Barefoot With a Bodyguard
Barefoot Bay Undercover #1
After a difficult divorce, Kate Kingston craves independence and a vacation. Somewhere warm with sea breezes, sunshine, sand…and no scary anonymous threats. Barefoot Bay is the perfect place for some peace and quiet while she studies for the bar exam and puts her life back together. But when she meets the brooding wall of muscle her father hired to protect her, Kate feels anything but peaceful or together.
Mixed martial arts trainer Alec Petrov has been on the run for a long time. Guarding a young attorney-to-be while pretending to be her husband is not a bad way to live off the grid. But the beautiful young law student brings out a tender side Alec doesn’t understand, or believe he deserves, and he soon realizes that keeping her safe is only half the challenge.
When their make-believe honeymoon in paradise turns sensual, complicated, and dangerous, Alec and Kate realize it’s not just their lives that are in jeopardy, it’s their hearts. And they’ll have to fight to the end to save each other…and their love.
Blood trickled from Alec’s shredded knuckles, red trails sliding over the purple Cyrillic letters that marked him. The cuts stung like a mother under a dribble of water, the best he could get from a sink that barely hung on the wall with a pipe and a prayer. His head throbbed from the last few hits, and his chest heaved from the run for his life. He leaned against the rusty metal door of the gas station bathroom and finally looked in the dingy, cracked mirror at his face.
And wished he hadn’t. Oh, he was used to seeing a fighter’s mug in the glass, but now blood crusted around his broken nose, and one eye had already swollen shut. Somehow he’d managed to keep his teeth, but…he winced on the next breath. One rib, at least, was broken.
That was the third time this month he’d been ambushed, and things were getting worse.
He’d taken out one of them with well-placed elbow strikes and got another guy in a leg lock that probably wrecked the son of a bitch’s knee for life, but Alec had no finesse with that last moron. He just slammed that fucker’s head on the concrete and grounded-and-pounded with all he had. Might have killed him.
Wouldn’t be the first man he’d killed, but it would have been the first time he’d actually done it with his bare hands using the mixed martial arts he taught. Firing at an insurgent who’d just buried an IED in a Baghdad schoolyard didn’t count as murder—it was war.
But now he was in another war, for his life, not his country. The enemy wasn’t a ruthless terrorist, but filthy, murderous Mafiya enforcers who loved nothing more than following Dmitri Vlitnik’s orders.
Alec stared at his hands, raw and swollen from the fight. He didn’t think it was possible for his hands to get any uglier, but they had tonight. Too bad. They were all he had, all he needed. And his knees, feet, elbows, and head—all his weapons of choice. Could they keep him alive during the next attack? And the one after that?
In his pocket, his phone vibrated. He blew out a breath when he saw Grigori Nyekovic’s name on the screen. Of course. The former KGB agent turned Russian millionaire who had a soft spot for Brighton Beach kids and a determination to bring down the notorious “brotherhood” had always been there when Alec needed him the most.
After that dark night when Vlitnik “tested” a thirteen-year-old Alec, Gregg showed up and led Alec to martial arts to channel his anger and frustration. When Alec needed that financial boost to pay for college, Gregg wrote the check. And when Vlitnik came calling again only a year after that, determined to have his due, Gregg pulled strings to get Alec into the Marines. And when Alec could no longer fight for his country, Gregg had helped him heal and found him a home in Philly so he could open an MMA training facility.
And now, here was Gregg again, when he was needed the most.
“Yeah?” Alec answered, copping the attitude that had gotten him through the shittiest of shitty times. Even though he owed Gregg his life several times over, Alec wasn’t about to go all gooey on him now.
“Two hundred thousand dollars.” The man’s voice was still tinged with a Russian accent, despite the fact that he’d traveled the world and lived most of the past decade in New York City.
“You want it? You have it? Or I need it?” Alec asked.
“That’s the price Dmitri Vlitnik has put on your fucking head. After tonight, it might be more.”
His head? Alec’s gaze slipped to his hands again—the price should be on those things, not his head, which, after that last patrol in Iraq, was good for only one thing: butting an opponent. Dropping onto the edge of the yellowed toilet seat, he ignored a cockroach that scurried under the door, letting it escape. Alec had kicked enough ass for one night.
“I figured I had some value,” he finally said. “Considering what they sent after me tonight.”
“You have to get out of Philadelphia now.” Gregg spoke with complete authority.
Damn it. He’d finally made the place a home and had his training business in the black. “There’s no other way?” Like someone take that bastard out for good? “Isn’t he ever going to back off?”
“You know he won’t,” Gregg said. “It’s like he’s obsessed with the idea of getting what was promised to him.”
And Alec had been promised to him.
“I don’t belong to anyone,” he ground out.
