His Christmas Assignment

By: Lisa Childs

Chapter 1

Voices rose in anger, penetrating the thin walls of Logan Payne’s office. Garek Kozminski closed the outside door so softly that it made no sound. He probably could have slammed it and they wouldn’t have heard him enter. But he was used to moving silently. In the past, his freedom and even his life had depended upon it.

Not much had changed...

He crossed the reception area and approached Logan’s office—not to eavesdrop. Due to the volume of their argument, he could have heard them from the parking lot. Usually Logan didn’t yell; as the CEO of Payne Protection, he didn’t need to yell to be heard. The other voice was female and easily recognizable to Garek even though Candace Baker didn’t usually deign to speak to him.

Apparently she had no problem talking about him. “I can’t believe you would consider offering this assignment to Garek Kozminski!”

He had figured Logan had called this meeting about a job. In the year that he’d been working for his brother-in-law he’d had many assignments. Had Candace protested every one?

“He’s proven himself over and over again,” Logan defended him. “He’s a damn good bodyguard!”

“Garek Kozminski is a thief and a killer!” she yelled. “I can’t believe you would trust him. I never will!”

Garek felt a twinge in his chest—one he refused to acknowledge as pain. Candace’s low opinion wasn’t exactly a surprise or unwarranted. And of course he had done nothing to change it; he’d actually done more to provoke it and her.

Logan’s voice wasn’t just loud but it had gone chillingly cold when he said, “He helped save my life and my brother’s life—”

“Because of his criminal connections,” she interrupted.

“That’s enough,” Logan told her. He didn’t shout now; he sounded too weary to fight anymore. “Garek and Milek Kozminski are essential members of this team.”

“They’re your brothers-in-law...”

And maybe that was her real problem: Logan had married Stacy instead of her. She had obviously been in love with her boss for a long time; she’d left the River City Police Department when Logan did in order to join the fledging bodyguard business he’d started a few years before.

“Candace,” Logan said, “if you can’t work with them, maybe you can’t work—”

“Hey!” Garek said as he pushed open the office door before Logan could finish his ultimatum. He didn’t want Candace fired. Sure, she hated Garek. But he didn’t hate her.

He wanted her.

He had wanted her since the very first time he’d seen her. She was all long legs and sharp curves and sass. It sparkled in her blue eyes every time she looked at him. But she wouldn’t look at him now. Instead she’d tilted her head down so that her jaw-length black hair skimmed across her face, hiding her eyes.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Garek said, although he’d had a good excuse. Someone else had called him about a job, an assignment he might not be able to refuse no matter how much he wanted to...

“It’s probably a good thing you were,” Logan remarked. “In fact you might want to give us a few more minutes...”

Candace lifted her chin and shook her head. “There’s no need. I’m doing what I should have done a year ago...”

A year ago was when Garek had started at the Payne Protection Agency—after his sister had married Logan Payne. He doubted Candace’s timing was a coincidence. She had probably wanted to resign then, but no doubt her pride had forced her to stay.

“I’m quitting,” she finished.

Logan jumped up from the chair behind his desk and cursed. “Damn it—”

“You were just about to fire me,” Candace pointed out. “This is for the best, and we both know it.” She turned then and finally faced Garek. Her blue eyes had never been so cold as she stared at him.

Conversely, heat rushed through Garek as his temper ignited. But before he could say anything, Candace pushed past him. He reached out and grasped her arm.

She stared down at his hand. Her voice as cold as her gaze, she said, “Don’t touch me. Don’t ever touch me.”

He would have teased her, as he had incessantly for the past year. But he sensed that her coldness was just a thin veneer for deeper emotions.

Candace Baker was strong. She was nearly as tall as he was, and she was all lean muscle. But there was also a vulnerability about her that she desperately tried to hide beneath a tough attitude. Just like the coldness, neither was who she really was.

“I didn’t figure you for a quitter,” he goaded her.

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