Charming Like Us by Krista Ritchie

1





OSCAR OLIVEIRA





Ten times a day, I question why I’m the bodyguard to Charlie Keating Cobalt. The sun just set, and I’m already at number eleven. Why me?

Because I can keep up.

Because despite the fact that he’s actively trying to lose me in a crowd that’s fifty people deep, I’m still six feet behind him. I could lunge and grab his thin, billowing white button-down, untucked from his black jeans.

No one has noticed the famous twenty-one-year-old yet.

Thanks to the fact that Charlie is moving through a crowd of tourists who are all too enamored with the glittering Manhattan skyscrapers. They’re too unaware that a celebrity just passed them by, with his unkempt, sandy-brown hair that takes flight with the summer wind.

Charlie veers to the left, suddenly, and his head disappears behind a group of taller men. If it were my first day on the job, I’d think he was trying to lose me in the crowd. But it’s not my first day. Not even my second.

I’ve been Charlie’s bodyguard for over five years.

So I don’t think it.

I know he’s trying to lose me.

Here’s an annoying fact: His success rate is about 50%.

Here’s a less annoying fact: Before me, his success rate was 100%.

Charlie’s previous bodyguards were making him look like a gold-star Houdini. They had zero shot to catch up to him. If Charlie wanted to disappear, he’d vanish into thin air.

With me, he has to try a little fucking harder, and that’s why I’m still on his detail after all these years. Can’t lie, it’s not rose petals and holy water over here. It’s never stopping. Not for a second. It’s stress on stress on stress, and I’m terrified of the day I lose this.

Being his bodyguard.

Because it’ll be like going from a hundred million miles an hour to being glued to the ground. I’ve been at Charlie’s speed for so long, I don’t know how to stop anymore.

I watch him near a department store, and instead of following his footsteps, I keep walking ahead with the throngs. Officially, I lose sight of him. It’s a calculated risk, one with opportunity cost.

And as I make the decision, I know exactly what it’s going to cost me…and my client.

I hear overwhelmed, elated, shrill screams of a young girl.

“Ohmygod Charlie COBALT!”

Her high-pitched “oh my gods” are probably echoing down the New Jersey Turnpike. Can I blame her? I grew up thinking the Cobalts walked on water. All three famous families are considered American royalty, but the Cobalts are the gods among the princes, and now that I protect them, I still think it.

The difference is, I’m not a teenager envious of their flawless intellect and their arm-in-arm impenetrable bonds…their closeness that made my family life seem unspooled and messy.

Because I’m older now, and I’m an incredibly intelligent motherfucker. And I’ve come face-to-face with the Cobalts, who are just as messy, just as dysfunctional, just as chaotic as my family still is.

And it made me love the Cobalt Empire even more.

So they still walk on water, but I’m one of several men who picks their asses out of a Great Lake when they slip and begin to drown.

Call me The Pro.

The media already does.

More screaming blisters the New York City air, and with a swift turn, I round the corner into an empty alleyway.

I keep a relaxed pace, comms earpiece situated in my ear. The July heat tries to suction my navy-blue button-down to my chest. Curly pieces of my hair brush my forehead, and I push them back and walk. Normally bodyguards alert their lead if they lost sight of their client. Yet, it’s pointless, if I radio in.

Fuck, I remember Charlie’s past bodyguards and their hysteria over comms.

I lost him. I lost him! Fucking shit, I lost the kid!

He’s just gone. I swear I had eyes on him.

I can’t…I can’t find him anywhere.

Fuck this, I quit.

Having to deploy a search and rescue mission for your client is embarrassing. Epsilon is still licking their wounds after losing the girl squad in Anacapri, which was about a week ago. The youngest girls in the famous families are fledgling teenagers, and they might as well be the babies, the treasured irreplaceable diamonds.

You don’t lose them.

Charlie is different. For one, he’s an adult. For another, he does this all the fucking time. If I asked for a “search and rescue,” I know Akara and Thatcher would help me track him, but there’s not much they can actually do.