Never allowing anyone too close, Ethan Stone has lived a solitary life since he was disowned by his family when he discovered their darkest secret. He spends his days as a quiet sentinel, protecting others to make up for the ones he didn’t. Love, friendship, and family have no place in his world.
Ben Cronin is a warrior, haunted by a past he excelled at, which almost robbed him of his humanity. He became a professional bodyguard to save lives rather than take them. And he has loved his stoic colleague, Ethan Stone, from the day they met.
When Ethan’s sister suddenly comes back into his life in desperate need of his help, Ethan doesn’t hesitate to do whatever he needs to do. To his surprise, Ben—the man who makes him want things he shouldn’t—is right there beside him, risking everything to help him and finally coaxing Ethan’s feelings back to life.
A desperate race to find his missing nieces leads Ethan to a place he never thought he’d be and takes Ben exactly where he wanted to be—in a life filled with love and desire. But how long can they keep it when evil stalks their every step?
Karrie Roman © 2018
All Rights Reserved
“What now for you, Ryan?”
“Um…the short answer is I really don’t know. I’m going to take some time with Lucas while the show is on hiatus and think about what’s next for me. I hope people will understand why I’ve chosen to step away from the spotlight and will be gracious enough to give me the space I need to work out where to go from here. But for right this minute, Lucas and I are getting on a plane to locations unknown and we’re going to relax and enjoy being us.”
The press conference was a compromise between the very intrusive media and Lucas and Ryan. They wanted some peace, some space to recover from the events of the last couple of months, and now that their show, Witches’ Hammer, had wrapped up for a break, and Lucas had been given a clean bill of health, they were taking some time for themselves. Nobody deserved it more after what they’d been through.
Ethan watched, ever vigilant, as they stepped down from the podium and walked hand in hand toward the waiting car. His gaze rested on their joined hands for a second or two too long, but it was hard to look away from something that he desired for himself so very much. Not that he wanted either Lucas or Ryan. They were both great men and smoking fucking hot, but they weren’t for him. What he wanted was what they had—intimacy and love.
After years of self-imposed isolation from anything resembling a close relationship, Ethan wanted more.
Once his two charges were settled in the car, Ethan climbed into the passenger seat and gave the nod to Max. The big car roared to life and Max deftly drove them toward the airport and their waiting plane.
His former bosses, Patricia and Roger Krispin, had let Ethan go from their security agency when he called to resign, as he’d breached their no-skeletons-in-the-closet rule, but Lucas and Ryan had hired him as their personal bodyguard and had kept the Krispin’s professional teams as backup whenever needed. Ethan would be traveling to Australia with them, and Harry and Christina would meet them there for extra security, if needed.
“Looking forward to the Aussie girls in their bikinis, Ethan?” Ryan asked from the back seat.
“I’m more of a man in…what do you Aussies call them…boardies type of guy.”
“Oh, shit…sorry. Well, there’s plenty of them too. Maybe we can find a hot lifeguard for you while we’re there.” He didn’t need to turn to know Lucas and Ryan would be giggling to themselves, no doubt planning some kind of setup for him. He loved working for these two men and often wondered at his good fortune, especially after the shit had hit the fan following the revelation of who he was.
For almost four weeks, Ryan and Lucas had dominated the front pages and headlined the news. When the media had discovered that Ethan Lockard had come out of the woodwork and was somehow embroiled in the Lovers saga, the scrutiny had begun to border on the ridiculous. Ethan had offered to resign and had given serious thought to running again. It would be harder to pick a new identity and hide this time, but he’d manage. He was so tired of running and so fucking tired of being lonely.
Eight years ago, he’d lost his entire family, and though he hadn’t allowed any of them to get too close, the men and women he’d worked with over the last few years had become a family of sorts. He wasn’t going to let his brother take another family away from him this time.
“Okay, jet’s fueled and ready. Wheels up as soon as you arrive.” Paulina’s voice sounded in his ear.
“Copy. We’re about ten minutes out. All clear,” he replied. Despite the press coverage and the revelations that had been made about him, nobody from Krispins had seemed to care. They’d all accepted his apology for lying to them and admitted they’d have probably done the same if they were in his shoes.
The only person he hadn’t seen or spoken to since his true identity had been discovered was Ben. He hadn’t been back to see Ben since that day at the hospital when he’d been exposed. Ben’s brother, Cameron, had called to let him know the doctors had successfully woken him and called a few more times with updates, but Ethan had refused when Cameron had told him Ben had been asking for him to visit. He was such a fucking coward, but he knew he couldn’t bear to see disappointment in Ben’s eyes. What if Ben hated him for lying and keeping his past quiet? Ethan could stand anybody else’s hatred—but not Ben’s.
The private jet was waiting on the tarmac as promised, and Max drove them virtually to the open door. Ethan scanned the area as the car pulled up. He expected no trouble, and thankfully, he found none. Once satisfied, he stepped out and moved around the front of the car so he could open the back door nearest to the plane. Lucas stepped out, closely followed by Ryan, their hands immediately re-entwined as soon as they were both clear of the car. Ethan felt that pang of envy bite into him again at the intimacy the two men shared. God, he wanted it.
It wasn’t the first private jet he’d been on, but it was one of the nicest. Lucas and Ryan were already seated on the sofa that ran along one side of the cabin by the time he boarded. Ethan took the single seat across from them. He’d seen the bedroom toward the back of the plane as he’d entered the jet and wondered, with a sly grin on his face, how long it’d take before Lucas and Ryan made use of that.
“How are you with flying, Ethan?” Lucas asked as he continued to settle himself in and clip his seat belt.
“No problem with it. I can’t say I’ve done a huge amount, but I don’t mind it. Once the captain turns the seat belt sign off, I’ll pop this chair back, shut my eyes, and keep them closed until we touch down.” Ethan didn’t miss the look the two men opposite him shared, no doubt delighted they would, more or less, have the jet to themselves.
The engines had been idling since they’d boarded, and Ethan both felt and heard them roar to life now.
“All passengers, please ensure your seat belts are engaged and prepare for takeoff,” came a disembodied voice over the PA. The jet eased forward, slowly rolling toward the runway. It turned easily—nothing like the clunky turns of much larger passenger planes—before coming to a brief stop.
As the engines rumbled louder and louder and he was pushed back into his seat as the jet surged forward, increasing its speed to get it off the ground, Ethan had a sudden, inexplicable urge to run to the door and jump from the moving craft. He knew deep in his gut he was leaving something—or someone—behind.
He was sure he had everything he needed, and anything he’d forgotten he’d be able to buy in Australia, but he couldn’t escape that feeling of loss. Then, as he looked over the lights of the city below, he thought about pale-blue eyes that were usually dancing with laughter or mischief but had instead been filled with pain and determination the last time he’d seen them open, and he knew in his heart what he’d left behind—or rather who.