Stolen Kisses

By: Ruth Cardello

Chapter One

With her high heels swinging from one hand and a half empty bottle of rum from the other, Kenzi Barrington walked along an empty stretch of her favorite Bahamian island beach. The warm sand was a familiar comfort. Music blared from the nearby hotel pool area, but that wasn’t what stopped Kenzi from finding peace that night.

She raised the bottle to her lips and took another long gulp. She sought numbness. Distance. Denial. The fruity drinks the bar served had no kick so she’d bribed the bartender for a bottle of her own and left.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man in a dark suit, watching her from a path beside the beach. His face was darkened in shadow, but the breadth of his shoulders and his impressive height left little question about why he was following her: Her family had sent a bodyguard, even though she’d told them she didn’t want one. As the youngest of seven, six of whom were unfortunately brothers, she was used to no one respecting her wishes.

How did I ever think they would let me do a reality show? They’ve never let me do anything. Disappointment sucker-punched her as she remembered the final conversation she’d had with the Hollywood producer. He’d been interested in the idea she’d pitched, interested enough to draw up the contracts for her to read over. Then, at their last meeting, he’d announced he wasn’t moving forward with the project. Suddenly, just like every other opportunity or idea she’d ever had, it had been shut down.

Why did I let myself believe this time would be different? Although being followed around by cameras and letting the world see her day-to-day life should have been scary, Kenzi thought it could free her. Force me to face what I can no longer deny.

Does it matter? It’s not happening.

When the producer slipped up and said he couldn’t meet with her again, Kenzi had instantly been suspicious. Couldn’t? As in, been warned not to?

Although the producer had denied it, the truth had been there in his cautious eyes. He’d been scared. She’d seen the look before. Her brothers plowed over people, silenced those who opposed them, and crushed scandals before they went public. Maybe stopping me is for the best, too.

But my silence should be my choice.

She knew she wasn’t making sense anymore, but the alcohol fueled her anger toward her brothers. Kenzi raised the bottle in salute to the bodyguard then dropped her shoes into the sand. After one final swig, she dropped the bottle beside her shoes and glared at the man who hadn’t moved. She could feel his eyes on her, and her hands clenched at her sides. Like thoughts of her family, his presence held her back from enjoying the novelty of a strong buzz. Instead of the giddy oblivion she’d sought, she felt raw, cornered. Watched. Always watched, but never heard. She wanted to sink to her knees in the sand and cry. Instead, she called out, “Tell my family you couldn’t find me, or say you saw me go into my hotel room. Go away. I want to be alone.”

His rigid outline stood in quiet judgment of her, and she hated him for it. Hated feeling like, even here at her island escape, she was being controlled. An impulse to defy him made her turn toward the waves. She would disappear into the darkness and lose herself in her exercise of choice. She shed her dress in one swift move, without embarrassment; her navy-blue bra and panties covered more than many bikinis anyway. She was ankle-deep in the water when a strong hand closed over her arm and hauled her back two steps then swung her around.

“Whatever you’re running from, killing yourself isn’t the answer,” the bodyguard said impatiently, with a hint of an English accent.

Kenzi tried to yank her arm free, but he held her easily. She turned angry eyes toward his face, and her next words died on her lips. He was an attractive man but not in a male-model way. His features were harsh; his nose was slightly crooked as if it had been broken once or twice. He wasn’t at all what Kenzi would have said was her taste. The men she dated took as long styling their hair as she did. This was a man. Her heart beat wildly in her chest. Nothing about his expression hinted he might be attracted to her, yet her stomach quivered with excitement. She dismissed the temporary insanity of her libido as a result of too much rum. She hoped she sounded angry instead of breathless when she said, “I am an excellent swimmer. And I don’t appreciate being manhandled.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded slurred.

He dropped his hand from her arm. “You’re drunk, and I don’t have time for the police investigation that will follow your body being washed up on the shore tomorrow morning.” He gave her a slow once-over then bent to pick up her dress. He threw it at her. “Get dressed. I’m walking you back to the hotel.”

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