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Defending Evangeline

Defending Evangeline

A sharp-edged, disgruntled former Green Beret who needs to find redemption finds himself attracted to a woman hiding dangerous secrets.

Zeke Turner still can’t get his head wrapped around the fact he’s been all but booted from the job he loved. Angry over the fact Trojan Team took the fall for their leadership’s failure, he’s relieved that he and his buddies appear to have landed on their feet, still together, having been hired by the Brotherhood Protectors, but he doesn’t trust this move will end well. Once burned, twice shy is his motto—and he was never very trusting in the first place.

His first protection job doesn’t leave him feeling any surer he made the right decision, but he’s keeping his dissatisfaction to himself, keeping his head down…until then he bumps into a dark-haired angel in Fool’s Gold, who manages to both attract and intrigue him. He knows something’s not right, that Evangeline Carré is scared and hiding secrets. With his protective instincts going into overdrive, he’s determined to unravel the mystery surrounding her while keeping her safe, even when she swears she doesn’t need or want his help.

Read an Excerpt

Running was Zeke Turner’s least favorite form of exercise. He was too damn big for it to ever feel easy. Sure, he’d done triathlons—but running a damn marathon was hell on his knees and sitting on a bike for a hundred damn miles was even worse on his balls. His idea of the perfect workout was a messy, mixed martial arts fight or eight rounds in a boxing ring. His cracked knuckles and crooked nose were a testament to how much he liked to fight.

However, running did wipe away the cobwebs cluttering up his mind. He slowed his pace and walked the last hundred yards. After six miles or so on open road, he could finally admire the sight of his new digs nestled in the Rocky Mountains.

As far as places to fall, this landing had been pretty soft. Which made him uneasy. Things for him and his team were working out, maybe for the better. His natural skepticism kept him from fully trusting how easy everything had fallen into place. He hadn’t had to leave his team—they’d arrived in Colorado intact. Still, a team—still Trojan Team. They’d all found jobs, just when they’d needed them most. His room in the lodge at Lost Valley Ranch was a big step up from the tiny, barely furnished apartment he’d lived in before. Their meals, until they found their own places, were provided by the lodge and a damn sight better than anything any chow hall had ever served them. Yeah, things were pretty good. His current blue funk made him an ungrateful prick.

Maybe he’d woken up on the wrong side of the bed, or maybe he had yet to let go of the rage roiling inside him over the way he and his team had been shafted and pushed out of the Special Forces. He’d prided himself in being a skilled warrior, a patriot, but right now, he felt like all his sacrifices had been for nothing. In the end, he’d been forced, along with his brave team members, to resign from the service or face a dishonorable discharge. It didn’t sit right. The events that had led up to their separation from their unit and their livelihoods had tainted his view of the organization he’d given everything to for twelve years.

How they’d all wound up, still together, and working now for the Brotherhood Protectors might have felt like a balm on a festering sore to his teammates, but he wondered if he’d simply entered another organization that would use him up and spit him out like he was dirt.

Finally, he halted and leaned back his head while he closed his eyes, breathing deeply, calming his blood pressure and slowing the thoughts ricocheting around inside his head. He had a job. A well-paying one. They’d seemingly landed on their feet. Hank Patterson, the head honcho of the Brotherhood Protectors, and Jake Cogburn, who ran the Colorado division, had assured his team they respected their service, and that they would be proud of the work they’d do here. Zeke had to hold onto that thought and let himself start to believe, otherwise, he could see himself entering a downward spiral of anger and self-loathing. He might end up like his dad, dead at the wheel while driving drunk after years of blaming everyone else but himself for his bad luck.

Zeke wasn’t his dad. If he ever had a family, he’d never abandon them to seek solace in the arms of women not his wife or the bottom of a whiskey bottle.

A cough sounded next to him, and he glanced to his left. Max Thornton, Jake’s first Colorado hire, stood just feet away, one eyebrow raised.

Max was also former Special Forces, not that they’d ever met on active duty.

Zeke drew a deep breath and lifted his chin in greeting.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt your workout…”

“It wasn’t much of one. Just had some things on my mind.” Like wondering what the hell I’m doing here.

“Jake’s got a job. It’s a one-day thing for two men. Bodie said you’re tired of kitchen duty, so I thought I’d hit you up.”

Zeke perked up. A chance to do something real. And yeah, he had been feeling itchy after several days of working in the kitchen at Gunny’s Watering Hole. Not that he was too proud to do grunt work, but he had been wondering when he’d actually be able to put his skills to better use. “What’s the gig?”

