From the Inside Flap
I wasn't equipped like someone in the protection business either. No gun. No Taser. No combat or defense training. I didn't even have any muscles worth acknowledging.
And unlike your average protector, I was terrified.
The elevator shared none of my misgivings and shot skyward. I patted my unruly, shoulder-length hair--a nervous habit I'd developed over twenty-nine years of experiencing it having a mind of its own--and watched the golden numbers light up one by one. In typical Los Angeles fashion, even the damn elevator was more glamorous than me.
The nagging fear I might be underdressed rose with every floor I passed.
I patted my hair some more.
Twenty-three lit up, and the doors slid open with a quiet whoosh, reminding me of one of Aunt Alice's disapproving sighs. Aunt Alice and her perfect children never had problems getting their hair to behave.
The corridor ahead of me didn't look to be any more sympathetic. It was insulated and silent, far removed from the heat and bustle of the street below and untouched by my mounting tension. Ignoring the way anxiety had me projecting my feelings onto an inanimate building, I squinted at my palm. The note I'd written on it hours earlier when my handler set up the meeting had faded from an embarrassing number of bathroom breaks in the interim, but I could just make it out: 2317. I walked until I found the matching plaque and made sure my shaking hand gave a firm, audible knock.
I took a moment to steel myself, then shouldered my way through the heavy door. The room where my fate would be decided could've been plucked from a European design magazine. Floor-to-ceiling windows filled the space with natural light, all the better for calling attention to the distinct lack of furniture. There were two expensive-looking chairs and a sleek rosewood desk with nothing on it but the token MacBook Pro. I fought back a smirk. Where did this guy keep his stuff?
The man in question was seated behind the desk and was as handsome as any magazine model. He was a few years older, with none of my insecurity, and had dark hair a smidge past buzz-cut length. The no-nonsense hairstyle seemed at odds with the impractical swankiness of the office. A clean-shaven square jaw, broad shoulders, and a body to swoon over completed the image.
I finished admiring his jawline and noticed his gaze was roaming over me as well.
For a fleeting second I wished it was his hands doing the roaming. Then I remembered why I was here.
This was the guy I would be endangering myself to protect. If he hired me anyway. If he didn't, maybe I could talk him into pushing me down the elevator shaft on the way out.
We might've been a mere ten feet apart, but I knew straight away we were from different worlds. He was the epitome of success. Whereas my life was a cautionary tale of what not to do.
Judging by the cool expression on his beautiful face, he'd drawn the same conclusion.
My concern had been warranted. I was underdressed. The conservative navy-blue dress and heels I'd chosen to make the most of the slim build and blue eyes I'd inherited from my mother seemed drab compared to his sharp, tailored suit. Sure, I'd inherited the dress and shoes from my mother too, but I had been hoping they were old enough to pass for vintage.
By the time we'd finished our mutual assessment, his mouth had formed a hard line.
I forced myself to meet his eyes. They were the stern gray of an overcast wintry morning--the likes of which I hadn't seen since moving to California--and just as immovable.
"Isobel Avery, I take it?" he asked.
He didn't react to my Australian accent. Some Americans found it charming. My potential client wasn't one of them.
Actually, he didn't look as if charming was even in his dictionary.
Nor did he look like he needed me to defend him. A notion intensified by the fact that my knees were wobbling, and I was betting his weren't.
He didn't invite me to sit, and I wondered if that was so he could gauge my competence level by my traitorous knees. I sat down anyway, lifted my chin, and put on my best impression of professional indifference.
"What experience do you have?" he asked.
I resisted the urge to lick my lips before answering, leaving me acutely aware of how dry they were.
"I've been selected for you by the Taste Society," I said. "That's as much as you need to know."
In other words, none, zilch, nada. I'd just finished eight months of intensive training, and aside from that, I was as wet behind the ears as a newborn hippopotamus.
This job would either be my saving grace or the final rut in a long road of potholes.
One step at a time, I told myself. First get the job, then concentrate on whether you can pull it off.
I stared at him, willing him to say yes...