Harlequin Publishing Corp.

Romantic suspense

May 2024

ISBN-10: 1335594094

ISBN-13: 978-1335594099

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Her Private Security Detail: Touré Security Group, Book 2

He’s her bodyguard

… but he wants to be so much more

Philanthropist Symone Bishop is the most desirable woman Jeremiah Touré has ever met. She’s also way out of his league, and he can’t get involved with his client. Jerry knows how to protect Symone from the external threats menacing her nonprofit and her life. Can he save her from the devastating secrets the Touré Security Group uncovers? He knows he has to stay close to keep her from harm, but is he in danger of getting too close?

Her Private Security Detail: Excerpt

“I can’t.” Jeremiah Touré jogged with his two older brothers, Hezekiah and Malachi, early Thursday morning. They’d started the last of their five laps around Antrim Park in the northwest part of Columbus, Ohio’s capital city.

It had been dark when the trio had started their six-mile/five-lap workout. Moisture from the air joined with the sweat forming on Jeremiah’s brow, cheekbones and upper lip. The weather was comfortable—for now—but July in Columbus could be brutal.

On his left, past the bushes and down a grassy slope, lay a pond in an imperfect oval. Its serene surface mirrored the sky, shifting from black to gray and more slowly to blue. The birdsong grew louder and more energetic as the sun rose.

In front of him, the narrow dirt trail led to a broader blacktop. A row of trees and bushes lined the asphalt on both sides. Those on the right shielded the woods beyond the park. Leafy branches formed a canopy over the path, sheltering the handful of other joggers and walkers who were getting in their early morning exercise. Several had dogs or strollers. Some had both. A few were on their own.

Starting the day jogging with his brothers was the best. What wasn’t to love? He was with his brothers, his friends. They were outdoors, getting exercise. They pushed each other to keep up a good pace—no slacking!

Jeremiah and his brothers had been doing these runs since they were teenagers. Jogging was one of his favorite hobbies, which was fortunate since physical fitness was a job requirement. But opportunities for him to workout with his brothers were becoming more infrequent. Business was booming for Touré Security Group, his family-owned company. He and his siblings had inherited the agency from their deceased parents. It figured Hezekiah, the human manifestation of a killjoy, would bring up work during one of their increasingly rare opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.

“You can’t do it? Or you don’t want to?” His eldest brother’s response came from behind him. This part of the path was too narrow to jog side by side.

They all wore black running shorts with dark jogging shoes, but their moisture-wicking pullovers were different colors. Hezekiah’s crimson red jersey commanded attention—sort of like the man.

Hezekiah had gotten his wish to expand their company to attract bigger clients, in large part thanks to publicity from a case they’d closed two months ago. They’d protected a scientist from a serial killer who’d been after her formulation. Their success had attracted a lot of new clients, from small companies to midsized businesses and larger corporations. They’d even secured a contract with Midwest Area Research Systems, the scientist’s employer.

“Can’t.” The answer was at the same time easy and hard. “I can’t take on new cases. I’m leaving the company at the end of the month, remember? I’ve got my hands full, wrapping up the cases I’m overseeing now. But I’ll gather a few of our personal security consultants and bring them up to speed.”

With their increasing client list, maybe his timing could’ve been better, but Jeremiah was ready to pursue his own plans. Hezekiah, however, wanted him to take on a new case protecting a high-level executive with The Bishop Foundation, but he couldn’t do this anymore. He needed to walk away from the company. Staying was putting everyone and everything at risk. Leaving was the right thing to do. But, crap, did it have to be so hard?

Jeremiah took a deeper breath, meant to soothe him as he led his brothers past the first curve on their fifth lap around the pond. The air was heavy with the musty, damp scent of the earth beneath his running shoes and the sharp, dew-laden grass that rimmed the pond.

“The client asked for you personally.” Malachi sounded so reasonable. The medical research scientist they’d protected, Dr. Grace Blackwell, had been his ex-girlfriend. The case had helped rekindle their romance. “They want the best.”

