Main Her Loyal Protector

Her Loyal Protector

Pregnant, alone, and suddenly a billionaire, Kaytlyn Klein has to trust the tough, too-attractive former military specialist, Cameron Bodily, or risk losing more than just her fortune and her charitable foundation.
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Her Loyal Protector

A Strong Family Romance Companion Novel

Cami Checketts


Free Book

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16


About the Author

Don’t Date Your Brother’s Best Friend

Also by Cami Checketts

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Chapter One

Kaytlyn Klein rushed through the wide halls of Jacob Tarbet’s mansion. She’d worked for Jacob for almost ten years now, though for the past five he’d treated her more like a partner than an employee. He’d found her waiting tables in his hometown of Sun Valley, where she’d been scraping by just trying to earn enough money to ski on the weekends. Jacob had become a regular customer. Then he’d seen her buying lunch for a family whose child had just been diagnosed with leukemia. He hired her as his personal assistant on the spot, paid for her online bachelor’s degree in business, and taught her how to run his businesses and how to be poised and classy. He was the smartest, most generous, and most selfless person she knew.

Jacob and his daughter, Jessica, were Kaytlyn’s closest friends. Horrifically, Jacob was dying. Kaytlyn was also expecting Jessica’s baby, a surrogate for Jessica and her husband, Peter. It still felt foreign to be pregnant and she touched her abdomen, awed that a small life rested inside. She knew she’d be attached to the little one, like a favorite aunt, but she found herself wishing, and sometimes believing, it was her own baby she carried. She forced those thoughts away quickly when she had them. What a blessing it was for Kaytlyn to be able to help someone she loved s; o much achieve their goal of being a mother.

As she approached Jacob’s suite, she startled when a man stepped forward from the nook of the suite’s doorframe, his handsome face lit with a soft smile. Her heart pounded so hard, she worried she would have heart failure and this fabulous specimen of a man would have to resuscitate her. She smiled to herself. Not a bad idea at all.

“Good morning, Cameron,” she said, winking at him. She loved to tease the ever-tough military man, and she was happy that she could still tease despite the heaviness pressing down on her. Cameron was serious and dedicated to his job of protecting Jacob, but there was a mischievous glint in his eyes that intensified when he met Kaytlyn’s gaze. She’d heard a couple of funny quips slip past his lips too, and if she could get him away from his protection detail, he might be really fun. For almost two years now, she’d been deftly flirting with him, but he hadn’t asked her out … yet.

“Morning, Kaytlyn.” His too-blue eyes drew her in, and she stopped in front of him instead of hurrying into Jacob’s suite to check in with her boss as she did every morning. “I’ve been thinking.”

“Dangerous pastime,” she joked.

He grinned. “I’ve got plenty of those. I’m hoping I can add another.”

“What’s that?”

“Taking you to dinner tonight.”

Kaytlyn bit at her lip and tilted her head. Her long blond hair slid across her shoulder. “That might be dangerous for me,” she kept her tone teasing so he’d know she admired his well-built body and wasn’t afraid of him. She wanted to go to dinner with him, badly. She was only a month along and wouldn’t show for a while now. Would Cameron think she was crazy to carry her friend’s child or would he think it was admirable? Would he still want to date her when she started showing?

“No, I’d be the only one in danger.” He lowered his voice and murmured, “Of losing my heart.”

Kaytlyn’s own heart thudded wildly. She couldn’t believe this tough military man had just said that. Instead of admitting that she was already much too invested in him, she said, “I don’t know nearly enough about you.”

Cameron’s eyebrows rose. “You hired me. I’d think you know plenty about me.”

She had indeed hired him and four other ex-military security specialists from an entity out of California run by philanthropist Sutton Smith. While the men were all tough and competent, only Cameron had drawn her eye in the past two years; he tried to stay in the shadows when he was on duty to protect her billionaire boss, yet she never failed to notice him. Cameron’s presence was larger than life, from his well-built body to the strong, handsome planes of his face to the intelligent, humorous spark in his blue eyes. He couldn’t hide in the shadows, nor anywhere else. Though he was a soldier through and through, it was obvious that he was meant to be a leader.

“I know you graduated from West Point, spent almost ten years in the Army, took two tours in Afghanistan and one in Kuwait, and achieved the rank of sergeant before you retired three years ago and started working for Sutton Smith.”

Cameron nodded, as stoic as ever, but there was a welcoming light in his blue eyes. “See? You know plenty about me.”

“Do I?” She took a large step closer. She knew Cameron was trustworthy—the fact that her body automatically drew toward him was proof.

He didn’t step back, instead leaning a little closer. He was interested. Yes! She hadn’t dated much since high school graduation, choosing to work hard and spend her free time on the slopes in the winter and hiking in the summer. She’d gone on dates sometimes and traveled the world with Jacob, but no man had really caught her eye until she hired Cameron.

Kaytlyn said, “I don’t know what your favorite food is, where your family lives, what sports you like to play, or what you like to do on dates.”

A smile played around Cameron’s lips, and his eyes were dancing. “How are you going to find out those things?”

She breathed in deeply; she was close enough that she could smell his clean, crisp scent. “When we go to dinner tonight, I’ll be able to ask all kinds of questions.”

Cameron’s smile lit up his face, and Kaytlyn’s eyes widened. She’d always thought he was handsome. When his full smile came out, he was the most irresistibly appealing man she’d ever come across.

“Six?” was all he asked, but that smile told her everything she needed to know.

“Yes, sir.” She mockingly saluted him.

“Wear your hiking clothes,” he murmured, his gaze tracing across her face and warming her up from the inside out.

Yet again, she was impressed. He’d noticed that her favorite pastime was exploring the mountain trails close to their home. It was early July, and the trails in the mountains around Sun Valley were insanely beautiful, exploding with greenery and wildflowers.

Her phone rang Jacob’s tone, and she reluctantly stepped back and pulled it out of her purse. “Yes?” she answered, grinning at Cameron. They were going on a date. She’d said yes. Maybe tonight she could tell him about the little one inside of her. She thought he’d take it superbly. She was excited to spend one on one time with this intriguing man.

“When you come this morning …” Jacob sounded more tired than usual, as if it was an obvious effort to talk. Had he taken a turn for the worse? Her heart ached at the thought. “Bring Cameron in.”

“Okay. I’m here.” She ended the phone call and slid it back into her purse. “He wants both of us to come in.”

Cameron’s eyes asked the question, but his military training was strong enough that he didn’t put voice to it. She didn’t have answers anyway, so she just moved toward the door to open it. Cameron moved in front of her, and his strong arm brushed against hers. Warmth spread through her as his eyes shot to hers again. Did he feel the connection as strongly as she did? After she met with Jacob about work questions and ideas, she was going to tell him that she and Cameron were going to start dating. She doubted her friend would have any objections, but she wanted to make sure she was up front with the man who had done so much for her.

Cameron pushed the door open, then stepped back to let her walk through. Kaytlyn gave him an unsteady smile and walked briskly into the suite. The nurses had already been here; Jacob liked them to come early. Jacob was sitting up in bed, dressed in a golf polo and comfortable sweats, as ready for the day as he could be. The retractable blinds were open, giving an incredible view of the lush mountain valley, green and sparkling in the early-morning sun.

“Come in, come in.” Jacob gestured to both of them, surprisingly energetic, as if their presence granted him strength. Kaytlyn knew he and Cameron had grown close over the past two years, and she imagined Cameron felt as much respect for Jacob as she did.

Kaytlyn’s heels tapped across the hardwood floor as she approached the bed. Cameron was by her side. He stopped a few feet away, but Kaytlyn walked right up to the bed. Jacob extended his hand, and she clasped his fingers with her own. He was only in his early sixties, but the battle with bone marrow cancer made him look like he was eighty.

“How are you this morning, Kayt?” He wasn’t himself. She couldn’t put a finger on it, but something was troubling him deeply.

“Wonderful.” It was true. She was going out with Cameron. “Have you been giving the nurses a hard time?”

He waved his free hand and gave her a half of a smile. “Always. I’m so happy you’re here.”

Maybe it was his time and he knew it. She wasn’t ready for that, and she doubted she’d ever be.

“You look beautiful today,” Jacob continued. “What am I saying? You look beautiful every day. A face like an angel.” His smile grew and he patted her hand, as if he were a proud uncle, not just her best friend. “Am I right, Cameron?”

Kaytlyn glanced back at Cameron, who was watching the two of them steadily. Cameron nodded, warming her face with his blue gaze. “Yes, sir.”

Jacob gestured to Cameron. “Bring some chairs over, will you, son? I’ve got something important to discuss with Kaytlyn, and I want you to be our witness.”

Kaytlyn’s pulse sped up. She knew it. Something was going on, something out of the ordinary. They discussed important matters every day: his investments, his numerous businesses, and the charitable foundation they’d dreamed up together, Protect the Young. She couldn’t help putting a hand to her abdomen. There was a little one growing within her. No matter that he wasn’t hers, she already loved the child. It was perfect that it was Jessica’s, if only Peter didn’t make Kaytlyn so uncomfortable with his comments and lewd looks.

Cameron slid a chair up for her. She thanked him and sat close to Jacob’s bedside.

“You too,” Jacob said.

Cameron retrieved his own chair and set it next to Kaytlyn’s. His strong presence so close was messing with her brain waves, but she simply set her large purse on the floor and pulled her laptop out. “What’s on the agenda for today, boss?” she asked. Each of Jacob’s businesses, from the restaurants to the theaters to the ski resorts, had more-than-competent managers, but Jacob still liked to be involved and Kaytlyn was basically in charge of everything now. When he passed, it would be hard to turn everything over Jessica and Peter. Even Protect the Young. Kaytlyn felt like she was part of the family but she was still an employee, and didn’t own any of it. Jessica had promised they’d keep her involved.

“Something … tough,” Jacob murmured. His eyes darted to her abdomen then back up again. “Put the laptop away. I need you to focus on me.”

Kaytlyn’s hand trembled on the laptop. Jacob had never asked her to put it away. She glanced at Cameron but he looked as confused as she felt. What was going on?

Chapter Two

Kaytlyn did as instructed, sliding the laptop back in her purse. She sat straight in the chair and gave Jacob her full attention.

He reached for her hand again. “Kaytlyn. You’ve been like the daughter I always wanted and the best friend any old man could ask for.”

She squeezed his hand, a little confused. Jessica was his daughter. She and Kaytlyn had grown close throughout the years, despite Jessica getting irritable and oddly jealous of Kaytlyn at times. When Jessica couldn’t conceive a baby, Kaytlyn hadn’t hesitated when she and Peter asked her to be their surrogate. She wasn’t comfortable around Peter, but she loved Jessica.

Yet Jessica had acted really off the few times they’d texted or chatted on the phone the past four weeks. Kaytlyn worried Jessica was upset and envious that Kaytlyn got to experience the pregnancy she wanted so badly. Yet Jessica was busy supporting her husband who was a state senator hoping to move on to the U.S. Senate and someday become president. That was why Kaytlyn hadn’t had a chance to have a heart-to-heart with her and make sure everything was all right with her friend.

