Hart & Soal

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After his injuries forced U.S. Marshal Andre Hart to retire, an old friend recruits him to do security for a reality TV star plastic surgeon with a stalker. One look at Dr. Shannon Soal, and he’s hooked. She requests he pose as her lover to hide her stalker problem and increased need for security from the public. Though unorthodox, that’s no sacrifice. The only problem is keeping it a pretense instead of making it a reality. They fight their attraction, but how can they deny their hearts when they might have found their soulmates?

Meanwhile, Shannon’s stalker has death in mind and won’t give up on her easily. Or ever.

Andre Hart first appeared in “Safe Harbor.” This story is a standalone, but you might enjoy seeing Andre in that story.

Excerpt:

Today, she was glad Misty had been so proactive, because what had once seemed ridiculous and harmless now felt vaguely threatening. “Hello, Detective Silver. This is Shannon Soal.”

“I recognized your voice, Dr. Soal. And your phone number.” There was a hint of flirtation in his tone, and he’d made no secret of the fact that he would like to get to know her better in a nonprofessional capacity. “What can I do for you today? Another letter?”

“Yes, and this one’s worse than the others.” She quickly detailed what had bothered her about it, and when he spoke again, he was all business.

“If someone is watching you, you need to increase your security.”

“We’ve already hired more people to do patrols.”

The detective let out a small sigh. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it, Dr. Soal. You promised me that if things escalated, you would get private security. You know I can’t be available twenty-four/seven unless there’s a true threat, and we don’t want it to escalate to that point.”

She sighed. “But a bodyguard will suck the last of my privacy away. I really don’t want someone following me around, hovering, and playing Kevin Costner to my Whitney Houston.”

The detective chuckled. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Dr. Soal. I saw the Christmas party episode, where you got tipsy and performed karaoke. You’re no Whitney Houston.”

She rolled her eyes, but a small giggle escaped her. “Touché. But do you understand my objections?”

The detective hesitated for a moment. “Of course I understand not wanting to give up your privacy, but do you understand my concern? You need someone there who’s available immediately if needed. It could take minutes or longer for dispatch to send help if you need it. You have my private cell phone number, but I live thirty minutes away in typical L.A. traffic. This is your safety we’re talking about. Which is more important—your safety or your privacy?”

She winced. “Low blow, Detective Silver.”

He sounded unapologetic. “I have some people I can refer you to—”

“No people. A person. Maybe.” Shannon closed her eyes for a minute before exhaling. “There has to be a way to do this that’s discreet. I don’t want my possible stalker situation to turn into more drama for the television show. If different people are following me around and changing out every few hours, it’s going to be awkward to explain.”

“I might have an idea for you. May I call you back in a few minutes after I speak with someone?”

She nodded before remembering he couldn’t see her through the phone. “Of course. I’ll still be here.” She had no intention of leaving her dressing room until she absolutely had to.

After hanging up, she got up from the sofa and moved to the small refrigerator, where she kept snacks on the days she ran late. She raided her refrigerator for a quick, healthy lunch before returning to the couch, this time sitting up instead of lying down.

It seemed to take forever for the phone to ring, and she quickly set aside the container of fruit she’d munched on when it rang. She looked at the screen long enough to confirm it was Detective Silver before answering. “Hello?”

“I have a friend named Andre Hart. He used to be a U.S. Marshal, but he was seriously wounded several months ago. He was forced to retire from the Marshals, and he’s been doing some light security work since then. He’s agreeable to being your only security for a time, though he wishes that you would add more people to the team. I wish the same.”

“One’s bad enough. How badly was he injured?” She felt bad asking the question, but she had to be sure that if she accepted a bodyguard, he could actually protect her if the need arose.

“He’s doing much better now, and I wouldn’t entrust your safety to him if he wasn’t able to see to it. Should I send him over?”

Shannon hesitated. “I still don’t understand how it’s going to work. How do I explain him?”

The detective laughed. “You could pretend he’s your boyfriend. There wouldn’t be much question about him appearing at your side, especially since you’re a beautiful woman, and any man lucky enough to be your lover would want to be beside you as much as possible.”

