Cover art by Meredith Russell

The Book

Is running to a remote Scottish island the only way for them to stay alive?

Martial arts expert Lewis is the kind of bodyguard who slips under most people’s radar. Quiet, reserved, but constantly on alert, he’ll do his job, keep his charges safe, then relax by reading Shakespeare in his spare time.

When he’s given a case involving a spoiled celebrity singer, Lewis isn’t all that impressed. The job is nothing but babysitting a pretty boy, and he’s used to diplomatic postings with depth and challenge. What could he possibly have in common with the man he’s being forced to look after?

Alex became the envy of many when he and his fellow band mates won second place in a huge TV talent show. He has more money than he knows what to do with, no life goals, an ex-boyfriend selling a sex tape and now, someone who wants him dead, or at the very least maimed.

Can Lewis keep Alex safe, even when things usually in his control go to hell? Is running to a remote Scottish island the only way for them to stay alive?


Bodyguard Inc. Series

Book 1 - Bodyguard to a Sex God
Book 2 - The Ex Factor
Book 3 - Max and the Prince
Book 4 - Undercover Lovers
Book 5 - Love's Design
Book 6 - Kissing Alex


Buy Links


Amazon (US) | Amazon UKKobo | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | iTunes


Reviews

MultitaskingMommas 4/5 - I can say, honestly, the kissing scenes were the best in their story.  This is a wonderful installment to the Bodyguards, Inc. series and now we finally have answers to the question of just who Lewis really is and what he's capable of. This also paves the way to the next book and I can't wait for what that will reveal.

Carly's Book Reviews 4/5 - Set on a remote island, the rich history of the Scottish people is subtly integrated into the story and adds a layer of authenticity to the gorgeous setting. Kissing Alex is a mildly suspenseful contemporary romance with minimal angst. The moderate heat level, characterized by frequent makeout sessions, gave me the warm-fuzzies and the story a pleasant and engaging core. A yummy romance that satisfied my literary sweet tooth.

Diverse Reader -  This is a wonderful addition to this already terrific series. I’m always blown away by the descriptions and history of the places RJ uses as her destinations. It’s mesmerizing and makes me want to hop a plane to go there.


Excerpt


Chapter One

“No.”

Lewis Nevin didn’t have to be a certified genius with an IQ of 147 to see where this conversation with Kyle was heading.

No, he just had to see the obvious clues—like Ross hiding in the kitchen and Kyle, his boss and his friend, looking all kinds of guilty. In fact, he’d known what Kyle had been hinting at since the very moment the owner of Bodyguards Inc. had called him into the damn office. He just said nothing and let it play out so that Kyle would be on the back foot.

Three years of working for Kyle, and Kyle had always accepted that every year from the end of March and into April he was unavailable for work. So why would he be suggesting things that meant this long-standing arrangement would be changing?

Kyle held up his hands. “You don’t even know what I’m asking.”

“I do,” Lewis said. “You want me to cancel my month off.”

“No, not at all.”

The piss and vinegar Lewis had sparking through his veins subsided in an instant, but the suspicion remained. Something was going on here.

Kyle continued, with a serious expression and determination in his tone. “I have this new case, and it’s personal to us.”

“Personal how?” Lewis wished Kyle would just cut to the chase.

“I have a client who needs somewhere to keep his head down for a couple weeks.”

“And you know I’ll be back mid-April.”

“That’s too late, it’s needed now.” Kyle laced his fingers together and couldn’t quite look Lewis in the eye.

A myriad of emotions zipped through Lewis. Kyle was lying; somehow he was asking Lewis to give up his vacation time, his precious month on the island. “I’m not available now, and you said you didn’t need me to—” He stopped, his brain catching up with his words, and abruptly it all made horrific sense. “Hell no!”

He knew exactly where this was going.

“Hear me out,” Kyle pleaded.

“This month is my time.”

“I know, and if it wasn’t important I wouldn’t ask.”

Lewis held his tongue. As far as he was concerned, any job was important, and that was what Kyle usually thought too.