“Thank you, Jacob,” Kaytlyn said. “You’re my best friend as well. Thank you for seeing the potential in me and giving me so much.” Without him she’d be on the streets.

She could feel how stiff and uncomfortable Cameron was beside her. He was probably wondering why he was here to witness them gushing about each other. If he knew about her pregnancy, would he rescind his date offer?

“Now. I have something to ask of you, something … huge. Please understand you can tell me no.”

Kaytlyn couldn’t remember ever telling Jacob no. He’d always been so good to her, and their relationship was as pure and undefiled as her love for her mother, her two younger sisters, and Jessica. “You know you can ask anything of me.”

Jacob’s dark eyes grew contemplative. “I hope so.” He drew in a breath and said, “Jessica came to visit me last night.”

Kaytlyn’s gaze darted to Cameron, and he confirmed it with a nod. Cameron had been overseeing the safety and protection of the mansion and Jacob ever since a kidnapping and ransom attempt two years ago. When they used to go out in public, Cameron or one of the other bodyguards would be close by. Now that Jacob was homebound, the guards’ job was much easier, but they were still here.

“Oh? What did she want?” She tried to say it positively but it stung. She thought Jessica was still in Boise. Why wouldn’t her friend come and at least say hi? At least come check on her and the baby. The last time Kaytlyn had seen her was the day of the procedure in Boise. Kaytlyn had flown back to Sun Valley shortly after and Jessica had stayed to be with Peter.

He drew in a breath and pushed it out. “I changed my will recently.”

“You did?” That was news to her but he could do anything he wanted with his money.

“I changed it to give you the foundation.”

Kaytlyn’s heart hammered faster. She glanced at Cameron who smiled gently at her. She’d asked Jacob to start the foundation about five years ago because she’d been neglected and emotionally abused by her father, and Jacob had supported her and helped her make the charity even better than she could imagine. Now, Protect the Young had orphanages and family and women’s centers throughout the world, in addition to well-stocked food and supply pantries that were always available to parents and children in need.

“Thank you, Jacob.” Her voice broke. She normally wasn’t a crier but this was huge, and maybe there was something to be said for pregnancy hormones.

He nodded. “And I changed it to gift you with fifty million dollars. Fifty million that is already available or easy to liquidate.”

“What?” Kaytlyn put a hand to her heart, hardly able to swallow. “I don’t need ...” She couldn’t think what to even say.

“I thought it would be enough for you to run the foundation, create other charities that I know you’ve wanted to create, and live happily.” His eyes filled with sorrow and regret. “I thought with the gift you’re giving to Peter and Jessica she would be ecstatic with the change in will.”

Kaytlyn’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. She put a hand to it. Cameron’s eyes dipped to her hand and he gave her a questioning look. They hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy yet. She was hoping to have time alone with him at dinner to explain. Jessica had begged and Kaytlyn had so few close friends, of course she wanted to do this for Jessica and Jacob. Not for Peter so much. He made her uncomfortable, always complimenting her and giving her significant looks. She’d noticed Jessica didn’t seem to like the way he treated her either and Kaytlyn didn’t blame her friend.

“She threw a fit.”

Kaytlyn shrugged. Jessica was intense. She was either happy or sad and some would say Jacob had spoiled her rotten but Kaytlyn didn’t allow that kind of talk about her friend. She’d seen Jessica throw her share of fits, but Kaytlyn’s more even disposition was a good balance for Jessica’s fun-loving but sometimes mad or irritated personality.

“She said … a lot of things.”

“She was upset,” Kaytlyn immediately defended Jessica and honestly didn’t want to hear the things. She was loyal to her friend. She was carrying her child.

“Ah, Kayt. You’re always so kind.” Jacob stared intently at her. “You have to hear what I am going to tell you.”

Kaytlyn hesitated but then nodded. She could be strong. She’d been emotionally abused by her father for eighteen years. She could stand to hear that Jessica didn’t want to share her fortune. Kaytlyn knew Jacob’s finances. Fifty million that could be easily liquidated would be hard for Jessica to give up with Peter’s political aspirations and propensity to spend. She about suggested he give her far less or restructure to give her businesses that were slow profit centers. She could manage them, just like she was already doing, and use excess profits to run her foundation.

“Kayt.” He looked out the window. “She despises you.”

“Excuse me?” Kaytlyn’s back hit the chair. She turned to Cameron. He was staring compassionately at her, as if he already knew.

“It all came out last night.” Jacob shook his head. “She said she’s always been jealous of you—your beauty, your kindness, your brilliance at business. She feels like you took her place as my daughter and now she claims you’re trying to steal Peter.”

“What?” Kaytlyn’s stomach rolled with disgust at that suggestion, and at the same time her heart broke that Jessica might truly despise her. Jealousy could turn ugly, she knew that, but why would Jessica accuse her of going after her too-smooth husband?

“She said that you came to them offering to be their surrogate and apparently they used your egg because Jessica had none.”

“What?” She shot to her feet. If that was true, it would help to explain why she already felt so attached to the tiny one growing inside her. Yet if that were true and it was Kaytlyn and Peter’s child? That made Kaytlyn so faint with repulsion she sank back into her seat.

“You’re … expecting?” Cameron asked, breaking his long silence. He looked so tough and protective of her. She wanted to lean against him for support, but forced herself to be strong and stay straight.

Kaytlyn nodded. “I thought I was carrying Peter and Jessica’s baby.” She turned back to Jacob. “Why would she tell you that?” She could hardly believe everything she was hearing. Jessica turning her back on Kaytlyn because of money and jealousy? This baby might be … Kaytlyn’s? That was the only good news she’d heard this morning.

“You should’ve seen her. She was so upset it was like it all spilled out and then … I thought she’d cry and tell me she was sorry and beg me not to tell you, but …” He looked away again. “I know I spoiled her, Kayt, but you know Jess, you love her too. I feel like Peter has broken her. She didn’t admit it but I’m sure he’s cheated on her. Now she’s become bitter, selfish, and cruel. Everything is about Peter’s political ambitions, public perception, and her having everything she wants at any cost.”

He rubbed at his brow. “I’m broken, Kayt. My girl.” He shook his head. “The way she was so cold and unfeeling. I could feel how deep her hatred is for you, but also for …” He broke off, cleared his throat, and started again, “For me.”

Kaytlyn could understand, she felt broken too. Jacob had given Jessica all the love he could, losing his beloved wife when his daughter was only three. Kaytlyn and Jessica had grown very close the first few years Kaytlyn lived here. Things changed when Jessica married Peter, but Kaytlyn had buried her worries. She hadn’t wanted to admit how much Jessica and their friendship had changed. She supposed now she could remember conniving or angry looks Jessica had given her, snide comments, but she’d written them off as Jessica just being in one of her moods. If Peter was stepping out on her … that was horrible and made her feel some pity even though she could hardly believe Jessica could now despise her.

“She claimed she’s going to destroy you, Kayt. She’s going to take your baby, your fifty million, and bleed the foundation dry.”

Kaytlyn could hardly catch a breath. Was this truly her baby? She placed her hand over her flat abdomen. The idea was thrilling and overwhelming. If it was true, she’d fight for her child with everything she had. She didn’t care about the money, but she couldn’t let anyone destroy the foundation. Too many children relied on and needed what her foundation provided.

“I think she honestly thought she’d throw her fit and I’d change my will back to her inheriting everything, but I saw through her last night, Kayt. She’s dead inside now, only living to trample her way to the top.”

Kaytlyn hated what he was saying. Could Jessica really have changed so much?

“I’ve heard rumors of how corrupt, and unfaithful, Peter is and recently Larry was able to confirm some of them through a private investigator he hired. I don’t want that cheating liar having anything. I thought he was sincere … for about a year. Sadly it seems he and Jessica are both unethical and warped enough to believe that all that matters is their selfish ambitions. We’ve both loved Jessica, and I’ve given her everything I could her entire life, but I’m done now. Maybe the course I’m about to take will wake her up, but it might not.” His gaze steadied on Kaytlyn and he nodded. “We’re going to change my will … again.”

“You are?” Her eyes were drawn to Cameron as he shifted again. He was probably wondering why he was privy to this conversation. Jacob said he needed a witness. Why hadn’t he called for his closest friend and lawyer, Larry?

“I’ve been on the phone with Larry last night and again this morning as more ideas and thoughts are stewing. He’s currently doing the paperwork to immediately transfer all my resources, the businesses, and the foundation into your name and rewriting my will to reflect that. You’re the sole beneficiary, Kayt.”

Kaytlyn sucked in a breath, and she heard Cameron do the same next to her. Most people would probably be excited about the thought of becoming an instant billionaire, but Kaytlyn was only thinking about the responsibility. All those businesses and livelihoods, plus her foundation, would rely on her. Jacob had trained her well over the years, but it still was terrifying to think of doing it without him, and doing it while this baby grew inside her … She placed a hand on her stomach. If it was true that they’d used Kaytlyn’s egg without telling her, she could get genetic testing done, and she might be a single mother as well. There was no way she was sharing a baby with that vile Peter. He’d ruined her friend. He wasn’t going to hurt her child.

“Please say yes, Kayt. There’s no one else who I trust and who knows the businesses like you do. I hate to do this to my … daughter.” He had to clear his throat again. “But maybe if I’d done something tough years ago she wouldn’t be so entitled and corrupt. The new will protects you, the foundation, and so many livelihoods. I know you’ll do good things with the money. I wouldn’t even be part of the foundation without you dreaming it all up.”

She smiled, remembering. He’d been supportive but a little leery of giving so much money away, but she’d actually saved him a lot in taxes, so he’d gotten on board pretty quick.

She found her eyes drawn to Cameron as she stewed over how to respond to Jacob. Cameron had been trained to observe and protect, and she was always aware of where he was in a room. His blue eyes were full of respect and admiration for her. Because of Jacob’s kind words or because she’d been willing to be a surrogate for Jessica? She liked that look. Pushing aside the heartache over Jessica’s betrayal, she thought about going out with Cameron tonight. She’d thought they would finally go on their first date. Would he still want to date her?

“Kayt?” Jacob pulled her from staring at Cameron. “Will you accept the responsibility?”

“Yes,” she said after a beat, her throat dry and scratchy.

“Thank you,” Jacob breathed. “Now there are some other things Larry and I think are imperative.”


“Jessica knows you inside and out. She thinks she can control both of us. We’ve been blind to the hatred, envy, and selfishness growing in her.” He sighed. “When she finds out you’ve taken everything from her, she’s going to go after you. So we need to make sure her lawsuits won’t stick.”

Kaytlyn swallowed. She didn’t want this. She didn’t want a battle with Jessica. What would something like this do to the baby? She still could hardly wrap her mind around the baby possibly being hers. If that was true? She blew out a breath. No wonder Jessica had hardly spoken to her in the past month. “Don’t give it to me. Transfer everything to someone else you trust.”

