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Unreserved: The Vault by Michelle Dare (1)

RIDER

"Fuck, I hate wearing a tux," I complain as I fidget with the bow tie.

My dad smacks my hand away. "You're screwing it up. Let me do it."

I don't own a tuxedo but have multiple suits for work. They aren’t overly formal, and this affair tonight is black-tie. I'm attending as protection detail. Our police department isn't large by any means. I'm one of two detectives on the force, but the other one is away on vacation for the week, so I get to do this job for the night.

Reaching down, I pull at the crotch of the pants. Dad pauses and gives me a hard look. "What? This thing is riding up and compressing my dick."

"Maybe, if you bought a tux of your own, you wouldn't have to borrow mine, which was specifically tailored for me."

"We're close enough in size,” I grumble. We are, but these pants are going to annoy the shit out of me all night. I don't get paid enough to deal with this. That’s a lie. I get paid well, but I still don’t want to do this. I had a nice night of barhopping until I found someone who wanted to tumble into bed with me, planned.

Dad raises his voice a little. "Man up and buy your own damn tux if it bothers you so much.”

"I'm not wasting my hard-earned money on something I'll hardly ever wear."

He fixes the black tie one last time and steps back, looking me over. "It'll do. And you never know. One day you might meet someone who likes this kind of shit, and then you'll have to buy one." I adjust myself again. "For fuck's sake! Stop grabbing your balls and pull the pants down a little lower onto your hips."

Oh, yeah, I didn't think of that. Dad is slightly taller than me, and I pulled them up so they wouldn't brush the floor. But with my polished black shoes on, even pulled down, the pants don't hit the ground.

"See?" he asks in a gruff voice. "Now get your ass out of my house and go to work. I expect this back dry-cleaned and pressed. And if you bring someone home tonight, take my shit off before you get it dirty."

"Holy fuck, old man. I'm not going to screw someone with your tux on."

I love my dad and the kind of conversations we have. Nothing is off-limits. I might be a grown man, but he's all I have in my life. All I've ever had. My mom died in childbirth, leaving my dad to raise me.

I wave as I leave and jump in my metallic grey Dodge Durango. The event I’m working is in the city. The woman I'm watching is someone with a lot of money. Her father owns five very high-end clubs across the country, one in the city near my hometown. But this event is a charity fundraiser for the local children's hospital. The person I have to protect is the woman who runs the organization in her father's business name.

She insisted I meet her at the event and not at her home. It’s not ideal, but arguing with her is pointless. Once I arrive, I give the valet the key to my SUV and wait on the sidewalk, feeling like a jackass in the tux. I'm much more at home in a pair of worn jeans and a T-shirt. The only part of this getup I like is the feel of my two guns, holstered tightly against my body, under the jacket. On the outside, I look like everyone else. But no one knows I have the guns on me, nor what I’m capable of doing with my bare hands.

A limousine pulls up to the curb and suddenly, I'm on high alert. Like the air has changed and something in it is prickling my skin. The valet steps up and opens the back door. The first thing I catch sight of is two long, tan, incredibly smooth-looking legs. Then I get my first peek at a black dress, which seems to hug every curve. However, it's the woman's face that has my breath faltering and my heart hammering in my chest like it’s never done before.

Her hazel eyes are warm, her makeup light, and her smile shines brighter than the sun. Long, light blonde hair is pinned back on the sides and hangs down her back in soft curls—curls I want to run my fingers through to find out if they are as silky as they appear.

"Rider?" she asks from a couple of feet away, snapping me out of the haze that has my dick stirring to life.

"Yes, that's me. You must be Alicia," I reply, holding out my hand for hers.

Her delicate palm touches mine. A chill races up my spine. What the hell is it about this woman?

"Are you okay?" Her voice is like a soft song, reaching every part of my being.

I shake my head, needing to get my shit together. "Yeah, sorry. Are you ready to go inside?"

She nods and I keep two paces behind her as she makes her way up the stairs, a few reporters taking pictures. Seems this charity event is a pretty big deal. Maybe if I paid more attention to the news, I'd know that. I get stuck in my own world where everything revolves around work. But my job isn't to know all about the event. It’s about the woman I'm protecting. And boy, did I read up on her.

Twenty-seven years old. MBA graduate. Works for her father, handling this charity, as well as many other impressive things. I saw her picture online, although it did nothing to prepare me for how she looks in real life. How this woman is still single is beyond me.

When we get inside, I step closer to her. The sweet floral scent of her perfume floats to me, and fuck if it doesn’t affect me. It's not overwhelming like I've noticed some women wear. It's light and makes my dick stir even more.

