One witness…one bodyguard…one life.
Twenty-one-year-old New Zealander Lydia Sands witnessed the hit-and-run of a powerful man’s son. Her bodyguard is shot when the killer returns to dispose of her and The Program puts her in hiding. A year later, the case remains unsolved and her handler needs to get her further from the killer’s reach. Lydia detests the thought of being close enough to endanger the man who nearly died protecting her, even if it’s aboard a super-yacht traveling the South Pacific.
Tyler Whitehall’s shooting stole weeks from his memory. Physically recovered, he oversees security for Whitehall Shipping. While on a family holiday, Tyler is suspicious of the woman accompanying them without notice or security clearance, as his nephew’s caregiver. Stronger than suspicion is his incomprehensible attraction to her, and his instinct to protect her.
Once sensitive information is leaked, Lydia undergoes re-identification to evade a killer and protect the man who’d die to save her. Her bodyguard has just begun his pursuit, and she may have underestimated his abilities.
CONTENT WARNING: Sexual content
WITNESS PURSUIT has just released. Yay! This novel is a contemporary romance, and book one in my Bodyguards series, a heart-pounding line in which each story brings you a bodyguard and the woman he protects. It’s also my first book which has released simultaneously as both an ebook and in paperback. Here’s the pic I took today to prove it. Yep, see that grin – no one could get that off my face all day. What a wicked feeling it was to hold the physical copy of my book in my hands. So exciting. The buy links are just below.
I hope you’ll sit back, relax and enjoy the first five pages of chapter one.
“That is one massive super-yacht, and one I shouldn’t be on.” Lydia crossed her arms, eyeing the four levels of darkened glass and sleek white panels as the luxury ship sat proudly in its private berth at Auckland Marina’s gated wharf. And was that a– Shoot. Yes, it was. A huge kidney shaped pool glistened from the center of the one-hundred and fifty foot yacht. All the comforts one could desire, except not her. She shouldn’t even be here.
“Ben.” She swung around, leveling a glare on her bodyguard.
“Don’t say it.” Ben scanned the marina. “You’re getting on that ship and working as a caregiver. No arguments.”
“Don’t you ‘no argument’ me. Tyler Whitehall will throw me off his ship, or he would if he remembered me. What happens if he does?”
“He’ll have to dive in to rescue you.” He smiled then quickly straightened his mouth. “Tyler’s one of the best bodyguards in the business, and I still need you somewhere safe, away from home shores. With your case unsolved, Tyler’s ship is my choice.”
Tyler had been assigned to guard her after she’d witnessed the hit-and-run of a wealthy businessman. Ten days later, he’d taken three bullets in the back to protect her and four-year-old Jay. She’d never forget his blood on her hands as it had pumped from his body.
“Tyler put his life on the line for me. I won’t allow that to happen again.”
“Now, he wouldn’t have wanted you or the boy to get hurt. That’s what we do, guard.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “Yes, you guard, but no, you shouldn’t get shot. Not for me.”
“You’re an eyewitness. If we don’t have you, we don’t have someone to identify Johnny Taita’s killer. That’s when we find him. Which we will.” His look was sharp, determined and inarguable. “You’ll have the cover you need once on board with Tyler, as well as a break from the safe-house. Surely you like the idea of a cruise to the Fijian islands?”
She frowned. “That’s a trick question. Being in The Program means remaining in seclusion. Not on board a luxury ship. Tyler’s wonderful brothers and nephew will be on board. This is their family holiday.”
“You’ll be in more danger from Nico than he ever will be from you. Four-year-olds, as adorable as they are, are tricky little things. Nico has endless energy.”
“Children aren’t things.”
“Same, same.” He shrugged. “All that matters is you’re one of the best caregivers I know. I told Nico’s father, and he’s all for your arrival.”
“But he won’t know who I am.” She wanted to hit him over the head. The man was far too obstinate, and deaf. He didn’t listen to a word she said. “Even Tyler won’t know.”
“That’s the whole point of you having name suppression.”
“This is impossible.”
“I knew you’d come around.”
What? She was not coming around, but he nudged her from behind then directed her through the arched gateway and along the slatted wooden walkway. He rolled her suitcase over the boards. Its clatter overpowered the water lapping and sloshing against the pilings.
“What I should have said was you’re impossible.” And a lunatic.