“A protection detail. Low risk. But the word’s getting out in the area, and Jake thinks it’s a great way to make an impression on new clients.”

“Well, I’m in.” Anything not to have to wash another damn dish for a while.

“Let’s go see Jake. He’s in the basement. He’ll fill us in there.”

The basement was located beneath the lodge and served as the headquarters for the Colorado branch. As Zeke trailed after Max, he thought maybe he’d been bellyaching about nothing. This job might just be what he needed to get him out of this blue funk he’d been in since he’d been booted out of the job he’d loved.

 

Five hours later, Zeke was having second and third thoughts about signing on with the Brotherhood Protectors.

The “gig” was providing security for a bunch of entitled teenagers enjoying a pool party at a mansion in an exclusive enclave outside Fool’s Gold. There were numerous high-end cars parked in a single line alongside the long driveway, including a Ferrari. The girls wore ridiculously expensive, miniscule scraps of cloth passing as bathing suits. Their fingers, wrists, necks, and even toes, sported enough gold to pay most people’s rent for year. He shook his head at the excess. The party itself had no less than three fountains serving white, dark, and milk chocolate in which to dip their constantly refreshed fruit bits, along with prime rib, gourmet pizza, and a sushi station if they needed something more substantial. Even a soda bar was manned to replenish any empty cups.

So far, the kids were keeping any drugs or alcohol they might be consuming on the down low. At the front door, the person taking the invitations solicited all partiers’ promises to seek a designated driver, or a ride that would be provided, should they leave the premises under the influence.

The owners of the house had left, leaving staff in charge of the catering, and Max and Zeke in charge of “problems”.

He’d wondered how serious the job was the moment Jake had told him and Max to “dress down” for the event. Meaning no armor or weapons that could be seen.

He wore a Hawaiian shirt Jake had rustled from his own closet and a pair of casual khakis and boat shoes. Boat shoes. That he had a pair in his closet at all was due to an ex-girlfriend who’d invited him to party on a yacht when they’d vacationed in Cancun. She’d insisted on leading him by the hand on a shopping excursion to make sure he had the “proper wardrobe”. The effort had been a fucking waste of money on his part because she’d dumped him in the middle of the short cruise for the boat’s owner. Still, today, he was glad he had the shoes he’d only worn once.

Beneath the loose pants he wore, he’d hidden a handgun strapped to one ankle and a knife to the other. Why they’d needed weapons hadn’t been apparent until a long black limo had arrived and disgorged half a dozen teens, including the daughter of a senator who’d been receiving death threats due to his support of an investigation in Washington into corruption charges against the previous administration. All they’d been told about possible threats before the senator’s daughter had arrived was that they should be on the lookout for any unsavory sorts who might try to crash the party.

The senator’s security team were dressed less embarrassingly in dark suits with dark sunglasses and looked more like bodyguards, while Zeke had already been asked to refill glasses of lemonade and for directions to the restroom.

“I’ll have a word with the senator’s security detail,” Max said, his voice coming through the earpiece he wore.

He watched as Max approached the senator’s people. The man he spoke to looked his way, nodded, then immediately dissed Max by walking away while cupping his ear like he was doing something important rather than talking shit about the local talent.

Zeke moved away from his position between the tiki bar and the pool and headed toward Max. He hadn’t made it three steps before a blond girl, maybe sixteen years old—it was hard to tell with the amount of makeup she wore—stepped into his path and gave him a onceover that was so obvious it made him wince.

“Try not to let her down too hard,” Max said in his ear, sounding amused.

She shook back her long, white-blond hair, likely to make sure he saw her breasts jiggle. “You have a lot of tattoos.” She glanced down at her chest at the winged heart on her left boob. “I got one,” she said, trailing a finger over her ink. “My mom freaked out when she found out. She grounded me for a month.”

Zeke tried to step around her, but she stepped sideways to block his path. “Is it all tribal?” she asked, eyeing his dark tattoos.

“Yeah,” he said. “Look, I have to talk to a guy…” He stiffened when her hand reached out and smoothed over his arm and upward, pushing up the sleeve.

“Does it cover your chest, too? I mean, you’ve seen mine…”

Chuckles sounded in his ear.

Like hell would he show his chest to the little Lolita. His instinct was to pick her up by the waist and move her out of his path, but he wasn’t about to touch an underage girl, and she must’ve known he wouldn’t because she smirked.

“My friends and I have been trying to figure out what you and your friend are doing here,” she said, tilting her head toward Max, who gave them a little salute.

