Home > The Protector(9)

The Protector(9)
Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas


I push my way into his office and spy Pete and Grant holding position either side of his desk. They’re not here for show. My father is a ruthless businessman who’s upset a lot of people on his way to the top, like the time he muscled out the ninety-year-old chairman of a chain of retirement homes he bought in a hostile takeover. The man died a week later, and a week after that, one of Dad’s buildings was set alight. Or the time Dad’s rival bidder in the fight to secure the sale of a hotel chain was arrested for sexual harassment of a staff member, resulting in him having to pull his bid. It was suggested Dad paid the woman to make the accusations. The suspicions went unfounded, though I believe to this day that my father had something to do with it. I have no rose-tinted glasses on. He’s callous and ruthless.

I flip his security a forced smile, which they return through habit, and then I focus my attention on the man sitting between them at his desk, holding court.

“My little star!” For a man of his girth, he’s up and coming at me surprisingly fast before I make it to the chair. “Give me a hug!”

I indulge him, suspicious of his overenthusiasm. I’m getting more worried by the second. “What’s up?” I ask, eyeing Pete and Grant. Both evade my eyes. That doesn’t bode well.

“Nothing, sweetheart.” He releases me and holds me by the tops of my arms, smiling fondly. He’s dyed his hair black again. I wish he would just admit defeat and embrace the silver. He’d look far more distinguished and less like he’s trying to keep up with his latest wife. And that’s pretty impossible, since he’s really pulled out the stops this time and wed a woman a year younger than me.

I shudder as mental images of Chloe, wife number three and the woman he ditched my mother for, engulf my mind like wildfire. She’s a stunning beauty, but she’s not the brightest. Bless her, she just wants to be my friend. Personally, I’d rather shove nails in my eyes.

“Take a seat.” He virtually pushes me down into the chair. Then he worries me further, because he doesn’t take up his usual position behind his huge over-the-top desk, where he’s the king of his castle. He pulls up a chair next to me instead and takes a seat, faffing with the solid-gold clip of his tie. “You look particularly beautiful today.” He takes a lock of my hair and tilts his head thoughtfully. “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”

“You are?” I question warily. What’s going on? I chance a glance over to Pete and Grant again. They give me nothing.

“And I’d do anything to ensure your safety.”

Oh, fuck, has a bastard photographer snapped me stumbling out of a bar? Was I flashing my knickers, very unladylike, as I got in a cab? It doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly innocent. Thousands of young women go out partying every night of the year. Unfortunately for me, the paparazzi can make it seem so uncouth. Since my spell in rehab, I only have to sniff a bottle of vodka or be captured blinking and it’s reported that I’m on the road to self-destruction again. Those days are gone, and although I still struggle from time to time, Dad doesn’t need to know that. He’s unbearable enough.

“Dad.” I lean forward, ready to plead my innocence and once again reassure him that I never plan on going back to those dark places. “I’m not—”

“Just listen to me for a moment.”

Much to my own surprise, and undoubtedly to my father’s, I do. I shut up and let him say whatever’s on his mind, because my Spidey senses are telling me it’s serious. “I received something yesterday,” he says.

“What?”

He sighs, taking my hands, like a show of support. I don’t like it. Not one little bit. I’ve seen my father’s many dispositions, but I haven’t seen this one. He’s worried. “A message.”

“A message?” I question. “What kind of message?”

“A threatening one.”

I could laugh. My dad is threatened daily, which is why he has Pete and Grant flanking him constantly. Why is it such a worry now? “And?” I ask nonchalantly.

“And they’ve threatened you.”

I recoil, my mouth snapping shut. I don’t need to ask anything more. His words, plus his potent stress right now as he holds my hand, looking at me with apologetic eyes, tells me he thinks this one is serious.

I can feel resentment stirring in my gut, and he knows it. I try to disconnect myself from my father’s business as much as possible. I work hard, make my own money, and strive to make my own way. The only hold I allow him to have, and, granted, it’s a big one, is my apartment. Or his apartment. It’s his, but I insist on paying rent. The fact that it goes out of my bank account and falls into another of my accounts, along with the fifty thousand he deposits monthly, is inconsequential. I haven’t touched a penny of it, and I don’t plan to.

My half-brother, TJ, on the other hand, works for our father. He’s involved in all the business dealings, and is following in Dad’s footsteps as a hardcore businessman, though he’s far more likeable than my father. Everyone says it. And I love him dearly, but he thrives on being the son of one of the richest, most powerful men in London. He wants to be a part of it all. He’s our father’s son, that’s for sure. Why isn’t he the one being threatened? Not that I would wish it, not ever, but it would make more sense.

“Now listen to me, sweetheart.” My father proceeds with caution, probably expecting the proverbial bomb of expletives to explode from my mouth at any moment. If I could form a sentence, I would, but I can’t. My mind is a muddle of nothing. What does this mean? “It’s just idle threats, I’m sure,” he goes on. “But I’ve taken precautionary measures, nevertheless.” His hand comes up and cups my cheek, his pudgy thumb stroking my cheek soothingly. “I can’t be too careful with my little star, can I?”

I just stare at him, and through the fog of confusion and shock, I manage to comprehend one thing. He doesn’t think this is an idle threat at all. “Okay,” I say.

He can’t hide his astonishment. His daughter, the one who he refers to openly as a “defiant live wire,” has just bowed to him and his precautionary measures. Past the astonishment I see relief, though, and that only emphasizes how serious he thinks this is.

“Good girl.” He leans in and kisses my forehead affectionately before standing and flicking a demanding finger to Pete. “Get him in.”

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