Out of the Shadows went live last week! I thought you might like to a sample, so here you go- Chapter 1
I know you will love Brett and her fiery self.
Brett was on her last nerve when she got to the shoot. The road construction confused her GPS which meant she was driving around in circles amidst native New Yorkers who honked at her while simultaneously yelling what she believed to be obscenities. Finally, she arrived at the gardens only to find that the network had hired a photographer of their own choosing, completely disregarding her wishes. Yes, they were footing the bill as this perfume was being released under the show’s label, but nevertheless, it was her face!
This new photographer focused entirely on “his art” and making a social statement. The result was a fiasco. Brett’s dress barely covered her “PYU”- her great-grandmother’s code for girl parts because a lady didn’t say words like vagina. The mental image of what Mamaw would do if she saw Brett now made her giggle. If that woman would disapprove, then she knew this look was not right for her brand. A one shoulder red dress had been chosen for her with an asymmetrical collar. If it weren’t for the length, the dress might work. Brett was thinking on this subject when the make-up artist turned her to face the mirror.
“No. Freaking. Way,” thought Brett, “am I going to look at this ad campaign for months.”
Without saying a word, she walked out of the trailer and marched down to the set. Roses were everywhere. The tropical paradise had been improved upon by dozens of cut roses and dozens of potted shrub roses all to capture the essence of the perfume.
The heels were dangerously high, the dress shimmered red, and her hair was pulled back from her face in a severely tight bun. The final touch was her make-up, in Brett’s mind it was a mix of Cruella Deville and Lady Gaga.
She stepped directly in front of the photographer, violating all rules of western society.
“What do you mean by this get up?!” Brett hissed.
The artist, also known as a photographer, was so startled that he hadn’t even time to catch his breath, much less reply. That was just fine with Brett because she wasn’t done.
“I look like an evil queen straight out of a Disney cartoon!”
Stunned, the photographer replied, “This is how I visualize the work! The danger with the beauty. Society’s love and hate all in one stunning, gripping pose!”
“Well, that is just too bad for you. I am not your art, this is not your vision, it is mine! It is my name on the product, it is my face on the billboard, it is my reputation on the line, it is MY BRAND! If you want to make art, hire a model and do it on your own dime.”
Camila had Brett’s phone in her hand. Putting her phone to her ear, Brett didn’t even need to dial, Camilla already had help on the line. “Hello, Harry- you will not believe what is going down here. I am at the Conservatory and I need you. This fool the network hired is totally in left field over this shoot. Please say you will come?” pleaded Brett.
Harry Porter was a renowned photographer, better known for his photography of nature rather than humans. Brett was his only exception. Perhaps it was because she so loved the land and it showed through her as he photographed her.
“Thank you, dearie. I’ll be waiting in the trailer for you.” And with that, Brett turned and marched off to her trailer practically bouncing off one of the most ruggedly handsome men she had ever seen. She was still MAD and did not even bother to be polite, “Excuse you!” she spat out as she stormed by him.
Alex turned to watch her go, thinking that this one was a firecracker with a very nice backside and long legs, very full of herself and probably going to be trouble. What a first impression.
And then, just as random as a bat on a nighttime hunt, a thought raced through his brain, “I bet she is dynamite in the sack.”
Alex followed Brett to the trailer. Brett had no idea that her new personal security detail had just watched the whole scene.
Walking in unannounced wasn’t the best way to handle the situation; because there was no one outside to check in with, he sent a text. He could have done this earlier, but where was the fun in that?
Brett checked her phone at the signal, “Camila, my new bodyguard is outside. Will you show him in?”
Camila started clucking her tongue when she glanced out the window, Brett knew that meant she was excited about something. “Mama Mia- Gerard Butler and Winston Duke had a bambino! Such a gorgeous man! Lucky you!” Chattering in Spanish, she rushed to let him in.
“I can certainly see why they call you Alpha,” said Brett feeling very off balance as his presence filled the room, but not in a way that sucked the air from the room all at once. No, his presence filled the room like the tide coming in- slow and steady but unstoppable.
