Falling for a John
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Ashton Johnson is a formidable presence, a person who refuses to be controlled. With a strong will, unwavering resilience, and complete accountability, this twenty-two-year-old billionaire alpha male navigates his extraordinary life with ease. Every day brings a flurry of adoring fans, transforming a simple lunch into a chaotic spectacle. By afternoon, his face is plastered all over the internet, capturing the attention of millions. From the moment he was born, Ashton's life was destined for fame and recognition, thanks to his prominent family. He is the epitome of American royalty, carrying the weight of his lineage on his shoulders. However, his world takes an unexpected turn when he is assigned a new bodyguard, someone who will be with him around the clock. This is when Ashton comes face-to-face with his worst fear: being paired with a tattooed, MMA-trained professional who is notorious for disregarding rules within the security team. As if that weren't complicated enough, this bodyguard also happens to fulfill one-third of Ashton's deepest sexual desires. Lennox Burke, twenty-seven years old, has a singular duty: to protect Ashton Johnson at all costs. Anything beyond the realm of strict professionalism, such as flirting, dating, or engaging in intimate encounters, is strictly forbidden and could lead to Lennox's termination. However, when unexpected emotions begin to surface, the task of safeguarding this stubbornly alluring celebrity becomes increasingly complex for Lennox. As their paths intertwine, the boundaries that separate them start to blur, and the consequences of their growing connection could be catastrophic for both of them. The risk of exposure looms large, threatening to upend their lives in unimaginable ways.
"Can you tell me anything about him?" I asked for what felt like the millionth time. Though I hadn't actually been keeping count, the annoyance in Perth's bite into his blueberry bagel made it clear that my question had died a bitter death at least five minutes ago.
Today was the day everything was going to change. It was doomsday, the day when my already unconventional and strange life would become colossally more complicated. I could handle shit storms while single-handedly propping up the Earth, but I liked to have at least some semblance of preparation for situations. Sure, I had a real switchblade tucked away in my pocket, but I wanted a metaphorical one too.
Perth swallowed his bagel before responding. "You want to know one thing?"
"Just one," I affirmed.
"He's your new bodyguard."
I blinked slowly, transforming my expression into a glare. "Thank you for offering up the one thing I already fucking know." It had been driving me up the wall like a possessed Spider-Man. I had the same bodyguard my entire life, until Rodney decided to retire recently.
Yesterday, I bid farewell to Rodney, and it was bittersweet. He wanted to spend more time with his wife and two kids, rather than being the 24/7 bodyguard to an internationally famous individual like me. I understood his reasoning. Selfishly, I wished he could have stayed longer.
Actually, scratch that. I wished he could have stayed forever.
Personal bodyguards were like spouses. Everyone in my immediate and extended family had one. They followed us everywhere, dined with us, and guarded our rooms if we brought home strangers—or in my case, "uncomplicated" hookups. Mind-blowing sexual encounters and one-night stands—now, that responsibility was being passed on to someone new.
I had never before had to introduce a new bodyguard to the intricacies of my life. It wasn't just going to be a day in the life of Ashton Johnson; it was a permanent position that would last for decades, unless he turned out to be an incompetent prick.
This pivotal moment had put me on edge because Perth, the head of Security Force Omega, refused to share any further information about him.
"Like I said an hour ago," Perth told me, "it's better if you meet him in person." Before I could reply, his cellphone pinged.
I hoped it was my new bodyguard. Glancing at my canvas wristwatch, I realized he was already twenty minutes late, even though Perth had assured me he had received the invitation.
The massive store, with its cozy atmosphere, remained empty. Since the employees hadn't arrived yet, only a few lights were switched on, casting a dim glow throughout the place. As I waited, the silence enveloped me. Behind the bar counter, I positioned myself and poured a glass of orange juice, making sure to clarify to myself that I wasn't stealing.
