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Leave Me Breathless – Chapter One

   

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the This Man series comes a sexy and emotional

follow up to her wildly popular standalone romance The Protector.

Ryan Willis has spent years in the protection business, a job that requires constant vigilance and quick thinking. His only chance to truly relax is at his secluded cabin in a small town where there are never any surprises. So when Ryan returns after an assignment and encounters a beautiful stranger, he isn’t only surprised, he’s also instantly intrigued.

Hannah Bright is a breath of fresh air, and Ryan is soon completely consumed, unable to stop from falling for her. As the two grow closer, his instinct tells him something is amiss. Yet nothing could prepare him for what he discovers when he starts digging into her past.

Hannah spends her days painting, running her arts and crafts store…and hiding too many secrets. It’s why she won’t let the ruggedly handsome bodyguard get too close. But their chemistry is undeniable, and Hannah quickly finds herself caught up in a whirlwind romance with Ryan. He is peace personified, a balm to her battered soul. Yet the gorgeous, captivating man who has swept Hannah off her feet doesn’t even know who she really is. And the moment he finds out, both their lives are at risk.

 

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What they’re saying about Leave Me Breathless

Library Journal says: The characters are realistic and relatable; though much of the conflict is created by Hannah keeping secrets, her reasons for doing so feel more valid than contrived. There is a vague sense of dread woven throughout the narrative, but events are rather tranquil until the last quarter of the story, when the tension ratchets up toits explosive conclusion. VERDICT Fans of Malpas’s previous book, The Protector, will appreciate seeing those characters playing minor roles here, but for anyone who enjoys Sleeping with the Enemy–style stories, this is a perfect choice.

Booklist says: As Ryan and Hannah let their passion play out in deliciously sexy scenes, it becomes clear to the former M15 agent that Hannah is hiding something. Her story comes out through a series of flashbacks as Hannah wrestles with her past. Readers will love this roller-coaster ride in which best-selling Malpas (Gentleman Sinner, 2019) mixes small-town romance with suspense and an excellent supporting cast.

Publishers Weekly says: Malpas (This Man) whips up a very satisfying mix of dizzying intrigue and steamy romance in this heart-pounding contemporary.Readers will enjoy the multilayered main and supporting characters (hilarious and precocious Alex deserves a book of her own when she’s of age), sizzling erotic scenes, and a taut plot loaded with plenty of twists and turns. Malpas will charm her current fans and win new ones with this strong romantic thriller, perfect for those who love a good alpha male and a damsel in distress who doesn’t wait for someone else to rescue her.

 

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Chapter One

RYAN

Something isn’t right. I left MI5 ten years ago, but my sixth sense is still as strong as ever, a kind of danger detector, and I’m detecting danger right now. My skin is prickling. Adrenaline is starting to pump through my veins. I scan the vicinity outside our client’s house, seeing nothing un- usual. There’s been nothing unusual since our personal security agency accepted the contract two weeks ago. Our client, a model from Canada with a devoted stalker, leaves for the airport any minute with her six- year-old daughter. It would be a fucking travesty at this point to run into a threat.

My partner, Jake, is tense, too, his big shoulders high as he scrutinizes the street beyond the iron gate that separates this house from the rest of London. He’s quiet. I’m quiet.

“Yo, Jake,” I call, watching as the big guy leisurely takes backward steps away from the gate until he’s at the door with me.

“There’s a black Audi across the street.” He goes to his phone. “Blacked-out windows. It’s been there for over an hour and the driver hasn’t gotten out.”

I fucking knew it. “You checked with Lucinda?” I move to the gates to take a look, seeing the RS 7 parked up the road, the passenger window open a fraction.

“The plate’s a clone.” Jake confirms what I feared.

I check left and right casually. “And here I was thinking how easy this job had been.” I back away, feeling the weight of my Heckler pushing into the base of my spine. Fucking hell, I haven’t had to draw my gun in years. Yes, this job has been boring as shit, just like every other in the ten years I’ve served at the agency, but boring is safe. Boring means I make it home to Hampton.

Jake looks over his shoulder as the front door opens and our client emerges with her daughter. “Miss Warren, we’re going to have to ask you to step back inside for a few minutes,” my partner says coolly.

She blinks, surprised. “But my plane leaves in two hours.” There’s panic in her voice, and she scans the street beyond. “Is there a problem?”

“Let’s just get you back inside,” Jake says softly, walking toward her and taking the little girl’s hand, leading her back into the house with her mother.

Miss Warren’s eyes flick between mine and Jake’s, clearly trying to find an answer to her question. Then she opens her mouth to speak but quickly thinks better of it, turning to her daughter and crouching. “Darling, I think I’ve left Paddington on the couch. Why don’t you run along and fetch him.”