Zeke aimed a deadly glare at his partner but didn’t dare look away too long from the jailbait doing her utmost to show off for her friends.

“Deidre said you were cabana boys, making sure the pool was kept clean.” Her gaze swept him again. “I said you were too big to be a cabana boy. Too old, too. What are you? Twenty-eight?”

She made it sound like twenty-eight was ancient. At the moment, he felt every one of his thirty-three years.

When he didn’t answer, she gave him a coy smile. “I told Deidre that you were probably undercover cops—which made Kaden get all nervous. I think he went to the bathroom to flush whatever he brought with him.”

“Look, it’s been nice talking,” he said through gritted teeth, “but I have somewhere else to be.”

“I know. You have to check in with your boss over there. I just wanted you to know something…”

He drew a deep breath and glanced at the sky, praying for patience. “What’s that?”

“That I’ll be eighteen in seven months…” she said, then lifted a finger and trailed it across his chest as she walked away.

He froze, and then glanced toward Max whose mouth was pressed into a tight line, like he was trying like hell not to bust a gut laughing.

Zeke stomped toward him, moving quickly to discourage anyone else from stepping in his path.

“Not one word,” he growled as he halted in front of Max.

“Did she try to slip you her number?”

“She just wanted me to show her my tattoos.”

“And to let you know she’ll be legal in seven months,” he said, not trying to hide his grin.

“Jesus Christ. As if.”

Max chuckled. “So, what do you think of your first official gig?”

“I hope like hell our clients are older next time. Geriatric, preferably. I didn’t hear what you and the suits discussed,” he said to change the subject.

“Yeah, I turned off my earpiece so you wouldn’t be distracted.” Max grimaced. “The senator’s team told us to keep out of their way. If we see anything suspicious, we’re to alert them, and they’ll handle it.”

“That what we’re gonna do?” Zeke asked.

Max’s eyebrows lowered. “We’re going to do what we were paid to do. Handle shit, if anything goes down.”

Zeke grunted his approval. “I’ll make another circle around the house and see if anything else is coming up the road.”

“I’ll head inside and make sure the upstairs isn’t being occupied by horny teens.”

“God, I hate this job.”

Max swatted his belly. “Keep frosty. We don’t really want to see any action here.”

“No, we don’t. I keep checking the bottom of the pool,” Zeke said, shrugging. “That lifeguard is way too busy with his little fan club to notice if someone drowns.”

They broke off, heading in opposite directions. Zeke left the patio area and headed across the lush lawn to circle around the side of the mansion. As he walked, he studied his surroundings, looking for anything that seemed out of place among the flowering rose bushes and ornamental bushes and trees.

When he came around the corner to the front of the house, he quickly pulled back. A line of motorcycles was making its way down the long driveway. “Max, we got company, and I don’t think they’re on the invitation list. I count…eight bikes, some riding double.”

“I’ll alert the security team.”

“I’ll get closer, see if they intend to make any trouble. For all we know, one of the kids invited them to add some excitement to their lame-ass party.”

Zeke slipped around the corner and dashed toward a stand of trees where he concealed himself behind one of them. As he watched, the bikers drove onto the lawn, stopping near the front door. They dismounted but didn’t remove their helmets. When they started pulling weapons from saddlebags, he knew they were in for a world of shit.

“Max, they’re armed.”

The bikers quickly split up, part of the group heading around the left of the mansion, the other coming his way. They moved swiftly, and Zeke cursed under his breath because he couldn’t let the four coming at him get around the side of the house.

“I got four going south around the house to the back. Three coming my way. Three heading for the front door.”

“Four coming around each side. Three coming through the door,” Max repeated, likely speaking to the security detail. Then, “I’m in the foyer. Got a suit covering me. The others are moving the kids into the guest house.”

In the distance, he could already hear shouts in the back. The men coming at him picked up speed. Zeke quickly pulled his weapon from his ankle holster and peeked around the tree trunk before shouting, “I need you to stop where you are and put your weapons on the ground. I’m armed, and I’ll shoot.”

Instantly, two of the men raised their weapons and aimed toward his location.

He didn’t wait for them to fire first. Calmly, he drew back on the trigger, hitting the one in his right shoulder, the second in the center of his chest.

The third dude caught one of his buddies as he fell to use as a shield, and then raised his arm around his buddy’s side to return fire.

“Sucks for me,” Zeke muttered when he realized the handgun the asshole was using was semiautomatic as it peppered the tree he stood behind….