He chuckled. “We’ve lived with each other day in and day out for a year. The safe-house will ring with peace while you’re gone.”
“Peace my ass. I’ve asked Saria to ride your tail. Damn it, I can’t believe I’m doing this.” She yanked on his black shirtsleeve. “I mean it. I don’t want to do this.”
“Hey, you’ll be fine. I know you’re worried, but you don’t need to be, and your sister’s in good hands. Stop stressing, and enjoy this break. It’s only on offer once.”
“Tyler’s on board that ship. You know the guilt I feel. I can never forget what happened to him.”
“Tyler recalls nothing of his initial Program assignment with you.” He pressed a hand to her back and moved her forward. “Simply assume the role of Nico’s caregiver and relax. This is your chance for a little time out.”
Relax? She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I have to leave Saria behind. Do you realize twins shouldn’t be separated?”
“Brigs is guarding her, and you don’t have a choice.”
“I could help with her correspondence study. Her nursing finals are so close.”
“I’ll help her.” He increased his pace. “And I think by the age of twenty-one, we can safely separate you two for a month.”
“We’re not twenty-one, yet.” Groaning, she rubbed her palms over her white cotton pants. The ship was so close. Another twenty feet and they’d reach the gangplank, and she was fresh out of arguments.
“This is where I leave.” Ben halted and leaned in. “This is your chance to see Tyler as you asked for after the shooting. I know you two were…close. I couldn’t grant your request then, but you’re not a victim, Lydia, you’re a survivor. You must live, even under confinement.”
Her heartbeat raced. A year ago, she’d begged Ben to allow her to see Tyler in hospital. She’d needed to see he’d survived.
“Stop thinking and start moving, and don’t forget, keep in touch on the sat phone. I expect updates as often as possible.” Ben handed over her case and turned her toward the ship. “That’s my girl. Now move.”
“I am not your girl.” Still, she flexed her fingers around the square handle of her suitcase, and taking the deepest breath, walked away from Ben for the first time in a year. She shivered. No, she could do this. A child was on board for her to look after. He was who she had to concentrate on, because her case was stagnant and the inaction wasn’t doing her any good. As much as she didn’t want to go, she understood Ben’s arguments. She needed this break to refocus, and the Fijian Islands, wow, what a dreamy location.
She tugged at the inside of her white blouse collar then lifted her chin and eyed the ship. Up close, the white panels sparkled in the sunlight. Oh no. She slammed to a stop as Tyler stepped out from behind darkened glass sliders on the second floor. He moved across the deck to the stern, and halted ten heart-stopping feet away.
He looked strong and well, his jaw angled as firmly as always. His midnight black hair blew over his ears and brushed his shoulders. The longer length suited him over the buzz-cut he’d had last. So cute.
No. She was here for Nico, not to dance with Tyler again. That’s right. Tyler must’ve moved on. It had been a year. She forced her thoughts under control.
* * * *
Staring out over the harbor, Tyler tucked the tails of his blue button-down shirt into his black pants. The breeze was brisk, the dawn sun warm on his skin. A perfect morning to set sail, on a family holiday he’d longed for. Liam and Nico were on board, and Dylan and Luke wouldn’t be far away. These moments with his brothers and nephew mattered as much as his next breath.
Shifting onto his heels, he searched the marina for them, only his gaze landed on a young woman standing stiffly below.
Mmm, chocolate-brown hair, his favorite shade, and so long it touched her tiny waist. And those eyes, the same delicious shade, and now locked on him. Did he know her? She looked familiar, yet not. Leaning against the railing, he called, “Can I help you?”
“Um, yes. I’m after Liam Whitehall.”
She was after his brother? “Who are you?”
“My name’s–” Rubbing her neck, she glanced over her shoulder then back at him. “Lydia Sands. I’m Nico’s new caregiver while you’re on holiday. Ben Hammers arranged this job. It was short notice.”
She couldn’t be Nico’s new caregiver. Liam would never employ anyone without running it past him first. Tyler ran all security checks, and had this past year since stepping into the security role for Whitehall Shipping. “I don’t believe you.”
“You should check with Liam. I promise Ben sent me.” Her voice wobbled, a level of distress leaking through. “You do remember Ben, don’t you?”
“Ben’s impossible to forget. I worked alongside him for seven years.”
