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Tangled Vows

By:Stella Hunter

Tangled Vows
Stella Hunter

       Chapter 1




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Bailey Lennox scanned the sea of bodies before her, her observant eyes  missing nothing, her rigid stance ready to pounce at a moment's notice.  Only a velvet rope and the decorum of the rules of etiquette separated  her from the raucous crowd.

The shouts from the photographers intensified as a white stretch limo  pulled to the curb on her left. From the corner of her eye, she saw the  limo door open and a man step out onto the red carpet. Camera flashes  erupted all around her. Bailey blinked rapidly to clear her vision but  otherwise never lost her focus. She was here for one thing and one thing  only-she had a job to do. She wasn't here to fawn over some stupid  celebrity.

She felt, rather than saw, the man from the limo move down the red  carpet behind her. The crowd in front of her shifted to her right,  following his progress towards the theater.

Suddenly, adrenaline flooded her body. It took a split second for her  mind to register what her body already had. The movement of the crowd  had thinned the ranks of people closer to the curb and revealed a  scowling man. Even though it was early autumn, the night was too warm  for the knit cap and lightweight jacket he wore.

Bailey's eagle eyes caught the tightening of the man's facial muscles as  he slipped his right hand from his jacket pocket. Her military training  kicked in, and she calculated her options and made a decision even  before she saw the glint of something in his hand. He was too far away  and still too shielded by the crowd for her to stop him.

Swiveling on the ball of her right foot, she took a running leap at  movie star, billionaire, People Magazine's sexiest man alive for three  years straight, and world's most eligible bachelor, Everett Parker.





Chapter 2




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The air rushed out of her chest as her body collided with Parker's and  they hit the ground. Bailey glanced up, and her eyes met the darkest  blue eyes she'd seen in a long time. Memories of the last set of blue  eyes she'd been face to face with like this pushed past her mental  blockade, and she gasped at the remembered pain.

She shook her head to break loose from the past that haunted her and  closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses instead. People shouted  around her, but her traitorous body only registered the hard planes of  the muscular body beneath her. He was indeed a fine specimen of a man.

A smirk spread across Everett Parker's face as she opened her eyes. "If  you wanted an introduction, all you had to do was ask," he joked.

Bailey didn't respond as a colleague grabbed her forearm and helped her  to her feet. Two other security guards helped Parker up and hustled him  into the theater. Bailey felt those blue eyes bore into her until he  disappeared behind closed doors.

"Are you hurt?" Jace asked.

Bailey brushed off his concern. "I'm fine. Nothing I haven't done before. Did you get the guy?"

Jace nodded. "Yeah, we got him."

"Good. At least I didn't make an ass out of myself for nothing."

Jace laughed at something Bailey didn't get, and she quirked an eyebrow at him. "Something funny?"

"Oh, it wasn't for nothing. That cute little ass of yours on top of the  Everett Parker is going to be famous after it's plastered all over the  news."

Bailey's cheeks burned, and she turned away to hide her discomfort in  the darkness. She had just been doing her job. She'd taken this job only  because it offered a certain level of anonymity. She didn't want to be  labeled a hero and paraded in front of the world like a prize turkey.  Again. Shit.

*

I laugh at Lee's stupid joke. We'd all heard that one before, but we had  to do something in this hellhole to break the monotony. Laughing was  always better than bitching when you couldn't change your situation.

"Ah, shit," Compton grumbles.

I glance down to see him hopping on one foot with the sole of his combat  boot covered in dog shit. I laugh again, this time for real.

A movement in the adobe building up ahead catches my eye, and I jerk my  attention back to the Afghani village around us. This area is supposed  to be safe, but I've heard too many stories to be letting my guard down.

But it's too late. A shot pierces dry air. Lee staggers in front of me.  He turns, trying to take cover in the building next to us. Compton is  already running for the open doorway. I'm frozen, can't move. All I can  see is the fear in Lee's blue eyes. Sensing more movement around us, I  dive for Lee, trying to shield him with my body as Compton offers us  cover fire.

