Excerpt for By The Numbers by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.


By the Numbers (Sanctuary 10)

Sanctuary Volume 2, book 3

Copyright © 2017 RJ Scott

Smashwords Edition

Cover design by Meredith Russell

Edited by Rebecca Hill

Published by Love Lane Books Limited

ISBN 978-1-78564-078-0


Secrets and lies threaten Brandon and Daniel’s new love.

Brandon Hoselton is running scared, finding security in his obsession with patterns and numbers. With his family threatened, he feels he has nowhere left to go, and even considers ending his life to keep them safe. Until Sanctuary, in the shape of the enigmatic Daniel Karnes, gives him a reason to stay alive and offers the possibility of a future free from fear.

Former SEAL Daniel is new to Sanctuary, tasked with watching Brandon, a brilliant geek with way too many secrets. Falling in love with quirky Brandon is easy; now he just has to make sure secrets don’t end up with them both dying.

The only way of destroying Varga is to cut the crime boss’s money, and the two men become part of an intricate take-down involving millions of dollars. But Brandon has a secret he can never share with Daniel, and their new love is at stake.

When the villain has murder in mind, sometimes the only way to stay alive is to lie.

All Rights Reserved

This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. This book cannot be copied in any format, sold, or otherwise transferred from your computer to another through upload to a file sharing peer-to-peer program, for free or for a fee. Such action is illegal and in violation of Copyright Law.

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

 

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


Dedication

With grateful thanks to Elin, Rebecca, and my army of proofers for their hard work.


And, always, for my family.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Epilogue

Chapter 1

Brandon took down the drapes in his room as soon as he was able to. He could have asked his sisters, but they didn’t know just how badly looking at the geometric pattern in the fabric upset his equilibrium. They knew he was weird; most sisters thought their big brothers were weird. But he also had twitches and nervous tics about certain things, and they’d seen it all, even though his list of crazy was something he could manage now.

They didn’t need to know he’d spent three hours last night counting the squares on the drapes and being irritated to the point of stimming that they weren’t even and the stitching was wrong. And Jesus, stimming—having to move his fingers, loosen his muscles, anything to ground himself—he hadn’t done that in years.

And hell if he was going to ask Daniel into his room to help him, because Daniel was someone Brandon did not want in his space. Not taking down drapes, or talking to him, or even breathing near him. There was only so much of Daniel that Brandon could take, because when he was anywhere near him, he lost his ability to form coherent sentences. He didn’t have time to have these powerful feelings of lust that kept hitting him.

Like the time he and Daniel had met on the landing and Daniel had been in just a towel. They’d only been together a few days, but Daniel was funny, and sexy, and dangerous, and exactly everything Brandon should be avoiding in his life.

He had way too much to worry about, and a date written in his memory that he wouldn’t forget any time soon. The deal he had—to stay alive, to hide himself away, and then to present himself to Varga—was just about the only thing that filled his thoughts.

Varga thought that, on a given date, Brandon would join him in his huge mansion, pull together all the funds Varga had hidden in various places, and then join him in whatever country the US didn’t have an extradition treaty with.

Like hell he would. He was meeting with Varga, getting all his money, dispersing it to the right causes, and sending any intel he could get out to the authorities.

And then Varga would kill him for doing that.

Inevitable, really, and something he’d come to terms with. He’d blown his chance to do this when he’d worked for Varga, so he had to make up for it. He was doing the right thing.

He’d been biding his time in Hope, but had been unfortunate to be scooped up by Sanctuary. He just needed to work out a way to get away from them, and in particular Daniel, but he had about ten days to go yet until that magic date when Varga had decided he would be leaving the country.

For now, Sanctuary was safe for him and his sisters.

So yeah, choosing to avoid having Daniel in his room, with his probing questions and his distracting body, was an easy decision to make in among all that crap.

The only downside was that it meant he had to take the drapes down himself.

Trying to shoot himself hadn't gone so well; instead of being dead and gone, he had a through shot and muscle damage which hurt like knives in his skin. He waited until day four, when the pain in his shoulder had lessened to the point where he could at least manage to get out of bed and to the window but he couldn’t handle looking at those drapes any longer.

