Excerpt: Hard Stop

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Story one of The Billionaire and The Bodyguard

Available now on Amazon.com

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“Excuse me?”

“Oh come off it, Graves,” Russo says. “Do you need me to write a love letter to your naive little glances and your dimples and how satisfying it is to make a grown man like you blush — a cop, at that?”

“So it’s a physical thing,” Mitchell says — and Russo chokes out a laugh.

“God I get so bored, Graves,” Russo says, his wide torso sliding down on the couch until he’s ridiculously slouched, letting his head loll. “Don’t I deserve someone beautiful to look at during these long, boring afternoons?”

It’s hard to tell if the man is joking or seriously confessing an attraction. Mitchell finishes off his drink. He hadn’t meant to throw it back so quickly, and yet here he is. Getting drunk with the next mayor of Brookedge.

“I mean it could be worse, right?” Russo asks, his head propped up against the back of the couch. “You could be assigned to one of these useless, spineless milquetoast teetotalers that you see come through my office. You could work for someone who doesn’t ever, you know, curse. Offer you a drink. Have a hard-on for you. You might as well go back to narco duty at that point because I’m sure getting shot at breaks up the day a little at the very least. You want another drink?”

Mitchell does — some more alcohol might make it easier to stomach this conversation they’re having — but he still can’t bring himself to admit it. Russo pours him one anyway.

“It’s icing on the cake, really, for both of us,” Russo says, and his voice is really getting boozy now. Whatever meager filter he had sober is long gone.

Dangerous, Mitchell thinks, the image of Alice Hartman always at the back of his brain.

“Whether Hartman likes it or not — you get a more interesting job, I get a more interesting… handler.”

Mitchell hitches his glass in a mock toast.

“To a mutually beneficial relationship, then,” Mitchell says, carefully.

“Quite,” Russo says, taking another long pull. He always has the appearance of someone half asleep, heavy eyelids over clear blue eyes — but the alcohol pulls his eyes even further shut, the crooked grin across his face even more lopsided than usual. “Christ, you crack me up sometimes, Graves.”

“All I do is stand there,” Mitchell says.

“You don’t think I can hear you through the door?” Russo says, chuckling and knitting his eyebrows together. “Turning people away, turning down calls. It’s pretty gratifying, hearing you bark people down on my behalf, telling them how busy I am when you know full well I’m on the other side of that door up to my armpits in call boy.”

Mitchell clears his throat.

“You shutting down that reporter the other day — the one who was pretending to have an appointment,” Russo says, closing his eyes to enjoy the memory. “I mean, the Medina kid may be talented, but hearing you yell at that moron is really what got me off at the end of the day.”

The need to laugh overcomes the throb of heat that Mitchell feels at the comment, and the result is a strangled chuckle. The reporter earlier in the week Russo is talking about had been out of his depth and Mitchell had taken a true pleasure in shutting the man down and denying him access.

“I can hear it clear as day, and not just because you’re a goddamn loud kid,” Russo says, examining the amber liquor in his glass. “Which really begs the question — the thing that keeps me up at night, Graves.”

Russo is looking at him now expectantly, jaw slack, mouth open just so.

“Yeah?” Mitchell asks.

“How much do you hear from the other side of that door?”

There’s a beat between them. The question doesn’t sound like an invitation, but the look on Russo’s face seems to be. Mitchell realizes that he’s stopped breathing.

“Enough,” Mitchell says, finally. He breaks the moment and lets his gaze settle somewhere behind Russo’s head.

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