Fiona Goero survives by following very careful rules. She's lived more of her life in Witness Protection than out of it. As one of the Internet's Most Wanted for helping the FBI put away a group of hackers, she is never safe. She's the traitor. The hacker who turned against her own. For one night she wants to indulge her every desire. To be held. To feel again. What should have been a passionate encounter becomes a snarled mess of lies and spies. Someone close to her is not only using her, they're trying to kill her. Her one-night-stand might be the only thing between her and being six foot under.
Marco is a man on a mission to set things right before Fiona discovers that not all of the danger can be laid at her enemies' feet. The greatest danger Fiona faces just might be from Marco—the man she's falling for.
Warning: Stubborn heroes fall the hardest.
By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.
An Excerpt From: DANGEROUS PROTECTOR
Copyright © SIDNEY BRISTOL, 2016
All Rights Reserved, Inked Press.
Marco Benally swirled the ice cubes in his glass, each clink ratcheting up the tension coiled between his shoulder blades.
She should have been here already.
His source had put his mark here every Friday at five, like clockwork.
So where the hell was she?
The downtown Denver bar was full of the young, trendy office crowd. They didn’t need shit on them to smell. Most of the ones clustered around the bar worked for NueEnergy, a company that touted themselves as the second coming for green electric alternatives.
NueEnergy was about as green as what came out the back end of his Harley.
He turned, surveying the happy hour crowd in their designer suits and fashionable hoopla.
When sludge started coming up out of the ground a couple acres from his parent’s place in Moab, they’d trusted the authorities to get to the bottom of it and fix things.
That was nearly four years ago.
The sludge was still there, and his family had been forced off the property they’d owned for generations.
Life had taught Marco one very important rule, something the SEALs had instilled in him: if he wanted a job done right, he had to do it himself.
It was time to take matters into his own hands.
Which brought him back to his—
She paused in the entry, her gaze traveling over the bar, no doubt looking for any one of her co-workers.
He shouldn’t stare, but fuck.
The pictures his partner had scrounged up hadn’t done her justice.
Her gaze slid over his, then snapped back, their eyes locking. He took a slow sip of his drink, simply enjoying looking at her.
At least that was what she wanted her co-workers to call her.
It’d taken Marco’s guy quite a while to find the loose link in NueEnergy’s armor, and it was just his luck it wore sky-high heels and a tight skirt.
She turned her head, breaking their momentary contact, and strode around the bar.
Fiona’s real name was a mystery. Even Marco’s contact hadn’t been able to find anything on her dating farther back than fifteen years. It was as though she’d simply been breathed to life as a perfectly formed, twenty-year-old girl.
And man, oh man, was she a woman now.
Marco knew everything there was to know about Fiona. And that wasn’t a lot. She didn’t have so much as a parking ticket to mar her good name. She’d either remade herself into Fiona, or she was some sort of espionage plant. The ultimate Trojan horse.
Either way, she was his mark, his way into NueEnergy, and he had one shot of hooking her tonight. How, exactly, he wasn’t so sure.
Maybe he should have paid extra to get Ghost in on the ground floor. This was exactly the sort of thing that crazy fuck got off on.
Marco watched Fiona approach a thick knot of people, noted the weary smile, how she smoothed her hair and clothes perfectly into place. At exactly three paces, she flipped some sort of switch and the lights went on. She…beamed. The group parted, accepting her into their midst and closing ranks around her.
Either he went into the fashion show after her, or he waited for her to come out.
The minutes ticked by and he watched her reflection in the bar mirror. She spoke with everyone, soft smiles, slight nods. More accurately, everyone spoke at her and she listened. Not many gave her a chance to speak.
There was a hunger…a deep longing staring out of her eyes that unsettled Marco, because he understood it. What it was like to be on the outside…looking in.
He downed the rest of his glass and tossed a few bills onto the bar. If he was going there, if that’s where his head was, he had no business being in the field right now. He had time. Tonight was shitty anyway. His cousin should be released from prison any minute now and Marco needed to be on pick-up duty for his aunt’s sake.
“One, please.” Fiona leaned past his stool and rested her elbows against the bar. She’d shed her suit jacket, though it did nothing to detract from her buttoned-up appearance.
She glanced over her shoulder at him, plump lips slightly parted. Her brown hair was pulled up into a sleek bun he wanted to…mess up.
“This seat taken?” she asked.
“It is now.” Marco nodded at the bartender and added a few more bills to the pile. When opportunity knocked, he sat his ass down and paid attention.
“This doesn’t exactly look like your kind of place.” She slid onto the stool, knees tilted toward him. Prim and proper.
“What kind of place should I be at?”
“Hm.” Fiona cocked her head to the side. Her eyes were a little blood-shot and there was something…tense…about her posture. Yet she pursued him for a moment. “A biker bar?”
“Bike’s outside. This,” he spread his hands, “is now a biker bar.”
“Thanks.” She took the pint of beer the bartender slid her way with a smile. “I’ve never been to a biker bar before.”
Marco watched her, not entirely sure what to do with that piece of information. Was it a hint? He accepted his second drink and left it on the bar with no intention of drinking it. He had a full night ahead of him, and one drink was his self-imposed max.
“Biker bar’s just like any other bar, I guess. Just more noise.” He shrugged and leaned back on the stool.
