TALL, DARK AND OFF LIMITS
by Shannon McKenna
His job is to protect his best friend’s sister…not seduce her!
Don’t miss the conclusion of the Men of Maddox Hill series by New York Times bestselling author Shannon McKenna.
When it comes to his best friend’s sister, he’s tempted to be much more than her protector. Assigned to keep an eye on social media darling Ava Maddox, security expert Zack Austin is more than up to the task. After all, she’s like family. But dealing with the dynamic beauty requires every ounce of patience…and sexual control. They’ve been denying their forbidden feelings for way too long and soon professionalism gives way to passion. Zack’s willing to face her overprotective family’s wrath, but is Ava’s talent for finding trouble about to explode in his face?
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“No wine,” Zack told the waiter brusquely, realizing too late how stuffy and uptight that sounded. “For me, of course,” he said to Ava. “Feel free to have some. I never drink when I’m working.”
“Good for you.” She smiled up at the waiter, whose name was Martin, according to the tag on his shirt. “I’ll have a glass of red wine, please.”
“I have a beautiful 2016 Romanée-Conti that’s open,” Martin told her.
“Sounds lovely.” She gave the waiter that trademarked blinding smile that brought men to their knees. Martin stumbled off, probably to walk into walls and tables.
And Zack just sat there, tongue-tied. When Ava Maddox was around, his foot always ended up stuck so far into his mouth, he needed surgical intervention to get it out. She was giving him that look. Big, sharp blue eyes that missed nothing. So on to him.
The restaurant had low light and a hushed ambience, and they were in the back, tucked in a wood-paneled corner booth. Now the challenge was to kick-start his brain into operation, instead of just staring at how beautiful she was in the flickering candlelight.
She just waited, patiently. Like she was all too used to men losing their train of thought as soon as they made eye contact with her. Like she was accustomed to cutting the poor stammering chumps some slack while they pulled themselves together.
Her cell rang, and she gave him an apologetic glance when she saw the display. “Gotta take this. One sec.” She tapped the screen and held it to her ear. “Ernest? Thanks for getting back to me. Are you still in the office?… Yeah? Could you get a cab to swing by the Mathesson Pub and Grill on your way home?… Yeah, I need my laptop, the pink one with the collage cover. I’m talking to the Maddox Hill CSO about the online harassment…yeah, I know, but still…uh-huh. Okay, thanks. You’re my hero. Later, then.”
She laid the phone down. “Ernest is my assistant. He’ll bring my computer here so I can show you the master list of the last few years’ worth of Blazon’s projects.”
“I’m surprised you don’t have your laptop with you at all times,” he said.
“I usually do,” she said. “But I had every intention of going back to Gilchrist House tonight. I have a crazy weekend coming up. Ernest and I are flying down to the Future Innovation trade show in Los Angeles tomorrow. It’s a very big deal.”
Zack couldn’t hide his disapproval. “Traveling to Los Angeles? Going back to a deserted office late in the evening? Leaving by yourself, going home by yourself? With all this going on?”
Ava sighed. “Zack, Gilchrist House has a twenty-four-hour doorman. And I would call a car to take me from doorstep to doorstep. I’m not an idiot.”
“I never suggested that you were.”
“I’m not in physical danger,” Ava assured him. “Really. This is just, you know, the new normal. The incivility of our modern electronic age. It’s ugly and unsavory, but I’ve got to get used to it and learn to roll with it.”
“The hell you do,” he said. “New normal, my ass. I’ll tell you what’s normal. When I find that bottom-feeding son of a bitch and grind him into paste.”
Ava gave him that narrow, nervous look, which by now he recognized. It was a signal that he wasn’t behaving professionally. He was too intense. Making it personal.
In a word, scaring her.
“Ah, wow, Zack,” she murmured. “I’m surprised at your reaction.”
“Why? This situation is a disgrace. Why should you be surprised that I’m horrified?”
Her eyes slid away. “Well, I don’t know. It’s just that you’ve never taken me seriously before, so why would you suddenly take me seriously now?”
“I’m sorry I gave you that impression,” he said stiffly. “It wasn’t intentional.”
“Oh, don’t be that way.” Her tone was light. “I’m used to it. I rub a lot of people the wrong way. I’m just too much for people sometimes. Drew’s always on my case about it, telling me to tone it down. And I try, I really do. But it never works. Boom, out it comes. The real Ava, right in your face.”
“He shouldn’t do that,” Zack said forcefully.
“Shouldn’t what? Sorry, but I’m not following you.”
“Drew. He shouldn’t be on your case. He shouldn’t tell you to tone it down.”
Her eyes were big. “Ah… I didn’t mean to get you all wound up.”
Shannon McKenna is the NYT bestselling author of seventeen action packed, turbocharged romantic thrillers, among which are the stories of the wildly popular McCloud series and the brand new romantic suspense series, The Obsidian Files. She loves tough and heroic alpha males, heroines with the brains and guts to match them, villains who challenge them to their utmost, adventure, scorching sensuality, and most of all, the redemptive power of true love. Since she was small she has loved abandoning herself to the magic of a good book, and her fond childhood fantasy was that writing would be just like that, but with the added benefit of being able to take credit for the story at the end. Alas, the alchemy of writing turned out to be messier than she'd ever dreamed. But what the hell, she loves it anyway, and hopes that readers enjoy the results of her alchemical experiments.