Kyle continued. “This is something Ben asked me for.”

Great. Now Kyle was pulling the fellow-bodyguard card.

Still, Lewis was abruptly worried. “What’s wrong? Is Ben okay? Is Daniel okay?”

Ben’s boyfriend, Daniel, was a nice guy, a singer with an expanding career. Lewis counted Ben as a friend—as much as Lewis had friends with the lack of down time he had.

“It’s not Daniel. He and Ben are in Japan at the moment. It’s a friend of Daniel’s.”

“A friend of Daniel’s?”

“You’ll recall the show Daniel was on….”

“I do.” Lewis wasn’t a man who sat in front of the television watching brain-rotting shit like that. Apart from his obsession way back with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, he didn’t watch much television at all. However, he’d caught enough about the show Kyle had referred to in the news, and he knew exactly who finished where in the competition. Not for the first time, he cursed his brain’s capacity to recall all kinds of useless facts.

Kyle prompted him. “The band that came second.”

“Twelfth Wonder.” Stupid name for a band.

“One of the boys is having some trouble.”

“Boys. Trouble.” Lewis repeated. Five boys—well, men, actually.

“He needs somewhere safe to stay for the next few weeks. He’s the loose end and leverage in a serious case.”

Lewis picked up the subtle inference that the man was in danger and that it would be better for certain people if he wasn’t around at all. This was something Lewis had seen before.

But… once a year, that was all, he was due vacation time, and he couldn’t believe Kyle was asking him to work. Nothing disturbed his family time on Stoirmeil or the work he did there. In fact, temper itched inside him, and he had to consciously force it back.

He didn’t get angry. “Wait. You want me herding a pretty boy when I should be sitting with my books and getting my downtime. Can’t you get him to a safe house or something?”

“This goes a lot deeper than one of our normal cases.”

“Bring him here.”

Kyle attempted innocence. “I just thought you might want to help.” When Lewis failed to react, he sighed noisily. “Okay, you have an island. We need a place where no one would find him.”

“It’s my time, Kyle. You know I need this month.”

Kyle looked a little guilty, and then his expression turned sly. “It seemed like a good plan on paper, but I told Ross it wouldn’t work.”

“This was Ross’s idea?” Lewis could believe that; Ross was one sneaky fucker. Then he caught Kyle glancing at the closed office door with a guilty expression. “It wasn’t his idea.” Not a question, a statement of fact.

Kyle nudged a folder toward him. “Okay, so it was my idea, but there is one thing. This one pays well, and all you’d need to do is watch over the kid and keep him off the grid.”

“I said no. I get one month, Kyle—less than that. Twenty-eight freaking days at home.”

“I had to ask, because I need a guy who can go dark for a couple of weeks, and y’know, you going to the island means that you’d be gone longer than that. His management team is willing to pay well, a year’s money for four weeks’ work. I can probably push them to more if you take it on. They want secrecy.”

“Who is this guy and what did he see?”

Kyle tapped the file. “It’s all in here. I think you should read the file and the background information, to see if this case is something you’d want to handle.”

“This singer. You know I don’t like working for shallow idiots without a single brain cell.”

Lewis hated his boss at that moment, which was shitty because he loved working for the tall sexy American. Bodyguards Inc. was one of the places where he felt at home. Years in military intelligence, man and boy, had shown him a lot, given him skills, but it was Kyle who had seen past the brains to the simple man beyond. Lewis hadn’t reached thirty-one without feeling he could judge character, and he judged Kyle to be a fair and excellent boss.

Kyle sighed again; he was doing a lot of that. “I know, and this could be a stretch. I don’t know the client at all. This is all being done covertly.”

Lewis tried once more to attempt an explanation. “Kyle, I have my commitments.”

Kyle leaned back in his chair. “Young Alex would fit right in. He’d stay quiet and keep out of your hair, and he’d earn you a big bonus for keeping him safe.”

