|Cover Art by BitterGrace|
Book 1 - Guarding Morgan
Book 2 - The Only Easy Day
Book 3 - Face Value
Book 4 - Still Waters
Book 5 - Full Circle
Book 6 - The Journal Of Sanctuary One
Book 7 - Worlds Collide
Book 8 - Accidental Hero
Beckett Jamieson, AKA Robert Bullen, has been rescued by Sanctuary from a situation in which he nearly died and is left temporarily blind.
Doctor Kayden Summers is the Sanctuary operative assigned to look out for him.
It soon becomes clear Beckett is the key to evidence left by his mom. Evidence that may well destroy the Bullen family. The two men become involved in a critical retrieval situation and when bullets start to fly there is only one thing between Beckett and death. Kayden.
"....As I got to the end of Face Value, I immediately wanted to reach for the next book. And then the one after that. I want to know more ... Mission accomplished, RJ Scott, a job well done...."
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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words - 4.5/5 - "....As I got to the end of Face Value, I immediately wanted to reach for the next book. And then the one after that. I want to know more ... Mission accomplished, RJ Scott, a job well done...."
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MM Good Book Reviews - 4/5 - "....A great addition to the Sanctuary series so I recommend this to those who love mystery, suspense, a bit of action, some danger, a budding attraction/relationship and two stubborn men who strike sparks off each other...."
Rainbow Book Reviews - "....This series is managing to keep the suspense going and definitely has my attention. Where we heard from the witness to a brutal murder in the first book, the victim’s step-brother in the second, this third volume now adds the point of view of the victim’s pseudo-boyfriend, who is also a member of the Bullen family, or rather the three brothers who are behind all the illegal activity. This story just gets more interesting every time there is a new book out....."
"What the hell am I looking for?" Beckett Jamieson stood in the center of the room and then spun slowly in a full circle, cataloguing as much as he could. Nothing fit the description of what she had said would be here. There was no carved finial; in fact the bed looked new. Probably a lot newer than the eighteen years ago he was last here. But surely she would have known things could change before his twenty-first birthday. So the carving she talked of, maybe it wasn't a decorative carving on a bed. He looked at the two freestanding drawer units that served as bedside tables. They were frustratingly simple in their design.
"Come on, Mom. There's nothing that looks half way carved in this room. Help me out here." Up until four weeks ago he hadn't known that his birth mother had left this puzzle for him to solve. He had known since his tenth birthday that he was adopted but he had never felt any compulsion to charge across the States looking for nebulous family or for birth parents who clearly hadn't wanted him. Not when he was ten and fixated on Transformers, or fifteen when he realized he was gay, or at eighteen when his college years were just beginning. Twenty-one was the magic year; but not through any intention of his.
His mom and dad, Isla and Derek Jamieson, the people who took him in as a small child, had taken any information they may have had on his real parents to their graves a few years before. All they had ever said was that everything would be made clear when he was twenty-one and old enough to be who he wanted to be. Being called in to meet Austin Mitchell, apparently the family lawyer, had been the catalyst for wanting and needing to know more.
The lawyer—"call me Austin"—had handed him a thick file that contained a letter in a sealed envelope and a carefully wrapped package. The label on the package held a simple missive: Happy twenty-first, Robert, with love, Mom.
"You knew my birth mother?" Beckett always looked on her as that. Isla Compton was his real mom. The one constant in his life; provider of cookies and hugs and one hell of a lot of love.
"I knew her well enough." Austin said this in an utterly matter of fact way but Beckett could see the twitch of his lips and the sadness in his expression. Evidently Austin had known his birth mother well enough to grieve at her loss. Was it possible the older man had known her in a biblical sense?
"Were you…" Beckett wanted to say her lover? her husband? but that would have been rude. He didn't do rude. "Special to her?" He finished lamely. It was all he could think of and a special relationship could explain why the lawyer was tasked with talking to Beckett on his twenty-first. Maybe this older guy was his birth father? Austin, looking a little shaken at the question, simply shook his head.
"So my real name is Robert?"
"Robert Edward Bullen."
Beckett considered the name and its initial implications. He definitely wasn't a Robert. He was Beckett. Beck. In no way was changing his name to Robert happening anytime in his future. There was a tiny teddy bear with the letter—the sort you gave a small child to decorate a crib or a carriage. When Beckett grasped it and felt the soft fur he suddenly wished that it would pull memories of before he was four to the surface. He couldn't recall a single thing and he placed it on the desk.