“You can go Alpha on me anytime,” giggled Camila.
Brett shot her a look, “I believe I owe you an apology for being rude outside. Can I ask why you didn’t introduce yourself?” clipped Brett.
“Good Morning, Alexander Jansen or Alex. I am surprised you even realized that you were rude, I expect you are accustomed to giving commands to all those around you and having them jump.” Alex replied curtly. “Let’s see where this gets me,” he thought.
Brett didn’t speak, she simply settled her intense, green eyes on his and waited. It was amazing what people will volunteer if you are just quiet and wait. She waited to see what Alex would spill, but she got nothing.
The anger meter was already registering an 8 out of 10 and she was gunning for a fight. Too much stress in the last thirty-six hours had her set to pounce. The longer she was quiet the more her furry rose. Camila knew exactly what she was looking at, she had watched Brett walk through the most difficult time in her life. Brett was hardened steel but the most compassionate person Camilla had ever known. As long as Brett’s sharp tongue was moving, it would blow over quickly, however, if and when quiet comes with anger there is going to be a reckoning.
Brett sucked in a breath, ready to turn loose and fire Alex, when the door burst open and in walked Harry.
Harry, Harry, Harry- to describe Harry as just a brilliant photographer is like saying Mt. Everest is just a mountain. He was so much more! Harry could capture Brett like no one else. The first time Harry met Brett he cracked her up with his description of the fashion industry and she had said, “You are a character!” Her slow southern drawl had him smitten from day one.
“Good God, girl. You look like an evil queen out of a fairytale!” exclaimed Harry.
“That is exactly what I said!” cried Brett.
“Brett Bentley to an Evil Queen- wouldn’t be a very long trip, would it?” asked Alex.
A collective gasp sucked the oxygen out of the room and all eyes riveted on Alex and then on Brett.
Harry spoke first, “Actually, yes it would be a very long trip.” He then turned to Brett, “However, if you offer me an apple, so help me, I will punch you in the throat!” he said with a bob of his head.
Brett burst out laughing- that deep gut laugh that gave away her Texas origins.
“Now, tell me why this man is still standing after that comment?” asked Harry
“Harry, this is my new personal security. I was attacked yesterday, this is who Mitchell thought would be the best fit for protecting me until we understand what we are dealing with.”
“I could be wrong, but I think you may need to have a chat with that son of yours.” said Harry.
Harry gave instructions to the stylists and sat to chat Brett up. Alex watched and listened. He was impressed with the loyalty of those that were close to Brett.
By the time the stylists were done with the second round, Brett was much more herself. She only felt angry when she caught Alex watching her out of the corner of her eye. It also angered her that he was so freaking good looking. His creamy chocolate skin, amber eyes and salt & pepper hair made it hard to focus. He would meet her eyes in the mirror and Brett would look away, she hadn’t felt this kind of attraction to any man since Adrian had died.
She knew he was essential at this time, but she was going to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with him later. Then, she would have to call up that son of hers and find out just exactly what he was thinking matching her up with this fellow.
Harry worked his magic and pulled out a highly successful photo shoot further convincing Brett that he was simply the best in the business.
With the photo shoot done, Brett changed back into her skinny jeans, oversized green sweater, and tall leather boots. Feeling far more comfortable in these clothes, she stepped out of the dressing room and practically ran into Alex. Good gracious, he was big.
One day she would have to actually measure his chest. This thought then led to her picturing the size of his pecs and then wondering if there was a tattoo on one of them and that thought was leading to territory she wasn’t ready to explore. Her head literally snapped when he spoke to her, causing her to appear like she was mentally lacking.
“I was asking where you parked.” repeated Alex.
“In the lot, just outside to the left,” replied Brett, “I am certain you don’t want me to drive, I assume you like to control every variable around you.”
“It does make it easier for me to protect you. I have a strong feeling that you prefer to control every situation you are in and every person in your circle.” He was baiting her again.
Brett fumed. As she walked ahead, Alex grinned. He was getting her off balance for a reason and soon he would explain but until then he was having some fun. She was feisty and beautiful, the way those green eyes lit up when she was mad made him want to keep it going.
