Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Sanctuary by RJ Scott Part 1

A series of connected stories set against the backdrop of the Sanctuary Foundation.

Sanctuary, a foundation offering witness protection to anyone whose safety is compromised.

Guarding Morgan #1
Morgan Drake is the only witness to a murder in an alleyway. Nik Valentinov works for Sanctuary, a foundation offering witness protection to anyone whose safety is compromised. Morgan discovers a bodyguard's arms can offer more than protection.

Morgan Drake witnesses a murder in an alleyway. He is the only person who can give evidence in prosecuting the cop responsible for the crime. When the FBI safe house where he's being held is compromised, he follows the instructions of the agent in charge and runs.

Nik Valentinov works for Sanctuary, a foundation that offers witness protection when FBI security is questionable.

When Morgan's handler sends him to Nik for safety, neither Morgan nor Nik could imagine that two weeks alone in a cabin in the woods would have their hearts racing with something much more than merely trying to keep Morgan alive.


The Only Easy Day #2
One dead girl, one scared witness, and two men trained as Navy SEALs. Whether searching for justice or revenge, the final showdown between them is the same—explosive.

Dale MacIntyre, former Navy SEAL, works for Sanctuary. He's the acting handler for a member of the Bullen family's inner circle. He's close to obtaining the evidence he needs to prove Elisabeth Costain's death was ordered by them... until someone gets in his way.

Joseph Kinnon, active Navy SEAL, is back on US soil for the first time in months, and he's told the tragic news that his stepsister is dead, gunned down in an alley by an unknown assailant. He's determined to find out who murdered her... until someone gets in his way.

They both want the same thing but have different methods of accomplishing their goals. They both want the Bullen family brought to account, but one wants justice and the other wants revenge.

What happens between them, however, has nothing to do with either.

Face Value #3
Beckett Jamieson discovers he's adopted when a lawyer hands him a letter from his mother on his twenty-first birthday. His real name is Robert Bullen, but the Bullen family is involved in criminal activity of the worst kind. He decides to bring them down but ends up badly beaten and temporarily blinded. A Sanctuary agent takes him to a safe house to heal. Doctor Kayden Summers, Sanctuary operative, isn't happy about being stuck in the middle of nowhere with an unconscious man. When Beckett wakes, the situation goes from bad to worse. Beckett doesn't trust him, is as determined as ever to find the evidence his mother hid, and on top of all that, Kayden finds himself attracted to the determined young man. Can they overcome their issues and eliminate the threat from the Bullen brothers?

Still Waters #4
Adam's newest assignment for Sanctuary means working with the man who didn't trust him two years ago and destroyed their relationship. He still hates Lee but Jake Callahan, boss of Sanctuary, doesn't give him a choice, insisting they need to get along for the good of the cross-agency case.

Lee wants desperately to understand why Adam betrayed the Bureau. He is still angry and disappointed, but the memory won't leave him alone. The Bullen case is the perfect cover to get back in his ex-lover's life, and he is determined to find out the truth.

Against the backdrop of Sanctuary and the Bullen case can they learn to understand and believe that not everything they thought was true was real?

Full Circle #5
Manny Sullivan is the backbone of Sanctuary. He has his fingers in every pie and when he spots Josh Headley where he shouldn't be, it is Manny who goes in and rescues him.

Josh is in Sanctuary witness protection after his dad turns on the Bullens. Not only is his dad a murderer but his ex is a liar who was using him for information. With his skill in information retrieval, he hopes to make a contribution to the solution.

What started with the death of Elisabeth Costain is drawing to a close and Josh and Manny are in the middle of it all. When Manny risks his life could it finally be time for Josh to risk his heart?

The Journal of Sanctuary One #6
Jake spends every Christmas at Sanctuary 1. From a small child the cabin was home for his family in the special season, and with the third anniversary of his dad's death approaching he arranges for Kayden, Beckett and himself to meet at the cabin a few days before Christmas. When a snowstorm means Kayden is blocked in NY with Beckett, Jake ends up in the cabin on his own.

Sean is being hunted and the only place he can run to is somewhere mentioned in an old journal - the original Sanctuary Cabin. The cabin is no longer in official use but it would be a good place to heal and take stock of just what the fuck is going on with his life.

Neither man is prepared for being stuck together for an entire week, nor for the secrets that threaten to get them both killed.

Worlds Collide #7
It is the day after New Years and Dale is en route back to Albany in a private jet with Emily Bullen. She is coming back home after turning states evidence on her husband Senator Thomas Bullen.

What no one factored in, not Sanctuary or the FBI, was the lengths Griffin Ryland would go to in the effort to protect himself.

Joseph finds out Dale is in trouble and it is only with the help of his team of SEALs that he can make sure Dale is safe and that Griffin Ryland can't cause any more trouble.

A snowy New Years, a deserted airport and a hostage situation with people already dead and suddenly the worlds of Sanctuary and the SEALs collide, with terrifying consequences.

Then, two weeks alone at a resort, falling deeper in love leave the two men with decisions to make and suddenly there is the chance to make forever a possibility.

Accidental Hero #8
More details to follow...
Cain's story
September 27, 2015

I'm doing an overall series review because in my opinion you can't just read one book, you must read the whole series to fully enjoy the tale.  Yes, each book is a standalone in regards to the couple that is featured and that each book has a separate part of the mystery that begins and ends but the series is centered around the bringing down of the Bullens family.

Now, I will say that some people might be a little put off by the suddenness of each couple getting together but I found them perfectly acceptable for both the characters and the scenarios.  Because of the possible life and death situations that the Sanctuary team members and their subsequent charges are placed in, I felt that it was very believable for each couple to realize grabbing life and love with everything they have when it's right in front of you, the right call.  This might be a turnoff for some but it was not for me.

I found it to be a well written, character driven tale that is definitely worth reading.  As I started out with, I think it should be read as one long story to get the sweeping effect of both the mystery and the love as well as the friendships that are explored.


Guarding Morgan #1
"Twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie, twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie…" The words were on repeat in Morgan Drake's head, a litany, over and over, in case he forgot. His FBI shadow had drummed the words into him until he could repeat them in his sleep.

"Just in case, Morgan, okay? If there's any problem, you take these keys and the car I showed you in the next door basement parking, and you take Highway Twenty West onto the 166, head for Altamont, Western Street, find a bookshop called Black Cat Books. Someone will locate you there, and he'll have a password, okay? Lemon Pie. He's a guy I trust with my life, and his name is Nik. I'm writing his cell number on this paper. You need to memorize it in case I can't contact him. Can you repeat… twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie. After me…"

He lost the rhythm of the words as a dark sedan overtook him and then peeled away at high speed. Dread gripped him again and he fought hard not to hyperventilate. Taylor had told him this car would be safe in every sense of the word. Fueled, in good condition, and with plates linking to an elementary teacher in Queens. The convoluted route to the garage where the car was housed meant he would probably have not been followed. Probably. He couldn't stop the car. "Don't stop driving Morgan. Don't you stop for anything or anyone once you get on the road. Not FBI, not cops, no one." Taylor always finished his sentences with the simple question: "Do you understand?" No, Morgan didn't understand.

From the minute he had made the decision to be the designated driver for an after work party, everything had gone to hell. An hour of complete terror, in which his world was ripped apart, ended with him in an FBI safe house guarded by a gruff agent who played a mean hand of poker. Obsessive and compulsive about Morgan's safety, Taylor Mitchell, FBI, ruled the house with an iron fist, not letting Morgan slip into the role of victim for an instant. They talked about what could go wrong. Taylor gave Morgan worst case scenarios that literally blew his mind—shooting, mayhem, and possible death. Morgan wasn't sure his protector was supposed to do that. But he liked the guy and if a choice presented itself between Taylor and the other agent who split the shifts? He would take the warnings every time. Especially given the other guy had bad breath and a corny line in come-ons.


Taylor and Morgan had only been talking before bed. Morgan had been looking for the reassurances he remained safe, and Taylor had been only able to say he would do everything in his power to keep Morgan safe. Should anything happen, or go wrong, he knew of another man, another agency quite separate from the FBI, to help Morgan. A private agency called Sanctuary. Only brought in at the worst of times, it was there as an option if needed. A friend of his now worked for Sanctuary, an agency providing protection for people in need. Actually more than a friend. His ex-FBI partner. Morgan waved the information away, naively so it turned out later.

"How can anything go wrong? I'm with the FBI, the trial is in two weeks, and then everything will be normal again."

"Even the FBI can be compromised, Morgan. Don't you watch TV?" Taylor had a serious expression on his face. Now, with Taylor lying shot, and possibly dead, on the floor of the house, all Morgan could concentrate on was the list of directions he needed to remember, the promise of some mystical safety within his reach.

He waited for the sedan to make a U-turn and come at him with some bad guy hanging out of the window with a gun, but instead the indicators flashed and the car left the highway. Morgan's breathing stayed erratic and panicked sounding, despite how much he tried to settle it, fueled by the pain in his chest, his left arm, and his throbbing head. He didn't want to chance the radio. Music might help him find some composure, but shit, what if it meant he didn't remember the words in the right order? He'd probably end up in Canada or something, the bad guys chasing him down and taking him out of the equation in some blood and gore shootout.

Yes, Morgan watched the TV procedural cop shows with clever detectives or FBI suits who flouted the law and kept the little man on the street safe. He also saw the first witnesses in these shows were inevitably shot between the eyes, the last link in evidence on a high profile murder case. He'd also seen that sometimes the FBI agent was corrupt and a cop could end up on the wrong side of the law. He liked those shows. He simply didn't want to be in one of those shows.

"Twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie, twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie."

He struggled to keep from losing his shit and forced himself to unbend each finger of one hand away from the steering wheel. After he opened his window, the rush of cold early morning air cleared his eyes, and he breathed deeply, trying to gain control of his nerves. He checked the mirror. There was no one behind him; the road remained deserted, and he had a purpose.

Twenty, one sixty-six, Altamont, western, black cat, lemon pie…

"Forty-four ninety-five," the young guy behind the counter said with a wide yawn. Dressed in the red uniform of the gas station chain, he couldn't have been much past sixteen. Judging by the wide-eyed expression on his face when he looked up to see his new customer, he either showed classic signs of being high or he was really shocked at Nik's appearance. Nik tried not to laugh. Given what he'd seen in the restroom mirror—blond hair flat, brown eyes dull and bloodshot and pale skin—Nik imagined it was probably the latter.

Three in the morning had closed in on Nikolai Valentinov far too fast, exhaustion stinging his eyes. Self-preservation prompted the stop at a gas station a short way off Highway 20. He probably looked like some kind of gun-wielding, staring-eyed, about-to-kill-everyone maniac. Add in the fact he was very tall and dressed in black from head to toe and he could appear menacing at all the wrong moments. Poor cashier-kid and his shit shift choice.

Placing the most reassuring smile he could muster on his face, Nik carefully counted out the cash for the charge, and they swapped the sum total of five words in exchanging money for gas, Pepsi and a Snickers.

He stopped for a moment outside the main door and glanced back briefly at the cashier who remained staring at him with a wide eyed expression. Then he stretched his arms high and breathed in deeply. Copious amounts of caffeine kept him going, but the down effects were hard to rein in, not the least of which was the two minute piss he had taken in the not quite so clean and ironically labeled rest stop. Any kind of rest in the filth littered on every available surface of the outside building was not an option. Nik Valentinov may well have been way past simple tiredness, but even he had standards. Simply being weary had been pushed through on day three of his case, moving on to complete and utter exhaustion by day seven. Finally, this morning, his charge had given his evidence and had been rewarded, if that was the right word, with a place in witness relocation. Out of Nik's hands and hair, the witness was away from the auspices of the Sanctuary program and back into the system that only now had decided it would protect the witness.

Nik realized he hadn't moved from the spot where he'd stopped, and he had to admit, it made him more than merely a suspicious face. It made him a man who was simply plain odd, and a possible threat. Casually, he raised a hand in a small wave and finished the short distance to his car, stumbling over the island at the pump and finally, gratefully, leaning against the driver's door of his 4x4 and swallowing the first third of his Pepsi in seconds.

Nik could almost taste the downtime in his immediate future, three whole, entire, complete weeks away from close protection duty, from Sanctuary, from life. As much as he loved his job, the call of peace and isolation of his own place, with no high levels of alert and no college-aged hooker requiring his protection, called to him. Only him, and a beer or ten, and a good book, and fuck, at least one entire night of uninterrupted sleep, a rare commodity when on any case. He could function well with the benefits of small snatches of sleep until he let himself think "it's over", and then sleep was all he craved, all he needed. Another two hours and he would be home. Rolling his shoulders, he winced at the tightness in his neck and the familiar pain in his lower back and left knee. At this moment, standing here and looking up at the night sky, he felt every single one of his twenty-nine years, and then some.

Finishing off the Snickers bar in four bites, he aimed the wrapper for the wide open bin, missed by a good two inches, and then stooped to pick it up. He placed it in by hand, sighing at his complete lack of coordination. I shouldn't be driving; this is stupid. He was a danger to himself, and he wasn't entirely sure he would last the two hours left to home. The insistent lure of flashing neon across the highway called to him and the small no-tell motel offered a bed. Maybe not a fully clean bed, but hell, he had slept in worse. Maybe he should break this journey up. Resolving to do just that, he started the engine and yawned widely, feeling the crack in his jawbone. The ringing tone of his private cell didn't register as any kind of noise he recognized straight away. It just buzzed away in his subconscious until he finally put two and two together. The sound echoed low and he had to root for the source of the clatter in his laptop case. When he was on a job, his private cell stayed that way, private. To hear it sound still turned low reminded him he really needed to turn the damn thing up. Blinking at the screen, shock snapped him fully awake as he saw the name flashing there. He answered with a sense of urgency, thrown back three years to the working partnership he had invested so much into.

"Taylor?" He couldn't have stopped the alarm in his voice if he'd tried. The last time he'd heard from his ex-partner was over a year ago at his FBI debrief, a few weeks before he joined Sanctuary. To hear the man's voice now, a familiar southern drawl, twisted heavy, wet and rasping, sent concern skittering down his spine and chased exhaustion away in a rush of adrenaline.

"FBI safe house Albany compromised." Taylor's voice sounded more than wrong. Hearing the shakiness, the tone thick with pain, Nik didn't waste time on asking what had happened. Taylor didn't need to point out he needed help of some kind. Nik jumped into all business mode instantly.

"Talk," Nik snapped quickly. Training, instinct and friendship clicked instantly into place, and he focused every inch of his resources to listening.

"Shooter dead… mark gone to ground." Familiar words, and he knew exactly what he needed to say next.

"You tell them where?"

"Yeah. He knows. Can Sanctuary—"

"Me, not Sanctuary, I'm three hours out. I'll get him and make arrangements with Sanctuary. You're injured, call 911."

"On it." The call dropped, and Nik knew his friend would be contacting 911. Although injured, Taylor still appeared to be lucid enough to handle calling for medical help. Nik sent a quick thought of hope winging into the night and then snapped back to what he needed to do. He reached into the lock-box on the right of the dashboard. Fingerprint recognition released the security, and a small cover moved to reveal his work issued Glock G22. With practiced ease, he checked the chamber and slipped the loaded weapon into the shoulder holster under his black leather jacket. Taylor, plus an emergency call from a compromised FBI safe house, equaled a pressing need to be armed.

Lowering the driver window for the rush of cold air as he drove, he felt different as he left the gas station and turned back east on Highway 20. Gone was any idea of being off duty. He was focused, intent, and wide awake. Training kicked in immediately, and he was back in work mode. He assessed his location and what he knew, considering the information he had been given amounted to little. Not much to go on really, apart from his best friend and ex-FBI partner injured, a safe house compromised, and the shooter dead. The target Taylor had been protecting in the safe house had run. Who else was in the house? The feds would never leave just one guy with a witness. Was the other person dead? Maybe the witness had been injured. Would the witness himself actually listen to what Taylor had told him and try to find Nik?

Taylor had called him personally, instead of calling the safe house compromise in to FBI Operations. This meant one thing in Nik's mind. Inside job. Taylor clearly had a trust issue with handing knowledge elsewhere, especially internally. Unnecessary emotions flooded him, pushing aside the ice of his focus momentarily. Part of the job had to be to focus on the job, but shit, his gut churned, and he momentarily hoped to hell his best friend had phoned 911 straight after getting off the phone with him.

He wondered what kind of case his friend was on that he couldn't trust the FBI internally. Why hadn't he gone through official channels and approached Sanctuary? Why come to him direct? As newbie partners they had created a failsafe backup plan over beers and tacos just for this kind of situation. Only it had been in case either he or Taylor had been compromised, not a witness or someone involved in a case. Hell, it had started as a joke on a night out in a dingy bar. It was Taylor that started it; three sheets to the wind and in emotional mode. The beer took all his self-imposed barriers and kicked them to the curb.

"If something happens to me I want you to have my Spiderman comics," Taylor said seriously and downed the remainder of his beer in one gulp.

"Can I sell them?" Nik had replied. At that point he hadn’t realized Taylor was actually being serious.

"Only if you promise to use the proceeds to spend the whole lot in a gay bar in one night."

