Bound For Keeps
Stephanie Tyler, LLC
February 19,2013 (Ebook)
February 4, 2014 (Print)
They can’t deny the attraction…or the danger…
Since losing their beloved third to cancer, Keith Masters and Johnny Lou Reed haven’t thought about filling the void in their lives with anyone else. Until a stormy Christmas Eve, when a half-frozen, newly discharged Army Ranger shows up on their doorstep—with no memory of who he is or how he got there.
The former Marine in Keith is suspicious that he can’t turn up any information about Shane anywhere, not even an address. Direct questioning will have to wait until they’ve gotten the boy well.
Shane knows it’s only a matter of time before Keith and Reed figure out his past. And when they learn the depth and the darkness of the secrets he holds, he could get them all killed.
In the heat of the dark winter nights, the three men discover a passion that heals the gaping wounds in their hearts. And Shane wonders, despite the danger hot on his heels, how he will ever bear to leave…
Connected Books: EE Ltd. Universe
Connected Books: Men of Honor
Read an Excerpt
Keith stomped the snow off his boots, stripped down and found that Reed had carried Shane into the spare bedroom, gotten him comfortable. There was a warm saline IV running into his arm and IV antibiotics on the bedside table.
“He’s got pneumonia. I’ll be monitoring him all night,” Reed said.
“We’ll be monitoring him all night,” Keith corrected. “I didn’t find any bag. Let me go try to get the word out about him first.”
He went into the small office on the other end of the living room and shot off some emails to friends who were still enlisted. He figured he should hear something back by the morning. He also checked local missing person’s reports and found nothing. Something in his gut told him not to report Shane to the authorities, though.
The boy was in trouble—or he was trouble—Keith was sure of it.
Then again, he’d thought the same thing about Reed when he’d shown up half dead on the doorstep on Christmas Eve, just the way the local legend said would happen. The realtor had been the one to tell Keith about it originally—she liked that bit of local flavor and thought Keith might as well.
Supposedly, the cabin was at least a hundred years old, and it had a reputation of bringing lovers together on Christmas Eve. People came there in bad weather, looking for an inn, but there was no record of an inn being on or near that property. There was a Motel 6 twenty miles away and nothing beyond that Keith had ever been able to find on any map, no matter how old.
No one had a clue where the inn rumor had started, but when Keith bought the house he’d inherited that story along with a good foundation, sixteen-foot ceilings and a nonexistent electrical system. Over the years, with Bobby’s help and then Reed’s, he’d rebuilt almost everything while keeping the original feel of the place.
And yeah, his sentimentality had definitely shown through.
From the outside, it looked like little more than a sturdy log cabin. It was exactly the way they liked it, because their business was as secret as their private life and it provided the men with the necessary security.
Having any kind of personal life or attachments as a mercenary was never recommended. Once anyone knew you had something—or someone—you’d rather die than lose, you were in trouble.
Keith and Reed had been off the grid for so long, it was a concern only at times like this. If Shane had been sent in to hunt them, he’d done a piss-poor job of it.
Keith would make sure it stayed that way and dammit, Christmas Eve and investigations didn’t go together. He sipped his Scotch, the smell of ham and other foods cooking in the kitchen wafting over him. Reed had insisted on making a feast, and Keith’s stomach rumbled appreciatively at the thought of the spread. Both men had learned to cook relatively well in their years in the military when they’d been living alone. Over the course of the years, they’d picked up a lot from Bobby too, who’d actually gone to culinary school at some point, just for fun.
Keith would’ve paid money to see that—an active-duty Marine in culinary school. Smiled thinking about Bobby using his KA-BAR knife to peel potatoes.
In a way, this meal was Reed’s tribute to the man who’d died a week before Christmas last year. The men had promised Bobby they wouldn’t stop celebrating the holiday.
Pulling his mind back to the present, Keith flexed his fingers over the keys, tapping into databases he had no business being in and coming up blank. That in and of itself brought up a number of red flags, in Keith’s book.
“Anything?” Reed asked, coming into the den, leaning his hip against the desk facing Keith, who shook his head. “Special forces?”
Reed seemed to agree. “Definitely military, which means this ID’s fake. Good, but fake.”
“Shane’s his real first name though—even half unconscious, he responds to it,” Keith pointed out.
“I’ll email Dan in case someone’s missing. That’s a Christmas Eve email no one would mind getting,” he said, knowing the US Marshal would appreciate the heads-up.
“I’d hate to think of Kyle out looking for him. No one should be alone during the holidays,” Reed said somberly as he moved closer to Keith.
