He’s a bodyguard with an alpha mentality. They call him intense and stealthy. She calls him off-limits. We call him Mercer Bryant.
Mercer Bryant made a promise—one he intends to keep—even if it kills him. He would do anything for his partner. Keeping secrets and fulfilling promises goes with the territory. His current mission: discreetly protect Quinn Sullivan at all costs. As a former CIA operative, Mercer knows his way around violent and undercover operations. Protecting the independent and fiery Quinn keeps him on his toes. But, she wants nothing to do with him or his mission.
Hellbent on keeping his promise, Mercer takes on the enemies responsible for his partner’s disappearance—but there is more on the line. Keeping Quinn safe means letting down his guard and letting her into his heart. Suddenly, Quinn sees Mercer for more than just the man next door. Now, she needs to accept that there is only one man to keep her alive: Mercer Bryant.
There were worse things than spending your twenty-first birthday in New York City with your four best friends, but there were better things, too. Quinn’s only wish, this year, had been to hear from her mother. It didn’t matter if she called, texted, emailed, sent a message via carrier pigeon, or showed up at her door—Quinn just wanted this to be the year her mom remembered her birthday.
The last time they’d spoken was almost a month ago when Quinn had graduated from Barnard. They’d gotten into an argument after a dinner celebration they had with those same friends, who’d also just graduated. Her mother had been rude throughout the meal, and Quinn had confronted her.
“You’ve known them for years; at least you could’ve been civil,” she’d said.
It was obvious now that her provocation had been a waste of time. Her mother hadn’t offered up as much as an explanation for her behavior, let alone an apology.
“I’d like to visit this summer,” Quinn had said the next morning, hoping to smooth things over before her mother’s flight back to California.
“It isn’t a good time,” her mother had answered.
“It never is,” she’d mumbled, but her mother hadn’t responded.
She’d been hurt, but really, she shouldn’t have been; they’d certainly never been close. How could they have been? Her mother had shipped her off to the East Coast boarding school where Quinn had met her pals when she was seven.
Up until then, she’d attended Montecito’s posh San Ysidro Day School. Quinn still wasn’t sure why her mother had sent her away, but her assumption was that she didn’t want her around then any more than she did now.
“You’re so lucky that you don’t have to put up with the same shit we do,” she’d heard more than once from the friends she called her tribe.
Lucky? She guessed so. Quinn’s father had died before she was born, so she hadn’t had to deal with the never-ending drama her friends had with their parents’ nasty divorces.
She’d also never wanted for much of anything. No expense had been spared when it came to her education or her standard of living. The only thing she’d wished for that no one had ever been able to deliver was a family.
Last night, her tribe had taken her out to celebrate turning twenty-one.
Quinn had stumbled in, sometime after four in the morning, and hadn’t rolled out of bed until a little after one. She would’ve slept all day, but there was another party tonight, in Southampton, that was partially in her honor. If she didn’t want to look like death, she had to get up, eat, and maybe even get some sun before it was time to leave.
She checked her phone, but there weren’t any new messages since the last time she looked, and certainly nothing from her mother.
When she heard a rap at her apartment door, Quinn nearly spilled her hot cup of honey-chamomile tea down the front of her paper-thin camisole. She set the cup on the kitchen counter and waited, not anticipating a second knock. The building’s doormen were steadfast in not granting admission to non-residents, and since she didn’t know the only other occupant on this floor except to wave at on the rare occasion she saw him from a distance, whoever was knocking had to be on the wrong floor.
“Miss Sullivan?” she heard a vaguely familiar voice call out. “You have a delivery.”
“Just a minute,” she answered, looking down at the so-called pajamas she wore, ones that covered next to nothing on her thin frame.
“I’ll just leave it,” she heard the voice say.
“Thanks, but…um…hang on.” Quinn looked through the peephole, but didn’t see anyone.
She opened the door a crack and looked down to see a vase of white roses sitting on the other side of the threshold. She picked it up and set it on the console table just inside the door, where she usually left her mail and keys, and sometimes her sunglasses.
Three hours later, Quinn remembered the roses. In that time, she’d caught up with two of her friends, Aine and Ava, who were twins, about last night’s adventures and what they were wearing to the party tonight. She’d showered, and then lay on her bed. The five minutes she’d planned to rest her eyes had turned into a two-hour nap.
In nothing but a light shift, she padded down the hallway and grabbed the card that came with her unexpected delivery.
“Happy 21st birthday, precious,” it read.
A chill ran down her spine at the lack of a signature, particularly given her mother had never, ever, not once, called her “precious.”
The idea of downing more alcohol-laden shots and dancing bayside with one hundred of her closest non-friends made Quinn nauseous. She was bored—out of her mind bored—so bored she was actually considering forking out the $500 fare it would cost to get back to Manhattan on her own.
Partying at the home of a has-been network morning show host sounded appealing, but the reality landed somewhere between awkward and disgusting.
For the last half hour, she’d occupied a bench close to the sand, staring at the moonlight on the water, and wondering who’d sent her twenty-one white roses.
If it had been Aine or Ava, neither would have been able to keep it a secret. The first thing one of them would’ve asked when she entered their apartment this afternoon was if she’d gotten anything interesting for her birthday. Penelope or Tara might’ve been more subtle, but again, she’d never heard any of her friends utter the word precious.