"What is it with you and getting me to gay bars?" Nik had laughed, but Taylor had clearly crossed the bridge to utterly inebriated.

"Well, you won't get to fuck anyone here." Taylor looked over his shoulder at the significant number of couples weaving on the floor in an approximation of dancing.

"I'm not desperate, and I don't need to pick up a guy in a bar," Nik said in defense. He then proceeded to change the subject. "Anyway, if I die, you can have my gun." There. That should shut his friend up with the awkward shit.

"Your gun?" Taylor's eyes widened comically, and then he snorted beer in a bark of a laugh. "Fuck, Nik. Your gun! That is all kinds of serious."

"Ha freaking ha."

"What if we're not dead?" Taylor's words slurred, and he leaned in against Nik. Nik didn't move. To have his drunken best friend leaning all over him this way to Sunday was the only affection he allowed. He sometimes thought it would make his non-existent love life one hell of a whole lot better if Taylor was gay. At least Taylor understood the whole "serving the country and having no life" decision Nik had made. Taylor had made it too. Still, hooking up with a woman had to be easier than snagging a man. Especially for mostly in-the-closet Nik.

"What do you mean not dead?"

"Like, y'know, shot or something."

"Or something?"

"Yeah. We're separated, and you're shot, and we need a place to go."

"How shot am I?" Nik asked laughing, his smile widening when his friend's eyes crossed at the contemplation of how shot Nik would be.

"A through shot. Your arm maybe. Of course, you would be stoic and all Nik-like."

"Nik-like?" This was getting funnier by the minute.

"Yeah, all heroic and shit. Anyway, so you're being Nik, and you've been compomi—compro—compri—shit."


"Yeah. That one. You could call me and we'd have this place we could meet up." Nik climbed down off his stool carefully, ensuring Taylor didn't slide sideways to the floor.

"I need a piss, man. Can you sit up straight?" Taylor made a big deal out of slumping sideways to the bar, calling the bartender over and asking for paper and a pen. By the time Nik came back from maneuvering in and out of drunken half-dancing, half-staggering couples, Taylor had a somewhat lucid plan in place in half-legible writing.

"We always need a backup plan, bro," he had stated seriously, or as seriously as he could given the seventh beer pushing him way over the edge.

Nik had pulled the paper out the next day after he had watched, with some amusement, Taylor grasping the porcelain god in their shared bathroom. Written in stone was what they planned to do if things went south. Should a case go to shit as FBI partners, they had a place they would run to, a place to meet and regroup. When Taylor could finally see straight and stop being sick, they thrashed out the details. A single spot in the middle of nowhere had been chosen with a pin on a map and backed up with consideration for Taylor's taste in good pie. This was between them, no one else would know where it was. Passwords and verbal codes were agreed upon, and it had kept them both alive on more than one occasion. They didn't always work cases together when in the FBI. Then Nik had been injured, not the through-shot Taylor had foretold but much worse. A shot carved into Nik's knee and forced early retirement from the FBI and his days as Taylor's partner were over.

Nik had left without ceremony, joined the Sanctuary organization and, for one reason or another, hadn't seen Taylor since. Not in the last year, when all they had managed was a few coded emails here and there.

He had immediately keyed the place he and Taylor had chosen into his security coded navigation system. Black Cat Books, a book store and coffee shop on Western Street in Altamont. A small, fairly insignificant town based on size, it was only half an hour in distance but more than fifty years in atmosphere from Albany, then a few more hours to New York itself. It didn't seem like a place people assigned special meaning to, apart, he guessed, from the people who lived there. The bookshop was the focus of the community. It was a large open warehouse type affair, with coffee shop and meeting room and a state-sponsored library to the rear. This was exactly where Taylor's runner would have been told to go. Nik only hoped the witness had listened to what Taylor had said.

He had keyed the zip code into the navigation system, although he didn't really need it for direction. He used it more for time. The sparse night time traffic and a rush of adrenaline allowed him to drive without killing himself, and meant he would make it there around six. He settled into the rhythm of the road, connecting a call to Sanctuary and nodding to himself when the call was answered on the first ring.

"Enterprise Transports."

"I need to report an issue with a consignment in New York." There was a brief pause as a minute change in the air passed between them carrying the words, and then acknowledged confirmation of identity.

"Go ahead." The voice came across the air clear, concise, firm.

"Taylor called in a runner." There would be no need to explain who Taylor was. His new employers, a year of cases now, had a profile on everyone in Nik's life. Sanctuary certainly gave the impression they knew everything.

"Do you have a location?"

"Albany. The FBI safe house has been compromised. Taylor's down." Another pause and he heard tapping against a keyboard. The operator at Sanctuary understood he would want to know the situation with his ex-partner and was taking the time to check.

"It's already been called in, paramedics in attendance." Nik let out a breath he didn't even realize he had been holding. At least Taylor had managed to get help.

"Nik…" The voice changed slightly in tone, from all business to concern. "You're down for three weeks off-grid post-case. I can't allocate you. I need to get someone else to go in."

"No. I'm dealing with it." He didn't allow one drop of hesitation to show in his voice. His best friend had asked for his help, and by his standards, there could be no compromise. He wouldn't allow another Sanctuary agent to take the case.

"Noted," the operator confirmed. Nik imagined the woman on the end of the line shaking her head in exasperation. Sanctuary Operations, or Ops as they were normally called, were used to what they called "the idiot heroes" who worked for the foundation, with their I'm-dying-but-it's-okay bravado and weird codes of conduct. He couldn't tell one operator from the next, especially with the recording echo on the cell line. Although he had exchanged a few words with more than a few different operators in the office, he wasn't here to shoot the breeze or engage in polite conversation. He was all about cutting to the chase.

"I need to know what's open for me."

"Sanctuary Seven is empty. I'll send the GPS coordinates to your nav. Do you have an ETA?" Nik checked the screen and the new data that had been downloaded for S7. He added up the journey from here to Altamont, and then on to the general location of Sanctuary Seven, high in the Adirondacks, way past what people considered civilization. Every operative had a 4x4 as it was the only way to get to ninety percent of Sanctuary safe houses and he was convinced he would need it today imagining the type of accomadation there would be in the mountains. "Mid afternoon."

"Today?" The ops voice held no surprise. Sanctuary employees were used to working around tight deadlines.


"Stay in touch, Nikolai. Don't go off grid without letting us know."

He didn't answer. He wasn't going to promise anything he might not intend to be held to. He didn't know what he would find in Altamont. He pushed the speed far enough to make a difference but just below being pulled over. Who would he find at the bookshop? His entire focus on this case, Nik Valentinov was on the clock.

The Only Easy Day #2
"I have eyes on the target." Dale MacIntyre leaned away from the wall at the sounds of the words in his ear. "West entrance. He's alone." A prickle of apprehension skittered down his spine as he casually glanced around him. The west entrance was the busiest ingress into the shopping center, and the rush of humanity piling in and around him made for difficult identification of the subject. He had photos, images from yearbooks, and some grainy surveillance shots, but he wondered just how easy it would be to identify Robert Bullen from those alone in this sea of faces.

Nik had it easy; the facial recognition software he was using would tag Robert immediately. "Blue jacket, jeans, dark hair. Five ten," Nik confirmed into Dale's ear buds. "He's carrying a duffle."

Dale moved to one side of the clutch of moms and toddlers who had decided to gather on what he thought of as his corner then dropped his half-finished coffee in the bin. Eyes focusing on the newcomers, he finally saw someone enter the main door who fit the profile he had been given. When the man turned his head, clearly looking for someone in the mess of people, Dale got a full look at his face. That was definitely his guy, Robert Bullen, twenty-one, which made him eight years younger than Dale and probably eight years less careful. The idiot was standing there staring around like he had all the time in the world and didn't care who saw him.

Cautiously Dale began to pick his way through the people and slowly but surely ended up at Robert's side.

"Coffee?" he said firmly. Robert spun on his heel, and Dale winced inwardly at the fright in Robert's eyes. Robert's behavior wasn't exactly that of someone confident in what he was doing.

"Are you—"

"This way," Dale interrupted quickly, and with a guiding hand, he encouraged Robert to the nearest Starbucks. Ordering coffee with Robert at his side, nearly bristling with tension, was an exercise in keeping his mouth shut. What he wanted to say was the more Robert danced from foot to foot the more suspicious he appeared. It was only when his gaze met Robert's and he saw real fear in the younger man's deep brown eyes that a small spark of compassion built inside him. Robert Bullen might well be the newest generation to be groomed for their role in the Bullen family, but that didn't mean he didn't deserve to at least be heard.

"Did you make contact?" Nik's voice startled him. For a moment he had forgotten the team of two that had his back.

"I have him," he said in reply. "Starbucks."

"Who are you talking to?" Robert seemed skittish, as well he should be.

"Control. Keeping an eye on you and anyone who may have followed you."

"Who? No one followed me. I made sure." Robert's voice held utter conviction.

"Are you really that naive?" Dale snapped back just as quick. He didn't mean to sound sharp, but what the hell did the kid think he was getting involved with? "Your dad is head of the Bullen family and your uncle is a New York senator. Both of those put you at risk of surveillance." Fear flooded Robert's expression in an instant, and Dale felt a twinge of remorse. His people skills sucked.

"I've got to go—" Robert made to stand, but Dale gripped his hand tight and stopped him.

"Sit the fuck down," he instructed through gritted teeth.

"If they find out—"

"Who, Robert? Who's got you scared? Your uncle or your father?"

"Dad. If he finds out I'm talking to you—"

"What? He'll stop your allowance?" Jeez, what made him say that? The kid didn't deserve the sarcasm.

"Fuck you," Robert snapped with fury in his voice. "He's my biological dad, but that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to what he does or who he is."

"Look I'm sorry—"

"I don't take a freaking thing from him."

"Okay. But you do live with him," Dale commented evenly. Not for the first time, Dale identified vulnerability in Robert's eyes, and his hardened heart cracked a little. He might be coming across all hard, tough kid, but Dale knew more about Robert than the young man could ever imagine. He knew Robert's mother was dead, killed in a car accident when Robert was four. For all intents and purposes, Gregory Bullen had lost his wife and his child in that crash. How Robert had survived and what had happened next was something Sanctuary was working on investigating. It might become an important part of this whole case. Robert had only reconnected with his father when he turned twenty-one and came into possession of information that the people he called mom and dad were, in fact, not his biological parents. Dale knew the young man had lived with his dad, Gregory Bullen, at the family mansion in the Catskills for the last six months. Hell, he even knew what Robert had studied at college. He just didn't know what it was that Robert wanted to share or why he had made contact with Sanctuary.

"I have my reasons why I stay." Robert shook his head as if the thoughts inside made no sense to him. "But they're my reasons."

"So what the hell am I waiting to be told?" Robert looked momentarily surprised at the heat in Dale's tone, but he covered it up by dipping his gaze.

"Didn't the DA tell you? I contacted a… umm…" He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "Lissa MacIntyre. She gave me this number."

"Fuck, kid." Dale snatched the paper from Robert's hands. "You don't go around with the law's details in your pocket." His sister's details.

"I'm sorry."

"Why didn't you approach the FBI directly?"

Robert's expression hardened, and suddenly, he looked a lot older than twenty-one.

"They didn't help me when I approached them. I had information for them about the accident, about my mom. It might only have been suspicions and a brief letter she left me, but they dismissed it out of hand."

Dale doubted they had dismissed the boy entirely. The FBI weren't stupid and probably had the kid under as much surveillance as the Bullens did. Any link to the Bullens would be something the feds used. He knew for a fact the Feds were hell bent on finding a way to bring the Bullen family down and to find out where the leak in their office came from. It was only the attempt on Morgan Drake's life as a witness to a murder that convinced the FBI they had internal issues. The same Morgan Drake that now sat in the surveillance van listening to all of this with his lover Nikolai Valentinov.

Robert stopped talking as if what he had said explained why going to an ADA was better than the FBI organized crime unit. For a second Dale considered pushing for more information, but he knew time was running out. Sanctuary Ops had linked Nik into surveillance, and Robert had definitely been followed. Dale hoped that melting into the crowd and into the back of a Starbucks would give them enough time to talk.

"I don't know if any of this will help," Robert said. I shouldn't be doing this. It compromises everything, and I still have things I am trying to do."

"Look, kid—"

"Please just listen. There was this girl, woman. She worked for my uncle, and she was my friend. She used to come to the house, and we would talk. Her name was Elisabeth, and she was nice. She was my—" Robert paused, and his lips twisted in a parody of a smile, "—my girlfriend I guess." Dale pushed down the instant rush of adrenaline that flooded him at Elisabeth's name. Instead he focused on the fact Robert wasn't using words Dale associated with passion or anywhere near. There was affection in Robert's voice, but nothing more. So maybe the gangster's son and Elisabeth were an item, but there was something else there.

"Girlfriend?" That's a surprise.

"She kept my secrets from my uncle and my dad—shit." He pulled himself up on those words and lifted his gaze to meet Dale's. "All that matters is I contacted the ADA who dealt with the case, and she wanted me to come in to see her. I couldn't… I can't; it's too soon. But, she gave me a number, and I spoke to this guy and th-that's it really."

Nik had taken the call, and it was Nik who was listening in on what Robert was saying, which if they faced it, wasn't much.

"Cut to the chase, Dale. There's activity out here." Nik's voice held more than a tone of concern, and Dale sat taller in his chair. He needed to be moving this along.

"So why did you contact the DA's office, Robert? Do you actually have any concrete proof concerning Elisabeth's death?" Dale summarized with an inserted note of impatience. Flustered, Robert looked back down at the table.

"Look…" He changed the subject. "If I can help—"

"Help how?"

"She was murdered, right?" Robert lifted his gaze, and there was passion in his eyes. "Elisabeth was murdered, and I think… I know… that my dad, my uncle, had something to do with it." Dale sat back in his chair. This was possibly, definitely, better that anything he and Nik had contemplated the kid would tell them. He hid his reaction as well as he could.

Let's get back to gathering intel. "What proof do you have?"

"Give me three days and I can get you proof."

"What proof?" Dale asked again. Robert looked around, and there was that frightened rabbit look again.

"My dad—" Robert almost spat the word out, "—is in business meetings in the city from the day after tomorrow. I'll get it then. Financials. An audit trail. Video. I know where it all is. I can get you enough to destroy them all. But I need something from you."

"What?" Dale sighed inwardly. He imagined he already knew the answer. The kid probably wanted money.

"When I hand over the evidence, on the brothers and on Elisabeth, then I hand over myself as well, and the DA keeps me safe until trial."

Not money then? Just protection? "You're that convinced your evidence would take Greg Bullen to trial?"

"It will bring the whole house of cards down." Robert sounded so confident, adamant that what he could give the DA would be enough to bring his father and the whole Bullen family to justice.

"I'll put it to the ADA," he replied to Robert. Or Sanctuary, he thought privately. He also needed to check into this FBI situation. What had Robert meant by the FBI not helping him with his mother? Greg's ex-wife had died a long time ago; maybe the FBI couldn't see the value in the intel. Just maybe though, there had been something else to add to the network of lies that spun a web around the Bullens.

"Dale," Nik warned in his ear. "Closing in on the entrance. I'm out and following. You need to lose the kid."

"I need to go. You need to go," Dale said brusquely.

"What?" Robert was blinking at him in surprise at the quick words.

"Whoever is following you has caught up. Walk away from here, and if anyone asks…" Dale searched for something to say. "Okay, tell them I am a PI looking into tracking down an old college friend." His cover story as a PI was firmly in place should people search on Dale.

Robert blanched, and the fear returned to his eyes.

"What college friend?" he asked panicked. Dale ignored the question as Nik counted down in his ear. Whoever had followed Robert was right outside Starbucks. He stood and passed a card with Nik's and his secure cell numbers and a simple "call us". He melted into the crowds and without a single glance behind him he was gone.

* * * * *

Climbing into Morgan's SUV, he slumped into the back seat.

"Dale? Did it go okay? Where's Nik?" Morgan looked worried and glanced past Dale, clearly searching for Nik.

"He'll be here." As if to emphasize the words, Nik climbed into the car and turned in the seat.

"You think Robert's bullshitting us about the evidence?" Nik asked without pleasantries. He looked thoughtful. Dale went with his instincts when he answered.

"I don't think so. I get the feeling he knows stuff he shouldn't."

"He's willing to turn on his father?" Morgan only said what Dale was thinking. Dale shrugged.

"He says he can get us evidence."

"This could be some kind of trap." Nik grasped Morgan's hand. He was still hyper vigilant where his lover was concerned. The price on Morgan's life might not exist anymore, but there was no way Nik was losing Morgan.

"I don't think so," Dale offered on a murmur. "He looked scared, angry, but still utterly determined. But, however determined, I'm not exactly filled with confidence that he won't give himself away beforehand."

"He's been in that house for six months. Somehow he's made it this far." Morgan sounded defensive, and Nik leaned over to steal a kiss.

"Not everyone is as brave as you, Morgan," he said as he pulled back. "What did I miss?" This was very pointedly aimed at Dale who was being asked to summarize the situation in as few words as possible. God, that was hard. The investigator in him wanted to believe Robert was strong and could indeed give them enough information to find out what had happened to Elisabeth. Being Morgan's friend he wanted that as well.