She shivered at the intimate tone in his voice, nonplussed by the indication that his attraction had only grown stronger. There was nothing wrong with the detective per se, but she wasn’t in a place where she wanted to pursue a relationship, especially with the man coordinating the investigation into her stalking.

It felt so melodramatic to call it that, and she still mostly believed it would turn out to be a harmless, though probably emotionally unstable, fan with too much devotion. Still, she didn’t want to risk muddying the investigation when she wasn’t attracted to the detective. “I guess you could send him over, and we can at least talk about the idea.”

“Good girl,” he said in a way that he probably didn’t mean to sound condescending, but came across that way. “I’ll send Andre to you. Where would you like to meet him?”

For a moment, she was tempted to blurt out the surgical center, not wanting to make the walk across the parking lot on her own. Knowing she lacked sufficient time to have a proper meeting with him quelled the urge. Instead, she said, “If it’s agreeable to him, have him meet me at my condo tonight at seven, please. The address is—”

“I have the address,” said the detective. “It’s in your police report.”

“Of course. Thank you, Detective Silver.”

“You’re welcome, Shannon.” He said her name in a too-familiar tone.

She didn’t bother to call him on it as she hung up without speaking again. The detective’s attraction was just something else she’d have to deal with on her already too-full plate. He paled in comparison to her current worries, chief among them that some unhinged person was watching her every move and thinking about her obsessively. She hoped she’d just watched too much TV, and even clung to the idea that the Andre Hart she was meeting that night would reassure her that her fears were unfounded and tell her she didn’t need him after all.

After finishing her lunch, she slipped her feet into the crocs and walked out of her dressing room. Less than a minute later, she was at the door leading to the parking lot, and she hesitated. She couldn’t bring herself to step out alone, so she started to turn to look for a security guard to escort her when the door opened from the outside, and Misty stepped in. A wave of relief at the sight of her blonde-haired friend swept through her, and she smiled. “What are you doing here?” Misty rarely ventured into the surgical center, telling Shannon once that the antiseptic smells and the knowledge of what went on there gave her bad memories. Shannon didn’t know memories of what, but she sympathized.

“You’re running late, and I wanted to check on you.”

Shannon smiled. “I appreciate that. I know how difficult it is for you to come to the surgical center.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m not really running late though, am I?”

Misty shrugged. “Not terribly so, but you usually come to your office straight after you finish filming for the day, and that’s usually over with by twelve-thirty. It’s closer to two now, and you have an appointment in fifteen minutes.”

Shannon nodded, stepping out of the surgical center and walking with Misty across the parking lot. It was still unnerving, and she was certain she could feel eyes upon her, but she was bolstered by her friend’s presence. “Thanks for keeping me on track, Misty.”

Her assistant bumped her arm. “That’s my job, and what are friends for?”

“I’m glad to have a friend like you.” Living in L.A. as somewhat of a minor celebrity, Shannon had lots of acquaintances, but very few people to whom she felt genuinely close. While both of her partners seemed to have embraced the reality TV star lifestyle, Shannon was still having some difficulty with it even eighteen months after the hoopla had begun.

If it weren’t for the hefty payout, which went directly to funding her foundation, she would have refused to participate. That would have been practically impossible in their three-doctor practice, so she would have had to leave the practice as well.

She’d made the best decision she could, and now she had to live with it, though she disliked many aspects of the lifestyle. At least she had close friends like Misty, who she’d only known for little more than a year, but had become like a sister to her. She was thankful she had chosen Misty’s application and résumé from the pile submitted to act as her assistant when her previous office manager had decided to retire after the show started shooting. It had been too much for Mabel, who had only been a few scant years away from retirement anyway.

Misty had been a lucky find, and she hoped her luck continued when she met with the bodyguard that night. If he couldn’t reassure her that she didn’t need him, she hoped she could at least become friends with him, especially if they were going to go through some kind of elaborate pretense, pretending to be a couple.

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