Leaning down, I softly say, "I'll be near you at all times. Only a few steps away, but I won't interrupt your evening."

She turns, her eyes holding mine for a second before drifting down to my lips. I hold back a groan at the need stirring inside me. What I wouldn’t give to kiss that mouth of hers. Her lips part, as if she's about to say something, but then nods and steps off into the crowd.

Alicia walks around the room with me ghosting along the sidelines, always knowing where she is while scanning the room for people who might be a threat. Her dad told my chief she'd been shaken up ever since someone she considered a friend was spending the night and up and left her home while Alicia was sleeping. It was a woman who had rifled through her personal things. Alicia checked and nothing was missing, but it left her on edge, wondering what else might have happened that she didn’t notice. A part of me wonders if it was the same woman who was stealing checks from wealthy people. She was never caught. Our other detective, Rowe, was on the case for a while, but then he moved and it fell to me. A cold case. I still text Rowe and give him grief for not solving that shit before he left.

To think this woman before me is scared, and worried someone is out to get her, lights a fire in my veins. The need to protect her is overwhelming. So much that I'm eyeing down every person who sits near her at dinner.

I'm not the only protection here tonight. There's a bunch of us lined along the wall and mixed in with the crowd. Not everyone can spot the ones undercover, but I can. I notice every person in the room. It's my job to do so. And to think I didn't even want this job.

Chief told me I didn't have a choice. Her father went to him and said he wanted a cop to protect his daughter. One who was exceptionally skilled. Chief asked him why he didn't hire a bodyguard and was told he didn't want some guy who might be rusty. He wanted someone who trained all the time and knew how to handle a weapon with precision.

Alicia gets up to give her speech, and I move closer to the stage. I stay out of everyone's view of her but, if need be, I could be up on that stage, throwing myself in front of her within a second.

Her dad might be overreacting with the need for a cop as protection. However, I’m damn glad he asked for one of us. Thank fuck it wasn’t one of the other cops on the force. To think of another guy’s eyes on her instead of mine… Yeah, no. Looking at Alicia now, and the ease in which she addresses everyone in the large ballroom, I wouldn't want anyone else here looking out for her. She commands the room's attention—everyone in their formal dresses and tuxedos with their expensive drinks and meals—and they give it eagerly. Pockets lined with money. At least it's all for charity.

After her speech, she sits back down at the table and speaks with anyone who walks over to her. Men and women shake her hand and make small talk. I stay ever vigilant at my post.

Then the lights dim, and the band on the far side of the room starts to play. I'm not a fan of the darkened lighting, so I move closer to Alicia, keeping my eyes sharp. Nothing in my gut is screaming at me that something's going to happen. I take my gut warnings very seriously. So right now, I'm a little more relaxed than I'd be if something felt off. Although, I have this inherent need to make sure she’s happy and having a good time. If she were my date, I’d be attentive to her and her alone.

People slowly make their way to the dance floor as Alicia sits at the table like the last girl asked to dance at prom. Seems everyone here came with a date. Except her. I'm sure some man would be happy to date her. I can't help but wonder why she chose to come alone.

Then she turns, her eyes cast down to the floor. Ah hell, I can't let her look so sad. I’m moving before I think about the ramifications of doing so. Striding over, I stop in front of her chair and hold out my hand. She peers up at me and, for a second, I think I made a colossal mistake standing here like a jackass waiting for her to accept my hand.

Her eyes hold mine, then her hand reaches for me. I gently pull her to her feet and lead her out to the dance floor, all the while watching everyone around us.

One of my hands slips around her waist, holding the curve of her hip, while the other clasps her hand as we begin to sway to the music.

"You didn't have to ask me to dance," she professes, her eyes almost level with mine, thanks to her heels.

"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to."

"This isn't against protocol or anything?" A small smile tugs at her lips.

Damn, I want to kiss her.

I find myself longing to discover exactly how she tastes.

I shrug. "So long as you're safe, and I'm watching out for you, that's what matters. Besides, I don't think there's anything in the handbook that states I can't dance with the most beautiful woman in the room." There probably is but, at this moment, with her scent wrapping around me like an embrace and her body pressed to mine, I give zero fucks about any rule.

She blushes and ducks her head. "I don't know about that."

I lift her chin with my finger. "You're gorgeous, Alicia. I'm sure there are many men in here wishing they could be with you."

"Then why didn't they ask me to dance?"

"Because they're intimated by you," I respond casually and know there's truth to my words. Any good man would be. This woman holds herself with such grace and poise. She's not your average woman. She's bars above every woman I’ve ever met, and I have no business dancing with her.

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