Today he actually felt capable of dealing with drapes he didn’t need anyway. There were blinds at the windows, and behind the blinds each window was coated so you could see out but no one could see in. He pushed the offending fabric under the bed and clambered back to a standing position, wincing in pain as he banged his shoulder, and sat on the edge of his bed.

The drapes were still there—he could picture them under the bed—and exasperated, he lay back on the mattress and attempted to think of something else. Blue skies, blue mugs, blue eyes. Anything blue, because it was a color that calmed him.

He lasted about a minute.

Huffing, he rolled up carefully and reached under the bed, pulling out the drapes and screwing them into a ball. Opening his door, he threw them out onto the landing, not even checking if anyone was standing there.

Daniel. Of course it would be Daniel, who reacted like a ninja and had the drapes under submission in seconds.

Once they were dead, or at least overpowered with some sort of karate move, Brandon felt like he should apologize.

My bad,” he said, and shut the door in Daniel’s face.

He expected the knock, but hadn’t quite decided what he was going to say to Daniel when he came in. Maybe if he ignored the request to enter and said nothing, then Daniel might go away.

Daniel knocked again, and this time instead of waiting for Brandon to say he could come in, he pushed his way in, looking irritable. He was shirtless, his hair wet—evidence of a recent shower—his sweats hanging low on his hips and every muscle deliciously tight and toned.

What the hell, Brandon?” he asked, his dark eyes angry, his lips in a set line. He wasn’t holding the drapes, so Brandon counted that as a win.

I didn’t want them up at my window,” Brandon explained, and eased himself down into the chair by his bed. He was most comfortable there; he could see out the window and it was easier to keep the pressure off his injury.

So you decided to throw them in my face?” Daniel sounded less pissed and more confused about getting fabric in his face.

Brandon indicated the door. “To be fair, I didn’t know you were there.” Then he couldn’t resist, “And you heroically subdued them so fast, I knew you could handle the danger.”

Daniel blinked at him. “You…” he began, but stopped. Whatever he’d been going to say was lost. He’d looked amused for a moment, but now he was frowning again. “You do realize we’re not going to be here long enough for you to redecorate.”

Why wouldn’t I realize? You told us last night.”

I didn’t mean that, I meant… Oh, never mind.”

Anyway, I wasn’t redecorating,” Brandon defended himself. “I just didn’t like the pattern.” Then he changed the subject. “And exactly how long is long enough? You said we’re moving, but when precisely?”

This place was so small, and the tension was building even now. His sisters weren’t the easiest to live with. Hannah listened to much too loud music and continually dogged Daniel’s footsteps. Yvonne left clothes everywhere and kept shouting for Hannah to turn the music down. And as for the bodyguard, Daniel? Well, he was constantly up in Brandon’s space, checking his dressing, taking his vitals, asking him questions.

Messing with Brandon’s head and libido at the same time.

And he asked questions that Brandon was not ready to give answers to. Not until he was entirely sure of his place in this game he was in the middle of. He’d promised Varga one thing; that he would stay alive and away from the people who wanted to kill him.

Fuck, it was a messy maze in his head and sometimes he forgot who he was pretending to be with which person.

A few more days,” Daniel replied. “Elliot and Cole have some leads on one of Varga’s lieutenants and are planning a sting operation to get him out in the open.”

What type of operation?” Didn’t they know Varga was dangerous? Didn’t they know that the man had people working for him who would split your head open with a bullet just for smiling wrong?

Something about one of them pretending to be captured, or… look, I don’t know the full story, but at least it’s another step in the right direction.”

The path to hell,” Brandon muttered. “He’ll just appoint someone else; he’s like a lizard that can grow back its tail.”

Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. “You finally want to talk today?”

What about?”

Your connection to Varga.”

Brandon shook his head so fast he felt dizzy and curled his fingers into his sweatshirt to keep himself from moving them and freaking Daniel out.

Nope,” he said, popping the p and looking anywhere but at Daniel.

You’ll have to talk one day. Unless we know everything, we can’t give you any real help. Brandon?”

Brandon looked up at Daniel’s use of his name and recognized the compassion in his expression. There was something about this man—apart from his muscles, and his size, and his general attitude of being able to handle anything life threw at him—that set him apart from any other man Brandon had ever lusted over. That something was that Brandon had an absolute belief in Daniel’s ability to take care of him in this safe house.

Or as near as he could get to thinking another person could help him in any of this.

