Under the Tycoon's Protection

“No Kissing. That's Part Of The Ground Rules, Rafferty.”

He had the temerity to look openly amused. “I'll agree not to kiss
you
. Whether you kiss me, however, is another matter.”

She gave him a frosty stare. “I'll do my best to resist.”

“So, are we shacking up together?” he asked.

“With an offer like that, how can I refuse?”

“Is that sarcasm I detect?”

“That, and good manners prevent me from saying what else.”

He laughed outright then. Her stomach somersaulted and she resisted the sudden strange urge to quell his hilarity with a sultry kiss on his laughing mouth.

Oh, boy, was she in trouble. Until last night, she'd have said that the only way she'd have thought to silence Connor was with an advanced move from her karate class.

Connor was going to be her protector from an unknown threat, but who was going to protect her from the very real threat he represented?

Dear Reader,

Welcome to another scintillating month of passionate reads. Silhouette Desire has a fabulous lineup of books, beginning with
Society-Page Seduction
by Maureen Child, the newest title in DYNASTIES: THE ASHTONS. You'll love the surprises this dynamic family has in store for you…and each other. And welcome back
New York Times
bestselling author Joan Hohl, who returns to Desire with the long-awaited
A Man Apart,
the story of Mitch Grainger—a man we guarantee won't be alone for long!

The wonderful Dixie Browning concludes her DIVAS WHO DISH series with the highly provocative
Her Fifth Husband?
(Don't you want to know what happened to grooms one through four?) Cait London is back with another title in her HEARTBREAKERS series, with
Total Package
. The wonderful Anna DePalo gives us an alpha male to die for, in
Under the Tycoon's Protection.
And finally, we're proud to introduce author Juliet Burns as she makes her publishing debut with
High-Stakes Passion.

Here's hoping you enjoy all that Silhouette Desire has to offer you…this month and all the months to come!

Best,

Melissa Jeglinski

Senior Editor

Silhouette Desire

Under the Tycoon's Protection
ANNA D
E
PALO

Books by Anna DePalo

Silhouette Desire

Having the Tycoon's Baby
#1530

Under the Tycoon's Protection
#1643

ANNA D
E
PALO

A lifelong book lover, Anna discovered that she was a writer at heart when she realized that not everyone travels around with a full cast of characters in her head. She has lived in Italy and England, learned to speak French, graduated from Harvard, earned graduate degrees in political science and law, forgotten how to speak French and married her own dashing hero.

Anna has been an intellectual-property lawyer in New York City. She loves traveling, reading, writing, old movies, chocolate and Italian (which she hasn't forgotten how to speak, thanks to her extended Italian family). She's thrilled to be writing for Silhouette. Readers can visit her at www.annadepalo.com.

For my editor, Julie Barrett,
and my friend Vera Scanlon,
for knowing there's a place
in the heart for fairy tales…
and for understanding that
strong heroines write their own tales.

One

A
llison Whittaker stared at the man who might be trying to kill her.

She shifted the slats of her window blinds slightly to get a better view of the dark Boston street stretched out below her. The yellowish glow cast by an old-fashioned gas lamp fought a losing battle with the darkness of the cool April night.

The man sat motionless in the driver's seat of the black car across the street, his face in shadow.

He'd been there last night, too.

She'd noticed. She made a point of noticing. More than four years as an Assistant District Attorney in Boston did that to a person. She'd been a lot
more naive when she'd been straight out of law school.

A nice genteel white-shoe law-firm job should have been the next rung on the ladder. Her upper-crust family had certainly expected it of her. Her mother, a respected family court judge who'd just had a glowing article written about her in
The Boston Globe,
certainly had.

Instead, she'd surprised them all. She'd gone for the tough prosecutor's job. And not as a prestigious Assistant U.S. Attorney trying federal cases either.

Nope. She'd gone for the down-and-dirty: putting away the friendly neighborhood drug dealer or burglar as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office.

She looked down again at the man in the car. Of course, she'd surprise everyone even more if she wound up dead in her apartment, her throat slashed by the mystery man sending her death threats. She didn't want to make that her encore.

She held her breath as the man in the car shifted and opened the driver's-side door.

As he got out of the car, she strained for a better view but couldn't make out his facial features in the dark. What she could tell was that he was tall and solidly built, with sandy-brown hair and dark clothes.

She watched as he scanned the street up and down and then made his way toward the house. Was he heading for her?

Her heart began to pound, her breath catching in her throat.
Call the police!
the rational part of her mind screamed.

Surely the neighbors would hear if he tried to break in? Her exclusive Beacon Hill neighborhood was usually quiet and serene.

The man below passed under a street lamp and her mind pulled the emergency brake on her thoughts.

She knew that face.

