Posted by Lexxie Couper on Saturday, June 2nd, 2012
Muscle for Hire is the story of an ex-British SAS Commando whose life as the bodyguard of the world’s biggest rock star is coming to an end…and the American Martial Arts expert who knocks him off his feet. Some of who may recognise him…
Feel free to tell me what you think. I’d love the feedback
A wall of screaming, squealing, crying young women—and some not-so young women—threw themselves at Aslin Rhodes. He wasn’t the object of their frenzied affection. That was for Chris Huntley, star of hit sit-com Twice Too Many and soon-to-be released action blockbuster, Dead Even. No, Aslin just happened to find himself between Chris and the wall of screaming, squealing, crying young and not-so young women. Fifteen years working as a bodyguard for the world’s biggest rock star however, prepared Aslin for the insanity.
He planted his size fourteen booted feet firmly on the footpath and, arms spread, jaw bunched, muscles coiled, held back the frenzied horde. Just.
Movie star groupies were more maniacal than rock star groupies it seemed. At least those currently here trying to get their mits on Chris Huntley. And, Aslin discovered, more prone to biting.
“Oi!” He flinched as a set of teeth sank into his forearm, swinging his glare to a girl who looked no more than twelve snarling up at him from his near his elbow. “Watch it.”
“We’re trying to,” an elderly woman in a skin-tight Twice Too Many T-shirt snapped back, giving the teenager girl squashed between her and Aslin a shove. “But you’re in the road.”
Her fellow frenzied fans echoed her unhappiness with Aslin’s presence, most resorting to names and insults on his British nationality. He’d never heard the words “fucking Pom” uttered so often by so many women. If the situation wasn’t so surreal, he’d laugh.
“Seriously,” he called out, still holding back the wall of hormone-induced lust with sheer strength—and a wide arm span. “What’s the odds Chris Huntley is going to—”
A loud groan drowned out the rest of Aslin’s question as the women stopped pushing against him and fell back, their eyes swelling with tears, their expressions suicidal. “He’s gone,” the woman in the Twice Too Many T-shirt moaned. Another collective sob sounded from the horde as surly glares turned to Aslin.
Aslin did his own turning, shooting the space behind him where Chris Huntley and Nigel McQueen, Dead Even’s director had been sharing coffee. The harbour-side café was now empty of Hollywood type persons, the normal run-of-the-mill patrons left behind looking about themselves with bemused curiosity.
Aslin swung his attention back to the women, only to find them dispersing on the esplanade, most staring intently at their cameras and smartphones on which—no doubt—hundred of hastily snapped images of Chris sipping his latte were now stored.
He let out a chuckle and shook his head. He’d never get his head around the unhinged mentality of a frenzied fan. Fifteen years protecting Nick Blackthorne hadn’t enlightened him and he didn’t see this small job illuminating it either.
Maybe it’s time you went back into the service, boyo? HRH’s Defense Force would take you back in an instant.
A dull pressure settled on Aslin’s chest at the notion of returning to his post as a SAS Commando. He may not understand infatuated, borderline loopy fans much, but he understood his country’s need to be involved in the war in Afghanistan less.
There was a reasons he’d left the United Kingdom Special Forces to become professional muscle for a rock star: that surreal career made more sense than the orders constantly given to him during—
A male voice called from behind Aslin and he turned, an instinctual tension coiling through his body. He didn’t like being caught unawares and it wasn’t something that happened often.
A non-descript blue Audi SUV sat parked beside the café’s al fresco area, the rear passenger door open.
Aslin narrowed his eyes. That the SUV was there in the first place told him it wasn’t as unimportant as it appeared. The whole area facing the harbour where he now stood was strictly an esplanade: no cars allowed. Added to the situation was the fact Aslin was at the café in the first place to meet the director of the film, and he suspected he knew who the owner of the voice was. There weren’t that many men with American accents capable of flouting the laws in Sydney at the moment.
A soft snort sounded at the back of Aslin’s throat and he began walking toward the waiting vehicle.
Looks like your career in the movies is just about to begin, boyo.
Stopping at the open door, he looked into the cabin. And rose his eyebrows at the sight of Chris Huntley smiling back at him.
“Nick told me you were good at keeping back the masses.” The actor’s smile turned into a grin. But I have to say, I’ve never seen just one man intimidate so many women all by himself.”
Aslin nodded an acknowledgement of the compliment.
Chris held out a hand as he shifted back deeper along the rear seat. “Nigel and I had planned to chat with you at the café, but well, as you no doubt saw, it got a little crowded.”
Aslin gave the actor a soft chuckle. “I saw.”
Chris laughed. “Nick also told me you weren’t one for a lot of wasted words. I see he’s right.” He waved his hand at the empty seat beside him. “Would you like to get in? I’ due back on set in an hour but I really wanted to chat first.”