“Okay.” The little girl dashes back to the living room, and Miss Warren stands, turning toward us. “Please, tell me what’s going on.”

“There’s an unidentified vehicle across the street that we need to check out,” I explain.

Her eyes immediately widen, her inhale loud. “Oh my God, it’s him.”

I look to Jake, wondering if he’s sensing what I’m sensing. “Him, as in your stalker?” he asks, confirming he’s suspicious, too.

She starts blinking rapidly, her hands shaking as she tucks her hair behind her ear. “Yes.” She looks away, and I can no longer keep my thoughts to myself.

“Miss Warren, is there something else we should know?”

“I don’t have a stalker,” she more or less whispers, her eyes clouded as she finds it in herself to look at us. “I have an ex-boyfriend who’s a less-than-desirable character and would do anything to hurt me.”

I recoil. “Why?” “Because I left him.”

“Name?” Jake demands, going straight to his phone. I watch as she breathes in, as if bracing herself to tell us. Nothing about this is boding well.

“Corey Felton.”

“What?” I blurt, hoping I heard her wrong. Jake curses under his breath, smacking at his phone with his thumb. “The drug trafficker?”

She can only bring herself to nod, and I see a million apologies in her eyes. Jesus Christ, Corey Felton is wanted in ten countries for various crimes. But he’s elusive. Untouchable. And judging by the fear I can see in Miss Warren’s eyes, he’s just as nasty as the whispers suggest. “The police wouldn’t help me unless I assisted with their inquiries,” she rushes to explain. “I just need to get back to Canada, and I know he’ll do anything to stop me.” Miss Warren peeks past us to the gates again.

“We’ll get you and your daughter to the airport safely, don’t you worry.” I give her my best reassuring smile, and she nods, backing up and shutting the door.

“What’s the deal?” I ask as Jake stares down at his phone. “Backup’s on the way. If it’s him, we’ll need it.”

If it’s him? “Of course it’s him.” My blood sizzles with adrenaline. “You ready to dance?” I ask as we walk back toward the gate.

“If I don’t make it home to Cami and Charlotte in one piece, she’ll be coming after your blood, you know that, right?”

“I know,” I say quietly, my eyes set on the black Audi across the street. Jake and I go way back, though it’s only been the past couple of years we’ve worked together on assignments. Jake taking a partner was a condition laid down by his wife if he wanted to remain in the business. I was the perfect man for the job.

I slip out onto the pavement—just as our backup truck skids into the street. “Subtle,” I mutter.

“He’s been underground for years,” Jake says, joining me. “Every police force from here to the States wants him.”

Just as I start striding toward the RS 7, reaching back to pull my Heckler, the growl of the Audi engine starts up. A buzz of excitement that I haven’t felt in years comes over me, no matter how hard I try to push it back. He’s about to make his getaway.

Just let backup deal with it, I tell myself. No need to go all Jason Bourne in the middle of London. But my legs move faster of their own volition, my jog turning into a full-on run. I race across the street toward the Audi, hearing car horns blare and the screech of tires as it tries to pull away from the curb into oncoming traffic. It doesn’t get very far, wedging its front end in between a bus and a BMW. But the bus starts to reverse to give the Audi space to pull out. To escape. Fuck no.

The damn fucking suit they insist I wear hindering me, I sprint into the road, spotting a black cab heading straight toward me. The driver catapults back in his seat, bracing for impact. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Ryan, what the fuck are you doing?” Jake booms behind me. I keep my eyes forward, watching as the cab gets closer and closer and closer, the screeching of its tires deafening. “Ryan!”

At the last second, the driver turns the wheel, and the loudest bang erupts when it slams into the Audi just as it breaks free through the line of traffic, blocking it in between the BMW and the bus again. Without even pausing to think about it, I pull open the back door of the cab and slide through to the other side, ignoring the stunned face of a businessman in the back with his phone to his ear.

The Audi begins to reverse, ramming the parked car behind it, but comes to a screeching stop when the backup team pulls up alongside us. “Going somewhere?” I yank the door open, grab the driver, and haul him out, my gun immediately wedged under his chin.

“Fuck,” I hear Jake say from behind me, just as I register that the man I have pinned to the side of  the  mangled  Audi  isn’t  Corey Felton.

Realization hits me like a brick. “It’s a decoy!” I yell, releasing him and throwing myself over the hood of the car. The second I land on my feet, I break into a sprint, my focus set. The fucker.

I’m back at the house in seconds, kicking the front door open, my arms at full length before me, my gun steady in my grip.

