His manner casual, he cleared his tickling throat. Pressing the mic dangling there, he imperceptibly obtained a status from Team One, the outer perimeter of the estate clear. Rubbing his nose, he requested the progress of Team Two on the surrounding grounds. From the walk, to the trot, to the canter and then her jumps, the entire work-out and subsequent cooling took approximately two hours, which was just enough time for the entire surveillance of the house to conclude.
Studying Kat briefly, Marcus continued, his gaze instinctively scrutinizing the area. Her father Roberto Monteleone's orders had been simple and clear; at all costs, Kat need never see the extensive security measures taken to protect her life. The extensive sweeps would occur thrice daily and at random intervals throughout the evening, until the man or men responsible for the attempt on Kat's life had been brought to a certain kind of family justice.
Team two checked in, grounds clear. The dogs would be brought into the house and every room searched, inside and out. Marcus would have preferred to perform the task himself, but then who would be with Kat? That would never work; he loved the girl. He had loved her for the last year, and yet said not a word about it. It could cost him dearly, and he might never see her again.
His gaze returned to Kat. Lancelotıs hoof lightly clicked the last fence as Kat pulled up on the reins. "Damn it, that was my fault, baby," she cooed to the animal. "Marcus, did you see that?" she started to giggle and then grew mildly disgusted. "I choked on the last fence, and nearly a perfectly clean run. That would have cost me."
"I saw you pull up just a hair on the reins. C"mon, Kat, overall you looked great. That small tug didn't cause him to clip his hoof, did it?" Marcus asked smiling up at her.
Kat grinned, "Oh yes it did- and as usual, you are waaay too forgiving."
God, he was beautiful, she thought to herself. Kat wanted him badly, but knew if she crossed the line once it would never be enough, and then what? He worked for her father; he was a killer, when it came right down to it, and almost always in a suit, save for the times she wanted to swim or work out and then his attire matched her own. Today Marcus wore a cotton sweater under his jacket and looked incredible in his jeans.
Marcus had been her constant companion for the last two years, and prior to that he had protected her father exclusively. After the attempt on her life, her father assigned his very best to watch over her. She had wanted him when he would stand behind her father and barely look at her, but now he was always so close and always within her reach. Kat tried to behave, though occasionally would find herself coming too close to him or leaning against him and then in that kind of nearness to this man assuredly always turned her legs to jelly. It was becoming increasingly difficult to hide the way she felt.
Marcus opened the gate and reached up for her hand to help her dismount. Kat took his hand, and leapt down, purposefully too close to him so that her body would brush against his for a split second. She felt the knit of his sweater rub against her belly. Resting her hand on his shoulder, she said softly, "Thanks, Marcus."
Marcus felt heat rising in his loins as their eyes met, and steadied her without breaking contact, simply nodding, "My pleasure, ma'am."
Kat blushed furiously and lowered her eyes. What the hell was she doing? Taking up Lancelot's reins, she began to walk him around the barn to cool him off, Marcus walking right beside her.
He placed his hand to the earpiece and listened intently. To Kat he offered,
"Excuse me for a sec."
Kat tried not to listen. She hated that protection was even necessary. The Gambino crime family had been offered up like a lamb to the slaughter of the Feds, and that was a shame- but they were sleazy and lacking in scruples, and had too much of their business in the drug trade. Most old world families had long since made their respective fortunes and gone "straight". Those who refused were cut off, cut out and disenfranchised. Kat suspected it was someone associated with them who had made an attempt on her to get back at her father. She had been able to piece that much together on her own, overhearing bits and pieces that she should not have. In her defence, it was the only way she could find anything out at all- and not knowing the circumstances she existed under was so frustrating.
Marcus joined her, and fell back into stride with her.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
"But of course," he replied with a smile, and then a look she had never seen crossed his features.
He stopped walking, and so did she.