Why does he want to kill you?” Daniel asked.

The same question, over and over—Brandon had had enough of that damn question. Daniel wasn’t directly torturing him to get information, but being stuck in this house, with people he needed to keep secrets from, and with questions every day, was close to breaking him.

Varga didn’t want to kill him. That kill list that Sanctuary had evidence of wasn’t really that. Brandon had come to the conclusion that it was actually a joint surveillance and kill list. Varga wanted Brandon watched, protected, the codes and programming in his head enough to put him high on the list of people Varga needed surveilled.

Brandon’s fingers twitched; he desperately needed to move them in a rhythmic pattern that would settle his head.

Okay,” Brandon said. “You need to go now.”

Daniel shook his head. “I have to check the window after you destroyed a security layer.”

Brandon thought about the hideous drapes and frowned. “They were there for a reason? For real?”

Daniel approached the chair Brandon was sitting on, putting his hand on its back and leaning over Brandon to examine the window. Which put Daniel’s groin right at face level, the sweats leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. And the scent of the man, of shower gel and Daniel, was in every breath Brandon took.

He’ll move soon. Stay calm.

Looks okay,” Daniel announced. “Wait…”

He sounded worried, and that seemed to morph into him leaning even further, with his junk right there for inspection. Not to mention his flat stomach, and that damn scent, and the way crisp, dark hair marked a trail to Nirvana.

This is what it must be like to want, was all Brandon could think.

Daniel was bi—that was what he kept telling Hannah every time she used the word gay in reference to him as she followed him around. But bi didn’t mean that he’d be interested in Brandon. God, look at Hannah. She had all the good Hoselton genes; she was slim, blonde, and gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want her?

Abruptly, he was desperate to get out of being trapped between Daniel McSexy and the window, and he attempted to move the chair. It tipped as he moved, and that caused Daniel’s balance to wobble. Somehow the SEAL managed to right himself, and Brandon plus chair, and still come out of it looking all kinds of bad-ass.

Whereas Brandon had just come over as the idiot who couldn’t even sit on a fucking chair.

And from here he could see the drapes in a pile out on the landing, and it was all too much.

Get out of my room,” he snapped, pushing at six one of near-immovable muscle until Daniel actually moved.

Daniel looked down, and Brandon followed his gaze, and then completely lost it.

His hands were pushing on Daniel’s thighs, way too close to his groin for comfort. God, all he would have to do was move his hand an inch to the right and he’d be touching Daniel’s cock.

Brandon?” Daniel asked, his voice husky.

God, they’d been doing this for days now; this touching thing that Daniel had going, and his husky voice.

Too much.

Out. Out. Out!” Brandon snapped, shoving and pushing up out of his chair, his hands flailing, until he had Daniel backed up and out and he could close the door on the confused man.

There were a few seconds of silence, and Brandon thought that maybe Daniel had left. Then there was a soft knock.

Brandon? Are you okay?”

Brandon groaned under his breath, sliding down the door and drawing up his knees. He allowed himself the luxury of moving his fingers in a pattern—ring finger, thumb, third finger, thumb, first finger, thumb, pinkie, thumb, and over again, both hands. He could feel the air moving around his hands and he concentrated on the swirls he could imagine.

I’m fine,” he lied. “Go away.”

More silence. Then, “Okay. Breakfast in thirty.”

Brandon waited until he heard Daniel going down the stairs, and then he let out a huge exhalation. 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97. The prime numbers up to a hundred were his go-to place to help calm himself down, upward from 2 to 97, then back down to 2, then up again, and through all of it he breathed, in, out, regular, deep breaths. His fingers tapped out a rhythm with the numbers, and finally he had himself calmed down.

All of this shit because of one pair of drapes and Daniel’s groin in his face.

He slowed his fingers, and after a few moments he used the wall as support to stand up. He needed a shower, to get dressed, and then he’d feel a lot more capable of handling Daniel at breakfast.

In the shower he ran some lines of code, added in some digits, calculated responses, emptied his head of the buzzing, and by the time he was dressed and downstairs he was normal, level-headed Brandon again. He caught Daniel side-eyeing him as he stole a perfectly cooked piece of bacon, but he could handle that, because a few steps and he’d be on the other side of the counter.