Brett always walked quickly and with purpose, in the quiet of the mid-afternoon winter day all that could be heard was the click of her boot heels as she led the way to the car.
As they neared a black Mercedes AMG G 63 SUV, Brett punched the fob and tossed the keys to Alex. Alex was surprised; he had expected a sedan or a sports car, not an SUV with a sunroof and 4-wheel drive.
“You drive this around?” he asked.
“Yes, does that surprise you? I thought you already knew all about me, you have certainly decided that you don’t like me.”
They made their way back to Brett’s apartment in silence. Alex was waiting to see how she responded to him with no one else around. All he got was stone cold silence.
Once the valet had taken the SUV, Brett led him to the apartment. Inside, Alex was surprised as the biggest, blackest dog he had ever seen came bounding up to Brett.
“Elliot! I am so glad to see you!” For the first time, Alex saw a genuinely happy Brett. The sight was crazy, though. This massive dog probably outweighed Brett but acted like a puppy.
Brett was apologizing for being gone so long, “The first photographer was a blooming idiot, so I had to call Harry. What did you do today?” She proceeded to carry on a conversation with him while she dropped off her coat and bag.
“Now, you need to meet Alex. He is also called “Alpha”. I guess because he thinks he is the alpha male but that was before he met you, right?” With that she turned to face Alex and acknowledged for the first time that he was even in the room. “Elliott, say hello to the nice man.”
With that, Elliot walked right up to Alex and gingerly clamped his massive mouth over Alex’s crotch. Alex froze, his dark skin going very pale and those gorgeous eyes were as wide as saucers.
With a low voice, Brett said, “I have no idea what is up your crawl about me, but I don’t really care. My son thinks you are the best in your field, and I trust him explicitly, so I will put up with you. You don’t have to like me to protect me, but you will show me respect. If for no other reason, at the end of the day I sign your paychecks. So, I am now going to sink into a hot bath that will, hopefully, remove the stress of this day from my face. During that time, I expect you to find a new attitude.”
As she walked away, Alex wondered when this beast would let go of his junk.
“Elliot, release.” Brett looked back over her shoulder “By the way, at this dinner tonight you are supposed to be my date, so you are going to have to look like you like me or at the bare minimum, look at me like you want to bed me.”
Just before entering her bedroom, she turned and said, “One more thing, I hope you brought a tux. Don’t wear a tie, some necks were not made to wear ties and yours is one of those necks.”
He chuckled to himself, “Well, Alpha, you wanted to see what she was made of and you certainly found out.”
He was 55 years old and served 30 years in the Army, most of that in special forces, and never had he experienced anything like what just happened. He had, of course, had certain individuals threaten to cut off certain appendages, but never had anyone come so close.
Alex let a slow grin grow from ear to ear, “This job might be fun after all.”
In her bedroom, Brett flopped on the bed. Elliott jumped up beside her, as she rubbed his sleek fur, she couldn’t help but giggle. It took her all day, but she finally got the upper hand with Mr. Alpha. The look on his face when Elliot said “hello”! “Good grief,” she thought, “plenty of people don’t like me after they meet me, but this one seemed to hate me from the get go.”
It didn’t take long and Brett was refreshed and ready to make another attempt at being friends with Alex. For the first time, Brett looked at the morning from his perspective. What a scene to walk in on! She could see how it might have given him the impression that she was a diva. Her stomach began to growl and she realized that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Pulling on a pair of black yoga pants and a long-sleeved turquoise t-shirt, Brett went to offer an olive branch.
Alex had his back to Brett as she entered the library. The library was on the same side of the apartment as the master bath. Alex was taking in the same view from the library window seat as Brett had while soaking in the tub. Brett took a moment to appreciate his broad shoulders that tapered to a slim waist.
“It’s a remarkable view, isn’t it?”
Alex turned to see Brett in the doorway with Elliot by her side.
“It is breathtaking in its own way. I prefer a little less concrete,” replied Alex, “before we start sparring again, I would like to explain my actions earlier.”