His second-eldest brother’s leaf green jersey helped him blend into the foliage. Malachi was playing to his ego. He’d give his sibling credit for that. The tactic would’ve worked on the old Jerry. He missed that guy. Without realizing it, his steps had sped up. It was like his subconscious knew he was running away. He made an effort to slow down. “Why does The Bishop Foundation sound familiar?”

“It came up during our case with Grace.” Malachi’s voice came from Jeremiah’s right. This wider section of the path allowed his brothers to jog beside him. “The foundation chair contacted her for the recommendation.”

Jeremiah’s body filled with pride for his family and their company. Their parents had founded Touré Security Group on qualities that were important to them: integrity, excellence, professionalism. His brothers followed the example they’d set—another reason he was quitting. He couldn’t live up to those standards any longer.

A rustling from the undergrowth on his right drew his eyes to the woods beyond the park. A pair of chipmunks disappeared beneath the shelter of the nearby bushes.

“You did a great job protecting Melba.” Hezekiah kept pace on Jeremiah’s left.

Having his eldest brother on his left and middle brother on his right made Jeremiah feel like they were ganging up on him.

Still, thinking of Grace’s grandmother, Melba Stall, made him smile. “We’ve kept in touch.” He wiped the sweat collecting on his upper lip with the back of his right wrist and pulled together the tattered remnants of his confidence. “I know I did a great job protecting her. I also did an excellent job training our personal protection consultants. I know each one’s strengths and weaknesses. We don’t have any bad apples. I’ll identify six of the best of our best, two agents per shift for twenty-four-hour security. I’ll get the estimate to you by end of day.”

“That should work.” Hezekiah’s sigh was louder than necessary. Typical. He was lathering on the guilt. “The client meeting’s tomorrow morning. Early. We didn’t expect you to guard the executive on your own, but we’d feel better knowing you were at least overseeing the job.”

“The guards are well trained, thanks to you.” Malachi used the back of his hand to remove the sweat from his chin. “But this is a high-profile case.”

Another wave of restlessness washed over him. Jeremiah struggled to keep his steps even and his tone casual. “All of our cases are important, Mal. Don’t worry. I won’t leave you hanging.” This time.

Their silence suffocated him. He knew they didn’t mean for it to. It wasn’t their fault. Jeremiah blamed his guilt. He didn’t want to leave the company. He had to. His brothers didn’t make any secret about their concern over his decision to walk away. He didn’t want them to worry about him. He wanted them to be proud of him. He wanted them to be confident in his abilities, as confident in him as he’d always been in them. He wanted things to go back to the way they’d been before he’d made a mistake that could’ve cost a teenage boy his life.

Digging deep, Jeremiah faked a grin. He tossed it at his brothers. “Let’s sprint to the end.”

Malachi groaned. “I’m too old.”

Hezekiah frowned. “I’m almost two years older than you.”

Malachi arched an eyebrow. His look spoke for him. Then we’re both too old.

Jeremiah gave the first real laugh he’d felt in weeks. “Come on, old-timers.”

He sped up, setting a challenging pace, even for himself. He took long slow breaths, straining to control his breathing. He raised his arms, pumping them as he pushed himself to take faster, longer strides. His heart galloped in his chest. Still his two older brothers kept pace with him.

“Jerry, what are you about now?” He heard his mother’s voice as though she was running alongside him. He brought her image to mind. She’d stayed slim and fit his whole life. Both of his parents had. Her face had remained smooth and her hair dark well into her sixties. “Zeke and Mal aren’t your competition. They’re your brothers. The only person you should compete against is yourself.”

They rounded the fourth corner of the pond and flew the final leg of their last lap. Jeremiah’s feet barely touched the dirt path. Slow breath in. Hold. Slow breath out. He forgot about Hezekiah and Malachi. Now he fought to push himself as hard as he could.

I competed against myself and failed, Mom. And my failure hurt Dad’s and your legacy. I can’t put the company in that position. Never again.

In his mind, she frowned. It was the loving, chiding expression she’d given him when she thought he was being a fool. But is leaving Touré Security a bigger risk to you than your staying with the company would be to your brothers?