Aslin studied the man looking up at him from the SUV’s interior. He was young, handsome and openly friendly. A target for all sorts of deluded and hysterical fans, especially given the sexual potency Aslin had noticed oozed from him when on screen. Since Nick’s retirement from singing and his emersion in family life, Aslin had found himself at a loss for things to do. There was only so much a bodyguard could do in a small rural town in the Australian highlands, particularly when the rock star he used to guard preferred nowadays to just hang out at home with his wife and son.
After a few months of watching Aslin attempt to find potential threats in the mums and dads at the soccer fields, in the local butcher who delivered their meat, and in the Murriundah Public School Parents and Citizen Association members who congregated at Nick’s home for their monthly meetings, Nick had finally rolled his eyes and told Aslin he had a job for him.
For a friend.
On a film set.
Staring a big Hollywood actor.
“He needs an advisor on all things menacing and commando,” Nick had said to Aslin with a grin. “I can tell you’re bored out of your brain here, As. Get your arse to Sydney and be useful for a change, will you?”
And so here Aslin was now, ready to tell Hollywood—and an actor who so far hadn’t played a single action role—how to do it right. The things was, after fifteen years of being Nick’s bodyguard, Aslin almost felt…traitorous.
“Nigel said he’d meet us back on set, “ Chris went on, his attention fixed on Aslin’s face, as if storing away all sorts of little details. “He’s going to get his P.A. to arrange a trailer for you.” The actor shot a look at the empty seat at Aslin’s knees, an almost nervous tension pulling at his forehead. “If you’d rather meet us both back there…”
From the corner of his eye, Aslin caught movement and he straightened a little, enough to notice the woman in the Twice Too Many T-shirt taking photos of the SUV. She gave him a wide smile, her expression suddenly predatory and smug.
She’s worked out her pray is in the car. Time to get him gone.
As a rule, Aslin didn’t get into a vehicle he wasn’t driving himself, but with Ms Too-Tight-T-shirt hurrying towards him and the Audi’s open door, he knew now wasn’t the time to discuss the chauffeur situation.
Bending at the waist, he ducked through the opening and climbed into the SUV, slamming the door behind him.
“Hello Mr. Rhodes,” the same male voice that had called him earlier came from behind the driver’s wheel and Aslin looked into the rearview mirror to find a set of black Ray-Bans looking back at him. “Welcome aboard. I’m Jeff Coulten.”
Aslin took in the broad width of the man’s shoulders and the smooth strength in his neck. “Bodyguard?”
Jeff laughed. “Just driver.”
Beside Aslin, Chris let out his own chuckle. “I don’t have a bodyguard, Aslin. May I call you Aslin? Jeff is what’s left of my entourage.”
Aslin cocked an eyebrow. “What’s left of it?”
Chris reached up and snared his seat belt, buckling himself in. “I grew out of it.” He gave Aslin a wide smile. “Ready?”
Before Aslin got a change to ask for what, the thumping sounds of Linkin Park flooded the SUV’s cabin, a deep thrum vibrated into his body and the car took off, throwing Aslin back into his seat as Jeff drove them away from the café and passed the furiously photographing middle-aged fan.
Welcome to the movie world, boyo, Aslin thought, buckling himself in as quickly as he could. Remind yourself to kick Nick in the arse when you see him again.
Twently minutes later—with quite a few of those minutes spent reminding Jeff Australians drove on the left side of the road—Aslin swore he’d never get in a car with what was left of Chris Huntley’s entourage again. Not if the affable Jeff Coulten was driving, that was for certain. Thankfully, somewhat remarkably, they’d made it to the film set in one piece, Jeff leaving Chris and Aslin at the fenced perimeter before tearing away, wheels spitting gravel out in his wake.
Chris threw Aslin a sideward glance, no doubt seeing the disapproval on Aslin’s face. “He’s a great guy, honest,” he said as they began walking deeper into the area currently over-run with film crew. “And he’s been my friend for years.”
Aslin didn’t reply. Instead, as always, he took in every details of his surroundings, noting places where attacks could be made, objects that could be used as weapons, easy exit routes if needed. Dead Even was being filmed in part at the old Darlinghurst Gaol on Sydney’s harbour, the convict prison normally a favourite destination for tourists, now being used as “the secret base for a clandestine, international defense force network code name Last Line” according to Chris. The actor had filled Aslin in on the drive, outlining the basic plot, providing details of his character—a “brooding, foreboding commando who comes into conflict with his superiors unjust, dubious orders”—and generally chatting away as if he and Aslin were long-lost chums. There was a boyish charm to Chris that Aslin found hard to resist, the young American reminding him a lot of Nick’s teenage son. Young, eager and easy to laugh.
He could see why woman threw themselves at him. He could also see why Nick considered him a friend.