Miss Warren runs into the hall, frantic. “What’s going on?” She comes to a startled stop when she sees me. She’s in one piece. Still here. So . . .

“Where’s your daughter?” I ask.

“Oh my God.” Her hands go to her mouth, her eyes wide. “He’ll take her. He’ll use her to keep me.”

My jaw tenses as Jake appears, and I give him the nod, telling him to get Miss Warren out of here just as the sound of a door shutting sounds from the back of the house. I’m flying down the hallway, and the moment I enter the kitchen I feel something push into my temple. I freeze.

“Drop the gun,” he says calmly, and I immediately lower the weapon to my side, seeing the little girl out the corner of my eye, held to his front. My brain works fast, noting her position, his position, his hold, her fear.

It’s now or never. Drop the gun, Ryan! But I know the second my gun is out of my grasp, I’m out of the game, and that little girl will be gone. I feel my muscles twitch. My heart rate increases. My eyes refocus. Now or never.

My arm flies up fast, hooking back and knocking the gun aside as I turn and grab his arm, freeing the girl before I thrust him up against the wall, slamming his hand into the plaster so he drops the gun. God, there’s nothing I’d love more than to tear him a new arsehole . . . but the girl. So I reluctantly kick his feet from under him and take him down to his front, immobilizing him with his arms up his back. He whimpers like a fucking baby as I look up at the little girl, giving her my most dashing smile. “Baddies always get caught,” I whisper, and she grins, filling me with relief as I glance to the door, willing backup to hurry the hell up. “Did he hurt you, sweetheart?”

Her little head shakes from side to side, and she presents me with a bear. “But he stomped on Paddington.”

“He did?” I shudder for effect just as Jake bowls into the room, looking ready to attack. He soon finds me on the floor. “Hi,” I say, grinning up at him. “Got any cuffs?”

He visibly relaxes and shouts down the corridor for backup, and we’re quickly joined by six more men, all kitted out in armor, all armed. “What took you so long?” I ask drily, letting them claim my prey. I get up, dust myself off, and slip my gun into the waistband of my trousers. “Come on, you.” I scoop the little girl into my arms. “Let’s get you and Paddington back to Mummy.” I pace out the kitchen and hear Miss Warren before I see her, crying her heart out.

“Oh, thank God!” She charges for me and grabs her daughter, squeezing her tightly.

“She’s fine.”

She smiles up at me through glassy eyes. “Thank you.”

“All in a day’s work,” I lie, heading through the crowds to find some air. I make it outside, hearing the angry yells of Corey Felton as I go, and prop myself up against a fence, my heart still going ballistic in my chest.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Jake bellows, stomping toward me, and just like that my adrenaline drains from my body and I blink a few times, checking myself over. “You should have let backup deal with it, for fuck’s sake, Ryan.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I retort for the sake of it, not needing Jake to kick my arse. I’m suddenly doing a damn fine job of that myself. Fucking hell, what was I thinking?

Jake must notice my sudden shakiness, because he wraps an arm around my shoulder on a sigh and starts walking us to the gates. “You’re such a fucking maverick.”

He’s right, I am. “Guess it never leaves you, huh?” “And stupid. You could’ve gotten yourself killed.” “I’m breathing, aren’t I?”

“Yep. And now you’re gonna get a severe headache from the top.”

I snort. Coming from Jake Sharp, that’s fucking rich. Besides, it’s not my damn fault we weren’t furnished with the whole story. “I can deal with a headache.” What I’m struggling to deal with is how fucking stupid I’ve just been. Damn instinct. I need a drink.

“You of all people know that when you care about shit, you look after yourself,” Jake reminds me.

“All right, you can stop lecturing me now.”

He releases me when we get to the gates. “It’s not only yourself you’re putting in danger,” he mutters moodily.

Guilt. More of it sweeps right on in and punches me in the gut. Jake’s wife is heavily pregnant, and now she’s worrying even more every time he leaves for work. “How’s Cami?”

“Ready to pop.” His cheeks inflate, and I laugh a little. “Three weeks left.”

“Excited?”

He’s quiet for a second, and I know why. He was a lone wolf for so long, swamped by his demons. He’s had it tough. I’ve spent so much time with Jake over the past couple of years, we’ve had no choice but to get along. He’s talked. I’ve listened. He deserves his happiness. “Yeah,” he eventually says, looking across to me. “I’m looking forward to doing it right this time.”

And there’s me putting us in unnecessary danger. I reach up and slap his shoulder, all manly, as I always do when things get a little deep from time to time. “Beer later?” I ask, nodding to the pub over the road.

“I’m game.”

