He could ruin me.
The folder in front of me held at least a hundred pages. Pages filled with pictures and details of my new assignment—my only assignment because once a girl hits the spotlight she isn’t used again. A face could only be fresh once.
Arm Candy was particular about their employees, but not so much when it came to their clients. The more troubled, the better. The farther they fell, the higher they could rise.
Abel Kincaid had hit several layers beneath the surface. He was almost in the pits of hell, hanging on to the bedrock with raw, bloodied fingers.
Bullet points detailed his lesser transgressions.
Destruction of property
And that’s where I come in. Basically I’d be a highly paid babysitter. Babysitting was a job I excelled in. I’d been watching over my father for years.
Dad limped into the living room. “Morning, Gia.” His face had lost some of the purple bruising he’d received from last week’s beat down.
“Coffee?” I asked.
He groaned as he sat. “Thank you, honey.”
My chair screeched across the linoleum floor of my tiny kitchen. My apartment wasn’t much, but it was paid for and no one was coming knocking because I owed them money. My job as receptionist at Arm Candy barely paid all my bills, but they were paid.
“I don’t want you doing this. You’re not selling yourself to a man to pay my debts. He’s worse than me.” Dad shuffled through the papers and shoved them aside.
I handed him a cup of coffee. He took his bitter and dark. He said he liked it in its purest form. I thought he liked the way it blended with his personality. Dad had never been the same since mom left him five years ago. That’s when all the trouble started.
I plopped into the chair beside him and straightened the pages. My eyes continued to focus on one photo. It was a candid shot of Abel smiling. He was caught in an unfiltered moment. That was my goal. To get him to smile like that again.
“I’m not selling myself. I’m simply running adult day care.” I looked at the man who was supposed to be looking after me. At twenty-eight, I hadn’t outgrown the need for a father figure, but it had been a long time since I had one. “As for being as bad as you? Something tells me he doesn’t owe a loan shark ten grand with interest compounding daily.” I held up the latest photo of my new project. Abel was a handsome man with a beard to die for. “He seems to have missed the meaty fists of Igor.”
Dad touched his Rocky Balboa eyes and winced.
“If he does anything to you, I’ll—”
“Beat him with your cast?”
Dad’s shoulders sank.
“Consider us lucky that none of the usual recruits wanted the job.” The assignment came up so fast that no one was available to take it, which is why it was offered to me.
Dad shifted in his seat to get more comfortable. Along with his broken arm and beaten face, he had two broken ribs, and contusions all over his body. I was pretty sure there wasn’t a place on his body that didn’t hurt. Most people would think Dad would learn his lesson and not borrow money from bad men only to give it to worse men at illegal poker games, but this was the second time in two years he’d fallen short of being able to pay his debt. Two times the interest he owed was taken out in flesh.
“How long will you be gone?”
“I’m following him on tour, making sure he gets from point A to point B. Keeping him focused and on his game.”
“Where will you sleep?”
I sipped my creamy, sweet coffee and decided to pull my dad’s chain. “On the tour bus, spooned between the lead guitarist and the bass player.”
“If I wasn’t so sore, I’d throw you over my lap and paddle you.”
I gathered the papers and put them in the folder. “You lost that privilege years ago, but it might be nice if you took up adulting again.”
I gently patted him on the back. “Try harder.” I finished my coffee and put my cup in the sink. “Behave yourself while I’m gone. If I find out you stepped foot in any backroom poker game or spent a dime on anything that didn’t nourish your body, I’ll beat you myself.”
“I love you Dad, but sorry doesn’t pay the bills.”
“I’m done gambling. It’s become too painful. I promise to pay you back.” He drank his coffee. “How much are they paying you for this job anyway?”
I wasn’t giving him an exact number. There was no way I’d tell him I was getting five hundred a day plus expenses. No doubt he’d figure out a way to gamble away my future earnings. “Enough to get you clear so you can get back to work without fear someone’s going to murder you.” Grateful didn’t begin to describe how I felt when they broke his arm instead of his legs. At least he’d be back on the construction site in a few weeks. “I’ve gotta pack.”
When dad moved in last month, I gave him my room. It seemed the respectful thing to do. No matter how irresponsible Frank Simone was, he was still my dad. In the tiny room at the end of the hall, I yanked the black suitcase covered in flower stickers from under my twin bed. Was it possible to pack a month’s worth of clothes in so little space? Did I have a month of clothes? The answer to both questions was no. Pack smart.
I rolled and folded nearly everything I had and when I finished I laid on the bed and stared at the smiling photo of Abel. What put that grin on his face? The key to my success was finding out.
Arm Candy didn’t send their receptionists on most assignments. In fact, this was a first, but the record label hiring me didn’t want a bombshell beauty to distract Abel, and they needed someone fast. They weren’t looking for the kind of woman pretty enough to be mistaken as a love interest. They needed a woman who could get him from point A to point B. That was something any grown man should be able to do for himself but Abel didn’t seem that able.
I pulled my computer on top of my thighs and began my personal research. Everything was in the details. Mr. Kincaid was a paparazzi favorite. As hard as it was to take my eyes off of him, I looked in the background. Abel was quite a surprise. While people around him drank Cristal and top shelf booze, my bad boy was never without an orange soda in his hand. In several photos, his crew raced around on Ducatis and various other crotch rockets. My troublemaker went old school with a Harley.
I had to say, the wind caressed his hair into a perfect, just-got-laid look. That took my mind in a totally different direction. Obviously, Abel had his choice of women, but he rarely had one on his arm. I wrote down my stalkerish findings just as the theme song from Survivor played on my phone. Martine didn’t make me eat worms, sleep in a tent, or wear a buff, but she threw down challenge after challenge. This assignment felt like a tribal council. If I screwed up, I’d be voted off the island.
“Hello, Martine.” No surprise she was calling. I’d been briefed on the client a dozen times, but she wasn’t confident that I could pull it off. “Before you ask, I’m packed and ready to go.”
“You don’t even know what I was going to ask.”
“You were going to ask if I had his schedule memorized. If I knew the passcodes to his tour bus? Then you were going to ask me if I’d packed my hard outer shell because he won’t be receptive to the idea of a shadow.”
Martine was silent, unusual for a woman who was never at a loss for words. “How did you know?”
“You pay me to know.” She didn’t pay me enough. Fifteen an hour only made ends meet. Even at five hundred a day, I was getting paid fifty percent of the standard rate. “I’ve got this. Don’t worry.”
“All right,” she huffed. “Call me when you get to Los Angeles.”
“No problem.” Lord, I hoped there wouldn’t be any problems. How difficult could a spoiled musician be?