Lewis didn’t fall back on cursing very often, finding it easier to construct an appropriate logical reason for his responses than to randomly swear. But he wanted to rant right now, using as many expletives as he could. He was adamant that he wouldn’t take on the job, convinced he was heading north tomorrow for his annual break, and utterly unmoved by anything Kyle had said.

Then the money smacked him in the face. How much money? And was it worth tilting the balance of his life just for more?

The harbormaster’s house needs a new roof; the café needs extending, and the trail needs developing.

He attempted to ignore the inner voice that told him he should at least look at the file. His inner voice won with its promises of financial help for Stoirmeil.

“I’ll read the file,” he said evenly, holding back the need to snap, and he scooped up the paperwork. “You know where I’ll be.”

He left the office without a goodbye, without, in fact, another word, storming past Ross and out into the mid-March air, which slapped him on the face with its frosty hands. He didn’t stop being angry until he closed the doors of the manor library behind him, finally safe in the one place he felt most relaxed.

Surrounded by the impressive collection of old books and wedged firmly in the wing chair by the unlit fireplace, Lewis opened the file.

The first thing he saw was a picture of the kid, who, according to his profile, was twenty-seven years old and thus only four years younger than Lewis

He looked young and sexy. Maybe it was the hair, a strawberry blond color, longer in the back and tucked behind the ears, artfully styled in some flicky pile on top — it made him look young. Or maybe it was the eyes, green, Lewis thought, with a hint of brown… hazel, then. The photo was clearly a promo shot by the way the stubble was just a certain neat length, and the pout of soft lips lent a smoldering air to the image.

But it was the lips Lewis really focused on—full and pink and pouty. Lewis had a thing for lips.

For kissing, actually. Clinically he assessed the photo, slapping it face down to one side on the small table next to the chair.

“Alex Cantrell.” He sounded out the name and then glanced down at the other information.

First was the contract amount: a solid quarter of a million would be the reward for anyone willing to put up with the boy band pretty boy who needed a safe place to sleep for the next four weeks.

Two hundred and fifty thousand pounds was enough to set up Stoirmeil for a year, and it would take the pressure off Lewis having to work 24/7.

He read on.

Alex James Cantrell, 27. Birthday April 1, height five nine. Originally from Edinburgh but moved to Bournemouth, on the south coast of England at age eight. Mother and Father deceased, both in their early seventies. Gay. Graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a 2:1 in business studies.

Pretty normal for the most part, apart from the fact he had no family, which had to suck. His parents clearly had him as a late in life baby. Then he re-read the information.

“Business studies,” Lewis muttered. Not quite the same prestige as the degrees in physics and statistics from Oxford and the doctorate in statistics Lewis held. Still, at least Alex wasn’t an idiot and could probably hold a small, somewhat intelligent conversation if needed.

Lewis realized where his train of thought was going, almost as if he was considering the job. He cursed himself and turned to the next page. This was the interesting part, the whys and wherefores of this young man needing a bodyguard, or, in this case, somewhere to hide.

The detail was sparse: Alex had been the victim of a physical attack with no associated hospital stay, and his ex-boyfriend was giving evidence against his own family. A sex tape had been released featuring the potential client and his ex.

Then Lewis saw something that hit him right between the eyes.

Azarov.

One word. A Russian family with a hold in the import and export of anything illegal, with a focus on drugs moving in and out of London and Birmingham. Lewis knew all about the Azarov family: the grandfather, Mikhail Azarov, who had his father’s Russian blood and the fierce passion of his Italian mother, ruled the family with ruthless efficiency. He’d spent over half his life in prison, running his family just as well from behind bars as outside in their Sussex mansion.

The fear of how much the Azarov influence had spread was never more evident than from the fact that the Prime Minister took regular briefings on the matter from the head of Scotland Yard, some of which Lewis had been a party to when he guarded the deputy prime minister last summer.

Azarov and the establishment had an uneasy truce, and the influence of that one man, along with his sons and his grandchildren, was far-reaching.

And Alex-freaking-Cantrell had an ex-boyfriend, Roman Azarov, who was willing to do what it took to shut the Azarov family down?

Well, that wasn’t good. Roman was a grandson of the head of the Azarov family.