“He dropped me off.” She motioned toward the gated entrance, and sure enough under the intricate scrollwork of the wrought-iron arch, Ben Hammers waited. With a slow movement, Ben saluted him with just two fingers.
That salute was their team’s customary silent signal for handover. But handing over whom? This woman? He didn’t work for Ben, and hadn’t since the shooting. Which didn’t matter. The call for aid from one bodyguard to another went unquestioned, and Ben turned to leave, giving Luke a nod as he arrived.
Luke clapped Ben on the shoulder, and then continued toward him in his jeans and t-shirt. Ambling along, his youngest brother adjusted his brown leather duffel over one shoulder, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, and at twenty-three, he didn’t.
The woman, Lydia. He shouldn’t forget her. He gripped the second-floor rail then launched over it and landed on the peer next to her.
She gasped, and her gaze jolted over him. “Tyler, what are you doing? You can’t just jump off the side of a ship like that.”
“Bro.” Luke strode in, one brow cocked. “There’s a gangplank. You know, one can walk down.”
He slid between his brother and Lydia. “Yeah, I know, but Ben dropped her off. With Ben, one doesn’t stroll.”
“What’s she here for?”
“She says she’s Nico’s caregiver. Have you heard about this?”
“No.” Luke clicked his tongue as if telling him off. “C’mon, Liam wouldn’t do that. It’s too soon after Gabriella and Mum.”
Their mother and Liam’s wife, Gabriella, had passed only two years ago. Not one woman had been permitted on board The Idle Dream since then. This was a sacred trip between him and his brothers.
From behind, Lydia gripped his arm and a river of fire raced through his veins. Whoa. He spun and faced her. “What are you doing?” He stared at her hand.
She tucked herself in even closer, and he breathed deep.
“Tyler, I need to get inside.”
Her plea spoke to his heart. “How do you know my name? You’ve said it twice.”
A light flickered in the depths of her eyes. “Because we went out. Once.”
His heart tripped a beat. Damn, he’d only ever lost a few weeks of his memory, and that was a year ago. He certainly didn’t remember her. “Who the hell are you to me?”
“Someone you knew for a short time. We went on a date, and like I said, it was only once. Ben set me up for this job, of which there truly is one.”
“Yeah, there wasn’t a job going, Lee.” He frowned. “Um, sorry, I meant Lydia.” Yeah, she’d said her name was Lydia, not Lee. Only why did Lee sound more natural?
“It’s okay. I had a child I cared for once who called me Lee.” Her lips lifted. “Not that I’m saying you’re a child.”
“Ah, excuse me.” Luke sighed and walked past them to the gangplank. “I feel like I’m interrupting a moment here and, bro, it’s almost time for the ship to set sail.”
“You’re right. Let’s go.” Tyler held her arm and led her on board as Ben’s sleek silver Jaguar revved in the parking lot. “You and Ben? You’re what to each other? Are you his client?”
“No. He’s a friend and got me this job. I’m not a client at all.”
They walked through the opened double glass doors on the second floor and into the living room where two cozy groupings of four white leather couches faced each other. Black and white sea prints his mother had adored graced the walls painted in her favorite shade of ocean-blue.
Lydia’s shoes clipped across the polished pine floors as she set her case near the stairwell. She inspected the area. “Do you mind if I ask where Liam is?”
“Below-stairs. Luke will grab him for you.”
His brother groaned as he dropped his duffel on the couch. “I will?”
“Yes. Liam’s downstairs checking inventory with Malcolm. Tell him we have a guest, one Lydia Sands, and bring Nico.” He would see how this mysterious woman responded to his nephew, because if she wasn’t a caregiver, he’d soon know.
Luke sent him a good-natured grin as he took off. “I’m onto it, only, bro, you’re not to interrogate the girl while I’m gone. I see that look in your eyes.”
“Just watch where you’re walking.” At thirty-two, he’d kept his family and countless others safe, and Ben had dropped her off. Which meant protection was required in some order, whether she was a client or not.
Leaning toward her, he met her gaze head on. “Okay, it’s you and me. Now, tell me who you truly are.”
I hope you all enjoyed that.
Thank you all for helping me celebrate the release of WITNESS PURSUIT by joining me today. Thank you. Thank you. :)
~ Joanne Wadsworth’s Books ~