This establishment, known as J. Son Paradise, was a unique hybrid of a two-story comic book store and coffee shop, owned by my family. With its red and blue vinyl booths, stools, and rows upon rows of comic books and merchandise neatly displayed on shelves, the place exuded a nostalgic diner vibe blended with a modern comic store aesthetic. There were 85 such stores around the world, but the original one was right here in Philadelphia.
Over the years, the store had undergone several major renovations. The second floor used to house offices for a comics publishing company, which had since relocated to the neighboring building.
After closing the orange juice jug, I glanced to my right, where bright blue stairs ascended towards a loft area on the second floor. The space was adorned with colorful beanbags, sofas, coffee tables, and mounted televisions continuously playing superhero films.
If I were to rank my favorite places in the world, J. Son Paradise would come in at a close second, just behind any swimming pool. Any pool would do.
Taking a large gulp of my orange juice, I noticed that Perth's phone began buzzing with rapid succession, indicating incoming messages. I wiped my mouth with my forearm, observing the text message notifications lighting up his screen. "Looks like someone's quite popular. Hopefully, it's my tardy bodyguard," I remarked.
Perth cleaned his fingers with a flimsy napkin. "It's just one person," he replied.
Curious, I leaned over to catch a glimpse of the name on the screen.
Perth shifted the phone towards his chest, scrolling through the messages. "Relax. Eat. Try not to overthink, if that's even possible for you," he advised.
"It's not," I admitted, not mincing my words.
Perth smiled briefly but refocused his attention on his phone. His straight black hair brushed against his dark eyelashes, and the muscles beneath his blue Studio 9 shirt hinted at his formidable strength. There was no specific dress code for security detail; bodyguards usually dressed according to the occasion. For instance, when attending formal charity events, they would don suits or tuxedos.
Feeling the tension in my muscles, I rolled my shoulders back, longing to stretch and swim a few laps. Glancing at the time on my phone, I took another sip of orange juice, my gaze fixed on Perth as he continued to text.
"You know," I began, addressing him, "I'm not asking for the meaning of life or a map of uncharted galaxies. You could at least tell me his hair color, zodiac sign, or maybe a last name—"
"Nice try," Perth interrupted, his brown eyes meeting mine, silently conveying that I couldn't fool him, before he returned to his cell phone.
"Why don't you finish making your list for him?" he suggested.
"I already printed it out," I replied, noting that it was tucked away in the pocket of my jeans. Perth had advised me to create a bullet-point list outlining the "rules of my life" for this unknown person.
For instance, rule #32 stated: "I take pictures with fans in real time and allow them to post the pictures. Not all of my cousins or siblings do this. It provides the public and media with a timestamp of my whereabouts. And it's considered risky."
There I was, sitting at the bar, contemplating the constant safety threat that seemed to loom over my life. From the moment I entered this world, I had been thrust into the limelight. It didn't bother me much anymore if someone knew my whereabouts at any given time. After all, the paparazzi always seemed to find me, no matter how hard I tried to hide.
I took a moment to place my glass down, feeling the need to run my fingers through my disheveled, light brown hair. The color wasn't natural; I had dyed it from its original dark brown shade. But then again, you probably already knew what I looked like. My face had graced the front pages of countless tabloids, capturing your attention as you casually perused the supermarket aisles, perhaps picking up some two-percent milk, a Kit-Kat bar, or even a can of Rees' Soda.
My piercing forest-green eyes were notorious for their ability to strike fear into the souls of those who dared to mess with my family. With sharp cheekbones resembling knives and a lean, sculpted physique from my days as a competitive swimmer, my appearance didn't go unnoticed. And maybe you weren't aware, but both Burberry and Calvin Klein had scouted me when I turned eighteen. I declined their offers, though.
As I sat there, lost in my thoughts, my phone buzzed with a flurry of messages from Perth. He had been an integral part of my life for the past five years, even though he wasn't my personal bodyguard. Leading the Security Force Omega, he was responsible for managing the team, handling recruitment, transfers, and terminations, ensuring that the entire security system ran smoothly. He was the glue that held everything together.