"What about my birth dad?" Beckett asked carefully. In his head his mother had been a kid who became pregnant with no husband in the picture. It was easy to forgive her for dumping him if he used that reasoning.
"He's still alive," Austin said. Beckett looked up sharply.
"Does he know about me?"
"He knew you. He thought you died in the same car wreck as your mother."
"So she is dead then. She died and then I was adopted. She didn't give me up?"
"No." Austin sighed and briefly closed his eyes. "There was no giving up. She died, you lived." Austin's voice was calm and rational. He continued, "I helped her by taking you and making you safe."
Beckett blinked at the man. He really didn't understand this. It sounded like the plot of a murder novel. "You made me safe? What do you mean?"
"I think the letter will begin to explain. I will give you your privacy and make some coffee for when you are ready to talk. The computer is yours." Austin left the room without a backward glance and Beckett opened the package. Inside was a simple flat wooden box with a dark inked stamp on the lid. He examined the letters on the lid and realized they were his birth initials, RB. Sliding open the lid he found a chain. Heavy and gold, it was definitely a man's chain and it was the size that fitted around a wrist—Beckett's wrist.
Thrown back to the here and now Beckett felt for the chain. The heavy feel of it against his skin was reassuring and a connection to the woman who had brought him into the world. Emma Bullen. The letter had held little except a list of instructions and the usual things he imagined a letter of explanation held. He was Robert Bullen, son of Gregory Bullen, nephew to Senator Thomas Bullen and to Alastair Bullen. His birth father was alive, as were his uncles. It was the odd instruction that he should look for a carved area in his old room that had sent him to the mansion in the Catskills and to his biological father. Of course, he had done his research before he arrived.
What Beckett discovered wasn't as much as he had hoped he would; well, not about his mom anyway. Emma Bullen had died in a car accident along with her son Robert—a fiery death on a twisting road in the mountains not far from the Bullen mansion. There were no witnesses and nothing left of the car except black twisted metal at the base of a cliff. So there he had sat; apparently he was Robert Bullen, and he had learned what he could about his family.
Gregory Bullen, his father, and his uncle, Alastair, were both businessmen with their fingers in one hell of a lot of pies. His other uncle, Thomas, was an honest to God senator, a whiter than white politician who rode high on the platform of strong moral values. The senator wasn't that close to his two brothers but even an idiot who happened upon Greg and Alastair would see what kind of men they were. Mob. In every sense of the word. Extortion, drugs, prostitution; all wrapped up in a cloak of respectability. He wasn't even sure how far the crimes extended.
And now he was in this old bedroom following the instructions from that letter, burned into his memory, looking for carvings that would lead him to God knows what. Whatever he found, she had written in the letter, was enough to make people pay for her death and would give him leverage against the family. Even now that sent a chill down Beckett's spine. She knew she was going to die? That must have been an unbearable weight to hold without cracking.
There were grainy photos on the Internet from newspapers at the time of Emma's death—the three brothers standing at a graveside, and the two coffins; one large and one small. Apparently both coffins were full of not much more than a collection of burned bones. The papers had printed that without apology. Sensationalist journalism at its best.
"Okay," he said softly to himself. "If I was in this room, where would I think was safe?"
Crossing to the dresser, another simple wooden piece of furniture, he ran his fingers over the grain of the wood. When his mother had written the instructions, he had been so little as to have no memories of what this room had looked like.
"Are you okay, son?" Gregory Bullen was at the door and Beckett immediately stood straight. There was a presence about Gregory that scared the shit out of him. The older man was built like a brick house, wide and strong, with years of lines carved into his weathered skin and hair as black as night. Imposing. Forceful. Strong.
"I was just looking." Beckett shrugged. Let Gregory read whatever he wanted into that. His father entered the room and paused to look about him.
"Robert." He acknowledged him. "Your mother," he made a sign of the cross on his chest, "God rest her soul. She loved this room."
"She did?" Beckett couldn't help himself. He was starving for information about the person who had given him life. He even chose to ignore the instant burn of dislike inside him at being addressed as Robert.
"I shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but she was never suited to a grand house like this. She was too simple for this place and she liked this room for what it was; a place to be herself." Gregory said this with a faint hint of fond recollection but Beckett liked to think he could see through it to the intent beneath. There wasn't any love lost in Gregory's voice.
"What did I think of the house when I was here?" Beckett asked curiously. He may as well get some sense of his four-year-old self before he moved on.