Morgan had this intense need to find out why the girl he'd seen killed had been shot in the alley, and Dale liked Nik's boyfriend. But the Sanctuary operative he had become saw a young man in Robert who was determined but vulnerable, with a whole side helping of scared. Nik and Morgan didn't need to hear that just yet. Instinct guided him in what to say.

"He says he can get evidence to prove Greg Bullen arranged to have Elisabeth killed. I believe him."

Morgan nodded at the reassurance, but all Nik did was quirk an eyebrow. Dale refused to acknowledge the question on his friend's face. They should have faith that Robert could pull this off.

Faith was all they had.

Face Value #3
"What the hell am I looking for?" Beckett Jamieson stood in the center of the room and then spun slowly in a full circle, cataloguing as much as he could. Nothing fit the description of what she had said would be here. There was no carved finial; in fact the bed looked new. Probably a lot newer than the eighteen years ago he was last here. But surely she would have known things could change before his twenty-first birthday. So the carving she talked of, maybe it wasn't a decorative carving on a bed. He looked at the two freestanding drawer units that served as bedside tables. They were frustratingly simple in their design.

"Come on, Mom. There's nothing that looks half way carved in this room. Help me out here." Up until four weeks ago he hadn't known that his birth mother had left this puzzle for him to solve. He had known since his tenth birthday that he was adopted but he had never felt any compulsion to charge across the States looking for nebulous family or for birth parents who clearly hadn't wanted him. Not when he was ten and fixated on Transformers, or fifteen when he realized he was gay, or at eighteen when his college years were just beginning. Twenty-one was the magic year; but not through any intention of his.

His mom and dad, Isla and Derek Jamieson, the people who took him in as a small child, had taken any information they may have had on his real parents to their graves a few years before. All they had ever said was that everything would be made clear when he was twenty-one and old enough to be who he wanted to be. Being called in to meet Austin Mitchell, apparently the family lawyer, had been the catalyst for wanting and needing to know more.

The lawyer—"call me Austin"—had handed him a thick file that contained a letter in a sealed envelope and a carefully wrapped package. The label on the package held a simple missive: Happy twenty-first, Robert, with love, Mom.

"You knew my birth mother?" Beckett always looked on her as that. Isla Compton was his real mom. The one constant in his life; provider of cookies and hugs and one hell of a lot of love.

"I knew her well enough." Austin said this in an utterly matter of fact way but Beckett could see the twitch of his lips and the sadness in his expression. Evidently Austin had known his birth mother well enough to grieve at her loss. Was it possible the older man had known her in a biblical sense?

"Were you…" Beckett wanted to say her lover? her husband? but that would have been rude. He didn't do rude. "Special to her?" He finished lamely. It was all he could think of and a special relationship could explain why the lawyer was tasked with talking to Beckett on his twenty-first. Maybe this older guy was his birth father? Austin, looking a little shaken at the question, simply shook his head.

"So my real name is Robert?"

"Robert Edward Bullen."

Beckett considered the name and its initial implications. He definitely wasn't a Robert. He was Beckett. Beck. In no way was changing his name to Robert happening anytime in his future. There was a tiny teddy bear with the letter—the sort you gave a small child to decorate a crib or a carriage. When Beckett grasped it and felt the soft fur he suddenly wished that it would pull memories of before he was four to the surface. He couldn't recall a single thing and he placed it on the desk.

"What about my birth dad?" Beckett asked carefully. In his head his mother had been a kid who became pregnant with no husband in the picture. It was easy to forgive her for dumping him if he used that reasoning.

"He's still alive," Austin said. Beckett looked up sharply.

"Does he know about me?"

"He knew you. He thought you died in the same car wreck as your mother."

"So she is dead then. She died and then I was adopted. She didn't give me up?"

"No." Austin sighed and briefly closed his eyes. "There was no giving up. She died, you lived." Austin's voice was calm and rational. He continued, "I helped her by taking you and making you safe."

Beckett blinked at the man. He really didn't understand this. It sounded like the plot of a murder novel. "You made me safe? What do you mean?"

"I think the letter will begin to explain. I will give you your privacy and make some coffee for when you are ready to talk. The computer is yours." Austin left the room without a backward glance and Beckett opened the package. Inside was a simple flat wooden box with a dark inked stamp on the lid. He examined the letters on the lid and realized they were his birth initials, RB. Sliding open the lid he found a chain. Heavy and gold, it was definitely a man's chain and it was the size that fitted around a wrist—Beckett's wrist.

Thrown back to the here and now Beckett felt for the chain. The heavy feel of it against his skin was reassuring and a connection to the woman who had brought him into the world. Emma Bullen. The letter had held little except a list of instructions and the usual things he imagined a letter of explanation held. He was Robert Bullen, son of Gregory Bullen, nephew to Senator Thomas Bullen and to Alastair Bullen. His birth father was alive, as were his uncles. It was the odd instruction that he should look for a carved area in his old room that had sent him to the mansion in the Catskills and to his biological father. Of course, he had done his research before he arrived.

What Beckett discovered wasn't as much as he had hoped he would; well, not about his mom anyway. Emma Bullen had died in a car accident along with her son Robert—a fiery death on a twisting road in the mountains not far from the Bullen mansion. There were no witnesses and nothing left of the car except black twisted metal at the base of a cliff. So there he had sat; apparently he was Robert Bullen, and he had learned what he could about his family.

Gregory Bullen, his father, and his uncle, Alastair, were both businessmen with their fingers in one hell of a lot of pies. His other uncle, Thomas, was an honest to God senator, a whiter than white politician who rode high on the platform of strong moral values. The senator wasn't that close to his two brothers but even an idiot who happened upon Greg and Alastair would see what kind of men they were. Mob. In every sense of the word. Extortion, drugs, prostitution; all wrapped up in a cloak of respectability. He wasn't even sure how far the crimes extended.

And now he was in this old bedroom following the instructions from that letter, burned into his memory, looking for carvings that would lead him to God knows what. Whatever he found, she had written in the letter, was enough to make people pay for her death and would give him leverage against the family. Even now that sent a chill down Beckett's spine. She knew she was going to die? That must have been an unbearable weight to hold without cracking.

There were grainy photos on the Internet from newspapers at the time of Emma's death—the three brothers standing at a graveside, and the two coffins; one large and one small. Apparently both coffins were full of not much more than a collection of burned bones. The papers had printed that without apology. Sensationalist journalism at its best.

"Okay," he said softly to himself. "If I was in this room, where would I think was safe?"

Crossing to the dresser, another simple wooden piece of furniture, he ran his fingers over the grain of the wood. When his mother had written the instructions, he had been so little as to have no memories of what this room had looked like.

"Are you okay, son?" Gregory Bullen was at the door and Beckett immediately stood straight. There was a presence about Gregory that scared the shit out of him. The older man was built like a brick house, wide and strong, with years of lines carved into his weathered skin and hair as black as night. Imposing. Forceful. Strong.

"I was just looking." Beckett shrugged. Let Gregory read whatever he wanted into that. His father entered the room and paused to look about him.

"Robert." He acknowledged him. "Your mother," he made a sign of the cross on his chest, "God rest her soul. She loved this room."

"She did?" Beckett couldn't help himself. He was starving for information about the person who had given him life. He even chose to ignore the instant burn of dislike inside him at being addressed as Robert.

"I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but she was never suited to a grand house like this. She was too simple for this place and she liked this room for what it was; a place to be herself." Gregory said this with a faint hint of fond recollection but Beckett liked to think he could see through it to the intent beneath. There wasn't any love lost in Gregory's voice.

"What did I think of the house when I was here?" Beckett asked curiously. He may as well get some sense of his four-year-old self before he moved on.

"You loved this house. Every corner was a hiding place and every room an adventure." This time there was real emotion in Gregory's voice. Affection? Anger? Beckett wasn't entirely sure. Gregory was a difficult man to feel. He continued, "Your uncle and I are attending our meetings. Would you like to join us in the city?"

Spending an hour in the chauffeur driven limo with Gregory and Alastair Bullen? Gregory as cold as ice and slimy to boot and Alastair a freaking intimidating bully with death in his eyes? Fuck no. Beckett had work to do here. Not least of which was finding any evidence his mother had hidden in this room and trying to get into Gregory's computer for more information. Gregory was trying to make the effort, but not for the first time Beckett felt like there was nothing more than suspicion in their relationship. After all, he had returned after seventeen years and although it had been proven with a paternity test that he was Robert Bullen, Gregory still wasn't throwing his arms wide open to welcome Beckett home. There had been serious discussions on where Beckett had been, who had looked after him, and what did Beckett remember. Beckett never thought he would be relieved he had no family left to speak of.

"No. Thank you," he replied pleasantly. "I have a ton of studying to catch up on." Beckett underlined the decision with what he hoped was a rueful smile and not a forced grimace. Gregory returned the smile although it didn't quite reach his eyes. Beckett wondered what the other man was going to say. He looked to be winding himself up for some emotional outpouring which, every time it happened, screwed with Beckett's head.

"My son, the graduate," he said instead. Then he turned on his heel and was gone.

Beckett waited until the car left; watched as the limo with its curved lines disappeared down the long drive. He added an extra five minutes and then continued to search the room. This time though, he had the freedom to really search and he pulled furniture away from walls.

His deal with the Assistant District Attorney was for him to provide information in return for help to get away. He had already seen what happened to someone who crossed the Bullens. Elisabeth's death showed him that it was easy for someone to die at the hands of whomever the Bullens hired. He didn't think for one minute that being the prodigal son would save him if they found out why he was really here.

That guy yesterday, Dale, had promised that he would help. All Beckett needed was to find the evidence his mom wrote that she had collected. He wondered what he looked for. Was it a disc? This had been seventeen years ago. If it was a disc it was probably some huge package that he hoped like hell hadn't deteriorated to the point of not being readable. Maybe it was notes or photos?

Frustrated that he had found nothing he leaned back against the dresser and bowed his head. Why couldn't he remember more about his childhood? Why was his mind a blank? Lifting his head to the heavens again he uttered a curse word and a plea for inspiration. Which is when he saw it.

The ceiling medallion around the light. Soft carved wood painted over with white gloss. Was it possible this was the place? There was only one way to find out. Pulling the chair from the dressing table to under the light he clambered to reach the carving. There was a lip around the edge that from the floor looked like it met the ceiling but that in actuality left a gap as wide as a finger to reach in. He hoped to hell that he wasn't about to poke his fingers into live wires or spiders and associated creepy crawlies. Excitement had him pushing his hand in flat and reaching around. There was something there. A flat envelope? Papers? Shifting up onto his toes he pushed his hand in farther and managed to wiggle the item out. It finally popped free with a puff of dust which stung his eyes and tickled his nose. Carefully he checked for more inside the medallion but all he felt was wires. Satisfied he had found everything he jumped down from the chair. With a shaking hand he pulled out the single sheet of paper inside. Sighing he realized it was more cryptic notes; he started to re–read. He never saw who it was. Never had a chance to duck. A fist caught the side of his head and when the pain drove him to his knees he knew he was fucked.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Alastair's voice. He clearly hadn't gone with Gregory. It had been a lie that he was going, or a last minute change. Whatever. Alastair had a gun and he was pointing it at Beckett.

Beckett scrambled back and rolled into the bathroom shutting the door and holding it closed with his body. There was no lock. Fuck. Who didn't have a lock on their bathroom door? The solid wood door may hold off a bullet but even so he debated scrambling away from it just in case.

Shit. What the hell was he doing? Why hadn't he tried to talk himself out of this? He could have just said he was… fuck. He didn't have a ready excuse.

"Stop being stupid, Robert, and come out of the bathroom." Alastair's voice was harsh and impatient.

"Beckett. My name is Beckett Jamieson." Beckett shouted and leaned harder on the door as he pulled his cell from his pocket. There was no way out of this bathroom. No external window. The call connected quickly and he blurted out as much as he could. "I'm trapped in a bathroom. I fucked up and I'm scared. I can't get out—" He never finished the call. The door was forced open; his own slight figure nothing to hold back his bear of an uncle and the phone went flying. It smashed into the porcelain of the tub and as suddenly as it had flown from his hand it lay in pieces on the floor.

The door pushed him inward and he grabbed for something to prevent his fall only to be stopped by Alastair grabbing at his neck and hair. Alastair had a choke hold on him and pulled Beckett up off of the ground so hard that Beckett saw spots before his eyes.

"I fucking knew it," Alastair bit the words out angrily and with a shake of his hand Beckett felt consciousness slip away from him.

* * * * *

Something was biting into his wrists and it hurt. Rope? Twine? Something hard and unforgiving. Awareness was coming back to him a second at a time and blood coated his tongue. His hands were tied and he was slumped in the same chair he had used to reach the ceiling. His throat hurt. Really. Hurt.

"…computer. The cameras showed us."

"That doesn't mean—"

"Greg, this is why I said I would stay here and why I called you back from the city. I've been at him for nearly twenty-four hours and he's given me shit. The prodigal son returns and you aren't the least bit suspicious? Have you learned nothing? Shit. You always were the loose end in this family. First all-innocence-Emma, then Thomas and that bitch Elisabeth and now your freak of a son. Both my brothers are idiots—"

"Don't talk to me like that—"

"Wait. Pretty boy is all woken up."

Beckett blinked up at his uncle; Alastair's face twisted in a sneer. He was up close and personal in Beckett's face and he could smell the cloying cologne that Alastair must pour over himself. Suddenly he wished he was unconscious again. Alastair had been asking questions, punching him, and leaving him tied up in the bitterly cold room with the windows wide open. He had reached his limit. And now Gregory was here.

"Wha—" Beckett began. He could try and play innocent. Surely it wasn't too late to retrieve some measure of control in this situation? "What happened? What is Uncle Alastair doing to me? Get him to untie me."

Alastair stepped backward with a laugh and Gregory simply shrugged. Okay. Appealing to Gregory about his uncle wasn't going to work.

"Dad?" There. Focus on the man who was responsible for his existence. Pain crossed Gregory's face.

"Alastair?" Beckett watched Gregory appeal to his brother but Alastair shook his head. For a moment Beckett had felt like he'd actually connected with his father but it didn't last.

"No, Greg. I don't know what the fuck this is." Alastair handed the open envelope to Gregory who pulled out a single sheet of paper and a key. "Maybe you'll tell my brother what this is?" Alastair snapped and Beckett flinched as his uncle leaned closer.

"Something I remembered from when I was four," Beckett lied.

"Bull. Shit." The slap that accompanied the two succinct words snapped Beckett 's head sideways and his neck protested with sharp pain. "Read it out loud, Greg. What does it say?"

"You'll need the other one but you know where it is. Texas has it," Gregory read. "Then some shit in letters and numbers." He crumpled the note and threw it on the floor. He turned the key in his hand. It was small and silver; nothing fancy. Beckett watched as Gregory pocketed it.

"The other what?" Alastair shouted into Beckett's ear. "Another key? Where in Texas? Who do you know in Texas? What is the key for?"

"No one—" Beckett started but Alastair hit him again, and again. Always with the same questions. Where. Who. Why. His head snapped from side to side and bile clawed his throat. This seemed like the end of things; after a day of questions and dealing out pain Alastair was finally at the edge.

"Fuck, Alastair; what is wrong with you? You'll kill him." Even Gregory seemed shocked by the level of anger in Alastair and Beckett felt a glimmer of hope that Gregory would step in and stop this.

"You wanna know? You really want to know what this little shit has been doing?"

"What?" Gregory sounded lost.

"I had him followed. He was cozy with Elisabeth, you know that, but I dealt with that. Then he had a meeting yesterday with a PI, some guy in a shopping center and fuck knows what he handed over. Security cameras have him using your computer in your office, Greg. Taking copies of files." Another hit and Beckett felt bile rise in him. He was going to be sick. Alastair pulled him to his feet. "Tell him what you were doing you little shit—"

"Studying—" Beckett blurted out the single word. Alastair's expression held derision.

"In your private files, Greg."

"Dad?" Beckett pasted his best pleading expression on his face. May as well use the possible connection. There was nothing in Gregory's eyes. No compassion or fatherly affection. Just ice.

"You never came here to find me, did you Robert." Gregory's voice was flat. There was no question in what he said. "Did she tell you to come here? What did you come here to do? Kill me? Avenge what happened to her?"

"No—" All the breath left his body as Gregory ended what Alastair had started even as Alastair held him. The barrier had broken and the hate and violence Gregory had been hiding behind his mask of civility was out in force. The punches he threw connected with Beckett 's chest, the pain quick and sharp.

"Have you shown anyone? What did you do with the files?"

"I didn't—I was studying—" Beckett felt consciousness slip away from him. Step by step his vision was blurring and the only thing keeping him standing was the tight grip Alastair had on his arm. The next hit wrenched the socket hard and he felt something tear and snap in his arm.

"I told you he was talking to Elisabeth. Fuck, Greg. I told you we should have shut him down as soon as he arrived here." Alastair released his arm and Beckett dropped to the chair. It scooted backward until the wooden back hit the bed and only sheer willpower kept Beckett upright. "He'll need to die. Like Elisabeth."

