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The lady in command—a graduate of Annapolis—beautiful Alex Page had put a career in Naval Intelligence and a bitter marriage behind her. Now, as security chief of a major firm, her main charge was guarding the body of its dashing president.
Proud, aloof, an absolute professional, Alex had no interest in protecting Jared Templeton from the exquisite society women who assaulted his magnificent body by night—no interest in challenging the Sydney Sorceress or the South Seas Siren—until, without warning, the climate changed. Suddenly the man who moved through women like a shark through shoals of fish launched a calculated attack on her senses. And Alex, master of self-defense, could no longer guarantee the safety of her own heart.
The high tiled dome that housed the Olympic-size swim¬ming pool was quiet except for its lone occupant. Sounds of a body moving through water echoed in the cavernous room; pool lights, the only illumination, warmly caressed the swimmer.
The body was male and used to strenuous exercise. He easily navigated laps, touching the side, completing a flip turn, and striking out again. Each stroke was smooth and practiced. A few minutes later his strong hands gripped the edge and his well-toned arms strained to propel him out of the water.
He picked up a large white towel from a lounge chair, and patted his flat stomach dry, moving the towel upward to his broad chest lightly covered with dark hair, then down to his long legs, also covered with crisp, curling hair. His grass-green eyes didn’t look up when the sound of footsteps rang on the tiled floor. He didn’t need to turn around to identify his visitor.
She was tall—five feet eight inches according to the personnel records—her extremely slender body dressed in a navy skirt and jacket and white crepe de chine blouse. Shoulder-length dark brown hair was brushed up into a smooth coil on top of her head, emphasizing her delicate throat and her large mint-green eyes.
“They’re assembled in the executive conference room, Mr. Templeton.” Her husky, sensual voice carried easily across the room.
Jared Templeton slowly turned and nonchalantly draped his towel around his shoulders. He stood in a relaxed pose that was far from casual as far as the woman was concerned. She was well aware he was wearing the briefest of swimming suits in a dark navy that may have covered his masculinity, but it certainly didn’t hide it!
“And eagerly awaiting my presence, I’m sure,” he com¬mented in a dry voice, raking his fingers through wet hair and flicking it away from his face. “I’ll be sure not to disappoint them. Tell Chris I’ll be there in twenty min¬utes. It won’t hurt the press to wait a little longer for their story.”
The woman inclined her head and walked out, her foot¬steps fading in the distance. Jared didn’t bother to leave just yet. There were no doubts in his mind that she wouldn’t carry out his instructions.
The woman took the elevator down two floors, where it opened out onto a plush reception area guarding the executive suites. She smiled briefly at the receptionist seated behind an antique French desk and entered one of the doors set off to one side.
The man seated behind the desk had been chosen all-American in college and ten years later still kept his mus¬cular physique in excellent shape. He lifted a questioning eyebrow as the woman dropped into the chair across from him.
“Let’s see,” she frowned thoughtfully, her fingertips touching each other in the form of a steeple, “shall I make reservations at Ma Maison or perhaps . . .”
“Not again!” he groaned, his face screwed up in a pained grimace. He leaned back in his chair, hands cover¬ing his eyes. “Are you sure the two of you aren’t conspir¬ing to break me? At this rate you’re going to be a very pudgy lady and at your age you can’t afford that, you know,” he teased with mischief dancing in his eyes.
She winced at his none too subtle reminder that her so-called carefree twenties were a thing of the past. “Chris, you have a sadistic streak in you,” she accused him with a good-natured air. “Actually, he said he’d be down in twenty minutes.”
Chris glanced at the clock and stood up, one hand raised to straighten his tie. “Well, milady, shall we face the mob?”
The huge conference room, used for meetings such as today’s, was filled to capacity with members of the press and television reporters. Videotape cameras from every television news show were eagerly jostling for the best place to film one of the great businessmen of the decade. Talk was loud and chaotic until a side door opened and three people walked toward the podium ringed with mi¬crophones.
The man they were anxious to hear was flanked by the muscular Chris on one side and the dark-haired woman, her patrician features composed into a cool mask, on the other.
“Alex Page,” one writer for a well-known financial trade magazine muttered to the man seated next to him.
“The one with the great-looking legs. Her full name is Alexis.” He grinned while his eyes assessed the tall, slen¬der woman. “She’s Templeton’s bodyguard.”