Perth, a twenty-five-year-old Thai-American with a background in MMA and specialization in Muay Thai, also owned the popular Studio 9 Boxing & MMA gym just down the street. The place was always packed with people, and getting in without a referral was nearly impossible, especially in the evenings.
Breaking away from his phone, Perth looked up and locked eyes with me. His gaze seemed to convey a mixture of concern and frustration. "You really need to relax," he advised.
Impatient and acutely aware of the ticking clock, I responded firmly, "If he doesn't show up by eight, we have to leave." I couldn't afford to be stuck here when the store opened its doors. I knew the drill—I would be bombarded with autograph requests and photo opportunities for hours on end. And truth be told, I had a long list of tasks waiting for my attention.
Apart from my high-profile public persona, I was also the CEO of a charitable organization that raised millions of dollars annually. I had set an ambitious goal to raise $300 million for J.H.W. Philanthropies by December, but we were still far from reaching the halfway mark.
"He knows," Perth simply stated, his words carrying a weight of understanding. And he did know.
I straightened up, my body rigid as if I were about to join the National Guard. "Who the fuck is he?" I muttered under my breath. I couldn't help but wonder if they had chosen someone who could keep up with me. Would he sputter out after just an hour or two? My life was a constant whirlwind of driving back and forth from my townhouse to my work offices and to the gated neighborhood where my three younger siblings still lived.
"Relax," Perth said, holding out a calming hand. "I know you well enough. I wouldn't assign someone to your detail who can't handle your lifestyle." He casually pushed back his hair and adjusted his baseball cap, wearing it backward.
In that moment, Perth seemed approachable, even friendly. But I had witnessed him confront a grown man twice his size, a bulky individual known for using steroids who had once been my cousin Lincoln's bodyguard. And he had messed up. He had allowed a cameraman to slip into a public bathroom while my cousin was using a urinal.
Perth had unleashed his fury on the bodyguard, yelling and scolding him relentlessly. I watched as this much younger guy reduced the middle-aged man to tears, as if he had committed some grave offense. It dawned on me why most people warned against angering the SFO lead. Getting on Perth's bad side was like signing your own death warrant.
Suddenly, our attention was drawn to the tinted windows of a nearby store. Four preteens had carelessly collided with the glass, bouncing on their toes in excitement. They screamed a jumble of names, including mine, and pressed their hands against the window, desperately trying to catch a glimpse inside.
A smile spread across my face.
It was amusing, really. If I didn't find it funny, I would be annoyed every single day. Typically, there was a line of people waiting outside the store until closing time, so it wasn't surprising that some were already here before eight.
The preteens began counting together, "One, two, three," before erupting in high-pitched shrieks, "Ashton Johnson!"
My grin widened.
Those preteens and the entire world knew me as Ashton Johnson. I was the CEO of a nonprofit charity, a one-time philosophy major, a competitive swimmer. I was the son of a sex addict mother and a recovering alcoholic father. I was the steadfast older brother to three siblings and the cousin to eleven others.
People were obsessed with my perpetually "single" relationship status. They had never seen me publicly date anyone. Occasionally, when I wasn't careful enough, they would come across photos of me with random girls or guys, but they knew I wasn't serious about them. They knew it would only last for one night, with no strings attached.
You don’t know really anything about our bodyguards. Like how they exist in our lives as close as family members. It’s their duty to maintain anonymity with the public, and you can’t keep an eye on them or know them the way that we do.
So you know nothing about Perth Kitsuwon and the rest of Security Force Omega.
Perth grins at the three girls and one boy who can’t see us, but we can see them flailing excitedly and taking selfies. “This shit never gets old.”
I raise my OJ. “Immortal entertainment.” Two homemade signs smack the window.
I read one: FUCK ME, ASHTON JOHNSON! She looks twelve, pigtail braids and braces.
