Authors: Sara Fawkes
Table of Contents
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“Am I about to die?” I whispered, heart in my throat.
“That all depends on how quickly my little brother arrives.” A smooth hand crept up my torso to encircle my neck, pinning me back against his body. “Care to make any wagers?”
I trembled in his arms, casting about for a weapon. Once upon a time, the boathouse had been occupied. Furniture, much of it half hidden by sheets, dotted the floor. At some point, however, the living space had been converted to storage, and numerous items dotted the dusty room, including several which were tied to the high ceilings. There was nothing close by for me to use, however. “Are you the one who’s trying to kill Jeremiah?” I asked, stalling for time.
Lucas chuckled, the laugh shaking us both. “While I probably have better reason than most to wish for such a thing, I’m afraid I’m not your man.”
Confused, I leaned my head back to look at him. Lucas was shorter than his stockier brother, such that my head lay atop his shoulder, but his grip was like iron. The man’s gaze was placid, and his lips curled up into a smile at my perusal. “Surprised? I may dislike my little brother, but I’m not interested in his death. Indeed, I’ve been doing everything in my power to prevent it.”
“Then why are you here?”
He laughed again, then dipped his lips close to my ear. “Maybe I missed you.”
Butterflies exploded in my stomach. “Liar,” I muttered. Knowing he wasn’t going to kill me made me suddenly realize the intimacy of our position, and my body’s betrayal irritated me.
“Most definitely.” His cheeky response made me roll my eyes. “Or perhaps I know who you’re looking for.”
I twisted around to look at him. “You know who’s after Jeremiah?”
“Perhaps,” he repeated, his smirk widening.
My lips pursed in annoyance. Infuriating man. “They’re going to find us soon,” I said, glancing out the window. “You should let me go,” I cautioned, “people might get the wrong idea.”
“If I know my little brother, they already know exactly where we are.” He motioned at the surrounding ceiling. “There’s more than likely a camera or three in the rafters above us, watching our every move.” Lucas kissed my cheek, and I flinched away in surprise. “Should we give them a show?”
Irritated by his innuendo, I struggled again but was held fast. “If you had information, why not come through the front entrance like a sane man? Why do all of this hiding and sneaking?”
“It’s more interesting this way. My brother can be anal about his security; it’s fun showing how easy it is to circumvent.” He shrugged. “Besides, my brother would be more likely to call the authorities than let me inside and hear what I have to say.”
“Like he won’t do that now anyway,” I muttered, and Lucas gave a small chuckle. The boards beneath our feet began to quake, and the heavy thump of boots pounding against the boards outside the boathouse shook the old structure.
Lucas merely adjusted his grip, shuffling me between himself and the entryway. “Showtime,” he replied, seemingly unconcerned, as the door into the boathouse crashed open. Guards poured in and surrounded the two of us, and my heart skipped a beat as guns were trained on us. I didn’t see Jeremiah among them, however, and a shard of disappointment lanced my heart. Lucas merely heaved a sigh. “Looks like Jeremiah’s no longer fighting his own fights,” the gunrunner added.
The distinctive clicking noise of a handgun being cocked was easily recognizable, especially when it came from directly behind us. Lucas quickly let me go at the sound, hands lifting as I sprang away to see a gun being held against the sarcastic man’s head.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”
There was death in that voice as Jeremiah appeared behind Lucas, his eyes blazing with a savagery that took my breath away. The obvious height difference between the two men had never been more apparent; Jeremiah seemed to tower over his older brother, the muscles in his arm bulging against the business shirt he wore. The black gun was trained on Lucas’s temple, Jeremiah’s knuckles around the grip white with strain.
I looked between the two men. Surely Jeremiah wouldn’t…Not his own brother…
Lucas froze, hands up on either side of his head. “Familial loyalty?” Lucas answered lightly, his light words belying the strain I saw in his face. From the sound of his voice he might have been talking about the weather, but the eyes locked on me were bleak.
“Not good enough.” Jeremiah pressed the gun harder against his brother’s temple, and Lucas closed his eyes.
“No!” I blurted out, heart racing. I moved around until I was beside the two men. “He came to help us, Jeremiah. He knows who’s after you, don’t kill him!”
The billionaire didn’t look at me but I saw the gun tremble against Lucas’s head. The bodyguards near the door lowered their own weapons but didn’t move to help, leaving the brothers alone. My throat froze, suddenly terrified what I was about to witness, then Jeremiah lowered his gun. He grabbed Lucas’s arm and twisted it behind the other man’s back, and only then did the bodyguards move in. “Take him to the house,” Jeremiah said, voice low and tight.
The bodyguards took Lucas from Jeremiah, snapping a set of handcuffs around his wrists. The older brother didn’t put up a fight, seemingly content with the way things were going, but the guards still clustered around him as if he was dangerous. I moved to follow them when suddenly a hand grabbed my arm, bringing me up short. “Not so fast,” I heard Jeremiah growl.