“I’m sorry, Kayt. I know you. I know you don’t want to be caught in the hailstorm and you’ll want to protect the child, but believe me this is the best way to do that. The other problem is … there is no one else I trust completely. No one else who is genuine and has no aspirations where my money is concerned.” His gaze slid to Cameron, and he smiled. “The two of you and Larry. That’s it. And I’m not giving anything to that old windbag. He doesn’t need or want it.”

Cameron looked pleased but uncomfortable. “Thank you, sir. I’ll do everything in my power to protect you.”

“I know. And you’ll need to protect Kayt.”

The load just kept getting heavier. She still remembered those men breaking into the mansion two years ago, trying to kidnap Jacob so they could get a ransom. Luckily, their security guys had slowed them down and the police had arrived quickly. That was when they’d hired Cameron and his men. Now she would be that target. The only good part, besides the baby, was that Cameron would stay close at all times. No one would ever hurt her with him by her side.

“Happily,” Cameron told Jacob. He met her gaze, and her heart leapt. Jacob was giving them his blessing to be together. The two people he trusted. She abhorred the thought that she’d lost Jessica’s friendship and now she was losing Jacob, but with Cameron as her protector, she could be strong.

Her cheeks reddened. They hadn’t even been on one date. Yet she thought Cameron was amazing, and obviously he and Jacob had gotten close over the past two years.

Kaytlyn beamed under his warm gaze and she thought about how there was a silver lining to everything. After two years of waiting, she would finally be able to date Cameron. Now wasn’t the moment to tell Jacob the two of them were going on a date tonight, but she loved that their boss and friend seemed to already know they were interested in each other, and he had their best interests in mind. The next few weeks or months would be hard, going into a legal battle with Jessica and Peter, being pregnant, and now taking over everything. Losing Jacob would be harder, but the anticipation of growing closer to the one man she’d been undeniably drawn to would help temper those pains.

“So here’s the plan,” Jacob said.

The room thickened with uneasy anticipation. Jacob was brilliant and quite often had different plans to share with her, yet this one was going to change her future. She felt that as surely as she felt Cameron’s gaze on her face.

Chapter Three

Kaytlyn finally pulled her eyes from Cameron’s handsome face and concentrated on her friend and boss’s plan. Whatever it was it must be good if he thought it would protect his money from Jessica. Kaytlyn had seen enough of Jessica’s explosions when she didn’t get her way, and Peter was as corrupt as they came. They would both be livid when the new will came out.

Jacob started talking again, his voice stronger and more certain. “Instead of starting a fight that I might not be able to see through to the end, we’re going to do all we can to make your case ironclad. We can’t let Jessica and Peter have any play with an outdated will, or claiming you tricked me, or whatever they try. We’ll get everything in place and blindside them after I die. They’ll be behind the game and hopefully realize they can’t win. Then they’ll walk away. I’ve set up an annuity for them. At twenty grand per month, they should live comfortably, but they won’t get Peter into office, at least not with my money.”

Kaytlyn let him finish, then said, “So what have you and Larry schemed up?” Her mind was racing with ideas, but she had no clue how they could make her case “ironclad.” Redoing the will was the only course, and Jessica and Peter could definitely challenge that. They had copies of the original will, and though she had many witnesses that could prove Jacob was in his right mind when he transferred his assets, they could definitely claim she’d tricked him into changing it before his death.

Jacob looked uncomfortable. It was an odd expression for him. Though he was physically uncomfortable most of the time, he was always in control, always confident. She found herself dreading his answer; at the same time, she leaned forward to make sure she heard him clearly.

“Well, my dear,” he said, “this is where the second gutsy question comes from me to you. Do you want to protect our legacy and make sure Peter can’t get his hands on it?”

“Yes.” Despite the sick sorrow she felt over Jessica’s duplicity and betrayal, she also felt an odd sort of relief. The signs of her being unstable and deluded by Peter were all there. At least they’d found out the truth before he passed and all of that money and Jacob’s businesses went to support Peter. Worse, her foundation was destroyed to support them. She wasn’t trying to excuse Jessica, but she blamed Peter for deluding and twisting her former friend. Yet what about the baby? Possibly her child. She focused on what she could control right now. “We can’t let them destroy your life’s work, or my foundation.” Kaytlyn’s resolve grew as she thought everything through.

“I thought you’d say that.” His face was grim and determined. “Now what I’m about to ask of you can’t leave this room.”

Kaytlyn exchanged a glance with Cameron. They both nodded.

“Larry and I have been up most of the night, and we agree that what I’m about to ask of you is unconventional, but it should be our strongest play. You need to realize also that your biggest battle will come after I pass. Blindsided, Jessica and Peter will be scrambling hard to fight, but everything will already be in place.”

Kaytlyn hated the thought of Jacob passing. She would be lonely and overwhelmed without his counsel on business matters every day. Yet now the businesses would be hers. She didn’t want them for the financial gain, but she’d been overseeing most things since Jacob had been diagnosed, and she’d protect them from Peter’s schemes. Maybe someday she could admit they were Jessica’s schemes too, but she was still wrapping her mind around it all.

Jacob took a long breath, and Kaytlyn wondered why he was so reluctant to ask her whatever he and Larry had decided upon.

“It’s okay,” Kaytlyn reassured him. “I’ll do whatever we need to do. We’re a team. You and I. Always.”

He squeezed her hand. “I love you, Kayt. You’re the most incredible person I’ve ever known. I love my daughter, as I know you do as well. I always will love Jessica, but now that I know the truth, I realize I should’ve seen the signs and not been so shocked by her betrayal. You have no deceitfulness in you at all. You’re loyal, grateful, and angelic all the way through.”

Jacob had never before been so complimentary or told her he loved her. She loved him like an uncle, definitely like a best friend. He’d done so much for her—teaching and inspiring and lifting. She’d do anything for him. “I love you too, Jacob,” she said simply.

His gaze flickered to Cameron. “Son. I know I can trust you, and that’s why you’re here. Kaytlyn is more priceless than any asset she will now own. You guard her with your life.”

Cameron replied with a solemn nod.

“This goes beyond money,” Jacob said sternly. “I’ve spoken with Sutton and have his approval. With your consent, I’m putting ten million dollars in your account and hiring you away from Sutton, with the sole purpose of you staying by Kaytlyn’s side day and night.”

Cameron sat even straighter. “For how long, sir?”

“As long as she needs you.”

“Jacob,” Kaytlyn protested. Heat traced through her at the thought of being so close to this attractive man, but she didn’t think this was acceptable. “Do you understand what you’re asking? He never gets a day off? Any kind of break?” She had been excited twenty minutes ago about the prospect of dating Cameron and being protected by him, but she couldn’t take away the man’s foreseeable future.

“I understand exactly what I’m asking, and I think Cameron does as well.” He arched an eyebrow at Cameron.

“I do, sir.”

“What’s your answer?”

Cameron gazed deeply into Kaytlyn’s eyes, as if she was the queen and he was the knight pledging his loyalty and life to her. That was nuts. They weren’t living in medieval times. His eyes were tender and deep, and she couldn’t look away—especially when he said, “My answer is yes.”

Kaytlyn’s own eyes widened and her stomach pitched. “Yes? You’re committing to protect me? Solely focus on me?”

Cameron nodded. No indecision. No fear. He was fully committed to … her.

Excitement stirred in her breast, mingling with a sense of safety and comfort. Yet a sense of dread crept in too. If Cameron was her protector, could he date her? After Jacob told them whatever proposal he had and they got everything settled with him, she and Cameron would have to figure out if going on an innocent date was still in the equation. She certainly hoped so, but there were so many heavy things weighing on her mind, and wonderful things growing within her. Would Cameron want to date a single mother? Was she truly this little one’s mother?

“Now for the idea Larry and I believe will secure your future and protect my fortune.” Jacob’s smile was strained. She was beginning to wonder how much longer he’d draw the suspense out when he rushed ahead: “Kayt, I need you to marry me and have my child.”

Kaytlyn sputtered and yanked back away from him. “What?” She was already expecting. What was he saying?

Cameron stood, towering over both of them. “You just hired me to protect her, and I’ll protect her from you if I need to.”

Jacob held up his hands. “Calm down, both of you. The marriage will be in name only.” He dipped his head toward Kaytlyn. “If Peter could unethically use your egg, and they both know we can prove that by in utero testing, I don’t think they’re going to want an ugly legal battle if we claim the baby is mine.”

Cameron didn’t sit back down. His gaze swiveled from Jacob to Kaytlyn, his blue eyes stormy and unsettled.

Kaytlyn’s mind was whirling. Marry Jacob? Her first thought was that she couldn’t possibly be intimate with her best friend, but he’d said the marriage would be in name only, so that made her stomach a little less nauseated. She hadn’t had morning sickness yet, but she imagined it would feel like this. The second thought was that Jacob was trying to protect her and her baby. He’d claim the child for the world to see, and she wouldn’t have to share a child with Peter. Her third thought was that she definitely wouldn’t be able to date Cameron if she agreed, but how could she possibly refuse Jacob, the man who had given her everything?

“Sit down,” Jacob said to Cameron.

“I’d prefer standing.”

Jacob focused on Kaytlyn. “I wouldn’t ask this of you if I didn’t feel strongly that it’s the only way to ensure my legacy stays safe from Jessica and Peter. We’d be married in a private ceremony tonight, and your baby will be my heir.”

Marry Jacob? It was insane, and yet it might be the solution. She knew that Peter, and possibly Jessica, would stop at nothing to get Jacob’s money, ruin everything Kaytlyn and Jacob had worked so hard for, and get into political office, using the fortune to push him all the way to the top. If Kaytlyn agreed to this plan, she could at least slow down their evil schemes, and her baby—her legitimate baby—would have a father who Kaytlyn thought the world of instead of the scum who really was her child’s father.

Jacob’s gaze begged her to agree. She knew he wasn’t doing any of this for himself; he was doing it for her and for all the people they employed, all the small towns that relied on their jobs for their lifeblood. Even more importantly, her foundation would continue to protect and help children throughout the world. So many factors played into it, and if Peter and Jessica won … Kaytlyn shuddered thinking of all that money, billions of dollars, being used to hurt and destroy.

She wanted to look at Cameron and get his opinion. Her new round-the-clock protection. Who knew what that was going to look like? Yet if she agreed, she would be married. Married in name only, but it still meant no more flirting with or going on dates with Cameron.

“Please, Kayt. You know this isn’t for me. I’ve gone round and round it in my mind and with Larry. Even though I’m gifting you everything right now, they could try and fight it, but if you’re my wife and have my child, the new will should protect everything. Peter won’t want it coming out that he used your egg without your permission. It’s the right path,” Jacob said, as decisive and in control as he always was.

Kaytlyn feared he was probably right, and she trusted Jacob more than she’d ever trusted anyone. For ten years he’d been training her and worked with her. He would never ask anything that wasn’t in her best interest. She knew it as surely as she knew her eyes were blue.