"Okay. I don't have the stomach for this—" Greg didn't sound sad or grieved. His words were bitter and staccato. "You find out what he knows. What he's done."

"I got it, brother. Leave it to me." There was an unholy glee in Alastair's voice. This was a man who enjoyed hurting and killing.

"I want names and numbers and when you're finished put his body on the mountain." Greg said dispassionately. Beckett heard the words and fear chased up his spine. Mind numbing and utterly all-consuming terror. He lifted his head, barely able to see through the slits of his swollen eyes. Greg was staring at him. "You could have had it all Robert. All of it."

Then everything went to hell.

Shouting. Demands. A gun. A shot. Then strong arms pulling him upright and a muttered. "Got you, kid."

Beckett allowed himself to be pulled up, his only conscious thought getting to the key and the letter. He fell to his knees, the curse of whoever held him ripe in the air, and scrambled to where Gregory lay in a widening pool of blood. Beckett snatched at the letter and then dug through blood and gore to find the key. He couldn't see anything in the blur of pain and was feeling his way around pushing aside material and sticky blood.

"Fuck. Kid—"

"Wait—" he screamed the words in his head but all that left his cracked, bloodied lips was a near whimper.

"We gotta go. Dale, for fuck's sake—"

Beckett's fingers closed around the small key and with a thrill of triumph he clambered to stand.

"You're not taking him—" Alastair's voice, the sound of a scuffle and Beckett was pushed violently from behind. As he fell his head connected with the edge of the dresser and his last conscious thought was that he was alive and he had the letter and the key. The rest would sort itself out.

Still Waters #4
Chapter 1
"Have you ever wondered how much Jake is worth? Or how much it costs every day to run this Foundation?" Nik Valentinov asked as he sat down opposite Adam Brooke.

Adam was looking around at the luxurious décor of Sanctuary Imports and Exports. He concentrated on what Nik had said, not entirely sure if the other agent was asking a rhetorical question. If other operatives were like him then he'd bet Nik had contemplated their boss's fortune at one time or another.

"Probably one hell of a lot," Adam finally offered. Leaning back in the leather chair and resting his feet on the small coffee table he closed his eyes. He wasn't being rude intentionally but his body was winding down and he really needed sleep. He should probably be considering downtime but getting caught up in the problems on the Bullen case had his juices flowing.

His last real case—the Canada safe house gig—had been a bad one. Even Sanctuary had to help hide the bad guys sometimes but not a single one of the hundred or so men and women that worked for Jake were impressed when it was their turn. Low-level drug dealer or not, the guy had been caught at a school peddling his wares to kids not much older than twelve. The 'get 'em hooked young' policy was one the scumbag clearly subscribed to. Unfortunately for Adam, his charge had been the lynchpin in a much bigger case and that was what had been deemed important. The FBI didn't have the capacity to look after the guy. Sanctuary stepped in. Adam hated it when Sanctuary stepped in to mop up FBI shit.

Three weeks with a guy who gave slimy a bad name and Adam was way past over it with the whole drug thing. He really hoped this new assignment, whatever it involved, was something he could get his teeth into. Action, cars, guns, and maybe a good beat down would rid his body of the itch of isolation with someone who thought Jerry Springer re-runs were high art.

"Did your guy get sent down?" Nik began conversationally.

Adam opened his eyes and quirked a smile. This he could handle talking about. "Yep. Heard he got max what they could give even with the deal on handing over his suppliers."

Nik grinned at this and crossed his arms over his chest. "Did you hear from Doc at all? Did the direct hit break any of his ribs?" Nik was referring to Doctor Kayden Summers getting shot in the chest at the bank vault where he and the Bullen kid were retrieving evidence. Adam had been there to spirit Beckett away before he became the subject of the late news.

"Yeah. He has access to good meds," Adam smirked. "How's Morgan?"

Nik's expression changed immediately. Adam saw pride and affection and it was a nice thing to see in another person. Nik had spent at least five minutes with his cell stuck to his ear talking to Morgan. Adam had to wonder at what they found to talk about for so long when they were together so much of the time.

Nik and Morgan had the cliché bodyguard-victim relationship that appeared to be stronger than two-by-fours joined together with a nail gun.

"He's good. He's still doing well with his art and he's not really under Sanctuary anymore." Unspoken was the 'but I look out for him anyway'. That was given. Adam hadn't actually met Morgan but he knew all the details of the case. Three weeks alone, avoiding the idiot he was guarding, gave him a lot of time for reading.

"Do you know where we're being assigned?" Adam was curious.

Nik shrugged his wide shoulders.

"Is this a double team assignment?" It was a valid question. Sanctuary operatives generally worked alone unless the case was so diverse or volatile that two were needed. The last time Adam had doubled up had been with Jennifer out of LA and it had been kind of nice to have intellectual company. Not that he was saying some of his charges weren't clever. Jeez, he'd been the one tasked with that physicist job last fall. But the last job had frazzled any and all of his remaining brain cells.

Normally, unless operatives were working together on a case, briefings were kept separate. So he assumed they were being assigned together. Despite having crossed paths with Nik at the FBI he had never worked with Nik before at Sanctuary so it should be interesting. Although he'd probably find Morgan hiding in Nik's suitcase.

"Come in guys," Jake called from around his office door and Adam pushed himself to stand. Stretching tall he followed Nik into the large corner office overlooking downtown Albany.

"Coffee?" Jake was busying himself with the huge chrome contraption that wouldn't have looked out of place in a science fiction movie but under Jake's skilled touch it made the best coffee Adam had ever tasted. He nodded yes, as did Nik, and finally all three men sat on sofas.

Jake didn't waste any time and cut right to the chase. "As you are both very aware Sanctuary, for obvious reasons, is way in over its head with this Bullen case. Not only did we add Morgan but we now have Beckett Jamieson under our care. To complicate it further you're probably also aware I have an FBI liaison at the moment auditing our procedures and writing up channels of communication between us."

Adam searched Jake's expression for a clue as to how the guy felt about this shadow but, ever the professional, Jake's expression was impassive.

"He is not party to all information concerning our actions on the Bullen case but on each occasion, after we got involved, the FBI have wanted first Morgan, then Beckett, back under their auspices."

Nik had moved forward in his seat at this; there was nothing that could pry Morgan away from him.

Jake held up a hand. "I won't allow that. We have enough leverage with the Feds that I can have my say at the moment. In a strange way it helps us that the FBI has this leak. I don't think the FBI liaison trusts his teams."

He stopped and drank a healthy amount of caffeine and then, placing the coffee back on the table, he sighed.

"Nik, you and Morgan are working on our 'in' with the senator. I agree you are best placed to pull this together but I need your promise that you keep Morgan out of this and in the periphery."

"Of course."

"Beckett obtained some useful information and Manny is currently sifting through it. Work with Manny. We're looking for an in on the senator; some kind of financial information that ties him to his brothers and the family business. Is that okay?" Nik nodded his agreement. "You can't tell me that the senator doesn't have some financial gain from the family itself, so that is the trail we are following. Why was his aide killed by his brothers? Beckett said Elisabeth Costain told him she was close to finding information. What was that information?"

"Manny already sent over some files to the analyst team. I'm going down there after this," Nik confirmed. Manny had a huge area set aside for him and his team on the floor above this one alongside the conference rooms. Analysts, programmers, and Manny the wonder boy himself.

"Adam," Jake began.

Adam switched his attention from what Nik was saying to whatever Jake was giving him to do. Evidently, he wasn't part of Nik's assignment so it was odd they were in the same briefing.

"Even though Alastair is forensically linked to blood on the necklace from the box, there is no body. We couldn't get anything to stick when the party line he is spouting is that it belonged to an ex-girlfriend who liked it rough." Jake shook his head and then worried his lip with his teeth.

Adam watched with growing concern. What the hell was he going to be asked to do?

"We need something on him that will stick and this is where you come in, Adam. Doesn't matter what information we have, unless we can get someone to roll on Alastair we have nothing. Our first port of call is Gareth Headley."

"He's kept it zipped so far." Nik summarized the fact that the cop was staying silent about who paid him to kill Elisabeth, and why, in that single small sentence.

"Dale reported that when he and Joseph Kinnon retrieved Robert Bullen, aka Beckett Jamieson, Greg actually admitted he and Alastair had Elisabeth killed and used Headley as the gunman. It's all hearsay—we don't have a grain in a barn's evidence to go to the DA with."

"Manny couldn't pull anything worthwhile from the files?" Nik asked.

"It isn't officially our job to prove or disprove cases." Jake raised a hand to forestall whatever Nik and Adam were going to say in protestation. "Okay, as much as we get involved, we are here to provide a safe place for people. Although over eighty percent of Sanctuary operatives are ex-law enforcement, that doesn't mean we can provide a chain of evidence. We're unofficial and unless I give in and get Sanctuary pulled under the Fed umbrella that is the way it stays." He paused briefly. "I need you both out there working on this in full cooperation with the Feds."

Jake wouldn't look him in the eye and Adam frowned. What the hell was going on here? Adam bristled. He couldn't help his instant and visceral reaction. He'd been an FBI agent for five years and look where he'd ended up. Branded dirty and with his freaking heart stomped into a million fragments. The last thing he wanted was to get anywhere close to that agency again.

"We can still work on our own and pass results up the line when we have a chain of evidence situation," Adam said firmly. Jake still wouldn't look him directly in the eye. He was starting to get a very bad feeling about this.

"Liaison won't go for that. They're willing to work with us but only until their own internal leak is plugged. So we need to get this moving. The Feds have a team in place looking into the internal leak." Jake checked his notes. "The Office of Professional Responsibility?" he looked to Adam for confirmation but all Adam could do was nod yes, that is what the department was called. Actually opening his mouth and forming words to vocalize the flood of memories the title bought back was going to be impossible. Freaking FBI internal affairs had destroyed him and his career.

The Office of Professional Responsibly. And Lee Myers.

Jake continued, "Alastair has been released without charge. He says, and I quote, 'it's ridiculous that a woman who is probably alive and partying in the Caribbean is being linked to me as someone I murdered'. Problem is, he's not far off. We don't actually have anything conclusive. Forensics isn't irrefutable and there is apparently other familial DNA on the necklace. We have unsanctioned and limited surveillance in the senator's office that the Alphabets don't know about. But it's been quiet there. Adam, every little thing we have is in the briefing notes I'll give you. Your partner is FBI."

It was no secret Adam was ex-FBI, nor that his time with the security force was cut short when he resigned before charges of bribery or evidence tampering could be thrown at him. No one at Sanctuary ever gave him reason to think they believed he was crooked; hell, Jake wouldn't have hired him if he had thought for one minute Adam was a criminal in Fed clothing.


"You need to stay calm and try and handle this as best you can."

The words trickled into his understanding. If Jake was warning him to relax, then there must be some real shit about to rain down on Adam Brooke's world. It couldn't be Lee. Jake wouldn't do that to him. He was the one person who knew about Lee Myers and what he had done. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of FBI operatives out there. And Lee was seconded to internal affairs. They wouldn't send him out to some third-party shit fest.

Everyone knew Adam had left the FBI under a cloud of suspicion. But not everyone knew that the person who had signed the reports indicating Adam's guilt was the very guy who Adam had called best friend and lover. Nik looked confused. Adam didn't blame him—he was probably picking up on the sparks of temper snapping from Adam.

"Who, Jake?" Adam could hear the frustration and heat in his voice.

"You know who it is Adam—"


"Look Adam, I don't have a choice, I'm between a rock and a hard place. I've been given an ultimatum. The Feds want in on this case at our level or they take over entirely. It's you working with Lee Myers or we hand Morgan and Beckett over."

Adam stood in a flurry of movement. Playing the Morgan card while Nik was in the room was below the belt but it explained the joint briefing."You heard me. No. I'm not working with the FBI. We don't need them anywhere near this. Not internal affairs. Or Lee freaking Myers." The words snapped from him quickly and with instant heat.

Nik looked confused and Jake's expression hardened from appearing supportive to that of implacability. Clearly this was a point that Jake was going to call as the owner. Seemed like the boss had already agreed things above and beyond Adam's head.

"We have no choice—"

"So get Dale in, or Manny, or hell, Jennifer, Michaela? Anyone else except me to figure him out."

"They asked for you and given I have Feds on my ass every day I'm doing all I can to keep them sweet and happy."

"Fuck Jake, they didn't ask for me. They wouldn't. There's nothing worse to serving FBI than an ex-FBI agent who left covered in crap. If Lee requested this, then there has to be an ulterior motive. What the fuck do they want?" Adam crossed to the window looking down at the city below and the anger and hurt and hate that built inside him was crippling. He never lost his cool like this. But seeing the blond agent back at the bank when he extracted Beckett Jamieson had started to lift the bandage on some very old wounds and Adam was pissed. Why would Lee request to work with him? Adam was everything Lee hated, one of the bad guys, one of the chosen who had fallen.

Instant dislike and his own temper pushed him to remembering. Back there to his last day with Lee handing him papers and surveillance showing Adam compromising his role with the FBI. Back to Lee looking at him like his world had ended. Hell, it wasn't Lee whose world had ended. He heard the door close and glanced up to see Nik had left the room. Well, that was one pressure point gone. Jake moved quietly to stand at his side.

"I wish there was another way, Adam." Jake sounded regretful. "When I started Sanctuary I wanted so badly for this to be a place where we didn't have to deal with all this shit. I hate this as much as you do but when Nik pulled in Morgan it started a chain of falling dominos that I could never have foreseen."

Adam looked at his boss, at the man who had offered him a role at Sanctuary based on Nik's recommendation. Jake had been nothing but fair to him and had trusted him from day one.

"Lee Myers is the lead on this case for the Feds, Adam. He's not with the internal affairs department any more or so I am led to believe. I'm sorry. I don't know what kind of games the Feds in general, or Lee in particular, are playing, but I had no choice in this. I hate it as much as you do."

"I doubt that," Adam snapped. He immediately regretted opening his mouth. He wasn't the loose cannon with no respect for the guy who had given him a safe place to be. He was the stable mass that kept things together, the strong, dependable, and quiet one.

"You're probably right," Jake admitted. "Maybe I don't fully understand any of this Fed crap. At the end of the day I'm just doing what is best for Sanctuary and for the people we protect— people like Morgan and Beckett."

"You don't have to mention them or involve Nik," Adam said wearily. "Bringing Nik into the meeting to make sure I played ball or throwing down the Morgan and Beckett card is unnecessary. You know I would do anything for Sanctuary and I know I owe you—"

Jake's head reared up and he interrupted what Adam was going to say. "You don't owe me shit. From the day Nik told me what had happened to you I knew you were what I wanted for my team. He said he knew you and trusted you. That was good enough for me. You're one of my best operatives and if anything, I owe you. The people you protect owe you. Simply for being the best at what you do and for putting everything to one side to get the job done." Jake placed a hand on his arm and Adam winced at the contact. He couldn't handle emotions as strong as the ones Jake was laying on him. "You do this and we will have your back. The minute you feel like it's all part of some Fed agenda and they are screwing with you, and I mean the absolute minute, you contact Ops and you pull out."

Adam waited a second before answering. Jake giving him an out away from the asshole who had framed him and caused him to leave the FBI was something he didn't need. He was a grown man and he was over the destruction Lee Myers had wrought in his life.

So over it.

Full Circle #5
Chapter 1 
Manny Sullivan was way past pissed and straight on down the road to furious. Sean freaking Hanson had infected the system, sent a worm digging around in Manny's protected-to-hell private files.

"What did it do?" Jake asked. He was watching as Manny stripped the viral attack from file after file. Leaning against the desk next to Manny, his expression still held that disbelief that was all pervasive in the office at the moment.

No one had ever managed to get close enough to the hub and ops to actually get inside Sanctuary files. Considering it was Manny who was in charge of security and that what he didn't know about the Sanctuary system wasn't worth knowing, the attack had been one huge clusterfuck.

"I'll give Sean fucking Hanson this," he said grudgingly. "It's damn good coding. Gave him back door access to lower-level stuff. It's odd though…" Manny paused and peered at the screen closest to him.

"What's weird?"

"It could have been so much worse. Whoever created the code knows their stuff. The infection itself is clever and Sean could have taken so much more than he did. Instead he's left a trail here like a pair of size tens in fresh concrete."

"Which means what?" Jake leaned even farther in, his gaze flicking from screen to notes and back again.

Manny laughed inwardly. Billionaire owner and creator of Sanctuary, Jake Callahan was a lot of things. Computer programmer wasn't one of them. To Jake the code scrolling on the screen would look like something out of The Matrix. Manny checked the percentage done, nearing seventy-two percent and painfully slow. He had an awful lot of sitting around time watching the clearance programs run and thinking on why Sean had left such an easy to follow audit trail to locate the infection. The suspicious side of Manny immediately assumed the worst. That the easy stuff had been telegraphed to find so that anything deeper down would be ignored. Thing is, he had completed an incredibly deep clean and there was nothing untoward other than this shit curling and edging its way into comms. He wasn't normally hesitant to bring his thoughts to Jake's attention but he was honest enough to admit to himself that he was suffering from acute embarrassment that Sean had even gotten this close to Manny's baby.

