Authors: Elle James
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Men's Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #Romance, #War & Military, #Military, #Western, #Westerns
New York Times
his book is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locations or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
© 2016 by Elle James
of this work may be used, stored, reproduced or transmitted without written permission from the publisher except for brief quotations for review purposes as permitted by law.
his book contains
material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint of use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
Cover Design by Elle James
Manufactured in the United States
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
his story is dedicated
to women who have been brutally attacked and/or raped. I was raped when I was 13 years old. Looking back, now that I’m much older, I realize what a mistake I made. I should have turned in the young man who raped me, if not to protect myself, then to keep others from falling victim to him. Yes, I knew the guy. He was the brother of my best friend. I don’t know where he is now, or what he’s doing in life, I just hope he isn’t victimizing other women. I should have told… If you are a victim of rape, please, don’t keep it to yourself. You could be saving others from being raped by telling your story and putting the rapist behind bars.
edically discharged from the army
, Tate “Bear” Parker, former Delta-Force soldier, now works for Brotherhood Protectors as a bodyguard. Gruff but outgoing, his in-your-face cheerful exterior hides wounds invisible from the outside. He hopes to keep those scars undercover and get on with his life and his job, with no one the wiser.
Mia Chastain grew up in Eagle Rock, Montana. Now a successful screenwriter, she’s hit a brick wall writing a movie script about a young woman struggling to come to grips with her life in the aftermath of a brutal attack. Mia returns to her hometown to face her own demons and write the script she knows she must. A secret she’s kept buried for a very long time makes her fearful of facing her homecoming alone. When her old school friend suggests she hire a bodyguard, she jumps on the idea, determined to stay the course with the help of a strong, ruggedly handsome guardian.
In the performance of his protective service, the damaged soldier falls under the spell of the shy screenwriter. They forge an unlikely bond in an effort to keep her safe as the secrets of her past come back to haunt her and threaten to destroy the life she’s built.
Enjoy other great books by Elle James
Brotherhood Protector Series
Take No Prisoners Series
for more titles and release dates
IA CHASTAIN twisted
the key in the lock and pushed open the door to her past. Eleven years had passed since she’d been back, for more than a night or two, to the house in which she’d been raised. After she’d left for college, she’d sworn she’d never return to Eagle Rock, Montana. Except for very short visits, and her parents’ funeral, she’d kept that promise to herself. Yet, here she was. Entering the house her great-grandfather had built, with the intent to stay for at least a month.
“Are you sure you want to stay here tonight?” Sadie McClain, her old friend from high school stood behind her, carrying the smallest of the suitcases Mia had packed for the trip home. “It’s been a year since anyone has been inside this house. It probably needs a good cleaning before you can sleep here.”
“I’ll be all right. I can cover a lot of ground in the cleaning department in the hours before bedtime.”
“I can stay and help, if you like,” Sadie offered.
Mia paused with her hand on the doorknob. “You have a husband to go home to. I’ll be fine. Besides, I came to Montana for a break from the traffic and noise of city life. I need the chance to regroup and refill my creative well before I start writing my script.”
“What you’re telling me is that you want to be alone, and I need to scram as soon as I set down this suitcase.” Sadie raised her hand. “Don’t deny it. I understand your motives. After living in L.A., I needed the peace and quiet of the Crazy Mountains, too.”
“Yeah, and I need the time to myself to go through the old place.”
“It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it?” Sadie set the case on the wooden porch and hugged her friend. “I miss your folks, too.”
After her parents had passed away the summer before, Mia hadn’t had the heart to come home and face the ghosts that lingered in the shadows of Eagle Rock.
Sadie’s gaze swept the front of the house. “Don’t pay any attention to Marly’s comment about this place being haunted. She’s just a kid. They enjoy making up stories about deserted places.” Sadie rubbed the gentle swell of her belly. She’d just begun to show at five months pregnant. “But if you do get scared, don’t hesitate to jump in your car and come stay at the house with us. We have loads of room.”
Mia’s lips quirked upward at what the waitress at the café had said about her old home. The young people around town thought the house was haunted. It had sat for an entire year without anyone in it, but they swore they saw lights shining through the windows at night.
“Ghosts in the house are the least of my worries,” Mia muttered. “I have a deadline. That scares me more than any old ghost.”
Sadie smiled. “That’s the spirit.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Oops. No pun intended.”
The old clapboard home had been Mia’s one safe haven in the small town she’d lived in all her young life.
Now that her parents were gone, she needed to decide what to do with the house. Should she sell it, tear it down, or rent it out? To sell or rent it, she definitely had to do some major cleaning and possibly remodeling. At the very least, it needed some repairs. But those would all have to wait.
