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Just Breathe (Paperback)

Just Breathe (Paperback)

The Protectors, BOOK 2

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1180 5-Star Reviews

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Kelly Harris is determined to make her antiques business a success. She won't let Tanner, a bodyguard who likes first edition poetry books, interfere with her life. But winning a mystery box at an auction changes everything. With Tanner working alongside her, they decipher the code in a forgotten journal, uncovering a young girl's journey to freedom and a powerful family's secret. 

Tanner works for a high-profile security company. He's seen the worst that humanity can do and doesn't believe in love. But, when disaster strikes, he does everything he can to keep Kelly safe—even if that means letting her into the most vulnerable part of who he is.

Chapter One Look Inside

“Do I have two hundred dollars for this impressive nineteenth century oil painting?” The auctioneer pointed to someone on his right. “I have two hundred. Do I have two-fifty?”

Tanner looked at the dark-haired woman sitting three rows in front of him. She raised her hand and the bidding war continued.

He wasn’t interested in the furniture or any of the other large estate items going under the hammer. But he was interested in what was happening with the painting.

The woman’s hand shot up again and he smiled.

“What’s Kelly doing?” his friend Tank said from beside him. “She couldn’t fit another painting in her store if she tried.”

“She must think it’s worth it.” 

Sure enough, her hand moved again. 

Tanner studied the painting more closely. It was by an unknown artist, but the blend of color and composition was superior to a lot of paintings he’d seen.

When the bidding reached five hundred dollars, he waited to see what Kelly would do.

She hesitated, then stuck her hand in the air.

The auctioneer smiled and banged his gavel for the last time. “Sold to the lady in red!”

“She must have liked it,” Tank said. “Your book’s up next.”

Tanner had known Tank since their days in the military. They were in the same Navy SEAL team, fighting alongside each other in some of the world’s deadliest war zones. Now here they were, at an estate auction in downtown Bozeman, waiting for the opening bid on a poetry book.

The auctioneer cleared his throat and the audience fell into silence. “The next item is a first edition copy of A Boy’s Will, by Robert Frost. As you can see, it’s in the original bronze pebble grain cloth, lettered in gilt, with a few spots of foxing. Overall, this book is an excellent, bright copy. Phone bids have already been placed and bidding will start at one thousand dollars.”

The collective gasp from the audience didn’t faze Tanner. The book was easily worth nine times that amount—more if international bidders were on the phone. 

The auction started. Even though he was itching to place a bid, he kept his hand at his side.

When the price reached three thousand dollars, Tank nudged his arm. “Looks like this one won’t be yours.”

When he didn’t reply, Tank looked at him. “You can’t be serious? No book is worth that much money.”

“It’s a collector’s item.”

“So are Fabergé eggs and Edwardian postcards, but you don’t see me bidding on them.”

The bidding on the poetry book stalled. 

Tanner studied the people who had placed bids. They were keen, but not stupid. The provenance of this book was sound, but it was easy to get burned.

The auctioneer repeated the last bid. Three thousand six hundred dollars was too good a price. He put his hand in the air.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Tank muttered. “I’m supposed to keep you out of trouble and look at you.”

“Robert Frost is worth it.”

“He’d better be. You’ll be eating Cheerios for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next month.”

Tanner bit back a laugh. He was a senior security specialist at Fletcher Security. His assignments took him around the world, guarding people with more money than the national debt. Buying this book wouldn’t bankrupt him.

Another person outbid him and he raised his hand again.

Within minutes, the price jumped another three thousand dollars and Tanner was out. 

Tank sat back in his seat. “I can’t believe anyone would pay that amount of money for an old book. The world’s gone crazy.”

“Another first edition of the same book sold for twenty thousand dollars at Sotheby’s.”

“It’s just as well you weren’t there.”

He didn’t have the heart to tell Tank he’d been viewing the auction online. 

Tanner watched the auctioneer, waiting to see where the bidding would stop. After a final rally of phone bids, the poetry book sold for eight thousand dollars.

Tank muttered something under his breath and Tanner smiled. While the auctioneer took a short break, Kelly walked toward them.