Jake had said nothing. Accused Manny of nothing. But Manny's pride was dented.

Manny pressed the escape button to halt the scrolling and pointed at the screen. "Look," he said. "This part here is almost as if the interruption to comms was simply designed to hide what happened at the cabin. Then it began to self-delete. As if it had a sell-by date."

"Just to cover Sean killing Adam and Lee?" Jake leaned back and away and the familiar bitterness laced his voice. He hadn't been the same since Sean had exposed himself as the FBI mole, working for Alastair and Greg Bullen. Sean was now in Federal interrogation. He hadn't put up much of a fight when Adam and Lee had confronted him but in an ensuing altercation between two other gunmen accompanying Sean, Lee had been shot. Sean and Jake hadn't exactly been friends but Manny had seen a defrosting in the iciness caused by Jake having to accept an FBI rep trailing his every move. Jake had given in to the request that Sanctuary and the Bureau should have close ties. That went well, considering Sean turned out to be one of the bad guys.

Manny shrugged. "I wish I knew. All I do know is it was easy to find once the event happened. Markers showed up on every part of my system. Inconsistencies and warnings. As it was, comms were down for little more than ten minutes."

"That was enough though. To ensure Adam and Lee were dead."

Manny looked up at Jake. His boss looked exhausted. Pale and with dark rings around his eyes, he was rough around his normally very straight edges. He'd taken Sean fucking them all over very hard. He hadn't had much choice in having a Fed liaison mirroring his every move and auditing procedures but he still blamed himself for letting Sean anywhere near operations.

"From the reports he wasn't exactly going in guns blazing to take our guys out. Also, a trail in the computer still doesn't tell us why he was involved with the Bullens or with Headley."

"He's still not giving the Feds anything." Jake yawned widely behind his hand. "At least nothing they are sharing with us."

Sean Hanson had been secreted away by the FBI and was currently being, in their words, vigorously debriefed. They were as stunned as Sanctuary that one of their own had turned quite so spectacularly. Information was not being streamed to Sanctuary. So much for cooperation.

"And still no chance of us having a chat?" Manny had been all for getting up in Sean's face with a well-thought-out 'what the fuck?' Jake had shot that one down instantly.

"It's not our remit," he commented softly. Repeating what he had said before was more telling than he realized. The first time Jake had said it had been full of anger. This time there was only sadness and resignation.

"I'll keep going with the digging," Manny offered. He had to say something to break the tension. "Maybe he'll show up on some surveillance feed. Do we really not know anything of what the Feds have on him yet?" Manny huffed a laugh. The FBI putting barriers up and not sharing was so not going to be a problem to Manny. "You want me to hack into their systems?"

Jake laughed. "Not today. I'll let you know when."

Jake pushed himself up and away from the desk. "Do we have any reports back on the Headleys?" he asked. The Headleys were the wife and son of the guy who started this whole mess. The cop who had shot Elisabeth Costain in an alley. Only because Sanctuary offered them safety away from FBI involvement did Gareth Headley finally agree to turn state's evidence on Gregory Bullen.

"Jennifer reported in a few hours back. Everything's clear but Josh Headley is getting antsy."

Josh Headley was a really bright guy—some kind of genius-level criminology student with an added layer of brilliance in computers, apparently. Although Manny doubted the guy's expertise was at his own level it was an interesting fact about an otherwise on the surface boring kind of guy. Good-looking. Tall. Dark-haired. Green-eyed. Gay. But the son of a murderer and likely to be disappearing off into witness protection sometime soon.

"We need to get them moved on," Jake said absently. He was gazing into the distance with a thoughtful look on his face. He was probably contemplating what Sanctuary could finance and where would be best. Sanctuary wasn't just a foundation to Jake. It was his life.

"You should go home, boss," Manny said firmly. "Make decisions tomorrow."

"Says the guy who may as well pitch a tent in the corner of the comms room."

Manny ignored the comment. How could he keep on top of everything if he wasn't here? "I'll come find you if I track anything down." He concentrated on the screens and the code that was being stripped and barely noticed when Jake left. The lines of code were actually very intricate and he again felt that wash of admiration for Sean if indeed it had been him who had planted the code. Someone brought him coffee. People did that. He tended to get so buried in his work that he forgot to eat. Inevitably he would turn to do something and a plate of sandwiches would be next to him, or a coffee, or a soda. Sometimes all three. He suspected Abbey in accounts or Cain in ops, but had never actually been able to catch either of them at it.

Sitting back in the seat he checked the time—a little before midnight. By habit he scrolled through each individual camera feed on the eight locations that Sanctuary was keeping tabs on. He didn't really need to, ops was on a twenty-four hour watch alongside their normal work. The cameras and feeds were focused tightly on the senator's house and office, the Bullen mansion in the Catskills, and several other key positions including the house owned by the Bullens' lawyer. Of course none of this observation was strictly legal; it was Manny hacking into government feeds and street cams. The picture was sharp in the clear night and all was quiet. The mansion was empty as far as Manny knew. Intel had the senator in his own house and of course Greg was dead and Alastair was under arrest. As for the Bullen lawyer—he was a quiet guy with two sons who seemed to spend his entire working life nixing cases against the family. He was probably incredibly well paid for that as well.

There was no link between him and the senator—he worked to protect the other two Bullen brothers. But given what Morgan was presenting to the masses tomorrow it paid to be watching everyone. Midnight came and went and Manny drank cold coffee. The bitter taste was something he was accustomed to and he wasn't hungry so the chicken sandwich joined a half-eaten banana in the bin. Settling back in his chair he reclined it and lay back. To settle at Sanctuary and fall asleep was not an unusual occurrence. Ops had his back and would inform him if anything came up. Hell, traipsing all the way across town to his place just to sleep seemed to make little sense to him. Anyway. He was happy here with his computers and his statistics. He felt important and that the job he was doing was worthwhile.

He yawned widely and stretched. His neck was aching from being bent over printouts of code but after some sleep he should be relaxed enough to be able to concentrate on the tasks at hand again.

A small movement on one of the scrolling screens caught his attention and he blinked away tiredness to focus. At the lawyer's house? He paused the rotating screens on that feed. Was that someone hovering by the back wall? Climbing over it? No one would be that stupid. The house was walled, secure, and gated. Going over said wall was the work of an idiot. He clicked to zoom in on the feed. The closer the zoom the more pixilated the image but there was no denying who the hell it was taking his life in his hands.

"Shit." He pushed himself to stand and within seconds he was in the ops room.

"Manny, we have movement at location K," ops reported. Cain was on rotation and sat at the desk already tapping away at a keyboard. Doing his job. Finding out who was in the locale and trying to pull as much information as he could.

"Who do we have in the field?" Manny asked quickly. The question in itself was stupid. It didn't matter if any of the Sanctuary operatives were available, none of them would be able to get to the house as quickly as he could.

"Thirty out for two operatives." Cain blinked up at Manny as he reported, his eyes wide behind large round-rimmed glasses.

"Forget it," Manny said brusquely. "I need comms."

Cain passed Manny a small box that contained an ear bud and he grabbed it quickly. Pushing it in his ear he left comms at a run. He took the stairs three at a time and was in the parking lot in the space of maybe two minutes after seeing the figure climb the wall.

Calling details in as he started his car, ops were booking everything and finally Jake was there on the line with him.

"Talk to me, Manny."

The roads were quiet and Manny pulled out on to the main road from the business district to the outskirts of the city. "Punch in the lawyer's house," Manny instructed comms and didn't check as the soft tones of the sat nav filled the car. Cain knew what he was doing and Manny glanced at the screen. Eight miles out. Eight minutes with no traffic and sticking to the speed limit. Six if he pushed it.

"Manny?" Jake asked again.

"Just saw Josh freaking Headley at the lawyer's house."

"Wait." Jake was firm and the line was quiet for a second. Downtown Albany sped past the car and Manny narrowly avoided running a red in his determination to find out what the fricking hell was going on. "Jennifer says he's gone from the safe house and that security was down."

There was no time for argument as to how the idiot had managed to get out of a Sanctuary cabin lockdown and away from a bodyguard as switched on as Jennifer. "I'm three minutes out," Manny confirmed.

"Nik's on his way. He's twenty out now. Fuck." Jake paused. Manny concentrated on winding his way past cars parked in the first lanes of the housing outside the city limits. "We can't let the lawyer get Josh. It'll blow everything up that we have with his dad. Can you get Headley without being seen?"

Manny imagined the layout of the house and the walled garden as he narrowly avoided a parked Toyota with its ass too far out onto the street. To cross the garden would take mere seconds but it would be longer to break security. Could Josh even do that? What was Josh doing breaking into the house? Was he after some kind of revenge on the Bullen lawyer? Was this a misplaced sense of justice? Why did he leave the safe house? Why was he screwing everything up?

"I'm on it, Jake," Manny answered instead. No point in rehashing fears, concerns, and his own questions. He pulled up a street down from the house and was out of the car and at the wall in little more than a minute. The property was set back from the road, entirely walled, and had security on the house itself. He calculated Josh had been on the lawyer's property a good ten minutes. Fuck. Anything could have happened.

Inhaling and centering his focus, he pulled his gun from the small of his back, the weight of it in his hand was settling him. He wasn't entirely sure what he would find inside the gardens or the house. The lawyer could have muscle. Hell, the lawyer could have Josh at gunpoint. Checking the chamber, he imagined the path from here to the house. He was very aware of the cameras put in by the owner's security company. Facing away from the camera that formed part of the Sanctuary feed he briefly gave ops the thumbs up. If comms crashed again he wanted them to be sure he was on-site but there was no sense in having his photo plastered everywhere. He turned up the collar on his jacket, took a few more calming breaths and then he was up and over the wall and dropping noiselessly to the grass on the other side. He listened carefully but couldn't hear anything.

"It's all quiet, guys," he reported to the mic that sat in his ear. "No guns. No police. No dogs. No shouting."

"Get him. Get out," Cain said quickly. "Three entrances," Cain interrupted. "One front, two rear. All alarmed."

Manny passed over entrance one and stopped outside two as the breeze that moved the leaves in the trees made the flimsy door move slightly. It was open and the security panel to one side was unhinged. Clearly Josh wasn't waiting around with this one. Although why anyone would spend money on A, such a crap system and B, on a door as fragile as this one, was beyond Manny. He moved in as quietly as he could, gun at chest level and every nerve ending in him alive.

"Don't get caught," Cain said very carefully.

I never get caught, Manny thought. He followed the sound of a raised voice. Seemed like one person had a lot to say and get it off his chest. Manny stopped outside the door that was open. He chanced a quick look but all he could see was the back of tall, dark, and handsome whom he clearly identified as Josh. Josh was the one doing all the talking.

"…naive to think I wouldn't find out. What was it? That day at the club? Was that you muscling in on someone who you could keep your eye on?"

"Josh, please—"

"What did you do, E?"

E? Eric Santez. The lawyer's eldest son.

"He's my dad. He said it was important—"

"Did you report back to him every time I let you bend me over the sofa? Or the night we fucked in the back room—"

"He'll hear you—" Eric was sounding way past overwrought and working his way up to really damn worried. "You need to go."

"Did you ever mean it?" Josh's voice again. "When you said you loved me?"

Manny thumped his head back against the wall. Shit. Why had no one joined the dots? The boyfriend Josh wanted to say goodbye to was the Bullen lawyer's son? That made an awful lot of shit-filled sense. Josh had been played. Clearly he'd found out.

Cain's voice echoed in his head. "Jennifer called in. There's a load of intel that Josh has pulled together on Emilio Santez and Eric Santez. It's all on the PC. Josh wasn't hiding what he found. He broke the code on the shutdown."

"I didn't," Eric was saying. "I couldn't love you. It was never going to amount to anything—"

Manny heard the sound of a fist hitting flesh, followed by the noise of someone falling back on maybe a table. Fuck. Josh was going to be bringing down a rain of crap if he didn't cool it.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling, Manny entered the room gun high. He catalogued the room in an instant. Eric Santez sprawled on the floor, his chest rising in a breath and blood trailing from his nose. Josh Headley stood over him with cold fury etched onto his face. Then Josh looked at Manny with glassy-eyed shock.

"I hit him," was all Josh said as he raised his hand and shook it disbelievingly at what he had done. "Shit."

Shit indeed.

"Hands where I can see them."

"I'm not going anywhere—"

"We're leaving," Manny instructed brusquely. He indicated with the gun and Josh got with the program fairly quickly. He strode out of the door with his hands high and Manny followed. Only after they passed out of the main room with the unconscious Eric did Josh try his luck. With a move worthy of a man who watched too many action movies he twisted on his heel and grabbed for the gun. Manny allowed him to move his balance and in a practiced move of his own he had the other guy face to the wall and one hand pushed up and held hard with the barrel of the gun in the small of Josh's back. Six foot of man was effectively imprisoned between wall and hold. Manny felt a small thrill that yet again someone had underestimated him based on his size and felt he would be an easy target.

"Manny Sullivan," he whispered harshly. "Sanctuary. Stop fucking fighting me and get yourself out and over the damn wall."

Josh relaxed in Manny's hold and without turning he moved out of the house as soon as Manny released him. Lights began to switch on as they reached the wall and as they dropped to the other side the sound of an alarm from inside the house interrupted the silence. Manny put his gun back in the space at the small of his back and started to half jog to his car. Josh was on his heels and without argument he climbed into the passenger seat.

Within a minute they had moved away from where Manny had parked, and the car was pointed back to Sanctuary.

"I'm sorry—" Josh started.

"Shut the hell up," Manny snapped as he exited the housing area and entered the city again. Josh did as he was told and in a few more minutes they were back in Sanctuary's underground parking and out of the car to the elevator. Josh remained quiet when Manny pressed in the code for the right floor and then leaned back against the wall.


"I said shut up." Manny was pissed. Why did Sanctuary bother with any of this shit when people like Josh screwed it all up?

Josh bristled and stood away from the wall. Clearly he had something to say. Manny simply pulled his gun from where he'd placed it, made a show of checking it and refused to meet Josh's eyes. Josh in return heaved a sigh and relaxed his stance.

The Journal of Sanctuary One #6
Chapter 1 
Heading north on I-87 gave Jake one hell of a long time to think. His mind went from cases, to allocating resources, to family and Sanctuary. The landscape outside the car, a blur of green and then concrete-gray, passed mile by mile and in his head he ticked off everything he needed to get out to think on. Maria would be good in Ops, she should move there. Manny and Josh needed to work up the next stage of the Bullen case, Joseph had left a message with Ops for Dale that he was coming home, and hell, Beckett had to have training if he wanted to think about working with Kayden.

"Earth to Jake."

Think of the devil and he appears. Kayden's cheerful voice was in his ear and interrupting his peace.

"Hey," Jake offered. Indicating, he pulled out to pass a slow-moving logging truck, and then concentrated on settling back in his lane.

"Good news or bad news, bro?" Kayden said. Jake could feel his heart sink. He had seen the weather forecasts before he left; he knew what the bad news would be.

"Hit me all at once," Jake sighed.

"We're frozen in up here." Kayden and Beckett were in New York, and the ice storm that preceded a predicted ten inch dump of snow was likely to cause chaos even in a city that was used to the white stuff. "I'm not seeing us getting out of here any time soon."

"It's not a problem," Jake said. It wasn't the first time the winter weather had delayed a visit to the cabin and it wouldn't be the last. "I don't want you driving even if they did get your roads open and clear."

"Storm front is chasing your ass up north, Jake. You may wanna think about pulling off soon and finding the next Motel 6. Get yourself some luxury."

Jake snorted at the mention of the infamous Motel 6. No way in hell was he going to be stopping off at one of those, not after the incident a few years back with the cockroach. Anyway there was no need to pull off. He didn't need a sat nav to know exactly where he was. "I'm only ten miles to the turnoff."

"Hell, you made it up the mountain already?" Kayden sounded surprised, but the journey so far had been smooth. One stop for coffee and indulging his weakness for chocolate and he had made good time.

"I’m assuming you're not making it up for tomorrow then?"

"Sorry, Jake. All packed but there is no way we're getting out today or tomorrow. We'll try on the twenty-third."

"Don't worry about it, K, there'll be a logjam on the roads out of the city. Stay where you are and have Christmas in New York with Beckett." He looked in his rearview mirror and the ominous snow dumping cloud formation really was close. "Looks like the snow is herding me to the cabin." He laughed although he didn't really feel the humor.

He'd been snowed in at the cabin before. Many a family Christmas had been spent stuck in snowdrifts with no way down off the mountain. Just… this Christmas was only the third since his dad had died and selfishly he kind of wanted to have Kayden—and by extension, Beckett—with him. Having Kayden here would cement the memories he had of his mom and dad, Max and Emma, and he and his brother before everything ended so suddenly. His mom and dad dying in a plane crash in these mountains three years ago had stopped everything abruptly—as only death could.

"Good news though?" Kayden prompted gently. His soft words pierced through the memories of happier times.

"There's good news?"

"Manny came through on the Senator Bullen case, pulled out some more content from the encrypted files."

