Bound For Keeps
Stephanie Tyler, LLC
February 19,2013 (Ebook)
February 4, 2014 (Print)
They canâ€™t deny the attractionâ€¦or the dangerâ€¦
Since losing their beloved third to cancer, Keith Masters and Johnny Lou Reed havenâ€™t thought about filling the void in their lives with anyone else. Until a stormy Christmas Eve, when a half-frozen, newly discharged Army Ranger shows up on their doorstepâ€”with no memory of who he is or how he got there.
The former Marine in Keith is suspicious that he canâ€™t turn up any information about Shane anywhere, not even an address. Direct questioning will have to wait until theyâ€™ve gotten the boy well.
Shane knows itâ€™s only a matter of time before Keith and Reed figure out his past. And when they learn the depth and the darkness of the secrets he holds, he could get them all killed.
In the heat of the dark winter nights, the three men discover a passion that heals the gaping wounds in their hearts. And Shane wonders, despite the danger hot on his heels, how he will ever bear to leaveâ€¦
Connected Books: EE Ltd. Universe
Connected Books: Men of Honor
Read an Excerpt
Keith stomped the snow off his boots, stripped down and found that Reed had carried Shane into the spare bedroom, gotten him comfortable. There was a warm saline IV running into his arm and IV antibiotics on the bedside table.
â€śHeâ€™s got pneumonia. Iâ€™ll be monitoring him all night,â€ť Reed said.
â€śWeâ€™ll be monitoring him all night,â€ť Keith corrected. â€śI didnâ€™t find any bag. Let me go try to get the word out about him first.â€ť
He went into the small office on the other end of the living room and shot off some emails to friends who were still enlisted. He figured he should hear something back by the morning. He also checked local missing personâ€™s reports and found nothing. Something in his gut told him not to report Shane to the authorities, though.
The boy was in troubleâ€”or he was troubleâ€”Keith was sure of it.
Then again, heâ€™d thought the same thing about Reed when heâ€™d shown up half dead on the doorstep on Christmas Eve, just the way the local legend said would happen. The realtor had been the one to tell Keith about it originallyâ€”she liked that bit of local flavor and thought Keith might as well.
Supposedly, the cabin was at least a hundred years old, and it had a reputation of bringing lovers together on Christmas Eve. People came there in bad weather, looking for an inn, but there was no record of an inn being on or near that property. There was a Motel 6 twenty miles away and nothing beyond that Keith had ever been able to find on any map, no matter how old.
No one had a clue where the inn rumor had started, but when Keith bought the house heâ€™d inherited that story along with a good foundation, sixteen-foot ceilings and a nonexistent electrical system. Over the years, with Bobbyâ€™s help and then Reedâ€™s, heâ€™d rebuilt almost everything while keeping the original feel of the place.
And yeah, his sentimentality had definitely shown through.
From the outside, it looked like little more than a sturdy log cabin. It was exactly the way they liked it, because their business was as secret as their private life and it provided the men with the necessary security.
Having any kind of personal life or attachments as a mercenary was never recommended. Once anyone knew you had somethingâ€”or someoneâ€”youâ€™d rather die than lose, you were in trouble.
Keith and Reed had been off the grid for so long, it was a concern only at times like this. If Shane had been sent in to hunt them, heâ€™d done a piss-poor job of it.
Keith would make sure it stayed that way and dammit, Christmas Eve and investigations didnâ€™t go together. He sipped his Scotch, the smell of ham and other foods cooking in the kitchen wafting over him. Reed had insisted on making a feast, and Keithâ€™s stomach rumbled appreciatively at the thought of the spread. Both men had learned to cook relatively well in their years in the military when theyâ€™d been living alone. Over the course of the years, theyâ€™d picked up a lot from Bobby too, whoâ€™d actually gone to culinary school at some point, just for fun.
Keith wouldâ€™ve paid money to see thatâ€”an active-duty Marine in culinary school. Smiled thinking about Bobby using his KA-BAR knife to peel potatoes.
In a way, this meal was Reedâ€™s tribute to the man whoâ€™d died a week before Christmas last year. The men had promised Bobby they wouldnâ€™t stop celebrating the holiday.
Pulling his mind back to the present, Keith flexed his fingers over the keys, tapping into databases he had no business being in and coming up blank. That in and of itself brought up a number of red flags, in Keithâ€™s book.
â€śAnything?â€ť Reed asked, coming into the den, leaning his hip against the desk facing Keith, who shook his head. â€śSpecial forces?â€ť
Reed seemed to agree. â€śDefinitely military, which means this IDâ€™s fake. Good, but fake.â€ť
â€śShaneâ€™s his real first name thoughâ€”even half unconscious, he responds to it,â€ť Keith pointed out.
â€śIâ€™ll email Dan in case someoneâ€™s missing. Thatâ€™s a Christmas Eve email no one would mind getting,â€ť he said, knowing the US Marshal would appreciate the heads-up.
â€śIâ€™d hate to think of Kyle out looking for him. No one should be alone during the holidays,â€ť Reed said somberly as he moved closer to Keith.
They both had, at various points throughout their lives. â€śHeâ€™s not alone.â€ť
â€śNo, just shut in with one of the most suspicious men on the planet.â€ť Keith merely smiled because Reed said it with an affectionate rub to his shaved head, followed by a kiss. â€śI can still see the bite mark.â€ť
â€śYou were a little excited,â€ť Keith said wryly, and Reed snorted.