“Bad luck with the book,” she said with far too much enthusiasm.

Tanner shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. You got the painting you wanted.”

Her green eyes sparkled. “It’s a beautiful portrait.”

“Are you staying for the rest of the auction?”

Kelly’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe, but you could leave. There’s nothing left that would interest you.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I could be persuaded to bid on a few of the items coming up next.”

Tank cleared his throat. “Ignore him, Kelly. He’s teasing you.”

Her gaze moved from Tanner to Tank. “You’re underestimating your friend.” 

She lifted her chin as the auctioneer returned to the stage. “Enjoy the rest of the auction. May the best person win.”

And before Tanner could think of a suitable reply, she was gone.

Tank sighed. “Why do you have to annoy her?”

“I don’t plan on annoying her—it just happens.”

“You might want to think about that.”

Tanner glanced at Kelly. She’d stopped in front of the glass paperweights about to be auctioned. 

He opened his catalog. 

Tank pointed at the page he was studying. “You can’t be serious. Why do you need six paperweights?”

“I have a lot of paper.”

“Yeah, right. Kelly won’t be happy if you win.”

“There are other people here.”

“But none of them are bidding just to annoy her.”

Tanner ignored Tank and watched the auction. He lifted his arm when Kelly was the only bidder left. 

She glared at him and raised her hand again. Another six bids ricocheted between them before Tanner won the auction. 

Tank shook his head. “You’re living dangerously.”

He smiled at Tank, then studied the catalog again. “I’m buying Christmas presents. Your fiancée is studying fashion and design. I’m sure she’d like a set of perfume bottles from the 1860s.”

“Don’t involve me in your underhand tactics. Hayley would skin me alive if I upset Kelly. My name would be mud at their next girls’ night out.”

“Instead of mine?”

“It’s your choice. You don’t need to bid.”

Tanner glanced at Kelly. Her hand was already in the air, beating off the opposition for the bottles. 

He didn’t know what it was about her, but she got under his skin, irritated him for reasons he didn’t understand.

He stuck his hand in the air and Tank groaned. 

“If you buy those bottles, you keep them.”

Kelly swung around and scowled at him.

He smiled and she turned away. He wouldn’t let her disapproval deter him. After an intense bidding war, he won the perfume bottles and the next auction.

“That’s it,” Tank said. “Unless you’ve got a girlfriend stashed somewhere, you don’t need ten silk shawls. If you bid on anything else, you’ll have to walk home.”

“They’re presents.”

“And pigs might fly.”

“What about the mystery box on the stage?” Tanner asked. “Kelly won’t be interested in it.”

Tank glanced at the catalog. “Are you sure you’re not bidding just to annoy her?”

“No one’s allowed to look in the boxes. Kelly never bids on anything she hasn’t seen.” Tanner knew this because he’d watched her at each auction they’d attended. She liked to see what she was buying. No surprises. No mysteries. He knew how her mind worked, what made her excited, what left her cold. 

It was just a pity he couldn’t work out why she bothered him so much.

Tank tapped his watch. “You have five minutes and then we’re leaving.”

The auction started and Tanner placed the opening bid. 

Kelly raised her hand and Tank sat forward. “I thought you said she wouldn’t want the box.”

Tanner was confused as well, until Kelly turned around and smiled. If he guessed right, she was bidding to prove a point. She didn’t care what was in the box; she wanted to beat him.

When the bid reached one hundred ninety-five dollars, he hesitated. Most of the mystery boxes sold for less than thirty dollars. Kelly didn’t have an unlimited budget and he had a conscience buried somewhere deep inside him.

The auctioneer banged his gavel and pointed to Kelly. “Sold!”

She turned toward Tanner. 

He expected her to look satisfied, but the frown on her face surprised him.

“Come on,” Tank said. “I’m hungry and you need to get out of here before Kelly catches up with you.”

Tanner glanced once more at Kelly. Something wasn’t right and he didn’t know what it was.

