The final book in the Sanctuary series
Secrets and lies threaten Brandon and Daniel’s new love.
Brandon Hoselton is running scared, finding security in his obsession with patterns and numbers. With his family threatened, he feels he has nowhere left to go, and even considers ending his life to keep them safe. Until Sanctuary, in the shape of the enigmatic Daniel Karnes, gives him a reason to stay alive and offers the possibility of a future free from fear.
Former SEAL Daniel is new to Sanctuary, tasked with watching Brandon, a brilliant geek with way too many secrets. Falling in love with quirky Brandon is easy; now he just has to make sure secrets don’t end up with them both dying.
The only way of destroying Varga is to cut the crime boss’s money, and the two men become part of an intricate take-down involving millions of dollars. But Brandon has a secret he can never share with Daniel, and their new love is at stake.
When the villain has murder in mind, sometimes the only way to stay alive is to lie.
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Brandon took down the drapes in his room as soon as he was able to. He could have asked his sisters, but they didn’t know just how badly looking at the geometric pattern in the fabric upset his equilibrium. They knew he was weird; most sisters thought their big brothers were weird. But he also had twitches and nervous tics about certain things, and they’d seen it all, even though his list of crazy was something he could manage now.
They didn’t need to know he’d spent three hours last night counting the squares on the drapes and being irritated to the point of stimming that they weren’t even and the stitching was wrong. And Jesus, stimming—having to move his fingers, loosen his muscles, anything to ground himself—he hadn’t done that in years.
And hell if he was going to ask Daniel into his room to help him, because Daniel was someone Brandon did not want in his space. Not taking down drapes, or talking to him, or even breathing near him. There was only so much of Daniel that Brandon could take, because when he was anywhere near the SEAL, he lost his ability to form coherent sentences. He didn’t have time to have these powerful feelings of lust that kept hitting him.
Like the time he and Daniel had met on the landing and Daniel had been in just a towel. Or the time Daniel had teased him fondly about the glasses he wore. They’d only been together a few days, but Daniel was funny, and sexy, and kind of dangerous, and exactly everything Brandon should be avoiding in his life.
He had way too much to worry about, and a date written in his memory that he wouldn’t forget any time soon. The deal he had—to stay alive, to hide himself away, and then to present himself to Varga—was just about the only thing that filled his thoughts.
Varga thought that, on a given date, Brandon would join him in his huge mansion, pull together all the funds Varga had hidden in various places, and then join him in whatever country the US didn’t have an extradition treaty with.
Like hell he would. He was meeting with Varga, getting all his money, dispersing it to the right causes, and sending any intel he could get out to the authorities.
And then Varga would kill him for doing that.
Inevitable, really, and something he’d come to terms with. He’d blown his chance to do this when he’d worked for Varga, so he had to make up for it. He was doing the right thing.
He’d been biding his time in Hope, but had been unfortunate to be scooped up by Sanctuary. He just needed to work out a way to get away from them, and in particular Daniel, but he had about ten days to go yet until that magic date when Varga had decided he would be leaving the country.
For now, Sanctuary was safe for him and his sisters.
So yeah, choosing to avoid having Daniel in his room, with his probing questions and his distracting body, was an easy decision to make in among all that crap.
The only downside was that it meant he had to take the drapes down himself.
He waited until day four, when the pain in his shoulder had lessened to the point where he could at least manage to get out of bed and to the window. Trying to shoot himself hadn't gone so well; instead of being dead and gone, he had a through shot and muscle damage which hurt like knives in his skin.
But today he felt capable of dealing with drapes he didn’t need anyway. There were blinds at the windows, and behind the blinds each window was coated so you could see out but no one could see in. He pushed the offending fabric under the bed and clambered back to a standing position, wincing in pain as he banged his shoulder, and sat on the edge of his bed.
The drapes were still there—he could picture them under the bed—and exasperated, he lay back on the mattress and attempted to think of something else. Blue skies, blue mugs, blue eyes. Anything blue, because it was a color that calmed him.
He lasted about a minute.
Huffing, he rolled up carefully and reached under the bed, pulling out the drapes and screwing them into a ball. Opening his door, he threw them out onto the landing, not even checking if anyone was standing there.
Daniel. Of course it would be Daniel, who reacted like a ninja and had the drapes under submission in seconds.
Once they were dead, or at least overpowered with some sort of karate move, Brandon felt like he should apologize.
“My bad,” he said, and shut the door in Daniel’s face.
He expected the knock, but hadn’t quite decided what he was going to say to Daniel when he came in. Maybe if he ignored the request to enter and said nothing, then Daniel might go away.
Daniel knocked again, and this time instead of waiting for Brandon to say he could come in, he pushed his way in, looking irritable. He was shirtless, his hair wet—evidence of a recent shower—his sweats hanging low on his hips and every muscle deliciously tight and toned.