Hey, gorgeous,” Hannah said, and leaned on the counter next to Daniel. She was wearing the tiniest of shorts and a crop top, and Daniel glanced at her.

In his head, Brandon had words he needed to say, about how it was unsuitable for Hannah to flirt with Daniel, about how she needed to stop.

About how he wanted to be the one to flirt with Daniel.

But he said nothing.

Still not appropriate,” Daniel said with a smile in his tone.

But we have all this time.” Hannah pouted, leaning in to steal bacon just as Brandon had. Only with her, Daniel grabbed her hand as it moved and gently eased it back.

No one touches the food until we’re all here,” he said firmly.

Hannah laughed. “You’re no fun.” She sat on a stool at the counter. “Why is there a pair of drapes on the end of my bed?”

Brandon hesitated. To admit what he’d done would expose yet another flaw in his shitty head, and his sisters didn’t need to know he was reverting to type. He thought on his feet, but Daniel got there first.

They were messing with security in Brandon’s room. Can you stow them in your closet or something?”

Sure.”

She opened up her iPad. There was no internet here, no way for her to post on Facebook or tweet pictures of breakfast, but she appeared to be okay reading, going through so many books it was ridiculous. It seemed like that was another service Sanctuary offered, on top of the thorny issue of keeping the Hoselton siblings alive.

Yvonne joined them, and only then did Daniel release the food.

Everything seemed so normal, the four of them drinking coffee, eating breakfast, as if it was a typical day.

But for Brandon, nothing was ordinary, and the weight of everything in his head was heavy. Looking at his sisters, it seemed impossible to imagine they’d been in danger. His last conversation with Varga’s lackey, a cop named Merrick, had been very one-sided. Brandon was to keep his head down until he was called upon for his skills, and if he didn’t go to the cops, then his sisters would be left alone. He didn’t like Merrick; hated that this apparently honest cop was actually deep in Varga’s organization. One of the things he knew he would do was to expose Merrick as soon as he could. Sanctuary would know what to do with him.

Hannah and Yvonne were Brandon’s priority, and that was the end of it. He was their big brother, their guardian since he’d come of age, and he wanted to be the rock the rest of the small family could depend on.

Varga didn’t need to kill Brandon to keep him quiet; he simply needed to threaten Brandon’s sisters.

Brandon wanted to talk about something else. “How is Chris?” he asked. Brandon liked Yvonne’s longtime boyfriend, Chris—level-headed, pre-law, he was the sort of man he wanted for his sister.

He’s an asshole,” Yvonne snapped. “I got a text from him before Daniel came to get us.”

And?” Brandon prompted when she sat there chewing on her lip.

He broke up with me.”

Brandon dropped his fork onto his plate with a clatter.

What the hell?” he asked.

By text,” she added and then shrugged. “I was so over his I’m-going-to-be-a-lawyer bullshit.”

Brandon opened his mouth to say something, but he caught Hannah’s warning expression. Evidently this was something a big brother needed to stay out of. He pushed down his need to find Chris and tell him how a real man looked after his girlfriend. Not that he had any experience in breaking up with someone. To break up you’d need to be seeing a guy first, and he hadn’t quite managed more than a couple of nights with anyone.

“I’ll hire someone to kill him,” Brandon blurted out. Hannah snorted a laugh, Yvonne sighed noisily. “I’ll hire Daniel.”

Changing the subject,” Daniel interjected. “I need a list of things you might want at the new place.”

Movies,” Yvonne began.

Chocolate milk,” Hannah said.

Brandon needed something a bit more important than that. “I’ve run out of contact lenses,” he said, not looking at Daniel, but focusing on the eggs on his plate.

Okay. I guess we need a prescription?”

I have that.”

What about glasses?”

I don’t have any of those. I didn’t have any time to collect them from my place when Cole and Elliot took me from town.”

He’s as blind as a bat without them,” Yvonne teased.

I’m not,” Brandon argued.

Last summer he walked into a desk and apologized,” Hannah added.

Shut up,” Brandon snapped. It wasn’t so much them sharing embarrassing stories as the feeling that Daniel was staring at him. “It’s not like I’m Thelma in Scooby Doo—I can see without them, you know. Things are just blurry.”

Sanctuary will get you lenses, or glasses at least.”