She could feel Cameron’s angst simmering next to her, but he didn’t say anything.

She looked into Jacob’s eyes, weary from the battle with cancer but still alight with intelligence and goodness. He’d spent his entire life working and accumulating funds so he could help others, and now it was her turn to take the cause forward. They both knew he wasn’t long for this world. Over three months ago, the doctors had given him weeks to live. Only his sheer determination and grit were keeping him alive. She’d be lost without him. If she agreed, she’d soon be a billionaire, a widow, and a single mother. She’d thought she was being a surrogate for Jessica and Peter. Everything had been flipped in the past half hour.

“I’ll do it,” she heard herself say. Her voice sounded like it was coming through a tunnel, and the entire moment felt surreal. She heard Cameron suck in a breath.

Jacob nodded. “You’re going to do amazing things, Kaytlyn. I trust you to raise our child to be exactly as good as you are.”

Our child. How she appreciated him assuming a responsibility that hadn’t been either of theirs, and making her feel so much less alone in the world. Kaytlyn felt tears stinging her eyes. This was crazy, but it felt right too, which maybe made it crazier. She gave Jacob a watery smile and then let herself look at Cameron. He was still standing, arms folded across his chest, brows knit together with concern. This man would protect her, but sadly they couldn’t be anything more.

The situation reminded her of King Arthur, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot, but this was no legend and their battle was against two of the most underhanded people Kaytlyn knew. She’d always suspected as much of Peter, but to know Jessica now hated her and was motivated only by money and power hurt deeply.

Her eyes traveled over Cameron’s strong form. He could easily protect her physically, but this fight was going to be emotional, sneaky, and dirty, and it would be fought in the courts.

Her life had changed four weeks ago when she’d become pregnant with her friend’s baby, well former friend. This was another life-changing moment, and a lot of responsibility, but she felt equal to the task. She prayed she could truly do amazing things and raise her child to be even better than she and Jacob could imagine. Her child. So exciting and scary. The vision she saw right now showed her doing it alone, but at least the child would have a father and a legacy to fulfill.

Cameron’s large frame overshadowed her and brought some comfort and reassurance. She had a protector and an ally, but that was all he could be, and from the look in his eyes, he knew it as well as she did.

Chapter Four

Cameron Bodily paced next to Jacob Tarbet’s bedside. Twenty minutes ago, Cameron had been handed a gift he’d been craving for two years: a date with the angelically beautiful, smart, witty, loyal, kind … He could list complimentary adjectives for Kaytlyn Klein all day long. He’d been falling for her and working up the nerve to ask her out. She was his boss every bit as much as Jacob was, and he didn’t want to step over any lines. She’d taken that worry out of the equation, teasing with him and agreeing to go out tonight.

Then they’d walked into Jacob’s room, and such innocence as a date with his perfect woman was shattered. Jacob had asked Kaytlyn to wait in the office at the bottom of the stairs for Cameron. She’d have plenty of work to do, as she always did, and she was safe with the staff and security all in place at the high-functioning thirty-thousand-square-foot mansion, nestled at the base of the mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Jacob let Cameron pace, not saying anything. Obviously, Jacob knew how upset Cameron was and how much he disagreed with this course of action. Disagreed wasn’t a strong enough word. Jacob was right that this might be the only way to protect his charity, businesses, properties, and money from his scheming daughter and son-in-law, but it wasn’t fair to expect this of Kaytlyn. Too much had already been asked of her. She was carrying Peter and Jessica’s baby? Possibly her own baby? His emotions were all over the place. If he saw Peter he might tear the man apart with his bare hands.

“How could you?” Cameron blurted as he rounded on the man he respected as much as he did his own father, his military brothers, and Sutton Smith. “How could you ask it of her?”

Jacob splayed his hands; his dark eyes were somber. “I’ve been praying and stewing about this most of the night, son. I was so low. I mean, I’ve seen how crafty, explosive, and selfish Jessica could be, worried about it throughout the years—especially when she married Peter, who’s obviously a politician and would lie to his own mother. But to hear it from her own lips, that she would destroy everything, destroy Kaytlyn, that she hated Kaytlyn. Kaytlyn who’s done so much for her, was willing to carry her child.” He shook his head. “I still can’t believe all the things she said. She was obviously out of control, but it was almost as if she really wanted me to hear them, had wanted to say them to me and Kaytlyn for years.

“It’s been awful to have to admit to myself …” His voice dropped. “That I’ve failed and my daughter is a monster. It wasn’t enough to just change the will. I can’t risk any of it falling into Peter’s hands. I’m not trying to excuse my daughter but he’s changed her, and not for the better. Kaytlyn has to be married to me, and I have to claim her baby is mine to protect the child from Peter. But I’m doing all of this for her and for the people she helps, protects, and lifts. Do you think I came by this plan easily?”

Cameron pressed his lips together, and his jaw hurt from clenching it. “No. I know how deliberate and conscientious you are, but Kaytlyn …” Cameron had thought he’d never love again when he’d lost his college girlfriend in a car rollover ten years ago. Maybe he shouldn’t even think the word love with Kaytlyn—more respect, desire, friendship—yet he could let his mind go to love, and it did. He held himself in check around her only because of years of military training.

“I believe Jessica was telling the truth about the baby,” Jacob said, interrupting his thoughts. “That it’s really Kaytlyn’s.” He shook his head. “I wanted to advise Kaytlyn against being their surrogate but how could I do that to my own daughter? Peter is such a snake and I’ve seen the way he leers at Kaytlyn. It made me mad for Jessica’s sake. Especially now I know the man has cheated on Jessica multiple times. I think the man got his sick wish of having Kaytlyn be the mother of his child.”

“I’ll kill him,” Cameron seethed, and he meant it.

“You might get the chance.” Jacob studied him. “This is going to be a rough path, fighting Peter and Jessica. Kaytlyn’s going to need you, but she’s strong … unbelievably strong.”

Cameron knew how strong she was, but he hoped that she might truly need him. He’d be there for her, any way he could.

“I know,” Jacob commiserated. “I hate what she’s going through with Jessica’s betrayal and Peter’s manipulation. She’s a special angel, isn’t she?”

Cameron nodded shortly. That was one way of phrasing it. She was perfect to him, and Peter had taken advantage of her kindness. Somehow Cameron would make the man pay.

“You do realize Protect the Young is Kaytlyn’s brainchild and she’s done most of the work?”

Another nod. Cameron knew how smart and charitably minded she was, having observed her and Jacob far too closely the past two years as they worked, dreamed, and implemented together. He knew their relationship was platonic, but he’d been jealous of that closeness. If he was honest, the main thing bugging him right now was that he wanted Kaytlyn for himself.

“And you realize Peter could destroy all of that? Pull the funding from the children and mothers who need it so badly?”

Cameron pushed out a heavy breath and sank into the chair next to Jacob’s bed. “But marrying Kaytlyn and you pretending the baby is yours? You believe this idea is bulletproof? That Peter and Jessica can’t come after her?” Kaytlyn would have a huge target on her back, and not just for being a gorgeous billionaire. Cameron wouldn’t put it past Jessica and Peter to try to take her out. They’d struck him as two-faced almost every time he’d been around them. He felt bad that Jacob had to face the truth, but at the same time, it was good it had been uncovered.

“Legally, I think we’ll be covered, but it hit me early this morning. I’m afraid Peter, and Jessica, can stoop pretty low. I don’t want anyone to hurt Kaytlyn.” He winced as he said it, and Cameron understood how sickening it was to think of Kaytlyn being hurt. He also had a brief insight into the betrayal Jacob was going through, with his child going against everything he believed in and had worked so hard for. “That’s why I’ve hired you to never leave Kaytlyn’s side.”

Cameron passed a hand over his face. “You do realize how hard it will be for me to be close to her but … not?”

Jacob stared deeply into his eyes. “I’ve noticed. Of course I have. You know how deep her beauty is, how impressive she is. You want her to be yours more than you’ve ever wanted anything in this world.”

Cameron’s eyes widened. He thought he’d behaved above reproach regarding Kaytlyn. “How did you get all of that from a few wayward glances?”

Jacob smirked. “I’m dying, but I’m not dead yet.”

“We set up a date for tonight, before …”

“I’m sorry, son. I’ve messed up your plans. You’re going to have to put them on hold.” Jacob cleared his throat, shifted on the bed, and said, “Do you trust me?”

Cameron’s back straightened. “Yes, sir.”

“How much?”

“As much as any person I know.” There was no deception or guile with Jacob. He was the best person Cameron had ever been around, besides Kaytlyn. That was partly why this idea was so shocking and hard to wrap his mind around. The Jacob he knew and respected would never ask for anything selfish or unethical. Not that this marriage was unethical, but if they didn’t consummate it, thank heavens, was it really a marriage?

“Please trust that this is for Kaytlyn. To protect her baby and her foundation. Also to try to keep Peter out of office. This scheme isn’t an old man wanting to parade around a hot young wife, or me fulfilling some fantasies by being married to the most amazing woman I know.”

Cameron met his gaze evenly. Jacob was taking Kaytlyn’s baby as his own. It was a noble move, one Cameron honestly wished he could do, but he knew his role. He was the soldier. “I believe you.”

Jacob sighed. “And if you trust me, I need you to promise me something.”

Cameron had already promised to protect Kaytlyn night and day. If only that meant he could truly be with her … but with her married to Jacob, he’d have to bury his desire for her deep. Even if it was only a marriage in name, it was still a marriage. “Anything, sir.” No matter how upset he was with what was happening and had happened to Kaytlyn, he would be loyal to her and Jacob.

“Keep yourself in control, son. Don’t act on the desire and love you have for Kaytlyn.”

“Of course I will stay in control.” He was offended at the suggestion. “You’ll be married to her, sir.”

Jacob looked at him with a wizened glance. “We both know I’m not long for this world. When I pass, you’ll still need to stay strong.”

Cameron froze. He blinked a couple of times and said, “I’m not going to be waiting around for you to die so I can pursue her, sir.”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did. But she’s going to need some time and lots of patience. Jessica’s betrayal has already changed her. The baby will change her as well, especially if it’s truly hers. I hired you to be with her night and day for more than just physical protection. I feel you’re the man that can be there for her, but you have to take it slow. Let it be on her terms. Put her needs before your own.”

Cameron understood what Jacob was saying. If he cared for Kaytlyn, he’d need to be in this for the long haul. He nodded decisively and extended his hand.

Jacob shook it—not with the strength he’d used two years ago when Cameron was first hired on to protect the man, but there was still firmness in the grip. “You’re a great man, Cameron Bodily. I’m trusting you with so much. Thank you for being worthy of that trust.”

Cameron’s throat tightened. He wanted to be the man Jacob thought he was, the man his mother and father had always inspired him to be. “Thank you, sir.”

Tiredly, Jacob released his hand and waved toward the door. “Go, keep Kayt safe.”