My jaw muscle tenses. “Just kidding.” That’s not fucking funny. It should go without saying, but I’d never have sex with a preteen or teenager or anyone who looks on the cusp of being that young. Jesus…twelve. I have a sister that age.
I’m not against hooking up with fans. It’s pretty much inevitable, but it has to be a.) consensual and b.) someone of legal age and c.) a one-time thing.
Perth scrutinizes the preteens. “The scary part,” he says, “that shit doesn’t even faze me anymore.” He eyes the lock on the store entrance before returning to his cellphone.
The other sign from her friend: I WANT TO HAVE YOUR BABIES, BLAKE!!
Blake is my fourteen-year-old brother.
My shoulders square, but I try to brush that sign off without a long thought. Perth resumes texting again. I lean forward. Still not able to see his screen.
“Hot date?” I ask.
Perth quickly says, “No.” Then he removes his elbows off the counter. Sitting up. “It’s Madison.”
Madison Haynes. My nineteen-year-old cousin.
“Madison’s blowing up your phone?” I give him a look. “Didn’t you tell her that you’re with me?” I needed a bodyguard just to drive here and meet a new bodyguard. The irony. I asked Perth if there was anyone available from Omega, and he offered himself.
“I thought she’d be asleep until nine, at least.”
I wait for him to add more.
He stops there.
“Why?” I try not to snap. I swear the whole security team enjoys keeping me out of the loop. I could get twice as much information by just asking my family. But I restrain myself from texting Madison.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says evasively and eats another bite of bagel while messaging my cousin.
“It does to me. She’s my family.” She’s not a part of security. She’s on my side. Famous.
In the world of the Johnsons, the Haynes, and the Cobalts, our lives are intertwined in a way that can only be described as permanent. You see, our mothers are sisters, the infamous Rees sisters. And it is through this familial connection that our destinies are forever linked. The Reess, particularly my grandfather, had established a soda company called Rees', which has garnered worldwide fame. In fact, Rees' has even surpassed the mighty Coca-Cola in sales over the past decade. This company is a significant factor in our collective celebrity status.
As I voice my intention to reach out to someone through a text message, I make a move to grab my phone. However, the person in front of me relents and gives me a nod of approval.
After finishing his meal and swallowing, he begins to speak. "She couldn't stop yawning during our trip back from the state park. She didn't arrive home until three in the morning," he types out in another text message. "I should have known she would wake up." His gaze shifts towards me. "She suffers from FOMEFT."
Fear of Missing Every Fucking Thing.
A smile starts to form on my lips.
Madison, my younger cousin, actually came up with that term herself. The most predictable thing about her is her unpredictability when it comes to sleep.
It strikes me as odd that Perth, the person before me, is aware of these specific details about Maddie. But then again, he is her personal bodyguard. He has been assigned to protect Madison since she turned sixteen. If there's anyone who knows her daily routines and habits, it's him.
The realization hits me once again, a thought I've been trying to ignore but can no longer evade: someone is about to become intimately familiar with my own life habits as well.
Leaning against the counter, I cross my arms over my green crew-neck shirt. As the lock on the tinted-glass door begins to turn, my muscles tense up.
Someone is entering. Someone who possesses a key.
My new bodyguard.
Finally, he has arrived.
To whom it may concern; I kindly request that you cease troubling me. Yours sincerely, an exasperated human.
As fate would have it, the very last person I desired to encounter today steps foot inside J. Son Paradise. I swiftly refill my glass of orange juice and observe as the familiar face enters through the door.
Standing tall at an impressive six feet and three inches, he dons a black V-neck tucked neatly into black jeans, secured by a leather belt. Protruding from his waistband is the handle of a handgun, while his dyed bleach-white hair sharply contrasts his thick brown eyebrows.
Although many individuals find Lennox Burke to be an intimidating figure at first glance, I, on the other hand, have grown immune to most forms of intimidation.
You see, it's a trait inherent in being a Johnson.
Allow me to depict Lennox in three significant ways:
3. A major annoyance i
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