Deciding what to do with her parents’ place was only part of the reason for her being in Eagle Rock. The main focus of her stay was to work through her writer’s block on the script due to her editor in less than a month. Under contract to produce, she didn’t have time for a gap in creativity. She had to charge forward and get it done. Or buy back her contract and tell the studio that had optioned the work that she had changed her mind about writing the story after all.
The problem was that the story was too close to home for her. Mia could kick herself for proposing it in the first place. Though it would be a work of fiction, it would drag up so many old, disturbing memories she wasn’t sure she could handle it.
Every time she sat down to write, her hands shook so much she couldn’t keep them rooted on the keyboard of her laptop. Images flooded her mind and filled her with the terror she’d experienced that day thirteen years ago.
The day she’d been raped walking home from the school bus stop.
A chilling sense of being watched brushed down Mia’s spine. She spun to look behind her, but no one was there.
“What?” Sadie glanced around. “Spider walk over your grave?”
Mia shrugged and forced a smile to her lips. “No. I’m just tired from the trip.” She stepped into the old house, waited for Sadie to cross the threshold, and then closed the door behind them.
Sadie wandered into the living room. “I remember doing homework with you on that rug.” Her lips lifted in a sad smile. “It’s too bad you don’t live here full time. I could imagine our children growing up in Eagle Rock, going to the same school and coming over to each of our houses to do homework. They’d have sleepovers, go horseback riding and generally raise hell.” She laughed softly. “Maybe someday?”
With a noncommittal shrug, Mia said, “Maybe.” No child of hers would grow up in Eagle Rock. Not as long as the man who’d attacked her remained free and anonymous.
Mia’s gaze went to Sadie’s belly.
God, she’d never considered that others might be in danger by her not coming forward and reporting her rape to the police.
Sweet Lord, what if Sadie’s baby was a girl? What if she was attacked on her way home from school?
Mia bit down hard on her lip. She hadn’t told anyone about what had happened to her. Not even her best friend, Sadie, or even her parents. She’d carried the burden alone, feeling dirty and ashamed, as if she’d brought the attack on herself.
As an adult, she knew how foolish those thoughts were. But as a sixteen-year-old, she couldn’t have faced her peers if they’d known she’d been used, her body sullied. For weeks she’d lain in bed, afraid she would end up pregnant with her attacker’s baby. He hadn’t used protection. Hell, he hadn’t expected her to live.
Sadie’s hand on her arm brought her back to the present. “What’s wrong, Mia?”
Shaking herself out of her morose memories, she forced a smile to her face. “Nothing. It’s just sad to see the house this way. Mom always tried to make it cheerful and full of light.”
“All you need is to open the curtains and windows to let in sunlight and fresh air.” She yanked back a curtain, stirring up a cloud of dust. Sadie coughed. “Okay, well maybe you should slide them back slowly.” She waved her hand in front of her face. “Mia, come stay with us until this place is livable again.”
Mia shook her head. “Thanks, Sadie, but I’ve needed to do this for a long time. The only way to get it done fast is to live in the disaster zone.” She wiped a finger across an end table, leaving a long streak in the thick layer of dust.
Sadie nodded. “Okay, have it your way. But at least let me walk through the house with you once to make sure nothing is glaringly wrong. Then I’ll leave you to it.”
Mia and Sadie walked through every room on the first floor, and then on to the second floor. No one hid in the closets or under the beds.
By the time they’d been through the house, Mia felt a little better about staying there alone.
She walked Sadie to her SUV and hugged her. “Thank you for welcoming me home.”
“I wish you’d let me do more.”
“Maybe tomorrow you can come for a cup of tea?”
“I would love that.” Sadie hugged her again. “I’ve missed you.”
“I can’t imagine you’ve had much time to miss me with that big, handsome SEAL keeping you busy.” Mia grinned. “I always thought you and Hank belonged together. I’m surprised it took you this long to figure it out.”
Sadie’s face glowed with her love for the man. “We had to be in the same place at the same time for it all to come together.”
“Thank goodness he came home when he did, or you might not be here now.” Mia squeezed Sadie’s hand. “It’s great to see you, again.”
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Sadie said. “I get lonely for female companionship.”
“You have Hank’s sister, Allie.”
Sadie nodded. “When she’s not ranching. But you speak the language of the movie industry. It’s nice to share stories. I’m just happy.” She climbed into the SUV. “See you tomorrow. But remember, if you get scared tonight, come on over.”
Mia was already scared, but she’d have to get used to it. “Thanks.”
Once Sadie left, Mia entered the house, closed the door and locked it behind her.
Then she faced her past.
She’d left everything as her parents had the day they’d gone to Bozeman for doctors’ appointments a year ago.
