Gideon “Eagle” Carpenter is used to rolling with the punches life has thrown at him. It’s the only thing that’s kept him alive. He and his team of GhostWalkers have seen and experienced it all. He does his best to live with all the sins written on his soul. Then he hears the laughter of a woman with the ability to erase—even for a few precious moments—the darkness of his past.
Laurel “Rory” Chappel has always been a nomad. She’s accustomed to taking care of herself, despite the physical challenges she lives with. She thinks she’s too weak to find real love, but that doesn’t stop her interest in Gideon from turning into a full-on addiction. He’s all rough edges and danger contrasted with a tenderness that makes her feel safe. Still, after a life spent in motion, she’s not sure she knows how to stay in one place.
Gideon hopes he can persuade Rory to take a chance on him with every electric touch. But soon, life conspires against him, forcing the GhostWalker to risk everything to protect the woman he loves....
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Sometimes things just go south, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it." Gideon "Eagle" Carpenter eased his body back slowly until he was entirely supine, linked his fingers behind his head and stared up at the stars.
This was San Francisco. Viewing stars wasn't always easy because fog liked to creep in at night, at least where he was located. He was on the roof of the four-story, wedge-shaped original warehouse made of red bricks that rose like a monstrosity to stand out among all the cool newer concrete and steel warehouses surrounding it. Considering that the building was the only one on the street to survive the 1906 earthquake and fires and was still standing, despite the city condemning it and threatening to demolish it several times, Gideon thought that what others considered an eyesore was worth saving. So he'd saved it. Mostly for this-the rooftop. He'd used every penny of his share of the money and then some to see to it that the best of the best ensured the old building would withstand anything thrown at it for the next hundred years.
"Yeah, Gideon," he repeated aloud. "Shit happens. You roll with it. You don't let it get to you. You come here, high in the sky, and you get rid of it."
Because shit did happen in his life far too often. It had been happening since the day he was born, and he was damn sure it would continue to do so until the day he died. He'd created the mantra, found the highest place possible wherever he was, repeated that shit over and over until he made himself let the clouds take it all away. They had to take it away. Sometimes, like tonight, when his churning gut was in knots and the devil was riding him hard, he had to call on the universe to shoulder his shit.
A whisper of movement had him dropping his hands slowly to his sides, the fingers on one hand wrapping around the butt of one of his favorite weapons. He could shoot the wings off a fly in the dead of night if he had to. His other hand settled around the hilt of his knife. Up close and personal wasn't necessarily his first choice, but he had skills, and when push came to shove, he could use them. Few knew the code to open the hidden stairs to the rooftop, but he wasn't taking any chances. He was a careful man. That had been ingrained in him, long before he'd taken to living on the streets and a ragtag family of sorts had been formed by several throwaway kids-of which he'd been one.
He waited in silence, air moving evenly through his lungs. The trapdoor opened carefully. No one emerged.
"Gideon? You going to take my head off?"
The voice was soft, with the merest hint of an accent even those with great hearing couldn't detect. Javier Enderman. One of his brothers from the street. Family. One of his brothers from the service. One he'd live and die for. Gideon hadn't expected him, but he should have.
"I'm considering it. I'd have to get up to do it, and I'm not liking the idea of moving, so I think you're safe enough."
Javier pushed the trapdoor open all the way and climbed onto the roof. He was all muscle, but with his lithe build, it was impossible to tell. He looked young; impossible to guess his age. In their business, it was a decided advantage. Thick black hair fell onto his forehead, spilled over his ears and curled around the back of his neck. He had black, black eyes that appeared to look right through a man to uncover every secret. Once he stepped into a shadow, it was nearly impossible to find him if he didn't want to be found. Gideon considered him the most dangerous member of their team.
Javier barely made a whisper of sound as he crossed the roof to take a seat a few feet from Gideon. He added energy drinks to the cooler and three Ziploc bags of what appeared to be fresh spinach chips to the lock box that was never locked beside Gideon.
Gideon raised an eyebrow. "Where the hell did you get those?" There was reverence in his voice-awe, even-because fresh spinach chips, the real deal out of the oven, deserved awe.