"You loved this house. Every corner was a hiding place and every room an adventure." This time there was real emotion in Gregory's voice. Affection? Anger? Beckett wasn't entirely sure. Gregory was a difficult man to feel. He continued, "Your uncle and I are attending our meetings. Would you like to join us in the city?"
Spending an hour in the chauffeur driven limo with Gregory and Alastair Bullen? Gregory as cold as ice and slimy to boot and Alastair a freaking intimidating bully with death in his eyes? Fuck no. Beckett had work to do here. Not least of which was finding any evidence his mother had hidden in this room and trying to get into Gregory's computer for more information. Gregory was trying to make the effort, but not for the first time Beckett felt like there was nothing more than suspicion in their relationship. After all, he had returned after seventeen years and although it had been proven with a paternity test that he was Robert Bullen, Gregory still wasn't throwing his arms wide open to welcome Beckett home. There had been serious discussions on where Beckett had been, who had looked after him, and what did Beckett remember. Beckett never thought he would be relieved he had no family left to speak of.
"No. Thank you," he replied pleasantly. "I have a ton of studying to catch up on." Beckett underlined the decision with what he hoped was a rueful smile and not a forced grimace. Gregory returned the smile although it didn't quite reach his eyes. Beckett wondered what the other man was going to say. He looked to be winding himself up for some emotional outpouring which, every time it happened, screwed with Beckett's head.
"My son, the graduate," he said instead. Then he turned on his heel and was gone.
Beckett waited until the car left; watched as the limo with its curved lines disappeared down the long drive. He added an extra five minutes and then continued to search the room. This time though, he had the freedom to really search and he pulled furniture away from walls.
His deal with the Assistant District Attorney was for him to provide information in return for help to get away. He had already seen what happened to someone who crossed the Bullens. Elisabeth's death showed him that it was easy for someone to die at the hands of whomever the Bullens hired. He didn't think for one minute that being the prodigal son would save him if they found out why he was really here.
That guy yesterday, Dale, had promised that he would help. All Beckett needed was to find the evidence his mom wrote that she had collected. He wondered what he looked for. Was it a disc? This had been seventeen years ago. If it was a disc it was probably some huge package that he hoped like hell hadn't deteriorated to the point of not being readable. Maybe it was notes or photos?
Frustrated that he had found nothing he leaned back against the dresser and bowed his head. Why couldn't he remember more about his childhood? Why was his mind a blank? Lifting his head to the heavens again he uttered a curse word and a plea for inspiration. Which is when he saw it.
The ceiling medallion around the light. Soft carved wood painted over with white gloss. Was it possible this was the place? There was only one way to find out. Pulling the chair from the dressing table to under the light he clambered to reach the carving. There was a lip around the edge that from the floor looked like it met the ceiling but that in actuality left a gap as wide as a finger to reach in. He hoped to hell that he wasn't about to poke his fingers into live wires or spiders and associated creepy crawlies. Excitement had him pushing his hand in flat and reaching around. There was something there. A flat envelope? Papers? Shifting up onto his toes he pushed his hand in farther and managed to wiggle the item out. It finally popped free with a puff of dust which stung his eyes and tickled his nose. Carefully he checked for more inside the medallion but all he felt was wires. Satisfied he had found everything he jumped down from the chair. With a shaking hand he pulled out the single sheet of paper inside. Sighing he realized it was more cryptic notes; he started to re–read. He never saw who it was. Never had a chance to duck. A fist caught the side of his head and when the pain drove him to his knees he knew he was fucked.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Alastair's voice. He clearly hadn't gone with Gregory. It had been a lie that he was going, or a last minute change. Whatever. Alastair had a gun and he was pointing it at Beckett.
Beckett scrambled back and rolled into the bathroom shutting the door and holding it closed with his body. There was no lock. Fuck. Who didn't have a lock on their bathroom door? The solid wood door may hold off a bullet but even so he debated scrambling away from it just in case.
Shit. What the hell was he doing? Why hadn't he tried to talk himself out of this? He could have just said he was… fuck. He didn't have a ready excuse.
"Stop being stupid, Robert, and come out of the bathroom." Alastair's voice was harsh and impatient.
