She might be tiny but she can still kick his ass.
An assignment to babysit a rich dude isn’t Kacy’s idea of a fun assignment. Especially since he and his bodyguard are just like all the other boys she knows, thinking she’s too tiny to pack a punch.
I’ll show him.
She’ll show him that sexy things come in small packages and he won’t be able to stop himself from falling for the pint-sized protector. Problem is, who’ll protect his heart?
When a gunman threatens her life, he wants to send her away, but her Latina pride won’t allow herself to be treated like anything less than a pro.
Will pride also stand in the way of her happiness?
Talk about boring. Kacy tapped her blunt nails impatiently on the table as they went through the current business.
Nothing new to see. The meeting went like all the others. A room full of boys arguing about who was going to get what job. With one difference. Harry, her boss, wanted the gang to work in their home turf, busting some kind of drug ring.
Forget their rule about not working from home. Apparently, they were going to make an exception. And since it was about drugs, Kacy could already predict her role in the operation. She jumped into the conversation. “Let me guess, the Latina girl should talk to her hombres to see what they have to say about the rich kids and their designer drugs.” The stereotyping continued, and Kacy couldn’t help but roll her eyes.
“Actually,” Harry said, “I need you to go shopping for girly stuff because you’re going to be assigned to a special security detail starting next week.”READ MORE
The description of the job brought her brows together. “I’m not a babysitter.” Killer, thief, information gatherer, and pain in the ass, yes. Someone who protected soft, rich men from their just desserts? No.
“Are you sure about that? It pays more than your last two jobs combined.” Anyone could see the devious delight in Harry’s smile.
Twice the money? Twice the money would mean she could fix her mom’s roof and help her aunt send her cousin Juanita to college. The struggle between annoyance at the job and the realization the cushy gig would pay off didn’t last long. “Fine, I’ll do it.” Her acceptance emerged begrudgingly.
The protests by the boys in the room followed soon after. “How come she gets a gravy security detail job?” Declan interjected. Pretty boy Declan, who was a handy fellow with a keyboard, but who’d yet to best her in unarmed combat.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Would you like to shave and dress as a hot chick so you can pretend to be this guy’s girlfriend while protecting him?”
Shaving? Hold on a second, and what was this nonsense about dressing hotly? This was supposed to be a bodyguard job, not an escort position. She glared at Harry, who ignored her.
Meanwhile, Declan shrugged and argued for the sake of arguing. “Depends on if I’ve got to put out.”
“The right question,” said Ben with a grin, “is, is the client hot? I’m in between boyfriends right now, so I’d do it, but I might have a hard time passing as a girl.” A big and hairy man, Ben would need a tub of depilatory cream if he hoped to have baby-smooth skin.
“The client is heterosexual and already has a male bodyguard, so Kacy will be the secret one hidden in plain sight.” Harry opened his leather folder, the one he carried with him everywhere, and slid a black credit card across the smooth table toward Kacy. “Go out and buy whatever you need. High-end stuff. Our man moves in important circles so you need to look the part.”
Money or not, this job was starting to piss her off. New clothes, shaving, what else would she have to do? Wear makeup and heels?
Once the meeting had adjourned, Kacy followed Harry into his office, but she held off on haranguing him until the door shut. “Spill. I want details on this job. What am I doing? For how long?”
“Like I said, bodyguard duties.”
“Since when does being a bodyguard require me to wear a dress?”
“Because you’re going to be doing it undercover. The client needs you to be able to follow him in social settings without drawing attention. Therefore, you’ll be posing as his girlfriend.”
The job kept getting worse. “What am I guarding him against? Ex-girlfriend? Pissed-off employees who are mad the hombre is shafting them?”
“Actually, Darren is the good guy. But not everyone sees him that way. Someone put a hit out on him. He thwarted the first assassination attempt last night, but given the price, there’ll be others.”
“Who is this Darren person?”
“An old friend of mine.”
Tapping her foot impatiently, she snapped, “What’s his last name?”
“What?” At that, she recoiled and then glared. “Why can’t I know his last name?”