They added a few more things to the list and Brandon listened as Daniel phoned it through. He finished breakfast and tidied away. The girls said they’d help, but washing up was another one of Brandon’s things. The heat of the water and the randomness of bubble creation was soothing, and it kept his hands busy, even if he was lopsided with the soreness in his shoulder.

He hummed while he worked and no one spoke to him.

Win.

After breakfast he was at loose ends. He had some exercises that he needed to do, and he did those before sitting on what he considered his end of the sofa. He picked up the Sudoku book that was on the table and flicked through the pages, coming to rest on a puzzle that was half done and clearly wrong. He picked up the pen next to him and tapped the page, looked at the pattern, then completed the puzzle, amending the wrong numbers.

Hell, why would whoever had done this put a 7 in that column? That meant there was two 7s. He flicked through the rest of the book, coming to the extreme puzzle at the end. This was guaranteed to drive you mad, or so the explanation at the top said. With only five numbers suggested in a six by six grid, it was an empty nothingness of possibilities.

But he saw it all. He never even thought about it. He placed the numbers in the right squares neatly, efficiently, happy as he wrote the 2s and the 7s, his favorite numbers.

You’re good at that,” Daniel observed, the sound of his voice making Brandon jump.

Brandon immediately shut the book and placed it back on the table, pissed that he had the entire solution in his head, but he couldn’t complete the puzzle.

He sat on his hands and wondered what would Daniel say next.

You can take the book if you want—I’m crap at those things,” Daniel said, and he looked openly friendly and regretful at the same time. Reading emotions on faces was something Brandon could do; understanding the root of the feelings maybe not so much.

Thank you,” he said, and picked up book and pen. He stood up and nodded some more thanks.

You don’t need to go,” Daniel said.

Brandon pulled the Sudoku book close to his chest, feeling the warmth rising in him that would make his face scarlet in seconds.

I do,” he murmured, and left.

His room was small, but it was his space, and he finished the hard puzzle in a few minutes.

Then all he could think about was Daniel. The man confused him with his friendliness that was edged with something else. What that extra bit was, Brandon didn’t like to guess at. His sisters would likely know, but to talk to them about how every time Daniel smiled at him Brandon went all turned-on and lust-filled would be courting drama.

He didn’t want to think about the things he had in his head, the things that had nearly got his sisters killed, that had ended up killing his friends, Jamie and Michael. And he didn’t want to feel anything for Daniel. He certainly had no time to mess about and lust after a man who appeared to take everything incredibly seriously.

So he’d stay in his room.

He was safe there.

Chapter 2

Day seven, and Daniel Karnes had really had enough. He’d woken up in a relatively good mood. At least, as good a mood as you can be in when you’re stuck in a tiny house with three other people and no way outside. He’d woken up knowing that today was transfer day; to a larger place, with a gym and separate areas of the house for everyone and… hell, just space.

Today was the day he finally got some distance between himself and the enigmatic, cute, hot, sexy, sweet Brandon.

And God, he needed that distance. The man was testing his patience, because all Daniel wanted to do was get close to him and flirt; there was something about Brandon that made him want to connect. Somehow, whether he was talking, or sitting near Daniel, or just eating dinner, Daniel was watching the way he sat and moved. He even found it cute the way Brandon had of holding puzzle books at arm’s length so he could focus on the numbers he needed.

Obsessed, that was what he was. And it had never happened this way before—well, not since eleventh grade when he’d had a thing for his science teacher.

And Brandon kept side-eyeing him. He had to know what was going on, know that Daniel was interested. Did he have to make it any more obvious?

Daniel had kept it together through Hannah trailing him everywhere, asking inappropriate questions and winking a lot. He’d handled the fact that he was in close proximity to his charge. Brandon Hoselton was nothing a trained former SEAL and Sanctuary operative couldn’t handle; after all, Daniel had signed up for the babysitting parts as well as the adrenaline-filled stuff.

But this? The carnage he’d just walked head first into? This was too much.

Wading his way into the bathroom, throwing aside all kinds of scraps of fabric, he grabbed a handful and stormed back out the way he’d come.

House meeting!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. No one answered, and not one single Hoselton sibling appeared in the front room. He counted to ten, then back down again. “I have a gun!” he shouted a lot louder. “House meeting!”

One of the doors at the top of the stairs opened, and a tousle-headed girl looked out; Hannah.

