Chapter One ~ HOLD ME UNTIL MORNING

Hold Me Until Morning

Cooper Grayson killed the engine of his Harley Sportster and eyed the run down mountain cabin set back from the dirt track that passed as a road. When his best friend Scott had given him directions to this hideaway in the San Gabriel Mountains, he’d forgotten to mention it was in need of total renovation.

He swung his leg over the bike, hung his helmet over the handlebar, and walked toward the one-story building, his boots crunching on the gravel. Every step he took reinforced his conviction that he’d been a damn fool to agree to Scott’s request.

How the hell was he going to keep a high maintenance Hollywood soap star safe in this shithole? Sure, the place was isolated enough to keep all but the most obsessed fans or paparazzi from finding it. He didn’t mind the wilderness or very basic facilities, but he wasn’t thinking about himself here.

Paris Annabelle Sofia O’Connell loved the good things in life—top hotels, four-star restaurants, and shopping sprees that could allegedly fund a small country.

No way she’ll be happy here.

But of course, he’d said yes when Scott had asked the favor three days ago. She was Scott’s little sister, and Cooper and Paris had practically grown up together.

Who else could Scott trust to not only make sure Paris was safe but also keep his mouth shut?

Cooper squinted through the window by the side of the front door. His faint hope that the entire place was renovated, and equipped with all the luxuries Paris was now used to, vanished. From what he could see of the kitchen, it looked as though it hadn’t been touched for about seventy years.

Something snagged his attention. New window bolts had been fitted to the old frames. He stepped back. Obviously Scott had sorted out some kind of security when Paris had decided to “disappear” for a while.

He glanced around at the willows that draped into the stream not far from the property, then at the forest backdrop on one side and the canyon to the east. Whatever else Paris’ newly acquired hideaway lacked, a kick-ass view wasn’t it.

The sound of an engine throbbed in the distance. Cooper strolled back to his bike and watched the dust rise on the dirt road as Scott’s SUV raced toward the cabin. Cooper hadn’t seen Paris for ten years, not since the day her mom had swept her off to the dizzying heights of a starring role in some trashy prime time soap.

But he’d certainly seen her on the TV and magazine covers. It was hard to miss her when she was the darling of Hollywood and the face of an exclusive cosmetics company.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and let out a sigh. Babysitting spoiled rich girls wasn’t something he’d done before. He might have once thought of Paris as his little sister, but those days had long since gone. It didn’t matter what Scott said about her being the same girl she’d always been. He knew he couldn’t be that lucky.

The car skidded to a stop, inches from his bike, spraying up dust and gravel. He glared into the tinted windows. Who was Scott trying to impress? It was only his sister in the car.

The driver’s door swung open and a slender figure emerged, wearing a Giants baseball cap jammed onto shoulder-length black hair, and a faded Giants sweatshirt. It sure as hell wasn’t Scott. It didn’t look anything like Paris, either, as she strolled toward the back of the car.

Still frowning, he made his way around the front of the SUV. The driver, hands on hips, appeared to be focused on a distant mountain peak, and ignored his approach.

There was no one else in the car. He raked his gaze over the back of the silent figure. She might not resemble the girl from his childhood, but she had to be Paris.

He pushed the car door shut. Her gorgeous tanned legs came into view, along with sexy denim shorts that barely covered her cute ass.

Whoa. Whatever else he did this week, he definitely wasn’t hitting on his best friend’s little sister.

So stop looking at her ass.

“Paris?”

She slowly turned around. Massive sunglasses hid her eyes, but there was no mistaking those pouty lips, or the face that had been described as angelic by those who hadn’t known her as a daredevil kid.

“Hey, Cooper.” Her voice was husky, as though she’d just woken up, and graphic images flashed through his mind, of her tangled in bed sheets wearing nothing but her own designer perfume.

Damn. She’s hot. Guilt prickled down his spine. Scott’d rip his head off if he knew the dirty thoughts running through Cooper’s mind right now.

It’s going to be a long week.
***
Not for the first time, Paris was relieved she could hide behind the dark shades she wore every time she left the house. Usually it was so she never made accidental eye contact with the paparazzi that tailed her like a bad smell. Right now it had more to do with the fact that she couldn’t tear her fascinated gaze from the vision that was Cooper Grayson.