“Because the less you know, the better. We don’t know who’s watching him. So, if we’re going to make this work, then we’re going to have to make this authentic.”
“And exactly how do you plan to do that? I can’t just suddenly show up and announce I’m his girlfriend.”
“Exactly, which is why you’re going on a blind date. Courtesy of my wife, who is setting you up.”
“Like fuck.” The black credit skimmed the top of Harry’s desk as she pushed it back to him, and Kacy planted her hands on her hips. “Not interested. I am not going into this job blind.” And she most certainly didn’t want to pretend to be some a-hole’s girlfriend.
Harry grabbed the card and tapped it on the mahogany. “You’re not going in blind. I’m telling you, this guy is in danger. Who he is doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get your attitude in check and do your fucking job.”
She leaned forward and braced her hands on his desk. “I don’t like it.”
“You don’t like shit. And I’ll add that, while I might be sending you in light on info, how ignorant you remain once you meet Darren is up to you. You’re a professional. Or, at least, I thought you were. Treat this like an information-gathering mission.”
“I’m not putting out for this hombre.”
“No one asked you to. And if he tries anything you don’t like, you have my permission to knee him in the balls.”
“Really? I thought he was your friend.”
“He is, but I’m not pimping you out. Just so you know, I wouldn’t give you this job if I thought he’d try anything. But you’re the best I’ve got. The only one I can count on to follow this guy around and keep him alive. And trust me, you want this guy alive.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I know you don’t. I am asking you to please do this for me.”
Ugh. Not the P word. Harry didn’t ask much, and she owed him. She would do this, but she wouldn’t give in gracefully. “Anything I buy for this isn’t coming out of my check.”
“Not a dime. I’ll be billing him extra for it.” Harry grinned.
“You’ll keep an eye on Mama while I do this?”
“I always do.”
With that promise, Kacy took back the black card and then had to suffer through the boss’s wife taking her shopping, gushing about how much Kacy would like this guy she was going to meet.
“Darren is handsome. Rich. And so polite. I’m sure you’ll like him.”
“You can stop it with the sell job. I doubt I’m on anyone’s radar yet,” Kacy grumbled as they browsed through the store looking for stuff. It made her cringe to see the price tags. One dress in this place could have clothed her whole family for a year as a kid.
“You know, just because this is a job doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give him a chance.”
The good Lord save her from matchmaking women. Wasn’t it bad enough that her mama kept asking when she’d settle down? Now, Harry’s wife, who regarded her as an unofficial daughter, seemed determined to have Kacy settle down, too.
“If he’s as wonderful as you say, I highly doubt he’s going to be interested in me.” Rich guys had a type, and that didn’t involve Latinas born on the wrong side of the border with baggage. So much baggage.
“You never know. Now, would you mind not looking as if you’re about to step in front of a firing squad? It wouldn’t kill you to smile a little. It’s not every day we get to go on a shopping spree.” Sherry held up a dress with more holes in it than Kacy’s childhood T-shirt the mice had nested in. “You would look amazing in this.”
“I don’t wanna look amazing.” Kacy’s lip puckered, and she shook her head.
“Don’t be silly. Every girl wants to look good.”
Only girls who wanted attention. “I’m fine with my duds.” In her public role at Bad Boy Inc., Kacy worked as their property inspector, which involved crawling around in dirty places and often justified some of her infiltration antics. When people found her in forbidden areas, she played the dumb Latina with a work order.
For those who might question her knowledge when it came to inner workings of buildings, her family had worked in construction for years, at least until her papi died. Then her brothers and cousins chose other careers. Lucrative ones when it went well, but when it went badly…deportation south was preferable to a stint behind bars. The irresponsibility of her male siblings was why Kacy took care of more than just herself.
Think of the money. Think of the good you can do with it.
Holding that at the forefront of her mind, she snared the dress from Sherry and held it up. Squinting at it one-eyed didn’t add more fabric. “How do you wear it without falling out?” Petite and athletic didn’t mean flat-chested and skinny-bottomed.
“Trust me. You’ll look stunning. You’ll need more than one dress, though.” Sherry began to pile Kacy with clothes, more dresses than she’d ever owned. Then there was the torment of trying them on—a torture that Kacy wouldn’t admit she enjoyed.