I thought that I had seen him angry before, but I’d never seen him like this. There was real fury in his eyes, directed at me, and I knew I had messed up royally. “Jeremiah,” I said, trying to apologize, only to cut myself short when I saw his free hand ball up into a fist.
“Do you know what I’ve done to protect you?” Gone was the total control I had always seen, in its place was a ferocity that looked alien on his face. When I tried to move, the hand around my arm tightened and I tensed, stopping all movement.
“The girl didn’t know I was here,” Lucas said from across the room. His rapt gaze watched our confrontation keenly. I became aware that the guards were also watching us, having paused in the doorway, but again made no move to help.
“I said, take him to the house!” Jeremiah roared, and I watched in disappointment as the guards shuffled out through the door and back toward the house, leaving me alone with Jeremiah.
I tried to stay calm, even though the heat I felt from him was overwhelming. When the door clicked closed he released my arm, but as I moved away he followed my retreat, stalking me across the room. My hip finally bumped up against a table, then I backed into a wall with no other means of escape. He towered over me, fists clenched at his side, and I tried to quell the sudden misgivings in my chest. “Jeremiah, I’m…”
“Do you realize how much danger you’re in?” Jeremiah’s hands were balled into fists but his arms remained at his side. A scowl twisted his face but he didn’t move a muscle to touch me. “Why did you leave the house?”
“Because the assassin is after you, not me?” I hadn’t meant for the statement to be a question, and from the look on Jeremiah’s face it was the wrong answer anyway. “Look, I’m really sor—”
I was pinned to the wall suddenly, the hands on my shoulders pressing me back against the wood. Squeaking in surprise, I turned wide eyes on Jeremiah and saw him blink, a small frown furrowing his brow. The anger was still in his voice however as he said, “You saw his face at the hotel. Do you have any idea what that means to a man who lives his life in the shadows?”
I wanted to say, but Jeremiah’s dark look quelled my courage to speak. The hands on my shoulders trembled, Jeremiah’s beautiful face contorting in his struggle for control. He bowed his head, and to my surprise laid his forehead against mine.
“You could have been killed,” he rasped, the words piercing my heart. “I’ve done everything I can to keep you safe, gone to people I swore I’d never contact again—all for you. Why did you leave the house?”
Heart twisting, I raised my hand to cup his face but he lifted his head, turning a suspicious gaze on me. “Did you know my brother was here?”
I drew back, stung by the accusation. “Of course I didn’t.” Frustration bubbled up at his disbelieving look. “I don’t know anything about what’s going on, thanks to you,” I snapped, glaring at him. I slapped his chest in frustration, the movement doing little to make him retreat. “How would I even get information like that while under constant surveillance? You lock me away in that house, guards watching my every move. You don’t tell me anything you’re doing, lecture me about staying safe without telling me anything, and expect me to go meekly along with it—”
“Goddammit,” Jeremiah roared, startling me into silence, “I can’t have your death on my hands!” Wild desperation played across his face as his hands left my shoulders, framing my face without touching my skin. “I promised I would keep you safe, then you go and pull something like this.”
I watched in wonder as a myriad of emotions played across his face. Despite learning to read his normally subtle body language and limited expressions, the sudden passion on his face struck me dumb. His own battle for control was obvious; he reached out to caress my neck, then checked himself, as if afraid to touch me. “My family destroys anyone outsiders who get too close; I’ve watched it happen to my mother, Anya, and countless others.” He swallowed. “Maybe I don’t deserve happiness, but you do, and I’ll get you through this.” One finger caressed my cheek. “I’m not a good man,” he murmured, staring at his hand fisted near my chest. “I should never have brought you into this. I almost got you killed, and now I need to see you safe.”
The pain in his eyes, revealing emotions that were always kept bottled inside, made tears spring to my eyes. I tried to touch his face again but grabbed my wrist, holding it beside my head. “You can’t do this again,” he ground out. “We don’t know who is after us or what means he has available to get close.”
My heart shattered into a million little pieces. Trembling, I searched for a way to show my remorse. “I’m sorry for leaving the house.”
“Sorry isn’t good eno…” Jeremiah retorted angrily, then stopped as I lowered myself to my knees. He released my wrist and stepped back, everything about him going still as he stared down at me. “What are you doing?” he finally said.
I’d never felt so helpless in my life, sitting there at his feet. I had no idea how he’d react, but somehow I knew he needed to be in control, the emotions coursing through him too much to process. “Asking for forgiveness.” I swallowed, then added, “Sir.”
The remaining wildness in his face drained away but he still hesitated. I stared at his feet, no longer having the courage to watch his face. He still wore the expensive business pants but instead of the dress shoes to which I’d grown accustomed, he wore a pair of rugged black boots. I wondered if they were the same ones he’d used while in the Army, but didn’t feel that moment was the right time to ask.
The silence stretched, making me nervous. I stayed where I was, praying I hadn’t made the wrong move. My biggest fear was his rejection, so relief shot through me when he finally said, “Stand up and raise your hands over your head.”