"Beckett. My name is Beckett Jamieson." Beckett shouted and leaned harder on the door as he pulled his cell from his pocket. There was no way out of this bathroom. No external window. The call connected quickly and he blurted out as much as he could. "I'm trapped in a bathroom. I fucked up and I'm scared. I can't get out—" He never finished the call. The door was forced open; his own slight figure nothing to hold back his bear of an uncle and the phone went flying. It smashed into the porcelain of the tub and as suddenly as it had flown from his hand it lay in pieces on the floor.
The door pushed him inward and he grabbed for something to prevent his fall only to be stopped by Alastair grabbing at his neck and hair. Alastair had a choke hold on him and pulled Beckett up off of the ground so hard that Beckett saw spots before his eyes.
"I fucking knew it," Alastair bit the words out angrily and with a shake of his hand Beckett felt consciousness slip away from him.
* * * *
Something was biting into his wrists and it hurt. Rope? Twine? Something hard and unforgiving. Awareness was coming back to him a second at a time and blood coated his tongue. His hands were tied and he was slumped in the same chair he had used to reach the ceiling. His throat hurt. Really. Hurt.
"…computer. The cameras showed us."
"That doesn't mean—"
"Greg, this is why I said I would stay here and why I called you back from the city. I've been at him for nearly twenty-four hours and he's given me shit. The prodigal son returns and you aren't the least bit suspicious? Have you learned nothing? Shit. You always were the loose end in this family. First all-innocence-Emma, then Thomas and that bitch Elisabeth and now your freak of a son. Both my brothers are idiots—"
"Don't talk to me like that—"
"Wait. Pretty boy is all woken up."
Beckett blinked up at his uncle; Alastair's face twisted in a sneer. He was up close and personal in Beckett's face and he could smell the cloying cologne that Alastair must pour over himself. Suddenly he wished he was unconscious again. Alastair had been asking questions, punching him, and leaving him tied up in the bitterly cold room with the windows wide open. He had reached his limit. And now Gregory was here.
"Wha—" Beckett began. He could try and play innocent. Surely it wasn't too late to retrieve some measure of control in this situation? "What happened? What is Uncle Alastair doing to me? Get him to untie me."
Alastair stepped backward with a laugh and Gregory simply shrugged. Okay. Appealing to Gregory about his uncle wasn't going to work.
"Dad?" There. Focus on the man who was responsible for his existence. Pain crossed Gregory's face.
"Alastair?" Beckett watched Gregory appeal to his brother but Alastair shook his head. For a moment Beckett had felt like he'd actually connected with his father but it didn't last.
"No, Greg. I don't know what the fuck this is." Alastair handed the open envelope to Gregory who pulled out a single sheet of paper and a key. "Maybe you'll tell my brother what this is?" Alastair snapped and Beckett flinched as his uncle leaned closer.
"Something I remembered from when I was four," Beckett lied.
"Bull. Shit." The slap that accompanied the two succinct words snapped Beckett 's head sideways and his neck protested with sharp pain. "Read it out loud, Greg. What does it say?"
"You'll need the other one but you know where it is. Texas has it," Gregory read. "Then some shit in letters and numbers." He crumpled the note and threw it on the floor. He turned the key in his hand. It was small and silver; nothing fancy. Beckett watched as Gregory pocketed it.
"The other what?" Alastair shouted into Beckett's ear. "Another key? Where in Texas? Who do you know in Texas? What is the key for?"
"No one—" Beckett started but Alastair hit him again, and again. Always with the same questions. Where. Who. Why. His head snapped from side to side and bile clawed his throat. This seemed like the end of things; after a day of questions and dealing out pain Alastair was finally at the edge.
"Fuck, Alastair; what is wrong with you? You'll kill him." Even Gregory seemed shocked by the level of anger in Alastair and Beckett felt a glimmer of hope that Gregory would step in and stop this.
"You wanna know? You really want to know what this little shit has been doing?"
"What?" Gregory sounded lost.
"I had him followed. He was cozy with Elisabeth, you know that, but I dealt with that. Then he had a meeting yesterday with a PI, some guy in a shopping center and fuck knows what he handed over. Security cameras have him using your computer in your office, Greg. Taking copies of files." Another hit and Beckett felt bile rise in him. He was going to be sick. Alastair pulled him to his feet. "Tell him what you were doing you little shit—"
"Studying—" Beckett blurted out the single word. Alastair's expression held derision.
"In your private files, Greg."
"Dad?" Beckett pasted his best pleading expression on his face. May as well use the possible connection. There was nothing in Gregory's eyes. No compassion or fatherly affection. Just ice.