She might have grumbled going into the partitioned room at the back, yet there was something about sliding silky material over her skin and seeing the transformation from tomboy to woman—a woman with curves—that flustered.
Kacy rarely took time to draw attention to herself. Rarely did things to make herself more attractive to the opposite sex. Unlike many girls she knew, Kacy didn’t thrive on that type of attention.
Still, she couldn’t help but admire how she looked in some of the dresses and outfits.
But she had to draw the line somewhere. So when Sherry shoved her newest finds at her, Kacy shook her head. “Like hell. Put those back.”
“Think of the mission.”
“Ain’t no mission should require me wearing this!” Kacy held up the matching bra and panties made of black lace, the quality so fine it felt silky instead of scratchy. “I’m supposed to be pretending to be his girlfriend. Key word being pretend, which means he ain’t going to be seeing anything under the clothes.”
“You know better than that. If you want this undercover op to succeed, then every part of you, including the lingerie, has to match the role.”
Kacy did know better, which meant she lost that argument and got ridiculously impractical undergarments, but Sherry did relent and allowed her to add underpants that weren’t just dental floss.
As for colors, Kacy tried to stick to plain stuff. Black dresses. Simple lines.
Sherry would have nothing of it, which meant the bags Kacy dragged home were full of things in shades of color she’d never buy herself. Silks and pretty pastels, stuff that required ironing and hanging.
It was wrong. So wrong. Why couldn’t she dress in her regular gear? There was nothing wrong with her jeans—the hole forming in the ass hadn’t reached any crucial spots. Or her T-shirt—won at a fair declaring she was the Unicorn Horn Ring Toss Champion. Great stuff for wearing around the house, or on property inspections, but a rich guy wouldn’t date a girl in rags.
The blind date wasn’t happening here in the city but in another state under the guise of her ferreting out some property information for the company—Bad Boy Inc. dealt in real estate around the world. In the process of packing her things, the phone rang.
“Yello,” Kacy answered, knowing it would drive her mama nuts.
“When will you learn to answer the phone properly? It is h-ell-o,” her mother enunciated, and yet it did nothing to eliminate her heavy Mexican accent.
“How are you, Mama?” Kacy asked, tucking the phone between her ear and shoulder as she held up a filmy negligee. Baby blue and practically sheer enough to see through.
“Fine. But that man was back again.”
“What man?” A frown knitted Kacy’s brow as she stuffed the silky item into her suitcase. Her new suitcase since, apparently, her duffel bag, repaired with duct tape, wouldn’t do for the trip.
“Did I not mention him? Forget it.”
“Mama!” Kacy put a warning tone in the word. “What’s going on? What man keeps coming by?”
“I don’t know his name, but he says Tito owes him money.”
Dear brother Tito, who had a thing for not paying his debts. “Did you tell him to bother Tito for it?” Which wouldn’t work so well given Tito was doing six months for possession. Again.
“I did. But he was quite insistent. Said someone had to pay.”
And that someone wouldn’t be either of her brothers because God forbid they take responsibility for their actions. Rubbing at the knot forming between her eyes, Kacy sighed. “Don’t worry, Mama. I’ll handle it.” Actually, Harry would have to take care of it since he was sending her out of town. But then again, given they’d talked about handling the drug problem in town during their meeting today, perhaps that would work in everyone’s favor.
To think she’d hoped by moving her mother out here she could avoid the problems in their old town.
If only she’d managed to keep her brothers from following. But Mama was too nice to them. She’d let them know her new address instead of taking Kacy’s suggestion that involved pretending they’d both died.
“Listen, I’ve got to go away for a few days.” Possibly weeks, but she didn’t mention that.
“Are you finally taking a vacation?” Mama said hopefully.
As if. “It’s for work. I’m flying out to Miami in the morning to check out the specs on a property.”
“Take a bathing suit and go for a swim in the ocean. The salt water is good for your skin.”
“I don’t know if I’ll have time for that, Mama.” Kacy took little time for herself. In her world, it was all about the job.
