She had not been an easy assignment. A party girl in her own right, she was the reason for Marco’s sleepless nights.

For the first few weeks she’d barely noticed him at all, but one mistake and her attention honed into him like a torpedo. He thought about that night so many times after, over and over, trying to find a way he could have avoided falling in love with her, but there was nothing he could do to change it.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to.

She was young but no stranger to drugs and alcohol, privileged but naive, the kind of girl that grew up in a gilded aged home and only drank designer water, and she hated it all. She was the daughter of an ex-diplomat, the kind of guy that was connected up the ass and had to be protected unless you wanted a war on your hands, so she became Marco’s assignment, and then she became his.

She’d been attending parties all week, not the kind she liked but the kind that required her to sit still and smile and wave, so she took something for the boredom and the pain, and she seemed okay. But then she didn’t, and he thought maybe she’d taken too much from the way she twitched on the way home. She had almost made it to her bed when she fainted.

He caught her. Of course he caught her. It was his job to protect her, but before he could call for help she came to.

“Sorry,” she whispered, staring up at him with big brown eyes that looked so sad.

“Don’t be,” he replied, and before he knew what was happening they were kissing.

He’d thought it, but even if you asked him under duress, he still wouldn’t have been able to day who made the first move. All he knew is that from one moment to the next her lips were on his and his hands were in her hair, and she pulled on his clothes until he was straddling her on the floor.

They never made it to the bed either.

He could remember every second from then on. How neither of them made a move to close the door, and even though there were people sleeping right down the hall it only fueled them more.

He had tried to pull away. It took all of the strength he had to stop and look at her, but she only whispered at him to go on, wrapping her legs around him and locking him inside her embrace.

If he had died in that moment he would have died happy. Instead it was as if something inside him had been dialed up to eleven, so that every thrust, every caress and every kiss felt better than any experience since and every experience before.

It wasn’t until morning that he realized that if he had died in that moment, he would have died a failure. That if anything would have happened during the time he had been with her, she would have been vulnerable and he would have been unable to protect her. And it was his job to protect her.

The thought haunted him for days after, but it was not enough to get him to say no when she invited him upstairs the next night and the next. Not enough to get him to want to wake up alone in his own bed.

Eventually he did. It took much longer than he liked to admit, but he came to his senses, and denying her was more painful than ripping out both arms from their sockets. Part of him would have preferred it, anything but the pain of being without her.

It was for her safety, he’d said, but his words were hollow to them both, and they didn’t matter in the end. Everything had changed.

He saw it in the way she moved, like she was contemplating every step. He saw it in the way she avoided his gaze. He saw it in the mirror, the eyes of a man who’d seen paradise and locked himself out staring back at him.

There was no denying it. He loved her and she loved him, and pretending otherwise was hurting them both. And he didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted to protect her. So he came to her one last time and asked her in earnest what she wanted.

“Are you sure?” He asked. After a few seconds she smiled and pulled him, closing the door. Behind him.