"You never came here to find me, did you Robert." Gregory's voice was flat. There was no question in what he said. "Did she tell you to come here? What did you come here to do? Kill me? Avenge what happened to her?"
"No—" All the breath left his body as Gregory ended what Alastair had started even as Alastair held him. The barrier had broken and the hate and violence Gregory had been hiding behind his mask of civility was out in force. The punches he threw connected with Beckett 's chest, the pain quick and sharp.
"Have you shown anyone? What did you do with the files?"
"I didn't—I was studying—" Beckett felt consciousness slip away from him. Step by step his vision was blurring and the only thing keeping him standing was the tight grip Alastair had on his arm. The next hit wrenched the socket hard and he felt something tear and snap in his arm.
"I told you he was talking to Elisabeth. Fuck, Greg. I told you we should have shut him down as soon as he arrived here." Alastair released his arm and Beckett dropped to the chair. It scooted backward until the wooden back hit the bed and only sheer willpower kept Beckett upright. "He'll need to die. Like Elisabeth."
"Okay. I don't have the stomach for this—" Greg didn't sound sad or grieved. His words were bitter and staccato. "You find out what he knows. What he's done."
"I got it, brother. Leave it to me." There was an unholy glee in Alastair's voice. This was a man who enjoyed hurting and killing.
"I want names and numbers and when you're finished put his body on the mountain." Greg said dispassionately. Beckett heard the words and fear chased up his spine. Mind numbing and utterly all-consuming terror. He lifted his head, barely able to see through the slits of his swollen eyes. Greg was staring at him. "You could have had it all Robert. All of it."
Then everything went to hell.
Shouting. Demands. A gun. A shot. Then strong arms pulling him upright and a muttered. "Got you, kid."
Beckett allowed himself to be pulled up, his only conscious thought getting to the key and the letter. He fell to his knees, the curse of whoever held him ripe in the air, and scrambled to where Gregory lay in a widening pool of blood. Beckett snatched at the letter and then dug through blood and gore to find the key. He couldn't see anything in the blur of pain and was feeling his way around pushing aside material and sticky blood.
"Wait—" he screamed the words in his head but all that left his cracked, bloodied lips was a near whimper.
"We gotta go. Dale, for fuck's sake—"
Beckett's fingers closed around the small key and with a thrill of triumph he clambered to stand.
"You're not taking him—" Alastair's voice, the sound of a scuffle and Beckett was pushed violently from behind. As he fell his head connected with the edge of the dresser and his last conscious thought was that he was alive and he had the letter and the key. The rest would sort itself out.
"It's been three days. Shouldn't he at least be conscious?" The words filtered into Beckett's thoughts. His dreams. Experimentally he attempted to turn his head, anything but nothing happened. His brain told him he could move but his body wasn't helping.
"Today." Another voice replied simply.
"He still looks like shit." The first voice was familiar. Beckett wanted to ask who it was. Where was he? Why couldn't he move?
"He'll be back to being a pretty boy in days." The second man was talking with very little emotion in his voice, not like the first who seemed anxious. Was this second guy a doctor? Was it two doctors? "Talking of pretty boys, I am assuming Joseph has gone now?"
"Ten minutes ago." That sounded like Dale. So he was with Dale? Inch by inch the tension seeped from his brain. If Dale had him then he wasn't near Gregory and Alastair Bullen.
"That was some intense shit you had going with super-SEAL." The second guy's tone was pure sarcasm.
"Yeah." A loud laugh framed the response "He's an intense guy."
"You're good together—"
"Jeez, Kayden, that sounds almost poetic coming from you."
"Fuck poetic. Just, the ass on that man, hell, not to mention you. That is one SEAL sandwich I would die to get in the middle of."
There was laughter and the other guy left, leaving the one called Kayden with Beckett. He knew that because Kayden was talking to him. Soft and low, his voice was like honey and Beckett desperately tried to move to acknowledge he could hear. The voice was reassuring, comforting and he was clinging to every syllable.
"Hell," Kayden was saying, "damn idiot operative falls in love with a SEAL. Can't see that lasting past the next mission. If you're gonna be gay you need to choose the ones who don't go off getting themselves shot at." There was a pause and Beckett felt hands on him pressing and pushing over his body. Kayden continued conversationally, "But, shit kid, the chemistry those two had going was intense. Wish you coulda woken up in time to see Joseph. Hell, he was a sight for sore eyes. Tall and dark, with the sweetest ass you ever laid your eyes on. Not that this would interest you normal types. But jeez. To tap that… hmmmm.