“Make time. You work too hard.”
So had her mother until Kacy stepped in. “I’ll try, Mama.” And then because she knew it would please her mom, even if it wasn’t true, she added, “I’m going on a date.”
“With a man?” The words were screeched.
“Yes, a man,” she said with a grin no one could see. “But don’t get too excited. My boss and his wife set it up since they have a friend who lives out there. I doubt we’ll hit it off.”
“Did you pack something nice?”
“That doesn’t have holes?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes, Mama. Sherry and I went shopping for some new things.” And because she knew her mother would love it, she added, “We got some dresses.”
“Dios!” Her mother lapsed into Spanish and then remembered herself. “I mean, that is nice. Don’t let him sweet-talk you into doing stuff. I don’t care whose friend he is.”
“Don’t worry, Mama.” Kacy had a firm grasp of the word no.
That word was what had led to her whole life changing and how she’d met Harry.
Never would she forget that moment. Always tough, at fifteen, Kacy had thought herself rather invincible. As a bit of a tomboy, she had no time for the things other girls indulged in. She eschewed the makeup and slutty clothes meant to draw attention. Kacy lived in her worn jeans and T-shirts. As for bras, the stupid things hurt, so she refused to wear them. Not to say she wasn’t cute. Kacy had her share of good looks. Boys hit on her all time, and she blew them off.
But that changed one day after school when a gang of boys surrounded her on the sidewalk. Only teenagers themselves, many had already become neighborhood thugs, but Kacy didn’t fear them. These were kids she’d grown up around, guys who ran with her brothers and cousins.
Despicable pigs, who thought they could bargain her virginity for cash.
“Where you going, puta? I got something for you.” A grab at the crotch brought laughs from his buddies.
She could still see every one of their tanned, leering faces. The dark hair slicked back on some, shaved on others. Not seriously believing them at first—that type of thing happened to other girls, not Kacy—she tried to push her way through them, but they’d formed a tight ring.
“Get out of my way.” She still recalled her defiant demand. A request they wouldn’t listen to.
“How much do you think we could charge for the puta?” A hand reached out to tug the hair she kept in a ponytail.
She slapped at it. “I’m not for sale. Go bother someone else.”
“Mouthy bitch. You won’t be talking much once you have a cock shoved in your mouth.”
The crude threat brought fear, an anxiety she hated to admit. “My brothers—”
“Will do as they’re told, or we’ll cut them like we cut Jorge.”
They were the ones who’d put Jorge, a gentle kid who dared to get straight As, in the hospital?
She couldn’t help but succumb a little to the panic, especially as the boys pushed in closer, grabbing at her. Touching her.
They touched me in places that were private.
She’d slapped at their hands. Kicked.
But they’d slapped her back.
Tore at her clothing.
She couldn’t help but call out for help. No one replied. In the barrio, people didn’t like to get involved, especially against the gangs.
Hot tears of shame bled down her cheeks as they kept attacking her.
And then they were the ones crying out as a man, a gringo in a suit who used only his fists, taught the boys a lesson.
When the leader of the gang, Pablo, pulled his knife, the man, a grin on his face, pulled out a bigger one and said, “Would you like to die quickly or slowly?”
Apparently, Pablo didn’t want to die at all. He ran off with the others.
Much as Kacy appreciated the actions of her savior, she couldn’t help but moan as they scattered, “You do realize once you leave, they’ll be back.” Back with a vengeance.
“Then you should leave.”
“And go where?” she exclaimed.
“What if I gave you a way to escape this life? To become something more? Someone who can fight against the thugs in this world?”
Kacy had thought he joked with her. No one could fight the gangs, and yet there was something in the man’s eyes. Something that indicated he meant every word he said. So, she’d brought him home.
More like he’d insisted on following her and then spoke to her mama.
It didn’t do any good. As if Mama would listen to the gringo in his suit when he claimed he wanted to help send Kacy away to a boarding school. A school for special children.
“Is that what they call the whorehouses now?” her mother had spat, not trusting him at all.
“I assure you, the school is real,” he’d said. He claimed he could prove it.