* * *

Kelly slammed her truck door and took the painting she’d won into her antiques store. She didn’t often lose her temper, but Tanner Sutherland had annoyed her so much that she’d need a double-strength hot chocolate to recover.

Her cousin, Avery, looked up from the front counter. “How did it go?”

“Not good. Tanner won most of the lots I was interested in.”

“I thought he only went to auctions to buy books?”

“He’s branching out. He’s done the same thing at the last three auctions we’ve both been to.” She carefully unwrapped the painting, glad he’d kept away from this beauty. “He didn’t bid on this painting, though. What do you think?”

Avery smiled. “It’s beautiful. Who painted it?”

“There’s no signature, but I’ll take it to Nick Costas. He might be able to help identify the artist.”

Nick Costas owned an art gallery on Main Street, not far from Kelly’s store. If he couldn’t help her, he’d know who she could contact.

Kelly bit her bottom lip. “I don’t know if I’ll sell it or not. I might keep it.”

“Your apartment’s full of paintings. You’ll have to move out if you want more wall space.”

“I know, but this one is special.” She studied the painting. A young woman sat on a stone bench with a soft pink rose in one hand and a book in the other. 

Avery laughed. “That’s what you said last week when you bought the watercolor. Guess what I did this morning?”

Kelly glanced at Avery. “Updated our accounting database?”

“No. Try again.”

“Opened our last consignment from Elizabeth?”

Avery shook her head. “No, but I must do that before I leave. This has to do with the watercolor.”

Kelly’s gaze darted across the store. “You sold it!”

“I did. A lady from Texas bought it. She saw it advertised on our website.”

“That’s wonderful. I’ll buy us lunch from Angel Wings Café to celebrate.”

“Sounds good. Did you win the auctions for the paperweights and shawls?”

“No, Tanner got those.”

“Tanner? Why would he want them?”

“That’s what I was wondering.” Kelly took her keys out of her pocket. “I did manage to win three other auctions. I’ll get the boxes out of my truck.”

Avery followed her to the parking lot at the back of her building. 

Two years ago, Kelly returned to Bozeman to sell the craft store her uncle had left her after he died. That short visit had turned into a permanent move and given her more than she ever expected. 

She opened the back door of the truck and handed Avery a box. “There are some lovely necklaces and ornaments in there. The jewelry doesn’t look all that great now, but I’ll use the stones in my own designs. And this,” she said excitedly, “is a box of unopened oil and watercolor paints. Mia’s art students will love them.”

“Apart from the ornaments, did you buy anything for the store?”

Kelly shook her head. “Unless there’s something in the mystery box, then this is it.” A drop of rain fell on her arm. “We should take these boxes inside and unpack them. I’ll leave the mystery box in the truck until after lunch.”

“Before we eat, you might want to check your phone messages. Some of them are urgent.”

“Okay.” Kelly opened the back door for Avery. “Did Mrs. Gray call?”

“Yes. She’s ready for me to collect everything you talked about the other day.”

“We’ll both be busy.” Kelly walked into the workroom. After she’d checked the first message, her eyes widened. “Tanner called?”

Avery slid her box onto a table and grinned. “About two minutes before you arrived. He didn’t say what it was about.”

“He probably wants to tell me how lucky I am to have won these boxes.”

“Maybe he wants to sell the paperweights and shawls to you.”

“I don’t think so.” Kelly collected all the messages and put Tanner’s at the bottom of the pile. She wasn’t in any frame of mind to talk to him. He could wait until the afternoon or maybe tomorrow. 

Or maybe never.

Fans of Netflix’s Virgin River series will love this small-town, feel-good romance!

Kelly is determined to make her antiques business a success. She won't let a bodyguard who likes first-edition poetry books interfere with her life.

But winning a mystery box at an auction changes everything. With Tanner working alongside her, they decipher the code in a forgotten journal, uncovering a young girl's journey to freedom and a powerful family's secret.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ “This series was hard to put down! Lots of drama, love, and laughter.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "Absolutely loved it! Felt like I moved to that small town and lived among the characters. So sweet!"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ "It’s the kind of book that makes you believe in love all over again."

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