“What?” The other man was clearly surprised by this piece of information.
“That’s what they call her anyway.” He shook his head, not really believing that a good-looking woman could be hired to guard a man. “She began working for him six months ago as his Chief of Security and travels with him constantly. Rumor has it that she’s his mistress, but the social columns have reported him out with just about every socialite in the world. He plays the field like you wouldn’t believe. Very little is given out on Alex Page, only that she’s a graduate of Annapolis and worked in Naval Intelligence before she resigned her commission. For such a young woman, she’s done quite a bit with her life. Her father is the Admiral Hayden who’s been making all those waves in the Pentagon.”
The other man now watched Alex with awe. How could someone so lovely be in such an intimidating position?
The female portion of the audience watched Jared with hungry eyes. Alex stood off to one side and watched them with an amused glint in her eyes. These women were devouring him the way a wolf goes after its prey. She silently wondered what the reaction would have been if any of them had seen Jared earlier while he had been swimming. She decided that the show would have been immensely enjoyed by all. She preferred to forget what Jared’s camel-colored three-piece suit, bronze silk shirt, and striped tie of gold and brown hid from the audience, but even these trappings of civilization couldn’t hide the barely leashed power of the man. His toffee-colored hair was brushed away from his face, with only the wings of gray at the temples attesting to his forty years. Even the slight hump on the bridge of his nose couldn’t detract from his male attractiveness.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” His voice rang out rich and deep. There would be no apology for his tardiness. None was needed. A small smile with a hint of sensuality curved his lips as he looked at the group calmly awaiting his words. “Now that you’ve enjoyed our pastries and coffee, it’s time to work for them.” His eyes fell briefly on each woman, making her feel as if he were speaking to her individually. “I’ll take pity on you and be brief. This morning at nine o’clock, Fernwood Enterprises signed the contract to buy the Manning Refinery.” He paused, allow¬ing the hum of conversation to die down.
“No more depending on other people, Mr. Templeton?” one man called out.
“You know as well as I do, Sam, that if you don’t do your own work, it never gets done,” Jared replied. “Printed statements will be made available to you, giving all the statistics, and I’ll give you twenty minutes for questions.”
“Sometimes I wonder why he bothers having us here,” Chris muttered to Alex as the questions flew fast and furious to Jared. “We just sit back here and twiddle our thumbs.”
“We both know why I’m here.” She hadn’t taken her eyes off the members of the press once.
“Mr. Templeton, is it true you’re still receiving threats on your life?” one man spoke up.
“I’m in a touchy profession. I doubt I’m the only person to receive threats of any nature. Whether they’re cranks or not is something else. I believe in taking the necessary precautions, just in case,” he replied.
All eyes swiveled to the side where Alex stood.
“Couldn’t that be hard on your social life?” one blond woman asked archly.
Jared’s husky laugh sent shivers down the women’s spines. “Perhaps the ladies I escort are the ones I need protection from,” he answered, creating laughter through¬out the room.
After the time allotted for questions was over, the trio left. The women watched Jared’s leave-taking with dreams in their eyes while the men studied Alex with a different kind of hunger.
“That kind of lady could guard me around the clock,” one man muttered while he packed up his camera equip¬ment.
A private elevator whisked Jared, Alex, and Chris to the executive floor while Jared rapidly issued instructions to Chris.
“See if my appointments can be canceled for tomorrow so we can fly out first thing in the morning to check on those new office condos going up. Then call Warner and ask if those contracts for the deal with Donaldson are drawn up yet. If they aren’t, tell him I want them by the following day.”
The elevator doors silently slid open and Jared was still talking as he strode down the hall to a pair of ornate carved-oak doors. These led to the office of the president and chairman of the board to Fernwood Enter¬prises, Jared D. Templeton.
Chris walked off through one of the doors that led to his office and picked up the telephone message slips for Jared. He would prescreen them before any were seen by his boss.
Alex cocked a questioning eyebrow at Jared. Receiving his nod, she slipped off her jacket. A narrow, dark brown leather strap circled her shoulders with a small holster cradled just under her right armpit.
Jared grimaced as he watched her slip off the harness and lay it on the couch. “After watching you handle that thing on the practice range that one day, I know I sure wouldn’t want to get in your way.” He opened a small polished wooden box and withdrew a cheroot.