Marcus raised his arm and sneezed, "Huhessssssh, Eshhhhhhh!" powerfully into the crook of it. "Excuse me," he offered, smiling at her again.
"Wow. Uh, Bless you," Kat replied, feeling the heat surge between her legs.
Marcus threw back his head and laughed, "Wow!?" he exclaimed. "Kat, it was just a sneeze."
Kat looked directly at him and placed her hand on his arm. She beamed, eyes twinkling and said, "No, there were two sneezes- and they were amazing. Bless you."
Marcus was still laughing, "Well, thanks. I donıt think anyone has ever said that to me before."
Kat blushed just slightly and continued walking around the barn, with Marcus chuckling in tow.
Inside the barn Kat removed the saddle, filled Lancelot's water bucket, poured oats into his pail and pulled the stall door shut.
"Breakfast?" she asked with a twisted little grin, thinking how she'd like to have him for breakfast.
"I've eaten, but I'll come up to the house and sit with you," Marcus replied and cleared his throat, "then I've got a few minor matters to take care of while you wash up - anything special you want to do today?"
"Hmmmm...I thought I'd go to Paris for dinner, but aside from that..." she began to tease, and then glanced sidelong at Marcus who had stopped walking, and this time he'd pulled out a handkerchief.
Kat held her breath in delicious anticipation.
"Ah...ah...Eeeshhhhhh! Eshhhhhhh! Hahesshhhhhh!...excuse me," Marcus said and blew his nose.
"Bless you, Marcus," Kat responded softly.
Was he trying to torture her? Dear Lord, please help me not throw him to the ground, she begged silently biting her lower lip.
"Thanks. Kat, did I hear you say Paris?" he laughed.
Kat smiled again almost back in control of herself, though her libido was still raging. "Yes, but I was kidding. I thought breakfast and then a hot shower, maybe some research and I've got to begin on my paper- time is ticking on the thesis. I want to workout and have dinner and a swim - nothing fantastic...Dad isn't due back from Italy for, what, like 2 days or so?"
Marcus nodded, "Yep, he should be in sometime in the next two days. You don't think it's too cold for a swim?"
It was probably nothing, but he had had a tickle in the back of his throat for a few days and the sneezes had given him a familiar feeling, like the onset of a bad cold. He did not want to chance it with Roberto away; he was on duty 24-7 until her father returned.
Kat sighed exasperatedly, her eyes twinkling mischievously "Marcus, geez, you don't have to swim. You sound like dad! The pool is heated, I'll have a robe and I'll run right inside after, dry my hair and go to bed. Okay, gramps?" she elbowed him lightly, and he feigned injury.
"What and miss playing Marco Polo with you? I don't think so - you're one up on me!"
"Right then. Damn, I'm starving!" Kat impulsively laced her arm through his, and the two strode up to the kitchen entrance to the estate.
Marcus marveled at how natural it felt to walk arm in arm with this girl who seemed so carefree, even though her life was in serious danger. Though Kat knew only of the one attempt prior to his taking over her protection, she was a bright girl and he was certain that she realized the severity of her current situation. The calls to her father, the letters and the security guard who had been killed three months ago were not common knowledge, and both her father and Marcus thought it best that her life remain as normal as possible.
Sitting at the table in the rear of the kitchen was where Kat felt most comfortable - she detested being waited upon and catered to, another thing that daily amazed Marcus. Most of the staff appreciated the fact that she made her own bed and picked up after herself, and would often cook her own meals.
Her father, however, being who he was, did not. When Roberto Monteleone was in the house, staff was staff: treated well, paid well, but keeping their place.
Kat dug through the fridge and happily made her own eggs and toast. She cut oranges, apples and a banana, and then looked up, "Sweetie - I mean, Marc - you sure I can't fix anything for you?"
Marcus smiled warmly, realising that she had dropped her guard for the first time when she called him "sweetie."