What game was she playing at? He knew what he was here for, but what was she doing? Fiona had come to him, but why?
Fiona bit her lip and looked at him. The gaze was full of questions.
“You’re looking at me like you want to fuck me.” Marco lifted his glass to his lips, more for show than an actual drink.
A red blush tinged Fiona’s cheeks and her gaze went back to the bar top.
“Sorry, was that too crass?”
“You aren’t sorry.” She drew in the condensation clinging to her pint glass.
“What’s it like?”
“Always saying what you think?”
“I just open my mouth.” Marco shrugged. She was getting at something, he just had to give her a little time to get there.
“I couldn’t imagine saying what I think half the time.”
“Sure you can. Try it.” He turned his chair, his knees capturing hers, forcing her to face him. “Tell me what you’re thinking, right now.”
Fiona’s lips worked soundlessly, her hazel eyes going dark.
She had his curiosity piqued now. Just what was it the pretty lady wanted to say?
Fiona’s head buzzed.
What did she want to say?
“My boyfriend dumped me a week ago because I’m boring.” She curled her hands around the pint. Okay, so that wasn’t what she wanted to say, but she needed to say it to someone. Another living, breathing person and not just her own reflection. A stranger at the bar would have to do.
“Boring?” The biker guy’s gaze stroked down her body. “Sweetheart, I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I’d be willing to bet he’s the one who lacks imagination.”
Fiona shouldn’t preen. She wasn’t. She was just…sipping her beer and not smiling.
“You love this guy or something?” The biker’s face scrunched up over the word love, as though it were distasteful to him.
“Scott? Hell no.” She set the glass down, sputtering a laugh.
“Then—what’s the big deal?” He was the real rough-around-the-edges type. Big. Wide shoulders. Hands large enough to…be scary. Long hair, scruffy beard. Sharp eyes. He was dangerous, but also…under control.
She shrugged. Her world felt so small. Tiny. And she colored inside all the lines, doing her best to never put a toe out of place. She’d learned the hard way what forging her own path could cost. Scott was just…another indication of her inner demons. Her need to be wanted. To connect. Like what she was doing now. Chatting up a stranger because…maybe…there was something there.
Fiona was hungry for something different. And biker boy was very outside her box of neatly drawn lines.
“He made me feel boring.” She lifted her shoulders again. All of her reasons felt weak.
“You should try hanging out with different people. To these guys,” he thumbed over his shoulder, “I bet they think ‘exciting’ is watching football.”
She laughed, because he was right. The morning after a game, the office was always abuzz with activity.
“Shit.” He muttered something else and glanced at his phone, the hard lines of his face going razor sharp. “I hate to do this, sweetheart, but I’ve got to go.”
It was probably for the best. Fiona needed to scuttle back inside her fake life, with her fake friends and her fake—everything.
The bad boy biker grabbed the bartender’s pen, scrawled a series of digits on a napkin and pushed it toward her.
“If you ever want to see a real bar.” He winked and stood.
Fiona couldn’t breathe. He pressed close to her, sliding out from between the stools, then slid his thick arms into a leather jacket. They didn’t speak again. What could she say to him?
Yes, please take me away from here, far, far away.
Yeah, no. The real world didn’t work like that.
He walked out, just like Scott and every other person she’d let in.
In another world, another life…no. There was no point in going there. This was the life she’d made for herself. It was a good one, even if it wasn’t what she’d wanted.
She crumpled up the napkin.
This was her life. And she should be grateful for it. That she wasn’t dead. Or worse.
She picked up her beer, ready to rejoin the rest of her coworkers.
The barkeep swooped in, one hand whisking away the glass and the damp napkins.
Fiona snatched the precious piece of paper back.
She couldn’t call him. It wasn’t smart. She didn’t even know his name.
But there was nothing wrong with keeping her options open.
The beer tasted stale and the idea of socializing with those people…she couldn’t do it. Even if it was her routine and kept her normal, she couldn’t.
Fiona set the beer down, grabbed her jacket and satchel from the communal table, and left. It was early, but so what? She was tired of being precisely what she was supposed to be, of listening to all the office politics, of being the shoulder to lean on and never getting so much as a “Thank you” in return.
One bus ride and a short walk later, she let herself into her condo and kicked off her shoes. Her laptop bag, her jacket, and everything else she deposited into the armchair as she passed through to the kitchen.
Except for the napkin.
She took it out, smoothed the wrinkles, and stuck it to her fridge with a couple magnets.
Fiona didn’t know his name, where he was from, what he did, or if he was bad for her, but for a moment he’d looked at her. He’d looked at her and he’d spoken to her. Which was more than a lot of people did. To most, she was the boss’ right hand. His admin. And solver of any computer problem. Hell, even the IT guys called on her for help. But they didn’t really see her. But biker guy? He’d seen her when so many others looked through her. And that—that was worth remembering.
She needed a drink. A real one.
For some reason, she’d let Scott under her skin. She’d been lonely and weak and he’d been… there. He’d said the right things. Been part of the right circles. But when it came down to it, they were too different. He cared about getting ahead, making more money, and…she didn’t.
Fiona popped the top on a beer. None of that microbrew shit that tasted like old gym shoes, but a real beer. After one, she drank a second until the woe-is-me edge dulled.
She didn’t regret her choices. They’d been the right ones. What she hated was that she was the one who had to pay the price.