Max was exhausted.
He relaxed for the first time that day as he finally turned into his gated driveway, and pulled his convertible into the garage. Looking into the rearview mirror he saw his bodyguard in the car behind him and nodded.
A sigh escaped him. Who knew retiring could be so stressful?
Grabbing a leather satchel, he got out of the car and went into the side door of his mansion, heading up to his room.
He’d spent all day in meetings, signing papers, making plans for his future after the NBA. He’d started playing professional basketball right out of college and played for only ten years. He was still healthy and strong and could have continued playing, but he’d become increasing unhappy.
At first it had been great; the excitement, the fans, the parties, the fame, the women, but it hadn’t taken long for all the things he thought he wanted to turn sour. He hardly had any friends, he wasn’t sure who to trust or who just wanted to be around him for his fame and money. He was constantly being followed by photographers, crazed fans, even stalkers. There were plenty of women, but none who really knew him, or cared about him.
He wanted more. He wanted to settle down, to find a woman who loved him for who he was, not how much money or fame he had.
It’s not like he needed the money anyway. His family had left him a fortune in addition to the astronomical amount of money he’d made playing ball and selling his image for endorsements.
But all the money meant nothing without someone to share it with.
He took the stairs to the second floor two at a time.
For years he’d been a playboy, sleeping around, never dating a woman for more than six months, but it had left him feeling empty and alone. His current girlfriend was just another bimbo in the long line of women. They had a date tonight and he was filled with a sense of boredom. He’d break up with her soon. He wanted more than she’d ever be able to offer him.
He wanted a woman who was different than his usual dates. He wanted someone smart, and challenging, with a mind of her own. Not that he knew any women like that. Once, in college there had been a girl…
He let the thought trail off. It was a long time ago.
Finally he reached his room, pushing the door open. He tossed his jacket and satchel on a chair and headed toward the bathroom, intending to take a shower, but a movement made him stop short. He whirled toward the motion and saw a naked blonde woman in his bed.
“Hey, Maxie,” she purred. “I thought I’d surprise you.”
“Tess,” he hissed. “How did you get in here?”
She shrugged, getting to her knees, displaying herself to him. “Does it matter?” she asked teasingly. “We can be together now.”
“You’re not supposed to be here, Tess,” he said.
Without taking his eyes off her, Max bellowed over his shoulder. “Steve! I need you!”
Her seductive smile turned to a scowl. “Max,” she said getting off the bed and coming toward him, “we need to be alone, so we can talk about us.”
Max shook his head. “There is no us, Tess. We’ve talked about his before.”
She pouted sensually. “But now that you’re retiring, you’ll want to settle down.”
A loud voice came down the hall. “Max, are you alright?”
“Fine,” Max called back, “just get in here.”
“Max,” Tess spat, “you don’t need him. It’s just me.”
They could hear running footsteps now and Tess whirled, heading for the balcony doors. Her beautiful face had become twisted with anger. “We’ll be together, Max,” she yelled as she pulled the door open. “Nothing will keep me away from you.”
She disappeared outside just as his bodyguard Steve came rushing into the room.
Max pointed automatically. “That crazy bitch Tess was in my bed, and she went out that way.”
Steve headed toward the door, talking over his shoulder. “Did she have a weapon?”
“None that I saw,” Max called out, “but I wasn’t going to take any chances after last time.
“Lock yourself in after I’m gone,” Steve said, “and call the cops.” Heading out the balcony door, he disappeared the same way Tess had gone.
Max did as Steve said, locking himself inside his room before he placed the call to the cops. It was almost routine by now, the cops being called at least once a week because of Tess.
Last week she’d shown up with a knife and threatened to kill herself.
Tess had been stalking him for months, but technically he’d known her for years. They had gone to Junior High School together. He hadn’t remembered her at first, but she’d told him who she was.
She had first approached him in a bar a few months ago, just after he’d announced his retirement, and they’d talked a little. She was beautiful, and she had an incredible body, but it didn’t take long for him to see that she was insane.
