"Sounds great to me." Mitch took off his jacket. "I did remember a stand."
While Mitch set the tree in the stand, Julia gathered supplies for ornaments and explained to the twins what they were going to do. The twins were delighted, as they hadn’t been allowed to touch the fussy tinsel and glass ornaments on the tree in the West Hills house. Just one more reminder of how suppressed her children’s joy had been. Julia much preferred this homemade Christmas tree.
The tiny apartment soon became littered with scraps of paper, as loops of red and green chains took shape. The popping of corn rattled a cheerful accompaniment to the giggles of the twins as Julia brought another bowl of popcorn for Mitch to add to the string the dog snitched pieces from.
"Why don’t you just give him some popcorn?" Julia asked.
"He won’t eat it except off the string." Mitch threw a disgusted look toward the dog. "It must be a new game."
Julia turned away to hide her smile. The tree was shaping up beautifully, even if Angelina insisted on hanging all her handmade ornaments on the same three branches. "Anyone want refills on hot chocolate?"
When Julia returned from the kitchen, the room had grown quiet.
"Your helpers are asleep," Mitch said.
The twins lay curled like cherubs next to the dog beneath the spreading limbs of the now decorated tree.
"Do you want to move them to bed?" Mitch asked.
Julia nodded. Soon the twins were settled in their beds for the night.
"Sometimes I just want to watch my children." Julia’s heart swelled with joy as she gazed at Abraham and Angelina. "If I could have one thing for Christmas, I’d ask for my children to be safe."
Julia and Mitch lapsed into silence for a moment, absorbing the innocence of the twins as they slept. "What would you ask for, Mitch?"
Mitch stared at Julia for a moment longer. His gaze caressed every inch of her face and finally settled on her mouth. "A kiss from you."
Startled, Julia tried to cover a thrill of excitement by folding her hands primly in front of her. "That’s all?"
"Maybe that kiss could be delivered early." The hunger in Mitch’s eyes generated a tingle between Julia’s breasts.
"Maybe it could." Julia didn’t believe the words slipped from her mouth. However, the expectant look in Mitch’s eyes confirmed Julia had spoken her thoughts aloud. And now she felt honor-bound to carry through. She could do this without acting like a fool. It was just a kiss, right?