“That’s not how Vlitnik sees it.” True enough, in the rules of the Mafiya, Alec did, technically, “belong” to the mob leader. Alec’s father had forged the deal in blood, from his cancer-ridden deathbed, bartering for krysha, protection that normally cost thousands. Sergei Petrov didn’t have thousands, but he had something that the Brighton Beach mob boss wanted—a big lug nut of a teenage son who would grow into a fine enforcer someday.
Protect my wife, and you can have Alec when he’s ready and trained.
So, Alec had been essentially sold into slavery, sealing his fate as a man whose only value was his ability to kill. Yes, Vlitnik’s monsters had left the family butcher shop alone; Mama had never been beaten, raped, or robbed. But when Alec was nineteen and his mother died, Dmitri Vlitnik came to collect what was his.
Alec had been running from the mob boss ever since, and he was so damn sick of it. “He’s never going to give up.” Alec could hear the resignation in his voice, and he hated it.
“Unless we get him on something. And we are close.” In his role as a protector of the Brighton Beach kids, Gregg might be on the side of the angels in this war, but he had spies in Vlitnik’s mob. That was how he quietly, secretly, and carefully fed information to the authorities to assist in the effort to stop one of the worst gangs of Russian mobsters in the US.
“I can wait him out,” Alec said. “I can fight him off.”
“Not forever, and not now. It’s better if you hide.”
“Fuck that. I’d rather face him down and choke the life out of him with my bare hands.”
“I’m sure you would,” Gregg said. “And then you couldn’t testify when we do get him, because you’d either be dead or in jail.”
“Okay, look, I’m in an Exxon bathroom in the middle of north Philly. My car is—”
“Probably wired to blow the minute you stick a key in the ignition.” Gregg nearly growled the words. “You’re done, Alexander. You have to hide or die before the sun comes up.”
That was a great choice.
“Alec, I want you to go somewhere they can’t find you.”
“Like where, the moon? Vlitnik has eyes and ears everywhere.”
“Not quite everywhere, not where I’m sending you. You know my wife’s boss owns one of the best security firms in the world.”
“I don’t need a fucking bodyguard, Gregg.” He held a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and trained MMA fighters for a living.
“You’re not getting a bodyguard. You’re going to be a bodyguard. And that’s going to take you as far off Vlitnik’s radar as we can get you.”
Alec opened his mouth to respond, then shut it again. We. Gregg was more than a friend—he was like a father. And too smart, good, and connected to deserve Alec’s argument.
“Raquel’s boss knows a guy who has just started a covert operation that is essentially the equivalent of a privatized wit-sec deal down in Florida.”
Witness security? The government wouldn’t give him protection, since he had nothing concrete to put Vlitnik away. “How?”
“That’s what this guy does. He’ll get you a new identity and find you a place to go. In the meantime, you hide on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Bet the price is steep.” How many times could Gregg throw his money at Alec’s problems? How many times could Alec let him?
“It is, and I would pay it, but he wants you to work instead.”
“Okaaay.” He dragged the word out, more in response to the way Gregg said work—like it was something he wouldn’t like. “As a bodyguard.”
“Yeah, but you’ll be undercover, too. On your honeymoon.”
“This guy’s got another client who also needs to hide out for a while, since she’s been the target of some threats. You’ll be there as newlyweds, staying at a resort on a secluded island, and you will be with her twenty-four seven to be sure she’s safe. Both of you will have assumed names—the same last one—and no one, not a single soul except this guy who runs the operation and his top people, will know you are anything but head over heels in love with your new bride.”
Alec blinked into the shadows of the foul bathroom, not even able to wrap his head around this plan. “Look, I know I’m not firing on all cylinders right now, but there’s no way in hell you said what I think you said.”
Gregg laughed softly. “I thought you’d like the idea.”
“I didn’t say I—” The scuff of a footstep outside shut him up. “Shit. They found me,” he whispered.
“No, I’m using an advanced satellite tracking system on this call. That’s my man outside your door. Go with him.”
Alec closed his eyes, a cocktail of mixed feelings rising up. “Guess I’m running again, huh, Gregg?”
“Running to stay alive long enough to testify if the feds can shut down Vlitnik’s mob.”
“And if they can’t?”
“Then you get yourself a new name and move your ass to a new country. There’s nothing cowardly about keeping yourself alive.”
Alec let the advice sink in, pinching his throbbing nose as he tried to think. “Okay, what do I have to know about this chick?”
“That she’s not a chick. She’s the daughter of a high-profile judge who wants his precious girl protected. You have to act like her husband in public and treat her like daddy’s little princess in private. Hands off.”
He looked down at his raw, bruised knuckles and his ugly, blistered fingers. Hands that could do nothing but hurt and maim and fight and…kill. Hands that wouldn’t know how to touch a bride if he’d even deserved one.
“No problem,” he promised.
“But in public, the two of you are madly in love.”
Alec looked in the mirror and saw his bruised and battered face, shadowed with the pain he was either receiving or inflicting. “Hope she has low standards,” he muttered, but Gregg had already hung up.