We both slow to a stop when we see Lucinda’s car screech around the corner. Fuck me, that car sounds angry. I look at Jake as Jake looks at me. “Beer now?” I ask, heading away from our fiery handler who is about to go fiery on my arse.

Jake’s with me, both of us backing up. No one wants to be around Lucinda when she’s after blood, and she’s currently after mine. So I’m running scared.

* * *

We enter a quiet space, with only a few patrons scattered around. “Two Buds, thanks.” I toss a note on the bar and pull up two stools. We’re both silent as the barman gets our drinks, reflective, and we chink bottles and slurp together, releasing appreciative gasps at the same time. I haven’t even placed my bottle down before Lucinda stalks in and scans the bar. Oh boy. She finds us, and I recoil somewhat, her formidable glare making me shrink.

“Should’ve known.” She strides past us toward the back of the pub. “Come.”

I look at Jake, who’s in the middle of an epic eye roll. “If I wasn’t so fond of her, I’d tell her to fuck off at least ten times a day.” He slips down from his stool, and I follow on a light chuckle.

Taking a seat on the opposite side of a booth from her, we sit like good little boys and wait for her to rip our balls off. After all, we deserve it. Or at least, I do. Jake’s got nothing to do with my momentary lapse in focus.

Two minutes later, our handler’s still doing something on her phone, and Jake and I still have our balls. I look at Jake. Jake looks at me. I shrug. “Drink?” I ask her.

Lucinda fires me a filthy glare, and there go my balls. “Don’t test me, Ryan,” she snaps. “You’ve already given me a fucking headache today.”

I sit back, getting a safer distance away as I hear Jake laugh. “I only asked if you wanted a drink. Besides, who knows where that girl would be now. I had to act fast.”

“What?” Lucinda says with a laugh. “By going on a rampage in the streets of London brandishing your firearm?”

“I’m sure the official big-bods will be easy on you, since one of your men caught a man they’ve been tracking for years.” I smile sweetly, and she rips her fire stare from my wilting six-foot-three-inch form, holding her hand in the air for the attention of the barman.

“Flat white,” she calls. And then silence falls, neither Jake nor I willing to fill it, as I spin my bottle slowly on the table.

Lucinda eventually pushes a file across the table, and I look down at it. “What’s that?” I ask.

“Your next contract.”

“Time off,” I remind her. “I’m going home for a few weeks.” “Home? It’s in the middle of nowhere.” She laughs. “Boring as shit.

Two hundred residents, a few stores, a pub, and a school. Why the hell would you want to go back there? What will you do?”

“That’s none of your damn business,” I spit, feeling Jake’s eyes fall onto my profile. He knows what I’ll do. And he’s the only one. That’s what happens when you spend so much time with one person. You tell them shit. “I’m going home, and that’s it,” I say with fierce finality, and Lucinda slumps back in her seat as her coffee lands on the table.

With no thanks to the waiter, she pours in a healthy dose of milk, picks it up, and downs it in one fell swoop, never once taking her lethal glare off me. She can go to hell. I’m going home to Hampton and that’s it. She can find someone else to do the next contract. And at that very moment, she turns her eyes onto Jake.

He immediately starts shaking his head. “Forget it. I have a baby due in a few weeks.”

“It’s a two-week contract.”

“Nope.” He swigs from his bottle of beer. “I promised Cami this was the last job.”

“What if I told you I’ll kick your stupid arse into shape?”

“You did that years ago. Now I’m more scared of Cami’s wrath than yours, so go to hell, Luce.” Jake toasts her on a sarcastic smile as she snorts her disgust. I find myself grinning. Lucinda loves Cami. Jake’s wife is the only woman on the planet our handler actually likes.

“Guess you’ll have to find someone else,” I muse, clinking my bottle with Jake’s. “We’re out.” I watch as she inhales, her eyes narrowing to scary slits and slowly dragging onto me. My grin drops as she hands me another file. “What’s this?”

“You said you’re going home for a few weeks. This is your job when you’re back to London. A nice, boring, low-risk one-man affair.”

“You said Miss Warren was low-risk,” I point out as I stare at  the paper file, my mind replaying the past hour. I wince as my heart pounds a little bit faster. Wince harder when I see Alexandra’s face in my mind’s eye. “I’m passing,” I declare, looking up at Lucinda. As I expected, her face is a picture of shock. “I’m taking a career break.”

“What?”

I can feel Jake’s stunned stare on me, too. “I’m done with this game,” I tell her. It doesn’t matter how careful I am. It’s been proven today that danger has an uncanny ability of finding me, and clearly my instinct to dance with it hasn’t left me. I’m aware this contract could have ended very differently.

