Author: Molly Joseph; Annabel Josephmore from this user
High stakes chess competition has always been a man’s game—until Grace Ann Frasier topples some of the game’s greatest champions. Her prowess at the game is matched only by her rivals’ desire to defeat her, or, worse, avenge their losses. When an international championship threatens Grace’s safety, a bevy of security experts are hired to look after her, but only one is her personal, close-duty bodyguard, courtesy of Ironclad Solutions, Inc.
Sam Knight knows nothing about chess, but he knows Grace is working to achieve something important, and he vows to shelter her from those who mean her harm. When she leans on him for emotional support, attraction battles with professionalism and Sam finds his self-discipline wavering. Soon the complexity of their relationship resembles a chess board, where one questionable move can ruin everything—or win a game that could resonate around the world.
“All right?” he asked when they were airborne, slicing through thick clouds. “We’ll be in Helsinki in eight hours or so. Can I get you anything?”
“No,” she said. “I’m okay.” She tilted her head. He had the feeling she was trying to look up at him, but not quite able to manage it. Instead she turned to the window, clasping her hands in her lap.
He didn’t want her to fear him. He was a big guy, but he was on her side. “Is there anything you’d like to know about me? About my experience or my qualifications?”
She stared at the seat back in front of her and then almost—almost—managed to look him in the eyes. “How long have you been a bodyguard?” she asked.
She thought a moment. “Have you ever been to Helsinki?”
“No. I’ve traveled a lot, but the closest I’ve come is Stockholm. Or maybe St. Petersburg.”
“Zeke told me you spoke Arabic.”
“Where are you from?”
“New York. Battery Park area.”
“Oh. I’ve been there a few times.” She bit one of her nails. “Have you ever guarded any big celebrities?”
“Some,” he answered. “But I mostly look after boring old men.”
She turned and gazed out the window again. So young and pretty. Not that it mattered.
“Did you know that Marie Antoinette had twelve bodyguards?” she asked.
He studied her delicate profile, outlined by the brightness outside. “You have way more than twelve. The whole State Department is looking after you.”
“No, she had twelve bodyguards with her all the time. They even slept outside her bedroom.”
“Would you really want twelve men sleeping outside your bedroom?” An attempt at humor. Borderline inappropriate.
“I guess I probably wouldn’t.”
The plane bucked through a few seconds of turbulence. Her hand came down on the armrest and landed on his wrist before she jerked it away.
“Rough air,” he said. “It’s nothing.”
“We’ll fly out of it soon.”
She bit her lip. Definitely scared of him. He was supposed to be the good guy, her ally.
“How do you know so much about Marie Antoinette’s bodyguards?” he asked, because sometimes talking helped.
She pushed her glasses up her nose, a nervous tic he already recognized. “I read books about her when I was on a French history kick. Before that, it was geology and Russian literature. And I obsessed over Antarctic exploration for a while.”
Antarctic exploration? God, she was weird. So what was this pull he felt to her? Protectiveness? Curiosity? Not attraction. She wasn’t remotely his type.
“Do you know why I stopped reading about Antarctic explorers?” she asked, finally meeting his gaze. “Because I learned that they ate all the horses and sled dogs they took along. They shot them over the course of the expeditions, one by one, for food. The animals didn’t know. They worked so hard for those men, only to be shot and eaten. And that was part of the plan.” Her voice shook a little on the last word.
“That’s horrible,” he said.
“Plus, so many of those explorers died. It was dangerous, what they were doing, but they did it anyway because they were driven.” She swallowed hard. “I guess I might die because of what I do.”
He shook his head at her. “You’re not going to die.”
“I’ve gotten death threats, plenty of them, from all over the world. Every continent but Antarctica.”
“I’m going to keep you safe,” he said in a firm voice. “I don’t think you should worry about it.”
She startled as a burst of laughter rang out a few rows away. He studied her face as she calmed herself, searching for lingering evidence of the attack she’d suffered, faded scars or irregularity of bone. There was nothing, only that little jump she gave whenever she heard a sudden noise. He got out his phone, typed a short message, and sent it to everyone in the QueenOps group.
FYI. Client fears loud voices.
The Queen of the operation’s title was, of course, the woman beside him, the most important figure on the chess board. Within moments, the voices on the aircraft fell silent, or at least a little quieter. It was hard to tell for certain over the plane’s white-noise hum.
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Check back for the next book in the Ironclad bodyguard series, due out next year.