â€śYeah, just a little. Not your fault at all.â€ť
â€śI was planning a repeat performance tonight, but I guess itâ€™ll have to wait.â€ť
â€śLooks that way.â€ť
Keith sighed. â€śWhen he wakesâ€”â€ť
â€śYou are not going to interrogate him.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™re really going to owe me,â€ť Keith told him mutinously as Reed moved away and shrugged.
â€śNot a hardship,â€ť Reed called over his shoulder as he walked across the hall toward the guest room.
Through the open door, Keith watched his partner rub the young man down with water and alcohol. Managing fever on top of hypothermia took skill, but Reed had dealt with much worse.
After another hour of emails, including hearing back from Dan, his marshal contact, that all their WITSEC men and women were safe and sound, Keith got up and went to the doorway of the guest room, noting the flush of fever on Shaneâ€™s face had subsided somewhat. But the boyâ€™s eyes still held that hazy, faraway look whenever they opened to Reed quietly saying, â€śHey, Shane, can you open your eyes for me?â€ť And then just as suddenly theyâ€™d close again and sleep would take him.
Reed looked up at him. â€śYou okay?â€ť
Keith put his hands up to grab the doorframe above his head, stretched himself as he gave an unconvincing, â€śYeah.â€ť
â€śYouâ€™ve got to admit this is weird,â€ť Reed said finally. Of the three of them, he believed the least in that old legend about this house drawing those in need to it, but he couldnâ€™t deny the oddness of this. â€śI mean, eight years to the day. To the hour.â€ť
Keith shrugged. â€śâ€™Sâ€™what the legend says. Travelers in need find their way here on this day at this time.â€ť
â€śLike me.â€ť Reedâ€™s blue eyes shone in the soft light, the memories making him smile a little. His blond hair was on the longer side, and he was shorter than Keithâ€”six-two to Keithâ€™s six-five, but his build was lankier. He was strong as hell, though, as Keith well remembered when he came to that night he woke on the living room floor and immediately tried to punch both Keith and Bobby.
Reed had war in his eyes. Sometimes, when he woke, he still did. He told Keith he always dreamed of the rain.
â€śThereâ€™s no one like you,â€ť Keith told him. â€śWe canâ€™t keep him here longer than tomorrow.â€ť
â€śThereâ€™s your suspicious side coming through,â€ť Reed grumbled.
â€śYou know Iâ€™m right to be cautious.â€ť
â€śI know. Heâ€™s beautiful, though,â€ť Reed murmured, and Keith rubbed a hand over his shaved skull as he moved forward toward the bed and wondered what the hell they were doing not calling the police.
â€śYeah, a beautiful con artist,â€ť he muttered. Reed turned and shot him a sharp look as their patient suddenly opened his eyes and stared directly at Keith, a gaze that made him feel a sharp tug from gut to groin.
F*ck. It had been a mistake to let him in this far.
Shane struggled to sit up, but Reed was pressing his shoulders back down to the pillows. â€śEasy, big guy. Youâ€™ve been out of it for a while.â€ť
Keith held out the cup of water and Shane took a greedy pull from the straw, until he coughed. Reed eased him back, covered him back up and waited until heâ€™d caught his breath.
â€śWhatâ€™s your name?â€ť Keith asked.
Shane looked at him, a sudden confusion covering his handsome face. â€śItâ€™s umâ€¦f*ck.â€ť
â€śUm f*ck, huh?â€ť Keith started, but Reed interrupted with a glare at Keith.
â€śItâ€™s Shane Wills. Did you hit your head?â€ť
â€śI donâ€™t remember,â€ť Shane admitted.
â€śWhat the hell were you doing out there?â€ť Keith barked.
Shane pressed his lips together, shook his head as if attempting to clear it. â€śI donâ€™t know.â€ť
â€śWhat do you mean, you donâ€™t know? Itâ€™s a simple question,â€ť Keith asked, but Reed put a hand against his chest to stop him, asked instead, â€śWhatâ€™s the last thing you remember, Shane?â€ť
â€śI remember walking down a street in Phillyâ€¦some guys hassled me and I fought them off, but not before I lost my wallet and they got in some good punches,â€ť he started slowly. â€śA truck driver took pity on meâ€”cleaned me up and took me as far as here, I guess. When he dropped me, he told me there was an inn a mile from here. And then I walked.â€ť
Keith mentally cursed the driver for dropping this kid into the middle of nowhere in this weather. â€śNo oneâ€™s ever found that inn.â€ť
Because this is the inn.
He caught Reedâ€™s eye and both men fought a smile.
â€śAnd before that?â€ť Keith pushed Shane, who shook his head.
â€śI donâ€™t remember. Iâ€™ve been trying to for the past few daysâ€”the whole rideâ€¦I was panicked.â€ť
â€śMaybe we should call the policeâ€”file a missing personâ€™s reportâ€”â€ť Reed said.
â€śNo!â€ť Shaneâ€™s hand shot out, grabbed Reedâ€™s wrist. â€śNo.â€ť
Keithâ€™s eyes met Reedâ€™s. No doubt about itâ€”Shane was nothing but trouble.