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Battle of the Bulge (OHellNo #4)
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From New York Times Bestseller Mimi Jean Pamfiloff comes BATTLE OF THE BULGE, Book Four of the OHellNO Series. (A Standalone.)
“Chicks can’t be bodyguards. Especially hot chicks.”
MY NAME IS MITCH HOFER. I’m a world-famous swimmer from Australia, best known for three things: my gold medals, my looks, and filling out a swimsuit with my…eh-hem—bulky equipment. Let’s just say there’s a reason my nickname is “the Bulge.”
But beyond the fame, sponsors, and glory, there’s more to me than people know, including one hell of a mess I’ve gotten mixed up in. Life-or-death stuff, so bring in the professionals. Just don’t give me a chick bodyguard. Especially a young hot one who distracts me at every turn and hates my guts…
MY NAME IS ABI CARTER, and I hate Mitch Hofer. Yeah, he might be the sexiest champion swimmer in the world, but I’d give this guy a gold medal for being a first-class jerk.
Unfortunately, my boss has given me a choice—guard Mitch or get another job. And I really need the money. I can be professional, but if Mitch says “chicks can’t be bodyguards” one more time, I just might strangle him myself.
Still, something about the way Mitch keeps looking at me makes me think there’s more to his story. It’s almost as if he’s trying to drive me away. But why?
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If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Driven or feisty?
If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have said shy. Seriously, turtles had nothin’ on me. I was the girl in school who always pushed her hair down around her face, sat in the back of the classroom, and rarely raised her hand. I never would’ve described myself as brave. Or deadly.
Of course, I’m all grown up now, nearly twenty-two, and I can’t afford to be that girl anymore. Especially because I need money. A lot of it. Which is why I’m standing in the slushy mud after hiking seven hours in the freezing Alaskan snow while carrying a fifty-pound pack filled with survival gear. This is the world’s toughest job interview, but if I pass, I’ll make three times what I could anywhere else.
A projectile whizzes past my ear, and I plunge headfirst into a thick pile of snow between two towering pines. Jesus! Who am I kidding? I’m no GI Abi! I’m a certified geekoid. President of the Star Trek Uhura Club, avid romance-book lover, cowbell player in my university’s beginners’ band, and the founder of Business is Sexy enthusiast group who promotes business and finance majors among the women’s clubs on campus. All these groups are new endeavors for me—my way of trying to be more social—so I can learn to love new things.
Okay. Most new things. This bodyguard bootcamp? Possibly a huge mistake.
Of course, I’m not naïve. I know that life rarely turns out the way people expect. When my father died of a heart attack about six years ago, I never imagined how much I’d miss him. Suddenly, this man who used to drive me crazy with his lectures about grabbing the bull by the horns became the one person no man could ever compare to. Losing him made me see how special he was and how lucky we were to have him—something my mother knew for years.
After he died, her life began falling apart. Not because she wallowed or felt sorry for herself. Not even. She is a pillar of strength, both as a human being and as the owner of an interior design company. Her misfortunes have all been a series of random events—some horrible client who spent one hundred K on custom furniture and design work then decided to sue for his money back because his new girlfriend didn’t like the style. That same week, there was a flood in her warehouse and her insurance company went under. Fabrics, curtains, pillows, and her entire house-staging inventory for the realtor clients. Gone. It’s been one disaster after another, but she still manages to keep a high chin and a wide smile.
Honestly, her can-do attitude is what inspired me to apply for a job as a bodyguard. I’m fighting for a chance to get our mortgage back to square, pay for my final semester of college, and keep her interior design business from tanking. If I’m lucky, I’ll run my own business someday, too.
I remove my dirty white parka, toss it to the snow-covered ground, and press my back to a wide tree trunk. I’m frozen to the bone, but my camo thermal shirt will blend in better with the bark.
One more kill, Abi. Just one more, and this will all be over. No, I’m not really going to kill anyone. But I do have to tag one more trainer with my airsoft rifle. Otherwise, I fail bootcamp. I’m all out of ammo, so after this last pellet, it’s game over.
“You got this, girl,” I whisper to myself, ignoring the aches in my back, legs, and arms from crouching and crawling over rocks and frozen branches.
I hear my target’s soft footsteps crunching through the freshly fallen snow. This is it. Steady. Keep calm…I wrap my frozen pink finger around the trigger and hold my breath. You got this, Abi. You got this.
Suddenly, I hear more footsteps approaching to my left. And to my right! They’ve been tracking me all day, and now I’m surrounded.
Just like I’d hoped. Because sometimes life hands you lemons. And other times it hands you grenades.
I smile, reach into my pocket, and grab my pellet bomb. Abi’s graduating today, boys!
Houston, Texas. Thirty-six hours later.
“Keep the change.” Eager to see my mom, I shove sixty bucks at the cabdriver, grab my black duffel bag, and push open the car door. I haven’t been home for over four weeks, but it feels like a lifetime ago. She thinks I’ve been off training for a sales job at some extreme camping-gear company, which will explain why my skin is chapped from the cold and my long brown hair has lost five inches. Who knew you could literally give yourself a trim by freezing the hell out of your hair and just snapping the strands like twigs? Anyway, good intentions or not, I hate lying to her, but we need the money.