Quinn stretched her legs and stood, finally deciding to let her friends know she was heading home. When she turned away from the water, she caught a glimpse of someone who looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him.
The gravel pathway she walked wasn’t well-lit, so she could see the man standing with his shoulder up against the stone archway that separated the concrete surrounding the home’s pool from its gardens, better than he’d be able to see her.
As she got closer, she was certain she recognized him from her apartment building, but what on earth was Mr. Bryant doing here? She knew she seemed like a snob for wondering.
She remembered feeling the same way the day he moved into the only other apartment on her floor. Initially, she thought he worked for the moving company but found out differently when she got on the elevator with the rest of the movers at the end of the day.
“I haven’t met my new neighbor yet,” she’d said. “I hope he didn’t work you too hard today.”
“No ma’am,” one of the men had answered. “Mr. Bryant helped.”
After seeing him that day, even from a distance, she’d been surprised the board had approved the sale. He looked like someone who should grace the cover of a SEAL romance novel, not that she read them, but still—he screamed military.
Creeping closer, she realized how much taller he was than she’d thought. Quinn fanned her face at the hard outline of his muscular back. Did the man really need to wear a shirt that tight?
It seemed as though he was looking for someone, but rather than making his way through the crowd, he stayed on the periphery.
Quinn hadn’t decided whether or not to say hello, when he turned and looked straight at her.
“Hi,” she murmured.
His eyes scrunched and then widened in recognition. “Hello,” he answered.
In the light from the party, Quinn noticed that his hair, which she thought was brown, was more of a sandy color and, as she got closer, that his eyes were a light shade of hazel, like toffee.
“Mr. Bryant…” What could she say that wouldn’t offend him? Her first inclination was to ask what he was doing there.
Quinn’s cheeks flushed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mercer.”
Oh. Mercer was handsome. Very handsome, in fact, with a body that sped up her heart rate. His tight, black, v-neck shirt emphasized the muscles on the front of him as effectively as the back, and his arms were rock-solid.
Her first impression, that he was a military man, stuck. He kept his hair neatly trimmed, but his groomed, medium-stubble beard ruled him out as being active duty. Didn’t it?
She shook her head at the memory she didn’t realize she carried with her. It had been years since she’d spent time with her grandparents, not since she left for boarding school, but one memory remained of her grandfather talking about his days in the Marines.
She’d asked him what the word “jarhead” meant, and he’d told her it had nothing to do with the high and tight haircut he’d still sported, but had more to do with a Marine’s willingness to follow orders without question.
“Our heads are hard, but sometimes empty,” he’d joked.
They’d talked about beards that day too, because her grandmother had teased that his would hardly pass muster.
“What are you doing here?” The question slipped out, even though she’d decided, a minute ago, it would be rude to ask.
“Meeting friends,” he answered almost too quickly, as if he’d anticipated the question. “You?” he added.
“With friends, although…” Quinn liked that he kept his gaze steady and didn’t finish her sentence when she hesitated. “I was thinking about leaving.”
“Me too,” he murmured.
“I was about to call for car service, if you want to share a ride,” she offered.
“I have a car.”
Oh. Did that mean he was offering her a ride or declining her invitation to share one?
He turned to leave, but looked back when Quinn didn’t follow. “Coming?” he asked.
“I should probably let my friends know…” Again, he didn’t finish her sentence. “I guess I could just text them.”
He nodded and motioned for her to follow.
“Here we are,” he said, stopping next to a sleek convertible that reminded Quinn of a bullet.
“Nice car,” she said after he’d opened her door, waited for her to be seated, and then closed it behind her.
“Thanks. It isn’t mine.”
“No?” Interesting. Maybe the apartment wasn’t either, although Quinn hadn’t seen anyone else come or go. “Whose is it?”
“Belongs to a friend.”
“It’s nice that your friend lets you use it.” Quinn ran her hand over the supple, dark-colored leather. “What is it?”
“A Jaguar Series One E-Type. Uh…sixty-two.”
He answered as though he expected her to know what that meant. Jaguar was the only part of it that sounded familiar. Having lived in and around New York City for the last fourteen years, cars hadn’t been something she had reason to learn much about. She’d never even learned to drive.
Quinn relaxed in the comfortable seat of the Jaguar, shifting her focus from the man next to her to the warm summer breeze on her face.
“Cold?” he asked, once he picked up speed on the highway.
“It feels good. Although…maybe a little.”
Mercer reached behind her seat and pulled out a blanket. “Mind if I leave the top down?”
Quinn snuggled under it. “No. It’s fine. What about you? Do you have a jacket?”
“I don’t get cold,” he answered.
“Not in the summer.”
Mercer turned and looked at her when she didn’t continue. “Yeah?”
He smiled. It was the first time she’d seen him do anything but frown. “You have a nice smile.”
He looked away, as though he wasn’t used to the compliment. “You do too,” she heard him murmur.
She studied him longer than she should have. He probably felt her lingering gaze, but he didn’t acknowledge it. Who was this man? And how did someone who looked as though he was under thirty, and had probably served in some branch of the military, afford a two-million-dollar apartment in the heart of Manhattan? Quinn supposed he could be a trust-fund kid, like she was, but he didn’t appear to fit that bill either.