Absolution (The Protectors, Book 1)

BOOK: Absolution (The Protectors, Book 1)
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Absolution

Sloane Kennedy

Copyright

Absolution is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Sloane Kennedy

 

Published in the United States by Sloane Kennedy

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Cover Images: © xquadro

Cover Design: © Jay Aheer, Simply Defined Art

Trademark Ack
nowledgements

The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:

Chevy

Spiderman

Lincoln Town Car

LoJack

Google

Matchbox

Acknowledgements

 

Rita, thank you for all you do for me. You are so much more than a beta reader to me.

 

Thanks to Jay, Missy and Chloe for beta reading for me.

 

A special thank you to Kylee for coming through for me when I needed you the most and more importantly, for reminding me to breathe.

 
Trigger Warning

This book contains references to sexual assault against a child so please proceed with caution if this is a trigger for you.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

absolution

noun
ab·so·lu·tion \ˌab-sə-ˈlü-shən\

The act or an instance of forgiving

Prologue

 

Jonas

 

“Welcome home, Mr. Davenport.”

“Thanks, James,” I murmured as I gave the pilot a quick nod. Even after more than four years of flying back and forth from Paris to the States via the luxurious private jet, I still hadn’t managed to get the pilot, co-pilot or flight attendant to call me by my first name. It was always Mr. Davenport…a name I still hadn’t gotten used to using again after so many years of not needing it. In truth, I hadn’t been a Davenport in a very long time – not since the day my father called me a faggot and gave me five minutes to pack my shit and get out. I’d only been fourteen at the time but luckily I’d been smart enough to leave things like my comic books and video games behind in favor of a few changes of clothes, my savings account passbook, the twenty-three dollars in quarters I’d been stuffing into my Spiderman piggy bank for the better part of a year and of course, my sketchbook. I’d hated leaving behind my carefully mixed paints and brushes but I’d had hopes that my parents would ultimately store them, along with the dozens of paintings littering the walls of my room, until I could come and get them. They didn’t.

Being a Davenport had never been easy but I’d done it surprisingly well. Probably because I’d learned quickly that if my parents were pleased with how I came off to those in their social circle, I was more likely to get something out of the deal. I traded in my good grades, perfect manners and unfettered obedience for art supplies and classes and nearly weekly excursions to every art museum throughout New England. That is, until I turned thirteen and my parents decided my genius IQ should be nurtured at an elite boarding school in Switzerland. Which had nothing to do with the fact that they were planning a yearlong excursion traveling the world on their friends’ yacht, they’d assured me repeatedly in the months and days before I left.

Exactly one year later I was back home in my parents’ stately Beacon Hill penthouse trying to explain why I’d been expelled for kissing the son of a very wealthy British Ambassador. The obvious explanation that I’d kissed said boy because I’d wanted to hadn’t netted me the lecture I’d thought it would…it had earned me a one-way ticket out the front door with my mother looking on, tears streaking down her perfectly made up face. I’d felt an obscene surge of hope at the sight and waited for her to step in to stop the whole thing, but that had only lasted as long as it had taken for me to hear her ask my father why
I’d
done this to
them
. It was then that I’d finally understood that the tears weren’t
for
me, they were
because
of
me.

After that, home stopped being a physical place for me and it wasn’t until almost a year later that I found out that home didn’t always mean a roof over your head.

“Jonas!”

I nearly tripped on the top step of the stairs leading down from the jet to the tarmac when I heard the high-pitched squeal and I couldn’t help the broad smile that spread across my face at the sight of my family standing in front of the Suburban SUV, a huge paper banner that read
Welcome Home Jonas
strung out between their hands. My eyes fell on the two children who were bouncing up and down, skimmed briefly over the tall, dark-haired man desperately trying to hold on to the giant Mastiff tugging to escape his hold and then finally settled on the young woman in the middle. Even from where I stood in the doorway to the jet, I could see tears spilling down her cheeks. She was my home. She had been from the moment she’d saved my life eight years earlier.

“Uncle Dev!” the little girl shouted to the man behind her and I could see he was holding her by the collar of her dress to keep her from charging me the way she clearly wanted. I guessed he didn’t want her anywhere near the jet’s engines as they wound down, so I quickly hurried down the stairs and toward the car. Once I crossed whatever invisible line the man had set in his mind, he let go of the dog and the little girl at the same time. Amazingly, the little girl got to me first but the dog wasn’t far behind.