"Now Robert… how about you open your eyes for me?"
Beckett, I'm Beckett. Please don't call me Robert. The words just wouldn't form. Trapped in his head they buzzed and clung to his brain.
"I know you're in there, kid." Kayden continued. "Your vitals are good, your responses are mostly there but you won't let yourself wake up. So how about opening your eyes for me? I could use the company."
Beckett tried damn hard. He wanted to see the man whose voice was a balm to his pain. He forced himself to relax as tension and pain knifed through his head. Unbearable pain. It had to stop. He wanted to open his eyes. Open your eyes. Open.
I want to open my eyes.
"Okay. I get it. You think I'm going to be boring."
No. Please help me with the pain.
"So. You're not waking up this morning then. Shit. I bet Dale a twenty you'd be awake today. Don't you go making a liar out of me, kid. I want you up and at 'em by evening." Kayden, his doctor it seemed, had a voice that wrapped its way around his thoughts. It made Beckett want to wake up for the Doc. "I'm pushing your meds 'cause you look like shit."
Meds? Meds were good. But what kind of doctor spoke like that? And Dale was here? Dale whom he'd spoken to in the coffee shop? Dale who had promised he would be okay? Wait. Was it Dale at the mansion? Was it Dale who had spoken to him and held him together in the stumbling half-conscious walk from mansion to car? A trickle inside him and the pain in his head began to ease.
"So, I'll be outside if you need me, Robert, yeah? Usual place, kid."
Stop calling me Robert.
Stop calling me kid.
* * * *
Doctor Kayden Summers wasn't feeling this case at all. Not only was it a non-official off-record-but-really-Sanctuary case, which made the whole thing a pain in the ass, but the kid remained unconscious. He prided himself on knowing what a patient needed. Hell, he was a fully-fledged doctor at twenty-six with four years ER training under his belt and a raft of experience in blunt trauma that went years back.
Given his experience of patient care, the kid should be awake by now. As much as he'd joked with Dale, the part where the kid wasn't waking up formed a worry that niggled at him. He made coffee and slumped in the plush sofa of the main lounge. The room was closest to the medical area and if he didn't have the TV on he could hear if he was needed. Television was a necessary evil and he only watched it to catch up on news. It wasn't as if he were a sports fan, or that much into reality TV, to bother with it. Given he hadn't seen a television until the age of around thirteen meant his formative years had shaped him into someone that really couldn't be bothered with the shit forced on most kids.
His cell vibrated and danced on the wooden table that he had his feet up on and he glanced at the caller ID. For some reason Jake had a stick up his ass about where Kayden's head was at. He didn't answer. He may well owe Jake Callahan his life but that didn't mean he had to put up with the shit that Jake kept throwing at him. The phone vibrated again. It moved closer to the edge of the table. Next time it would fall off into the deep pile rug. That would solve the problem.
"I'm packing up," Dale announced from the doorway.
"Thought you were here for two more days?"
"Nik's picking me up and Jake called." As he spoke Dale checked his gun and then he slid it into his shoulder holster. "He had a message for you."
"Yeah?" Kayden could well imagine what Jake wanted to say to him.
"He says, and I quote, 'get that fucker to answer his phone'." A grin broke across Dale's face. Smiling was something Dale had been doing a lot of in the past few days and it unnerved Kayden. A fuck was a fuck. Sex had never made Kayden freaking smile like some hormonal girl. He ignored the feeling of envy that pricked inside him at what Dale seemed to have found with Joseph. They didn't know he'd been listening, but he couldn't help it. Hearing exchanged promises of more for both of them was wrong in Kayden's head. Man or woman, nothing lasted long enough in this world for enduring attachments. Dale may well fancy himself in love with Joseph but love was like having a perpetual Achilles heel.
Attachments? Love? Just makes you weak, boy.
His dad's words were indelibly etched into his soul. That and ten years of military-based training. He had stopped listening to his dad's warped view of the world a long time before the old man died. He smirked inwardly and some of that humor must have shown on his face.
"What's funny?" Dale asked as he rolled his neck and stretched.
"Nothing. Just shit in my head." He shrugged and Dale crossed his arms over his chest.
"Phone Jake, yeah?" he said simply.