She’d been mad as hell when Scott had told her he’d hired his old childhood friend as her bodyguard for this week. She didn’t care that he’d trust Cooper with his life, or that Cooper was in the private security business.

This week was her last chance to get away from everything and clear her head before she confronted her mom about her future. No one knew about this hideaway, and the chances of the paparazzi finding her were low, considering she’d left a false trail to Europe. She’d only caved when her brother had told her if she didn’t say yes to Cooper, then Scott would come with her instead.

No matter how much he loved his firefighting job, she knew her brother better than to think he was bluffing about taking time off work. So she’d agreed, and then taken his car as payback.

But one look at Cooper managed to suck every resentful thought from her head. And that was before he said her name in that sexy rumble.

He was nothing like the faded memories of the devil-may-care fourteen-year-old boy from when they’d lived in the same rundown neighborhood.

She was having a hard time tearing her gaze from his breathtaking biceps, which bulged just the right amount. How would it feel to have those arms around me? She licked her lips and tried to shove the thought from her mind.

Except she couldn’t get past the way his black T-shirt stretched over his impressive chest.

Holy crap. His pecs are to die for.

All the bodyguards she’d had over the last few years had been built—it was a requirement of the job—but not one of them had caused a single lustful thought to surface. She hadn’t been in Cooper’s company for two minutes, and all she could think about was getting naked with him.

Never going to happen.

That didn’t stop her face heating.

God, she hoped he thought she was suffering from sunstroke or something. It was one thing for strangers to think she had the same trashy morals as Lola, her Sunset Heights character, but for some reason she didn’t want him thinking it.

They hadn’t seen each other for ten years, and they were as good as strangers. He probably didn’t even remember her from when she lived across the street from him. Unlike some from her past, when she’d made it big he hadn’t crawled out of the woodwork to share tales of her childhood with the tabloids.

“Need a hand with your gear?”

His question, so totally down to earth and non-sexual, managed to shatter her paralysis, and she finally dragged her attention to his face. Stubble grazed his strong jaw, and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of shades, but it was the dimple in his right cheek that mesmerized her.

His slow grin sent a familiar shock through her. As a kid, she’d always had a crush on him. Even though her mom thought he was the wrong kind of boy. Jesus, they hadn’t known what the wrong kind of boy was until they arrived in Hollywood.

Still, he had that sense of danger about him.

She cleared her throat, but it did nothing to clear the haze of lust that fogged her brain. “Sure.” She hoped he didn’t notice how hoarse she sounded. “In the trunk.”

When he strolled to the back of the car, she took a deep breath and pulled her purse and carryall from the front seat. Instead of spending a relaxing week getting her shit together, she was now going to have to battle the urge to jump her bodyguard’s bones.

Why couldn’t he have as much sex appeal as her other ones? In other words, none. Her last bodyguard had made her want to barf.

She slammed the car door to cut off that line of thought.

“Fuck me.”

Paris followed Cooper to see what the problem was. He was staring into the trunk as though he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I thought we were only staying here a week?”

“That’s right. Scott always nags that I pack way too much.” Is that what you think as well?

Cooper made a sound in the back of his throat. She wasn’t sure whether it was a snort or a strangled laugh. “Scott’s a dick.”

Paris blinked. She wasn’t used to people telling her that her brother was a dick. It wasn’t the kind of thing anyone would say if they were trying to get on her good side.

He obviously didn’t care about keeping on her good side. On the other hand, Scott could be a dick, and who would know that better than his oldest friend?

“I think he’s proud of that fact.” It drove their mom mad that Scott refused to kiss ass for the furtherance of Paris’ career. At twelve, she hadn’t seen what all the fuss was about. At sixteen, the tension between her brother and mother, on top of the expanding demands of her career, had stressed her out so much she’d ended up in rehab. The press reported it was because of an emotional breakdown. Only her immediate family and her agent knew it was because she’d developed an unhealthy obsession with Absolut.

“Scott’s never changed.” Cooper hauled out one of her bulging cases as though it weighed no more than a sack of feathers. Phew. Impressive. “I thought he was coming with you. You drove all the way from Hollywood on your own?”