“Hi baby girl,” I said as I gathered the child’s body in my arms and lifted her just as the Mastiff slammed into me. I was used to Sampson’s tactics though, so I managed to stay upright as I gave him a quick pat.

“Mama says you’re not leaving again,” the little girl said as she grabbed my cheeks and held me still as if needing to look me in the eye to determine if I was telling the truth when I answered.

“Your mama is right, Izzy,” I said. Her ear-splitting shriek had me biting back another smile as the eight-year-old threw her spindly arms around my neck. Hearing Isabel Prescott refer to my best friend as her mother was still an oddity for me. Not because I doubted the relationship Casey had with the little girl who was actually her niece, but because Izzy ironically still called Devlin Prescott, Casey’s husband, her uncle even though he wasn’t related to her by blood, but had been in her life longer than even the mother who had died shortly before Isabel’s fourth birthday. But I’d seen enough to know that Devlin and Izzy’s relationship was that of a father and daughter and the lack of using a certain title or shared DNA wouldn’t ever change that.

As I crossed the tarmac with Izzy rattling off questions in my ear, I hugged twelve-year-old Ryan Prescott who looked more and more like his father with each passing year. “You staying out of trouble?” I asked, as I ruffled Ryan’s hair.

“No!” Izzy answered for him and Ryan actually blushed. “He likes a girl,” Izzy announced and poor Ryan looked mortified.

I chuckled and bumped his fist with mine. “Nice,” I said.

“We’re just friends,” Ryan said sheepishly.

“Nuh-uh,” Izzy said, to which Ryan’s blush grew considerably.

“That’s my cue,” Devlin Prescott said as he reached out and took Izzy in his arms. Then his big arm was wrapping around me and even though we were nearly the same height, I couldn’t help but feel the warmth spread through me at the contact. Not only had this man changed Casey’s life for the better, he’d done the same for me and he’d gone a step further and become a surrogate father. “Welcome home, Jonas,” Devlin said softly in my ear.

I found myself overcome with emotion, so instead of answering, I just hugged him tighter. But as soon as I turned my attention to Casey, I lost it and began crying as I tugged her into my embrace. The fact that her slim arms wrapped around my neck like a vise had me closing my eyes, because it was something I would never get used to. In the three years that Casey and I had spent on the run together, she’d rarely hugged me and on the few occasions I’d touched her in an effort to provide comfort, she’d always flinched and pulled away. But Devlin had somehow fixed that too.

By the time Casey finally released me, we were both a mess and she laughed and reached up to wipe at my face with the edge of her sleeve before doing the same to her own. I, in the meantime, let my eyes drop to her very prominent baby bump. I lifted them back up to meet hers as I let one of my hands rest on her belly, but neither of us spoke. We didn’t have to. We both knew that we’d been incredibly lucky to end up here in this place. The scar that I could feel through the thin fabric of her shirt was a reminder of how close I’d come to losing her and the slight flutter of motion against my palm was proof that she’d found the life she was meant to have.

Now if I could only figure out how to do the same.

Chapter One

 

Mace

 

For what was probably the thousandth time, I looked through the scope of my rifle and rested my finger on the trigger as I drew in a breath and held it. The dank smell of mold permeated my nostrils as I focused on the scene before me, and I cursed the fact that the only window that had a good view of the building across the street was in the cramped bathroom. I supposed I could have gotten used to the mold if that had been the only issue with the confined space but it was the stench of rotting eggs wafting out of the broken toilet that really did me in. I’d made the mistake of lifting the plastic lid on the very first day as I’d scoped out the place to figure out the different views the two-bedroom apartment offered, and now every time I jammed my body into the narrow space between the toilet and the leaky shower, I had to bite back the revulsion of knowing the nastiness that was just inches from me.

The prudent thing to do would have been to call the maintenance guy to come fix the shitter but since I’d already made an impression with paying three months of rent up front in cash, I wasn’t exactly looking to become memorable in any other way. And since there was a second bathroom in the place that didn’t actually rival the portable toilets you only used when you absolutely had to, I’d figured I could live with the noxious smell and God-awful image that was burned into my brain long enough to do my job and get out. That had been my thought three weeks ago when I’d first spied my target through the scope on my M23 semi-automatic sniper rifle. Yet here I was, twenty-one long days later, my burning muscles protesting the same unnatural position I had forced them into and my tortured nose sending a reminder to my tired brain to get some fucking nose plugs or grow a pair and finally pull the goddamn trigger.