Once Cameron had closed the door behind him, he leaned against it and closed his eyes in a brief prayer. Help me be strong, Lord. In so many ways. He’d always been strong physically, but emotionally he’d broken when Lori had died. He didn’t want to go back there, ever. Yet he felt like Kaytlyn meant more to him already than anyone ever had, and the angelic woman was dealing with so much.

“Cameron?” Kaytlyn’s soft voice and her smooth fingers on his arm jerked him away from the door and out of any thoughts of prayer.

He stared down at her. Jacob was right: she did have the face of an angel. She was perfectly beautiful with fine-boned features, smooth skin, beguiling blue eyes, and the most perfect rosebud lips. There was such sweetness and kindness in her countenance. How had Peter and Jessica taken advantage of her like this? His promise to Jacob swirled around them. Cameron would protect her, even if that meant protecting her from himself.

“Are you okay?” she asked sweetly.

“Am I okay?” Cameron pushed out a groan. “I’m not the one anyone is concerned about at the moment.”

She smiled. “I’m concerned. You’ve given up the foreseeable future … to protect me.”

“It’s worth it,” he said swiftly and maybe too forcefully.

Her entire countenance was so full of trust and love, he found his hand lifting toward her face. He wanted to just touch the smooth cheek, have her lean into his palm. Those beautiful eyes filled with trust and love for him. Was he seeing this right? She’d been through something horrible and was now agreeing to take on the responsibility of Jacob’s businesses, in addition to her future child, and do it all while fighting Jessica and Peter. This woman was incredible, and she seemed to care for him as much as he did for her.

His hand cupped her cheek, and she softly leaned into him. His voice felt gravelly as he forced out the words. “I’m sorry about all of this.” He tilted his head toward her abdomen. “Peter and Jessica tricking you.”

Kaytlyn straightened away from his hand. He didn’t blame her, but oh, how he wished he could comfort her and take her pain away. She put her hands protectively over her abdomen. “I’m going to protect my baby.”

Cameron’s admiration for her shot through the roof. “And I’m going to protect you.”

Kaytlyn bit at her lip but gave him a grateful nod.

“I will never let anyone hurt you or your baby.”

She studied him for a few beats and then nodded. “I believe you.”

Cameron had sworn to protect her for as long as she needed. He’d never felt any pledge more deeply.

“I guess this means no date tonight,” she said softly.

“I guess you’re right.” He wondered if a time would come when he could date her. Not now, not with all she was dealing with.

“This is going to be hard for you,” she guessed.

“You have no idea.” Cameron shook his head, disgusted with himself. That was nothing he should be admitting to. She was all that mattered, not his desire to be there for her in every way or how much he cared for her. His focus was on helping and protecting her. His spine straightened, and he knew this job would take as much strength as any job he’d had in the military. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “All that matters is protecting you.”

She stared at him as if trying to see past his military veneer into his heart. Maybe someday he could allow that. Not today. Not in the foreseeable future. He’d give up anything to be close to her, to protect her, but he would honor her marriage to Jacob and he would honor the instruction Jacob had given. Even after their friend and boss passed, Cameron would be strong until the time was right. He sure hoped Jacob would come back as an angel and inform him when that time was, because as much as Cameron wanted to be close to Kaytlyn, he feared Jacob wouldn’t even be cold in the ground before he made a play for her heart. That was horrible to even think, so he forced it away.

Kaytlyn finally stepped back, and a professional shutter went over her blue gaze. She was sweetness personified, but she could be tough when she needed to be. “I’ll be in my office.”

She spun on her heel and walked away. Cameron followed.

They got down the grand staircase and went across the foyer toward the large office off the entryway. The windows stretched from floor to third-story ceiling, and they were framed with wood timbers in the foyer. Though the four-story mansion was sprawling and massive, it had a warm, cozy feel with all the wood and a distinctive Sun Valley flair.

Kaytlyn whirled on him, placing a hand on her hip and tossing her long blond hair. “Does guarding me night and day mean you’re my shadow now?”

Cameron let a small smile escape. “Yes, ma’am, it does.” Dang, this was going to be tough. She was just too cute and appealing.

“Well, you’re going to be very bored as I sit in my office hour after hour.”

“I’ve dealt with boredom before.” He’d been in the military. She had no clue how often he’d had to sit and watch and wait in situations much more uncomfortable than this one.

“Fine.” She sashayed into the office.

Cameron watched her go, then scrubbed at his eyes with his fists. If he was supposed to watch Kaytlyn night and day and then not act on the desire inside of him, maybe his boss could’ve poked his eyes out first to make it easier on him.

Chapter Five

The next two weeks went by in a blur for Kaytlyn. She worked long hours getting everything in place with their businesses and especially her foundation, as she wanted focus on her future baby and spend time with her husband before he passed. Just as Jacob had said, they were married that night with his friend Larry as the clergy—he was a leader in his local church—and Cameron as the witness. Cameron’s jaw had been so tight, it looked like it was carved from granite. Kaytlyn tried to avoid looking at him throughout the short ceremony, but she could feel his eyes burning her from behind.

In some ways, nothing had changed, yet everything felt new. Cameron was less than ten feet away everywhere she went, and her baby was growing within her. Her baby. She wanted to dance, laugh, and cry all at the same time when she thought about it.

She had gone to the doctor, done a test to determine if the baby was truly hers, and heard the baby’s heartbeat. Miraculous. She should hate Peter and Jessica for tricking her, but she felt like she’d been given a gift, no matter who the father was. She could honestly say she was more excited about her baby than anything she’d ever anticipated, and she often found herself touching her abdomen or imagining what the baby would look like. Hopefully nothing like Peter.

She wasn’t quite as excited about her current circumstances. Cameron’s constant presence was driving her crazy. They used to have a comfortable relationship, some teasing and flirtations, and a lot of significant glances. Now he’d become a statue, shadowing her but rarely speaking to her or showing any emotion at all. She missed the old Cameron, but she didn’t know what she expected. She was married, pregnant, and would soon be the recipient of billions of dollars in businesses and properties. Of course things would change between them.

The first six weeks of her pregnancy hadn’t been physically taxing, though emotionally she was overwrought. She worked long hours at their home office, conducting numerous video chats with their managers. Her and Jacob trusted their managers and had great people in place, but she wanted to make sure everything was ready so she could take time off when she had the baby. Jacob grew frailer every day as she visited him morning and evening, but he constantly expressed how grateful he was for her, even though they were both still sick about Jessica’s duplicity. They still were able to hash out business ideas and problems, and though he was already months past the doctor’s prediction of his mortality, she didn’t feel like he would leave her any time soon.

The middle of July grew warmer and even more beautiful in their little valley. She’d cut back on lifting weights, and she missed the times when she and Cameron used to run into each other in the mansion’s nicely furnished basement weight room. Cameron must be waking early to fit his own workouts in, because he shadowed her whenever she was awake. He’d moved his things into the suite next to hers and she swore he had a beeper on her, though she couldn’t find it.

Often in the afternoon or evenings, she’d go on hikes up the mountain trails, and of course Cameron would come. She loved being out in nature and Cameron’s presence offered stability, safety, and an excitement she couldn’t dismiss. Sometimes on their walks, Cameron would relax enough to talk with her; they’d share childhood stories, or he’d give her some insight into military life, or she’d tell him about a touching email she’d received from their charitable work or some new idea she had to help a group or person.

She didn’t feel like she was in any danger. Jessica had called Jacob a few times, acting as if she hadn’t had her breakdown fit, but she hadn’t so much as texted Kaytlyn. It shouldn’t still hurt but Kaytlyn had once believed they were close friends. When Jessica found out about the change in the will, the marriage, and that Kaytlyn was going to fight for her baby, she would go nuts.

Kaytlyn woke up toward the end of July with her stomach churning. She couldn’t swallow down the nastiness in her mouth, and she was afraid to move. The doctor had warned her that morning sickness might be coming soon, and she’d felt a little bit of queasiness in the past few days, but she hadn’t realized it could hit so strongly. She groaned, rolled onto her side, and tried not to move further, afraid she’d vomit.

Her phone started ringing, and she ignored it. Even the slight movement of answering it might be too much. She drifted back off to sleep but awoke to a tap on the door. She stared blearily at it, hoping the person would go away and leave her to her misery.

“Kaytlyn?” Cameron called through the door.

She knew she should respond, but if she did, she might lose whatever was in her stomach.

“Kayt?” His voice grew more concerned, and she couldn’t help but notice that he’d used her nickname. He’d never done that before. He turned the doorknob and swung the door open. His eyes landed on her curled in the bed, and then they widened. “I’m sorry. Do you want me to leave, or do you need help?”

She swallowed hard and shook her head slightly; the tiny movement made her stomach pitch. She didn’t want him to see her like this, but she couldn’t remember the last time she had felt this miserable. How long was morning sickness supposed to last, and who was going to deal with all the work she had laid out for today if she didn’t get her rear out of bed?

He approached the bed slowly, apprehensively. Kaytlyn wanted to reassure him that she would be okay, but she was afraid to open her mouth for fear of vomiting all over him. The little one growing within her had felt like a thrilling, mystical, far-off dream; now it was the source of a nauseating nightmare.

Cameron stopped a couple feet shy of the bed. “Jacob’s really concerned about you. He said he’s called and you’re not answering, and you’ve never slept in this late before. Is it the baby?”

“Morning sickness,” she managed to get out. “Baby’s fine.” She remembered the doctor saying that morning sickness was a good sign that the pregnancy was going well. Right now, she couldn’t say she agreed.

Cameron eased closer and squatted down next to the bed so he was eye level with her, and much too close for the awful state she was in. Even in her misery, Kaytlyn was humiliated that he was seeing her like this, but it was nothing compared to the fear of spewing chunks all over him. She imagined she looked and even smelled disgusting.

“But you’re not fine,” he said softly. “What can I do for you?”

She loved seeing him so concerned for her, but she couldn’t dwell on all the things she loved about him. Nervous sweat beaded on her brow as she swallowed down the nasty taste in her mouth again.

Forcing a smile she didn’t feel, she managed to say, “I don’t know.” She spent so much time working and researching the best spot for a new women’s shelter or orphanage, how to get supplies to an area after a disaster, and teaching teenage girls and young moms how to improve their skills and become more marketable for a job, yet she hadn’t stopped and researched what she might need on hand if she got morning sicknesses. If the doctor had given suggestions for feeling better at her last appointment, she couldn’t remember them.

“I’ll go talk to Cathy and research it,” Cameron said decisively. “You’ll be okay for a few minutes?”

“Yep,” she mumbled.

He smiled and reached out a hand, as if he would smooth the hair away from her face or something. Kaytlyn literally ached to feel his touch, and she felt herself arching toward him.

Cameron froze, and his concern for her turned to a look of almost horror. His hand dropped away, and he straightened and marched from the room.

Kaytlyn watched him go. He was so strong, attractive, and perfect, and she wished their situation could be different. She usually kept herself busy enough to shove the feelings for him to the back burner. Lying here miserable and wanting to concentrate on anything but the unsettled feeling in her stomach, she couldn’t stop the memories of him smiling at her, saying something funny, and doing something thoughtful for her or Jacob.

