Tawna’s romantic comedy from Entangled: Lovestruck | June 2015

Keeping her safe is crucial. Guarding his heart is impossible.

Haunted by his time in Iraq, former soldier Schwartz Patton goes off the grid, retreating deep into Montana’s untamed wilderness. Now, ten years into his self-imposed solitude, his brother tracks him down and asks for a favor. A woman is in danger, and she needs help…and Schwartz is the only one who can protect her.

Designer-loving city girls like Janelle Keebler don’t belong in the wilderness. Unless, of course, they’re witnesses to a murder by their psycho drug-trafficking ex-husbands. Still, Janelle can’t help the immediate physical response she has to her sexy-as-sin protector that leaves her wanting more than she could have ever imagined. Even if he does make terrible coffee…

Every word, every touch, every kiss ignites a need Schwartz thought he’d lost forever. He can’t stop the desperate attraction simmering between him and Janelle, even if he wanted to. Even if it means it could get them both killed.

 

 

 

“Protector for Hire is able to go from laugh out loud funny to scorchingly hot in a way not many books are able to achieve. I loved Schwartz’s journey and Janelle’s influence. If this is truly the end of the Front and Center series it went out with a bang.” -Ashley, Books on Migs
“Protector for Hire is truly one of the best romantic suspense books I have read so far this year!” -Cara’s Book Boudoir
“Schwartz is hands down my favorite Patton sibling.” -Musings and Ramblings
“The story is well written, and the dialog is brilliant, with the humor, word associations, and felicitous marks. The characters are developed, the family unit tight and a bit nuts, just over all truly enjoyable tale.” – Books and Spoons
CHAPTER ONE
Schwartz slammed the chipped brown coffee mug on the
oak table in front of the brother he hadn’t seen for nearly
ten years.
“Cream?” he offered.
“No.” Grant reached for the mug and peered into it as
though assessing the contents. “No cream, thanks.”
“Good. I don’t have any.”
“No sugar, I assume?”
“Do I look like a guy who has sugar?”
“You look like a guy who has bombs stashed under his
bed. Seriously, what’s with the beard?”
Schwartz scowled and dropped into the chair opposite
his brother, stretching his legs out in front of him. The heels
of his work boots wedged into the space where the roughhewn
planks of his wood floor touched the rougher-hewn
logs that made up the wall of his cabin. A tuft of dog fur was
caught in the crevice, and Schwartz tried to remember the
last time he’d swept.
He looked up to see his brother still assessing his
whiskers. Schwartz lifted a hand and rubbed his chin. “The
last time I had company that didn’t walk on four legs was
three years ago when a couple hunters got lost in the woods.
You think I give a shit what I look like?”
“No, but Janelle might. Seriously, you’re going to scare
the poor girl.”
“That poor girl,” Schwartz said, “witnessed her exhusband
using a claw hammer and a guitar pick to brutally
murder the leader of a rival heroin ring. You really think a
little facial hair is going to scare her?”
“It might when it’s on the chin of a guy who looks like
the love child of bigfoot and an NFL linebacker.”
Schwartz frowned and reached across the table and
touched the laptop he’d left open to the report he’d compiled
on Janelle Keebler. She was twenty-seven years old, fivefoot-
five with sandy blond hair, a career in graphic design,
an allergy to cats, and an ex-husband who was one of the
most ruthless heroin importers in the country.
She was also the sister of Grant’s new fiancée.
Which is how Schwartz now found himself face-to-face
with a member of his family for the first time in ten years.
He looked up from the laptop to see Grant studying him
over the rim of his coffee mug. “She’s coming here to feel
safe, Schwartz,” he said. “It’s a last resort. Her only option.”
Grant held eye contact for several beats longer than
Schwartz liked, which was probably a technique he’d
perfected as a counterintelligence expert for the marines.
Schwartz stared back, unblinking.
Grant sighed and softened his tone. “Look, I really
appreciate you doing this. You know I wouldn’t ask if it
weren’t an absolute emergency.”
Schwartz grunted, but said nothing. Even if Grant’s
pleading on the phone hadn’t convinced him, his background
check on Janelle’s ex-husband had done the trick. Jacques
Armistead was a ruthless, heartless, dickless son of a bitch.