"What did he find?" Jake slowed on the main road off of I-87 and fishtailed slightly in a thin layer of snow and ice that had accumulated on the old road. The off-road SUV ate up the slippery and uneven road. Snow began to flake around him, light and soft and beautiful, each individual crystal wending its way down in a random fall blown by the soft wind. Of course it wouldn't stay this way, but when the snow started it was a mesmerizing thing.

"There are files talking about the FBI: watch lists, connections, all kinds of things." Kayden continued.

The Bullen case had ended for Sanctuary with the arrest of both Senator Bullen and his brother, Alastair. Well, officially it had ended. In fact Jake had given blanket approval to any and all outside work by his operatives on cracking the files or following up leads. He wasn't the only one who was dissatisfied with how the case had been left. Too many links to nebulous other parties involved. Not least the FBI and Sean Hanson.

Jesus. Every time he thought of what Sean had done, double-crossing the FBI and Sanctuary, working with the Bullen family, bitterness rose in him and threatened his temper. Fucking asshole had worked as an FBI/Sanctuary liaison and had been selling them both out. For what? Money? Manny hadn't found any kind of money trail for Sean and he had tried damned hard to get something. Anything.

"You're thinking about Sean aren't you?" Kayden commented with his uncanny perception as to what the hell was in Jake's head at any given point. Adopted brother he may be but Kayden still had a freaky connection to Jake's thoughts.

"No," Jake lied.

"Liar. Manny got a hit on him in Albany, but he didn't get any further than notice that Sean was accessing bank accounts. Oh, and he used the access to follow a money trail for Sean and it's not looking good. Regular deposits from two sources, one we can link to the Bullens directly."

Every tiny hope that Jake had about Sean being redeemable died at that moment. So Sean had been paid for information. Sean had also disappeared. On a hijacked prison transport he had been released and literally gone to ground to God knows where. Damn good at his job, he had even evaded the normally infallible Manny. Jake concentrated on the road for a second as it forked, and he took the left that led him higher into the mountain.

"Sean is still a person of interest," Jake confirmed. Like Kayden or Manny or anyone at Sanctuary would think otherwise. The bastard had made friends with everyone, come across as the consummate FBI guy with a smile that lit up the room and a brain that would not quit. He'd come into Jake's life and turned it upside down and then without a second thought betrayed every single one of them. Why did thinking that in black and white hurt so much?

"You going to be okay up there on your own?" Kayden said. He was evidently moving away from the Sean situation and focusing on Jake. Jake was more than happy with that.

"More food than I need, a generator with a month's fuel, books, the internet, the comms room for work, TV, a spa bath, and a steam shower? I'll manage."

Kayden groaned. The cabin may well be old but it was luxurious and relaxing. "Promise me one thing, Jake?"

Great. Kayden was using his 'I'm your brother and I love you and you worry me' voice.

"What?" Jake said. He knew exactly what Kayden was going to say and already Jake had his defenses up. Kayden was going to go on about not working, and sleeping, and eating right, and all the other shit that he threw at Jake when he was worried. Jake hated when Kayden got his doctor's hat on.

"Have at least an hour a day when you don't think about work?"

Jake was a little startled by the soft tone. He and Kayden were close but his brother was usually more telling than pleading. Clearly Beckett was having a softening effect on him.

"I will." Jake could promise that easily. After all he had to sleep. And not all of his dreams revolved around Sanctuary. Some of them, the ones he pretended he didn't have, were about Sean.

They ended the call and Jake guided his SUV up the last mile to the cabin past the tourist camping areas. Empty and dusted with snow, their normal muddy look softened by the white blanket to make them look halfway beautiful. He turned onto the private road and about a quarter mile up the track he slid to a stop. A tree lay across the road and he smiled at the memories. This particular tree had been threatening to topple over for years, in fact his dad had promised each year that he and Kayden would need to go out and cut it back. Smiling fondly at the downed trunk he resolved to get the power saw to cut it down and transport the wood up to the cabin. Of course that wouldn't happen just now as he needed to walk the remaining three-quarters of a mile to the cabin itself with the snow starting to become a little heavier.

Parking the 4x4 to one side of the road to leave room for Kayden if he managed to get up here, and with memories of his dad and Christmases past keeping him warm, he hoisted his backpack on to his back and heaved out his other bag. Neither were that heavy, some books, a Kindle, a laptop, and a few clothes. This cabin was a home away from home and held a complete closet of clothes suitable for rustic mountain Christmases. Walking the short distance in the crisp cold mountain air was like stepping into a cold shower. Every cell in Jake was alive and sparking to keep him warm and his breath puffed in small clouds as he exhaled.

Enough snow had fallen to make the ground crunchy underfoot but not enough to mask the road or the landmarks that Jake recalled from all his previous visits. The tall fir that Kayden had wanted as the Christmas tree when he first came to the family, but had then decided was going to be his tree and should be left to grow tall. The rocky outcrop covered in shrubs and snow where they used to sit and talk as boys. Where Jake learned about Kayden's life before he'd been repatriated from the compound his father had created. Where they talked about Kayden's father dying, of his hopes and his dreams, and where Jake realized that the younger man he grew to call brother was some kind of super-brain who could ace advanced calculus and biology without studying.

The last part of the journey was more level and finally Jake rounded the corner. He stopped walking for a second as the beauty of the scene stole his breath. The cabin was exactly as he remembered from his last visit in April. Low and spread out on one level, it was set back onto an acre of open land with a large expanse of pasture in the front. Surrounded by a fence it was covered in a thin layer of snow and looked stunning. With a grin at the thought of the peace awaiting him inside, he finished the walk and keyed in the entry code for access.

After stamping to remove the light covering of snow from his boots he closed the door behind him and shrugged off the backpack and his jacket. The heat was on and Jake sent a mental thank you to the O'Briens who owned the next cabin over, some three miles away. They had long ago been entrusted with Sanctuary secrets and kept an eye, when no one was here, on the cabin that used to be Sanctuary One. Of course the place wasn't used as a safe house now and it had long since stopped being a useful place to hide or protect anyone. The systems inside were all cutting edge; by definition it was upgraded as soon as every other cabin was. But the place wasn't far off one of the new extreme mountain trails and as such had been passed back to Jake's dad, and now to Jake and Kayden.

Jake turned immediately right from the mud room and down the corridor to dump his bags on the end of his bed. Stretching tall he attempted to unkink himself from driving and being cold. Then, with hot coffee warming him from inside he slid into the chair in front of the two computer screens in the small comms room. Once logged on he scanned his e-mail. Manny filtered his messages and only passed along to Jake those that were deemed important. There was an invitation to a fundraiser in March, perfectly suitable to the millionaire Callahan. He hated attending them but he made useful contacts so the evenings were never a complete loss. After adding the date to his calendar he glanced at the other two mails. One was a request for clearance on a new operative, and another contained a round robin joke that had been forwarded by Manny.

Connecting to Manny himself he smiled when he saw his right-hand man appear on the screen.

"You're on vacation," Manny admonished. He had a stern expression on his face but there was a smile in his eyes.

"Kayden said you have information for us?"

"Well, hello to you too," Manny said. He shook his head as he spoke.

"Hello, Manny, how are you, how is Josh, and what information do you have for me?"

Manny grinned widely. "Josh is fine, we're doing good."

The two had vanished to the Canadian safe house after the arrest of Senator Bullen. Too many people wanted to use Josh as a pawn to get his dad to recant testimony. Until the Bullens were both out of the story that was where they were staying. Jake missed Manny, missed his irrepressible humor; Manny really was the better part of him. The one who calmed him down, organized him, told him how things were.

"So anyway," Manny continued, "turns out there is a whole other level of connections we are missing here, including some kind of link to the FBI and the Bullens. There're only a few notes, some deleted files I am attempting to reconstruct, but let's face it, the Bullens did not only plant someone in Sanctuary, they were using the same person in the FBI."

"You can connect Sean to it all?" Jake felt his stomach twist. He had wanted to believe in Sean. Seemed there really was no doubt at all Sean Hanson was a traitor.

"No. Nothing explicit, but I'm working on it."

"Good." Jake considered adding the same warning Kayden had given him about taking an hour off to Manny but then thought better of it. Cut Manny in half and you would find Sanctuary written across the middle. He was as embroiled as Jake was. At least Manny had a life now. Although exiled away from the main Sanctuary he was with the guy who had stolen his heart and he had left of his own accord. One day they could come home, but not until Manny was sure Josh was safe. Like Morgan, Josh Headley would always be a target for a family they helped destroy.

"You had an email from Owen Reynolds but it went through to a generic address, I'm forwarding it now with attachments."

Owen? He hadn't heard from Owen since, hell, he couldn't remember when, March maybe? His dad's closest friend, former FBI, former special ops, and advisor when Max had first bandied the idea of Sanctuary, had been out of the country more times than in. Jake saw the e-mail arrive. The contents were a general Merry Christmas and an attached photo of Owen and his wife Martha and their dogs—three huge dopey Great Danes.

"I got it."

"There's nothing else for now. All is quiet apart from the normal placing."

"How many jobs do we have going over Christmas?"

"You don't need to—"

"Manny, just report as normal. Please." Jake added the please to soften the demand. Manny was only looking out for him but Jake wasn't interested in sleeping away the next week or so, he wanted to be strategizing and working on the things he normally had no time to do back in the office.

"We have seven active cases that look to be going over Christmas. One is a family with two small kids."

"Did you organize—"

"Yes, Santa is making a visit as usual." Manny grinned widely. Jake found himself smiling back as stupidly as Manny was. They tried to do this for small kids in protection if it was at all possible, a tradition started when they had their first case involving kids after Jake had just taken over Sanctuary

Manny continued. "The other six are single adults. And the freed-up operatives are Dale and Michaela so we can cover emergencies, though this snow is shutting everything down big-time. Dale is following on closing down some loose ends with the Bullen case with me."

Manny signed off with a final warning for Jake to get his ass into the hot tub to relax with a capital R. Jake flashed back a quick reply to Owen's e-mail to acknowledge he'd received it. He added he would send more news later. Owen had always been Uncle Owen to both him and Kayden and not keeping in contact was just plain stupid. Owen and Jake's dad, Max, had been as close as brothers.

Jake leaned back in his chair staring at the blank screen after he had sent the quick mail. This first part of the stay at the cabin was always the hardest. He had the guilt that he wasn't working hitting him square in the chest and that itch that he should be doing something, anything, instead of sitting here and looking at his reflection in the flat, black screen. He didn't have a holiday the whole rest of the year but his family had come to what had been Sanctuary One every Christmas and Jake's internal body clock demanded the annual shutdown. Kayden said he looked tired, exhausted even, but Jake knew it was work and a whole lot of something different.

It really had been one hell of a year and he didn't know where to start to analyze just how tired he was. Sanctuary was three times the size it had been this time last December. Case after case had been thrown at them, as well as more and more operatives whom Jake felt personally responsible for. He loved his job, loved what he did, but he was tired at the moment. Tired, and if he was honest, heartsick. And wasn't that the kicker. Heartsick. Fucking Sean and his silver eyes that promised Jake could trust him. He'd seen Nik find Morgan, Manny meet and fall for Josh, Dale get his SEAL in Joseph. Hell, even his own brother had found someone who was the other half of him. It could be done and for a few shining weeks Jake had really thought he'd found someone he could spend good time with.

Attraction and lust had turned to hate and guilt and the overwhelming feeling of being completely thrown at Sean's deception. Even now, despite hating the man, he could remember the taste of him, the feel of him in his arms. They'd danced around each other like combatants on a field of war flirting and kissing and Jake had fallen halfway in love at the possibilities of what he could have with Sean. Strategies for keeping things to themselves warred with an instinctive need to touch. If Sean hadn’t backed off then they would have been lovers. Jesus, imagine the fallout from that. Jake wasn't just exhausted nearing the end of a very busy year heading up a business like Sanctuary. He was tired, angry, unsettled, sad, and he'd just reached the end of his rope.

Best he stayed in the mountains, licked his wounds, and it was probably a very good thing that Kayden and Beckett couldn't make it either. He glanced over at the presents he had wrapped for his brother and Beckett and a sudden stupid loneliness washed over him. The silver paper reminded him of Sean's eyes. Jeez.

More coffee was required.

Chapter 2
Sean Hanson was fucked.

There was no way this piece of shit Toyota was going to outrun the huge truck that was bearing down on him. He'd taken the first vehicle he could find keys for and that was the senator's secretary's car. Crappy heap of shit. Bullets thudded into the car and he weaved around an oncoming van that only at the last minute managed to avoid careening into the trees. Not for the first time since getting out of New York he cursed the fact that he had gone back for the freaking journal. Damn fucking ghosts in his head making him soft and now he was being chased up the freaking I-87 by guys with guns and clouds chucking down bales of snow like they wanted to clean themselves out in one day. A bullet embedded itself in the door as the road bent around to the left and Sean winced. The snow was a great equalizer between their bigger car and his smaller thin-tired heap of metal but still they had the advantage. According to his sat nav he was still twenty or more miles away from the turnoff of I-87 and from then he knew he had more road to travel to get up into the mountains.

Pain knifed through him as he finessed his way past a driver in a Chevy who had clearly never seen snow before. The pain was a twist in his chest as he leaned into manoeuver. He’d been shot and the bullet had carved a nice entry and exit wound in his right shoulder area. It freaking hurt.

His cell beeped to indicate the first file transfer was complete and his level of anxiety eased.

"Did you get it all?" he asked abruptly.

"All of the first part, some of the second is not uploading past sixty-seven percent. We'll work on it our end," Owen Reynolds said. "Where are you now?"

Sean pushed through the adrenaline and attempted to focus on what he was being asked. His damn watch was smashed so there would be no way Owen could track him. He had to pull himself together and give a position. "Just passed the sign for Brant Lake on I-87. I've got a tail still."

"FBI or Bullens?"

"God knows. Some big-ass black SUV with tinted windows and passengers with guns."

"Lose him," Owen snapped quickly. Sean liked to think there was concern in the other man's voice but all he heard was the order itself. Clearly that was what he needed as he blinked back the pain in his head and chest and focused on the snow. Blood was leaving him at a steady rate. He needed to stop and get some bandages or something but the men with guns weren't leaving him room for decision making. His only focus was getting to where Max had told him to go, and where he would be safe. He'd played too many sides and now it seemed as if everyone wanted him out of the picture.

"Talk later," he pushed out through a wave of pain. After touching the 'end call' image he guided the car in the slippery white storm, pressed the window control then gripped his gun with his left hand. He might be right handed but that arm was numbing with the pain from his injury. He just hoped to hell that his aim was good enough using his left hand. With every ounce of his strength forced and directed to his aim, he waited until the beginning of the next bend on the road and when he could sense where he needed to fire he let off a volley of shots. The SIG kicked back in his hand and he welcomed the snap of pain to clear the exhaustion creeping into his head. The SUV following him lurched as two tires deflated and then slewed across the highway, finally ending against a tree on the side.

They'd all walk away from it but at least the threat was neutralized. Pressing the window control to stop the snow from creating a new storm inside the car, he then fought the wheel as the damned heap skittered and danced on the road's surface. I-87 was as empty as he had ever seen it and he thanked the heavens for the opportune snowstorm. It kept people at home and away from him. He attempted to put the gun back in the holster but it slipped and slid down the side. He didn’t need it. There was no one else behind him. He'd find it when he stopped.

Ten miles to the turnoff, a few more to where the road split in two then another mile to the cabin. Max said there would be medical supplies there, blankets, probably food. Somewhere to hide and the irony of it all was the fact that it used to be a freaking Sanctuary safe house. Christ, if any of Jake's team realized he was using Sanctuary property he would be strung up. And if Jake himself realized? It didn't bear thinking about.

Jake. He needed to say sorry to Jake now it was all over. Jake hated him—he'd seen that in the man's face. Hell, given that it had taken Jake months to trust Sean enough to lower his guard, it had to hurt like a bitch when Sean betrayed him and his Sanctuary teams. Pain twisted in his shoulder and he blinked at the sudden wash of unconsciousness that had him closing his eyes. He didn't want to look but he had to. Driving one-handed as carefully as he could, he looked down and peeled back the shirt and sweater—far too much blood for his liking and way too much pain. He hoped to hell the bullet hadn't nicked anything vital.

The turnoff was upon him before he realized and he had to press the brakes harder than he would have liked causing the little car to slew sideways then shudder to a stop. After starting the engine again he backtracked on the normally densely packed interstate and managed to get back to the right exit. Following the road he cursed as thin tires made him feel every single hill and hollow in the way, his head bumped the ceiling of the compact more times than he cared to count. He'd give himself a concussion if he didn't bleed to death.

The road split into two and he turned the small car to the left. The back slid out and he lessened what little acceleration he had until he slid to a gentle halt. If it wasn't for the blood and the guns and the middle of a freaking snowstorm, he might have laughed. Depressing the accelerator, he inched the car forward and it stuck in the deepening snow. Pressing his foot a little more he was surprised when the car was released and then shot forward. He attempted to get it under control but there was no stopping as he careened and slid on the icy ground. There was a car, a black 4x4, to one side and then a lump, a wall in the road, a white wall. His Toyota went head first into the wall and did this whole bounce-slide movement to the opposite side of the road to the 4x4. Sean simply held on for the ride and cursed a blue storm as the sky tilted and he was sliding backward down the side of the narrow road. The car came to a sickening halt and the momentum pushed him forward and then back, the belt digging cruelly into his chest and jarring his injured shoulder. Black spots swam in front of his eyes and he breathed through the pain in harsh, gasping breaths. Blinking away the darkness he focused on his sideways predicament.