What was Roman going to say in court against his family? How bad could it be to destroy an organization that had survived since World War II? Lewis scanned the rest of the papers, but that detail was nowhere to be found.

So Roman’s vulnerability was Alex?

That was why Alex needed somewhere to hide.

Suddenly the library was too closed-in, Lewis’s usual sanctuary invaded enough that he stalked out and into the huge kitchen. He dropped the file on the work surface, and the papers slid out with the photo top and center, Alex’s pouty lips and sexy face staring right up at him.

He started some coffee and leaned there, waiting for the machine to do its thing. The Azarov family played on the wrong side of the law but had enough money to buy almost anyone off.

There were newspaper cuttings in those files—the tabloids going to town on the Alex Cantrell sex tape—but so far nothing had the press connecting Alex to the Azarov family, otherwise Ross would have made a note of it in the file. There were a few stills from the tape: grainy, but very definitely this Alex guy topping the hell out of a man with short hair. Was that Roman Azarov? Had the sex tape been revealed to discredit Roman? Did Alex know what Roman was doing?

“Lewis, hey.”

Lewis looked up to see Max amble into the kitchen, yawning widely behind his hand.

“Morning, Max,” Lewis offered with a smile. He liked Max. In fact, there was nothing not to like about the short guy who looked about twenty-one but was actually as old as Lewis.

“Coffee,” Max whimpered and slumped onto a stool.

“Late one?”

“Three-week rotation on a chat show host who won’t shut the hell up.” Max yawned again. “Idiot keeps announcing on his show that his guests aren’t the fathers of their babies, and it incites on-screen fights.” He shrugged. “He’s gonna get people wanting to stab him.”

“All resolved?”

“No, I’m still on the books. Adam’s covering me for a few days so I can sleep.”

“An intense one, then.”

Every so often you were assigned cases that sucked the life out of you. Charges who were complete idiots, putting themselves and their bodyguards in danger, or ones who refused to listen. It seemed as if that was what Max was handling.

Lewis poured coffees and passed one to Max along with cream and sugar. Max sipped at the black stuff and closed his eyes in ecstasy. “Thank fuck,” he muttered. “I needed that.”

“Where’s Prince Lucien?”

They were typically joined at the hip on any of Max’s downtimes.

Max grinned at him, then winked. “Still in bed.”

Lewis quickly changed the subject. “Do you know this guy?”

Lewis knew that Max, through his lover, Lucien, had a connection to Alex. Lucien was friends with Daniel, who’d been on the same show as the potential client. The way Max’s brain worked was, he collected random facts, and somehow they all stayed in his head. A collection of everything, which then never left.

“Who?”

“Alex Cantrell, from Twelfth Wonder.”

Max brightened. “Yeah, good kid. He was the one who gave Ben the heads-up on Daniel.”

Lewis nudged the file to Max. “He needs a bodyguard.”

“Shit, why? Overeager fans? Ben was saying some girl jumped Daniel the other day, asking to marry him.”

Lewis tapped the file with his index finger. “No, I wish it were that easy. An ex-boyfriend with links to the Azarov family, a released sex tape—by whom I don’t know—and a court case I don’t have details on yet but where Alex is vulnerable. Possibly the family wants Alex as leverage against the key witness.”

Max grimaced. “Ouch. The Azarov family. Are they the ones who run the drug route between London and Birmingham?”

Lewis nodded, then added, “Allegedly.”

“And a sex tape? With Alex in it?”

Lewis pulled out the still and pushed it toward Max, who looked at it, then looked up at him with an open-mouthed expression. “Shit. That’s, um—”

“Wrong,” Lewis said.

“Exactly what I was going to say.” Max grinned, then sobered. “Poor Alex. Bet the management of the band love that one. I always got the impression that Alex was supposed to be the clean-cut one. Cute and mysterious, not the ‘I’m gay and I actually have sex’ one.”

He opened the file and pushed past the photo of Alex. Max didn’t linger on Alex’s lips—but then, he had regular sex with his boyfriend. Nope, Max wasn’t in a desperate no-sex zone like Lewis was at the moment.