Suddenly fear was replaced by anger. Not the simmering variety of anger, either, but a full-blown boil. The type that any of her three older brothers would have recognized as a sign to dive for cover.

She headed for the staircase of the redbrick townhouse that she called home, heedless of the fact that she was dressed for bed in a short silk slip and matching robe. When she got downstairs—the back of her mind taking note of the fact that she hadn't yet heard a knock or bell—she undid the lock on the front door and yanked the door open without ceremony.

“Hello, princess.”

Allison felt the same rush of energy she always did in this man's presence, quickly replaced by an undercurrent of pulsing tension.

He had a lithe but muscular physique, one which usually reduced women to giggles and flirtatious banter. But not her. They had too much of a history
for that, and she doubted his presence on her doorstep tonight was a mere coincidence.

She crossed her arms and snapped, “Did you take a wrong turn, Connor? The last time I checked, Beacon Hill was too exclusive a neighborhood for riffraff like you.”

He had the audacity to look amused, his gaze raking her. “And you're still the perfect diamond blue blood, princess. Just like I remembered.”

“If you know anything about diamonds, you'll remember they're the hardest stones around.”

“Oh, I know plenty about diamonds these days, petunia,” he said, tapping the tip of her nose with his finger as he sauntered inside without invitation, forcing her to take a step back. “I've discovered they're the gift of choice for women in your class.”

She yanked her mind from the image of Connor picking out diamonds for his girlfriends. Probably at someplace like the exclusive Van Cleef & Arpels, damn the man. He might have grown up in tough, working-class South Boston, but, thanks to the multimillion-dollar security business he'd started, his bank account was well into eight figures these days. He was quite the self-made tycoon.

She slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. “Make yourself at home.” Sarcasm was easier than thinking about him looming in her dark house with no company but her and the turbulent feelings he un
erringly evoked in her. “I'm sure you'll tell me in your own good time just what you were doing studying my house in the middle of the night.”

“What makes you think I was studying anything?” He peeled off his jacket and tossed it onto a nearby chair.

She rubbed her chin, pretending to contemplate that as she followed him into the living room and watched him flick on a lamp. “Oh, I don't know…could it be the fact that you've been sitting in a car across the street with the engine turned off for the last half-hour?”

She watched as he glanced around the living room. Framed photographs were everywhere, including ones of her with family and friends and holding Samson, her cat who'd died of old age four months ago. She felt vulnerable and exposed, her life on display in so many telling snapshots.

She'd moved into the townhouse after selling her condo last year. Her best friend and sister-in-law, Liz, who was an interior designer, had helped her decorate in an elegant style that fit well with the house's old and patrician history.

He turned back to her. “Nice digs.” He bent down and gazed at a picture of her in a bikini on a beach in the Caribbean, laughing back into the camera as she ran with fins and goggles in her hands toward the water. “You filled out nicely, princess, once you finally got through puberty.”

She gritted her teeth. Despite the fact that Connor Rafferty had practically become a member of the family since rooming with her oldest brother Quentin at Harvard, she'd never felt comfortable around him. And she'd certainly never thought of him as a brother. Impatiently, she asked, “Why are you here? And more importantly, why were you lurking outside my house so late on a Thursday night?”

He straightened and shoved his hands in his pockets, his jaw hardening. “Did I scare you? Did you think I was that piece of scum who's been sending you those nasty little love notes?”

“No!” She realized a second too late that the vehement denial sounded exactly like the bald-faced lie it was, but his mere presence had set her on edge. She supposed one of her brothers—probably Quentin—had mentioned to him the threats she'd been getting.

He quirked a brow, his tension easing a fraction. “What? Never thought you'd be glad to see me instead?” His lips twisted in wry amusement.

“Get real.” In fact, she had been relieved it was him in the split second before anger had stepped in. “And you're evading the question. What are you doing here?”

He walked over and leaned against the back of the chintz-covered couch, his legs stretched out in front of him, feet crossed. “Just doing my job.”

“Just—” She stopped as an unwelcome thought intruded and her eyes narrowed.

He cocked his head. “You were always a quick study, petunia. Though, I have to confess, it is fascinating to watch those wheels turn in that devious little head of yours. I've always said that if you'd been born a redhead, the package would have been perfect. Red hair to match that red-hot temper of yours.”

“Get out.”

She watched his eyes narrow and his lips set in a firm line. “Now is that any way to treat the guy who's here to protect you?”

She strode into the room and whirled back toward him once she got to the fireplace. She couldn't believe this was happening. “I don't know which member of my family hired you, Connor—” she said, crossing her arms “—and, frankly, I don't care. You may own the best security firm in the country, but you're not wanted or needed here, got it?”

