Saturday, January 5, 2019

12th Day of Christmas Author Spotlight: Chris Ethan


Author Bio:
Chris Ethan is a book whore.

He enjoys selling his feelings for money and other pleasures and is blatantly unashamed to do so for as long as he breathes.

Chris writes stories of gay romance.

Before you delve into his books however, be warned: He likes putting his characters through shit-storms and hates anything conventional.

Except for that darned happy-ever-after. He loves happy-ever-afters.

Also, he likes swearing. Deal with it!


WEBSITE  /  FB GROUP  /  AMAZON
EMAIL: chrisethan.romance@hotmail.com



The Guy with the Suitcase
Summary:
When you live on the streets, love is the last thing on your mind.

But what if it could save your life?

Pierce is homeless.

Young and strong-willed, he has been living in the streets of New York City for six months. But now, the winter is fast approaching. If he doesn’t find a job, he doesn’t know how much longer he has left.

Rafe is sick.

Impressionable, but far from innocent, Rafe ran away from home a year ago. Now, nights of paid passion are the only shelter from the imminent New York winter. But no one can help with his declining health. And if he can’t afford his medication, he doesn’t have long to live.

In a moment of weakness, Rafe does the unthinkable. But it will have longer lasting effects than he first thought...

Because fate keeps bringing the two boys back together.

Can they put their troubled first encounter behind them and face the world as one?

Or will real life bring them to their knees?

Don’t miss Pierce and Rafe’s incredible story.

Caution: Contains adult language, sexual tension, stubborn brutes and swoon-worthy romance.

The Christmas Hitch
Summary:
Mysteriously Mixology #1
All they want for Christmas is love.

Charlie is desperate for company this Christmas. With his family and friends away for the holidays, he’s accepted he might have to spend the last few days of the year on his own.

Adam hopes his friend will invite him to spend Christmas with him. When he does, however, he’s on the other side of the country.

What happens when a train is halted mid-journey and the two men are stuck in each other’s charming company?

The Christmas Hitch is a cozy gay romance with magical cocktails, mysterious bartenders and love at first sight and is approximately 15k words.

Treat yourself to a sweet date with two strangers...

A Taste of Agapi
Summary:
A sweet, Greek romance that will hook you from start to finish. 

Jimmy has a secret.

But when he meets Ren, he can no longer hide it.

Ren is an adventurous comic-book nerd.
He transfers to Thessaloniki, Greece in an attempt to find his place in the world.
What he gets is more than just an escape from his academic family.

Jimmy is a hard working man.
After losing his mother, he has put his heart and soul into finishing his studies and helping his dad through his financial difficulties.

When he is introduced to Ren, Jimmy initiates him into the coffee-and-chill culture of his Greek city.

But something awakens in both of them.

Something neither can tame.

Can the two boys be more than just friends?

And what is that feeling called? That feeling they can't seem to shake off?

A Taste of Agapi is a sweet, low-angst, coming-out romance with some swearing, a little bit of geekiness, a lot of Greek culture and a happy ever after.

Jingle Spell
Summary:
It’s the most horrible time of the year. 

Smooches under mistletoes and tacky reindeer decorations.

Newly single, Davey has had enough of wasting his love and having his heart broken. Better to be single, he decides. No more dates. No more falling in love. No more dreaming of happy ever afters. Those are for movies.

He’s resolute.

And then Avery steps into his life, bringing care, compassion, and tenderness in his path.

Davey’s so tempted to hope again. But can an online date and a brief encounter turn into anything other than an ephemeral sexual encounter?

Is there a future for them? Will Avery stay? And most importantly, can Davey bear to offer up his heart to the season’s love—just one more time?

Click Review Tour: Jingle Spell to read my original review.


The Guy with a Suitcase

The Christmas Hitch

Taste of Agapi

Jingle Spell

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Sanctuary by RJ Scott Part 3


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.

The Journal of Sanctuary One #6
Summary:
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
Summary:
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.

Volume 3
Summary:
The Journal Of Sanctuary One
Jake spends every Christmas at Sanctuary One. 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
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.

Original Series(#1-7) Review July 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.

RATING: 


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.

"Fuck."

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.”

“Assessment?”

“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.

“Ass.”

“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.

“Anything.”

“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.

“Stephanie?”

“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.”


Saturday's Series Spotlight: Sanctuary
Part 1  /  Part 2



Author Bio:
USA Today bestselling author RJ Scott writes stories with a heart of romance, a troubled road to reach happiness, and most importantly, a happily ever after.

RJ Scott is the author of over one hundred romance books, writing emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.

The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.

She’s always thrilled to hear from readers, bloggers and other writers. Please contact via the links below.


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The Journal of Sanctuary One #6
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Worlds Collide #7
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Volume 3

Series
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