If Janelle hadn’t noticed that up front, at least she’d figured it
out quickly enough to divorce his ass within a year.
Too bad Jacques hadn’t gotten the memo.
The jackass seemed hell-bent on keeping his claws
in Janelle one way or another. Schwartz wasn’t sure if it
was a matter of eliminating witnesses, or because Jacques
genuinely had the hots for his ex-wife. It was none of
Schwartz’s concern.
Keeping her safe was.
He looked down at his boots and noticed a dried noodle
on the toe of the right one. He hadn’t made spaghetti for
three days, and the fact that the noodle hadn’t worn off
probably meant he hadn’t left the cabin in that long either.
“So you have a pet wolf,” Grant said, making
conversation.
“Yep.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Schwartz looked over at the shaggy beast snoozing in
front of the woodstove. He was a wolf/dog hybrid, if you
wanted to get technical, which Schwartz didn’t. Sherman’s
massive paws were sprawled out in front of him like woolly
toilet plungers. As if sensing he was being watched, the
beast pricked his ears and opened one eye, and Schwartz
felt himself starting to smile.
“You’re picking Janelle up at a bus station somewhere,
right?” Grant asked.
Schwartz turned back to his brother. “Yep. That’s all
you need to know. The fewer details anyone has, the better.
We’re making this girl disappear, remember?”
“Try not to make it sound so menacing.”
“You want her hidden? I’ll keep her hidden.”
“You’re the master of that.” Grant’s tone was still
friendly, but there was a darker edge to it now. “The whole
family hasn’t known how to find you for almost a decade.”
“I gave you my phone number.”
“Yeah, but you made me swear on my left nut I’d never
share it with anyone. Hell, half the time you screened my
calls, and you used a blocked number to call the rest of the
family on holidays. You put up more safeguards than the
fucking CIA.”
Schwartz ignored the jab and glanced at his watch. He
still had four hours before he had to pick up Janelle. He’d
arranged a complex travel itinerary to get her from her
home in San Francisco to his remote mountain cabin deep
in the Montana woods. Cash only, no records. There’d been
a series of cabs, a train, and several buses. He’d stopped
short of arranging several miles on horseback after Grant
informed him Janelle had never ridden a horse in her life.
“She’s a city girl,” Grant said, reading Schwartz’s
thoughts and jarring him out of them all at once. “She’s in
for some pretty serious culture shock when she gets here. Be
nice to her.”
“Fuck off. I’m always nice.”
Grant nodded and picked up his mug. He took a sip,
winced, then took another sip. He studied Schwartz with
a look Schwartz could have sworn drilled straight through
him, cataloging every thought, every fear, every secret.
Schwartz hated that look.
It was one of many reasons he’d stayed away so long.
When Grant spoke again, his voice was oddly low. “I’ve
missed you.”
“Yeah.” Schwartz nodded. His chest felt tight, like his
heart might bust right through his ribs. He swallowed hard
to keep his throat from closing up. “It’s been a while.”
“Nine years, eight months, twenty-nine days.”
“What are you, a goddamn calendar?”
“I’m just saying. The whole family asks about you.
Everyone wants to know why—”
“So this Janelle person,” Schwartz interrupted, feeling
his gut twist as he steered the conversation toward more
neutral turf. “She’s not expecting the Ritz-Carlton, right?”
Grant frowned, glancing around the log cabin with an
expression that suggested this was about the furthest thing
from luxury. “The Ritz? No. Uh, you did figure out a place
for her to sleep though, right?”
“Sure. The wood shed is nice and dry. Hardly any mice
this time of year.”
“The sad thing is, I have no idea if you’re kidding.”
“What? She’ll like it out there. Smells nice and woodsy.”
“Schwartz—”
“Relax, baby brother.” Schwartz folded his hands
around his own coffee mug. “Don’t get your panties in a
twist. I ordered one of those rollaway beds online. Even
bought some fancy sheets from that website Sheri likes.”
He watched Grant’s face soften at the mention of their
sister, and his own stomach did a weird twist. Saying her
name out loud made him miss her something fierce. So
had seeing her in person at her wedding a few months ago.
Granted, she hadn’t seen him—he’d taken great pains to stay
hidden in the shadows, to make sure no one noticed him or
had a chance to ask why he’d stayed away so long.
Grant took another sip of coffee. The wince was less