He could see nothing out of his driver's side window and only blinding snow out of the passenger side, which was facing the sky. What the hell did I hit? Shit. He couldn't be far from the cabin and he'd walk the rest if he could just get out of the damn car. Cautiously he felt his arm and his fingers slipped in the sticky, oozing blood from his shoulder. Pausing for a moment to think the situation through, he experimentally attempted to move each muscle and was relieved that he didn't appear terminally trapped. Okay, immediate peril was a near zero, apart from the bleeding, but he'd bled before, everything would be fine. The belt was stuck tight and the only way he was getting out of there was to cut himself out. Reaching into his pocket as best he could, he pulled out his small pocket knife and began to cut away at the strong webbing material. He blinked as something trickled into his eye, and wiping the back of his hand over the eye and his forehead displayed yet more blood.

Great. Clearly he'd hit his head, probably given himself some kind of concussion. Groaning he realized that explained the pain in his head; yet another thing to worry about. The belt finally came free and no longer being held in place meant he was now slumped against the window dug into the ground. Everything freaking hurt. He tried to locate his bag and finally spotted a handle but it was well and truly wedged by the push of the engine back into the passenger's seat. Where was his SIG? It had fallen on the floor and he needed his freaking weapon if he was to hold anyone off. He spotted it forced under the bag. Shit. There was no way he was going to get either out of the car. Groaning at the increasing pain behind his eyes he tried one last time to wrench the bag free but he had no energy in him so in the car it had to stay.

Should he just remain in the car? He was tired and it sounded like such a good idea—to just lie back and maybe someone passing could get him out of this. Call paramedics? Call the cops? Christ, even a cell sounded good at the moment. Fuck. He needed out of this tin can. Closing his eyes briefly, he focused on what he needed to do and after much wriggling and pushing he was finally forcing the passenger window open and clambering out over the crushed compartment of the dead car. He was out and straight into a white version of hell. The blizzard had gone from intense to whiteout in the last few minutes and icy projectiles stung and bit at every part of his woefully exposed skin. He hadn't exactly gotten away with anything more than the clothes he wore when he was discovered. Little more than a sweater and T-shirt he'd been using to take the edge off of the chill in the warm office. He was really unprepared. Forcing back the aches and pains in his body, he remembered how the car had slid and skidded down the hill. He followed the fact that the nose of the car was pointing uphill as to the direction he needed to be going. As long as he was moving uphill and he stuck to the old track as best he could then he would surely hit the cabin soon.

He stumbled as he came foot to trunk with a fallen tree blocking the road—obviously the immovable object that had forced him off the road. The vehicle he had spotted was a large black 4x4 but the snow around his face was stealing his vision and he ignored its presence and instead took step after step up the hill. He would give it ten minutes to try to reach the cabin then use whatever skills he had left in his brain to hunker down and wait out the blizzard. On the upside, at least, as his core temperature dropped, the bleeding would slow even further, that was a good thing. The only good thing. He was freezing, shivering, numb and every step was an iron-footed torture upward. Have I walked for ten minutes? Have I stopped? Where am I? Several times he became caught in branches and realized he had wandered off of the correct road; once he even stumbled into the deep gulley to the left of the potholed pathway. Up to his knees in driving snow that built and built, he wondered briefly if he was okay to just sit down and rest.

Exhaustion took every ounce of energy from him. If I sit here, the snow will cover me like a blanket and I'll be warm. That was dangerous thinking, he should keep walking, up and up. He rounded a corner and still there was nothing to see except blinding white. Weary, and way past caring, he stumbled to a stop.

I've done my job; convinced everyone of everything and lied to stay alive. I don't need to do anything more. Owen has enough to put them all away, to find the link. No one needs me. I just need to say sorry, to explain to one person. Jake. I'm sorry.

The thought of Jake not knowing, of not seeing the man who'd pulled away parts of Sean's armor and exposed the man beneath, was a stubborn kick to the ass. He would get to the freaking cabin. He would lock down, warm up, eat, stay healthy, stop the pain in his arm. He would. Then he'd hand himself over. Manny liked him. Manny had liked him. Maybe he should just sit and let them know where he was. Maybe Nik or Dale would come find him and haul his ass back to Sanctuary. Hell, maybe Sanctuary could hide him away until the shit settled? They'd love that. After what he'd done to them, and to Jake in particular, he was lucky if Manny pissed on him if he was on fire.

One step after another he stumbled up and straight into another tree. Wait. Not a tree. A fence? Forcing his weary mind to focus on the fence in the picture of the cabin in his head he pulled together every ounce of energy left and staggered to the left. Eventually he would find a gap. There. A space he could stumble through. Keeping hold of the final fence post, he straightened his stance with his back to the fence. In his head the cabin was maybe thirty feet ahead but he couldn't see anything through the snow. Thirty feet ahead… straight ahead. Thirty strides. Simple. Then two steps up to a porch, out of the snow. The strides he took were fire in his legs and he tried to count but nothing was making sense in his head.

Meeting the steps forced him to his knees and he cursed loudly at the crunching pain that radiated up and down his legs. Pushing his hands through snow he clung to the wood of the porch. Just a little farther and he would have shelter. Light flooded over and around him and even through the snow he could see a figure, hear the shouting, the muffled words.

"Fuck. What the fuck?"

Strong arms pulled him up, forced him to let go of the wood and he groaned as his fingers snapped from their hold. He couldn't stand and he had nothing left to give. The light swallowed him.

"Lockdown," he spat out. "Lock us in." Didn't matter who the hell it was who was in this place. They had dragged him in and if this was the old defunct Sanctuary One then they needed to lock the cabin down. He repeated the word over and over again and finally he looked up at the person who had dragged him in. Concerned blue eyes. Angry eyes. Then he lost the battle to stay awake and allowed himself to go.

Worlds Collide #7
Chapter 1
“It’s not too late, we can still get out of here,” Chief Petty Officer Joseph Kinnon said urgently. He pressed both hands to the glass and stared down at the street below. The city was a white, snowy landscape and at any other time would have been stunningly beautiful. They were ten stories up in a hotel in the heart of the historic district and the place had ledges at each level. As a team they’d dealt with worse. Assessing the situation, he considered the options. “Fuentes, talk to me.”

Luca Fuentes, young, tall, and built like the side of barn with muscles on muscles, was the team’s resident hacker but was also a tactical genius. He joined Joseph at the window. “Chief,” he said formally. His green-eyed gaze unerringly focused in on the view that Joseph had. He frowned as he looked out.

“Can you find egress here?” Joseph asked.

Luca tapped the glass. “Reinforced; we’d need some pretty heavy ordnance to get out—I can get Viktor on that—then zip wire. Get it hooked to the top of the plaza building.” Luca looked up and down, then turned to Joseph. “Forty degrees. We can get down to the roof and get out that way.”


“Fifty-fifty. I think most of us will be okay, but one of our team is scared of heights,” Fuentes said seriously.

Joseph nodded in agreement. “You’re talking about Mike Dexter.”

“He’s a liability, sir,” Luca answered. “I’m not sure his underwear would remain unstained and survive the fall.”

Joseph frowned. “So if we could get a change of underwear for after then we can probably get him down.”

“Yes, sir,” Luca answered immediately.

“I should kill you both,” Dexter deadpanned from behind them. He joined them at the window, looked down at the snowy street below, then shrugged. “Anyway, my mother-in-law-to-be will definitely have all exit points covered.”

Joseph and Luca snorted and suddenly all three men were leaning against the glass and laughing.

“She’d have you strung up by your balls,” Joseph choked out between laughing and trying to breathe.

“That wouldn’t be painful enough, Dexter.” Luca smirked. “She’d chop your dick off then hang you up by your balls for walking out on her daughter.”

Joseph clapped his best friend on the shoulder, a quick hug, then he pulled back. “Last chance to escape, Dex, I can get another team in as backup.”

Dexter thumped his shoulder. “Why would I give up the best thing I have?” Dexter said seriously. Everyone went silent. Then Joseph snorted another laugh and he had to step away from Dexter before his friend got a lot more physical.

“And you call yourself a best man, J.” Dexter sighed. He shook his head. “I knew I should have asked Viktor.” That set all three men off again. Viktor played loose and hard with life and the idea of him being best-anything outside of bombs and grenades was just plain weird.

“Speaking of best man and weddings, we’re at T minus twenty and I am out of here. I need to concentrate on my looking-good-in-my-uniform duty.” Fuentes walked to the door.

“Maybe when you grow up you’ll look good,” Joseph called after him.

“Face it, boys, you’re the wrong side of twenty-five and your wrinkled asses make your pants baggy.”

Joseph threw the nearest thing he could find, an apple from the fruit dish. Fuentes caught the fruit and took a bite out of it.

“Later,” he said as he left. Abruptly it was just Joseph and Dexter and one huge empty suite. Joseph’s only line of defense between himself and Dexter being all serious had gone. Joseph even considered calling Luca back at seeing the intense look on Dexter’s face. Joseph knew what he wanted to say but the words in his head just stayed there. He could be serious and focused, just, this was a huge occasion. He’d never been a best man before and he had to work hard to make it look like he knew what he was doing. Dexter crossed to the minibar and emptied the contents of a small bottle into a glass.

He handed the glass to Joseph. “Here, J, drink this.”

Joseph eyed the amber liquid. “Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?”

Dexter smiled. “Why do I need to drink? I’m not the one who’s nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” Joseph defended immediately.

Dexter shook his head. “You remember that time in Iraq when we had to lie in goat shit for three hours and you were sick on yourself? You’re paler than that.”

Joseph sighed. Dexter knew more about him than he liked. “I don’t like giving speeches, alright? Give me a rifle and I can control a crowd. Make me talk and I fuck it up every time.” He perched on the edge of the sofa and downed the whisky in one. The burn was welcome, but he hoped to hell he didn’t throw the whole lot back up.

“What’s there to fuck up?” Dexter asked gently. He sat on the opposite sofa. “In ten minutes we’re going downstairs, then you tell me what is going to happen.”

Joseph considered the question and decided this wasn’t the time for teasing or his usual shit, this was serious. This was like the run-through for missions where the focus was decided beforehand. For a second he thought of Dale and remembered some of the more thoughtful conversations they had been having recently. He didn’t have to be next to his lover to know how he felt. Whenever he saw Dale’s name light up on his cell he got butterflies. Yes, they’d only managed to meet up once since that first time, but Dale filled every single one of his waking thoughts that weren’t taken up by SEAL business. Thinking of his lover had a smile twitching his lips.

“My best friend is getting married,” Joseph began, “to a beautiful woman who is way too good for him.” Whether it was that simple statement, the effects of the whisky, or even thinking of Dale, he felt himself relaxing. Yes, he was a duck out of water, but the man who had been his best friend since BUD/S was going into marriage with a smile on his face. Joseph could push past any concerns he had about SEALs marrying or about Dexter getting himself killed and leaving a widow.

“J, I wanted to talk to you,” Dexter said carefully. “I’ve been thinking of taking the medical discharge I was offered.”

Joseph’s chest tightened. This was what he had been expecting. Marriage and SEALs didn’t always mesh and he’d watched Dexter recently. The man was edgy and wary and being a SEAL didn’t allow for either. But to lose his best friend from the small expert team they were part of was a terrible blow. He didn’t say any of that. Instead he said, “I can understand that.”

Dexter nodded. “I’m twenty-nine. I found Em. My back is fucked, and I’ve been offered the magic bullet of discharge. I’d like to maybe at least stay stateside if I can, maybe go civilian?”

“The horror.” Joseph smirked. He knew about the medical discharge. Dex was in pain more often than not, and while he could push through it, the SEAL missions were hard on him. The bad back was courtesy of a fucked-up high altitude jump that Dexter was lucky to walk away from. He needed an operation to release nerves too close to scar tissue and he kind of needed it now before the damage became irreparable.


“I’ve been offered a job with Sanctuary when I get out,” Joseph admitted. “But me leaving the Navy? That’s like ten years or more to retirement. Jake said if I knew anyone else that might be interested…” The comments had been serious but Joseph had dismissed them as something he could think about another day.

“Sanctuary, eh? Sounds like a cool idea. I was thinking about you and me, some kind of security team when you finally get out,” Dexter said thoughtfully.

“Me?” Joseph shook his head. “I’m only nine years in, I have eleven to go. I’m not that old yet.”

Dexter smiled. “Wait till you get to be nearly thirty like I am,” he said.

“Four years yet, old man.”

“And you have Dale now. He’s important to you, and J, aren’t you just a little bit tempted by working privately one day? If not that, then you could move sideways to a Navy posting, or into SEAL training?”

Joseph needed to change the subject. Spending time with Dale, building something with the sexy man, was way up on his to-do list, but to look that far into the future, leaving the SEALs…to leave the Navy after his twenty, even? To stop what he was damn good at? That was a hard one.

“I know what I’m good at,” he said finally. His usual defense.

“Look at it this way, buddy. Do you remember Garret Connor?” Joseph nodded. He recalled Lt Garret Connor, the tall, dark-haired guy with the serious expression. He knew what had happened to Garret. Every SEAL team was more than aware—being a SEAL made you part of a very small family. Garret had been MIA, separated from his entire team. Tortured, injured, his mind messed with, then left for dead. He was still suffering now.

PTSD. Joseph had seen too much of it, not just the Navy but in all the forces fighting in the theater of war.

“A good guy,” Joseph offered lamely. He knew exactly where this conversation was going.

“He’s thirty-one. He’s in a bad place. Every time you suit up, you put yourself in the firing line.”

“I get that, it’s what we do. Garret was unlucky.”

“And we’ve been lucky so far, Joseph.”

“We’re highly trained, we don’t rely on luck—”

“Then neither should Garret. He wasn’t unlucky—it was his time to get hit.”

“Sanctuary isn’t exactly safe either,” Joseph said. He sounded more than a little desperate to his own ears.

“Just think on it in ten years, and if the time is right, we can maybe talk again?”

Joseph relaxed. He liked conversations that could be put off to ‘another time’, particularly a conversation ten years in the future. “Okay,” he agreed. He’d just have to spend the next ten years or so avoiding a civilian Dexter and any mention of breaking up their team. Easy.

“Joseph, there’s one last thing. I need to ask you something.” Dexter sounded deadly serious.


“Before I get out…hell, after I get out, if anything ever goes wrong and I don’t make it home? Look out for Em?”

Joseph opened his mouth to say what he’d instantly thought, the usual response that nothing was going to happen to Dexter. Instead he simply said, “Always.”

“Then shall we do this thing?” Dexter stood and extended a hand to Joseph, who grasped it and levered himself to stand. After a final hug they separated and with shared smiles, left the suite.

The whole team was here: him, Dexter, the Lieutenant, Fuentes, Freddy…even Viktor. The guy had somehow managed to time his arrival to exactly two minutes before the start, looking disheveled and with lipstick on his uniform. If the man wasn’t a damn genius with ordnance then he’d never get away with half the shit he did on his downtime. Joseph exchanged glances with the LT, Viktor had been slowly getting more and more on the ragged edge and something needed doing. The LT nodded in return and Joseph sighed. He liked Viktor and the man was good at his job, but he lacked control in his private life and something was messing with his head.

His attention moved back to the room. The family was lucky to get this room in the hotel in Albany on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t the best or most exotic location for a wedding, but that wasn’t what Em and Dexter wanted. The team’s needing to fit it in their thirty-day downtime was tight but Em’s family had somehow managed to snag this room and a judge on this snowy holiday.

Em looked stunning. The slim redhead who had brought big, gruff Mike Dexter to his knees was smiling up at Joseph’s friend and teammate as if he hung the moon and the stars. It warmed Joseph to see it. Added to that she was a feisty partner who was in the Navy herself, based at Oceana with family in Albany and close by. Dexter and Em had been in love since they met at fourteen at school according to how Dexter told it, and today was perfect. The love that was in each vow was obvious.

Joseph remembered the rings and was even lulled into a false sense of security up until they sat for the wedding dinner and it was his turn to talk to the fifty people in the room. He stood and tapped a glass. The chatter stopped and every face in the room turned to him expectantly. Terror punched him like a bullet to a vest and stole his voice. He coughed. Then he saw Fuentes giving him a big thumbs up and that was enough to get his focus back on what he was doing

“When Mike Dexter asked me to be best man I thought he was an idiot,” he began. Great, that sounded better in his head than when he’d actually said the words. Fuentes nodded in encouragement. “Only because, while I can dismantle a gun and get it back together in record time and belch curse words with the best of them, I’m actually not good at standing up and talking.” Everyone laughed at that.

The laughter was welcome and he took a sip of his champagne. He was doing this speech on a mild alcohol buzz and he’d not drunk in so long that this was a very nice feeling, with the word ‘nice’ in capital letters. He continued, “In fact, there is only one person I would do this for and he is the man who got married today. Dexter is my best friend and I guess that allows me to say things about how I think Em and Dexter together are perfect.” He stopped again and glanced at Dexter and Em.