Lucinda’s nostrils flare as she withdraws the file. “I’ll call you when you’re thinking straight.” She gets up and stomps out of the bar, and I can still feel Jake’s eyes on me. “What?” I ask without looking at him.

“Are you serious?”

“Deadly serious.” I take a swig of my beer. “What will you do?”

“Work on my house. Maybe build a few more.” I shrug to myself. I’m good with my hands. Built my own place in the woods from scratch. I’ve always thought about buying some land and building a portfolio of properties. Now’s the time to do it. I’ve worked in some form of protection for nearly twenty years. I’m done.

“Sounds kinda good,” Jake says as his phone rings and he answers. “Hey.” I can tell by the tone of his voice who it is, and I smile to myself. He’s a mean bastard at work, moody and difficult to read for most, but he’s mush when dealing with his wife and daughter. “No, you can’t be.” Jake’s arse is up from the chair fast. “Fuck, Cami, I’m on the other side of London. I’m having a beer. And it’s too fucking soon! We’re supposed to be going to the country place.”

“Sorry.” I hear her breathe. “I’ll just tell this baby to hold off until Daddy’s finished his pint, shall I?” A few rushed pants. “The midwife is five minutes away.”

“Fuck,” he curses, turning and running out of the pub.

“Jake!” I yell, going after him, abandoning the two beers we very nearly got to finish. “Jake, wait.”

“Cami’s in labor,” he yells over his shoulder, breaking out in a sprint across the road. “I’ve got to get home.”

“I’ll drive you. You’ll get yourself killed the state you’re in.” He throws me an indignant look. “I’m fine.”

“Your forehead disagrees.” I point up, and he reaches to wipe the sweat away. “Get in the truck. I’m a better driver than you, anyway.”

“Fuck you.”

I chuckle, falling into the driver’s seat. “Is someone with her?” I pull out of the space fast and zoom down the street, weaving in and out of the traffic.

“A friend. Heather.” He goes straight to his phone, and a few seconds later he’s talking again. “I’m on my way. How is she?” Jake’s quiet for a few moments, and my attention splits between him and the road. The guy has always been tense, but he’s off the charts at the minute. “I should be half an hour, depending on traffic. Can she wait that long?”

I take a sharp right and sail through a red light. “Make that twenty minutes.” Jake adds. “Put her on.”

Another sharp corner, and Jake motions up ahead to another set of lights that are currently on amber. I take his hint and swerve around a few mopeds in front, putting my foot down.

“Hey, angel,” he breathes, and I smile, the softness in his voice making my big body melt a little. “Ryan’s driving perfect sensibly,” he assures her, turning his eyes onto me. “Yeah, I’ll tell him. Just breathe like we practiced, okay? You can do it. Where’s Charlotte?” His smile is epic as he listens to Cami. “Sounds like you’re in good hands.” He jumps in his seat as the sound of a monster scream fills the truck, and I look his way, eyes wide. “Focus on the road,” he grunts, putting his phone on speaker. The sound of Cami’s wail fades, and I hear her start panting.

“Ooh, that was a sharp one,” she sighs.

“Dad!” A little girl’s voice comes across the phone, sounding excited as opposed to anxious.

“Hey, princess.” Jake’s tone has gone even softer, and his body virtually dissolves into the seat beside me. “You taking care of Cami for me?”

“Yep. She’s sweating really bad, though. And she’s really red.” “She’ll be fine. I’ll be there as quick as I can, okay?”

“You better hurry, Dad.”

“I’m hurrying, princess.” He falls into the door when I skid around a corner, cursing when he hits his head on the glass. “Trust me, I’m hurrying. See you soon.” Jake clicks off the call and rubs at his forehead, bracing his other hand on the dashboard. “Put your foot down, Ryan,” he mutters sarcastically just as I whiz past a fancy Ferrari, the driver flipping me the finger. I honk my horn in reply and focus on getting my mate to his wife before his baby arrives.

I can’t claim Jake’s not without his own trauma by the time I pull up outside their house in West London, but I do know he won’t have missed the birth. Jake hops out after giving me his customary manly slap of appreciation on the shoulder. “Thanks, mate.”

“Call me!” I yell as the door slams and he runs up the path. “And good luck, buddy,” I say to myself, watching him fall through his front door.

I sit there for a few moments, idle by the curb, just reflecting on  a few things in my own life. Not that there’s much to reflect on. Just one thing. I smile and pull away, ready to get my arse out of the shitty apartment I’ve been crashing in for too long and go home.

.   

 

On sale November 5th!

Preorder now on Amazon USA

Preorder now on Amazon UK

Preorder on Apple

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Get it on Audio

 

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