“And think not you can direct the course of love,

                                   for love, if it  finds you worthy, directs your course.”

                                                                                                  Kahlil Gibran

                          CHAPTER 1

                       Her mother always warned her, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. She should have listened to her mother. 

             Natasha’s day at work began like any other, same-old rote duties she performed day in and day out as office manager for Investigative Services, Inc., never suspecting her career was about to end when her office door opened.  A faint squeaking of hinges drew her attention, and she glanced up from her computer to send a distracted smile toward the person framed in the doorway.  She watched Scott Thomas, the managing partner, turn to a nerdy looking guy standing behind him and grew curious at the unspoken signal that seemed to flash between the two men.   

            “Natasha Chamberlain, I’d like you to meet Roger Valentine,” Scott said, ushering Roger into the room.

            Natasha held out her hand, wondering if Roger had just been hired for something or other. Roger stepped forward, gave her one quick, somewhat limp handshake, then retreated back behind Scott.

            Scott gave Natasha a forced smile.  “Roger’s hired us to, well, guard his body.” 

            “Okay,” Natasha said, unsure where this was going.

            “And Roger here is asking us to provide him with a female protection specialist, as well.”

            Natasha frowned.  Female bodyguard?  They didn’t have any female bodyguards.  Then she got it.  “Oh, no.”

            Scott turned to Roger. “I’d like to speak with Ms. Chamberlain in private, Roger, if you don’t mind.  Why don’t you go back to my office and wait for me?”

             After the door was closed, before Scott could even turn back to her, Natasha said, “You’re out of your ever-loving mind, you think I’m going to guard that guy.”

            “Well, now, let me see.  As I recall, aren’t you the employee who keeps bugging me to let you be more active in this firm?” 

            “Well, yeah, Scotty, but that’s for the investigative part. I don’t have any desire to place my body in front of someone else’s in order to, you know, stop a bullet or something.”

            Scott sat down in the chair in front of her desk and gave her a bland stare.

            “Come on, Scotty.  You know I want to be an investigator.  I’ve taken courses in criminal justice, plus all the self-defense classes you’ve recommended, gotten a gun permit and learned how to use one properly.  I don’t know why you and Striker can’t just once give me the chance to show my skills.”  Striker was the founding partner, the one who made Natasha’s knees weak and her mouth drool.

            “You’re getting your chance.  This is it; take it, show us what you can do.”

            “As a bodyguard, and I don’t want to be a bodyguard.”

            “Start off as bodyguard, we’ll move you up to investigator if you do this well.”

            “If I don’t get killed is what you mean.”


            Natasha gave him an exasperated look.

            “Striker’s the one who wants you in on this,” Scott said, dangling the proverbial carrot.

            Natasha brightened at this bit of news.  “Striker does?  Um, where is he, by the way?  I haven’t seen him in a few days.”

            Scott shrugged.  “Down in Florida doing whatever Striker does down there.”

            Natasha wondered, as she always did, why Striker was such a mystery man. Other than the fact that he was wealthier than all get-out, no one in the office knew much about his private life, including Scott.  There was constant discussion about Striker and was he married or had he been married, and did he have any kids.  And the favorite subject: what did he do in his other life? 

            As office manager, Natasha was privy to the personnel files, but there wasn’t one for Striker.  She was curious about his first name, which seemed to be another well-kept secret, but as far as she could detect, there was no paperwork trail divulging that information.  Not even the payroll roster since the income he withdrew from the firm was direct-deposited into a charitable trust. And if Scott knew what it was, he wasn’t telling.           

            Natasha had had a crush on Striker since she joined the firm three years before.  His Cherokee lineage obvious by raven-black hair, coal-dark eyes, and pale-bronze skin tone, his tall, muscular frame seemed to ooze testosterone from every pore.  Known for his expertise with firearms and the martial arts, there was gossip that Striker had been a mercenary at one point; others swore he was with the CIA.  Every summer, he disappeared for a month, and it was rumored he would travel into the Smoky Mountains, strip naked, and live among the wild animals, fasting and waiting for a vision to appear.  He scared the crap out of Natasha every time he looked at her.

            Natasha tried to act like she wasn’t really interested.  “So, is Striker going to be overseeing this or what?”

            Scott gave her a knowing grin.  “Yep. He’s coming back this afternoon, said he’ll handle this baby.”

            “Okay, I’ll do it.”  

            “I knew you would.” Scott stood and headed for the door.

            “Wait a minute.”

            Scott paused with his hand on the doorknob and turned back to her.

            “Why does this Roger want a woman bodyguard anyway?”

            “He wants you to pose as his girlfriend.” 

            Natasha’s mouth dropped open and her eyes widened, but Scott was gone by the time she could formulate any words of protest.

            Natasha sat at her desk steaming, for a brief moment flirted with scheming, then began worrying. Wanted her to pose as his girlfriend.  What exactly would that entail?  Surely Striker and Scotty wouldn’t expect her to, eeeooouuu, go to bed with the guy.  She shook her head.  No way.  That definitely would not be considered part of her job duties. 

            She stood and opened her door, intending to confront Scott about this, but he was busy talking to Roger.  When Scott glanced her way, an amused look on his face, she resisted the urge to flip him the bird.

            Natasha sat back down at her desk, chewing on her bottom lip, thinking about the offer.  She was ready and waiting the next visit Scott paid her.

            “Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t sleep with the guy.  I’ll be his girlfriend but only in the surrogate sense.  You got that?”

            Scott took the time to settle into a chair.


            “Okay, here’s the deal.  You’re his girlfriend in the surrogate sense, that’s fine. I wouldn’t expect you to do anything else in that department.”  He gave her a look.  “That is, unless you want to.”

            Natasha rolled her eyes.

            “But you have to play the part of the girlfriend.”  Scott raised his hands at her look.  “Don’t worry.  Pit and Bigun are going to be there, too.”

            Natasha considered this while gazing at Scott, who was looking at everything but her.  She could sense something was going on.  “How long?”

            Scott adjusted the crease in his trousers. “As long as it takes.”

            “You mean as long as he needs bodyguards?”

            “As long as your services are required.”

            Something wasn’t quite right about that, but Natasha decided to drop it for now.  She would worry about that later.  “Who is this guy anyway?”

            Scott was relieved she didn’t push him on the time span; they needed her tonight.  “Don’t you recognize the name?”  He waited for the appreciation to come into her eyes and nodded when it did. 

            “He’s not the Roger Valentine?”

            “The one and only.”

            “Omigosh.  The billionaire computer guy, the one who designs software for those game thingies.”

            “Among other things.”

            “But why does he need a girlfriend?  As rich as that guy is, women are probably crawling all over him.”

            Scott gave her a look.


            “Did you happen to get a gander at this guy?”

            Natasha shook her head.  “I only glanced at him. Looked kind of nerdy to me, to tell you the truth.”

            “Let’s just say he’s not very good in the social skills department.”

            “Oh, well, who is?”

            “You’ll see.”  Scott rose and strode toward the door, then turned back.  “Clear up what you need to here, then head on over to Roger’s.”  He picked up one of Natasha’s business cards, wrote on the back of one, and handed it to her.  “Here’s the address.”

            “Wait,” Natasha said, delaying his exit.

            Scott stuck his head back in her office. 

            “Why does he need a bodyguard anyway?”

            Scott gave her his most engaging smile.  “He says someone wants to kill him.”

            “He what!”

            Scott managed to get the door closed before Natasha’s planner collided with it.