"No thanks, Kat, I ate earlier - I'm an oatmeal kind of guy, trying to keep my cholesterol down - ya know?" He laughed as he patted his stomach, which was rippled. In fact, it was like a chiselled slab of stone, something that wasn't the least bit lost on Kat.
She felt her eyes drop lower, and wondered what was he was hiding in those jeans. To hell with oatmeal and toast- she wanted to devour him on the kitchen table.
Spellbound, she watched as he unconsciously rubbed his nose and sniffed. She found herself anticipating another magnificent sneeze.
Marcus did not disappoint her; he grabbed a napkin off the table and- "Eshhhhh! Haheshhhah! Damn."
Frowning slightly, he wiped his nose as Kat set a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice in front of him.
"Bless you - catching a cold?" she asked pointedly, placing her hand gently on his shoulder.
"Mmmm, I don't know yet. It's a damn good possibility," Marcus admitted as he gratefully sipped the juice, "Thanks." He stated, raising his glass to her.
"You're welcome." Kat ran her hands over his shoulders and up his neck and felt his forehead for a moment, "Marc, you are a little warm, you know."
"Nah, seriously, Kat, I'm fine, it's the sweater and the jacket."
Kat frowned, looking doubtful, but did not push the issue. Instead, she sat across from him, quietly eating her eggs and fruit. Marcus stood at the window and occasionally wiped his nose, which had started to run, nonchalantly speaking in low tones to the men on his teams over the mic.
Having washed the pans and dishes, Kat stood behind Marcus again, and began a slow sensual massage of his shoulders and lower back. When she reached up to rub his neck, Marcus turned and slipped his arms around her slim waist, holding her close. Kat felt him beginning to grow hard, and tipped her head back to look at his face,
"Marc, I want you to kiss me." She spoke huskily, her voice laden with passion.
Instantly his lips bore down upon her own. Her tongue probed his mouth, dancing with his tongue as she pressed her body against him.
Marcus turned from her abruptly and sneezed, "Hah-hatesshhhh! eshhhh! hatchmpff-" stifling the last in the crook of his jacket.
"Baby," she breathed, "bless you."
Marcus wiped his nose and cleared his throat. What the hell was happening here? "Kat, sweetheart, this is just such a bad idea."
"What?!" she instantly started to fume, "Why is it a bad idea? Because my father pays your salary?" Her words hurt him, and he remembered how quick and cutting her temper was.
"No that's not it at all. Well, that should be something for us to think about, but no, I-"
She was getting angry, and he had just said the wrong thing.
"Wait a minute, why should we think about it? He doesn't own my ass. He may own yours, but I am a human being. I have free will and I can have feelings that my father has no control over. If not him, then what? Marcus, I want you and the way you just kissed me, I know you want me - what then?"
"Kat, I , I- Eshhhhhhh! Hiteeshhhh!" Marcus pulled out his handkerchief, which was now soggy, and caught the two, stifling two more.
Instantly penitent, more than horny, Kat put her hand on his arm, "Bless you - are you okay?"
Marcus shook his head, "No- and that's what I'm trying to say. Kat - I must be crazy. It isn't your father, but I'm definitely coming down with something and kissing you is a bad idea. I'd just hate to get you sick."
Kat laughed, "Baby, I don't care about that. I would love to find an interesting way to catch whatever it is you have"
"I do care, though. C'mon Kat , you don't want to catch a runny nose, do you?" he reasoned, running his hand over her forehead and kissing the top of her head gently.
Kat winked at him and handed him a wad of napkins. "No, I guess not, if it's going to give you such guilt."
Marcus, though a little disappointed, smiled. "Okay then, so what was the plan? You were going to wash up, and I was going to take care of business."
Kat stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, "I would love for you to take care of business with me... but okay, I suppose I can wait- for a little bit anyway."
Giving his arm a quick squeeze, Kat made her way up the stairs just as Marcus sneezed harshly again. Sighing to herself, she wondered why she'd ever said she'd wait.