What he couldn’t see was Chris in the role of a commando, or, seeing as the actor was going to keep his American accent for the part, the “Last Line” equivalent of a Navy Seal. Which was what Aslin had to make him.
It was going to be a challenge.
A small tug on the corners of his mouth told Aslin he was smiling and he suppressed a chuckle. It was also going to be fun.
Nick Blackthorne’s arse was going to be saved from his boot after all.
Two hours later, Aslin once again considered the rock star’s butt overdue for a kick. Movei folk had an infuriating view of what a soldier of war was. They also had no clue—in Aslin’s opinion—what looked believable and what didn’t. He’d spent the last one-hundred and twenty minutes not just correcting one cliché after another from being captured on film, but trying to convince the director, Nigel McQueen that a SAS British Commando, even a retired one, really did know how to hold a Desert Eagle handgun. And how to throw a punch.
The bloke was a nice enough fellow, but he had a warped and wrong sense of what actually happened during close combat.
“Don’t worry, Aslin.” Chris slapped his back as they walked off set, completely unaware Aslin had broken arms and smashed jaws for lesser contact. “You’ll get used to Nigel. He’s stubborn I know, but he’s got a vision and he’s true to it. It’s why he’s won so many awards.” The actor laughed. “Having said that, I think what you did to the Second Unit stunt director illustrated his vision may be a bit off this time.”
Aslin raised a contemplative eyebrow. In his opinion the Second Unit stunt director was an idiot. What kind of so-called “expert” insisted it was impossible to down an opponent with a Harai Tsurikomi Ashi without signposting it? After a good ten minutes arguing with the man that it could be done, Aslin had decided it was easier to just show him.
The stunt director had stormed off the set after that. Well, limped off the set. After Aslin had let him up off the ground.
Beside him, Chris chuckled again. “What are the chances Nick knew you were going to stir up trouble when he suggested you come on board the film?”
Aslin didn’t stop his own laugh. “I suspect the odds are high.”
A shout from behind turned both men around, Aslin stepping slightly forward and in front of Chris without thought.
“Chris.” Nigel hurried toward them, his shaggy black hair flapping in the warm summer breeze. “You can’t take off now. We need to check the dailies.”
Chris slapped his forehead. “Ah fuck, that’s right.” He looked up at Aslin, an apologetic grimace pulling at his lips. “This’ll take a while. Sorry. Can you come to my trailer in an hour of so? I wanna get your take on my character’s motivation.”
Aslin gave him a brief nod. “Of course.”
“I like what you gave us today, Mr. Rhodes.” Nigel stuck out his hand, whiter-than-white teeth flashing from behind a wide smile as he shook Aslin’s hand with a firm grip. “I’m not sure Ricoo’s ever coming back on set, but I like what you gave us. I look forward to seeing what you give us tomorrow.”
And with that, the film director and the actor walked away, leaving Aslin alone.
He watched them go, unable to suppress a snort as the personal assistants for both men came scurrying from the wings, water bottles in hand, mobile phones offered, fruit baskets hanging from bent elbows.
And you thought the demands of a rock star indulgent.
At the thought of his boss, Aslin pulled his phone from his hip pocket and dialed Nick’s number.
“You missing me already, Uncle As?”
Aslin didn’t bother answering the chuckled jest. “Am I being interviewed for a job by Chris Huntley, Nick? Are you trying to get rid of me?”
On the other end of the phone, the man who was once the world’s biggest rock star and was now happy to be just a husband and dad laughed. “No, As. It’s not. But let’s be serious, mate, you can’t hang around Murriundah looking out for insane groupies that might come after me or Lauren or Josh. The day I announced my retirement, they started to move on to the next ‘new big thing’ and I couldn’t be happier. When was the last time you had to prevent a fan launching themselves at me? Chris on the other hand…”
Nick left the sentence unfinished.
Aslin’s gut clenched. Nick was correct. The groupies and fans had tapered off over the last few months, only the odd truly die-hard willing to make the long trip to the small town Nick now called home. When that happened, a state of the art security system kept Nick, Lauren and Josh safe from unwanted guests when they were at home, and the protective residents of Murriundah looked out for their famous neighbours when they were in public. Which left Aslin almost redundant. But if he wasn’t Nick Blackthorne’s bodyguard, what was he?
“Listen, As,” Nick went on, his voice relaxed and calm, and for one brief, stupid moment Aslin longed for the days when Nick was the wild rocker who had no fucking clue what he was doing from one second to the next. “Do what you’re there for—be the bad-arse Pommie commando and tell those Hollywood guys how to do it right. When you’re finished, then we’ll talk about what’s next, okay?”