"Swiped them. Stole them. Lifted them. It was a sweet little heist too. Right out from under Rose's nose. In her kitchen. Know how much you love them, and I've got to keep my skills sharp, so we both win."
"Rose will cut you into little pieces if she catches you stealing her spinach chips. They take forever to make," Gideon said.
Javier shrugged. "You want me to take them back, I'll do it."
"Hell no." Gideon burst out laughing. "She's not going to kill me; she'll go after you. And then there's Kane. You lift a finger to defend yourself when his cute little lethal wife, Rose, is cutting off your balls, Kane will beat you to a bloody pulp."
Kane had been one of the original street kids, one of those idiotic enough-as all of them were-to follow Mack McKinley into the service and then into specialized training and straight to the classified psychic GhostWalker program.
"Fortunately, she won't find out," Javier said. "You're perfectly safe with your spinach chips. Eat them in peace. I had a little help. Her son happened to start fussing, distracting her when she was putting all her fresh chips in the Ziploc bags. There were so many all over the counter she couldn't possibly know three bags went missing. Even if she counted them, the piles had fallen over." He flashed another grin at Gideon. "No one makes that many fresh chips all at the same time. Kane is addicted just the way you are. She spoils him."
That little grin Javier gave him made him wonder about Rose's son suddenly getting fussy. Kids liked Javier. All of them. Rose and Kane's son, Sebastian, was all kinds of talented. He might be a baby, but he was already exhibiting signs of psychic gifts. It wouldn't surprise Gideon if Javier had a way of communicating with the little ones recently born to various GhostWalkers. He didn't ask.
Silence fell. Gideon liked silence. What he didn't like was the reason Javier was there and what was coming next, but he couldn't think of a way to stop it, so he just remained still.
Javier shoved both hands through his hair. "Hate that you took a slew of bullets that were mine, brother."
"They were anyone's. I was just in the way."
Both knew that wasn't the truth. Javier had been out of his mind. They had all been. Gideon had been. They hadn't been prepared for what they'd seen. Innocent women and children, civilians who should have been safe in their homes. Going to school. To work. Just living their everyday lives. Mowed down. Raped. Murdered. Hacked to pieces. Dead bodies lying in the streets, like so much garbage. Left as bait for any soldiers to find, mines under their bodies.
It wasn't as if they weren't experienced and hadn't seen the worst. They were urban fighters. Good at what they did. Ghosts sent in to retrieve prisoners, slipping in unseen and getting out without anyone ever spotting them. Right in the middle of a city. Right in the middle of the enemy's home. They'd seen it all, been through it. Been taken prisoner. Tortured. They'd been shot. More than once, the plane they were in had been shot down. They were experienced, but this-seeing infants and children and women, innocents in schools and homes-this was too much for all of them.
Javier had lost it. They all had, but Javier had lost his mind. He was entitled. The sight was a trigger from his childhood buried deep, but his reaction had endangered the entire team. Gideon had taken out six of the enemy to keep them from killing Javier. But Javier hadn't stood down. He had charged with no cover, no backup, right into the heart of the enemy. Gideon, looking through his scope into Javier's eyes, had been able to see he was gone-no longer thinking. He'd shut down completely. Gideon calmly took out two more who would have killed his brother, and then he made the decision to go after Javier, protecting him the way he always had.
Gideon didn't want those memories brought here, not to his rooftop. Not when they were still burned behind his eyes. The smell in his nostrils. Even the coppery taste of blood lingered in his mouth. The pain of bullets tearing into his flesh and through his insides was far too fresh. Those memories were already too close. He hadn't had the chance to put them away.
"Wasn't the bullets, Gideon. I was out of my mind. Just like when I was a kid. You came for me." Javier dropped his head into his hands and rubbed at his temples. "You fuckin' came for me again."
Gideon regarded him in silence for a long while, letting the breeze from the ocean cool the stench of vile gore from his mind. This rooftop was his sanctuary, his one place of peace-his only peace-and it was so fleeting. He wanted that same peace for Javier, but he knew Javier had yet to find his path.