Repeated she had talked about how she’d loved him for years, following his college and then professional career. She told him she always knew they would be together, and she was sure he couldn’t love anyone but her.
He’d gotten away from her as quickly as possible, and thought that would be the end of it. But she had followed him, showed up at his games, gotten into his yard and house, sent him threatening letters, she had attacked two of his dates, and then there was the incident with the knife.
He had a restraining order against her, but it didn’t help, and every time she showed up she somehow got away before the police could find her.
Max had grown up with a lot of money, and he’d had bodyguards his whole life, but he felt smothered because of Tess. It seemed like he was never alone, and even his house wasn’t safe.
A knock at his door startled him out of his thoughts.
“Max, it’s me,” Steve said through the door.
Max crossed to the door, opening it. “Did you find her?”
“No,” Steve said. “She’s gone.”
“What?” Max asked incredulously. “She was naked. How did she get away?”
“I don’t know,” Steve admitted. “But the cops are here now and they’re looking for her too.”
Max shook his head. “How the hell did she get in here in the first place?” he asked angrily. “Where is the security? What am I paying you for?”
“It won’t happen again,” Steve promised.
Max glared at him. “How do you stop someone who you can’t find?”
He turned away. “I’ve got a date tonight,” he reminded his bodyguard.
Steve nodded. “We’ll take the limo, and I’ll ride up front and make sure Tess doesn’t come near you.”
Max sat across from Julie in the restaurant, bored out of his mind. As far as he was concerned their relationship had run its course. Not that they had that much of a relationship. They had only been dating three weeks.
She was beautiful, and had a great body and the sex was good, but he just wasn’t into her. And as he sat across the table looking at her he realized that even with her there he just felt empty inside, hollow. No matter how many women he’d been with, he felt the same.
He wanted more than any of them could give him. He wanted to settle down. He wanted love.
They had finished their meals and Julie was talking non-stop, and Max realized he hadn’t heard a word. He hadn’t planned on breaking up with her tonight, but really there was no point in waiting.
“Julie,” he said, interrupting her.
She looked at him. “Yeah?”
He twirled the stem of a wine glass in his fingers. “This isn’t working for me,” he said, aware of what an ass he was being. But really he didn’t want to waste any more time, and, he told himself, he was setting her free to find someone else too. “I don’t think we should see each other any more.”
“What?’ she asked incredulously. “I thought we…” she broke off as she saw Max shaking his head.
“I’m sorry, Julie,” he said. “That’s just how I feel.”
Her beautiful face turned sharp and mean. “You bastard,” she hissed. “You can’t just dump me.”
“Sure I can,” Max said with a shrug.
She nodded. “I’m going to the restroom, and then you can take me home.”
He smiled. “Of course.” He watched her get up and walk away. He’d known there was no way she would take a cab home, because she’d have to pay for it.
Motioning for the waiter he paid for their meal while she was gone. He’d just left a generous tip when screaming came from the direction of the restrooms.
“He’s mine, you bitch!” came a screechy voice.
There was the sound of scuffling, things breaking, a loud slap.
“Stay away from him,” yelled the same voice.
Restaurant employees rushed toward the restroom and Max caught a glimpse of Tess as she ran from the women’s room into the back of the restaurant.
Immediately Max stood up, a sick feeling filling him. “Julie!?!”
Tess’ voice rang out. “I love you Max!”
He rushed forward just as Julie came stumbling out of the restroom. Her top was ripped and she held a hand to a bloody lip.
Suddenly his bodyguard Steve was there, pushing Max aside and going into the kitchen after Tess.
“What the fuck?” Max yelled as he ran past.
He wrapped his arm around Julie and let her back to the table, sitting her down. Dipping a napkin in ice water he pressed it to her still-bleeding lip.
“What the hell happened in there?” he asked her gently.
She took the napkin from him. “Some psycho, blonde bitch attacked me. Kept saying that you belonged to her, and I’d better stay away.”