“By all means.”
“When I am hired to protect someone, there are many variables that must be factored into the equation. One of the biggest factors is the client’s own reactions to a stressful situation. I walked in on what I believe was a stressful situation, so I took the opportunity to push you and see how you reacted. I said a lot of things that I really didn’t mean simply to gage your responses.”
“So, did I pass or have you classified me as a hysterical woman?” grinned Brett.
“You never let the anger get out of control and I couldn’t intimidate you.”
“Ha! I raised 4 teenagers, 3 of which were strong-willed females- intimidation was something that you NEVER showed if you wanted to survive to fight another day.”
“So, that was a neat trick with the dog.”
Brett giggled when she pictured the look on his face when Elliott latched on to his junk and her giggle turned into full on laughter. “I deal with a lot of arrogant men and one thing that they all have in common is the fear of losing the family jewels.” Brett answered when she could once again speak. Alex still didn’t find it all that funny, but watching her laugh was amusing.
“Why the name Elliot? Seems like he should be named something more fierce.”
“Because he’s my hitter.”
Brett’s comment was met with a blank stare.
“You know, Leverage- the tv show- and Elliot is the hitter? He’s played by Christian Kane.”
Still nothing on Alex’s part, “Really, you have never seen Leverage?”
“Well, that is a downright shame. Anyway, Elliot’s character is awesome and our favorite character so when it came time to name my dog it just seemed right. I mean, after all, his job is to neutralize the bad guys so he’s my hitter.”
“I do have another question, who weighs more- you or the dog?”
“Don’t you know that asking about a woman’s weight is a great way to get Elliot to show you more of his parlor tricks?” Brett teased. “Elliot is one-twenty five and I am a buck thirty.”
“Wow, you just told me your weight. Most women would have sent Elliot after me again.”
“Most women are insecure and ridiculous. How about a late lunch? I’m hungry and I am sure you are after traveling.”
“Thank you. Yes, I am hungry but I thought we were eating dinner at the event tonight.”
“We are, but I am hungry now and the food at those events is usually not that good.”
To that Alex raised one eyebrow and gave Brett an inquisitive look.
“I know, it is the Food Channel and you would think that one thing you could count on when cooks get together is that the food would be amazing. You would be wrong. Let me give you a tour of the apartment and when we end in the kitchen, I will pull something light together.”
Into the large kitchen, Bret practically skipped. “This is the best thing about this apartment, well except for my claw and ball bathtub that looks out onto the New York skyline.”
The kitchen was amazing, a huge professional range dominated one wall. The glass subway tile on the walls shone bright and the black cabinets looked elegant against the white floors. The space was laid out by someone who obviously loved to cook.
“I could spend all day in this kitchen. As a matter of fact, if I had used this kitchen to develop recipes for my new cookbook instead of cooking in the network’s test kitchens, I might not have been attacked.” said Brett with irritation in her voice.
“That is the first time you have mentioned the attack. I saw the footage, thankfully you’ve had some training. What’s your take on all of this?” asked Alex. He studied her face as she answered.
“My take is that someone thought that they were going to snag me and get some ransom money. Obviously, they didn’t do their homework or they would have known that Elliot would be with me. This sort of thing comes with the territory of being famous and wealthy. There is not a lot I can do at this point, so I don’t see any reason to fixate on it. Plus, I have Elliot and you, so I will continue on with my life. Speaking of which, we have an event tonight, so I had better get us some food.”
At that, Brett walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out some cold roast and some vegetable beef soup. Alex watched her move from one space to the other, slicing the roast into thin cuts and heating them in the cast iron skillet with au jus from the roast. She moved with surety and grace. Within minutes, she had hot roast beef sandwiches and soup ready to go.
She placed their plates on the small black table in the kitchen. For the first time that day, they sat looking at each other from a distance close enough to see the color in each other’s eyes. It was a pleasant meal over which the schedule of the next day was discussed. The conversation was easy, the kind you would have with a new acquaintance who you like but hasn’t actually become a friend yet.