“What the hell, Brandon?” he asked, his dark eyes angry, his lips in a set line. He wasn’t holding the drapes, so Brandon counted that as a win.
“I didn’t want them up at my window,” Brandon explained, and eased himself down into the chair by his bed. He was most comfortable there; he could see out the window and it was easier to keep the pressure off his injury.
“So you decided to throw them in my face?” Daniel sounded less pissed and more confused about getting fabric in his face.
Brandon indicated the door. “To be fair, I didn’t know you were there.” Then he couldn’t resist, “And you heroically subdued them so fast, I knew you could handle the danger.”
Daniel blinked at him. “You…” he began, but stopped. Whatever he’d been going to say was lost. He’d looked amused for a moment, but now he was frowning again. “You do realize we’re not going to be here long enough for you to redecorate.”
“Why wouldn’t I realize? You told us last night.”
“I didn’t mean that, I meant… Oh, never mind.”
“Anyway, I wasn’t redecorating,” Brandon defended himself. “I just didn’t like the pattern.” Then he changed the subject. “And exactly how long is long enough? You said we’re moving, but when precisely?”
This place was so small, and the tension was building even now. His sisters weren’t the easiest to live with. Hannah listened to much too loud music and continually dogged Daniel’s footsteps. Yvonne left clothes everywhere and kept shouting for Hannah to turn the music down. And as for the bodyguard, Daniel? Well, he was constantly up in Brandon’s space, checking his dressing, taking his vitals, asking him questions.
Messing with Brandon’s head and libido at the same time.
And he asked questions that Brandon was not ready to give answers to. Not until he was entirely sure of his place in this game he was in the middle of. He’d promised Varga one thing; that he would stay alive and away from the people who wanted to kill him.
Of course, he wasn’t entirely convinced that Varga didn’t want to kill him too, particularly since it had become completely clear to Varga that Brandon didn’t want to be one of his boys. But there were also the men who wanted to kill Varga who would want to kill him, and… fuck, it was a messy maze in his head.
Sometimes he forgot who he was pretending to be with which person.
“A few more days,” Daniel replied. “Elliot and Cole have some leads on one of Varga’s lieutenants and are planning a sting operation to get him out in the open.”
“What kind of operation?” Didn’t they know Varga was dangerous? Didn’t they know that the man had people working for him who would split your head open with a bullet just for smiling wrong?
“Something about one of them pretending to be captured, or… look, I don’t know the full story, but at least it’s another step in the right direction.”
“The path to hell,” Brandon muttered. “He’ll just appoint someone else; he’s like a lizard that can grow back its tail.”
Daniel crossed his arms over his chest. “You finally want to talk today?”
“Your connection to Varga.”
Brandon shook his head so fast he felt dizzy and curled his fingers into his sweatshirt to keep himself from moving them and freaking Daniel out.
“Nope,” he said, popping the p and looking anywhere but at Daniel.
“You’ll have to talk one day. Unless we know everything, we can’t give you any real help. Brandon?”
Brandon looked up at Daniel’s use of his name and recognized the compassion in his expression. There was something about this man—quite apart from his muscles, and his size, and his general attitude of being able to handle anything life threw at him—that set him apart from any other man Brandon had ever lusted over. That something was that Brandon had an absolute belief in Daniel’s ability to take care of him.
Or as near as he could get to thinking another person could help him in any of this.
“Why does he want to kill you?” Daniel asked.
The same question, over and over—Brandon had had enough of that damn question. Daniel wasn’t directly torturing him to get information, but being stuck in this house, with people he needed to keep secrets from, and with questions every day, was close to breaking him.
Varga didn’t want to kill him. He just wanted him watched, protected, the codes and programming in his head enough to put him high on the list of people Varga needed surveilled.
Brandon’s fingers twitched; he desperately needed to move them in a rhythmic pattern that would settle his head.
“Okay,” Brandon said. “You need to go now.”
Daniel shook his head. “I have to check the window after you destroyed a security layer.”
Brandon thought about the hideous drapes and frowned. “They were there for a reason? For real?”
Daniel approached the chair Brandon was sitting on, putting his hand on its back and leaning over Brandon to examine the window. Which put Daniel’s groin right at face level, the sweats leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. And the scent of the man, of shower gel and Daniel, was in every breath Brandon took.
He’ll move soon. Stay calm.
“Looks okay,” Daniel announced. “Wait…”
He sounded worried, and that seemed to morph into him leaning even further, with his junk right there for inspection. Not to mention his flat stomach, and that damn scent, and the way crisp, dark hair marked a trail to Nirvana.
This is what it must be like to want, was all Brandon could think.