pronounced this time, but it was still there. “I trust you,
Schwartz. No matter what happened before or what demons
you’re fighting all alone out here, I still trust you more than
anyone else in the world.”
The words were like tiny daggers in his chest. He didn’t
deserve anyone’s trust. Sure as hell not his family’s.
Schwartz grunted again. “You told her to pack snow
boots, right?”
Grant blinked, then nodded. “Yeah. And a parka. And
everything else on your list. It’s autumn in Montana. She
might be a city girl, but I’m pretty sure she understands this
isn’t Malibu.”
“Good.”
Grant studied him again, and Schwartz resisted the urge
to get up and leave the room. They were only eleven months
apart, and even though Schwartz had always been the outlier
in his staunchly military family, Grant was the one he’d been
closest to. It was the reason he’d trusted Grant with his
contact info, though he’d commanded his baby brother to
use it only in emergencies.
This sure as hell qualified.
It wasn’t like he’d cut his family off completely. He’d
sent Christmas cards and wedding gifts, birthday wishes and
Mother’s Day flowers.
Mother’s Day.
The thought of Stella Patton flushed a fresh wave of
nostalgia through his veins. He frowned down at his coffee
and wondered how long it would take his brothers and the
cops to locate Jacques Armistead. Truth be told, he hoped
his brothers got to the bastard first.
“You doing okay?” Grant asked at last.
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
Grant raised an eyebrow. “I’ve worried about you. Out
here in the middle of nowhere all alone for this long—”
“Is this conversation almost over?”
Grant smiled. “You sure you won’t lose the beard?”
“Fuck off.”
“You look like the goddamn Unabomber.”
Schwartz felt himself start to smile in spite of his best
efforts not to. “Get out of here. You got what you came for.
I let you come all the way out here to scope things out and
make sure I haven’t gone completely feral.”
“The jury’s still out on that.”
He found himself smiling still wider, which probably
fucked up the hard-ass vibe he was going for. “In any case,
you’ve satisfied your curiosity. Your sister-in-law will be
well-hidden here.”
“That, I’ll agree with.”
“Now go on. I have to leave pretty soon if I’m going to
make it to the bus station to pick up the girl.”
“Janelle. Her name is Janelle.”
Janelle Rebecca Keebler. She’d briefly been Janelle
Rebecca Armistead, or Mrs. Jacques Armistead in formal
settings. Her childhood nicknames included JJ, Nelly, and
Princess Puffybutt. Schwartz knew it all by heart, but he
grunted instead. “Yep. Gotta pick the girl up. You leaving
soon?”
Grant stood up, smiling a little sadly as he walked over
to the tiny kitchen and dumped the contents of his mug into
the sink. “Your coffee tastes like horse piss.”
“I love you, too, man.”
Grant just barely managed to mask his surprise. “I love
you, big brother.”
“Now get the fuck out of here.”
Grant nodded and set the mug on the counter as
Schwartz stood up. He walked over and gave Grant a stiff,
one-armed hug, but Grant pulled him tighter into a big,
sloppy bear hug. They stood like that for what seemed like
hours, but it was probably only a few moments.
“I’m working on a special intelligence project for
PACOM over at Fort Lewis for the next few months,” Grant
said, breaking the hug. “Washington’s not that far away from
Montana, if you need anything.”
“I won’t.”
“Thanks again, man.”
Schwartz only grunted in response as he watched his
brother walk out the door. He shut it softly behind him, and
Schwartz listened as Grant’s boots crunched through the
freshly fallen snow. He walked to the window and watched
Grant get into a blue pickup truck with a light dusting of
snow on the windshield. He fired up the engine and idled a
few moments while Schwartz stood watching, silent.
At last, Grant eased the truck away from the bank of
trees next to the cabin. His taillights flickered as he reached
a bend in the gravel road, then disappeared around a corner.
Schwartz stood there for a few more beats, his throat
feeling tight again.
At last, he stepped away from the window and walked
to the kitchen. He dumped the contents of his own coffee
mug down the sink, untouched. Then he turned and walked
to the bathroom.
Hesitating in front of the mirror, he studied the jagged
star across his left cheekbone. He ran a finger over it, feeling
the texture, remembering how it got there.
Then he reached under the sink and pulled out the
shaving cream.

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