Just as they were finishing their meal, the doorbell rang. Brett went to open the door but Alex stopped her. “Go sit in the living room, I’ll get this.”
“Bossy.” she thought but did what he said anyway.
Alex looked through the peephole and saw what he knew to be a detective and an FBI agent.
Alex opened the door, letting the detective and agent show their I.D.
“Good Afternoon, I am Detective Sloan, and this is Special Agent Parker with the FBI,” said Sloan. Agent Parker was tall, at least 5’10”, very fit, blonde and fair skinned. She seemed too kind to be with the FBI.
Brett looked concerned at the sight of the FBI agent. “Hello, Mrs. Bentley,” Detective Sloan started off, “We have gotten some information concerning the attack yesterday and we need to ask you some more questions.”
“I take it the information is not good considering you brought back-up.” Brett looked over at Agent Parker. “Please, sit down and everyone call me Brett.”
“As you know, we had our suspicions about the attack being random.” Brett nodded and he continued, “However, what turned up today was very surprising. When we ran the attacker through the databases, he turned up as a contract killer linked to several unsolved murders.” He paused to let Brett take this in before continuing, “Once he popped up in the system, the FBI called, which is what led to Agent Parker being here with me.”
At this, Agent Parker cleared her throat, “Mrs. Bentley, I mean Brett, are you familiar with the Ramosa cartel from Paraguay?”
When Brett shook her head no, Parker continued: “Well, it is a violent cartel headed by Manual Ramosa. He has smuggling routes through North America, especially in the United States. We have been working to get inside the cartel for years, but it is very tight.”
“I appreciate what you are telling me, but I do not understand how this is linked to me and the attack yesterday.” said Brett.
Both of the officers breathed deeply, “The connection is that Ramosa hired the man who attacked you.” Parker said and watched for her response.
Brett was stupefied. “Why would a drug dealer from South America be at all interested in me?”
“Unfortunately, we have no idea at this time. However, we are concerned that because the attack was unsuccessful there will be another. The contract was not specific to one person, but an open contract paying out to whomever gets the job done. Also, Ramosa is not simply a drug dealer, he specializes in human trafficking.” Parker continued, “Have you been outside of the US recently?”
“No, all of my travels have been stateside. I arrived in New York on Sunday and was at the network studios on Monday. Prior to that, I had been working from my home in Galveston or at the ranch just outside of Winnie.”
“I see, do you know of anyone in your organization that may have crossed paths with this cartel?”
“I can’t think of anyone or any incident at this time, but my group is large. As you probably know, my foundation is geared towards rescuing kids and placing them in permanent homes and helping single parent families in order to prevent kids from entering the foster system. So, we have conflicting interests but I cannot think of a direct link or confrontation. I have nothing to hide, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a connection that I am not aware of. I can give you the name of the forensic accounting firm that I use to audit my records and that of my foundation every six months.”
As Brett was talking, Alex noticed a shift- very subtle- in her body language. She was telling the truth, but she was carefully leaving something out.
“You have your own records audited?” Detective Sloan asked.
“I do. We have a lot of investments and a lot of donors; I do not want to be surprised by a donor that is connected to the wrong people and I am not risking having someone that I trust turn out to be a crook.” As she spoke, Brett had stood up and walked into the gallery where her purse was on a table. She returned with her phone and gave the information to Agent Parker.
Brett sighed as the weight of what was being said sunk in, “So, let me get this straight. I have become the target of an evil man from Paraguay who has put a contract on me, for no apparent reason, so there could be more attacks coming since the first assassin failed. Does this mean that if I go home I am taking the danger back to my family?”
“Well, yes. That is what is going on. Brett, I can assure you that we are doing what we can and will post agents to protect you. However, the facts are what they are, if you go home this will follow you there.” Parker was compassionate but straight forward, Brett liked that about her.
“This is a lot to take in. Obviously, I can’t go home till this is resolved. I plan to keep my schedule for the week but once I am finished with the meetings tomorrow and the gallery opening tomorrow night, I will head to my farm in West Virginia. It is very isolated and will make it easier to see something coming.” Brett was talking but she still couldn’t believe all of this was real and happening.