Daniel was bi—that was what he kept telling Hannah every time she used the word gay in reference to him as she followed him around. But bi didn’t mean that he’d be interested in Brandon. God, look at Hannah. She had all the good Hoselton genes; she was slim, blonde, and gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want her?
Abruptly, he was desperate to get out of being trapped between Daniel McSexy and the window, and he attempted to move the chair. It tipped as he moved, and that caused Daniel’s balance to wobble. Somehow the SEAL managed to right himself, and Brandon plus chair, and still come out of it looking all kinds of bad-ass.
Whereas Brandon had just come over as the idiot who couldn’t even sit on a fucking chair.
And from here he could see the drapes in a pile out on the landing, and it was all too much.
“Get out of my room,” he snapped, pushing at six one of near-immovable muscle until Daniel actually moved.
Daniel looked down, and Brandon followed his gaze, and then completely lost it.
His hands were pushing on Daniel’s thighs, way too close to his groin for comfort. God, all he would have to do was move his hand an inch to the right and he’d be touching Daniel’s cock.
“Brandon?” Daniel asked, his voice husky.
God, they’d been doing this for days now; this touching thing that Daniel had going, and his husky voice.
“Out. Out. Out!” Brandon snapped, shoving and pushing up out of his chair, his hands flailing, until he had Daniel backed up and out and he could close the door on the confused man.
There were a few seconds of silence, and Brandon thought that maybe Daniel had left. Then there was a soft knock.
“Brandon? Are you okay?”
Brandon groaned under his breath, sliding down the door and drawing up his knees. He allowed himself the luxury of moving his fingers in a pattern—ring finger, thumb, third finger, thumb, first finger, thumb, pinkie, thumb, and over again, both hands. He could feel the air moving around his hands and he concentrated on the swirls he could imagine.
“I’m fine,” he lied. “Go away.”
More silence. Then, “Okay. Breakfast in thirty.”
Brandon waited until he heard Daniel going down the stairs, and then he let out a huge exhalation. 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97. The prime numbers up to a hundred were his go-to place to help calm himself down, upward from 2 to 97, then back down to 2, then up again, and through all of it he breathed, in, out, regular, deep breaths. His fingers tapped out a rhythm with the numbers, and finally he had himself calmed down.
All of this shit because of one pair of drapes and Daniel’s groin in his face.
He slowed his fingers, and after a few moments he used the wall as support to stand up. He needed a shower, to get dressed, and then he’d feel a lot more capable of handling Daniel at breakfast.
In the shower he ran some lines of code, added in some digits, calculated responses, emptied his head of the buzzing, and by the time he was dressed and downstairs he was normal, level-headed Brandon again. He caught Daniel side-eyeing him as he stole a perfectly cooked piece of bacon, but he could handle that, because a few steps and he’d be on the other side of the counter.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Hannah said, and leaned on the counter next to Daniel. She was wearing the tiniest of shorts and a crop top, and Daniel glanced at her.
In his head, Brandon had words he needed to say, about how it was inappropriate for Hannah to flirt with Daniel, about how she needed to stop.
About how he wanted to be the one to flirt with Daniel.
But he said nothing.
“Still not appropriate,” Daniel said with a smile in his tone.
“But we have all this time.” Hannah pouted, leaning in to steal bacon just as Brandon had. Only with her, Daniel grabbed her hand as it moved and gently eased it back.
“No one touches the food until we’re all here,” he said firmly.
Hannah laughed. “You’re no fun.” She sat on a stool at the counter. “Why is there a pair of drapes on the end of my bed?”
Brandon hesitated. To admit what he’d done would expose yet another flaw in his shitty head, and his sisters didn’t need to know he was reverting to type. He thought on his feet, but Daniel got there first.
“They were messing with security in Brandon’s room. Can you stow them in your closet or something?”
She opened up her iPad. There was no internet here, no way for her to post on Facebook or twee pictures of breakfast, but she seemed to be okay reading, going through so many books it was ridiculous. Seemed like that was another service Sanctuary offered, on top of the thorny issue of keeping the Hoselton siblings alive.
Yvonne joined them, and only then did Daniel release the food.
Everything seemed so normal, the four of them drinking coffee, eating breakfast, as if it was a typical day.
But for Brandon, nothing was normal, and the weight of everything in his head was heavy. Looking at his sisters, it seemed impossible to imagine they’d been in danger. His last conversation with Varga’s lackey, a cop named Merrick, had been very one-sided. Brandon was to keep his head down until he was called upon for his skills, and if he didn’t go to the cops, then his sisters would be left alone. He didn’t like Merrick; hated that this apparently respectable cop was actually deep in Varga’s organization. One of the things he knew he would do was to expose Merrick as soon as he could. Sanctuary would know what to do with him.
