Hero Under Cover
Annie hung up the phone with a crash and an oath, making Cara look up.
“Old Steven M. didn’t go for your ‘I can take care of myself’ routine, huh?” Cara said unsympathetically.
“He is such a jerk!”
“Things could be worse,” Cara said.
“Yeah,” Annie muttered. “You could start telling me exactly how they could be worse.”
Cara ignored the comment. “You could have been stuck with one of those no-brain mountain of muscles type bodyguards with a shaved head and equally shaved intellect. If someone told me that I’d have to spend the next few weeks with a guy as gorgeous as Peter Taylor watching my every move, you wouldn’t hear me complaining.”
“But I like my privacy,” Annie said sitting down at her desk for about four seconds before popping up and pacing again.
“Hey,” Cara asked, “Did you catch sight of his necklace?”
“Navajo,” Annie said. “Looks like it dates around 1860, maybe even earlier. You see his ring?”
“And the belt buckle? Yeah. You’re gonna try to buy ’em, aren’t you?” Cara finished clearing the files off her desk, uncovering a paperweight made of petrified wood, three framed pictures of her nephews and nieces, and a plastic Homer Simpson doll with his head attached by a spring. She looked up at her friend. “Aren’t you?”
Annie shook her head, no.
“You’re kidding. Why not?”
“Because it’s none of your business,” Annie said crossly, throwing herself down into her chair again. “Since when do I have to justify myself to you? You work for me, remember?”
“You’re not going to try to buy it off of him, because you like the man,” Cara said triumphantly, making Homer’s head bob wildly. “You like him, I knew it. You don’t want to take advantage of him.”
Annie put her head down on her desk. “Oh, MacLeish, he’s going to be here for weeks and weeks and weeks. What am I going to do?”
“At least he’s handsome,” Cara said. “Imagine if you had to stare at some guy with no neck all day and night–”
Annie looked up at her. “Yeah, terrific. Great. Wonderful. He’s handsome. He’s gorgeous. To tell you the truth, I’d prefer staring at some guy with no neck. Taylor’s so good looking, it’s distracting as hell, and he’s… standing in the door, listening to me say this,” Annie said, looking over at Pete, who was leaning against the door frame, amusement in his dark eyes.
“We were talking about you,” Cara said unnecessarily. She smiled happily. “How embarrassing for us.”
“It’s not embarrassing,” Annie said to Cara. “I mean, the fact that he’s gorgeous shouldn’t come as big news to him. He knows what he looks like. And the fact that we were discussing him also shouldn’t put him into shock. He’s invading my life, and I deserve a chance to bitch and moan about it — about him.” Annie gestured toward Pete.
Still smiling happily, Cara said, “Annie just spoke to Marshall–”
“The bastard,” Annie interjected.
“On the phone,” Cara finished. “Looks like you might want to get your suitcase in from the car and put it someplace a little more permanent.”
“Oh,” Pete said.
“Don’t gloat,” Annie snapped.
His eyebrows moved a millimeter. “All I said was–”
“I’m so annoyed,” Annie said. “Marshall–”
“The bastard,” Cara said in unison with Annie.
“Doesn’t think a woman can take care of herself,” Annie sputtered. “I asked him to hire a female bodyguard — no offense, Taylor–”
“None taken,” he said.
“The bastard–” This time even Pete joined in, his lips twitching up into a smile.
“Laughed that obnoxious wheezing laugh of his…” Annie demonstrated, sounding an awful lot like a circus seal in mortal terror. “And he said that he’d still have to pay Taylor — to protect the female bodyguard! He said being a bodyguard is a man’s job! Of all the stupid, chauvinistic things to say! And he topped it off by calling me ‘little lady!’ As if ‘darlin” weren’t bad enough. So I told him I quit. I told him he could take the stupid artifact and have it authenticated by a stupid man.”
“And?” Cara asked, grinning in anticipation.
“Laughed again and said,” Annie imitated Marshall’s heavy Texan accent, “‘It’s typical of a woman to try to break a written, binding contract.’ Then he suggested we talk again when it was a better time of month! I wanted to reach through the phone, grab his nose and twist it, hard!”
“So?” Cara asked.
“So nothing. I’ve still got a contract and a bodyguard,” Annie muttered, with a black look in Pete’s direction.
“You know–” Pete started to say.
“You might not want to be talking right now,” Annie interrupted him. “I’m starting to feel the urge to vent some of my hostilities, and you’re looking like an extremely attractive target.”
“Extremely attractive, eh?” Cara smiled, leaning back in her chair and putting her feet up on the desk.
“That’s not what I meant,” Annie said dangerously. “You’re fired, MacLeish. Go make some copies or do whatever else it is that I pay you to do.”
Copyright 1994 by Suzanne Brockmann