Lucas Burke, former SEAL and current wanderer, keeps close company with the demons haunting him from a lifetime of death, despair, and decisions he can’t reconcile, specifically the role he played in keeping Chloe Crew captive over a year ago. Now working for her brother, he’s determined to keep his distance, but his heart and mind have rallied against his every good intention and decided she’s his to protect, even if that means protecting her from the monsters that haunt her from within.
Chloe Crew, former screwup, current work in progress, has one goal, to build a life where her kids can be happy and healthy. Determined to not repeat mistakes of the past, or let them determine her future, she’s sworn off men. The simple fact that the one man she wants is the man who helped hold her captive said everything there was to be said about her taste in the opposite sex. Now if she could just get it through to her heart.
Good intentions fly out the window as truths come to light and a mutual enemy takes aim. Fighting a sinister criminal hell-bent on destruction strains the boundaries Lucas and Chloe have built for themselves, proving maybe those boundaries have no place when it’s time to unite in their war against those set to destroy them once and for all.
“You don’t have to leave,” Zane said.
She sighed. “Yeah, I do. I just—look, I need some space.”
“Okay,” Zane said giving his sister a wary look.
“I’ll walk you home,” Lucas said.
She took a step back. “No, thanks.”
“If you’re not comfortable with Lucas, I’ll walk you,” Zane offered.
Her lips pressed into a tight thin line. When she finally spoke, anger and frustration spilled from her mouth. “I live two houses down, no thanks to you; I think I can manage to get there all by myself.”
Zane reached for her elbow. “Chloe—”
“What?” she snapped, tucking her arm behind her.
Zane’s jaw hardened, the muscle jumping as he gnashed his teeth together in frustration.
“I’ll make sure she gets home,” Lucas said.
“Was my no not clear?” she asked, turning her venom on him.
“If you’re afraid…just say so,” Zane said, his voice hard, but with an edge of worry lacing his tone.
“What’s there to be afraid of anymore? Really, Zane, is there anything? I’ve been beaten, abused, humiliated, kidnapped, drugged, and now kept. Really, is there anything else really that can be worse than any of those things?”
Chloe’s mouth snapped shut, and she scanned the yard. The chatter had all but died and all eyes landed on her. Thankfully, Tyler and Brielle hadn’t even noticed as they roasted marshmallows over a firepit along the rock wall separating the yard from the woods.
“Chloe,” Zane said, her name nothing more than a rasp filled with pity, making Lucas cringe.
People like Chloe, like Lucas, they didn’t want pity. They wanted to live life without feeling they had a defect label stamped across their foreheads for everyone to see. They needed space. They prayed for a day when they’d be more than just damaged goods in the eyes on others.
“I’m ready. Are you ready?” Chloe demanded locking her gaze on Lucas, her arms crossed.
“Let’s go.” Lucas held the door for her and waited as she stomped through. Raising his hand in a gesture to let Zane know he’d give him a call, he followed her through the house and out the front door.
Halfway down the walk, she spun on her heel and pointed at him. “I’m really not afraid, you know.”
“Not afraid. Got it,” he said, sliding his hands in his pockets and nodding.
“You don’t believe me?” she said with a sneer.
He shook his head. “I didn’t say that.”
Her eyes shot wide open with surprise. “So, you do?”
He clucked his tongue. “I didn’t say that either.”
She threw her hands in the air. “Well, great!” She stomped down the rest of the walkway and turned onto the sidewalk.
Breaking into a jog, he caught up to her. “I think you’re searching for the missing pieces of the time you were kidnapped.”
“They don’t understand. None of you do,” she said, not looking at him; instead, she funneled all of her anger into power-walking the short distance to her door.
“They violated me,” she bit out.
Her words knocked the air straight out of his lungs. So much so it took him a few gulps of air to respond. “You were never raped.”
“That’s not the only way to violate a person,” she said digging at the inside of her elbow with her thumb. “They injected me with that garbage, and my fate was sealed. I can’t scrub it away. This was in my veins. My blood. I never did a single drug in my life, and they made me an addict.”
“I understand,” he said quietly.
She snorted. “Don’t patronize me.”
He reached for the words, words he’d never uttered outside of meetings with others like him. “I was undercover and had to prove my loyalty. I told myself it was a small sacrifice if it took drug dealers off the streets. Like you, I didn’t want my addiction. I had a job to do. I’ve been sober for a year and a month now. Before that, I had been sober for just over two years.”
She skidded to a stop. “But that means you—”
Turning, he nodded. “I used while undercover on the case that led me to you.”
His hands curled into fists in his pockets, but he forced himself to put one foot in front of the other, hoping she’d follow so he could just get her home and get the hell out of there.
“They grew suspicious of the time I was spending watching over you. Sorelli’s personal guards brought me before him to prove my loyalty. I could either shoot up to prove I’m on the team and they’d let me stick close to you, assuming I wanted to use you to scratch an itch. Or I’d get a bullet between the eyes, and Sorelli’s thugs would head straight to where you were tied up and have their way with you.”
A thrum of tension sizzled between them as she approached her door. Her fingers turned white with the force she used to hold her key in her hand as she studied him.
He shifted on his feet while heat crept up his neck under her inspection.
She finally had mercy on him and glanced away. With a twist of the lock and a turn of the handle, she stepped inside.
Lucas stopped at the welcome mat and rocked on his heels.
“Do you want to come in?” she asked, her hand going to her throat, her fingertips fluttering over her skin there.
“Not sure that’s a good idea.”
Her gaze darted about the street over his shoulder.
“What is it?” he asked, following her gaze.
She sucked in a deep breath. “Yes.”
He took a step back and nodded. “Make sure you lock up.”
“Why me?” she asked.
“I’ve never been on a case where they brought in a hostage before,” he said clearing his throat. “I—it became personal. Watching innocents die wasn’t what I signed up for.”
“But you relapsed, for someone you didn’t even know.”
“I knew enough. You love your kids. You cried for them. Not just to hold them, but terrified you hadn’t managed to protect them; you worried that they were being hurt and tortured. Even high out of your mind, you cried out for them.”
Tears welled in her eyes and rolled hot tracks over her cheeks on their way to her wobbling chin.
He had to walk away because everything inside him screamed for him to do the exact opposite. Going against his instincts, he forced his feet to move and turned to leave even as his gut shredded.
“Where did I sleep?” she asked, her voice thick with tears.
He froze and took a shaky breath. He didn’t want to answer, afraid his honesty might just propel him across a line, changing their trajectory forever. “In my arms,” he said, the truth tumbling free despite his intentions.