It was hardly an epic journey. Before she could get too riled that he thought her incapable of driving herself anywhere, he lifted a second case from the trunk and shot her a smile that liquefied her insides like warm honey.

To distract herself from his sexy mouth and the obvious ease with which he handled her luggage, she slung her carryall over one shoulder and picked up her beauty case from the trunk.

“He was coming with me. I don’t know why he thought that was a good idea. How did he expect me to get to the nearest town without a car once he left?”

He paused by the front door while she rummaged for the key in her purse.

“I have a bike. We wouldn’t have been stranded.”

She almost dropped the key at the thought of clinging to him as they raced along the mountainous roads. Now that would be an epic journey, for sure.

“I’m perfectly able to get some shopping by myself, without a bodyguard tailing me.” She jammed the key into the new lock, but couldn’t help shooting him a quick glance to see how he’d taken her remark, which had basically put him in his place. Not that he had given any indication that he was here for any other reason but to protect her. That was all in her tragically perverted mind.

She had to remember he was just her bodyguard for the week…and Scott’s best friend. Two excellent reasons why she had to stop imagining how it would feel if she kissed him.

She kicked open the door and stepped inside. The sooner she got rid of her wig the better. It was obviously causing her brain to overheat.

“I won’t tail you.” He followed her into the cabin. The front room, which had seemed so cozy and adorable when she’d first looked at the property, now felt oddly cramped. “We can pretend we’re a couple and hold hands. You’re an actor, right? Shouldn’t be too hard to pull that off.”

She stared at him, momentarily speechless. Was he joking? Now that she thought about it, he had never taken anything seriously.

She pulled her floundering thoughts together and offered him one of Lola’s sardonic smiles. She might’ve grown to loathe her soap opera character over the last year or so, but there was no doubt she sometimes came in handy.

“I might be able to pull that off, but what about you? Acting isn’t always as easy as it looks.”

“Yeah, it’s going to kill me having to hold your hand and pretend I think you’re gorgeous.”

She was used to guys telling her she was gorgeous, beautiful, and sexy. There had been a time when she’d been flattered by all the attention, but that was before people she’d thought she could trust had totally screwed her over. For the last couple of years, all her cynical mind could think was what do you want from me, buddy?

Somehow her mind couldn’t quite come up with the same suspicious response when it came to Cooper.

And then something occurred to her. He hadn’t complimented her at all. He’d actually said he’d have to pretend to think she was gorgeous.

That was such a revelation that she let out a snort of laughter. Her mom would’ve died if she’d heard that sound. Cooper, on the other hand, just grinned. God, his dimple was cute, so much at odds with his tough, muscle-bound body. She had the alarming urge to stroke her finger over his cheek.

Get a grip. She couldn’t spend the whole week thinking how hot Cooper Grayson was. What the hell had they been talking about anyway?

“I guess you can come with me when I take the car to get provisions.” If she was going to compromise, then so was he. She waited to see what he made of that.

“Not keen to ride my Harley, huh?”

Riding his Harley was tempting. Riding him even more so.

“We can take turns. How’s that?” Had she just committed herself to riding his bike? Was she mad? It’d been so long since she’d had sex, she’d probably rub herself up against his butt like a cat in heat. The vision was both horrifying and hideously alluring. Thank God he was still wearing his shades. Coupled with the subdued lighting inside, it made it unlikely he’d notice her mortified blush.

Best not to tempt fate, though. She turned and marched into the small hallway that led to the single bathroom and two bedrooms, both of which boasted fabulous views of the distant canyon.

“This is mine.” She pushed open the door of the biggest room. Although big was only relative to the size of the place. The closet of her bedroom back in Beverly Hills was roomier.

He strolled in and dropped her luggage onto the bare timber floor. Then he pushed his shades onto his head and turned to face her. “Did you buy this place fully furnished?”

She dragged her sexually deprived mind away from admiring his gorgeous, deep brown eyes. If she got so turned on just by looking at his face, she hoped to God she never caught sight of him coming out of the shower wrapped only in a towel.

Liar. Now the image was burned for all time into the secret corners of her imagination.