Gideon sighed. "Javier."
Javier shook his head and then looked directly at Gideon with his black, fathomless eyes, two dark pits of relentless agony. "Am I a psychopath? Tell me the fucking truth, brother. Should I put a bullet in my head? You've pulled me back more than once. What if you couldn't get me back? What if I just stayed in that state? I would have killed everyone. All of them. Every single fucking one of them."
"Don't you think every single one of us would have killed them, Javier? You weren't feeling anything different than the rest of us. Those intense emotions were triggered by the needless slaughter of infants, of children, of young and old women. What we saw was so wrong, and we weren't prepared. We walked blindly into that nightmare without considering it would be there. Our minds weren't in the right frame to accept it. You weren't the only one struggling to keep it together and not take out the entire unit of . . ." He broke off for a moment, searching for a word to describe who would do such a thing.
"They aren't soldiers. They aren't even mercenaries. Butchers. Something is wrong with them." Gideon tried not to see the images of the babies and toddlers strewn in the streets and playgrounds-hacked to pieces. Not shot, hacked. What kind of men did that? "Mack says we'll find them. If he says that, you know we will. We'll do it right, brother. As for you being a psychopath, Whitney put that shit in your head. He's the fucking psychopath, not you. We volunteered to have our psychic abilities enhanced in order to better serve our country. Dr. Peter Whitney thought he was a god. Hell, he still thinks it."
Gideon breathed deep to push other images crowding in away. "Javier, think about it with a clear head. You were reacting to what you saw. What we all saw. You weren't the one chopping up children. You would never do such a thing for any reason. And before you object and talk to me about children with guns and bombs, I'll remind you there's a difference between saving the life of a brother with a single well-placed bullet and chopping up a child for some kind of sick amusement."
Gideon prayed there was. He had so many real sins on his soul. Too many. Javier was his brother from the streets and from his unit. "Don't let Whitney do that to you. He fucked us up by giving us animal and reptile DNA, or whatever the hell he decided he wanted to play around with. We were already jacked up enough and didn't need his added aggressive DNA, but we had no say in that. Worse, he didn't tell us. He just let us discover what he'd done. We're still discovering it."
Gideon felt the burn of Javier's black eyes. They could appear like two dark holes in that handsome face. Flames could flicker there. Right now, there was intensity as only Javier could give him. Sometimes Javier looked at him as if Gideon were leading the way to water after being lost in the desert for a long, long time. Gideon wanted to tell him he was no hero. He sure as hell wasn't the man to look up to. He was lost himself.
"I tell Whitney to go fuck himself every day, Javier. He isn't going to win. Not ever. He isn't going to know one thing about any gifts or curses I have. He won't ever take a child from one of the women we protect here in our compound. He isn't going to prevent me from living whatever kind of life I choose to live. I choose to serve my country because that's my choice. When Mack decides he's had enough, I'll most likely bow out as well. We've always stood together. We're family. We always will be. Stop thinking you're on the outside looking in. Here's a little news flash for you, brother. Every single one of us feels that way. Whitney made sure of that. For all that, knowing that, I refuse to allow him to take my family from me."
Gideon didn't like talking. He never had. But this was Javier, and Javier was important, and he was one fucked-up brother. He needed help. He wouldn't go to Mack because he was afraid Mack would decide to force him to stop working with their team. It was Gideon or no one. Gideon didn't want Javier eating a bullet. Just the fact that he'd mentioned the idea made Gideon very aware that Javier had contemplated it. So that meant talking until Javier could get off his rooftop before discovering that Gideon was in worse mental shape than he was.
"You with me on this, brother? Because I need you to be. I need you to know Whitney's the psychopath and you're just fucked up like the rest of us."
Javier held his eyes for a long time. Gideon didn't so much as blink. He had eagle in him. Harpy Eagle. He could hold that gaze until the cows came home.
Finally, Javier nodded slowly. "I'm with you, Gideon. Tell me what Doc says about the bullet holes."
"Says I don't see action for a while, which is fine by me. Needed a vacation and I'm taking it."