In Kelly's Corner Excerpt
I didn't dare look up from my laptop screen. After the way Kelly had picked me up earlier, there was no way in hell I could wipe the yearning look from my face. I needed his help and didn't want to push him away again by making a jackass of myself.
"Bee." He said my name in that rough, rumbling voice of his. My tummy trembled wildly. "We need to talk. Now."
His gruff tone very nearly drew a yes, sir from my lips. Instead, I nodded and stepped around Coby. She surreptitiously reached out to give my hand a reassuring squeeze. Grateful for her support, I descended the stairs to the dance floor where Kelly awaited me.
When he held out his hand, I stared at it for a second before finally working up the nerve to place my palm against his. The rough heat of his fingers closing around mine blazed right up my arm and arced into my chest. I hated that every single touch affected me in this way, but I couldn't stop my reaction to Kelly.
He led me to one of the tables along the far wall. Choosing one of the sleek silver chairs, I avoided the sticky spill on the tabletop and rested my hands on my lap. Kelly sat close to me, too close, and made it impossible for me to avoid eye contact when he slid his arm along the back of my chair. Trapped between the table and his bigger body, there was no escape.
"Aren't you still on the clock?" I glanced at the small group of patrons hanging around the main floor.
"You let me worry about that." Tapping my shoulder, he said, "I want you to start from the beginning of this mess. Don't leave anything out. I need to know everything if I’m going to protect you. When did this start?"
Hearing Kelly say he was going to protect me eased the tight knot in my stomach. With a little sigh, I explained, "The first week of April, I had this weird feeling that I was being watched. I never saw anyone, but I had this creepy sensation following me around, you know? Then, the last week of April, the texts and phone calls started."
"What kind of texts?"
"They described what I was wearing or what I had for lunch, and were filled with compliments. They were specific enough that I knew they were legit and not simply someone trying to mess with me."
"Do you still have them? Dimitri keeps a couple of IT guys on the payroll at LSG."
I shot him an amused smile. "Kelly, come on. It's me you're talking to, remember? Jeez—I have friends who work at the NSA! And anyway, the messages came from burner phones bought with cash. The signals bounced off different towers around the city,"
"Even so, I want our guys to look at the messages." He rubbed his jaw. "When did this start to escalate?"
"Right before I sat for my finals, someone spoofed my LookIt page."
"Copied," I clarified. "Someone created a copy of my blog, but they filled it with some really filthy porn and other not so nice stuff. I caught it and took it down quickly, but it was a real pain in the ass, especially with that offer on the table."
The corners of his mouth turned down with irritation. "We'll talk about that later."
I bristled at his tone. "I've been wanting to talk to you about that for weeks."
"And we will talk about it," Kelly assured me, looking slightly chagrined, "but not until we've settled this. Now, what else has happened?"
"Three days ago, I began to find pictures."
"Find them where?"
"The first one was tucked under the windshield wiper of my car. I found another one slipped inside my backpack."
"Do you leave your backpack unattended?"
"Sometimes," I admitted reluctantly. "When I'm working, it's usually out of my sight."
"And you're blasting music and engrossed in your code," he said knowingly and with a little frown. "What sort of pictures have you received?"
Embarrassment turned my ears hot. Glancing away from him, I said, "They're of body parts."
"Body parts? You mean dead bodies?"
"No," I quickly disabused him of the notion that someone was sending me chilling or gory messages. "Um…I mean…like male body parts."
Anger etched harsh lines into Kelly's handsome face. "Do you still have them?"
"They're in my backpack."
"I'll get them. You shouldn't have to look at them again."
I decided not to tell him that those images were burned into my retinas for life. The vein in his temple was already throbbing.
"And what about tonight, Bee? Tell me what happened."
"I was working late—"
"At that coffee place you like?"
"Yeah. I stayed there until Ron closed up, and then I rode my bike home to the—"
"You rode your bike that late at night?" Kelly interrupted, aghast. "Bee, you could have been hit by a car. You could have been grabbed by your stalker. You could have been—"
I held up my hand. "Yes, I know. Believe me. I know."
Kelly blew out a noisy breath. "So you get to your apartment and?"
"I found a gift box wrapped in a white bow and freaked out, Kelly. I ran out of there and made it a couple of blocks before I finally stopped. I thought about calling 9-1-1, but then I thought of you…" I decided not to tell him exactly what I'd been thinking. "I had a message from Coby, and she said you were here, so I grabbed a cab and sweet-talked Big V at the front door."
Kelly stunned me by rubbing his thumb against the spot where my neck curved into my shoulder. His searing touch sent my heartbeat into overdrive. "I'm sorry, Bee."
I blinked with confusion. "For what? You aren't the one stalking me."
"No, but I promised Jeb I'd look out for you. I haven't done that. I should have been here for you when this started, not running around Dubai."
"Kelly, you have to work. I'm sure Jeb didn't intend for you to shadow me around the clock."
"Whether he intended it or not, it's going to happen."
"What do you mean?"
His thumb traced the fabric of my shirt. "In the morning, I'm taking you to see Dimitri and Lev so they can assess your situation and make recommendations for a full-time detail. I'm not sure how much money is on the table for the LookIt deal, but I'm going to assume it's enough to make you a huge target."
I met his questioning gaze and realized he was fishing for information. "It's a lot. Like—nine zeroes a lot."
Kelly's face slackened with surprise. Then, with a wide grin that made my heart swell, he said, "Bee, I'm so damn proud of you."
"Really?" It was the first time he'd ever said anything like that to me.
"Yes." He seemed incredulous that I would doubt him. "How many other people in the world have accomplished what you have and done it all before they're even twenty-three?"
"In my field? More than you'd imagine."
He playfully chucked my chin. "You don't have to be so humble."
Even though I had some freak harassing me, I couldn't stop the silly smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth. It had been so long since we had shared a conversation like this, everything so easy and friendly.
As if realizing how good it was between us, Kelly let his fingertips drift along my jaw before inhaling a long breath. Sitting back, he said, "I'm going to wrap up here, and then we'll go home."
"Home? My home?"
Kelly stood and fixed his gaze on me. I couldn't read his face. "No. Mine."
Without another word, he pivoted on his heel and left me staring after him. Of all the ways I'd ever imagined Kelly asking me to go home with him, this sure as hell wasn't one of them.