Page 38 of Tripping on a Halo

“No. For you. You agreed on a bodyguard.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Uh… yeah, you did. In bed. Right after you told me that I could have access to your calendar and travel schedule.”

He shook his head. “No. I didn’t say any of those things.”

She huffed out an irritated breath. “Yessss, you did. You can’t change your mind now. I already signed a contract with the security firm.”

“You WHAT?”

There was a cheerful honk from behind them, and he turned to see a minivan pull in next to his truck, the passenger door opening. A miniature blonde body tore around the front of the van and sprinted across the lawn and onto the porch, her arms outstretched. “Auttieeeeee!”

Autumn bent down to pick up the child, who started talking the moment her feet left the ground. “Mommy let me drive in the neighborhood. I steered and everything.”

“Oh really?” Autumn rubbed her nose against the child, and his heart skipped a beat at the sight. The child looked like it could be her own, and he shifted uncomfortably at the rapid right turn his brain took at the vision. It must be the sex, clouding his brain and sending his thoughts into left field.

Speaking of which…. He angled left, trying to get in Autumn’s line of vision. “What do you mean, you signed a contract?” He couldn’t afford bodyguards, and had definitely not agreed to one, much less three.

“Hello.” An older version of Autumn stopped on the bottom step, a toddler in hand, and looked up at him. It was the cute mom from his neighborhood, the one married to the pencil pusher. And oh… the pieces clicked into place. Autumn had mentioned a sister, who lived by him. This was her? Sister and cute mom were one and the same? Maybe she hadn’t been checking him out when he’d run by. Maybe she had been taking notes and reporting back to Autumn. His self-esteem slumped off to lick its wounds.

The woman peered at him. “You don’t look like Adam.”

And… who was Adam? He had never experienced jealousy with Nicola, but it suddenly barreled into this situation, ears pricked and guns holstered.

“Adam’s in love with his ex-girlfriend,” Autumn tossed over her shoulder as she put down the blonde child. “This is Declan. I mean, I know you know who he is, but it feels like we are crazy people if we act like you know who he is.”

“Right.” The woman’s grin widened as she met Declan’s eyes. “Because, obviously, we aren’t crazy.”

“I’m Paige!” The young girl stepped forward, somberly sticking out her hand while sporting a one-tooth-missing grin.

He bent at the waist and shook her hand. She let go and skipped past him, yanking open the front door and swooping into the house. He glanced at the boy, who hid behind his mother’s leg.

“This is Caleb,” the woman offered. “And I’m Ansley, Autumn’s sister.” Hypothesis confirmed, though his confusion was still at nuclear levels.

“There are STRANGERS in your house!” Paige reappeared in the front door, alarm on her face. “Three STRANGERS!”

For shit’s sake. This was a three-ring circus. Autumn waved her inside. “They’re safe. Just ignore them and take Mr. Oinks outside. Help him find his ball. You too, Caleb.”

The little boy sprinted past Declan as if he was the boogie man, leaving his mother standing on the step. Ansley folded her arms across her chest, a knowing expression tugging at her mouth as she glanced between him and Autumn. “So… this is an interesting course of events.”

“Super interesting,” Autumn agreed. “Turns out, Declan is absolutely cool with me protecting him, and we are ramping up security protocols to improve his safety.” She turned on one foot, breezing past him and into the house, his attempt to catch her arm easily thwarted with a move that could have earned her a Heisman.

He followed her into the house, the screen door almost slapping him in the face. “We need to discuss this. I don’t know what you’re talking about, but there’s no way any of these guys”—he nodded to the suits who were still in their place around the table—“are following me around.”

Autumn stopped on her way to the kitchen and turned, peering up at him. “You said I could.”

“I strongly disagree with that statement.”

“You were a little sleepy.” She shrugged. “But you did, you told me I could hire these guys, and now I have so….” She smiled sweetly up at him.

He narrowed his eyes, her eyelashes literally batting at him. “You can’t do that. I can’t”—he lowered his voice—“I can’t afford them.”

“Oh!” She waved a hand in the air. “I’m paying for them. Don’t worry about that.” She dismissed the costs of three armed guards as if she was covering his hamburger at a fast food joint.

He glanced at the security and stepped closer to her, resisting the urge to cup her waist and drag her against him. “I don’t think you can protect someone against their will. If I don’t want them following me, they can’t follow me.”

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