Berringer Bodyguards File #1
Name: Garrett Berringer
Trademarks: Movie-star good looks, confident and über-sexy
Biggest weakness: Free-spirited gals who keep landing in hot water…
Bodyguard and widower Garrett Berringer isn't thrilled about attending his friend's wedding in San Francisco. The upside? The lively and stunning Tiffany Walker—bridesmaid, jewelry store clerk by day, newbie private investigator by night…and Garrett's wicked wedding fling!
But for Tiffany, the morning after turns into a nightmare when she learns that rare jewels have been stolen from her family's store. Fortunately, she has one super-sexy alibi…who turns into one interfering pain in the neck when she decides to track down the thieves herself. This one-night stand is about to turn into one sexy standoff!
OTHER BOOKS IN THE BERRINGER BODYGUARD SERIES:
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The full-on chaos of San Francisco's Union Square on Friday night surrounded Garrett Berringer as he walked down the concrete steps of the Westin St. Francis. A warm November breeze blew through the city, and he hadn't bothered with a coat. People hurried by as he stood, taking it all in.
The flight from Philadelphia had been uneventful and long. Tonight, there was time to relax before spending all of Saturday at a friend's wedding. Ed was an old friend from college, and he'd been one of the ushers at Garrett's wedding.
A trolley packed with tourists rolled by. The grinding sound of the wheels on the tracks was much louder than he'd imagined, and not nearly as romantic as it came across in the movies. Across the street, people in the square were setting up for a weekend art festival. Onlookers milled around, standing in line at a small cafe located in the center of the square by the bronze statue of the Goddess of Victory.
Garrett's eye was drawn to two huge painted hearts that were poised on either side of the square, one beneath a towering palm tree. The palm trees, he'd read, were not native to the city, but brought in and planted at significant cost. The hearts were the city's ornamental symbol.
A young couple embraced in front of one of the hearts while someone snapped a picture of them. Garrett's heart experienced a slight pinch. He hadn't left his heart in San Francisco, but part of it was back on the east coast, where his late wife, Lainey, had died—or rather, where she had been killed. They'd been married for six years when it happened, and now she'd been gone equally long. A strange kind of circle, he thought. They'd married young, their future full of so much promise, all destroyed in one instant.
Lainey, a junior state prosecutor, had been working her first big case—a murder trial against a local gang member. She'd been so excited about it all. After earning her guilty verdict, she'd been on her way to meet Garrett and his family for a celebration. However, the brother of the convicted killer had waited for her to leave court, following her in his SUV.
All prosecutors received threats now and then, but there had been none during the trial. There was no reason to think she was in specific danger. Or so Garrett told himself, thousands of times when agonizing about not having picked her up that day. The crash would still have happened, but so many times he'd wished he'd been with her.
The gang member's brother had broad-sided her at full speed, killing her instantly. Garrett supposed he'd hoped to make it look like an accident, hoping to walk away, but he'd been seriously injured as well. Garrett waited until he was released from the hospital and testified at his trial. Both brothers ended up convicted to life sentences. Garrett had attended their trials and planned to attend any probation hearings to make sure they never went free.
Suddenly, the palm trees, the people, the colorful hearts, all made him a little homesick for life back east. He'd thought he'd wanted to leave it all behind. Cold, dark days and the impending holiday. Only seven days away, Thanksgiving was always a stark reminder in itself. The crash had happened a few days before the holiday. Had he really thought he could outrun the memory by traveling across the country, changing the scenery?
Turning away from the couple and the hearts, he stepped out to cross traffic. He'd let his grief go, thankful for what he'd once had with his young wife, but sometimes he wondered if he would ever meet anyone as right for him as Lainey had been.
In six years, he'd had no significant click with any woman he spent time with. Sex, a few dates, but no click.
He'd met her when he was studying business management in college; he also had a minor in criminal justice. He'd been thinking about following in her footsteps and attending law school. After her death, he'd thrown himself into creating the bodyguard business—Berringer Bodyguards—with his brother Jonas, who had quit the Philadelphia police force around the same time. He couldn't save Lainey, but he had saved many others since.
Garrett had always enjoyed that he and Lainey had similar sensibilities and goals, the same appreciation for organization and a quiet life. They were both practical thinkers and rarely fought. Those were qualities that now made him feel antiquated, even at a youthful thirty-six years old. Stepping back, a young man with orange hair zipped by him on a skateboard, and Garrett smiled at the timing.