Jacob. As she thought about her friend, her worries about Cameron fell into perspective. She’d done this to herself, married Jacob of her own free will to protect her child, his businesses, and their foundation. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a real marriage; she was committed to it now for reasons so much bigger than her selfish desires. She could not allow her mind to wander toward Cameron.

She hadn’t moved when Cameron appeared at the door, with a food tray in his hand and a triumphant smile on his face. Unfortunately, the latter made him even more handsome. “Did you know Cathy is a mother of nine and grandmother of twenty-five?” he asked.

Kaytlyn tried to nod.

“Of course you did. You’re more thoughtful than the rest of us.”

Kaytlyn appreciated the compliment, but she didn’t dare voice her gratitude.

Cameron set the tray on the bedside table. “So we need to get some crackers or a few bites of toast in you and this ginger tea. Can you sit up?”

She really didn’t think so, and even the smell of toast turned her stomach. Please don’t vomit. “Maybe.”

He came close enough for Kaytlyn to catch a whiff of his clean, crisp scent. Why didn’t it turn her stomach like the toast did? His brow furrowed as if he wasn’t sure how to help her. He reached out, then drew back, then reached out again. Kaytlyn would’ve found it comical if she weren’t so miserable.

Finally, with his face settling into determination, he slid one hand underneath her while putting his other hand on her bare arm. He gently lifted her up and then settled her against the headboard. His hands on her skin felt so good that she was almost able to put her revolting stomach out of mind, but the slight movement to sitting wasn’t good for her nausea. She took slow breaths, praying she wouldn’t lose it as Cameron carefully lifted her forward to position pillows behind her back.

Straightening, he watched her for a few seconds, then asked, “Better?”

Kaytlyn was surprised to find that sitting up was a little better now. She relaxed into the pillows and nodded. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.”

The way he said those words sent awareness coursing through her, especially when his cheeks darkened and he looked away quickly. He’d acted so stoic around her since she’d married Jacob. Not that she blamed him, but sometimes she wondered if the pull between them was one-sided now. If he was so strong that he could simply shut off his feelings, maybe he wouldn’t want to date her when she was able to. That day seemed too far in the future. She had a legacy to protect and a baby to raise.

“Toast?” he asked brightly, lifting a piece off the tray.

Kaytlyn nodded and reached out for the toast, but he brought it right to her lips. She nibbled at it, chewed, and swallowed. When that didn’t make her vomit, she tried a little more. Cameron watched her steadily as he held the toast for her. When she’d eaten several bites and her stomach felt a little more settled, she murmured, “Thank you.”

He set the toast down and brought the teacup to her lips. She sipped some of the fragrant ginger tea. She couldn’t force her eyes away from his handsome face, as it was so sweet that this tough, larger-than-life man was feeding her. She’d been on her own for over ten years and couldn’t remember the last time someone took care of her. She and Jacob were great partners and friends, but even though he’d treated her almost like a daughter he’d never ministered to her like this.

She waved the tea off; her stomach felt remarkably better.

“Better?” he asked, setting it down on the tray.

“Yes. Thank you so much.”

“It’s what I’m here for.”

She smiled. “I thought you were the tough military man who was here to knock heads through the wall if they got out of line.”

He chuckled. “That’s my favorite role, but feeding toast to beautiful ladies is right up there too.” His face blanched as he realized that he’d complimented her. He’d been so careful since she’d married Jacob and she admired him for it, but she didn’t care if he slipped up.

“I can’t possibly look beautiful right now,” she said.

His eyes swept over her and he said quietly. “You always look beautiful.” He backed away. “I’ll just … go tell Jacob you’re all right. I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

“Thanks.” Kaytlyn watched him go. He gave her one more smile as he softly shut the door.

It wasn’t easy being married to a dying man twice her age to prevent his fortune from falling into his sadistic son-in-law’s hands. Yet Kaytlyn couldn’t imagine anything as miserable as how much she ached to be near Cameron Bodily and how she couldn’t let herself dream of him.

Cameron hurried from Kaytlyn’s suite. Being so close to her was torture. Even when she was sick and disheveled, she was so appealing that it about killed him to look at her and not declare his undying devotion. When he’d touched her smooth skin to reposition her in the bed and her silky hair had brushed his arm while her sweet vanilla scent had washed over him, he’d about lost it and pulled her close.

She is married, she is married, he repeated over and over in his head. Usually it cooled his ardor, but usually he didn’t let himself get close enough to touch or smell her. Even though he was her protection and went everywhere with her, he was able to stay back and keep his emotions in check. Feeding her like that was too much.

He hurried through the wide halls and rapped on Jacob’s door, heard a muffled “Come in,” and swung it wide. He strode to his friend and boss’s bedside. He and Jacob had grown even closer lately.

“How is she?” Jacob asked.

Cameron shook his head. “She’s really sick.”

Jacob cursed softly.

“My thoughts exactly,” Cameron muttered.

Jacob stared up at him. His cheeks were gaunt, and his eyes were sunken. “I’m holding on as long as I can …” He drew a few steadying breaths, then continued, “But I’m afraid you’re going to be on your own soon.”

Cameron sank into the chair next to the bed. He couldn’t stand the thought of Jacob dying. He had a question he had to ask, though. “You still feel we need to wait to inform Jessica and Peter about the transfer of your business and assets, the new will, your marriage, and Kaytlyn’s claim on the baby?”

Jacob nodded.

“But what if …” Cameron hated to say it.

“I don’t want to give them any extra time to assemble their case.”

“I just hate to have her face them alone.” He studied his hands as he twisted them.

Jacob placed a hand over his. “She won’t be alone. She has you.”

Cameron stared steadily into Jacob’s blue eyes; they were still clear, despite the pain on his face. It broke Cameron’s heart that Jacob and Kaytlyn, once such powerful friends and business partners, were now married yet living on opposite sides of the mansion, sick and miserable, with him as the liaison. His role here was tough and sometimes weird.

“Are you still my man, Cameron?”

“Always, sir.” Those words might sound cheesy, but Cameron felt them deeply and he knew the older man did as well.

“Thank you. Go watch over Kayt, please. Tell her I’m praying she’ll feel better soon.”

“Okay.” Cameron stood and strode from the room. Watch over Kayt. The job should’ve been easy, as there was no immediate danger, but it was the hardest job he’d ever had in his life. He had to fight to stay detached from the incredible woman he was assigned to. He’d take fighting terrorists in Kuwait over being so close to his dream woman and yet so far away.

Chapter Six

Six more weeks passed in a horrid blur. Kaytlyn spent more time leaning over the toilet than she did with her computer or on her phone. The only constant and bright light throughout the wretched time was Cameron. He and the head housekeeper, Cathy, spoiled her and watched over her. At first, Kaytlyn was humiliated to have Cameron see her sick, but he never treated her with anything but kindness and almost reverence. He was still very careful to touch her as little as possible, and he tried not to say anything that would lead her to think about him intimately, but he was her rock: feeding her, bringing her anything she needed, even helping her tap out emails and conduct video chats on her computer by her bedside. She soon learned he was as capable with business as he was with security.

It was late August, and Kaytlyn was having one of the worst days she could remember. Peering out the view of her picture windows, she hated that she’d lost most of this gorgeous summer to lying in her bed. Immediately, she felt guilty for the selfish thought. Jacob had been withering away for almost a year and never complained. Cameron was healthy and could’ve been hiking, biking, or swimming—he’d even shared that he loved water skiing on the nearby Redfish Lake—yet he chose to spend his time in her suite, missing out on the warmth and sunshine.

She needed to get up, shower, and do something with this day, but despite the usual crackers, toast, and ginger tea that Cameron brought her every morning, her stomach wasn’t settling today. She was almost twelve weeks along and the morning sickness was supposed to stop. Not for her, apparently.

A soft rap on the door announced that Cameron was back from checking on Jacob.

“Come in,” she forced out.

He strode into the room, looking as strong and handsome as ever in a soft grey T-shirt and black pants. His face softened as he looked at her. She admired him for not making advances on her since she’d been married, but she loved that she could still see deep in his eyes how much he cared. It was more of an emotional attachment now, born of her gratitude for his patient nursing, but she could admit to herself that she was desperately in love with him.

His blue eyes were even more concerned than normal. “Kayt,” he said softly. “I’ve got to get you to Jacob’s room.”

Something in his voice terrified her. She sat up too quickly and almost lost her toast. Cameron rushed toward her bed, but he stopped before reaching out to her. She swallowed several times, then croaked, “What’s wrong?”

“He’s so frail today, and he and I both are afraid he doesn’t have too much longer.”

No! Was Jacob going to leave her today? He’d outlived every doctor’s prophecy, but she wasn’t ready to be pregnant and alone, managing more businesses than any person she’d met—not to mention her foundation—and dealing with the wrath she knew would come from Peter and Jessica. Cameron stood by the side of her bed, and she glanced up and met his gaze. At least she had him.

“Do you want to … take a shower, and then we’ll go?”

“Do I smell that bad?” she tossed back at him.

He smiled, much to her relief. “No. I just thought you might feel better.”

She would. Throwing back the covers, she forced her legs underneath her. Her stomach was tumbling, but she tried with everything in her to ignore it. Cameron was right there. He didn’t touch her, but she could smell his clean scent and she could never forget how amazing and thoughtful he was. Who would’ve guessed the tough military man could care for a sickly pregnant woman with such tenderness and patience?

They made it to the bathroom, and he thoughtfully started the shower. She leaned against the glass shower door, the cool glass soothing to her cheek.

“I’ll just … wait outside,” he muttered.

“Good plan.”

Cameron’s eyebrows jumped and he quickly strode from the room, shutting the door behind him.

Kaytlyn laughed at how uncomfortable he’d been. The only other choice was to cry at what a hot mess she was: in love with her protector while pregnant and in a fake marriage with her boss and friend. Could life get any worse?

She peeled off her clothes and studied her reflection in the mirror. She wished she had at least a baby bump, but she supposed she’d lost too much weight not being able to hold down food. She used to have a nice shape, she thought, but the woman staring back at her looked scrawny and malnourished. Great. She was not only sickly and disgusting; now she looked like a skeleton.

She stepped into the shower, laughing at her messed-up life, and promptly threw up all over the shower. Yes, life could definitely not get any worse.

Cameron paced outside Kaytlyn’s suite, sweat popping up on his brow at the thought of her in the shower. Don’t go there. Please don’t go there. Any romantic thoughts of her made his job of staying detached a hundred times harder, as if just being around the sweet, tough, and brilliant Kaytlyn wasn’t hard enough. He was amazed that she could patiently deal with an unplanned pregnancy, the sickness, the workload, and the worries over Jacob.