“That sounds like a good plan, we will have agents watching you. I take it this gentleman is your personal security?” asked Parker.
“What?” Brett was taken back by the question and then realized that she hadn’t introduced Alex to anyone, “Oh, I apologize. Yes, this is Alexander Jansen. He is responsible for me now, lucky him.”
Alex shook hands and walked them to the door. The three of them conferred for a few minutes, Brett was at the liquor cabinet when Alex walked back in the room.
“Would you like one?” she asked, “I need to relax before dinner tonight and I don’t think a hot bath will do the job this time. Well, if this don’t beat all! I am now the focus of some crazy S.O.B from South America and can’t even go home.”
Brett’s heavy southern drawl caught Alex by surprise. Her accent was always evident, but now her voice was dripping with it. The first two shots had already had an effect on her and she was getting ready to down another.
Alex put his hand on the bottle. “You know, you don’t strike me as a heavy drinker, but you do strike me as someone who needs her filter in place, especially if she is under stress and doesn’t like most of those people around her. So, why don’t you let me put that up for you?”
“Just what makes you think I can’t handle my liquor?”
“Well, for starters everything you just said had about 3 extra vowels in it and I know from working with your son that you are not a drinker.”
“Fine, I have to get dressed anyway.” Brett swished over to the bedroom door and slammed it shut. As she passed Alex, he was pretty positive she patted her backside giving him the universal “bite me” sign. It happened so fast he couldn’t be sure, but the thought made him chuckle.
Alex stood there processing all that had happened. With this new information, he knew that simply acting as her personal security guard wasn’t enough. He needed a team. He would discuss this with Brett later, right now he had to get her through the next few hours without her blowing up and having a meltdown. He shook his head, he may not be sold on her farm girl image but he had to admit she was strong. All that had happened in the last 24 hours would have had most humans curled up in the fetal position after having gotten smash faced.
As Alex got dressed, he chuckled as he thought about Brett’s command to not wear a tie. She was right, he had a neck that God never intended to wear a tie. Not that he needed to be told how to dress.
Since leaving the Army, Alex had traded one uniform for another. Tonight, instead of dress blues he would wear an Armani tux, with an open collared shirt. He planned to impress Brett with his sense of style. He showered and trimmed his stubble to look intentional instead of unkempt, applied his favorite cologne, dressed and then checked emails and returned texts till he heard Brett leave her room.
Alex strode into the library ready to knock Brett’s socks off but what he saw standing in the library stopped him in his tracks.
Brett stood before him with her auburn hair swept up into a bun. Diamonds hung like tear drops from her ears highlighting her slender neck. The dress she was wearing was floor length black velvet, long sleeved with a full back. But the neckline plunged deeply and the skirt was slit in the front right up the center. There was probably only about 12 inches of fabric in between the plunge and the slit, just covering her abdomen and the tip top of her thighs. This dress hinted at all the right places but revealed nothing. For the first time, Alex could see just how long and shapely her legs were, her slender feet melded into her nude heels. The only accents on the dress were four rhinestone buttons, one pair was just even with her hip bones with the second pair directly below those just at the top of her thighs.
“Well Big A, have you got something to say?” Brett drawled.
“Big A, I like that.” thought Alex, to hear her draw it out with about a dozen “a’s” in it made his breath quicken.
He moved to stand about 3 feet in front of her, “Let’s just say that looking at you like I would want to bed you won’t be a problem tonight.”
Brett tilted her head and cut her eyes up at him. Even in 4-inch heels, he still towered over her. “I was hoping you might actually like me, but I’ll take what I can get.” She grinned a sly grin and brushed up against him as she moved past.
“Elliot come.” she called. Elliott appeared by her side wearing a huge rhinestone collar. What a stunning pair those two made.
Brett buzzed the front desk, “This is Ms. Bentley, please have my car brought round.”
“Alrighty then, let’s get this thing over with,” Brett said with a sigh.