Their appointments had been in the morning. Apparently, on their way back, they’d been caught in a freak blizzard, had run off the road and rolled down a steep embankment. If they hadn’t died in the crash, they would have died of exposure. She could only hope their deaths had been instant and painless.
They’d lain at the bottom of the hill upside down in her father’s old pickup, the snow covering their tracks, and eventually, the truck. No one had known to look for them until Mia had called the next day.
They hadn’t answered. Having heard about the blizzard in Montana, Mia had been worried. She’d called all the people she knew in Eagle Rock and couldn’t find her parents. After a couple of hours, she’d notified the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff himself had gone to their house to check on them. No one had answered his knock. Concerned for their safety, he’d broken the lock and entered. He’d found a note on the calendar Mia’s mother kept on the refrigerator. The note had indicated they’d had doctors’ appointments in Bozeman the day before.
After the sheriff had verified with the doctors’ office that the couple had been there the day before, he’d sent his deputy out on the highway to Bozeman to look for any signs of the Chastains’ truck.
Mia sighed. The dustcovers over the furniture made the living room appear filled with the ghosts the people in town believed haunted her old home. And really, weren’t there? The ghosts were the memories the furniture conjured. Fleeting images of her parents sitting in their favorite recliners, staring at the fire or watching television.
They’d been older when they’d had Mia. She was the baby they’d tried for years to have, and when they’d finally given up in their forties, she’d surprised them.
She couldn’t have asked for more loving and giving parents. They’d been a bit old-fashioned compared to some of the younger parents, but that had been part of their charm.
Pushing back the memories, Mia continued through to the kitchen. She’d left all the utilities on throughout the year to keep pipes from freezing. Other than a layer of dust, she could move right in and do what she’d come to do.
She ran her finger along the counter, leaving a clean streak amid the dirt that had gathered since her mother’s death. Standing around staring at the dirt wasn’t going to get the place cleaned.
If she planned to live there for the next month, she had to get to work cleaning. Once that was done, she hoped to settle, free of distractions from the internet, and write the script she’d contracted to finish before the end of the month.
Rolling up her sleeves, she pulled back her hair and secured it in a ponytail, and then got out a bucket, rags and soap and went to work.
By nightfall, the kitchen sparkled, and she had the kettle on the stove for tea. She’d also cleaned her old bedroom, replacing the musty sheets with a fresh set she’d brought with her from her apartment in Los Angeles.
At the very least, she could have supper and a place to sleep for the night. Tomorrow, she’d work on the rest of the house. When she had it cleaned, she’d start working on her manuscript.
The hard work had kept her from dwelling too much on the past. Exhausted from the trip and all the work, Mia showered, dressed in her favorite, worn T-shirt and soft jersey shorts and then settled at the kitchen table to drink a cup of tea and eat the crackers and cheese she’d brought with her from L.A.
Night had settled around the house. All of the windows had blinds or curtains she could close to block out the darkness, except in the kitchen. The window over the sink stared at her like a dark specter, making her skin crawl the longer she looked at it. She’d have to go to Bozeman to find a set of blinds to cover it.
During the day, the more windows she could open to let in light, the better, but at night, the darkness frightened her. Yeah, she’d learned to get around, even at night, but it didn’t stop the irrational fear of being watched from threatening to overwhelm her.
Mia rose from the table, having eaten very little, dumped her tea down the drain and rinsed her cup. All the while, she refused to stare out the darkened window that overlooked the back garden.
When she turned away to go to her bedroom, she could swear she saw a shadowy figure in the window, just out of the corner of her eye.
She grabbed a butcher knife from the drawer and turned to face the window. The view was just as black as it had been when she’d been drinking her tea.
For a long time, she stared at the window, waiting for that ghostly shadow to reappear. Had she imagined the figure? Were her fears getting the better of her?
After a few minutes, she relaxed and started to replace the butcher knife in the kitchen drawer. On second thought, she carried it with her to her bedroom and laid it on her nightstand.
The shadow could have been a result of her memories and her overactive imagination, but she wasn’t taking any chances.
She had a gun, but it was packed away in her suitcase that she had yet to unpack. Perhaps that would be the first thing she dug out in the morning. If she continued to feel insecure through the night, she’d unpack it sooner.
Mia slid between the sheets and pulled the blanket up to her chin. Leaving the lamp shining on the nightstand, she closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
Tired beyond endurance, sleep came despite the debilitating fear, only to be filled with nightmares, her memory regurgitated from long ago.
She’d just gotten off the school bus, on her way home from school. Her house was only a half of a mile out of Eagle Rock, surrounded by hills and ranch land. Her great-grandfather had settled in Montana, homesteaded a six-hundred-acre spread and raised cattle and horses. Since then, the successive generations had sold off portions of the old homestead until all that remained was the original house and ten acres.