Who would pay for it?
The school would subsidize Kacy’s education, which seemed even more suspicious.
Why would anyone give Kacy a scholarship based on a meeting on a sidewalk?
Kacy didn’t trust the offer either. Yet the man had left them with money—enough for her mother to pay the rent and buy some food. He also left his card. A card that Mama wouldn’t touch, as if by touching it she would accept the deal. A deal she was convinced came from the devil.
The following morning, the bruises on Kacy’s body had blossomed, and even worse, outside the window, she and Mama could see the boys waiting for her to come out.
As for her brothers, they didn’t come home.
The cops wouldn’t get involved. No one would get involved.
Despite Kacy’s assertion that she would be fine, with a sigh, Mama picked up the phone and dialed.
Later that day, after her first plane ride, Kacy was ushered into a room at the academy. Her own room. With a door. And a lock. She could call her mama every night. She got food three times a day. A snack whenever she wanted one, and an allowance to use on the weekends.
But all that paled in comparison to what they taught her.
They gave Kacy a new life, a better life, and while they tried to convince her to leave her old one behind, on that, she remained firm. While she wanted nothing to do with her brothers, she wouldn’t abandon her mother. Mama didn’t deserve to lose her baby girl.
And her savior, the man who saved her that day?
A younger Harry. Now her boss and the owner of Bad Boy Inc., specialists in international realty. And the man she owed everything to.
During her time at the Secundus Academy—a top-secret place that took students by special invitation only—Harry had checked in on her. He’d become like a father to her, and it became important that she show him her appreciation by doing well at the academy, a school that drove her hard. So hard, that, at times, she wanted to quit.
But she didn’t. Kacy persevered, excelled in many areas, and graduated. Harry could lie all he wanted about the dust in the air. She saw the tears of pride shining in his eyes when she’d gotten her diploma.
Pride wasn’t the only reason she worked hard, though. She wanted something better for herself.
The school didn’t just save her life. It gave her a future that didn’t involve slopping food in a restaurant, hoping INS didn’t deport her. It prevented her from being sold on the streets or having to date a guy in a gang just for protection. With the academy’s help, she’d not only gotten skills that got her hired by Bad Boy Inc., she’d also become a legal citizen, as had her mother.
She owed everything to the academy and Harry. Maybe, someday, she’d write a book about it. Except when she did put it into words, she might omit the part about her being nervous for a simple bodyguard job.
The flight itself to Miami didn’t bother her. Harry booked her in business class, so she had legroom and used the time to nap. The hotel room the company reserved for her was nice. Nicer than she would have booked if left to her own devices. Why did she need a suite when just a room with a bed would do?
She spent that first day on the ground, maintaining her cover by visiting city hall to pull surveys and information on the history of the property she’d supposedly come to check out. A property owned by the city and left derelict. No one wanted it, not even the homeless. She poked around the dusty building that stood one step away from being condemned, on a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, and had to wonder why anyone would want it.
Bad Boy Inc. certainly didn’t. So she felt no qualms about sending them a report about the unsuitability of it just before she showered for her blind date.
Ha. When was the last time she’d gone on one of those? She didn’t have the time, or patience, to deal with the small talk and dance that went with getting to know a man.
It explained why she spent most of her evenings alone.
The butterflies didn’t start until she had to slide on one of those slick new dresses, which she then immediately took off.
It’s too fancy.
Yet, what else could she wear? Sherry had told her to dress up. Apparently, the restaurant where she’d meet her client—ahem, her fake date—was high-end. That meant a dress code that probably didn’t include ragged jeans.
Suck it up, bambina. What was wrong with her that she feared wearing a dress? She had ragged shorts at home that showed off more of her ass when she gardened.
With a sigh, she wiggled back into the little cocktail dress—tight on the top but loose on the bottom—but she drew the line at the handful of skimpy panties in her suitcase, opting instead for some boy-short underpants. New ones, she might add. They would keep her papaya covered in case she had to do things ladies shouldn’t do in short skirts. She couldn’t ditch the dress shoes, but she derived some satisfaction in knowing that the thick heels held some gadgets in case she ran into a situation.