Issfive,” she muttered. “Go’way.”

Get your ass down here.”

She rubbed her eyes, then disappeared back into her room, shutting the door.

And still no sign of Yvonne or Brandon. There really was only one way to get all of them down here. He thumbed through his contacts and connected to a perky Josh, who said good morning and explained that he was covering for Manny because he and Manny had been up all night and Manny was still asleep.

TMI.

I’m running a practice audible evac,” Daniel announced.

Now? It’s five a.m., Daniel.”

Bad guys do their worst shit at five a.m.,” he argued, and went to the master board. “Give me the code.”

Okay, but I’m not sure—”

Josh.”

Delta, Bravo, Yankee, five, two, hash.”

Update the records that I’m using the code.”

On it.”

He ended the call and settled his focus with his finger hovering over “Enter,” and then he pressed it.

The noise was deafening. Verbal evac was a cacophony of alarms and flashing lights, meant to intimidate the bad guys Daniel had referred to, and also to get everyone to the meet area downstairs in the shortest possible time. He looked at his watch. Last drill it had taken the other “guests” sixty-three seconds—way too slow, but it hadn’t helped that Hannah had decided it was vital to take her hair straighteners with her.

The clock ticked up… twenty seconds, thirty… the first door opening; Hannah again, this time not looking quite so sleepy. She’d had the advantage of likely being half awake anyway. Then there was Brandon, stumbling out of his room, half shoving Hannah toward the stairs, trying to pull on jeans and slamming on Yvonne’s door, which appeared to be locked.

Yvonne!” he shouted over the noise of the alarm, and the door was flung open. All three siblings scrambled down the stairs, Brandon in his usual position, holding on to both his younger sisters, in control, watching out for them.

They slid to a halt in front of Daniel.

What?” Brandon asked. Wrapped up in that single word was, What danger is there here? Is it Varga? Am I going to be killed, or worse, are my sisters going to be hurt?

Daniel felt a twinge of guilt, but he pushed it ruthlessly aside. He’d had a practice planned anyway—so sue him if he’d planned on giving the Hoseltons a heads-up first.

Daniel leaned over and pressed the override key, the code that would tell Josh back in ops that all was okay, and then he faced the siblings with his arms crossed over his chest. That twinge of remorse was back. After all, Brandon was in fear for his life, for his sister’s lives—for him, every day was a hell of worry. He’d already tried to shoot himself in the head, thinking that if he were dead his sisters would be safe. Who did that kind of shit? If you were dead, you couldn’t fight the ones trying to hurt your family.

But remorse didn’t save lives, and Daniel was a trained SEAL; SEALs lived with danger. And Hannah, Yvonne and Brandon had to learn.

And it had got them all downstairs.

Sit,” Daniel ordered, and for a second all three stared at him, then at each other.

There’s no danger?” Brandon asked, balling his hands into fists.

Drill,” Daniel said. Then he consulted his watch, realized he hadn’t stopped it, and made up a number that was less than the last drill. “Fifty-seven seconds. Still not fast enough.”

What. The. Fuck.” Brandon bit out the words through gritted teeth.

Do you want to live?” Daniel snapped, aware he was losing the thread of what he’d originally had everyone come down for.

The words hit home. “Of course we do,” Brandon said, paling, and Daniel didn’t fail to see his sisters move a little closer so they were touching. This trio of siblings were closer than close, likely because their parents were no longer alive and they looked out for each other.

Can we go back to bed?” Hannah asked.

Yes, no, wait.” Daniel tripped over his words, then picked up the items from the chair. He held up the lace and wire and fiddly bits. “What are these?”

It’s a bra,” Yvonne said. The implied duh was heavy in her tone.

I know it’s a bra,” Daniel snapped.

Well, you see, being gay and all…” Hannah shrugged at the end of the sentence.

Bi,” he pointed out.

Hannah blinked at him. “That’s my bra,” she interjected.

No, it’s mine,” Yvonne countered. “Yours is the one with the blue bow.”

Hannah yawned. “Oh yeah, you’re right.” Then she frowned, “Why are you holding Von’s bra?”