He clenched his fists and thought about Jacob wasting away in that bed. That helped him redirect. He had an awful feeling that Jacob was just holding on until he said goodbye to Kaytlyn. He’d never seen someone look so close to death as Jacob had looked this morning. He’d seen plenty of people he cared about already dead: Lori, several buddies in the Army, and his grandparents. He believed in a merciful Father, but the sight of someone hurting to get to the other side was disturbing and heartbreaking.

Finally, the shower shut off, but he kept up his pacing. He woke at five a.m. every day to push himself for an hour in the gym, then let himself escape the house. With his trusted security personnel notified that he was gone, he would go on an hour-long run outside, up in the mountains or down through the scenic town. The physical outlet and escape from the beautiful prison helped, but he needed more intense activity if he was going to allow himself to stay so close to Kaytlyn.

The bedroom door opened, and Kaytlyn stood there. Even with her face pale and the weight she’d lost, she was still breathtakingly beautiful. She wore a simple white sundress that showed off the creamy skin of her neck and shoulders far too much. What he wouldn’t give to simply touch that skin, maybe press his lips to it. Oh man. He’d try to lie to himself and say today was worse than usual, but every day of the past two months had been just as excruciating.

“Hey,” she whispered, smiling up at him.

“Hey.” His voice was too deep and husky. She had to know how she affected him. Anyone could read through the lines and see his stupid, desperate, secret love. He swallowed hard and said, “Can you walk?” Most of him prayed she would say yes, but there was a small, rebellious part of him that screamed for her to say, No, carry me, Cameron. Sheesh, he was a pathetic, weak mess.

She nodded bravely. “It’ll be good for me.”

He loved how strong and brave she was. He’d never seen someone as sick as she and Jacob were. At least Kaytlyn’s sickness had an end in sight. He frowned. Jacob’s sickness would end too, but not in a way any of them wanted to see. Yet Cameron didn’t want to watch Jacob hurt any longer. He also really needed something to change with him and Kaytlyn, or he might have to break his vow to Jacob to protect her and beg Sutton to send someone to replace him. No. He couldn’t stand the thought of even one of his trusted friends close to this delicate yet tough woman. This was his job, and he wasn’t giving it up for anyone or anything.

They walked slowly down the hallway. He didn’t touch her or even look at her, but he was hyperaware of her every movement. Her delicate features were etched into his mind.

“Today seems like a bad one,” he said into the silence.

“For me or Jacob?”

“Both.” He let himself look at her. Her blond hair was a deep honey as it was still wet, trailing down her back. Even weak and sickly, she glided along and glowed. “You okay?”

“I just wish it was over.”

His brow furrowed. “Over?” She couldn’t mean …

“The morning sickness.”

“Oh.” He cleared his throat and said, “I thought twelve weeks …”

“Me too, and that was yesterday.” She tenderly placed her hand over her abdomen. “The doctor said sometimes fourteen. At least I never had to be hospitalized or get an IV.”

“That is good.” Cameron felt like patting himself on the back. He was doing well so far: normal conversation, not too many longing looks, and absolutely no physical contact. He might make it through one more day in this limbo of being near Kaytlyn, but not near enough.

They reached Jacob’s door. Cameron reached for the knob but paused. “Ready?”

Kaytlyn focused on him. The power in those blue eyes was incredible. “How bad is he?”

Cameron winced. She hadn’t been here for a few days. “Pretty bad.”


He sucked in a breath. The way she said his name like that, a nickname, was almost a caress. “Yes?” he managed.

“Thank you for being here.”

He nodded, unable to speak with her looking at him like he was her hero or something.

“No matter what … you’ll be here?”

This he could promise. “No matter what, Kayt.” He let himself have the privilege of using her nickname in return. He’d only slipped once before, that first day she was sick when she hadn’t answered her phone or her door and he’d been so concerned. Since then, he only thought of her as his Kayt in his mind. Yet she’d pulled the nickname card a few seconds ago, and he figured turnabout was fair play.

She squared her shoulders and said, “Okay, I’m ready.”

Cameron badly wanted to do something simple like rest his hand on the small of her back to direct her in, sweep her off her feet so she didn’t have to walk, or kiss her until she knew exactly how committed he was to protecting her. He shook his head to clear it again, swung the door open, and waited for her to walk into the suite.

Usually, Jacob had all the windows uncovered, and throughout his and Kaytlyn’s sicknesses, the housekeepers had done an incredible job of keeping their rooms spotless. For the past few days, the suite had been as dark as a tomb; Jacob had finally admitted the light was giving him an unbearable headache. It was still clean, but there was a smell that Cameron had learned to loathe in the military—the smell of death. Jacob’s death wasn’t coming from an external force; he was wasting away from the inside out. Cameron hated it.

His eyes were closed, and he didn’t acknowledge them as they came in. Cameron left the hallway door open so the light would filter in. Jacob’s breathing was labored; he wasn’t resting peacefully. Kaytlyn sank into the chair at his bedside. Cameron stood next to her.

They waited in the unbearable silence for maybe half a minute. Jacob struggled with each breath and his eyes were shut tight, as if he was squeezing them shut to keep out something.

“He doesn’t look like himself,” Kaytlyn finally murmured.

“No,” Cameron agreed.

Jacob’s skin now hung on his bones. His eyebrows had dipped over his eyes until the sockets were barely visible. The veins in his arms and hands popped through translucent skin. Cameron hurt just watching this extraordinary man waste away.

Kaytlyn’s eyes were bright and bluer than ever. She brushed her fingers across Jacob’s brow.

His eyes opened. He stared at the ceiling for a second, then painstakingly turned his head to the side and focused on Kaytlyn. “Ah, Kayt,” he ground out slowly.

“Jacob.” She gave him a brave smile.

“You look … sick,” he said.

Kaytlyn laughed, brushing at the tears spilling over onto her cheeks. “You don’t look any better, my friend.”

Jacob gave what might’ve been a chuckle, but it must’ve hurt as he released her hand and clasped his own to his chest.

“Jacob?” Kaytlyn’s voice pitched with concern.

“It’s time,” he said firmly.

“Are you sure?” Kaytlyn sounded terrified, more uncertain than Cameron had ever seen her.

Jacob smiled as his eyes traced over her face. “I couldn’t be more proud of you. You’re going to do great things …” His eyes moved to Cameron’s face. “Together.”

Kaytlyn’s gaze also darted up to Cameron.

“Protect her,” Jacob said.

Cameron nodded, as serious as when he’d been baptized a Christian or taken the oath of enlistment. “With my life.”

“Thank you.” He focused back on Kaytlyn. “Protect our legacy, and our baby.”

Cameron loved how his friend had taken Kaytlyn’s baby as his own. He despised the truth of the baby’s paternity and worried if he saw Peter he’d strangle him, but it didn’t matter to Jacob. Kaytlyn’s child was Jacob’s heir on paper and in his heart.

Tears splashed down her cheeks, and she had a rough time getting the words out. “I will.”

“I love you, sweet Kayt.”

“I love you too,” she managed to say.

Jacob gave her one more smile, and then he closed his eyes. The room stilled, and the only sound was Kaytlyn’s soft cry as Jacob took his last breath. Cameron knew he was gone, yet he’d left a legacy of a life lived for everyone else. Moisture ran down his own cheeks, and he quickly brushed it away.

Kaytlyn didn’t scream or sob as he’d thought she might. She laid her cheek against the side of Jacob’s head, closed her eyes tightly, and let the tears run unchecked down her cheeks.

Cameron stood there helplessly with his hands clasped behind his back. He couldn’t protect her from this. The clock was the only sound in the room besides their breathing.

Second after second ticked by, and Kaytlyn didn’t move. Finally, she raised her head, gave Jacob a soft kiss on the cheek, and used the bed to stand. Her legs gave out. Cameron caught her around the waist and for once didn’t fight his instinct to pull her close. He swept her off her feet and against his chest. She weighed next to nothing, yet he’d never had anything so substantial and important in his arms.

Kaytlyn’s eyes were red-rimmed. She stared at him for half a beat and said, “Have you got me?”

Cameron nodded. “Always.”

Kaytlyn gave him a watery smile and laid her head against his chest. “Thank you.” She didn’t say anything more. Cameron let his eyes trail over the lifeless body of his friend and boss. He swallowed at the emotion creeping up. Jacob was gone. Kaytlyn needed him.

Turning, he strode from the room with her clinging to his neck. He had imagined he’d feel a guilty sort of relief when Jacob passed, but it was the exact opposite. He felt sorrow at losing his friend, a loss that would make the world a worse place, as Jacob was a benevolent rock for so many people. Cameron also felt an impending sense of doom; he feared the next chapter in Kaytlyn’s fight would be harder than the last.

He cuddled her even closer, savoring the feel of her in his arms and recommitting to not let her out of his sight. No one was going to hurt her or the baby.

Chapter Seven

The next three days in the mansion were busy and somber. The entire staff was subdued, and Kaytlyn often saw tears in their eyes. Everyone had loved and almost revered Jacob. She knew exactly how they felt. Miraculously, her nausea eased. While it wasn’t gone, she was able to get up the day after Jacob’s passing, eat her toast and drink her ginger tea, shower, and make it to her office with Cameron anxiously trailing behind her as if she would collapse.

The thought of Cameron had her smiling to herself as she worked out funeral plans, sent announcements to media correspondents, and dealt with emails and texts of friends and associates sending their condolences. While no one but her, Cameron, Larry, and the doctor knew of their marriage or the baby, everyone knew how close she and Jacob had been. She cried off and on throughout the days leading up to the funeral, but she made it through them.

Cameron had stationed himself just outside her office or bedroom door, only leaving her when she slept. He was there for her, but he was still detached. He’d held her close and carried her to her room after Jacob’s passing, but he hadn’t touched her since or said much to her besides constantly asking how she was doing. He was a lot more than just a set of strong arms to hold her up. She knew he would be there for her, in sickness or in health, no matter what. Her respect and trust for him just kept growing.

The morning of the funeral was a gorgeous, bright blue August day. Kaytlyn dressed in a silky, short-sleeved knee-length black dress. There was a little more color in her cheeks today, and she didn’t feel quite as gaunt, as she’d been able to keep food down since Jacob passed. He must be watching over her from heaven. She’d always believed in God and an afterlife, but she’d never felt His existence quite so deeply as she did now.

Swinging open her bedroom door, she paused and admired the sight of Cameron standing there in a black suit. He was so handsome that he stole her breath away. His gaze traveled over her carefully. He didn’t smile, but his blue eyes warmed. “You look beautiful, Kayt,” he murmured.

“So do you,” she said, noticing he’d used her nickname again. She loved it on his lips. She’d love a lot more from his lips, but now was not the time to be indulging in selfish fantasies.

He did smile then. “Take it back.”

Kaytlyn grinned, loving that he could tease even for a second. “Pretty boy,” she shot at him.

“Gorgeous girl,” he shot back.

“Ooh, what an insult.” She laughed.

Cameron chuckled with her. They sobered at the same time, and Cameron stared at her. “It feels good to laugh,” he said.

“There hasn’t been much to laugh about for a while now. Is it going to get easier, Cam? Are we going to laugh and be happy again?”