Sex.

Then it hit Lewis. Having Alex in tow meant he couldn’t stop off for the night in Inverness to hook up with anyone who would be interested. Months of no sex were starting to take their toll, and Lewis had placed a lot of faith in that one night and being able to work through all his pent-up sexual aggression. Finding a guy who didn’t look at his height and broad chest and think he exclusively topped.

My life sucks.

Max interrupted Lewis’s thoughts. “Jesus. This isn’t looking good.”

“Yeah.”

“And this is your next case?”

Max looked at him expectantly as if he assumed Lewis was going to say yes.

“I haven’t said yes yet.”

Max whistled. “Hell of a payout. Not that you need the money, Mr. Scottish Jimmy McRich, laird of an island.”

“Ha-ha,” Lewis joked back dryly, deflecting the heat of any further questions.

Let everyone think what they wanted to; it made no difference to him, or to him doing his job. If only Max knew exactly how much he needed the damn money, or the kind of responsibilities he had, then he wouldn’t be teasing. The only one that did know was Kyle, and likely Ross, given they were the opposite sides of the same coin.

“Guess they could get Adam back. He’s covering for me for a few days, and then he has a transit job to Greece, but he’s due back in the office at some point. I only know that because Ross muttered some dark shit about his stapler.”

Lewis focused on the information in that sentence and not on the stapler stuff. “Yeah, they need someone now.”

The thought of Adam taking the job unsettled Lewis. Adam was all happy and loved-up, with a boyfriend and probably a dog by now, and the Azarov family weren’t the kind of people you messed with. Better if one of the single bodyguards got involved.

Who was he kidding? Lewis knew he would be the one taking Alex where he’d be safe. Too many reasons why he was the perfect one for the job; they outweighed the negatives two to one.

Damn his organized brain and its need to have everything in a line.

“I think I’ll be the one to do it.”

Max nodded as if he’d assumed Lewis would do it anyway. “Adam doesn’t own an island in the middle of nowhere where a man could safely hide.”

Lewis didn’t want to even think that he was losing his four weeks of peace, where he was isolated and could find his center again.

Max poured another coffee, pulled out a red mug, and filled that as well. He yawned again. “Bed,” he muttered and left the kitchen and Lewis to his thoughts.

Lewis nursed his coffee, with resignation in every one of his thoughts. When he walked into the office, Ross looked up at him with that same expectant expression. “And?” he asked as he stapled papers together in a new file.

“Yeah, okay,” Lewis answered grudgingly.

“Full details of the court case to date are in your email. Flight BA7813 to Inverness City Airport, 0920 tomorrow. Alex’s management covered your flights. We’ll pay you for an extra two weeks at the end for you to be able to stay after this is over. It’s the least we can do.”

Ross didn’t bother to ask if Lewis needed to write that down. He knew as well as anyone that Lewis had a freaky brain.

“I’ll go to the airport tonight,” Lewis said.

“And I’ll book you a room, text you the details. Same place?”

Like that, Lewis had agreed to something he never thought he would. He left the manor; his company-issued Jeep ate up the miles to London and he ended up at the Hilton at Heathrow. He completed enough lengths in the half-size pool before his muscles turned to jelly.

By the time he fell asleep, he had rationalized the decision to take on Alex’s case. After all, the money would fix a lot of problems on the island. Just because he had someone he needed to keep an eye on, didn’t mean he wouldn’t get peace. He just hoped to hell Alex wasn’t high maintenance, the type of reality show diva expecting the world to revolve around them.

Knowing his luck though, Alex was exactly that type.


Chapter Two
Lewis arrived at the airport an hour before the flight was due to leave, checking out the lay of the land, the people, and all the escape routes. His gaze zeroed in immediately on the man he was here to find.

“Marnie, be careful of yourself,” the man with the sunglasses said tiredly.

That had to be Alex. Slightly taller than the woman with him, he was likely the five nine Lewis had been expecting. His hair looked blonder, but not much was visible under a scarlet Ferrari cap.