Because,” Daniel began strongly, attempting to pull back the irritation he’d felt at yet again being thwarted in getting a post-workout shower. He couldn’t look at the girls, so instead he focused on Brandon, who was in danger of losing his jeans. In fact the only thing holding them up was his sharp hips, because there wasn’t a single ounce of fat anywhere on the man’s body. If anything, he was way more toned than an accountant should be, all lean muscle and that perfect V with a trail of soft hair disappearing under the band of his underwear.

Because?” Brandon prompted, his blond hair flopping over his eyes, his mouth set in a mutinous line. Okay, so it didn’t look good, Daniel standing there waving a bra and with what appeared to be matching panties in his hand.

The bathroom, our only bathroom, is covered in underwear. All I want is a freaking shower.” He also wanted to be able to fucking curse, but he fucking couldn’t, because Brandon got that pinched look about Daniel swearing in front of the girls. The girls, who were both younger than Brandon and not only knew how to curse but frequently used the words as punctuation.

Brandon copied his stance, crossing his arms over his chest. “And where do you suggest we put our wet clothes?”

Anywhere that means I don’t have to wade through this shit to get a shower.”

This time Brandon tapped his foot, and Daniel watched the movement. Brandon tapping his foot wasn’t a good sign; it warned of an impending ice age, and had last happened two days ago when Yvonne had told her big brother that she’d been dumped by text. If Brandon could’ve got out of the safe house, tracked the guy down and killed him, Daniel was sure he would’ve.

Or not killed him, but hurt him badly, or stared at him or something. When Brandon suggested hiring Daniel to kill the guy he wasn’t sure if Brandon had been joking.

Brandon was incredulous. “You did a drill, which woke us at ass o’clock in the morning, scaring the shit out of us, because you couldn’t take down a few pairs of panties to get to the shower?”

No, I began the drill so that if Varga’s operation has a bead on you, then you’ll know to get your sleepy fucking ass out of bed at the drop of a hat.” He was lying, so sue him. Brandon got under his skin, and there was no way he was admitting that the whole thing had happened because he was pissed about exactly what Brandon had accused him of.

Enforced proximity was a nightmare, but one he’d thought he could handle. With his former team, he’d once spent forty-three hours and seventeen minutes in a tiny space waiting for the call to move on the target they’d had under observation.

But this?

First Hannah, then Yvonne slunk away, both heading for the bathroom, likely to remove the hanging underwear, or at least Daniel hoped so.

Has he?” Brandon asked after clearing his throat. Gone was the confident sass of a man who wanted to make a point, and in its place was that familiar insecurity and fear. And there went the guilt again. Daniel knew he’d overreacted this morning, and he really should be apologizing. He would. Later.

Has he who, what?” And there he went, losing control over his speech. I need to go and clean my gun. Or count bullets. Or plan an op. Anything to get away from Brandon’s fear and the naked concern on his face. And his hips.

Has Varga got us in his sights? Does he know where we are?” Brandon glanced at his sisters, standing in the kitchen chatting and making coffee, a pile of dry underwear on the counter.

Jeez, no.”

Then why say it?” Brandon demanded, hoisting up his pants and fastening the top button, which at least would mean they wouldn’t fall any further. Now if only he would button up the dark blue shirt he’d put on at the same time. Then Daniel wouldn’t be distracted by Brandon’s chest.

Explain yourself, soldier,” Brandon snapped in that awkward-cute way he had of getting all up in Daniel’s space.

Sailor—SEALs are Navy,” Daniel muttered, and then, because he was embarrassed by the entire fucking morning, he left Brandon standing right there and went into the bathroom. He closed the door, then opened it again immediately. “We leave at five this evening for the next safe house. Pack your shit.”

Then he closed the door, and looked at the mercifully underwear-free space.

Feeling like a stupid idiot. For thinking that the bra situation was enough to warrant scaring the shit out of the people he was supposed to be looking after. For losing control.

For staring at Brandon.

At least the shower water was hot.

Until abruptly it wasn’t; it was ice-cold, like someone had flushed the toilet. Daniel coughed and spluttered and yanked back the curtain. Sure enough, there was Brandon, leaning against the fully open door with a damn smug look on his face, his sisters smirking behind him.

Oops,” he said. Then left.

The girls stared at him, and fuck if they didn’t giggle, and Daniel realized two things at once. First, that he was stark naked. Second, that he was fucking cold.