“That’s why you hired me.” She looked up when the receptionist knocked and stuck her head in the door to inquire if anyone wanted coffee; both declined.
His eyes narrowed from the spiraling smoke of his che¬root, Jared sat back in his chair and watched Alex cross the room. He couldn’t remember ever meeting a more striking woman. She couldn’t be called beautiful—her face and body were too slender for that—but she carried her¬self with the grace of a greyhound. The lines of a Thoroughbred, his grandmother would say, but much too small in the hips.
“Does it bother you that many people refuse to believe you’re my bodyguard?” His lazy voice easily carried across the room.
Alex was amused by his question and not completely surprised. Jared enjoyed injecting these little intimate nu¬ances every chance he got. Now she merely ignored them. “I never think about it,” she replied honestly.
Jared’s fingers drummed on the polished wood desk. It had become a game with him to see how far he could push her before her composure would crack. So far he hadn’t won. “You have to admit that it’s difficult to believe such a lovely lady would have such a dangerous job.”
“No more than when I worked in Naval Intelligence.” She shrugged, a little surprised by Jared’s remarks about her looks. He had escorted all too many beautiful women in the past to think that she was lovely. At the same time, an inner sense had told her from the beginning that Jared was more than interested in her. She knew that she pre¬sented a challenge to him since she didn’t hang on to his every word the way his other women had; yet, if she had, there wouldn’t be any challenge! Alex had no need for a man in her life just now and Jared Templeton certainly wouldn’t be the one to fill it if she did. Granted, he was attractive and always mindful of a woman’s needs, but she didn’t care to be part of a package plan. She didn’t want to get into any personal discussions with him and had succeeded this long. “If you don’t need me any longer, I’ll go down to my office.”
Jared nodded. He was already immersed in the papers on his desk, the playboy part of him covered by the astute businessman.
Chris detained Alex as she left the office. “Okay, you won the bet. The chief kept the press waiting this time and I now owe you a meal… again.” He heaved a mock sigh. “How is it you can read his mind better than his personal assistant? That’s not fair, Alex! Are you sure he isn’t on your side in breaking my bankroll?”
“Don’t expect any pity from me, Chris Stevens.” She wasn’t moved by his act. “As for reading minds, let’s just say I’ve always been blessed with ESP. I’ll see you later.”
“How did the press conference go?” Dena, Alex’s secre¬tary, greeted her when she stopped at her desk for mes¬sages.
“The usual.” She shrugged as she sifted through her message slips. “Did Mr. Ford call with the estimates for those new cameras for the parking garage?”
“Not yet. Do you want me to get in touch with him?”
She shook her head as she glanced down at her watch. “No, it can wait. At least it will have to because I have to fly out with Mr. Templeton tomorrow morning.”
“Anyone who didn’t know better would envy you your travels,” her secretary told her. “Chris already called me with the details. You’ll be picked up at your apartment at six A.M.”
Alex grimaced. “Sometimes I wonder why I bother having an office or a home. I never seem to spend very much time in either. Why don’t you go home now? I’m going to stay and catch up on my paperwork and leave some dictation for you. There’s also no reason why you can’t make it an early day tomorrow.”
“Um, I knew there was a reason why I enjoy working for you.” Dena’s eyes sparkled. “Even if you are a slave-driver,” she teased.
“You got it.” Alex’s laughter was husky. “Have a good evening, Dena. I’ll see you day after tomorrow.”
She always felt her office was one of the few places she could relax in. She had been allowed to decorate it anyway she wished and had furnished it with antiques. She was especially fond of her prized possession, a highly polished oak rolltop desk. A comfortable-looking dark blue sofa sat against one wall along with an old-fashioned wooden ta¬ble. Instead of carpeting, a deep burgundy rug covered the floor. Even the file cabinet was an antique. A large book¬case with glass doors stood near the window.
Alex glanced out the window to the narrow strip far below that was, in reality, a busy main boulevard in Cen¬tury City. She was tired, more tired than she cared to admit. She sat down in her deeply cushioned chair and rested her head against the back. She closed her eyes for a few blessed moments. The day before, she and Jared, along with Chris, had returned from a three-day trip to Alaska and she still hadn’t had a chance to catch up on her rest.
“I’m getting too old for this.” She gave a short laugh, then turned back to her paperwork.