“Thank you,” Em said softly.

“Anyway, I could launch into many an embarrassing story about Dexter here, including the one with the mountain lion and the cheese, but I’ll save that for his sixtieth birthday party.” He smiled at Dexter, who grinned back. Joseph didn’t think he’d ever seen Dexter this happy. “I just wanted to say, congratulations to the best friend a man could wish for, on and off the field. Raise your glasses.” Joseph paused as everyone stood and raised the crystal champagne flutes.

“To Em and Dexter.”

The crowd repeated and finally Joseph sat down, his job done and a huge weight off his shoulders. Now perhaps he could relax. He reached for more champagne, his second glass, and on top of the small whisky from before he was really feeling relaxed. His thoughts immediately turned to Dale—wondering how the other man was doing. He was working an assignment to bring Emily Bullen back home from the West Coast where she had been laying low. But when he finished, they had an entire two weeks together planned at a resort, courtesy of Jake and Sanctuary, and he couldn’t believe how excited he was at the thought. He’d bought Dale a gift for his birthday—his lover was turning thirty in a few days—and he had plans for absolute honesty when they were together.

He fingered the piece of paper he kept with him in his pocket at all times. Not a picture of Dale, after all he did still have his balls. This was a print of a message Dale had sent him on his cell not long after they pulled Beckett from the Bullen Mansion. He’d been back at Oceana by then and only just got the message in time before he locked his cell away to be pulled out on his return from his next mission.

Stay safe, kick ass, come home. Love you.

Such a simple message, but the “Love you” didn’t have any kind of qualification. There was no I think I love you or I am falling in love with you, but a really simple, easy message.

I love you.

Just reading that message the first time had created feelings inside Joseph that he never thought he would feel. They’d been together such a short while but Dale just got him. He was funny, loving, strong, opinionate, good with a gun, tall, sexy, fantastic in bed, and a skilled kisser. All in all he was the perfect candidate for the post of Joseph’s forever-guy.

Just touching the note grounded Joseph in the here and now. Slowly, over the course of the last few months, the space in his life that had once been filled by the team he was with, by the job, by staying alive, had seen a full-frontal assault by the man he had fallen in love with.

The note wasn’t the last time that Dale had said those words. He’d never considered love at first sight—lust yes, love no—but this whole thing with Dale? That was love. A new love, one that was growing every day.

When the dinner ended and people drifted away to freshen up, Joseph determinedly walked through the lobby and out into the frigid air. He wanted to connect to Dale if he could—to check in on him. Just to hear his voice.

It was seven pm in Albany, earlier in LA, and he hoped he would get Dale on first try. He dialed the number he had in memory and Dale answered the phone immediately.

“Hey, sailor,” Dale said softly.

“Hey. Can you talk?” Joseph asked. He stamped his feet and settled back under the awning over the front door and as close to the wall as he could get without touching the icy brick. The snow had started and stopped a dozen times through the ceremony and the roads in Albany were covered in sparkling white. The snow covered any blemishes and left the area pristine and somewhat empty for a New Year’s Eve. Just for a second he debated returning to his room for a jacket but decided against it when he heard Dale’s voice.

“Hang on.” Joseph listened as noises indicated Dale was moving from one place to another. “Here,” he finally said.

“Tell me you’re not sitting in the bathroom,” Joseph said.

“Nope, back up against the front door facing inwards. Sitting between the target, who is currently in the bathroom, and any bad guys brandishing guns.” Dale chuckled as he said this.

Joseph could imagine his lover sitting, leaning back against the door. He’d done it himself at times when he needed time out but couldn’t leave the room. Stop the bad guys’ getting in the door.

“Are you expecting guns?” Joseph asked conversationally. He refused to let his voice carry any indication of the worry that pierced him at the thought. Dale meant too much to him to lose at the end of a bullet but they hadn’t exactly covered the emotions surrounding possible loss of each other in their brief chats. Anyway, how could he show he was worried about Dale when he himself wasn’t exactly working a nine to five in an office?

“Not really. Adam is running the op and there’s nothing indicating any shit near a proverbial fan. Emily Bullen is a low-rent witness now that she’s given access to records. This whole job is just a taxi service.” Dale didn’t sound impressed and Joseph smiled at the irritation in his voice.

“Adam’s running this? Not Manny?” Joseph liked Manny, the guy had an old head on his shoulders and he ran Ops like one of the best SEAL support teams.

“Manny and Josh are taking New Year’s off. Something about having to save Jake’s ass at Christmas.”

Joseph wrapped an arm around his middle. He was freaking cold but hearing Dale’s voice was too much to give up the peace and quiet of the outside. There were too many people inside pushing for attention and wanting to talk to him.

“When do you leave LA?”

“Wheels up in three hours. Big issue is that there’s no letup in that damn snow at your end. Hoping to move out this evening if they clear us for takeoff. Will you still make it to the resort?”

“If it kills me,” Joseph said without thinking. The thought of two weeks with just him and Dale and a Lake Placid Lodge had his cock half-hard and his heart swelling with affection. Realizing what he’d said, he went quiet and banged his head back against the wall. Idiot. Their relationship was still in its infant stage and as much as he wanted much more with the gorgeous blond who slammed into the middle of his life, he didn’t want to make himself look stupid by admitting it too early.

“I can’t wait to see you,” Dale confessed softly.

“Really?” Joseph said quickly. Jeez. His brain needed to focus better. That damn whisky added to two glasses of champagne was messing with his head.

“I missed your SEAL ass,” Dale admitted. “Especially when you didn’t make it back before Christmas.”

Joseph recalled exactly where he’d been on Christmas Day and grimaced at the memory. That particular date had been some particularly squirrely shit and the image of what he’d seen and felt was permanently etched into his thoughts. They were all fortunate to make it to Dexter’s wedding alive.

“I missed you too,” Joseph said. “I’ll see you when you make it to Albany,” he added. He needed to finish this call before his balls froze. They were already in danger of shriveling up and falling off with all this romantic sappy shit. The same shit he was loving to hear.

Joseph ended the call before he said anything else. Seeing Dale, wanting Dale, with all those love words thrown around whenever they met, was a deeply unsettling feeling.

Chapter 2
Dale banged his head back against the wood of the door. When he and Joseph met up they needed to have a talk. Joseph sounded introspective, as usual, and it wasn’t as if Dale was much better. How was it Morgan and Nik made being in a relationship seem so damn easy? Dale swore under his breath. He and Joseph had been apart for a while now, months, not that he was counting or anything. Joseph must have noticed that their phone calls had become tenser, but he hoped that his lover would understand why.

For Dale it was because he had so much inside him he knew that if he started to talk, he’d scare Joseph off. The affection and lust he’d had spiraling inside had just grown exponentially and tomorrow he was going to lay his emotions bare and actually tell Joseph how he felt. He’d texted the I love you, he’d emailed it, had even said it to Joseph’s face on Skype, but not in person yet. At least today he’d laid some of the foundation by admitting he missed Joseph. That was a step in the right direction.

“How long now?” The voice roused him from his thoughts and he blinked up at Emily Bullen, who stood just outside the bathroom. She looked immaculate—as if she was just going to pose for a photo op. Pearls wound around her throat, and her powder blue suit screamed of more money than Dale made in a year. Her hair was sprayed to within an inch of its life and Dale doubted a hurricane would mess with the helmet. He sighed as he looked her up, then down. He’d asked her to wear pants and flats. She had at least made one concession Dale had demanded. She was wearing flatter heels. But they were still heels.

“What if we have to run?” Dale said evenly. “You’ll break your neck.”

“A lady of my age doesn’t run,” Emily replied smoothly.

Emily appeared younger than her sixty-five but that was probably clever makeup and maybe even a little plastic surgery here and there.

“You’ll run if I tell you to,” Dale said firmly.

Tilting her head she stared down at him, a look that reminded Dale far too much of a tiger sizing its prey. “Why are you sitting on the floor?” she asked.

Dale ignored her and smoothly came to stand almost eye to eye with the woman who was driving him mad.

She was clearly bored or something when she pivoted on her heel and stalked into the sitting area. “Are you hoping to trip them up when they come in through the door?” she asked frostily as she walked away. Dale bit his tongue. He’d done a lot of that since Christmas. Damn woman had a stick firmly up her perfumed ass. Dale ignored her as he checked the locks on the door again then crossed to the table. Flight plans, schematics of the jet, and details of Swithuns private airport lay on the flat surface. This would be the first time that Dale had ever worked with Sanctuary where he had transferred someone on a plane, and he wanted as much intel as possible. Swithuns was just outside Albany. It had one runway that ran east to west with mountains at one end and a large lake at the other.

His phone signaled an incoming call and he connected immediately.

Jake didn’t waste time with niceties. “We may have a problem,” he said.

“What kind of problem?”

“We have intel that Griffin Ryland is back in New York state but we lost him.”

“Lost him how?” Dale asked. Sanctuary didn’t lose people they were tracking.

“He isn’t without resources or money,” Jake said firmly. “We were lucky to get his tail in LA.”

Dale glanced over at the Senator’s wife who, despite appearing serene, had a look of fear in her eyes. He crossed back to the door, which was a good ten feet away from his charge.

“What does he want with her?” he asked. “I don’t get his motivation. He’s fucked. There is so much evidence piled against him that he’s going down. Her testimony is only underlining his part in it all.”

“The Senator could have paid him to pull this off?” A second voice joined Jake’s. Sean Hanson, Jake’s partner now—or so Kayden said—was adding his two cents. “Politics is thicker than marriage,” he added dryly. “It’s him she has the most against at the end of the day.”

“I’m thinking of getting a partner in for your backup,” Jake said seriously.

Dale considered the situation as it stood. They were a two-minute walk to the plane. Jake’s pilot flew the damn thing. All he had to do was get out of LA in one piece.

“I’m not seeing I need anything. Easier for me to get her home with as little fuss as possible.”

“Your call, Dale,” Jake agreed. “Edward is your pilot and we have a newbie working next to him. Stephanie Kellen is new to us, but she’s trained and good at her job.”

So now all he had to do was kill a few hours until it was time to leave.

* * * * *

As soon as the plane door shut on them Dale finally released a noisy breath. That had to have been the longest two-minute walk of his life. He immediately called in a sit rep then checked the plane from one end to the other. Edward Martins was the pilot, an old friend of Jake’s and keeper of the Sanctuary jet, his copilot was Stephanie Kellen. Stephanie was eager to please and as soon as she saw Dale she was shaking his hand and talking. She hardly came up to his shoulder and her dark hair was pulled back from her face in a smooth twisted knot. She looked about eighteen but Dale was sure she couldn’t be that young.

Dale half listened as he cast a glance around the small cockpit and the solid interior of the plane. This wasn’t a cozy millionaire’s jet, this was black leather and dull steel and only had four seats. According to Jake it was in the middle of some kind of refit but Dale kind of liked it the way it was. Solid and unassuming. If a jet could be unassuming.

“So yell if you need anything,” Stephanie said. Dale looked back at her and realized she had stopped talking. “Just ask,” she added.

“I will, Stephanie, thank you.” She waited and he considered why she hadn’t moved off. “Welcome to Sanctuary,” he said.

She beamed at him then took her seat next to Edward. He’d obviously done the right thing. Dale buckled himself in opposite and as far away from the Senator’s wife as he could manage, and finally the jet left LA. The time in the air was going to be about six and half hours then they had one stop for fuel, although Dale didn’t know where. That was Edward’s job.

His charge had her nose in a book and he grabbed a file out of his flight bag. His next job was a babysitting gig for Albany PD starting at the end of January and he had brief details he could at least begin to learn. Barring disasters or emergencies he was a free man for most of January—his downtime. Not only that, but Joseph was also free. At the thought of Joseph, Dale was half hard. Jeez, every time he remembered the touch of the man, the sounds he made when they were making love, the scent of him…it was a surprise his dick wasn’t raw. He could get off on the memories of what had happened between them.

The mountain, waiting to go in and rescue Beckett, and Joseph unbuttoning his pants and pulling out his cock. The look on the SEAL’s face when he asked to suck Dale’s cock and that utter determination by Dale to get to Joseph first. Even if they hadn’t ended up connecting emotionally, they sure as hell connected physically. Expectation of what they would be doing when they met up had him hard. He could imagine pressing Joseph up against the wall and kissing him, enjoying that time of being in control before Joseph took over and pushed Dale to feel him for days.

They’d had one chance to kiss since they met. That was all. Less than ten minutes in a freaking janitor’s closet.

Dale closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat. He could picture Joseph clearly. Beautiful gray eyes and close-cut dark hair with a body to die for and crazy ninja skills. Dale had never imagined himself with another SEAL. Not that Dale was still a SEAL, but when he was going through BUD/S he certainly hadn’t lusted after any of his fellow sailors. Joseph was different, a warrior but without steel running through every pore of him. There were softer parts that Dale wanted to know more about. He must have fallen asleep from the overdose of sappiness because Edward shaking his shoulder and talking to him was a shock.

“We’re flying above storm clouds at the moment,” Stephanie confirmed. “Snow is heavy around Albany but Swithuns should be fine because it’s sheltered by the mountains. We’re landing to refuel in twenty. Want some coffee?” Coffee sounded like heaven and Dale took the insulated mug gratefully. Refueling meant they were more than halfway through the flight.

“The storm anything we should worry about? Do we need to change anything?” Like maybe landing somewhere hotter. Miami sounded nice. Although, of course, Miami didn’t have Joseph waiting for him. Restless, he left his seat and leaned against the frame of the cockpit.

“This is driving me freaking mad,” Edward muttered as he tapped one of the gauges then peered at it closely. “Stephanie, do me a favor and check the hydraulics on the right wing. Damn dial is stuck.” Edward sounded pissed. “I let people in my plane and they touch my stuff,” he grumped.

Stephanie gave another one of her wide grins and unbuckled herself. “He obviously hates when they mess with the interior.”

“Don’t need to touch mechanics to put in carpet,” Edward pointed out. Dale stood back as Stephanie went past and into the main cabin.

“They’re going to put in carpet?” Dale glanced back at the bare floor of the jet. The metal was familiar, a reminder of his BUD/S week when the only chance of sleep was during transport. Amazing what a pack and a rolled-up jacket could do for comfort on the floor of a truck or a warehouse.

Edward shrugged then huffed a laugh. “It’s for when we move kids. Opening up places on the West Coast means we have sometimes to move families. Not to mention the Canada safe house.”

Stephanie came back into the cabin and slid into her seat. She looked pale. Sick.

“You need to go and look,” she said carefully.

Edward frowned. “Why? What did they do? Jeez, how bad can it be?” She didn’t answer but there was something in her expression that had Dale following Edward to the uncovered wires over the right wing. Edward crouched down and peered into the hole.

“Fuck,” he cursed. Settling himself on his stomach, he shuffled forward to put his entire head down the hole. There was muttered cursing and then he slid back and up into a crouch. Gone was the laconic pilot and in his place was the ex-fighter pilot that had flown tours in Desert Storm. His expression was utterly focused and carved from stone.

“We need to call this in,” he said.

“What is it?” Dale asked immediately. Edward gestured for him to lie down as he had.

“Look at the rear of the panel with the K and 6 on it. Follow the wire back to the rear. You see the blinking?”

Dale looked closely. He wasn’t an expert in planes but he knew enough to see the wires and tubes for the hydraulics. Then he saw the blinking red light. He edged a little farther and the better view had him inhaling sharply. A timer. So small you could miss it. Wrapped to enough explosive that the jet wouldn’t stand a chance against the hole blown in its side. Letting out a curse, he pulled his cell from his pocket, which was awkward in this position, and snapped off a few shots of what he could see. The flash was bright and he hoped to hell the light was enough to help show decent photos so Jake could get a handle on this. Then he sat back upright.

“What do you know about explosives?” Dale asked Edward.

His expression remained impassive as he shook his head. “Nothing,” he said.


“Enough to get us all killed,” Stephanie said from the cockpit. Dale connected to comms and uploaded the photos and watched as they were sent slowly.

“Dale?” Jake answered immediately.

“A bomb, Jake. We have a bomb on the plane.”

Author Bio:
RJ Scott has been writing since age six, when she was made to stay in at lunchtime for an infraction involving cookies. She was told to write a story and two sides of paper about a trapped princess later, a lover of writing was born.

As an avid reader herself, she can be found reading anything from thrillers to sci-fi to horror. However, her first real true love will always be the world of romance where she takes cowboys, bodyguards, firemen and billionaires (to name a few) and writes dramatic and romantic stories of love and passion between these men.

With over sixty titles to her name and counting, she is the author of the award winning book, The Christmas Throwaway. She is also known for the Texas series charting the lives of Riley and Jack, and the Sanctuary series following the work of the Sanctuary Foundation and the people it protects.
Her goal is to write stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, that hint of a happily ever after.


Guarding Morgan #1

The Only Easy Day #2

Face Value #3
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Still Waters #4
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Full Circle #5
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

The Journal of Sanctuary One #6
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Worlds Collide #7
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

Accidental Hero #8:  GOODREADS TBR

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