Shut the damn door,” he shouted, and was marginally placated when they did.

He waited for the hot water to filter back through and washed the soap out of his hair.

And then he replayed what had just happened, how Brandon had turned the tables on him.

And all he could do was grin like an idiot. Brandon had fire under that buttoned-up persona. All Daniel needed to do was chip the outer layer and find his way inside.

Literally.

Chapter 3

Adam and Lee arrived just before five. They were backup for the transfer to the new safe house and Daniel was pleased to see them like no one could imagine. The atmosphere had been a long way past icy between him and Brandon since the bathroom incident; too many people in too small a space guaranteed hell. Also Brandon was avoiding him, and that wasn’t easy to do in this house.

Daniel had met Adam before. The blond had been welcoming when he’d been part of his orientation team and they shook hands firmly, exchanging nods of recognition.

Daniel Karnes, Lee Myers,” Adam introduced the tall, dark-haired man.

Daniel,” Lee said as they shook hands.

Introductions over, it was time to talk routine and scheduling. The trio hovered over an iPad on the kitchen counter. The new safe house was back toward the city, and Daniel quelled his worry that they were taking the Hoselton siblings right back where they shouldn’t be. He’d made his concerns heard, but they’d added a second man to the detail, Lee, to back up Adam and Daniel. So it should be okay. Sanctuary had the best operatives, and given that he was the new guy, he had to bow to the existing protocols; trust that the teams were coming up with the best scenarios.

Two cars,” Lee explained, and braced himself with both hands on the counter, his expression deadly serious. “Adam will take the first one, with the girls. I’ll be in with you and Daniel.”

Brandon was so not going to agree to being split from his sisters, but Daniel bit his tongue. Hell, he’d let Lee or Adam deal with that one—no point in getting involved.

Leaving in ten?” Adam asked. “Also, this is for Brandon.” He handed over a glasses case and Daniel took them.

I’ll get everyone organized,” Daniel said.

He found Hannah and Yvonne on the sofa, talking to each other in low voices. “Okay?” he asked, because he’d got used to doing that.

Both nodded, but he couldn’t fail to notice the quick look they exchanged.

What’s wrong?” he asked.

Brandon,” Hannah said, and nodded toward the stairs.

There had been many times in these last few days when the three of them, the girls and Brandon, had talked quietly among themselves, and he hadn’t ever got too close. He knew the girls couldn’t totally understand what Brandon had done or why he’d done it, and they hadn’t heard the whole story about how he’d almost taken his own life to save theirs. Shit was sure as hell going to hit the fan if they ever did.

Give me five,” he said to the girls, and went straight up to Brandon’s room, knocking once and then pushing straight in.

He caught Brandon as he was standing up from the bed, and from the look of shock on his face, he hadn’t been expecting someone to just walk into his room. That was apparent from the fact that his eyes were red and his face blotchy. Compassion warred with efficiency in Daniel’s brain. They didn’t really have time for this; he wasn’t a counselor, and he certainly didn’t go in for all that talking things out crap, which luckily Brandon didn’t seem to want either.

Anyway, lusting after the guy from afar was enough to have Daniel’s libido all over the place, and there was no way Brandon would be open to touching, so in his normal SEAL-like way, Daniel was closing off the part of his brain that was affected. The part that handled inappropriate attraction.

There would be no touching. Of any kind.

This is for you,” he snapped, and handed over the eyeglass case.

Brandon bit his lip as he lifted out the glasses and put them on. He blinked a little while and hell, he looked puzzled and cute and a hundred other things that Daniel shouldn’t be thinking.

We’re leaving,” Daniel announced. “Get your shit together and let’s get out of here.”

Brandon lifted his glasses a little and awkwardly scrubbed his eyes, then straightened his clothes. “Before we go, I need you to promise me something,” he said, his voice firm and steady even with the emotions that were churning inside him.

What?”

Close the door.”

Daniel looked behind him, then back at Brandon. “We don’t have time for this.”

Please,” Brandon asked, and this time emotion was front and center. He coughed to clear his throat, and waited.

Daniel considered the timing, the feelings, the insistent need to grab Brandon and hold him, and he sighed noisily. He shut the door.

What?” he repeated.

Whatever happens, whatever you think of me, whatever I do… promise me you’ll make my sisters your priority.”


Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-29 show above.)