Hannah and Yvonne were Brandon’s priority, and that was the end of it. He was their big brother, their guardian since he’d come of age, and he wanted to be the rock the rest of the small family could depend on.
Varga didn’t need to kill Brandon to keep him quiet; he simply needed to threaten Brandon’s sisters.
“I got a text from Chris,” Yvonne said out of the blue. “Before Daniel got us.”
Brandon liked Yvonne’s longtime boyfriend, Chris—level-headed, pre-law, he was the kind of man he wanted for his sister.
“And?” he prompted when she sat there chewing on her lip.
“He broke up with me.”
Brandon dropped his fork onto his plate with a clatter.
“What the hell?” he asked. “How? Before you got here?”
“You are shitting me,” Hannah snapped.
Yvonne shrugged. “I was so over his I’m-going-to-be-a-lawyer bullshit.”
Brandon opened his mouth to say something, but he caught Hannah’s warning expression. Evidently this was something a big brother needed to stay out of. He pushed down his need to go find Chris and tell him how a real man looked after his girlfriend. Not that he had any experience in breaking up with someone. To break up you’d need to be seeing a guy first, and he hadn’t quite managed more than a couple of nights with anyone.
Daniel appeared to pick up on the tension, and suggested they make a list of things they needed in the new place.
Yvonne wanted some movies, Hannah wanted chocolate milk, but Brandon needed something a bit more important than that.
“I’ve run out of contact lenses,” he said, not looking at Daniel, but focusing on the eggs on his plate.
“Okay. I guess we need a prescription?”
“I have that.”
“What about glasses?”
“I don’t have any of those. I didn’t have any time to collect them from my place when Cole and Elliot took me from town.”
“He’s as blind as a bat without them,” Yvonne teased.
“I’m not,” Brandon argued.
“Last summer he walked into a desk and apologized,” Hannah added.
“Shut up,” Brandon snapped. It wasn’t so much them sharing embarrassing stories as the feeling that Daniel was staring at him. “It’s not like I’m Thelma in Scooby Doo—I can see without them, you know. Things are just blurry.”
“Sanctuary will get you lenses, or glasses at least.”
They added a few more things to the list and Brandon listened as Daniel phoned it through. He finished breakfast and tidied away. The girls said they’d help, but washing up was another one of Brandon’s things. The heat of the water and the randomness of bubble creation was soothing, and it kept his hands busy, even if he was lopsided with the soreness in his shoulder.
He hummed while he worked and no one spoke to him.
After breakfast he was at loose ends. He had some exercises that he needed to do, and he did those before sitting on what he considered his end of the sofa. He picked up the Sudoku book that was on the table and flicked through the pages, coming to rest on a puzzle that was half done and clearly wrong. He picked up the pen next to him and tapped the page, looked at the pattern, then completed the puzzle, amending the incorrect numbers.
Hell, why would whoever had done this put a 7 in that column? That meant there was two 7s. He flicked through the rest of the book, coming to the extreme puzzle at the end. This was guaranteed to drive you mad, or so the explanation at the top said. With only five numbers suggested in a six by six grid, it was an empty nothingness of possibilities.
But he saw it all. He never even thought about it. He placed the numbers in the right squares neatly, efficiently, happy as he wrote the 2s and the 7s, his favorite numbers.
“You’re good at that,” Daniel observed, the sound of his voice making Brandon jump.
Brandon immediately shut the book and placed it back on the table, pissed that he had the entire solution in his head, but he couldn’t complete the puzzle.
He sat on his hands and wondered what would Daniel say next.
“You can take the book if you want—I’m crap at those things,” Daniel said, and he looked openly friendly and regretful at the same time. Reading emotions on faces was something Brandon could do; understanding the root of the emotions maybe not so much.
“Thank you,” he said, and picked up book and pen. He stood up and nodded some more thanks.
“You don’t need to go,” Daniel said.
Brandon pulled the Sudoku book close to his chest, feeling the warmth rising in him that would make his face scarlet in seconds.
“I do,” he murmured, and left.
His room was small, but it was his space, and he finished the really hard puzzle in a few minutes.
Then all he could think about was Daniel. The man confused him with his friendliness that was edged with something else. What that extra bit was, Brandon didn’t like to guess at. His sisters would likely know, but to talk to them about how every time Daniel smiled at him Brandon went all turned-on and lust-filled would be courting drama.
He didn’t want to think about the things he had in his head, the things that had nearly got his sisters killed, that had ended up killing his friends, Jamie and Michael. And he didn’t want to feel anything for Daniel. He certainly had no time to mess about and lust after a man who appeared to take everything incredibly seriously.
So he’d stay in his room.
He was safe there.