Ending the call after promising to get Chris’s autograph from Josh’s latest girlfriend, Aslin wandered around the film set, charting everything he saw for later consideration. It was, he had to admit to himself, a bizarre experience. He’d grown up in the London slums, the middle child of five boys who all knew how to fight by the time they were eight. Aslin joined the British Army at the age of seventeen in a last ditch effort to avoid ending up like his older brothers—who were already serving time. His years as a SAS soldier, of existing as a vital member of a unit, followed by a his life as Nick’s bodyguard had given him little time to exist as an individual. Now here we was, alone, with a possibility before him he was eighty-five percent certain he didn’t want.
But if not a bodyguard to a celebrity, than what? What kind of career options did an ex-bodyguard, ex commando have?
And did Aslin want any of them?
Do you even know who you are now, boyo? Or are you just muscle for hire?
The question was unsettling. And without answer. At least, none presented itself in the time that lapsed as Aslin toured the film set.
Forty-five minutes later, part frustrated, part irritated, he made his way to the massive, ostentatious manor on wheels that was Chris Huntley’s trailer.
And stopped a few yards away when he noticed a tall, slim woman dressed in faded denim jeans and a snug black T-shirt trying to jimmy open the door.
Her back was to him, her long toned legs braced apart as she wriggled something thin and silver between the door and the frame near the lock. A thick ponytail the colour of spun wheat spilled from the back of her baseball cap, fanning over her shoulders and ribcage as she shifted her position, no doubt to put more weight behind her attempt to access Chris’s trailer.
For a quick second Aslin was struck by the physical perfection of her physique—of the latent strength in her firm limbs, of the confidence in her stance. And then the sheer gall of what she was doing, trying to break into Chris Huntley’s trailer, hit him and he moved. Fast.
He snared her right wrist with one hand, spun her around to face him, face set in an intimidating glower…
…and ended up on his back in a blur of colour as she kicked his legs right out from under him.
A booted heel rammed under his chin, mashing into his flesh as the woman glared down at him, her fists loosely clenched at her face. “Want to explain what you’re—”
He didn’t let her finish. Twisting to his left, he slammed his forearm into the side of her calf, rolling to his feet and driving her back—butt first—against the trailer.
A second before she dropped into a crouch, escaping his pinning arm, and smashed a fist into his balls.
He staggered back a step. But only one. The pain was excruciating, agonizing, but he’d learnt to shut pain out a long time ago. Fixing his stare on the woman’s face, he whipped out his right hand, feigning an attempt to grab her arm even as he swooped his left foot against her right ankle.
And ended up on his arse, again, the wind knocked from him, when she spun off the ground in a tight circle and drove her heel into his chest.
What the hell?
The thought had barely formed in his head when two firm thighs slammed into his ribcage, right under his armpits, squeezing him with phenomenal, crushing strength as one fist balled in the front of his shirt and the other bunched behind her head. “Nice try, buddy.” A soft American accent turned the words to a mocking snarl. “But not good enough.” Brilliant blue eyes glared down at him, thick dark lashes framing their obvious anger. “Now tell me who the fuck you are and what the hell do you think you’re—”
“Holy shit, Rowan!” A male voice called out, and a distant part of Aslin’s mind recognised it as Chris Huntley. “What have you done to Nick Blackthorne’s bodyguard?”
The woman straddling Aslin didn’t move. Aslin could tell. Every muscle in his own body was tuned into hers. “What’s Nick Blackthorne’s bodyguard doing here?” the woman—Rowan—asked without lifting her pinning stare from Aslin’s face. “And why did he try to grab me?”
From the corner of Aslin’s eye, he saw feet come to a stop on the concrete beside his head but he didn’t tear his focus from the woman atop him. His nerve-endings sparked and fired. He’d been put on his back by a woman? How the hell did he get put on his back by a woman? Who the hell was she?
“I don’t know why he tried to grab you,” Chris laughed. “Did you piss him off?”
Blue eyes flickered, holding Aslin motionless. And then the woman was standing, in a move so fluid and quick he couldn’t stop the slither of appreciation threading through his disbelief.
“Funny, Huntley,” she was saying, stepping over him like he no longer mattered. “Now shut up and say hello to me. It’s been too long since we saw each other.”
From his place on the ground, Aslin watched her reach out and wrap her smooth, firmly toned arms around the actor, giving him a hug that was relaxed and warm. She kissed Chris’s cheek, a grin playing with the corners of her lips. Lips, Aslin couldn’t help but notice, were full and naturally pink.
“Ugh,” Chris laughed, stepping out of the woman’s hug. “Girl germs.”
The woman swiped at his jaw in a friendly punch, a shallow dimple creasing the smooth flesh of her cheek. “Shut up, you idiot.”
Chris laughed again, dropped a kiss on that very dimple, and then turned to Aslin. Aslin who was still lying shocked on the ground.
Aslin who’d just had his arse handed to him by a woman no taller than his chin.
“Aslin Rhodes,” Chris said, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “Allow me to introduce my sister, Rowan Hemsworth.”