With fake nonchalance she placed her carryall and case on the end of the antiqued brass framed double bed and pulled off her sunglasses. “No. I bought a few things at a couple of auctions last month and had them delivered here. This is kind of like my secret project.”

So secret, even her mom didn’t know about it.

At least she’d bought two beds in that last lot she bid on. Somehow she couldn’t see Cooper getting comfortable for the night on the charming, overstuffed loveseat she’d acquired for the front room.

He strolled to the French doors, leaned one hand against the doorframe, and surveyed the view. Paris checked out his delectably tight butt encased in faded denim.

This week was going to kill her.
***
Cooper stared through the glass, but it wasn’t the overgrown back yard or the hazy, blue-tinged mountains in the distance that captured his attention. Because his attention was all tangled up by the gorgeous green of Paris’ eyes when she’d pulled off her shades.

Fuck, he needed to get out of this room. All he could think about was that bed. And Paris.

Concentrate. What were they talking about? “You went a bit basic for a weekend retreat.”

“Not really a five-star hotel, huh?”

He watched her ghostlike reflection in the glass as she opened the designer carryall she’d dropped onto the bed. Get back to business.

“Scott wasn’t clear about the extent of my duties. Do they include bringing you breakfast in bed each morning?”

Why doesn’t my big mouth ever listen to my brain?

“Yes, I definitely expect breakfast in bed each morning. And don’t forget the freshly squeezed orange juice.”

He swung round to face her. “You bring a juicer with you?”

For a moment she stared at him. It was obvious she had absolutely no idea whether he was pulling her chain or serious, and while he’d been kidding about the whole breakfast thing, he was starting to change his mind.

“No, but there might be one in the kitchen. I had a box of stuff delivered a couple of days ago.”

That must have been when Scott had called him and said Paris was exhausted and needed a break. According to the online gossip, she’d collapsed on set. Until now, it hadn’t occurred to him to question it.

But if that was the real reason, wouldn’t she be better off in some luxury retreat where she wouldn’t have to lift a finger? Something didn’t add up.

“So what’s with—” The words died in his throat as she pulled off her hair.

She tossed the black wig onto the bed and shook her head, and her familiar red-gold curls tumbled over her shoulders. She plunged her fingers through her hair and gave it a good ruffle.

He stared at her, transfixed. She looked as though she’d just been thoroughly fucked.

Why the hell had he offered to bring her breakfast in bed? He was asking for trouble. Why couldn’t she have been the spoiled brat he’d been expecting?

She let out a blissful sigh that didn’t help the state of his erection at all, and looked at him. “What? Did you think that was my real hair?”

He hadn’t thought about it at all, except to think it didn’t look anything like her. “Guess it works,” he conceded. “But I prefer your natural look.”

“Flatterer.” There was a mocking note in her voice, but she didn’t look pissed off by his remark. “Just so you know, I’m immune to all that crap. It won’t get you anywhere.”

“Babe, I’m wounded you think I’m just trying to flatter you.” He slammed his fist against his heart in the hope of detracting attention from his unruly cock. Not that she appeared the least bit interested in checking him out there. “I’m telling you the truth. No strings—or crap—attached.”

She laughed. “That’s a change. Okay then. Thank you.” She gave an elaborate curtsey. “Babe.”

“You don’t like me calling you babe?” He seriously needed to get out of this room while he was still capable of walking straight, but the smile on her face and the flirty glitter in her eyes were just too damn irresistible. “How about honeybee? Or sweetie-pie? Got to call you something when we’re out in public.”

“How about I call you my cuddly bunny?”

“I’m not the one going undercover.”

She sighed. “Fine. Babe it is, but the point is to not draw any attention our way in the first place. So the less we actually say in public the better.”

It wasn’t worth telling her she would turn heads no matter what disguise she tried to hide behind. There was just something about her that made you take a second look.

“I won’t let you say a word. You can count on me.”

Instead of her laughing again, a strange, pensive expression crossed her face, and then she raked her gaze over his body, and lingered on his crotch.

Heat seared through him. Fuck, he was not blushing. No girl had made him blush in living memory, and he definitely wasn’t starting now. He strolled with pained indifference toward the door but had an absolute certainty that Paris’ gaze never wavered from his butt.

A long week? It was going to be a long fucking day.

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