Her holster sat high on her thigh, the material specially made so as not to chafe, but it took some adjusting to walk naturally with it. Thankfully, the skirt had enough material and pleats to hide it. Her slim knife in its sheath was slid between her breasts and clipped to the plunging v-neckline of her bodice so that it appeared she wore a glittery broach. A present from Harry.
Her small purse held the necessities: a slim wallet with ID and cash, a compact, lip gloss, cell phone, and a charging cube with a green light. The hairclip pinning up her hair to the side—one that could disassemble in a moment into a set of lock picks—completed the ensemble.
For her makeup, she kept it simple, using a dark shadow to give her eyes a smoky effect, a light blush to the cheeks, and bright red for her lips. She chose to keep her long hair loose and mostly down, the clip being the only thing she used. The final piece to her look was giant hoop earrings. The only truly girly thing that Kacy allowed herself day-to-day, and the one item in her repertoire that didn’t turn into a tool of the trade or a weapon.
During the cab ride to the restaurant, she worried that her makeup would melt off her face as she sweated from the humidity and nerves. So stupid, especially since if she was given a mission involving face paint, a swamp, and an assassination, Kacy could handle it without a qualm. Send her on a fake date at some fancy-pants restaurant, and she was ready to turn tail and run.
I don’t know if this job is worth the price.
Led to her table by a snooty dude in a suit, Kacy felt like an imposter in the fancy restaurant. White linen draped the tables. Candles, fat ones sitting in glass votive holders, flickered. The waiters held themselves straight and seemed aloof. Even snobbier clientele pretended to not see the staff that refilled wineglasses and removed empty plates.
This place is snooty central. And she was the pretender amidst them.
Seeing the tiny portions of foods being served on small plates, she had to wonder if it would be any good. Harry had explained during his briefing that the restaurant where she’d meet the client had some kind of Michelin star. She wasn’t sure what tires had to do with food, but her boss had sounded impressed. Kacy, on the other hand, wanted to fidget and check to make sure her skirt wasn’t tucked into her underpants.
When it came to places such as this, girls like Kacy usually worked in the kitchen or as waitstaff. A Latina from the wrong part of town certainly didn’t sit in the dining room as a patron—unless she was paid to do so. There was a name for those kinds of girls.
Did the patrons look at her and assume she was a whore? Probably. The things she did for work. Like wearing a damned bra. Horribly confining thing.
Kacy tried not to scowl too much as she followed the dude who insisted on guiding her to her table. Harry would ream her out if she busted her cover before she even began. Stupid sexist mission. Posing as some rich hombre’s girlfriend because he was scared of getting his pansy ass shot off.
Other than the man’s name, Harry refused to tell her much about the guy, claiming their meeting and getting to know each other had to look authentic to anyone watching. Hence the blind date setup.
The whole thing stank, except for her. She’d showered and deodorized. She’d also shaved her legs, but she drew the line at getting a Brazilian. There was no man, client or not, that was getting a peek at those goods.
Seated, she waited, drumming the table with her fingertips, painted a seashell pink because Sherry had insisted—they matched her toes. Although, as Kacy had told Sherry just because she knew it would make her laugh, “Ain’t no man going to see them if I put them around his ears.”
A deep voice rumbled at her back. “You must be Kacy.”
It took her by surprise because she was seated at the rear of the restaurant and had been watching the front.
Bloody client had decided to pop in from the rear. Sly.
Standing, she turned and beheld a chest. A really wide chest covered in a snowy white shirt. She had to look up, even in her heels, and she noted a craggy face, piercing eyes, and lips pulled taut in displeasure.
“Yeah, I’m Kacy.”
“You’re awfully small,” was the first mistake he made. The second was to loom even closer, crowding Kacy.
A man who liked to intimidate? She’d known her fair share and knew how to handle them, too.
Kacy pressed into him and smiled—as her hand tucked between their bodies and squeezed his balls in a vise. “Call me small again, and I’ll make sure you sing soprano for life.”
Because this pint-sized killer didn’t take shit from nobody.COLLAPSE