Garrett hadn't taken time away from the business since the funeral, as his brothers frequently pointed out. Who needed time off? What was he going to do with it? He had weekends and evenings to fish, spend some time with family. He was a simple, basic man.
Finally, though, vacation was thrust upon him whether he wanted it or not. Jonas had taken off on a holiday trip with his new wife, Tessa. They'd barely returned from their honeymoon when they were off again with her father to spend a few weeks in Europe over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Garrett couldn't be more thrilled for his brother, but some parts of the wedding had been difficult. Dancing with Tessa in her gorgeous dress made him recall dancing with Lainey on their special day, and he'd been happy to escape afterward. He knew his real fear, down deep, was wondering if there ever would be anyone else for him again. Maybe he'd had his shot at happiness.
If so, he'd live with that. He would do it all over again, even if it ended the same way, he assured himself.
About to gently decline flowers from a street person attempting a sale, he gave in and bought the thatch of daisies that looked like they had seen better days, too, then stood looking down at them, feeling ridiculous. What the heck was he going to do with a bunch of daisies?
Chance, his youngest brother, had been itching to go on a survivalist training trip that was only offered for the month of November. Their parents were off to Florida, their first year as "snowbirds," escaping the cold winter to live in the Florida sun. Ely had taken off with a bunch of old military friends for a wild vacation somewhere, so they'd decided to close the business through the New Year.
When Garrett had gotten the invitation to the wedding, it seemed like a better choice than haunting around Philly with too much time on his hands or following his parents to Florida.
He walked down a few blocks and turned left, remembering the general directions the concierge had given him to get to Chinatown. The daisies swung at his side, gripped tightly in his hand, all but forgotten as he walked on, pondering his evening.
Later he could grab some dinner and go back to his room to read or look through brochures and maps, planning for what he'd do over the next month. As he passed small shops loaded with all kinds of Asian items, he saw a beautiful, hand-carved garden statue that he knew Tessa would love for the window of the soaps and lotions shop that she owned back in Philly. A late wedding present, as he hadn't been sure what to buy at the time. This would be perfect. Garrett turned into the store to ask about it when his cell phone rang.
"Garrett," he answered absently, still studying the ornate fountain, looking for a price tag.
"Gar, my man! You're here?"
It was Ed, and Garrett smiled at his friend's familiar, boisterous tone. "Yep. Walking through Chinatown as we speak. How are you doing on your last night as a single man?"
"Happy to leave it behind," Ed said. "I can't wait for you to meet Isabel."
"I'm looking forward to it."
"You have plans for tonight?"
"Nothing much. Just unwinding from the flight and hanging out."
"Um, would you be interested in coming to the rehearsal dinner?"
Garrett squinted, looking down at the daisies, which were starting to look a little wilted. How to gracefully decline? Ed was only being polite since Garrett was in town alone, he was sure. Garrett had often encountered the same from well-meaning friends since becoming a widower. He appreciated the intention, though it was unnecessary. He didn't mind being alone; he'd more or less gotten used to it.
"Isn't that for people in the wedding party?" he hedged, pointing out the obvious.
"Um, well, that's kind of the other reason I'm calling. I need a favor."
"Sure, shoot." Garrett offered, assuming it might be a simple thing, like picking up more film.
"Isabel's cousin, one of our ushers, has food poisoning. It's bad, and he's in the hospital for the next few days."
"Sorry to hear it."
"Thanks. But we're down one usher the night before the wedding…"
Garrett's warning bells rang a second too late.
"…and we were hoping you could take his place."
Words deserted him for the moment, so Ed quickly filled in the silence.
"I know. I didn't ask you to stand up for us in the first place because I didn't want to make you feel obligated to come out here. And I know things are busy, with the business, and everything else."
Garrett knew "everything else" was the fact that he was a widower.
"I completely understand if you can't do it, bud. I'm happy that you're even here."
Garrett took a deep breath, releasing it. "It's just, I…well, I don't have a tux, right? Or, anything…" he finished lamely, knowing his goose was cooked. How could he say no when Ed needed him?
"Not a problem. Jimmy's around your size, if I recall, and his tux could probably be fit to you pretty quickly, if we can get to the tailor early tomorrow."
"Oh, well, that's good, then," he said with false brightness, running a hand through his hair and wishing he could think of some way to get out of this, but he couldn't. "Sure, why not?"