“Shit!” Max spat. “I’m sorry, Julie. She’s been stalking me.” He motioned to the direction where Steve had disappeared. That’s why the bodyguard was with us.”
Julie met his eyes. “Well he sure did a whole hell of a lot of good.”
Max nodded. He was thinking the same thing.
The cops were called again, and finally Steve returned, but no one could find Tess.
They took Julie home and Max waited until he was back at his own house to confront Steve.
“What the fuck, Steve?” he yelled. “Tess gets in my yard, in my house, she attacks my date in a public place. What the fuck are you doing?”
“I’m sorry, Max,” Steve said. “I don’t know how…”
Max cut him off. “That’s the problem. You don’t know.” He shook his head. “Tonight is your last night here. I’m calling your agency to send over a new man in the morning.”
Steve nodded. “I understand, Max, I let you down.
Max waited until Steve left the room to place the call. He explained about Steve’s repeated failure and requested a new bodyguard be sent over.
“Of course, Mr. Evans,” said the man on the phone. “One of our best bodyguards just became available. Will eight a.m. be okay? You can talk over the situation and work out everything between you.”
“That’s great, Mr. Valenti,” Max said. “I’ll be available to go over everything.”
Max put down the phone. He hated to fire Steve, he really liked him, but he needed better protection. He was glad one of the agency’s best bodyguards was coming. He just hoped that the new man was better than Steve.
As soon as Jim Valenti got off the phone with Max, he called his employee.
The phone rang several times before it was answered.
“Yeah,” the sleepy voice on the other end answered.
“This is Jim,” he said, “I’ve got a new job for you, if you’re up for it.”
“That’s great,” said the hoarse voice. “I’d like to get working again. When and where?”
“2783 Twisting Pine Drive, and he’s expecting you at eight. He’s a retired NBA player with a stalker problem.”
“My specialty,” the bored voice drawled.
Jim chuckled. “Steve Harris has been there a few months, but he isn’t having any luck with the stalker. I know you’ll do better. I’m faxing you the file.”
Another yawn came across the phone. “Great. I’ll take a look. Thanks, Jim.”
The bodyguard hung up the phone and got out of bed, heading for the fax machine in the other room. The paper was just starting to print out, and she picked it up, studying it intently.
“Oh shit!” Liz called out, seeing the client’s name for the first time. “It’s Max!”
Her first thought was to call Jim back and cancel. She even reached for the phone, but her hand dropped.
Jim wouldn’t be able to get anyone else on such short notice, and if Max was being stalked, he could be in danger.
She sat down, flipping through the file, but not really seeing much of it. Her mind was too busy.
Max Evans. It was hard not to know the name. He was one of the best players in the NBA for the last ten years. But she had known the name, and the man, four years before he’d started playing professional basketball.
They’d gone to college together, even had a few classes together each of the four years. And she’d been in love with him since the first time he’d walked into the freshman Sociology class she was taking.
Of course he’d been a basketball star even back in college, and he’d had women all over him; blondes, brunettes, redheads. More women than Liz could believe. And she had just been a mousy, studious girl. He’d never noticed her at all.
That was one reason she would be able to take the job protecting him. At least he wouldn’t remember her, and he’d never know she’d been so head-over-heels in love with him.
And it’s not like she still had feelings for him. She hadn’t seen him in ten years, and she’d had a few relationships in that time. Not that they had worked out, but she certainly hadn’t been sitting around and obsessing about Max.
She’d be at his place, bright and early at eight, and she’d do her job. Max would never know.
Tess giggled as she fell onto her bed. Her smile widened as she looked around at the hundreds of pictures of Max that she’d taped to her walls and ceiling.
It had been so easy to pose as a waitress in the restaurant and get past Max’s security. It was a sign that Max wanted her to get rid of his date.
It’s not like he loved that woman, after all. He couldn’t possibly love her. She was just a diversion.
Tess knew she was everything Max wanted. She just had to prove her love to him, and then they’d be together forever.
Saving Max Main
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