Grounded (Up in the Air, #3)(4)

My security team arranged themselves as though they had choreographed it, which I supposed they had. Blake and Johnny joined me in the cab of the vehicle, Henry taking shotgun, and Williams driving. The short ride to the Cavendish property was a strange affair. Blake maintained complete and utter silence, and Johnny seemed almost too friendly to fit in with the rest of the security guards I’d met so far.

“So, Bianca, how are you liking the move to New York?”

I blinked at him, nonplussed. I’d gotten so used to how the other bodyguards were professional to a fault that I hadn’t been prepared for even idle chat. And the question…

“I haven’t really moved here. I’m going back and forth from Vegas. But I do like New York. I’ve had a route here for years, with no plans to change it.”

Johnny shot me a bewildered look. “You’re keeping your job? You’re staying a stewardess?”

I eyed him suspiciously. I wasn’t one to pry, but Johnny apparently was. “Well, yes. It’s my job. Why would I quit?”

“Um, maybe because Mr. Cavendish is spending four times what you make a week on security for every single one of your flights—“

“Enough,” Blake interrupted him harshly. “You know better, Johnny. If you upset Ms. Karlsson, Mr. Cavendish will fire you. Hell, he’ll fire all of us.”

The car grew painfully awkward after that, as I had no idea how to respond to such an unexpected outburst from a stranger, and of course I wouldn’t, since I didn’t owe anyone any explanations about my life. The nerve…

I brooded all the way to our destination, staring out the window, my face a blank mask.

I had never been inside the Manhattan Cavendish Hotel, but I recognized the colossal building. The blue, modern reflective glass windows that lined the entire building made it stand out as a new and sparkling gem amongst skyscrapers.

My security detail moved into their well-choreographed formation as I stepped out of the car, escorting me into the lobby as though I were a threatened head of state. I felt ridiculous.

I had no idea where to go, but luckily I didn’t need to. Blake led me unerringly through the sumptuous marble lobby.

We were nearly to a bank of well-guarded elevators when I heard a female voice call my name. Surprised, I turned to see who it was, and stiffened.

Jolene sauntered over to us, a lush smile on her lips. She was beyond scantily clad, wearing only the tiniest bike shorts I’d ever seen and a sports bra that was so minuscule I didn’t imagine for a second that it could actually do its job. I couldn’t guess what she was dressed for. I’d almost have thought working out except that she was wearing sexy black sandals and her hair was down, hanging in curling ringlets around her shoulders and back.

Johnny whistled appreciatively as she approached. He stood directly at my right but I didn’t spare him a glance. “Hottest f*cking chick I’ve ever seen,” he muttered, not quite keeping it under his breath. Okay, I was not a Johnny fan; it was official.

Jolene tried to move close to me, but Blake got in her way before she was within three feet of me. She pouted a little, but it was obviously an affectation. “Bianca! How are you?”

I had always considered myself a controlled person. Things rarely came out of my mouth unless I meant for them to. I knew right away that this would be one of those rare times when my brain would not be doing the talking. “What are you doing here? And why are you dressed like that?” I asked her coldly.

She gave me a look that made me stiffen. It was pointed and knowing. She was up to trouble. “I just got finished working out. This place has a great gym. And I’m dressed like this because James loves to see my skin. He says I have the sexiest stomach on the planet.” As she spoke, she ran a manicured hand from her throat to the low waist of those obscene shorts. She did have a lovely stomach, all well-toned hollows and dusky skin, her waist ridiculously tiny, especially compared to the oversized breasts that nearly spilled from her top. She exuded sex, and I hated her.

My breath caught at her implication. Was she saying that she was here to see James? That he was still seeing her? Was she flat-out lying, or telling some twisted version of the truth? Either way, I was sick to death of her, and I’d only met her twice…

“Are you saying that you’re here to see James? That he invited you here? Just speak plainly, because I have absolutely no patience for these games,” I told her in my blankest, coldest voice. That voice was an old defense mechanism for me.

She pursed her lips, running her tongue over her teeth. I wanted to smack her. I was shocked by the urge, but even my shock didn’t seem to make my sudden rage abate.

“None of your business,” she said petulantly, crossing her arms, which pushed her fake, ample breasts even higher. That bra was so useless that I could make out just the barest hint of the top of her nipples as she pushed them up.

I couldn’t believe that James had spent so much time with this woman, even with her over the top sex appeal. To my mind, he was the epitome of class, with his charm and his manners and his impossible beauty, whereas she seemed to relish her own trashiness.

“It is certainly her business,” a voice that made me want to melt spoke from behind me. A big, warm hand pressed into the nape of my neck, gently brushing aside my long hair to settle there possessively. I didn’t look at James. I was too angry and upset and just plain hungry for the sight of him.

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