They both had, at various points throughout their lives. “He’s not alone.”
“No, just shut in with one of the most suspicious men on the planet.” Keith merely smiled because Reed said it with an affectionate rub to his shaved head, followed by a kiss. “I can still see the bite mark.”
“You were a little excited,” Keith said wryly, and Reed snorted.
“Yeah, just a little. Not your fault at all.”
“I was planning a repeat performance tonight, but I guess it’ll have to wait.”
“Looks that way.”
Keith sighed. “When he wakes—”
“You are not going to interrogate him.”
“You’re really going to owe me,” Keith told him mutinously as Reed moved away and shrugged.
“Not a hardship,” Reed called over his shoulder as he walked across the hall toward the guest room.
Through the open door, Keith watched his partner rub the young man down with water and alcohol. Managing fever on top of hypothermia took skill, but Reed had dealt with much worse.
After another hour of emails, including hearing back from Dan, his marshal contact, that all their WITSEC men and women were safe and sound, Keith got up and went to the doorway of the guest room, noting the flush of fever on Shane’s face had subsided somewhat. But the boy’s eyes still held that hazy, faraway look whenever they opened to Reed quietly saying, “Hey, Shane, can you open your eyes for me?” And then just as suddenly they’d close again and sleep would take him.
Reed looked up at him. “You okay?”
Keith put his hands up to grab the doorframe above his head, stretched himself as he gave an unconvincing, “Yeah.”
“You’ve got to admit this is weird,” Reed said finally. Of the three of them, he believed the least in that old legend about this house drawing those in need to it, but he couldn’t deny the oddness of this. “I mean, eight years to the day. To the hour.”
Keith shrugged. “’S’what the legend says. Travelers in need find their way here on this day at this time.”
“Like me.” Reed’s blue eyes shone in the soft light, the memories making him smile a little. His blond hair was on the longer side, and he was shorter than Keith—six-two to Keith’s six-five, but his build was lankier. He was strong as hell, though, as Keith well remembered when he came to that night he woke on the living room floor and immediately tried to punch both Keith and Bobby.
Reed had war in his eyes. Sometimes, when he woke, he still did. He told Keith he always dreamed of the rain.
“There’s no one like you,” Keith told him. “We can’t keep him here longer than tomorrow.”
“There’s your suspicious side coming through,” Reed grumbled.
“You know I’m right to be cautious.”
“I know. He’s beautiful, though,” Reed murmured, and Keith rubbed a hand over his shaved skull as he moved forward toward the bed and wondered what the hell they were doing not calling the police.
“Yeah, a beautiful con artist,” he muttered. Reed turned and shot him a sharp look as their patient suddenly opened his eyes and stared directly at Keith, a gaze that made him feel a sharp tug from gut to groin.
F*ck. It had been a mistake to let him in this far.
Shane struggled to sit up, but Reed was pressing his shoulders back down to the pillows. “Easy, big guy. You’ve been out of it for a while.”
Keith held out the cup of water and Shane took a greedy pull from the straw, until he coughed. Reed eased him back, covered him back up and waited until he’d caught his breath.
“What’s your name?” Keith asked.
Shane looked at him, a sudden confusion covering his handsome face. “It’s um…f*ck.”
“Um f*ck, huh?” Keith started, but Reed interrupted with a glare at Keith.
“It’s Shane Wills. Did you hit your head?”
“I don’t remember,” Shane admitted.
“What the hell were you doing out there?” Keith barked.
Shane pressed his lips together, shook his head as if attempting to clear it. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know? It’s a simple question,” Keith asked, but Reed put a hand against his chest to stop him, asked instead, “What’s the last thing you remember, Shane?”
“I remember walking down a street in Philly…some guys hassled me and I fought them off, but not before I lost my wallet and they got in some good punches,” he started slowly. “A truck driver took pity on me—cleaned me up and took me as far as here, I guess. When he dropped me, he told me there was an inn a mile from here. And then I walked.”
Keith mentally cursed the driver for dropping this kid into the middle of nowhere in this weather. “No one’s ever found that inn.”
Because this is the inn.
He caught Reed’s eye and both men fought a smile.
“And before that?” Keith pushed Shane, who shook his head.
“I don’t remember. I’ve been trying to for the past few days—the whole ride…I was panicked.”
“Maybe we should call the police—file a missing person’s report—” Reed said.
“No!” Shane’s hand shot out, grabbed Reed’s wrist. “No.”
Keith’s eyes met Reed’s. No doubt about it—Shane was nothing but trouble.