Her Three Protectors

By: Zara Chase

Chapter One

“Yes, who is it?”

Porcha pushed the button on the video entry phone, a simple task made difficult because her fingers shook so badly.

“You’re expecting us.”

Us? Porcha’s heart crashed against her rib cage. She peered at the three figures filling the small screen, hyperventilating as panic and confusion clouded her brain. Tension and lack of sleep made it difficult to think straight. Was this for real, or could it be a clever trap? One man. She’d asked Georgio to send one man. Why would he think she needed three?

“Georgio sent us. The name’s Anderson.”

The speaker was at least six two, with the swarthy complexion of a South American and black hair tied back in a ponytail. As though sensing her scrutinizing him, he removed his shades and revealed intelligent dark eyes that flashed with annoyance. Clearly, he didn’t appreciate being kept waiting. Too bad! Porcha wasn’t about to let anyone in until she was absolutely sure they were who they said they were.

The designer stubble peppering Anderson’s jaw did little to disguise his film-star looks. His aquiline features, strong jaw, and deep vertical lines in a forehead currently knotted with impatience hinted at both competence and tough resourcefulness. If he really was Georgio’s man, she’d expect nothing less.

What the hell…her life was on the line, and she was wasting precious time ogling a fit-looking man. His appearance didn’t mean diddly-squat. The people out to get her might have chosen a handsome man to lull her into a false sense of security, and she’d almost fallen for it. Porcha grabbed her iPad and pulled up the picture Georgio had e-mailed of the man he was sending. They looked one and the same, although the picture didn’t do him justice.

“We’re kinda conspicuous out here, Ms. Ballantine.”

“I…I was only expecting one of you.”

The man calling himself Anderson hitched impossibly broad shoulders. “Georgio told us all to come. We’re just obeying orders.”

Yes, but whose orders? “I’m not sure.”

“Look, open the door. If you’re worried, I’ll come up on my own. Or call Georgio and get confirmation that he sent us all.” Anderson glanced over his shoulder, as though he disliked hanging about in broad daylight in such a public place. “We’ll wait, but not all day.”

Porcha went with her instincts. Something about Anderson’s expression made her feel inclined to trust him, and Porcha didn’t trust easily. Just as well, or she’d have been dead by now. She hesitated for a fraction longer, came to a decision, and pushed the button to open the street door.

“Penthouse B,” she said abruptly.

It would take a few minutes for the elevator to whisk them up, so Porcha made the most of the delay and sprang into action. She inserted coloured contact lenses that changed her eyes from their distinctive emerald green to a dull, forgettable gray and then covered them with thick horn-rimmed glasses containing clear lenses. Pushing her chestnut hair into a containing net, she hastily fitted on a long blonde wig and pulled a loose shirt over her tall frame, hoping it would disguise her curves. No matter what else she did to change her identity, she’d discovered with almost-fatal consequences that her assets tended to make her stand out.

Porcha had practised her transformation technique many times before and now had it down to a fine art. She checked her watch and nodded with grim satisfaction. Seventy-five seconds. Not bad.

Her hearing was acute, but there were no telltale signs of the elevator arriving yet. The doors squeaked when they opened on this floor. Porcha had made sure of that by wedging a small lump of metal in the place where they folded back—large enough to make the scrape a warning, not so big that it stopped them from opening.

She reached for her purse and extracted her S&W revolver, comforted by the feel of the grip that fitted in her hand just perfectly. Porcha hadn’t had to shoot to kill, not yet, but she knew how. She’d spent hours on the range—Sal had insisted on that—and she’d had enough close shaves recently to know that she could fire at another human being without hesitation if that person was firing at her. No question about it. Her survival instincts overrode the feminine squeamishness she could no longer afford to indulge.

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