“Jeez, how much crap is in this bag?” the woman replied in an incredulous tone. She hefted a huge suitcase from where it stood on the floor.

“For fuck’s sake, it’s just my stuff,” the man answered in a defensive tone.

Lewis listened to the exchange and scanned the small groups of people waiting for the 0920 flight to Inverness. It was obvious that it was Alex, simply because he was trying too damn hard not to be noticed. The combination of sunglasses on an overcast March day, a cap, and the whole aura of “famous person passing for normal,” made him easy to spot.

Lewis typically guarded politicians and dignitaries, the kind of person he liked to be around, with skills and opinions and doing something positive in the world. They didn’t need the whole I’m-not-famous façade. Very seldom were they anything but on a pedestal or in charge of a meeting or cutting a ribbon at a ceremony. None of them needed to hide; they needed someone to stop them being shot at and/or jumped on.

This was different. This kid—man—was part of a boy band, which didn’t bode well for a start, and probably had the brains of an amoeba, albeit an amoeba with a saleable voice as his only talent.

Lewis knew he was opening the box marked Idiot and placing Alex right in it, pouty, kissable lips or not, and he wasn’t going to feel guilty about it. Added to that, Alex had just spoken to the woman next to him with absolutely no respect—and made her carry the suitcase.

Two plainclothes security guys hovered to his right and behind him. From the way they watched the people around Alex, they were police or something similar.

Lewis crossed to the nearest one and flashed his ID, and without exchanging any words, the two men melted away leaving him with his two targets—one of whom was this tiny woman, the other this really skinny idiot wearing sunglasses on a cloudy London day.

Lewis had done his homework. Twelfth Wonder was crazy big. Over six million songs sold, a million albums, success in the US, and all that in the three years since they’d won second place in a Saturday-night talent show. They had fans that adored them, and they had fans that obsessed over them, and not always in a good way. Lewis guessed he shouldn’t call Alex on the sunglasses if that was what he was expected to wear as part of his boy band uniform.

Casually he checked out the groups of people in departures, mostly business people staring down at their phones, none of them would take a second look at an average guy in jeans. But Alex apparently expected them to.

Yep, diva.

The woman with Alex was small and sharp, hovering over him as if she wanted to touch him at every moment. She was struggling to get the heavy suitcase upon the weighing platform, while Alex stood there, not attempting to help at all.

Great start.

Lewis reached in front of her and lifted the case onto the platform and, in doing that, he caused two things to happen: the woman looked at him with shock and fear in her eyes, and Alex shrank back against the nearest wall, with a dramatic gasp.

Jesus, the singing diva’s jumpy.

“Lewis Nevin,” Lewis said immediately. Then he lowered his voice, “Bodyguards Inc.,” and held up his hands in a gesture of innocence.

A couple of people had glanced over at Alex’s gasp, and the last thing Lewis needed was an audience. Instead, he focused on the suitcase. The thing was damned heavy and ended up checking in overweight. Paying the excess distracted the woman and, while she did so, Lewis stood impassive and watchful. Alex moved away from the wall. He seemed embarrassed and a bit shaky on his legs, looking around Lewis, probably for the two cops who’d brought him here.

“Marnie.” She introduced herself when she handed Alex his boarding pass. “I’m Alex’s PA.”

PA and general dogsbody, if her lifting the suitcase was anything to go by.

Lewis shook her hand and watched the case until it was out of view. Then he held a hand out to Alex with the same “Lewis Nevin” introduction.

Alex looked at him blankly, his eyes half-closed, and only after a slight pause did he shake Lewis’s hand, weakly and quickly as if he couldn’t bear the touch.

What the hell was wrong with people that meant they gave these ineffectual handshakes? Lewis always found people who offered a limp handshake were equally limp people. Yet another chalk mark in the column of “why the hell am I doing this again?”

Money. You want the money.