“Yes. I’ll make sure your life gets easier and you can laugh and be happy.”

Kaytlyn felt his declaration deeply, but even as tough and amazing as Cameron was, she didn’t know that anyone could make her life easier and happier for the time being. She was a pregnant widow of a well-known billionaire philanthropist, and when her former best friend found out that Kaytlyn owned everything and the will had been changed—not to mention that Kaytlyn had married Jacob and the child Jessica thought would be hers was being claimed as Jacob’s heir—all of the devil’s minions would be loosed.

Cameron lifted his hand, and her eyes widened. So many times, he’d almost touched her but then stopped himself. Would he stop today? His hand seemed to be in slow motion as it covered the distance, and then he simply cradled her cheek in his palm.

Kaytlyn leaned into his touch, bringing her own hand up to wrap around his. “It feels good to be touched,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t pull away.

His eyes got serious. “Kayt. I promised Jacob … we have to take things slow.”

Kaytlyn didn’t know exactly what that meant or what he’d promised Jacob, but though she longed to be closer to Cameron, she was in no rush. There was too much to deal with right now, and it wasn’t like she had time for something so sweet as romance. But oh, how she craved it—no, she craved him.

Yet she knew how determined Cameron was, and she would need time to heal from Jacob’s loss. She didn’t know what else to say but, “All right.”

Cameron gave her a tight smile, removed his hand, and gestured down the hall. Kaytlyn squared her shoulders and walked in front of him.

The limousine took them to the graveside service. Cameron stayed close by her side, and although he didn’t touch her, his sheer strength and presence felt protective and comforting. He was her friend and support, exactly what she needed. She had a hard time focusing as people gave their speeches: the governor of Idaho; one of Jacob’s longtime friends, who was now a general in the Army; an associate who headed the anti-trafficking battle in South America; and finally Larry, who said a few words as Jacob’s close friend and church leader.

There was a huge crowd, and unfortunately, Jessica and Peter had been seated right next to Cameron and Kaytlyn. Kaytlyn ignored Jessica’s sneaky dagger looks and Peter’s fake classy act. It still hurt that someone she’d been close to could betray her like Jessica did but she could feel Jessica’s hatred for her. It oozed from the woman. Kaytlyn kept her shoulders and back straight, her head tilted up, and her hands carefully folded in her lap.

When the 21-gun salute was finished and Larry gave a benediction, the local National Guard folded up the flag covering the casket and marched as a unit up to Kaytlyn. The soldier leading the color guard formally handed over the flag. With tears clouding her vision, Kaytlyn pulled the flag tightly against her chest.

The quiet hush over the crowd was broken by a wail of outrage. “Why are you giving the flag to her? I am my father’s only living relative!” Jessica shrieked.

The entire crowd drew in a breath. Cameron wrapped his arm around Kaytlyn as if to shield her. Kaytlyn wanted to just run back to the mansion and never have to deal with this woman, but it was time. The silence was so thick and heavy, it felt more oppressive than the warm August day. Kaytlyn was strong, though. She had been trained by Jacob how to be poised and gracious, and how to stand up for herself.

Every eye at the service was focused on Kaytlyn. She didn’t focus on Jessica but gave Peter an imperious look. “I am Jacob Tarbet’s widow, am carrying his child, and am the sole recipient of his estate.” Maybe she shouldn’t have thrown that last statement in there, and the middle one wasn’t true, but she might as well hit them with everything at once.

The silence after her statement was deafening. No one in the crowd so much as shifted their weight. Peter’s eyes narrowed and he focused on Kaytlyn as if determining how much of an adversary she was.

Jessica fell against her husband, her eyes widening in shock. Two seconds later, she went berserk. She started screaming insults at Kaytlyn, flailing in her husband’s arms to try to get at Kaytlyn, and making a scene worse than any spoiled toddler could dream of. Surprisingly, she said nothing about the baby, it was all about Kaytlyn stealing her inheritance and many references to Kaytlyn being a “tramp”.

Cameron released his hold on Kaytlyn, stepped in front of her, and in a voice as sharp as a whip commanded, “Stop speaking or I will cut your tongue out.”

Jessica drew back from him with a look of horror. Kaytlyn supposed that if you didn’t know about Cameron’s good heart, he would look terrifying. His build was strong, and the years of being in command in the military etched lines of authority into his face.

“Escort her out of here,” Cameron commanded.

The security team surrounded Jessica and Peter. Peter pivoted quickly to go, putting up no fuss. Kaytlyn thought that was smart of him. She knew Cameron wanted an excuse to go after the man and Cameron could easily tear him apart.

Peter was a politician in public. Always. He would most likely be livid with Jessica’s outbursts today. Back when they were friends, Kaytlyn hadn’t liked how Peter seemed to control Jessica, but now she knew Jacob’s daughter was no better than her slimy husband. They both wielded their power behind the scenes, sneakily. This was the first open attack Kaytlyn had ever seen or heard of. She’d blindsided Jessica and Peter, just like Jacob had planned.

Jessica didn’t speak again, breaking from her husband’s grip and storming ahead of Kaytlyn’s security personnel. The crowd watched them go. After they finally loaded into their Tesla and sped away, there was a collective sigh and the murmuring began.

Cameron’s fierce gaze softened as he turned to Kaytlyn. “Are you okay?”

She waved one hand at the onlookers while clutching the flag in the other. “You think I care what that piece of work thinks of me?”

A smile broke over his face and Kaytlyn felt her knees almost buckle. He was so handsome that it took her breath away. He looked like he wanted to hug her as badly as she wanted to hug him, but the crowd was pressing in to offer their condolences. Cameron took the flag from her, sticking close enough to discourage anyone from so much as looking at her wrong. No one did. Hundreds of people came by to press her hand, share a kind remembrance of Jacob, or give her a hug. Many asked about the baby, but everybody was too classy to give voice to the unspoken questions: When had she and Jacob married, and why had she married a man thirty years her senior who had always appeared to be only her friend and business partner? Most of them probably thought it was for the money. Many of them probably felt bad for Jessica, as few had insight into how demented she was.

Finally, the crowd dwindled. Kaytlyn had been feeling stronger today, but now she was close to collapse.

Cameron discreetly put a steadying hand on her lower back. “What do you need?” he asked.

You. Sadly, she couldn’t say that. Not yet. They both needed time to mourn Jacob and get through whatever Peter and Jessica were going to hurl at them. Larry and Jacob had felt that this course would protect her baby, the businesses, the money, and the foundation, but Kaytlyn still had a sense of foreboding that she wanted to push away. “Would you be shocked if I told you I’m craving a Grumpy’s hamburger and fries?”

He grinned. “I’d say that’s the best news I’ve heard in a while.” He nodded to their security team, who cleared a path through the remaining crowd to a couple of Porsche sport utilities. “We’re going through the Grumpy’s drive-through,” Cameron said to Tyler, a young guy who always had a smile on his face.

“Yes!” Tyler pumped his eyebrows at Kaytlyn. “I like the way you think.”

“Thanks.” Kaytlyn waved to and smiled at the people who were watching them go, keeping her composure as Jacob had trained her to. As Cameron helped her into the back of the vehicle and settled in next to her, she was exhausted, but she’d made it through. Jacob was gone. It was time to somehow face the future without him.

Chapter Eight

Cameron had been raised to respect and revere women, but he’d never been so tempted to hit a woman as when he’d faced Jacob’s daughter at the funeral. His blood still boiled thinking of Jessica calling sweet, angelic Kaytlyn a tramp. All the while her loser husband stood there trying to appear dignified and unruffled.

They’d gone through the drive-through, eaten in the car, and had now arrived home. Kaytlyn had only eaten half of the bacon cheeseburger and a few fries, but at least she’d eaten. He just kept getting more invested in this woman, as if his purpose in life was to protect and love her. Jacob’s caution to take it slow kept ringing in his ears. He would listen but it wouldn’t be easy.

Hours had passed, and the shadows of evening crept in. Kaytlyn was resting in her room, but Cameron felt so restless he could hardly stand it. He wanted to exercise—no, he wanted to punch something, or someone. Sadly he hadn’t been gifted with an excuse to punch Peter at the funeral. If only Peter would’ve been the one to start hurling insults at Kaytlyn. Smashing that man’s perfect face would help right so many wrongs.

Maybe one of his security guys would spar with him while Kaytlyn slept. He almost called to let the security office know he’d be away from Kaytlyn’s door for a bit and they needed to send someone to sit with her.

Suddenly, her door sprang open. Her hair was mussed and her eyes looked heavy. She was still wearing that silky black dress that hugged her curves. He would’ve thought losing so much weight would make her lose those curves, but the pregnancy was filling her out in all the right spots. His stomach swirled with desire for her, and he wondered if he could bend, or more likely break, the “taking it slow” rule by sweeping her off her feet and kissing her until neither of them could catch a breath.

“Larry needs to meet with us,” she said shortly.

Cameron’s fantasies all popped, and he stepped back, letting her go ahead. They walked through the wide hall toward the main staircase. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“Apparently, they’re already filing suits.”

“That was quick. Do you know what they’re claiming?”

She shook her head.

Jessica had only found out that she’d lost her inheritance this morning and Peter should be trying to cover his butt after unethically using Kaytlyn’s egg without her permission. They shouldn’t have any quick or easy recourse in Cameron’s mind.

They strode down the staircase and into Kaytlyn’s office. Kaytlyn stood behind the desk, biting at her lip and looking so small and uncertain, he wanted to cradle her close. The doorbell rang, and half a minute later, one of his security guys escorted Larry in. Kaytlyn and Cameron each shook his hand; then he gestured for them to sit, and they both did.

Larry was a tall man with short, curly hair and a slight stoop. His green eyes were sharp but kind.

“How bad is it?” Kaytlyn asked, perching on the edge of the chair. Obviously, her mind had been going to worst-case scenarios. Cameron should’ve reassured her somehow.

“Well … Jessica’s pressing a suit against Cameron for threatening her.”

Cameron guffawed at that. “Bring it on.” He was secretly pleased, though. If he took the heat off of Kaytlyn, that would be great.

“But she’s also digging deep and going at this from every angle. I’m not worried,” Larry reassured her quickly. “Everything is already in your name. We’re solid. We just have to make sure everything is in line to fight the stuff she’s trying to throw at you. Their lawyer, Bridget, is a friend of mine—”

“Why would a friend of yours represent them?” Cameron asked.

“You have to understand that most people like and respect Jessica and Peter.” He tilted his head. “I always liked her—thought of her as an adopted niece, honestly—until Jacob revealed what she’d said to him and broke his heart in the process.”

Cameron nodded. He’d met people in the military who were like Jessica and Peter: they told you exactly what you wanted to hear, smiled while they did it, and then stabbed you in the back.

“Because her lawyer and I are friends, we have a lot more information than we normally would,” Larry continued.

Cameron’s eyebrows arched.

“Don’t get me wrong. This is an important case, and