Bodyguard's Baby Surprise

By: Lisa Childs

Passi Prologue

Hand shaking, Nicholas Rus pushed the door through the broken jamb. His other hand grasped his weapon. “Stay back,” he told the woman who stood behind him—too close. Despite the chill November air, he could feel her warmth.

Annalise was always warm—in temperament and temperature. With her yellow blond hair and bright green eyes, she was like summer sunshine. No matter how many times he had pushed her away and called her a pest when they’d been kids, she had always come back with a smile and a hug. Her hugs were the only ones he’d known in his adolescence.

“I forgot you don’t like people getting in your personal space,” she murmured. But before she stepped back, she touched him—as if she couldn’t help herself. Her fingers brushed across the back of his jacket. Despite the layers of leather and cloth separating them, he felt that touch.

“I don’t want you getting hurt,” Nick said. “Someone could be in there.”

“There was,” she said. “I was in there. Whoever did this—” she gestured with a shaking hand at the broken door “—was long gone then.”

He wasn’t so sure about that. What if the person had still been inside? What if that person had hurt Annalise? Nick shuddered.

“So they’re longer gone now,” she said.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. And neither should he. He hated this house. He had always hated this house. Not that there was anything wrong with the two-bedroom bungalow; it was the feeling that being inside it had always given him that he hated. His stomach muscles tightened into a tight knot of dread—the same miserable feeling he’d had every time he’d walked through the front door—and even when he’d been a kid, that had been as seldom as possible.

Drawing in a deep breath, he forced himself to cross the threshold. Despite what he said, he didn’t protest when Annalise followed him—like she’d always followed him—and flipped on the lights.

“Why’s the power on?” he asked. He hadn’t paid a bill since she had died. He had done nothing with the house—except try to forget about it.

For once Annalise was quiet. But it didn’t last long. She reluctantly admitted, “I’ve been paying the utilities.”

“Why?”

“So the pipes won’t freeze,” she said matter-of-factly, “so it’ll be ready when you want to come home.”

He snorted. This house, in the lower middle-class area of Chicago, had never been home to him. “I left this place when I turned eighteen.” And he had never looked back until his mother had died.

“That was when you joined the Marines...” Her voice cracked with emotion.

She had been upset when he’d joined. She’d been only twelve and hadn’t understood how badly he’d needed to get away. But that wasn’t why she was emotional.

“I’m sorry,” he said. That was why he’d come back—not to deal with the house but because he’d known Annalise needed him. Actually, she didn’t need him. She needed her brother, but nobody knew where Gage was. He had disappeared behind enemy lines.

“It’s not your fault,” she said.

Nick blamed himself. Annalise hadn’t been the only Huxton who’d followed him around; Gage had, too. He was only three years younger than him, so he’d joined the Marines three years after Nick had. He’d also followed Nick’s path after the corps—to college for a criminal justice degree and then into the FBI. The one thing Gage had done that Nick hadn’t was reenlist. And that move had probably gotten him killed.

She touched him again, her hand reaching for his—for the one that didn’t still grasp his weapon. She was right that he didn’t need the gun. There was no one inside the house anymore. The intruders had done their damage—overturning furniture and even smashing holes in the drywall—and left.

“It’s not your fault,” Annalise said again, as if she somehow knew how guilty he felt about Gage.

She was also right when she’d said earlier that he didn’t like people getting in his personal space; he didn’t like anyone getting too close to him. So he pulled his hand from hers to pick up an overturned chair.

“I had nothing to do with this mess,” he agreed—though he had created one for himself in River City, Michigan—some three hours north of where he’d grown up.

“The house has been sitting vacant for too long,” Annalise said.

She had been dead for almost a year now.

“You should let me either rent it or list it for you,” she said. Annalise was a real estate agent and property manager. She’d done well for herself—probably because of her natural warmth. People trusted her.

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