"Lee!" I shout through the racket. "You're going to be okay. Hang on!" I  glance down and see blood seeping from his side. I cover it with my  hands and push against his desert camo shirt, trying to slow the  bleeding. I don't know what I'm doing, but I have to do something.                       
       
           



       

Lee grabs at my hands with surprising strength. I look back at his face.  Those bright blue eyes are filled will pain. He shakes his head. "Go,"  he tells me weakly.

This time I shake my head. "No!" I scream. Tears spill from my eyes. I  will not leave him. Lee and Compton are like the brothers I never had.

Lee's face contorts in pain, and he takes a shuttering breath. When he  releases it, he doesn't take another, and the light in his eyes fades.

"No!" I scream again.

"Lennox, come on!" Compton yells.

Determined to take Lee's body to safety, I lift myself up and try to  squat next to him. Pain sears through my right leg. Glancing down, I see  blood staining my outer thigh. I must have been shot. My last thought  before collapsing into unconsciousness is that I am going to die too.

Bailey sat up straight in her bed, perspiration beading on her skin and  gasping for breath. She pushed her sweat-soaked hair off her face with  shaking hands. It had been weeks since she'd had that nightmare. Hot  tears burned her eyes, and she blinked, trying to force them away.  Instead, they overflowed and joined the sweat streaking her face. She'd  thought she might have gotten past the bad dreams. The setback in her  recovery was almost as heartbreaking now as the events that triggered  them. Despair flooded through her. Would she never get past the hurt?  Would she never be able to live normally? Her therapist had warned her  the dreams might return. Nevertheless, Bailey had been hopeful that  she'd finally beaten the dreadful disease in spite of all the men and  women she knew who still dealt with it daily.

Damn that man Everett Parker, she thought. She knew in her gut it was  his blue eyes-so similar, yet so different from Lee's-that had triggered  her nightmare.

Picking up a hair tie from her bedside table, she pulled her long, dark  hair into a messy bun before pushing the covers back and standing on  shaking legs. Her right thigh burned with remembered pain, and she  massaged it absentmindedly. That bullet had ended her career and changed  her life in ways she would never have imagined.

Brushing the tears from her face, she made her way to the bathroom to  clean up and change clothes. She didn't bother to look at the clock. It  didn't matter what time it was; there was no way she was falling back  asleep tonight. There was only one thing that could calm her now.

Bailey entered the fitness center on the top floor of her apartment  building and popped her earbuds into her ears. She turned the volume up  until the beat of the music drowned out all the other thoughts in her  head then started up the treadmill. Gazing out the floor-to-ceiling  windows looking out over Chicago, she let her mind go blank and felt her  muscles relax into the familiar movements, carrying her forward until  she had a good running pace. Her breathing evened out, and all she could  feel was her body. She was no longer lost in her own mind; the physical  sensations were her entire being, her soul. There was no grief, no  fear, no depression. Only air flowing in and out of her lungs, the beat  of her blood rushing through her veins, and the pull of her muscles as  each leg lifted and fell in turn.

Legs and lungs burning, she slowed the treadmill an hour later. For a  little while at least, she had forgotten her past. Making her way back  to her apartment, she leaned against the elevator wall and closed her  eyes as the car made its way down to her floor. When the bell dinged and  the door opened on the floor above hers, she opened her eyes to see  Mark Huffington getting on. She eyed him appreciatively. Now this was a  man she could admire. Mark oozed sex appeal. A cop from head to toe, his  demeanor was no nonsense. He was the exact opposite of the bad-boy  image of Everett Parker, and she could appreciate that fact more than  ever now she'd met the notorious Parker face to face, so to speak.

Mark gave her a dazzling grin and placed a hand on the wall beside her  head. Leaning close, he said, "Haven't seen you in a while. You're not  avoiding me, are you?"

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