Lewis pulled himself together; he was a professional, and once he had Alex somewhere safe, he could get on with what he needed to do for the next month. The Isle of Stoirmeil was a quiet place. There he could focus on other things and look after Alex at the same time. Alex didn’t look like he was going to be hard work—it looked as if a stiff wind would blow the man over.

Okay, so he was being harassed, chased down by the bad guys, and had a video of him fucking his boyfriend spread all over the Internet, so likely he would be happy with a month of isolation. Alex looked like he needed fresh air, exercise, and a whole lot of feeding up. Davey would see to that, with Sorcha primping and poking at him and making him smile.

Marnie waited until they boarded the flight, her hands constantly playing with the tassels on her purse, reminding Lewis of a hyperactive kid. Alex, on the other hand, sat absolutely still in the waiting area, with his eyes closed and the white buds of his headphones in his ears. He passed through checks without speaking, and then found his seat on the plane, again with no words.

Lewis saw him wince as he sat down and fastened his belt. “Are you okay?”

Lewis was good at reading body language; he had to be when he assessed potential enemies for weaknesses, and Alex looked like he might be in pain.

Alex only nodded, and that was his answer.

Lewis buckled up and settled back for the flight. To anyone who looked at Lewis, he appeared to be a regular guy, albeit tall and broad. That was his superpower. He wasn’t hulking like Ben, or hard and scary like Adam; he was the businessman in the tailored suit, taller than most at six three, but in proportion. Muscles were there, but he was more lithe than muscle-bound. Still, he was on the job, and he’d already scoped out the other thirteen passengers on this small internal flight.

He knew the staff by name. Assessed that the guy in the seat three rows ahead of them was full of self-importance and bluster and that one of the women three rows back was pregnant and on her way to Scotland to tell her boyfriend.

This was all intelligence gathered from observations and overheard snatches of conversation. He’d seen all that, knew all that, and he was good at his job. He was also accurate at reading people. Marnie had been all efficiency and almost motherly concern. When she’d left Alex at Departures, Lewis thought she might well break down in tears. She’d hugged Alex, and with a few whispered words, she’d left.

Alex had taken a step to follow her. That was telling: he clearly didn’t want to be here; he wanted to go with Marnie.

But Alex now? Lewis couldn’t get a quick read of him; he was an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle. Alex was quiet, a little out of it—well, a lot out of it, actually, and Lewis suspected drugs. He fired off a quick email to Ross, asking him to check a drugs connection of any kind. Covertly he kept an eye on Alex, but they didn’t exchange a single word, and Alex fell asleep an hour into the flight. He slept until the captain announced they were five minutes from Inverness.

Alex woke, startled and panicked, his hands gripping the seat; he yelped. A high-pitched sound that had him clamping his lips shut and looking at Lewis directly.

Lewis met his gaze, but he didn’t comment on the panic or the yelp. Alex’s eyes were a little clearer, the hazel-green prominent in a face lined with exhaustion.

Something wasn’t adding up here. Lewis leaned in and Alex shrank back. “What drugs are you on? Do we need to get more? Because you realize that when we get to the island, that’s it. No people on corners peddling whatever poison you crave.”

Alex blinked at him, evidently assessing whether or not he should answer.

Then he pointedly looked out of the window. “Fuck off,” he said, clearly and straight to the point.

Lewis had to give him full marks for the delivery, if not for the content of the comment. Maybe he hadn’t asked the question right. Then he realized he couldn’t expect much from Alex. Telling Lewis to fuck off was probably Alex at his cerebral best.

Lewis probably deserved the acerbic reaction anyway. Kyle often said he was too direct, though it usually went down fine. His clients didn’t have time to pussyfoot around an event; they needed guidance from an expert in keeping them safe. Lewis had to admit he hadn’t been entirely respectful and polite; he’d allowed his own resentment at having to do this looking-after-Alex thing during his month off to color his words.

Yet, Alex had just told him to fuck off, very bluntly. Apparently money didn’t polish a dull stone.

Lewis sat upright waiting for the plane to land, visualizing the arrivals area. And all the time he watched Alex and was acutely aware of everything around him.

All was quiet.






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