I’d like to say that my phone ringing at that exact moment was the reason I let up on the trigger and flipped the cover down over the scope, effectively obliterating my target from view. But I knew that was complete shit because I’d already made the decision long before the
Blue Oyster Cult
ringtone started playing on my phone. I lowered the rifle and leaned back against the wall as the sounds of
Don’t Fear the Reaper
chimed through the small room. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the phone and swiped to answer it without looking at the caller ID because I already knew who it was.

“You fucking changed my ringtone?” I snapped as I dropped my head back against the wall and turned so I could keep an eye on my mark.

“It’s a classic,” the voice on the other end said. “And it beats the hell out of that classical shit you listen to.”

I didn’t bother arguing because I’d likely end up with a boy band song next if I made too much of an issue out of it. I also didn’t ask what the caller wanted because I already knew that he wouldn’t bother wasting my time or his if he didn’t have something of value to share. It was one of the many things I respected about Mav. It was also the reason I chose Mav as my second whenever he wasn’t out on his own assignment.

“Since your mark posted an online ad a few minutes ago, I’m guessing you still haven’t done it,” Mav said.

“What kind of ad?” I asked, ignoring his not so subtle dig.

“He’s looking for help. Handyman type shit. Painting, electrical work, plumbing.”

“Pull it.”

“Already did,” Mav drawled and I heard my phone ding a moment later and saw the ad flash on my screen.

“Can you intercept any calls he makes to the site to check on the ad?”

“Yeah. I’ve already hacked his computer too, so if he tries to reach customer service that way, it’s covered.”

“Anything interesting pop up on his PC?” I asked, hoping against hope that Mav would be able to give me the proof I needed that would let me pull the fucking trigger so I could get my ass out of this shithole.

“No, it’s clean. Only pictures and sites he’s interested in are for artsy shit.”

Fuck.
I bit the bullet and said, “That make sense to you, Mav? A pedophile with not even one pic on his computer?”

Silence on the other end, then, “Could be he’s got another PC stashed somewhere. Or he’s old school and doesn’t like digital.”

I glanced back across the street at my mark and cringed when I felt my cock stirring in my pants. The young man had stripped off his shirt and while I couldn’t see as much as I wanted, I still felt my mouth water at the sight. In a perverse move, I put the phone on speaker and set it on the window sill and then raised my rifle back up and flipped up the cover on the scope. I was greeted with the sight of pale, firm flesh that had smatterings of color all over it from the spray of paint that would occasionally fly off the end of the paintbrush as the young man’s arm and wrist stroked lovingly over the canvas in front of him. I lifted the gun enough to take in the dark brown hair that was threaded with streaks of gold. I sent a telepathic message to the guy hoping he’d turn enough so I could get a good look at the crystal clear blue eyes I’d so far only seen in pictures but no such luck, so I settled for imagining what it would feel like to trail my fingers over the hard line of his jaw before tracing them over his full, pink lips.

“You about done visually molesting the guy?”

I bit back a curse and lowered the rifle as I reached for the phone. Mav knew me way too fucking well. I should probably take that as a sign that it was time to get the hell out of this business.

“Anything else?” I asked as I willed my cock to settle the fuck down. No way in hell was I going to be fooled by the veil of innocence this guy had managed to cloak himself in. My conscience might need a little more convincing before I could let myself pull the trigger but I wasn’t about to let something as inane and useless as lust be the deciding factor as to whether this guy deserved to keep breathing or not.

“No. But Grisham’s getting impatient. Says you haven’t been sending in your reports.”

I wanted to say Grisham could go fuck himself but figured Mav would take just a little too much pleasure in delivering that message to our team leader so I merely said, “Anything else?” again.

“Pull the trigger and be done with it, Mace,” Mav said quietly. They were words I’d repeated to myself over and over these past three weeks. But I said the same thing to Mav that my gut had been telling me for just as long.

“Not yet.”