"If I have to." Subject closed, Kayden deliberately picked his cell up from the table and pretended to scrutinize it. Dale huffed his own laugh and left, presumably to pack his gear. Kayden wondered for a moment if Dale's new posting was all on the up and up, or if it was more of this unofficial shit. If the case he was on now, babysitting this kid who'd had the snot kicked out of him, had been official then Sanctuary would have put him in one of the city located safe houses with medical units. Being out in the middle of freaking nowhere surrounded by trees and behind a wall of security smacked too much of his childhood. Jake knew damn well Kayden only took cases in the damn city. So why dump him here?
His cell vibrated again and Kayden simply turned the phone off. All he was doing was delaying the inevitable lecture. He wasn't actually cutting off total lines of communication simply because the whole place was wired to Sanctuary ops. Jeez. You could even contact them from the bathrooms. Still, he felt a little thrill at ending the call. Jake Callahan may well be rich enough to have created, run, and built the Sanctuary Foundation but hell if that meant a thing to Kayden. To him, Jake was his annoying elder stepbrother. The young man who, at the tender age of nineteen along with his dad, had liberated Kayden and a few others from a compound at the ass end of nowhere. An ex-veteran compound, it was all Kayden had known from a young age but when Jake arrived as part of some liberating mission, fourteen-year-old Kayden had been the first to switch sides.
Hell. That was only because his dad had made him.
"You're a waste to us here. Fucking useless when all you want to do is book learn." His dad had spat that at him with the fire of trauma-driven hate in his eyes. "May as well do what they say and move out. I can't protect you no more. You have to make your own way." Stupid thing was, book learning remained a useful tool. With both the learning and the experience Kayden was the best in the compound. The best learner, the best fighter, the best at strategy. Still, nothing he had done for his father had ever been good enough and the young Kayden had tried so damn hard every single day.
Kayden closed his eyes and leaned his head back on the sofa. Only when his dad had held his hand tightly with blood and air escaping his chest from a wound as big as Kayden's fist did he get the real reason why his dad had screamed he was useless. It was, according to the fucking idiot, the only way Jack Summers knew to get him to leave the place that his dad called his own form of sanctuary.
God knows why Kayden was so damned introspective today. He turned the cell back on and near immediately it vibrated in his hand. This time Kayden answered the call with a curt hello.
"Kayden. Stop avoiding my calls." Jeez. Jake sounded pissed.
"I'm not avoiding them. I was busy." Kayden lied. Jake didn't even call him on it but he was used to Kayden's avoidance tactics.
"Dale's been re-assigned so you're Robert Bullen aka Beckett Jamieson's case controller now."
"There's not a lot to control. The kid's still unconscious."
"Still?" Jake sounded skeptical and professional pride put Kayden's back up. He contemplated retorting with reasons why the kid, beaten to within a breath of dying, was probably not choosing to join humanity for a while but he didn't. That the trauma the young man had undergone had left him with internal injuries and a fractured arm and swelling so bad on his face that it was near unthinkable he would ever heal. Instead, Kayden resorted to what Jake expected from him. What everyone expected from him.
"I poked him with a stick. He didn't move."
Jake snorted. He could see through his brother's smoke blowing instinctively. "Just keep me apprised."
"I'll keep you apprised." Kayden confirmed with sarcasm dripping from the words.
"Hell K, what crawled up your ass and died?" For the first time in a while Jake sounded stressed and tired. It wasn't easy juggling millions of dollars in investments to the face of the world and then running Sanctuary behind the scenes. Added to that he knew Jake was being shadowed by some kind of FBI internal investigator. What the hell for no one other than Jake knew. As a man he should be respecting Jake and answering civilly. As a younger brother he really didn't know what to say to Jake's question. 'You sent me to the middle of freaking nowhere with a comatose patient', would probably be a start. Instead he just chose silence and finally Jake huffed his disapproval. "Not all your cases can be action filled little brother."
Kayden frowned and felt more than a little uncomfortable. Jeez. How did Jake do that? How did he manage to cut to the heart of what drove Kayden's bad mood.
"You know I don't do sitting around well. I have all this need in me to get physical. I'd give anything for a good fist fight," Kayden replied. Jake was the only one on this earth he would ever say that to. The restrained violence that lived inside of Kayden was only thinly veiled by civility. He had a temper but it never blew. He couldn't allow it to. That would mean losing control and Kayden didn't lose control. Ever.
"A few days, K. Get him awake and debrief him. Then we can move him to another safe house, assign this elsewhere." He paused and Kayden imagined his brother ticking off items in his head. "Also, we have a training camp for some newbies and I could use your skills on that after you're done."