Pushing away from the couch, he folded his arms, looking as easy to move as a boulder up a mountain. “Based on what I've heard, I'd say I'm definitely needed around here. As to whether I'm wanted—” he shrugged “—I've been asked to do a job and it's going to get done.”

Want.
Her mind zeroed in on that one word, then quickly backed away. Whatever she felt for Connor,
that
certainly wasn't an apt description.

True, with hazel eyes framed by long, thick lashes and sandy hair cut conservatively short, he was
model material except for the nose that had been broken a couple of times and the crescent-shaped scar marring his chin. But in her mind that was all overshadowed by the fact that he was condescending and annoying. Not to mention an untrustworthy snitch.

She hadn't seen him since her brother Quentin's wedding a few months back, but though their paths hadn't crossed much lately, he was as familiar to her as a member of her family. He, on the other hand, hadn't really had family to speak of, having lost both parents by the time he'd gotten to Harvard. Instead, he'd spent most school holidays with the Whittakers.

She placed her hands on her hips. “There's no way you can do this job if I'm telling you that you
can't.

He rubbed his chin, seeming to contemplate that for an instant. “Since Quentin still owns this place—” he nodded around him “—because you haven't gotten around to closing the deal with him yet to purchase it, I'd say you're wrong about that. So, first thing we're going to do is make sure that security at the bachelorette pad is up to snuff.”

The familiar urge to throttle Connor Rafferty was coming over her again. True, she didn't own the townhouse, but that was a mere technicality. The house had stood empty for two years after Quentin had purchased it as an investment, but she'd fallen in
love with it and offered to buy it from him. In any case, she didn't need a bodyguard. “If I need protection,
I'll
get it.”

His lips thinned, his gaze holding hers. “That won't be necessary, because I'm planning to stick to you like Krazy Glue until we get to the bottom of who's been sending you death threats in the mail and spray-painting obscenities on your Mercedes.”

“I can take care of myself. I spotted you lurking around outside in a parked car, didn't I?”

The thin line of his lips curved upward in a humorless smile. “What about that guy who was in the parked car at the street corner? Don't tell me you missed him?”

She had.

He raised an eyebrow, seeming to read her silence for the admission it was.

“You can't be sure that was in any way connected to me.” She knew she was right, nevertheless her heart tightened.

“You're right, I can't. But he was out of there like a speeding bullet as soon as I decided to test my theory by getting out of the car.”

“And you didn't go after him?”

He shrugged. “How could I be sure he was after you?” he asked, tossing her words back at her.

At her impatient look, he added, “Anyway, it was too late to get back in the car to follow him and I
couldn't make out his plate number or even the make of the car in the dark before he disappeared. So, instead, I came to your door thinking at least I'd get thanked by the damsel in distress for running off the bad guy.”

“Now that you've run him off, would you mind running off yourself?” Even if she needed protection, she could arrange for it herself. The last thing she needed was a bodyguard hired by her overprotective family, not to mention one as distracting and annoying as Connor was.

His brows drew together. “You really don't get it do you, princess?”

She pretended to look bored. “I suppose you're going to explain so I can ‘get it.'” She stood her ground as he strode toward her. If he thought to intimidate her, he had another thing coming.

“You suppose right.” He stopped mere inches away.

She had to tilt her chin up to keep eye contact with him and caught the muscle ticing in his jaw. She ought to take perverse satisfaction in knowing that, as much as he unsettled her, she seemed to have an uncanny ability to annoy him as well.

“Working for the DA's Office these days may give you the idea that you're streetwise,” he growled, “but you're not.” He looked her over. “Which leads me to wonder why you didn't stick with what all the other debutantes and society ladies do for public service?
You know, organizing a charity auction or something. Why bother working with the tough guys at the DA's Office?”

She gritted her teeth and prayed for patience even though outrage bubbled up inside her. “This isn't a hobby. It's a career.”

She knew he'd had a rough childhood on the sometimes unforgiving streets of South Boston, but, really, that didn't give him the right to constantly tweak her nose about having grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth. After all, he didn't play the wealth card with Quentin.

Connor's eyes narrowed. “You've made a career out of looking for a thrill, haven't you, petunia? I've wondered why that is and why you can't seem to get what you want with the pampered trust-fund boys over at the country club.”

She glanced around for something to throw, then decided it would be a pity to waste some heirloom against his hard head. And, besides, she'd be playing into every preconception he had of her. “So sure you know it all, don't you? Except, guess what? I'm no longer some teenaged kid that you can rat out to her parents.”

He looked at her assessingly, his hazel eyes darkened to a nearly amber color. She could tell from the flare of his nostrils that he had his temper on a very short leash. “Still can't forgive me for that one, can you?”

She arched a brow and ignored the way his nearness was coaxing every surface cell in her body into oversensitized awareness. “Don't flatter yourself.”

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