 

* * *

Just my luck that my first close up view of the guy I was supposed to put a bullet through was his perfectly shaped ass cradled in a tight pair of khaki pants. At least he was wearing a shirt. I cleared my throat to make him aware of my presence but instead of responding, he crawled farther under the table and began fiddling with a screwdriver. The sight of him on his hands and knees did nothing to cool my raging libido and a surge of anger went through me that I was thinking more about how my dick would feel sliding into all that tight heat rather than acknowledging that now would be the perfect time to pull the gun from my ankle holster and finish the job I’d been entrusted with.

“Hey,” I called out again, slightly louder but then nearly swallowed my tongue when the guy stretched his long body in a way that had his white T-shirt riding up to reveal a line of smooth, supple skin at his back. My dick went from semi-hard to hard just like that and I cursed my lack of control. Then I cursed the faceless young man before me and reached out to prod one of his bare feet with my steel toed boot. He let out a ragged shout and then a moan, a second after his head connected with the underside of the table.

I suppose I should have offered him an apology as he crawled out from underneath the table and pulled out the earbuds that were blasting some kind of rock music into his ears, but I was too busy trying to school my reaction when I caught the sight of his profile. The scope on my rifle was good, but by no means had it done the guy justice. Even the pictures had failed to capture his naked beauty. His lips were much fuller than I’d thought and I could see them stained with just a little bit of color like he’d been worrying the sensitive flesh with his teeth. His eyes weren’t the simple blue I’d been expecting – they were so pale that they had an almost eerie, silver look. His spiky brown hair looked like he’d been running his fingers through it and I actually found myself wanting to reach out and smooth a few of the strands to see how they would feel.

“Sorry,” he murmured, breaking me out of my trance. His hand was rubbing a spot on the top of his head and as he climbed to his feet, I actually reached out to help him before I realized what I was doing. It was a monumental mistake because the electricity fired through my blood the second my rough fingertips brushed over the soft skin just above his elbow. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his sharply indrawn breath said he’d felt exactly the same thing.

A mix of rage and disgust went through me at my body’s reaction to the monster standing before me. His charming, lop-sided smile and innocent eyes were exactly what would have drawn a kid like Evan to him. Fuck, this guy probably didn’t even need to use the standard lure of, ‘Hey kid, will you help me find my puppy?’
to entice any little boy his sick mind wanted.

“I’m Mace,” I bit out, my hard-on dying an instant death at the reminder of Evan. “We have an appointment.”

I could tell the guy was put off by my rough manner and I reminded myself that I was here for a reason – to figure out why I couldn’t just pull the fucking trigger and end this scumbag’s life.

“Right,” he said quickly, his smile fading as he took several steps away from me. I didn’t miss the fact that he didn’t extend his hand and I had no doubt it wasn’t just my tone of voice that I couldn’t get a hold of. My entire body felt poised to strike and I actually didn’t realize my hands were fisted, the knuckles white, until I reached out to shake his hand.

He swallowed hard at the sight of my extended hand but then took a deep breath and shook it quickly without moving any closer. “I’m Jonas Davenport. Thanks for coming,” he added as he wiped his hand on his pants.

I glanced at the screwdriver he had clutched in his other hand and when I did, he let out a harsh chuckle and released his death grip on the tool and put it on the table. “Someone bolted it to the floor,” he said a little too loudly.

“What?” I asked.

Another swallow and then he put a shaky hand on the table. “They bolted it to the floor. I thought that was something you only did on cruise ships,” he said with another unnatural laugh. “I was wondering why they left it behind but I guess they must have stripped the screws…”

His voice trailed off as his eyes settled on a spot on my neck and I knew he was likely focused on the tattoo there. Under any other circumstances, I would have used his fascination to my advantage but since I wasn’t interested in fucking a kiddie rapist, I focused on the task at hand and said, “You’re looking for help.”

My cold tone did the trick because his eyes lifted to meet mine and I saw the hesitation in them. I’d already decided that I needed to get close to the guy to get a better read on him and my attitude so far was clearly not going to get me the job. Which was why I was glad Mav had had the foresight to pull the ad the guy had posted. But even with his options limited to just me, he could just as easily tell me to take a hike and do the work himself or go the route of hiring a professional contractor. So I reached past him and grabbed the screwdriver off the table. I didn’t miss the way he tensed as our bodies nearly touched. Yep, I’d definitely freaked him out. Time to pull a Hail Mary.

BOOK: Absolution (The Protectors, Book 1)
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