Great. Just what he needed. Raw recruits from the alphabets—FBI, CIA, who the hell ever. All needing to be retaught skills and how to control being the one that stopped the bullet.
"I need my martial arts expert," Jake continued. "I need the strategy expert."
"Yeah, yeah." Kayden waved away the words. He didn't need to hear he was the best. Jake had him on the training team for hand to hand, strategy and survival. Whatever people insisted on labeling his skills, he knew that was the type of thinking that led to letting your guard down, didn't keep you at your peak. He had learned his lessons well and scars on his back and thighs proved just how much he had suffered for what he got wrong. At least in Sanctuary the training was civilized and included beer after. The irony of it all was being so damn good at hurting and defending didn't count for anything when the call to want to train as a medic happened. The intensity of his focus led him to want to be a healer. He had seen so much illness and pain, psychological damage, and PTSD that went untreated or remained misunderstood when his dad refused outside help for his fellow Veterans. Kayden wanted to learn to fix everyone. Jake had never commented when Kayden had announced his degree choice. Just supported the decision in the way an elder brother would.
Kayden's portion of the Callahan estate stretched into the millions and became his entitlement when Callahan senior had adopted Kayden officially. Not that Kayden wanted it nor did he officially change his surname from Summers. Still. It saw him through medical school and as soon as he had that pass under his belt he was back at Sanctuary. Home.
"I'll get him conscious, assess him, then pass him off. Agreed?" Kayden asked. Kayden could help a person heal physically. He knew exactly how every nerve and muscle connected in a web of life inside a broken body. He could support broken bones and organize meds. He just preferred it when his patients were awake.
Jake sighed. "Okay. Agreed. Keep in touch, K."
"Yeah." He ended the call there. They didn't need to exchange anything else. What was unsaid remained in his head and would be in Jake's. The brotherly things that men had a hard time vocalizing.
"He give you a hard time?" Dale piled three bags on the table and knocked Kayden's feet off of their comfortable perch.
"Big brothers do that." Kayden offered with a grimace.
"Did he mention the training camp?" Dale wasn't looking at him. He was rifling through his munitions bag and carefully pulling pieces of a dismantled Sig from the inside.
"Yeah, he did."
"You take care," Dale said simply. He picked up his bags and with the disarming wide grin, that really would not give up, Dale left Sanctuary eighteen.
* * * *
Kayden checked in on the kid and analyzed another problem he was having at the moment. The young guy remained unconscious and the bruising on his face was spectacular; a myriad of green and black as well as splits in the skin. The bruises would disappear; the splits would close when the swelling decreased. Under the sheet Robert's body was covered in similar marks. Clearly the Bullen brothers had decided that the prodigal son's return was a good excuse for using the kid as a punching bag. Kayden wondered if Robert had given anything up under the punishment that had been meted out. What the hell did they think he had that warranted this kind of abuse? Compassion flooded him as it did whenever an innocent was caught up in something dark and undefinable.
Had he broken or had Dale and Joseph arrived in time to stop anything being said? Gregory may well be dead but Alastair was alive and bemoaning his brother's terrible self-inflicted accident. Kayden pulled the sheet back to check on his patient and that there was where his final source of stress with this whole shit-fest of an assignment lay. Shit, the kid was pretty.
Very fit, tall and slim but not too skinny. Possibly five nine or ten he was all lean, toned flesh with a swimmer's build—narrow and spare. He was naked under the sheet and Kayden felt like some kind of pervert to be checking vitals and at the same time checking everything else. Every single mark and muscle stood indelibly burned into Kayden's brain. From the top of his patient's head and his short dark hair to the tip of his toes he was gorgeous and that thought made him squirm.
Kayden was twenty-six; only five years older than the kid in years but so much older in experience. That didn't stop Kayden from thinking what he did. Shit. Really, under the bruises and the pain the kid was gorgeous. And the very fact that Kayden even registered that with someone as young and in need of protection as Robert Bullen made him feel sick with himself. Besides, Robert was straight as evidenced by the girlfriend murdered in the alley.
It had been too long since he had enjoyed fucking someone. At least three months. Way too long. Perving on a patient was top of his no go list.
Dropping the sheet he edged back, noted vitals on the pad at the end of the bed then left his patient's room. For some really strange reason he couldn't bear to be in the same room as the innocent youth that lay in that bed.